Plas Mawr

During our day in Conway, after visiting the castle and before our walk along the walls, we decided to pay a visit to Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan town house on the main street in the middle of the town. It’s owned by Cadw and has been beautifully restored.

Plas Mawr is Welsh for the ‘Great Hall’, and it was built between 1576 and 1585, at a total cost of around £800, for a wealthy merchant, Robert Wynn, the third son of a local landowner who’d made his fortune by working for a Tudor diplomat, which led to him travelling across Europe. When he returned home to North Wales, he had the house built and it’s design is influenced by the Flemish buildings that had impressed him during his travels. After his death legal complications meant that ownership of the house took time to resolve and so it was left untouched, which is why it hasn’t changed much over the years.

Entrance is through the gatehouse which is on High Street. Visitors then pass through a small courtyard into the main building. It’s a self-guided tour but visitors are provided with one of those audio guides that you point at a data point to listen to the relevant commentary.

Robert Wynn wanted to impress his visitors to show off his wealth and the house has a number of features to try and achieve this, including some very fancy plasterwork. There were examples of this in the first room we visited, the hall. Cadw have had it restored, wit the figures of “Greek” priestesses and other symbols painted in bright colours. The owner’s initials featuring prominently.

There was plasterwork all over the house, even in the kitchen. It must have cost a fortune to have all this work done by travelling craftsmen.

After looking round the kitchen and pantry, the next stop was the brewery – an important room as until relatively recently water wasn’t fit to drink so the “small beer” (dilute ale) was the staple drink. Stronger beer would also have been brewed here.

The commentary made a point of stressing that the brewery was located directly underneath the master’s bedroom and that he would have had to endure some strong odours on brew day!

We then visited the courtyard and restored Elizabethan garden where we got a good view of the exterior. Notable features are the tower and the stepped gables, influenced by Flemish architecture and which would have been very unusual in North Wales.

Some of what looked like the original woodwork was visible on the exterior doors

Back inside we went upstairs to the top of the house. The large attic is where the servants would have slept.

The timber roof has arch-braced collar trusses, joined using an unusual system called “double pegging”, which was only used in the Conwy valley during the late 16th century.

In 1683 the Mostyns, who were a powerful family in North Wales, took over ownership of the house and over the years it was used for various purposes, with rooms subdivided and let out as cheap lodgings and at one time an infant school occupied some of the rooms. Cadw have furnished one of the rooms on the top floor of the house to show ho it would have looked when it was rented out by a poorer family

Moving down a floor, we saw the bedchambers of Robert Wynn and his wife.

More fancy plaster work in his bedroom

and here’s his privy, just off his bedroom. Rather a luxury for it’s time!

And here’s Dorothy’s chamber. He married her in 1588 after his first wife, also called Dorothy, had died childless. Although he was getting on in years they had 7 children together.

Most of the first floor was occupied by the very grand Great Chamber, the main room where the Wynns would entertain their guests. Of course, there was yet more plaster work

The remaining rooms on the first floor were devoted to an exhibition about hygiene and water provision. These would originally have been used as bedrooms for guests and the children of the family. We rounded off the visit by climbing the steep stairs and ladder up to the top of the tower where there were views over the town, castle, harbour and nearby mountains.

Plas Mawr is certainly a very well preserved and interesting building. It provides a glimpse into the life of a prosperous family living in a small town in North Wales during the Elizabethan period. The architecture is interesting too, showing the influence of continental styles on the British gentry.

Back to Haarlem

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Last week we were back in Haarlem, to visit our daughter while taking a few days break. As usual, we managed to pack a lot into the week – spending some time exploring the small, historic city, watching some live music acts (the Haarlem Jazz Festival started towards the end of our little holiday), taking in some art in Amsterdam and even managing a short walk on the dunes.

We caught the plane from Manchester. Unfortunately there was a dealy which meant we were sat on the plane for over an hour and a half before it took off. Not the greatest experience, but it could have been worse. So we arrived in Haarlem a couple of hours late. It’s quite easy to get to the city by catching the Number 300 bis that runs from Schipol airport to the train station in Haarlem, a 40 minute journey with buses about every 10 minutes during the daytime. We’d rented a house a few minutes walk from the station, so after picking up the keys we were soon settled in.

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The next morning we spent the morning wandering around Haarlem. The Single canal was just a couple of minutes walk from our little house. The canal was built as part of the city defences and the northern section zig zags – a defensive arrangement. The city walls used to stand on an embankment to the south of this section of the canal but they were dismantled many years ago as the city expanded northwards and a park created where they used to stand. We followed the path along the canal bank through the park.

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We spent the rest of the morning mooching around the pleasant streets in the city centre before grabbing a bite to eat in the cafe on the top floor of the Hudson Bay department store

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from where there are good views over the city.

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The building that the Hudson Bay store occupies was built in the 1930’s for the Vroom en Dreesman store. It’s architecture is modernist in style with Amsterdam School and Art Deco influences. It’s something of a Marmite building – you either love it or hate it – I fall into the former camp! V and D went bust in 2015 and the building was unoccupied the first time we visited Haarlem, but it was taken over by Hudson Bay (a Canadian company) who opened there in 2018.

There are some rather nice stained glass windows in the stairwell and on some of the floors

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After we’d eaten we wandered through the shopping streets down to the Spaarn and made our way to the Tyler’s Museum. Our visit there warrants its own post so to finish this one, here’s a few photos I took around the town (some taken later in the week).

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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

Glendalough Monastic City

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Before and after my walk around the two lakes at Glendalough I took the opportunity to look around the Monastic City, an early Christian monastic settlement founded by the Celtic saint, St. Kevin (Caoimhín in Irish) in the 6th century although mst of the surviving buildings are from the 10th to 12th centuries. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in this part of Ireland being only an hour’s drive from Dunblin. I’d visited the site with my wife 9 years ago, but thought it was worth another look.. 

The view towards the site is dominated by the 33 metre tall Round Tower.

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It was built almost 1000 years ago by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery. Round towers are found all over Ireland and there are various theories about what they were for. However, the Irish name for the towers is “Cloigtheach”, which translates as “bell tower”. It is also thought that the towers were sometimes used as a place of refuge for monks when the monastery was under attack from Vikings and other raiders. They may also have been used as lookout posts and as beacons foe approaching monks and pilgrims. The Glendalough tower is a fine example, many others are partially ruined, although the conical roof had to be replaced in 1876 after it had been struck by lightning.

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St. Kevin’s Church better known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a nave-and-chancel church of the 12th century. It is called St Kevin’s kitchen because people believed that the bell tower was a chimney to a kitchen.

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The Cathedral is the largest of the seven churches around Glendalough.  It was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century.

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Originally, the site was enclosed within a circular wall. Most of this has gone but gateway remains and is Ireland’s only surviving example of a medieval gateway to an early monastic city. The arch is built with Roman style columns and the stones were cut specifically to scale and they held themselves up without the need for mortar.

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