Friday 10 March 2017

102 Jessie Donaldson

Campaigners’s key role in helping to free U.S. slaves

102 Jessie Donaldson
The 1853 slave narrative by Solomon Northup “Twelve Years a Slave”, and the harrowing film based on his experiences, give some idea of what slavery in the southern states of America could entail, as do the television adaptations of Alex Haley’s book “Roots”.  The recent decision to re-name Bristol’s Colston Hall rather than perpetuate the name of a slave owner is a reminder that Britain (and not just Liverpool) benefited indirectly from the transatlantic slave trade.  Streets in Swansea are named after geologist Henry de la Beche, who inherited a sugar plantation and slaves in Jamaica, while his friend Lewis Weston Dillwyn was the son of an opponent of the slave trade.
The film ‘Amazing Grace’ (not to be confused with Mal Pope’s musical concerning the 1904-05 Welsh Revival) focused on the work of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, which paved the way to abolishing slavery itself.  Yet many are unaware that a woman from Swansea was active in assisting runaway slaves.
The British Anti-slavery Society was formed in 1823, involving both Wilberforce and Clarkson, and that same year the Society met in Swansea’s town hall, which then stood in front of the castle.  The following July, during his tour of Wales, Thomas Clarkson himself visited Swansea, where the anti-slavery campaign was prominent in Quaker and Unitarian circles.  Later the former slaves Ellen and William Craft escaped to Britain, and in October 1863 gave a public lecture entitled “The Life of the Fugitive Slave” at Mount Pleasant Chapel in Swansea.  This was probably arranged after a letter of introduction from Jessie Donaldson, a Swansea woman then living in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Jessie Donaldson was born in 1799 at Dynevor Place (near Mount Pleasant Chapel), the daughter of a Unitarian and an abolitionist.  In her mid-twenties she opened a school for young ladies and gentlemen in 32 Wind Street.  She was well informed about slavery, for her aunt had emigrated to Cincinatti, and used her home beside the Ohio river as one of the ‘safe houses’, sheltering escaping slaves on their journey north to freedom.  To the south was slave-owning Kentucky, while to the north lay Cincinatti - and eventual freedom; British North America (present-day Canada), where slavery was outlawed, was the usual destination for escaped slaves.  Merely reaching the northern states was no guarantee of safety, for there were large financial inducements to return slaves to the south.  What was called the “Underground Railroad” for escaped slaves consisted of meeting points, secret routes, transportation, safe houses and personal assistance from sympathisers.  Certain negro spirituals like ‘Down by the river’ and ‘Steal away’ could contain messages and pointers, amid the imagery of crossing the river Jordan into the heavenly kingdom, to guide fugitives across the Ohio river.
Jessie’s widowed cousin, Francis Donaldson, returned from America, and they married in 1840, settling at 9 Grove Place.  But sixteen years later, when Jessie was aged 57, they joined relatives in Cincinatti, where their new home also became one of the ‘safe houses’, though the Donaldsons risked a fine of up to 1,000 dollars or six months in prison for aiding fugitive slaves.  They knew Cincinatti-born Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.
After the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery in America in 1865, Jessie Donaldson returned to Swansea, where she died aged 90 at Ael-y-bryn in Sketty.  Her 1889 obituary in The Cambrian states: “The house where she and her husband lived was on the banks of the Ohio, opposite to the slave-owning state of Kentucky, and at times it was used by fugitives as one of the stations of what was termed the Underground Railroad by which they travelled to the free land of Canada.” 
The research by Jen Wilson (of Women in Jazz) into the life of Jessie Donaldson shows Swansea can be proud of this courageous campaigner for freedom.                                     

Tuesday 7 March 2017

101 "Only Two Can Play"

