Thursday 30 November 2017

133 Church Bells and ringing

133 Church Bells and ringing 
This aspect of local history may be hidden, but it is certainly not silent!  Bell ringing, where bells are rung through a full 360° circle to carry the sound a considerable distance, originated in Britain, and has spread to parts of the Commonwealth, especially Australia and Canada.
Chiming is where the bell is stationery and just the clapper is moved to strike the bell.  But in bell ringing the bells are rung manually through a full circle, with each person ringing one bell.  The bells are hung in a frame in the belfry, each with a wheel attached, around which ropes run to bell-ringers standing in the ringing chamber below.  That is usually reached by ascending spiral steps inside the church tower, as in Sketty and St Mary’s Swansea, or it may be on the ground floor at the back of a church.  Swansea has churches with eight bells hung for ringing at St Mary’s in the city centre and at St Paul’s, Sketty, with other eight-bell rings at St Catherine’s, Gorseinon, and St Elli’s in Llanelli.  There are rings of six at Cadoxton and at St Thomas’s in Neath.  Llangyfelach’s four bells are rung from the ground floor of the detached tower, as at St David’s Cathedral, where the heavy eight hang in the detached belfry overlooking the Cathedral, not in the central tower.  St John’s in Morriston had six bells that stood idle on the ground for decades, since the movement of the bells had caused too much stress on the tower. 
Bells are usually made in the proportion of four parts copper to one part tin.  At St Paul’s Church in Sketty the ring of eight bells with a tenor (the heaviest bell) weighing 13cwt were cast by Mears and Stainbank of London, and re-hung in 1950 by their successors, the Whitechapel Foundry.  This closed in May 2017 after 250 years on that site.  The country’s principal bell-foundry is now John Taylor of Loughborough, who cast the eight bells with a 20cwt tenor in E for St Mary’s Swansea in 1959.  Older bell-founders were Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester (1684 to 1835), William Evans of Chepstow (1710 to 1767), and there were local small bell-founders like Thomas and David Davies of Oystermouth (1714 to 1722).
Ringing is not a matter of strength, since bells are hung now on ball bearings, rather than on plain bearings, as in the days of John Bunyan.  Children can ring the lighter bells once they develop the necessary hand-eye co-ordination, though the skill of ringing a bell takes time and perseverance to master.  Careful instruction should ensure that no learner is pulled up to the ceiling!  Instead of tunes, what are called “changes” are rung – which alter the order of the bells in prescribed ways, so that 123456 changes to 214365, and to 241635, etc.  Besides being rung for Sunday services and for weddings, church bells are rung for special occasions like the 70th wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip, when a peal was rung on Westminster Abbey’s 12 bells.  A peal is high-quality ringing of 5,040 changes that usually takes three or more hours, rather like a marathon in running terms.  Shorter lengths such as quarter-peals can be rung, similar to a 10k run, taking about 45 minutes.  Ringing chambers in many towers display boards that detail occasions on which particular peals have been rung, and listing the ringers.  In Sketty the name of former railwayman J. Arthur Hoare is prominent as conductor of several peals in the 1960s.  Dorothy L Sayers’ detective novel “The Nine Taylors” features bell ringing, though with some inaccuracies. 
Any hymn or carol heard on church bells will not be rung but chimed, probably by one person: when bell ringers are in action the difference is apparent, and many peals will be rung throughout the country at the time of the next royal wedding!                                                                                                                    

Saturday 4 November 2017

132 Dylan Thomas's Swansea

132 Dylan Thomas’s Swansea
Dylan Thomas is hardly “Hidden History” now, although 30 or 40 years ago people might have linked him with Laugharne or Newquay rather than with Swansea.  Once Jeff Towns, dealer in second-hand and antiquarian books, had established Dylan’s Bookshop in Salubrious Passage, he galvanized the city into appreciating what an asset it had as the cradle of this major poet.  When Swansea hosted the Year of Literature in 1995, the Old Guildhall in Somerset Place was transformed into first Tŷ Llen and then into the Dylan Thomas Centre, where Jeff’s extensive collection of Dylan Thomas memorabilia formed the basis for what was intended to be a permanent exhibition.  Subsequently Dylan’s birthplace in Cwmdonkin Drive has been opened to visitors, John Doubleday’s bronze statue stands in the Marina, with a statue of Captain Cat nearby, the Eli Jenkins pub in Oxford Street, the Dylan Thomas Theatre in the Maritime Quarter, a refurbished Cwmdonkin Park, and much else display Swansea’s connections with Dylan.
Of course over sixty years after his death much of Dylan’s Swansea has gone, like the reservoir in Cwmdonkin Park.  Near the High Street terminus of what used to be the Great Western Railway, at 60 Alexandra Road stood the second-hand bookshop run by Ralph Wishart (“Ralph the books”), in a row of buildings long demolished to make way for the open-air car park.  On Mount Pleasant Hill much of Swansea Grammar School, which Dylan attended and where his father taught, was destroyed during the war: what remains is now part of University of Wales Trinity St David’s.  Walter Road Congregational Church, to whose Sunday School Mrs Florrie Thomas would take her young son, stood at the junction with Humphrey Street, where the Brunel Court flats now stand. 
During his brief employment in 1931/32 as a junior reporter with the Evening Post and the Herald of Wales, the newspaper offices stood on the green in front of the Castle ruins, convenient for the Three Lamps Hotel in Temple Street, which following bombardment was rebuilt on the opposite side and re-named The Office.  Adjacent in Castle Street was the Kardomah Café, formerly Castle Street Congregational Church where Dylan’s parents were married in 1903.  In what had been the chapel’s gallery, Dylan presided over a group of Swansea’s gifted young men in the 1930s – at various times including composer Dan Jones, artists Alfred Janes and Mervyn Levy, writer Charles Fisher and poet Vernon Watkins.  In High Street opposite the King’s Arms was the Bush Hotel, which might yet re-emerge from behind hoardings.  Dylan drank there in October 1953 with Dan Jones, Vernon Watkins and others before catching the London train for his final visit to New York. 
In Mumbles, across the car park behind All Saints Church, are the church rooms, formerly the church hall - where Swansea Little Theatre rehearsed when Dylan was involved with the company.  Of the nearby pubs visited unofficially during rehearsals, the Antelope at the corner of Village Lane is no more, while the Mermaid has been extensively rebuilt following fire damage.  
In pre-television days, when cinemas were prominent centres of entertainment, a young Dylan in the 1920s enjoyed Saturday afternoon matinees which serialised the silent-film adventures of Pearl White, at the Uplands Cinema, where until recently a branch of Lloyds Bank stood.  That “flea-pit” had been frequented a few years earlier by a young Vernon Watkins.  The large Oceana building has been demolished in what is now the Kingsway, having stood on the site of the Plaza cinema in Northampton Lane, opened in 1931 as the largest cinema in Wales.  Though not a political animal, Dylan accompanied Bert Trick to a political rally there on 1st July 1934, when Rev. Leon Atkin upstaged the right-wing anti-semitic rhetoric of Sir Oswald Moseley, causing the meeting to end in uproar.            
The city of culture for 2021 may be Coventry - but Swansea has Dylan Thomas!