Tuesday 11 April 2017

106 Lewis Lewis

First escalator was at city store for customers going up in the world
106 Lewis Lewis
In 1898 Harrods in Knightsbridge installed a “moving staircase” or escalator.  The first Swansea premises to have an escalator was not the large Ben Evans departmental store (where Castle Square now stands), or nearby David Evans in Princess Way, but Lewis Lewis in High Street, not far from the railway station.  This drapery store was established in 1866 by Lewis Lewis of Carmarthenshire, and it traded for more than a century.  
Lewis Lewis was a large family-owned store which specialised in high-class products of all types.  Its many large shop windows faced onto the street, always among the best set out in Swansea.  Inside the store shop assistants were inevitably dressed in black outfits, while the store manager circulated greeting customers and dealing with their queries.  
Born in 1843, Lewis Lewis, who like fellow draper Ben Evans, was from Carmarthenshire, took over no. 27 High Street, at the junction with King Street (now Kings Lane), in 1866.  He sold items at fixed prices, instead of the time-consuming bargaining between seller and customer that was then prevalent, thus creating a more dignified atmosphere in his shops.  For he later opened shops in other South Wales towns like Briton Ferry, Neath and Llanelli, as well as enlarging his High Street premises by taking over numbers 28 and 29 by 1891, and extending behind the High Street frontage.  A delivery service was available to homes and railway stations by horse-drawn vans; at the back of the shop five horses were stabled which he exhibited at the annual Swansea Agricultural Show.  Furthermore errand boys could deliver parcels to homes, or to railway stations in time for train departures.
Shop hours were long – closing time was usually 7.30pm, even later on Saturdays, with half-day closing on Thursdays at 1pm.  Several shop assistants lived on the premises, with a housekeeper in charge, and their responsibilities included putting up the shutters over the windows when the shop closed, and removing them the following morning.  Gerald Gabb’s research shows that the 1891 census lists 36 draper’s assistants, 7 milliner’s assistants, a clerk and a draper’s apprentice, along with a housekeeper and 9 servants, all living “above the shop”.  Most of the staff were Welsh speakers, as well as being fluent in English.  Usually female members of staff were single, though when Tycoch widow Mrs Davies worked there she was required to become “Miss Taylor”.  The staff would enjoy an annual outing paid for by the firm – in 1889 as many as 200 people (friends as well as employees) travelled by train to Carmarthen.
In “Under Milk Wood”, Dylan Thomas has draper Mog Edwards write to Miss Myfanwy Price: “I have come to take you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums on the wires.”  This refers to the means by which purchases were paid for and change delivered at Lewis Lewis and other major stores, via wire cash carriers.  A network of pulleys and metal cups was suspended just below ceiling height, the entire length of the premises.  The money and receipt of a purchase would be placed into a metal container, the shop assistant would pull back and release the handle, and the container would wing its way above the heads of shoppers into the cash desk, whence it would return with the change.
A kindly man, Lewis Lewis would be visited on Fridays by destitute people for financial help.  He died in January 1911 aged 67 at “Corrymore”, which formerly had been the Sketty home of Ben Evans, and he was buried in Oystermouth cemetery.
The department store’s centenary was celebrated in 1966, before the business closed, for the site is now occupied by Iceland. 
Today escalators in shops and underground stations are commonplace – there is even an outdoor one in Rio de Janeiro leading to the statue of Christ the Redeemer.    

