Beaumaris Castle

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After spending the first night in our holiday apartment, we decided that we’d visit Beaumaris and its castle. We’d signed up to Cadw (the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage) so wanted to take advantage of our membership.

Rather than drive, we decided to walk the 3 or 4 miles along the Anglesey coastal path, which passed the top of the drive and went over to Beamaris along quiet lanes and through fields. It was relatively easy going – the hardest part was a steep final descent into the town – and took us just over an hour. We arrived after midday so it was time to grab something to eat.

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Beaumaris is quite a small town. The reason for it’s existence is the castle which was the last of the fortresses built for Edward I in North Wales to keep control over the newly conquered territory.

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Starting in 1295, the castle was built on marsh land at a strategic position at the eastern entry to the Menai Straits. The name of the settlement comes from Norman-French beaux marais, which translates as “beautiful marshes”. As with Edward’s other Welsh castles, a fortified bastide was also built alongside the fortress. Nothing remains today of the town’s fortification, but the original, rectangular grid street pattern is still evident in the old part of the town.

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Bastides were populated by English settlers – the Welsh were permitted to visit during the day and were forbidden to trade. Locals from the nearby Welsh settlement of Llanfaes were forcibly removed miles away to  the west of Anglesey, and settled in a new town, appropriately named “Newborough”. 

Beaumaris was the last of Edward’s Welsh castles. It was designed as a “state of the art” fortress with a symmetrical concentric “walls within walls” design, with four successive lines of fortifications.

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It’s considered to be the most perfect example of a concentric castle. However, it was never completed as Edward was distracted by wars with the Scots and the builders ran out of money. So it looks rather squat as the towers were never built to their full height. Nevertheless, it is still a rather impressive structure today and must have been intimidating to the locals during the 13th Century .

Our Cadw membership meant we had free entry into the castle plus a 10% discount on the guide book. There’s plenty to see and it’s possible to walk around a substantial part of the battlements which have commanding views of the Menai Straits and the town and over to the mountains of Snowdonia. It was a warm day, but rather grey and windy. The light was rather “flat” so my photos don’t do full justice to the majesty of the castle and the views.

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When the castle was built, the sea would have come right up to the south gate (land has been reclaimed from the sea since then) so that it could be supplied by sea.

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The outer walls were surrounded by a moat, and this has been restored so visitors can gain an impression of how it would have originally looked.

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The castle is built from local stone – different types were used and laid out to give a chequerboard effect.

The huge turrets – 16 in total – are regularly spaced around the walls.

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There were massive fortified gate houses in the north and the south walls.

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The “inner ward” contained the domestic buildings and accommodation for the garrison.

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Very little of these “everyday” structures remain, although we were able to visit the chapel

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Very attractive modern stained glass windows have been installed in the chapel.

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A little research afterwards revealed that they were created for Cadw by two Welsh artists – Linda Norris and Rachel Phillips, working as the Creative Partnership, Studio Melyn. On her website, which includes some good photos of the glass, Linda tells us that

We used the plan of the castle, large in scale and centralized within the window layout, as an underlying structure for the windows into which areas of colour and detail was placed. The patterns and colours reference medieval manuscripts, musical notation, coinage, heraldry and the marks of the masons who built the castle.

There are some other photos on the Studio Melyn website.

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A wander around Ruthin

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After we’d looked around the exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre, we decided to walk the short distance into the small town and have a look around.

There’s been a town here since the 13th century when, during t his consolidation of the conquest of North Wales, Edward I had a castle constructed in this strategic location. There’ not much left of the castle today and it’s now part of a hotel, set in it’s own grounds. Apparently  Prince Charles stayed here for the night before his investiture as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. As was usually the case, a community developed around the castle, so the town was probably originally a bastide, populated with English settlers. But these days it’s very Welsh!

Probably the most notable event in the town’s history occurred during the Welsh revolt 1400–1415 led by Owain Glyndŵr. The revolt was sparked when Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthin, who was a big mate of the king, Henry IV, allegedly stole some land claimed by Glyndŵr . His response was to attack Ruthin with several hundred men, looting and burning down most of the buildings in the town. This was the start of the rebellion, during which Glyndŵr  was proclaimed Prince of Wales.

Being rather out on a limb away from the main industrial centres, Ruthin is rather frozen in time and, as a consequence, there’s a significant number of interesting old buildings. It’s a small town centre, only a few streets, so it didn’t take long to look around.

