Saturday 20 January 2018

140 Public Executions

140 Public Executions
Swansea has many distinctions, such as being where the first weekly English language newspaper in Wales - The Cambrian - was published in 1804, and likewise the first Welsh language newspaper in Wales - Seren Gomer - in 1816.  It would hardly be a distinction, but Swansea is also where the last public execution in Wales took place.  This was not such a violent occasion as mentioned last week - the burning of Bishop Robert Ferrar in Nott Square, Carmarthen, in March 1555 - but it was a hanging in April 1866 outside Swansea prison, witnessed by a crowd of thousands.  This inspired a poem by Harri Webb, while Ferrar’s execution had inspired a poem by Ted Hughes, who was related to the bishop on his mother’s side.  Disorderly scenes at the hanging in Swansea contributed to future executions being carried out within prison walls.
Swansea’s most notorious public execution - also a hanging - was that in 1290 of William (Gwilym) Cragh of Llanrhidian, sentenced to hang by William de Breos, with the execution carried out on Gibbet Hill (by today’s North End Road).  Bizarrely an apparently dead Cragh later recovered, and this was regarded as a miracle.
The last person to be publicly executed in Wales was Robert Coe, aged 18, from the Midlands.  He worked in a blacksmith’s shop as a striker at the Powell Dyffryn Works, and in September 1865 in Mountain Ash’s Graig Dyffryn Wood he murdered fellow-worker John Davies with a hatchet, severing his head.  The motive was murder - Coe took 33 shillings from the dead man and hid the body.  But Coe and Davies had been noticed drinking together in an inn on the day of the murder, and were seen by a stile leading to the woods.  Some months later Davies’s body was discovered, and when the borrowed hatchet was found to contain traces of blood, Coe was arrested.  He did admit to his crime just before his execution, for which crowds poured in to Swansea, with special trains laid on: around 15,000 people were present at 7am, including women and children.  Street vendors had set up stalls near the scaffold, with some even driving their carts right up to the gallows, then removing and hiding the wheels, so that the police could not move them on.  They would charge exorbitant fees for people to witness the execution from the carts.  Essex-born William Calcraft, then in his sixties, was the hangman, a role he performed about 450 times.  But as the crowd pushed and jostled, scores were injured and many trampled on.
The Cambrian commented, “We are far from believing that any salutary effect is produced upon the minds of the spectators by the exhibition presented them, by seeing a poor wretch deliberately and publicly strangled, and would gladly welcome the alteration in the law.”                                                                           
Public executions were often held on market days to enable the largest number of people to see them, with school parties attending as a moral lesson, and public houses and gin shops doing a very brisk trade on a hanging day.  Sometimes executions were carried out around midday to give people time to get there.  Death masks might be made of famous criminals after their execution and put on display - that of body-snatcher William Burke, executed in Edinburgh in 1829, shows the indentation in his neck left by the noose.  In London, Madame Tussaud’s waxworks might purchase a prisoner’s clothes and other objects from the hangman to display, to add authenticity to wax figures in the “Chamber of Horrors”.  Throughout the nineteenth century Quakers and such authors as Dickens and Thackeray were prominent in calling for an end to all this.  
The last public execution in mainland Britain was in May 1868, just before the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act came into force to end public hanging, two years after Robert Coe was hanged outside Swansea prison.                                                        