Sunday 9 April 2017

105 LifePoint

105 LifePoint
The aerial bombardment in Swansea during the Second World War that destroyed a Jewish place of worship also provided the site for its replacement.  The place of worship was the synagogue in Goat Street - the upper part of present-day Princess Way - which had been opened in September 1859.  After its destruction during the February 1941 Three Nights’ Blitz, various buildings were used temporarily by the Jewish community, such as Cornhill House in Christina Street, the Unitarian Church in High Street, and Henrietta Street Welsh Chapel.  But a large house in Ffynone called “Ashleigh” had also been destroyed, and this was the site on which the new synagogue was built, and opened in April 1955.  A separate synagogue (which closed in 1961) had been in Prince of Wales Road for Jewish immigrants who initially settled in the Greenhill area, but most transferred to the new Ffynone Synagogue after 1955.
“Ashleigh” was one of three adjacent large homes in Ffynone of the proprietors of the building and contracting firm Thomas, Watkins & Jenkins, of Brunswick Street.  “Cilwendig” was the home of William Thomas, “Llwynhelig” the home of David Jenkins, and “Ashleigh” the home of William Watkins.  A justice of the peace and a freemason, Watkins was twice mayor of Swansea, and a deacon of Castle Street Congregational Church.  The firm had built congregational chapels in Walters Road and Ebeneser Street, as well as Swansea’s Albert Hall, the Palace Theatre and the Hospital (where Home Gower now stands).  Mayor in 1899, Watkins died long before “Ashleigh” was destroyed by enemy action.
Swansea’s Hebrew congregation flourished for many decades in the new synagogue, but numbers dwindled at the start of the present century.  The “Jewish Chronicle” of December 2008 reported “Swansea Hebrew congregation is selling its 67-year-old synagogue building to a church group.  The community has fewer than a dozen-and-a-half active members, with an average age of 70.  Others have moved away but retain membership for burial or sentimental reasons.  If the sale to the LifePoint Church is completed, the congregation will be able to rent a small hall in the premises to continue services.”  The negotiations proceeded amicably, and LifePoint took over most of the building and adapted it to their needs.
Traditional Christian denominations such as Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist have been challenged since the 1970s by the “Charismatic Movement”, and Christian groups like New Frontiers, Vineyard and New Covenant have emerged, which seek to proclaim a radical Christian message, relevant to modern society.  In the late 1970s a young couple named John and Carol Reeves were inspired by the teaching of former Swansea Bible College student Bryn Jones at Dales Bible Weeks in Yorkshire, and in “Restoration” magazine articles, to use their Swansea home to worship with others, as did the early followers of Christ in the New Testament.  Their “house church” grew to become New Covenant Church, and for large meetings they would use at different times the former Philadelphia Chapel in Neath Road, and Bishop Gore and Parklands Comprehensive Schools.  But a permanent building was soon required, and before the move to Ffynone, co-pastor Mike Sutton Smith suggested changing the name to LifePoint, which was more relevant and understandable for a contemporary church. 
The LifePoint Centre is a newly-refurbished facility in use seven days a week and available for hire by community and business groups.  The light and spacious main auditorium seats up to 200, with a conference lounge for up to 50, and smaller rooms with fine views across Swansea Bay.  There are facilities for the disabled (including a lift), a garden and patio for warm days, and kitchen facilities.  LifePoint now hosts a food bank and is involved in outreach around Mayhill; co-pastor Mick Walford initiated the Swansea Street Pastors.  LifePoint has activities for all ages like Fitness League and Mumstop, as well as LifeGroups which meet in various homes.

Saturday 8 April 2017

104 Brandy Cove Skeleton

104 Brandy Cove Skeleton
Peninsular Gower has a number of subterranean caves, most of which were explored during the 1950s and 1960s by Maurice Clague Taylor and his sisters Marjorie and Eileen.  Caves like Tooth Cave (the longest) and Stembridge Cave have developed horizontally, though Bovehill Pot descends 100 feet.  Llethrid Swallet is a large limestone cave with a wealth of stalagmites and stalactites; the entrance to this, Gower’s most dangerous cave, is sealed, and entrances to other caves are gated for safety reasons.
 It is one thing for workmen to find the bones of an English King beneath a Leicester car park, or for archaeologists to unearth ancient bones during an excavation, but another thing when more recent human remains are found where they should not be.  This happened on Sunday, 5th November 1961, when three young cavers, Graham Jones, John Gerke and Chris MacNamara, were exploring an abandoned lead mine in Brandy Cove, just west of Caswell, and made the grisly discovery of a human skull.  They found a dismembered human skeleton, cut into three sections, along with items including a gold wedding ring and an engagement ring.  The Evening Post’s headline was “Skeleton found in a Gower mine-shaft”.
When the police looked through files of missing persons they found a file on 26-year-old Mamie Stuart, who had disappeared 42 years earlier in 1919, and after they had superimposed her photo onto a photograph of the skull the police were fairly certain that the body was hers.
Mamie, who was from Notting Hill in London, had been a chorus girl in pantomimes in Cardiff and Swansea, before during the First World War meeting in Sunderland marine surveyor George Shotton from Penarth.  His work took him to ports around the coast where he sought casual relationships with women while many men were away in the war.  Shotton married Mamie in March 1918 in South Shields registry office, when she was aged 24 and he was 37, allegedly a bachelor.  But their marriage was bigamous, for he had married a woman named May Leader in Newport in September 1905, and they had a child.
In Caswell Bay Shotton rented a house then called Craig Eithin, and brought Mamie there sometime in 1919.  She wrote to her mother that Shotton, besides beating her, “has put me in a great big house and just comes and goes when he likes.  Will write more later.”  Suspicions were aroused when her parents ceased hearing from Mamie, and later Shotton reported her missing.  An unclaimed suitcase was found at Swansea’s Grosvenor Hotel in the Sandfields containing some of Mamie’s possessions, and Shotton was arrested.  Police dug up the gardens of Craig Eithin and another property he had rented, and searched the cliffs, but no body was found.  When Shotton was brought to trial, without a body the charge was not murder but bigamy, for which he was sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour.  His first wife May divorced him, and Shotton later worked as an itinerant mechanic.  A violent man, he served another prison term after threatening his sister with a gun, and during the Second World War worked in a Bristol aircraft factory. 
At the 1962 coroner’s inquest in Gowerton, the three cavers gave evidence, as did 83- year-old retired postman Bill Symons, who recalled seeing Shotton outside the Caswell Bay house, struggling to load a sack into his van: the witness had failed to mention that to anyone at the time.  The house was a few hundred yards from the air shaft of the abandoned mine where the skeleton was found.  The inquest jury decided that the skeleton was that of Mamie Stuart, and took the unusual step of naming George Shotton as the murderer. 
But it was too late to bring him to justice - for Shotton had died aged 78 three years earlier, penniless in a Bristol hospital. 