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The Old Court House was built in 1421 after the original court house building was burned down by Owain Glyndŵr ‘s men. It’s a Grade II* Listed building and until 2017 housed a branch of the National Westminster Bank.

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The Old Court House

Nantclwyd House in Castle Street is a Grade I listed timber-framed mansion and the oldest building in Ruthin dating from 1314.

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Nantclwyd House

Today, it’s a museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit.

There’s some “newer” buildings, too, a number from the Georgian period

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Exmewe Hall, on St Peter’s Square, it looks like a Tudor timber framed building, but was actually reconstructed during the 20th century to mimic the black and white town mansion, built around 1550, that originally stood on the site.

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Exmewe Hall

I enjoyed looking at the old buildings, but before we headed back to the car to set off for Anglesey, we had to go to prison!

Spitalfields

I was back in London for a day last week with work. As I had an early start, I went down the evening before and not being one for sitting around in a hotel room, I decided to get out for a wander. I was staying near Tower Bridge, but rather than stick to the more touristy areas nearby (especially busy at this time of the year) I wandered over to Whitechapel and then over to Spitalfields.

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The district was created in the 17th century and became populated with Irish and Huguenot silk weavers. The industry prospered for a while but went into decline, as did the area which became something of a notorious slum. Over time other immigrants moved in, Jewish and then later in the 20th Century there was an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, who also worked in the local textile industry and made Brick Lane the curry capital of London.

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Today, like much of the East End, the area has been gentrified with the old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped. It’s quite a “buzzing” area at night, centred on the curry houses on Brick Lane, although they seem to be more up-market these days.

I had a good mooch around and took a few photos before heading back to my hotel.

A favourite building of mine is Hawksmoor’s Christ Church. One of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known. I’ll get a look inside one of these days (it’s never open when I’ve been there!)

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There’s quite a few streets where the 17th century buildings are still standing, with many having been renovated

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Street art too, especially around Brick Lane

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After had a good mooch, it was a short walk back to my hotel which was opposite this well known landmark

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An early start for the YSP

It was our wedding anniversary last Saturday (6th July), a cause for a celebration. But there was another reason why it was a special day.

We were up early, despite it being a Saturday, to drive over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s a favourite place which we usually visit 2 or 3 times a year to see exhibitions and enjoy a walk through the park. This time, however, we were going to a special event. For Christmas I’d paid for my wife’s name to be cast in iron as part of the “Walk of Art 2” on the pathway leading into the new visitor centre, the Weston. The second section of the walk, which includes her entry, had been recently installed and we were attending the official opening.

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There were speeches by Peter Murray, the YSP’s Director, Gordon Young, the artist who designed the work as well as his granddaughter

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Peter Murray
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Gordon Young
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Gordon Young and Sophie, his granddaughter
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We then went outdoors where the artist and his grandchildren cut the ribbon to officially open “Walk of Art 2

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Cutting the ribbon
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The names are cast in iron on a series of plates (my wife’s entry is on Plate 27) . Newly installed they were reddish-brown but will change over time due to weathering. The first set of plates, installed a few months ago, had already weathered and were more of a silvery-grey colour.

My wife’s name is on one of these plates

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but you’ll have to guess which one it is!

The new visitor centre is at the far end of the park, on the car park nearest to the M1. It’s quite a lot smaller than the main centre, but has a restaurant, small gallery and shop. The design is quite clean and simple, constructed from layered pigmented concrete with lots of wood and glass

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The architects have designed in sustainable features such as natural ventilation, an air-source heat pump, a low-energy environmental control system and a wild-flower roof .

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Inside the Weston’s gallery

The new visitor centre has opened up the far end of the park for displaying art, which make it even harder to see everything in one day’s visit!

Currently there are a number of works by Damien Hirst, the Leeds born artist, on display as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International exhibition which is being run in partnership with the Hepworth Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

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After the ceremony we strolled across the park to visit the new exhibitions that have opened in the Underground Gallery and the Chapel – I’ll be writing them up in a couple of other posts – and to have a wander round the park looking at some new exhibits as well as some old favourites.

Art Deco London

Work is taking me down to London a few times during June and July. The first of three visits took place last week. I caught a train late Wednesday afternoon ready for a meeting the next day. It’s not much fun sitting in a budget hotel room near Euston, so I decided to get out for a wander around Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia.