101 “Only Two Can Play
Society was very different in 1962 - there was still capital punishment, and the law forbade homosexuality and abortion.  Just two television channels provided black-and-white programmes, mainly in the evenings - the BBC and, for South Wales, ITV via TWW (Television Wales and the West).  That January the comedy film “Only Two Can Play” opened in cinemas, starring Peter Sellers and the Swedish actress Mai Zetterling, with also a young Richard Attenborough and the Welsh actor Kenneth Griffith.  There was local interest because much of it had been filmed in Swansea, as well as at Shepperton studios, for it was based on the novel “That Uncertain Feeling” by Kingsley Amis, who from 1949 to 1961 had lectured in the English department of the University of Wales, Swansea. 
The black-and-white film, which was given an X certificate rating, was the third most successful film of 1962 in box office takings.  Filming mainly took place around Sketty, Mayhill and in the Kingsway, opposite where the Plaza cinema then stood, and more recently Oceana night club.  Even though Swansea’s Central Library was then in Alexandra Road, it was the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery directly opposite that was used as the library of the fictional town Aberdarcy, which Amis admitted was based on Swansea.  A distinctive Langland property off Southward Lane was used as the councillor’s residence, and the tennis scene was filmed on the public court off De La Beche Road in Sketty. 
Born in Clapham, London, Kingsley Amis won a scholarship to Oxford, where he met the poet Philip Larkin (a friend of Pennard poet Vernon Watkins), who became a close friend.  Amis’s studies were interrupted by first National Service and then by the Second World War, when he served in the Signals Corps.  After completing his degree and marrying, he moved to Swansea in 1949, publishing his first novel “Lucky Jim” in 1954, a satire of the high-brow academic set of a provincial university from the viewpoint of a young lecturer.  This won him the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction, and was eventually translated into several languages, including Hebrew and Korean; three years later the novel was made into a film starring Ian Carmichael. 
In Swansea Amis lived at first no. 24 The Grove in the Uplands, where there is a blue plaque, and then at 53 Glanmor Road.  The story of “Only Two Can Play” concerns a professionally-frustrated provincial librarian (played by Peter Sellers) being tempted towards marital unfaithfulness by the wife (Mai Zetterling) of a councillor who is chairman of the libraries committee.  As Philip Larkin was for 30 years university librarian at the University of Hull, one wonders whether Amis drew on his work experience at all in writing “That Uncertain Feeling”.  The BBC screened a television adaptation as a mini-series in 1985, starring Dennis Lawson as the librarian, and this time Swansea’s Central Library was used, rather than the Art Gallery.  In the novel Amis bitterly satirised Swansea’s Little Theatre - his characters are described from a superior, ironical point of view as vulgar, provincial and immoral.  Although Amis disliked Dylan Thomas, ironically his friendship with Swansea solicitor Stuart Thomas led to Amis becoming a trustee of the Dylan Thomas Trust.  He was the precise opposite of Vernon Watkins, who looked for the good qualities in people.
After leaving Swansea, Amis wrote “The Old Devils” in 1986, mainly at Cliff House in Laugharne, for which he was awarded the Man Booker Prize.  He also wrote poetry, essays, science fiction and short stories.  Knighted in 1990, Kingsley Amis died in London five years later aged 73.  His second son Martin Amis is a novelist.      
The screenplay for the film “Only Two Can Play” was written by Bryan Forbes, who in my opinion curtails much of the biting satire of “That Uncertain Feeling” to produce a far more enjoyable story than the novel.                                               