Monday 3 April 2017

103 Vernon Watkins in Pennard

103 Vernon Watkins in Pennard
8th October will be the fiftieth anniversary of the death of poet Vernon Watkins, who died aged 61 at Seattle’s University of Washington, where he was the visiting professor of literature.  Having retired in 1966 from Lloyds Bank in St Helen’s Road, he was then being considered, along with others, for poet laureate following the death of John Masefield. 
Vernon lived most of his life in Pennard, where from the National Trust car park one can look across the Bristol Channel to the North Devon cliffs.  To the right overlooking Foxhole Bay is the much-enlarged Heatherslade Residential Home.  Outside this a plaque states: “Vernon Watkins lived here from 1924 - 45.  He and Dylan Thomas wrote many poems in this house”.  The plaque was unveiled by his widow Gwen Watkins on National Poetry Day in November 2009.  Heatherslade was rented by Vernon’s father after he retired from managing Lloyds Bank in Wind Street (now the Revolution Bar).  The family moved from Redcliffe, a large house in Caswell (replaced by the Redcliffe apartments), and Vernon’s mother soon became prominent in Pennard community activities.  Vernon would scramble down the cliffs, and enjoyed swimming, beachcombing, catching prawns and lobsters. 
Just before the roundabout and car park in Pennard, opposite the garage is Windy Ridge, formerly the home of Mr Emlyn Lewis.  His son Wyn Lewis recalled Vernon bursting in excitedly after work in March 1935, with the news that he had just met a genius - that was after his first meeting with Dylan.
Vernon spent many hours at Heatherslade with Dylan discussing and reading poetry, and they would play croquet in the garden.  When Dylan brought his fiancĂ©e Caitlin over she also tried to come to terms with this strange game.  Dylan described his friend as “the most profound and greatly accomplished Welshman writing poems in English”.                                                                    
From the bus stop by present-day Pennard Stores, Vernon would each morning catch the Swan bus (later the United Welsh no. 64) into Swansea, to alight at Hospital Square, outside the old Swansea Infirmary, now Home Gower.  He worked at the St Helen’s Road branch of Lloyds Bank (now the premises of William Hill).  In October 2014 Gwen Watkins unveiled a blue plaque stating that her husband had worked there for 38 years.  
On the outbreak of war Vernon was in a reserved occupation, until called up in 1941 to join the RAF police.  Being fluent in German and with his numerical expertise he was transferred to the government’s code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, where he met his future wife.  After the war he returned to Swansea, living for a year in Glanmor Road in the Uplands, before Vernon and Gwen Watkins moved into a wooden bungalow called “The Garth” on Pennard’s Westcliff, overlooking Heatherslade Bay.  The poem “Man in a field” concerns the death there of their former landlord and neighbour, the cellist Alfred Tomlinson. 
Visitors to “The Garth”, who included poets Philip Larkin and Dylan Thomas, composer Dan Jones and Dunvant-born painter Ceri Richards, often had difficulty keeping up with a fit Vernon whenever he suggested a walk down to the beach!
From Pennard car park the road to the left called Eastcliff ends at his favourite bay, pebble-covered Pwll Du.  The cliff-top path passes a spot above Hunts Bay where Vernon would sit looking across to Oxwich Bay seeking inspiration for his poetry.  Just below that cliff-top is a discreet memorial to the Poet of Gower, with words carved by sculptor Ronald Cour, whose widow Glenys recently exhibited at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery.  The words are from the poem “Taliesin in Gower”:
“I have been taught the script of the stones,
and I know the tongue of the wave.”

On Sundays Vernon would cycle to the morning service in Pennard Church, where his memorial states: 

“Death cannot steal the light

which love has kindled

nor the years change it.”