Thursday 18 January 2018

139 Fr Charles Kavanagh

139 Father Charles Kavanagh
In 1555 Bishop Robert Farrar was burned at the stake in Carmarthen’s Nott Square during the post-Reformation attempts of Henry VIII’s eldest daughter Queen Mary to restore Roman Catholicism.  In reaction against that time, and against the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, Catholics were viewed with deep suspicion and endured centuries of persecution in Britain.  Excluded from public life and university education (as were Nonconformists), they faced prejudice and discrimination, even after the 1829 Emancipation Act had removed many barriers to their holding public office.  One man who did much to break down anti-Catholic prejudice in Swansea was the priest Charles Kavanagh, after whom a residential property in the Marina is named. 
Born in Denbighshire, Charles Kavanagh studied for the priesthood in Lisbon, before in 1838 being sent to Swansea to take responsibility for an extensive area which then included Llanelli, Aberafan and Neath.  In some areas anti-Catholic feeling even meant that a priest needed a bodyguard when going to say Mass.  From around 1797 Swansea had a Catholic place of worship, while by the 1840s most of the town’s three hundred Catholics were Irish, even before migration because of the Irish potato famines.  
A few years later, for the first time since the Reformation, a Roman Catholic bishop was made responsible for the whole of Wales, with in 1850 dioceses established in Newport and Wrexham.  Father Kavanagh witnessed the extensive growth of Swansea’s Irish community - from 1,369 in 1851 to 2,800 by 1859 - and he opened St David's Church in Rutland Place to replace the ruined chapel in Nelson Place near the docks.  Four years later a school was built nearby, and then another (aptly named after St Patrick) in the district of Greenhill, known as “Little Ireland”.  Father Kavanagh conducted a Sunday school in Gaelic in premises at the corner of Brook Street and Well Street.
The Irish in Swansea were concentrated in industrial areas to the north of the town, especially between Carmarthen Road and Neath Road, many in squalid living conditions.  The 1849 cholera epidemic was particularly virulent in the vicinity of Greenhill, where Father Kavanagh rented a room to be among the needy, and made himself available to assist Dr Long in visiting the sick, washing them and combing their hair (regardless of whether or not they were Catholics).  One account states, “Day and night he spent his time among the stricken, ministering to every want, and performing the most menial tasks for the sick and the dying.”  He also acted as interpreter, since many spoke only Gaelic.  In just two months he conducted as many as 170 funerals, and for his selfless service among cholera victims was awarded a testimonial purse of fifty sovereigns at the Town Hall.  
A man of wit and humour, Father Kavanagh was secretary to the Mechanics Institute, and served on the Council of the Royal Institution of South Wales.  He was instrumental in establishing the municipal graveyards at Oystermouth and Danygraig, and following his sudden death in 1856 aged forty-seven, he was the first person to be buried at Danygraig.  His funeral was virtually a civic occasion, with the Mayor and Corporation attending, while a plaque inside St David’s Church states that “he deservedly won the esteem of Catholics and non-Catholics alike”.
Before his death he had applied for the lease of land at Greenhill, where several years later what was then St Joseph’s Church was built at a cost of £10,000, designed by Peter Paul Pugin, son of the notable architect Augustus Pugin, who designed the Palace of Westminster.  St Joseph’s was opened in 1888, while still under construction, and became a Cathedral in 1987 when the Diocese of Menevia (the Roman name for St David’s) was re-defined.  
Could Father Kavanagh have ever envisaged that in Greenhill, where in 1849 he had ministered among the suffering of cholera victims, a Roman Catholic Cathedral would one day stand?                                                                              

Sunday 14 January 2018

138 The Vivian Hall

138 The Vivian Hall
A village or church hall should be a centre for a community, where various clubs, meetings and activities can take place.  2018 is the centenary of Blackpill’s Vivian Hall, which stands on the Mumbles Road opposite the Lido, and also serves Derwen Fawr and Mayals residents.  It was originally known as the Blackpill Village Institute, built on land owned by the Vivians.
What we know as Clyne Castle was built as Woodlands in 1791, before purchase in 1860 by Graham Vivian, second son of copper master John Henry Vivian.  He transformed it into opulent Clyne Castle, and built up the surrounding estate.
After he died in 1912, his youngest sister, 73-year-old Miss Dulcie Vivian inherited the estate as a life tenant.  She built the Blackpill Village Institute alongside the Village School in 1918, as a meeting place for workers on the estate.
At first the Institute was two separate halls, one behind the other, which were not joined until 1933.  The rear or minor hall was used for billiards, for the village had teams for billiards as well as for darts, football and cricket.  Before the Second World War the Institute was popular for Saturday evening dances, and was also used by the school next door and by Clyne Chapel, opened in 1908.   During the last war the Home Guard was based at the Institute, which was formally renamed the Vivian Hall in March 1947.
Once hostilities ended normal hall usage recommenced, and in 1948 the Blackpill Women's Institute was formed, with a membership of 85.  But four years later the hall faced a crisis on the death of Admiral Walker-Heneage-Vivian, nephew of Graham and Dulcie Vivian, who had inherited the Clyne estate.  To meet the two-thirds death duties, Clyne and the estate, including the Vivian Hall, were to be sold by auction at the Mackworth Hotel.  Protest meetings were held, and eventually the Admiral’s widow removed the hall from sale, and conveyed it to four trustees to hold on behalf of the community.  Terms of the deed mentioned that it was to be used as a “sectarian and non-political place of recreation”, which would exclude use for political gatherings, though not from use as a polling station during elections.  After the billiards club closed in 1958 the table was sold, which with hindsight prevented it re-forming when TV programmes like “Pot Black” stimulated interest in billiards and snooker.
In the early 1970s the hall was brought to the brink of bankruptcy through some poor management, but the crisis was weathered - only for survival to be put in jeopardy through vandalism in February 1979 that caused fire damage in the passage linking the two halls.  Much of the building was out of use for a considerable time.
The turning point came when the Blackpill, Mayals and Derwen Fawr Residents’ Association took over temporary management of the hall in 1982, and Bob Cuthill with a background in local government became chairman.  He later wrote “That Tin Shack”, about the first 70 years of the Hall, in 1990.
From 1985 to 1987 necessary maintenance was undertaken as a community project by the Swansea Council for Voluntary Services, which enabled the Minor Hall to be used again after an eight-year break.
Today the Vivian Hall is on a solid footing, used for a wide range of activities - weekly meetings of St John Ambulance, Bridge and Scrabble Clubs, WEA Literature classes, twice weekly Tae Kwon Do sessions, monthly meetings of the Blackpill Local History Society, twice monthly meetings of Oystermouth Probus Club, as well as a Welsh parent/toddler group three mornings a week, weekly ladies yoga sessions and twice-weekly ladies line dancing, amongst others.  
Like the Ostreme Centre in Mumbles to the west, and the Parish Centre in Sketty to the east, the Vivian Hall, serving Blackpill, Derwen Fawr and Mayals, merits continued support as it enters its second century.