Monday 6 March 2017

100 Cwmdonkin Park

Picturesque park will be forever linked to city’s finest writer
100 Cwmdonkin Park - 6 May 2017 (photos: Vernon, Dylan, Cwmdonkin Park)
Throughout 2014, the centenary of the birth of Swansea’s most famous poet, Swansea’s refurbished Cwmdonkin Park in the Uplands, which contains a number of memorials to Dylan Thomas, attracted many visitors.
Near the centre of the 13-acre park, below the tennis court and bowling green, the Dylan Thomas memorial stone is visible within the water garden.  After Dylan’s death in New York on 9 November 1953, two American graduates Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantell, who had formed Caedman Records in New York in 1952, contacted his friend and fellow poet Vernon Watkins about a suitable monument to honour him in his home town.  The first recording on Caedman Records had been of Dylan reading his own poems, before similar recordings were made of other major poets like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.  The two ladies contributed to the cost of a block of blue pennant sandstone from Cwmrhydyceirw Quarry, which was carved by local sculptor Ronald Cour and installed in Cwmdonkin Park as the Dylan Thomas Memorial Stone.  Vernon’s poem “At Cwmrhydyceirw Quarry” describes choosing the stone.  Along with composer Dr Daniel Jones, Ronald Cour was later instrumental in forming the Dylan Thomas Society. 
Vernon, who had written Dylan’s obituary in The Times,  chose the lines inscribed on the face of the stone, from Dylan's poem "Fern Hill":  
Oh, as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
A fortnight before President Kennedy was assassinated, at the unveiling on 9 November 1963 on the tenth anniversary of Dylan’s death, Vernon read Dylan’s poem “The hunchback in the park”.  As rain began to fall some umbrellas were raised and people put on raincoats, but as James A. Davies comments, “superbly oblivious to the rain” Vernon continued steadily reading (or probably reciting) the poem that made Cwmdonkin Park known far beyond Swansea.  Both Vernon and Dylan had played in that park during their childhoods, for Vernon (eight years older) grew up in nearby Eaton Grove – now part of Eaton Crescent – while Dylan lived in Cwmdonkin Drive.  
The reservoir (where Dylan mentioned swans swimming) has been filled in to make a large children’s play area.  During the Second World War water from the reservoir was used to combat the fires when Swansea was bombed, and subsequently rubble from destroyed buildings was used to fill in the area.   The drinking fountain still stands, though the chained cup has been removed, presumably for hygienic reasons.  The old bandstand has gone, replaced by the Dylan Thomas Memorial Shelter, given by Oakleigh House School.
The southern entrance to the park is from The Grove, where in October 1949 at Ebeneser Newydd (Y Llannerch) Dylan and Vernon discussed “Swansea and the Arts” for a BBC radio programme on the Welsh Home Service along with composer Daniel Jones, artist Alfred Janes, and writer John Prichard.  Tapestri Arts Centre in Alexandra Road used to display Jeff Phillips’s painting of this recording, taken from the “Radio Times” cover photo.                                    
Cwmdonkin Park used to belong to James Walters (after whom Walters Road is named), who lived at Penlan House, now Oakleigh House School.  From the Terrace Road entrance to the park an archway is visible, which was a private entrance to his residence.  It is made of old stones from The Plas, the mansion which stood in the city centre, where Castle Square is now and where the Ben Evans store once was.
A bi-lingual blue plaque unveiled on a wall of the small pavilion/café in 2014 states “Cwmdonkin Park opened 1874, made famous by the Dylan Thomas poem The Hunchback in the Park.”  The Park features in other poems of Dylan’s, and in short stories such as ‘Patricia, Edith and Arnold’ in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog”, and at the end of “Return Journey”.                                     

Sunday 5 March 2017

99 Y.M.C.A. and Bobby Williams

99 Y.M.C.A.
Swansea’s branch of the YMCA began in 1868 in Herbert Place.  The initials stand for Young Men’s Christian Association, founded in London in 1844 by George Williams, a draper.  It is the oldest and largest youth charity in the world, aiming to support young people to belong, contribute and thrive in their communities.  George Williams wanted to help young men adjust to urban life, aiming to put Christian principles into practice to develop a healthy "body, mind and spirit" - hence the red triangle of the logo.  YMCAs began as prayer and Bible study groups, which widened into public lectures and education classes.  George Williams was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1894, and after his death he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, and commemorated by a stained-glass window in Westminster Abbey.
The Swansea branch’s steady growth led to a move to Dynevor Place, beside Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and when those premises were outgrown the branch secured the freehold to ‘Longlands’, former home of copper merchant and ship-owner Henry Bath, on the corner of Page Street and St Helens Road.  With steel magnate and philanthropist Roger Beck as treasurer, a New Building Campaign raised £12,000 in twelve days (this was in 1911!), in order to demolish ‘Longlands’ and erect a new building.  Beck heartily approved of the YMCA’s aim of “instilling into youth the necessity for conscientious performance of duty”.
The new four-storey block in red brick and Portland stone was probably designed by Glendinning Moxham, architect of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, the University Sports Pavilion and Wind Street’s former Barclays Bank.  The new Page Street premises were opened in October 1913 by Lord Kinnaird, president of the YMCA and principal of the Football Association, with a plaque in the foyer stating “To the glory of God and for the good of man”.  In 1920 the Llewellyn Hall was added, where Dylan Thomas appeared with the Little Theatre Players.
Gerald Gabb’s “Jubilee Swansea II” states that in 1894 Swansea YMCA had a lecture from the manager of the Grenfells’ copper works on “The Inspiration of the Bible”, and in 1899 a Dr David Evans was giving health talks.  During the 1890s the sports activities included an athletics club captained by High Street photographer and future Mayor Henry A. Chapman, and a tug of war team, and Swansea YMCA sponsored a bicycle gymkhana in Mumbles.
The YMCA’s first holiday centre was established in 1873 on the Isle of Wight, and their first gymnasium in Britain opened eight years later.  The movement spread overseas, with American YMCAs in the 1890s devising the sports basketball and volleyball.  The first purpose-built YMCA hostels were opened in 1912 - in London and Cardiff.
Swansea YMCA’s top floor gymnasium (now used as a Martial Arts Centre) used to display a framed photograph of British gymnastic champion Bobby Williams, regarded as a strong medal hope for Britain for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.  This was after Welshman Lyn Davies had won the gold medal for the long jump at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.  But tragically the twenty-five-year-old electrician from Townhill was killed early on Easter Sunday morning 1967, when his MGB sports car mounted the grass intersection on Fabian Way and hit a metal lamp post as he was driving to work at the Baglan Bay plant of British Hydrocarbon Chemicals: in those days Olympic athletes competed as amateurs.  Graham Harcourt, who had represented Britain in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, described the death of Bobby Williams as “a tremendous loss to Welsh and British gymnastics”.  He had been a member of Swansea YMCA gymnasium for 17 years.
For decades the Llewellyn Hall was regularly used for donor sessions by the Welsh Blood Transfusion Service, and now Swansea YMCA is open seven days a week, offering a diverse range of sporting activities, educational services and social support for men and women of all ages.            

