Wednesday 7 March 2018

148 Rhyddings

148 Rhyddings
Behind St Gabriel’s Church in Bryn Road runs Brynmill Crescent, and in turn above that runs St Alban’s Road.  At the junction with Bernard Street, number 16 is a much altered house built in the mid-eighteenth century called The Rhyddings.  This used to stand alone, but is now in the heart of the suburb of Brynmill, which from the 1890s was built on fields that once surrounded this mansion house.
The earliest depiction of Rhyddings showing its original appearance is entitled “Rough view of Swansea, 7th August 1783” by Lieutenant William Booth, who was an ensign in what later became the Royal Engineers.  His viewpoint is close to Brynmill Primary School in St Alban’s Road.  Lieut. Booth’s sketchbook emerged in Australia in 1927, and was sent to historian W.H. Jones at Swansea Museum.  The late Bernard Morris wrote that Lieut. Booth “has drawn a bulky but quite modest house with two floors and an attic”, and he made out four equally-spaced windows on the first floor, with the ground floor entrance set centrally with two windows each side.  He wrote in 1989 that the house by then was “very greatly altered and extended”.
Among significant people who have lived at Rhyddings, albeit only for a short time, was the poet Walter Savage Landor in 1796, when he encountered 16-year-old Rose Aylmer, who inspired one of his poems.  Landor was a friend of Charles Dickens, and it seems that Mr Boythorn’s character in “Bleak House” was based on him.  Landor is well known for his comparison, made many years after he had left Swansea, of Swansea Bay with the Bay of Naples, though it is by no means clear which location was his preference.
Local artist Emma Cownie has painted several Brynmill scenes, including Rhyddings.  She notes in her blog that “its pebble-dashed exterior was tinged grey with neglect ... and it seemed out of place among the tight terraces”.  Her research revealed that it was one of a few large houses to the west of Swansea, with eight generously-sized bedrooms, an orchard, a walled garden, and farmland.  Besides superb views across the Bay, from 1837 one could have seen to the north-west the new Brynmill Reservoir, which later became Brynmill Park’s lake.  The house was struck by lightning during an autumn thunderstorm in 1831, and sustained bomb damage during the last war.
The best known occupier was Dr Thomas Bowdler, from Box near Bath, from 1811.  His name has gone into the English language with the verb “to bowdlerise”, which a dictionary defines as meaning “to remove passages or words regarded as indecent from a play or novel, to expurgate”.  Bowdler has been called “the censor of Shakespeare”, for while at Rhyddings he produced in 1818 “The Family Shakespeare” in ten volumes, building on his sister’s earlier edition omitting “whatever is unfit to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies”.  However, the abridgements and alterations did make Shakespearian plays known to a wide audience.
Bowdler died at Rhyddings in 1825 aged 70, and bequeathed to St Mary’s Church a painting of the Madonna and Child by the 17th century Italian Sassoferrato.  Although this was destroyed during wartime bombardment, a full-colour digital replica now hangs in the church.  Bowdler’s funeral cortѐge was the last to proceed along the tide-line from Swansea to Mumbles, for he was buried in a chest grave on the east side of All Saints’ churchyard, as there was no further space around St Mary’s.  His extensive library he left to what was then St David’s Theological College in Lampeter.  The verb “to bowdlerise” was in usage from 1838, thirteen years after his death. 
Rhyddings is not only the name of the former mansion and of the Brynmill pub, but of an area in Neath, a school in Accrington, a kennels in Leeds, and much else - though the word’s actual meaning is unknown.

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