Sunday 7 January 2018

137 Glanmor School

137 Glanmôr School
Swansea’s district of St Thomas has three streets named after Crimean War battles – Inkerman, Balaclava and Sebastopol.  Likewise the housing estate at the top of Glanmôr Hill has four streets named after Oxbridge Colleges - Newnham Crescent and Girton Villas (Cambridge), with Lady Margaret Villas and Somerville Court (Oxford).  These colleges were founded in the 19th century as women’s colleges (though both Lady Margaret and Somerville now accept male students).  Those street names were chosen because Glanmôr School once stood on that site, and the college names are those of four of the seven “houses” in the Girls’ School.
As Carol Powell points out in “Glanmôr Remembered”, after the First World War Swansea’s Director of Education wanted to cater for children who were “not quite bright enough for Secondary Education, but too bright to languish in Elementary Education until they were fourteen”.  So Glanmôr was built as a “Central School” on the site of Cwmgwyn Farm, and opened in April 1922 for boys and girls, using surplus army billet huts from Codfood Camp on Salisbury Plain.  These wooden huts were arranged around a grassy area in a rectangle, with each linked by an open veranda, and were intended as temporary accommodation, expected to last from ten to fifteen years: in the event they would be in use for over fifty!  The boys’ section had 278 pupils in the eastern part, and the girls’ section had 243 in the western part.
In 1930 Glanmôr received full Secondary School status, becoming on a level with Swansea’s two boys schools, Dynevor in De La Beche Street and the Grammar School on Mount Pleasant Hill, and two girls schools, Llwyn-y-bryn in the Uplands and De La Beche (where the Orchard Centre now stands).  School plays – including Shakespearian dramas - would take place at the YMCA’s Llewelyn Hall or St Gabriel’s Church Hall in Bryn Road. 
During the Second World War pupils were evacuated to Oxford Street School, which was safer, being a solid stone construction; boys used the first floor, and girls the ground floor, while Glanmôr was occupied by American soldiers.  After the war, Butler’s 1944 Education Act raised the school leaving age to 15, and the Glanmôr boys were dispersed among various secondary schools, leaving Glanmôr as a Girls’ School.
The 618 pupils were divided into seven houses – the four mentioned earlier, with St Hilda’s and St Hugh’s, both named after Oxford colleges, and St David’s.  Netball and rounders took place on school premises, but hockey entailed a trek up to the playing fields on Townhill.
New buildings were put up for science, art and music, and following educational reform Glanmôr became a senior comprehensive school in 1970, when pupil numbers reached 898.  School trips were made to such places as Brecon Cathedral, the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, and what was then called St Fagan’s Folk Museum, and to the Continent.
But after 50 years of use, the huts (known both disparagingly and affectionately as “the cowsheds”) were inadequate, especially once the school leaving age was increased to 16.  So Glanmôr School was closed in 1972 - some girls climbed on the roof and painted the words “Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow”, from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”.  However the buildings continued to be used, in 1974 by second and third year pupils of the new Olchfa Comprehensive School, while high alumina cement that had been used during its construction was removed, and as an annexe by Gorseinon College of Further Education.  When proposals for a Welsh-medium comprehensive school on the site did not materialise, Glanmôr was demolished in August 1989 to make way for housing. 
All that remains of the school is part of the perimeter wall and a stone entrance-Arch, on the corner of Glanmôr Road and Penlan Crescent, but the regular reunions of the Glanmôr Old Girls Association show that it is far from being forgotten.