Friday 3 March 2017

98 Burry Holms

Pilgrimage keeps alive link to site of early settlers
98 Burry Holms              
Near Llanmadoc is the small tidal limestone island of Burry Holms - in Welsh Ynys Ianwol – situated at the north end of Rhossili Bay.  Its name is probably from the Old Scandanavian word Holm, meaning an island.
Unlike scrambling onto Worm’s Head on the south side of the bay, there is no difficulty getting onto this island, which is accessible for two-and-a-half hours either side of low tide.  In the past it has been a place of human habitation, for the Ordnance Survey map marks sites of a church, a cairn and a settlement.  The island had traces of nomadic hunters from the Mesolithic period (the middle stone age - roughly 8,000 to 4,000 BC), some of whose flint tools and implements are in Swansea Museum.   
Twenty-two small stone spears found at the site have been identified as microliths, which are small stone points only found in the Mesolithic period.  These were attached to a handle and used as hunting and fishing spears - one has an impact fracture at its tip suggesting that it was broken during use.  As there is a good supply of flint and stone in the area, ideal for manufacturing sharp tools, possibly the damaged spear was taken to Burry Holms, and there discarded and replaced before the owner went off hunting and fishing again.  The variety of objects discovered clearly shows that stone tools were being produced at the site.  Most of the microliths discovered are from the early Mesolithic period, so Burry Holms was certainly frequented by our earliest ancestors.

The island is bisected by an earthwork, a single bank and ditch, shown on the 1848 Llangennith Tithe Map, which calls it “Holmes Island”.  Behind the earthwork was a five-acre Iron Age fort on the west side of the island.  The area was last excavated by the National Museums and Galleries of Wales in 1998.  Although excavations each day are limited by the tide to five hours working-time, archaeologists found that the breaks enabled them to process the finds and samples as they were collected.

In medieval times on the sheltered east side stood a monastic enclosure with connections to Saint Cennydd, who gave his name to the settlement of Llangennith.  There are fourteenth and fifteenth century references to hermits using the chapel of “Kenyth at Holmes”.  Still visible are ruins of a twelfth century stone church, which replaced a wooden one said to be built by the hermit Caradog of Pembrokeshire.  A.G. Thompson’s book “Gower Journey” has a photo of a cave on the island’s south side with the unusual name of Vome Hole.
As well as its historic connections, the island is worth visiting for its cliff flowers and sea birds.  About sixty plant species have been recorded on Burry Holms.  Sea birds include jackdaw, meadow pipet and skylark, besides herring gulls, of which a 1959 census found as many as 20 pairs nesting on the island.  Porpoises can be sighted in the sea, as well as off Worm’s Head.
At the time of the spring tides, near Burry Holms can be seen at low tide remains of the paddle steamer City of Bristol, wrecked in 1840 when travelling from Waterford to Bristol, with only two people surviving out of twenty-nine on board.  That disaster led to a wave-swept cast iron lighthouse being erected at Whiteford Point.  When this was decommissioned in 1921, it was replaced by a 12ft-high white circular navigational beacon, which flashed twice every 12 seconds, on Burry Holms.  This was dismantled in 1966, with only a concrete disk remaining today.                                            
The island that contained evidence of early man is visited each year on the Sunday nearest to St Cennydd’s Day (5th July), in a pilgrimage from Llangennith for a service in the ruins of the Burry Holms church: a fitting way to mark the Gŵyl Mabsant, the annual Saint's Day festival.                                                                                                 