London’s a different world from a northern town like Wigan. So much more hectic and busier and with a lot more activity and things to see even while just mooching about. I’m fairly familiar with Bloomsbury as you’re in the district as soon as you step outside Euston station, but, even so, I often spot something I’ve not noticed before while I’m out “street haunting”.

Bloomsbury and nearby Fitzrovia are noted for Georgian and Regency architecture. But in amongst the neo-Classical squares and crescents there are other types of buildings, including a few in the Art Deco / “Streamline Moderne” style from the 1930’s. Here’s a few photos – some I’d seen before but a few I’d noticed for the first time. The light wasn’t great for photos, unfortunately, but here’s a few snaps anyway.

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Block of flats on Coram Street, Bloomsbury
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Former Bentley Garage
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University College London, Senate House, off Russell Square
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The doorway of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
I sat my BOHS Certificate oral examination in this building many years ago
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This building on the Edgeware Road looks like it used to be a cinema
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Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, on the corner of Portland Place and Langham Place, Fitzrovia. The first radio broadcast from the building was made on 15 March 1932
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The sculpture of Prospero and Ariel  by Eric Gill on the facade of Broadcasting House.
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Middlesex House in Fitzrovia. A 5 storey office building erected in 1934 that was previously a garment factory
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Another view of Middlesex House

Heptonstall

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On Easter Saturday I decided to take advantage of the good weather and get out for another walk. I’d enjoyed my walk over Blackstone Edge the previous Saturday so thought I’d take the train back over to the South Pennines, this time to Hebden Bridge for a walk over to Stoodley Pike. I arrived in the former mill town in the bottom of the narrow Calder Valley, which has now become rather trendy and “Bohemian”. I didn’t stop long, I’d been a couple of times before, but decided to gead up to the small community of Heptonstall, just up the hill from Hebden Bridge. And what a hill it is!

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I took the VERY steep cobbled lane up from the centre of Hebden Bridge

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and then up a steep road that took me into the village.

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There’s been a settlement here as far back as at least 1253 and it was even the site of a battle during the Civil War. Historically, it was a centre for hand-loom weaving, The work was done in the worker’s own homes, usually on the top floor and the old cottages and houses have long rows of stone mullioned windows on the first-floor which were meant to allow in plenty of light for the weavers.

High up on the hill it was away from the dark and damp valley floor. However, during the early Industrial Revolution, with the advent of water power, the new factories were built by the source of their power, the river, so Heptonstall went into decline. As a consequence, it’s almost as if it’s been frozen in time. I guess that for many years the buildings would have fallen into disrepair, but with the resurgence of Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall has also become a desirable location and the old houses and other buildings have been renovated.

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The former Cloth Hall, which is now a private house,was built between 1545-58. Finished cloth produced in the town and nearby area used to be traded here.

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The Octagonal Methodist Chapel was built in 1764 and the design and construction of were overseen by John Wesley, who frequently preached here. It’s one of the oldest Methodist churches in continuous use today.

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No visit to Heptonstall would be complete without a visit to the churchyard. There’s actually two churches there, one of them a ruined shell. The original church, dedicated to St Thomas a Becket, was founded c.1260, but was damaged by a gale in 1847. The new church which replaced it, dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, was built just across the churchyard. 

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A large proportion of visitors come up the hill to see the grave of Sylvia Plath who is buried in the new graveyard, just across a narrow lane from the church.

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There’s a lot of old graves in the old churchyard

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The most notable “resident” is David Hartley, the KIng of the Crag Vale Coiners, who was executed in York on 28 April 1770 This is his gravestone

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Some consider the coiners to be local heroes, Calderdale “Robin Hoods”. Others consider them as a bunch of vicious rogues. In either case, they are the subject of a rather excellent prize winning novel, The Gallows Pole by Ben Myers, who lives in the area

Just by the graveyard there’s a rather excellent little museum, housed in the old grammar school building that was constructed in 1642

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There are exhibits about the history of the village, its industry, the Civil War battle and, of course, the coiners.

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Partway back down, the view over Hebden Bridge

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and then down the steep, cobbled lane

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back to Hebden Bridge where I took a break by the old packhorse bridge for a bite to eat before setting off on my walk up Stoodley Pike

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