Friday 5 January 2018

136 Bethany Chapel, West Cross

136 Bethany Chapel, West Cross
Bethany Baptist Chapel in West Cross appears somewhat hidden, for it stands at the top of Bethany Lane, off Mumbles Road, rather than being in the centre of that area.  It is near what used to be Longfields Day Centre, where there is now private housing.  Bethany’s original building opened nearly 60 years before Mumbles Baptist Church, which opened in 1910 and stands prominently at the corner of Newton Road near Underhill Park.  Bethany’s first chapel was built before the centre of Mumbles developed, and houses and shops began to stretch up Newton Road.  There used to be a Mumbles Railway station at Haroldsmoor, which was conveniently almost opposite Bethany Lane, so to get to the chapel only became difficult once this was closed in 1928 when the line was electrified.
Wales’s first Baptist Church had been founded in peninsular Gower, at Ilston in 1649, by John Miles (also spelt Myles).  During the 17th century Gower had strong Puritan influences, through ministers like Marmaduke Matthews at Penmaen, Ambrose Mostyn at Pennard, as well as Miles himself at Ilston, and a leading Parliamentarian in Colonel Philip Jones of Llangyfelach.  This tradition of Reformed ministry has been continued at Bethany, which was founded in 1850 by church planter John Pugh, of Wimmerfield Farm in Killay.  He had been converted at Penclawdd’s Mount Hermon Chapel (now a roofless ruin), which became the mother church of Trinity Baptist in Penclawdd and of Tirzah in Llanmorlais.  John Pugh negotiated the lease of land at Longfields in West Cross from the Duke of Beaufort, on which to build Bethany, which he pastored before going on to establish Providence Chapel (now a private house) at Knelston.
The fellowship at Bethany (in what was then called Norton Fields) began in September 1850.  The Cambrian newspaper stated that “a monster tea party took place at the old castle of Oystermouth” in aid of funds for the chapel, and estimated that about 1,100 people participated.  The congregation soon outgrew that building, so that meetings were held in Mumbles, at the school that used to stand in Dunns Lane.  Rather than build on a different site, the present Bethany Chapel was erected adjoining the original one, which became the schoolroom, as with Trinity Presbyterian in Glanmor Park Road or Moriah Chapel in Loughor, among others.  It opened in September 1867, with the Cambrian commenting, “They have converted a small and unsightly chapel into one of the most commodious and pretty in the district, and they now have a house of God worthy of this rapidly rising watering place.” 
A manse was acquired in Lundy Drive in 1983, and the mortgage was paid off within a few years – a considerable achievement when the fellowship rarely numbered more than 50 members.  The congregation has reaped benefits from periods of long ministry – Rev. Thomas Davis ministered for 24 years until 1909, Rev. William Ham for 25 years to 1945, and current pastor Rev. Michael Leaves for 24 years to date.   Principal organist since 1983 has been Mr Robert Barnes, who serves as a deacon, and updated his 2001 history of the church for the recent anniversary.
The congregation has been outward looking, for example supporting a Morriston family engaged in mission work in Japan, and welcoming several Korean families when Derek Earl lectured at the Bible College of Wales in Derwen Fawr.  The 150th anniversary of the present building echoed the 1850 occasion by holding a Victorian Tea Party (though not a monster one) last November, raising funds for the Mumbles food bank rather than for the chapel.   
Bethany seeks to continue to proclaim God’s sovereignty amid a cynical age, without diluting the message that the Puritans proclaimed into one more acceptable to what many call a post-Christian society.  The chapel itself may not be as visible as some places of worship, but the influence and witness of its congregation is certainly not hidden.