Wednesday 1 March 2017

97 Kilvrough Manor

97 Kilvrough Manor

Kilvrough Manor stands behind a high curving stone wall on the south side of the A4118 from Fairwood Common to Parkmill, though before the First World War the estate included substantial land on both sides of the road. 
The original mansion was built in 1585 for Rowland Dawkin, whose grandson was one of Oliver Cromwell’s deputy Major-Generals who ruled the country after the Civil War.  After the monarchy was restored in 1660 and Puritan minister John Myles ejected from Ilston church, Dawkin permitted members of Wales’s first Baptist Church to meet on land at Trinity Well in the Ilston Valley, until increasingly repressive legislation caused some of them to emigrate to the New World, founding the settlement of Swanzey, Massachusetts.
The name of a later Rowland Dawkin, who became Sheriff of Glamorgan, is inscribed on a 1737 bell in St Mary’s Church, Pennard.
In the late eighteenth century Kilvrough was remodelled to a design of William Jernegan, before being purchased in 1820 by Major Thomas Penrice of Great Yarmouth, who later served as High Sheriff of Glamorgan. The grounds contain a folly in the form of a medieval-type tower, possibly inspired by the Gnoll’s Ivy Tower folly in Neath.
In June 1831 at the time of the Merthyr Rising, the Marquess of Bute, who was Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, sent Major Penrice there to tackle civil unrest.  To his great embarrassment, Penrice and his Yeomanry troops were disarmed near Merthyr by a large mob of rioters and, following an official inquiry, the local Yeomanry unit was reorganised by the Government.  Major Penrice built the Gower Inn in Parkmill, and had embarked on restoring Pennard Church at the time of his death in 1846. 
As he had never married, the estate passed to his 26-year-old nephew, also named Thomas Penrice – later a striking figure with a long white beard.  He married in 1852, and acquired more land in Gower, making Kilvrough second in size in the peninsula to the Talbots’ estate, with 5,411 acres in 1883.  He built the steepled Parkmill School (now West Glamorgan Guides Centre), and introduced new farming methods which put Kilvrough among the most productive estates in South Wales.  In 1893 he gave evidence to the Royal Commission on Land in Wales when his decision not to let Gower folk singer Phil Tanner take on the tenancy of land near Llangennith was unsuccessfully challenged.  Three years later Thomas Penrice leased out land at Pennard Burrows for twenty people to play golf, which was the start of Pennard Golf Club.
After his death in 1896, Kilvrough was left to his elder daughter Louisa, who had married Admiral Algernon Lyons, becoming Lady Lyons when her husband was knighted.  Thomas Penrice’s second daughter, Jane, had married William Benson of Fairy Hill, although she died aged 33, predeceasing her father.  But heavy death duties were incurred after the death in 1908 of Admiral Lyons, and when their eldest son died of pneumonia in 1918 - two months after Lady Lyons had handed the estate over to him.  This, coupled with the loss of their considerable German investments through the First World War, led to the dispersal of the estate, with Kilvrough itself sold two years later.  Pennard Golf Club purchased the burrows (with Pennard Castle), while Home Farm was bought in 1920 by the estate’s agent T.E. “Tom” Jenkins, grandfather of the late poet Nigel Jenkins: on their land stands the lime kiln with a small blue plaque.
After staying briefly at Vennaway, Lady Lyons moved to Eastbourne, though on her death aged 88 in 1935, she was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, Pennard, like others of the Penrice and Lyons families.  In the 1930s Kilvrough was purchased by a Swansea businessman, and then became a youth hostel from 1949 to 1970, before becoming one of Oxfordshire County Council’s three rural studies field centres, as it is today.