26 March 2017

Penarth: Drinking fountains

If you’re a regular to this blog, you’ll know that I’m a fan of drinking fountains and various things cast-iron so imagine my delight when I was walking past St Augustine’s Church, here in Penarth, recently and discovered it has a magnificent old drinking fountain built in to the south-western side of its stone boundary wall. And it’s a cracking fountain!

The church itself was built in 1865-66 but I haven’t been able to discover whether the drinking fountain was also installed around that time or whether it was a later addition. 

This cast-iron scallop-shell beauty was made in Glasgow at the Saracen Foundry, home to Walter MacFarlane & Co Ltd, Scotland’s most important manufacturer of ornamental ironwork.

MacFarlane’s had a catalogue of their cast-iron creations, which include this model, No. 17 Drinking Fountain. I have read that only four examples of this particular pattern still exist but I’m not sure if that’s true. 

It’s certainly a very ornate piece, with a splendid pair of griffins flanking the top arch, a graceful crane standing amongst reeds in the centre medallion, and what looks to me like a stylised peacock, its mouth/beak the tap for the water (but that may be my fertile imagination!).

Penarth also boasts a second old drinking fountain, though you might struggle to recognise it as such these days, as only a table-like pedestal remains. It’s located in Alexandra Park, very near an ornamental fountain and a group of bird cages housing budgies and canaries.

According to the Memorial Drinking Fountains blog (yes, there is someone who loves these artworks even more than I do!), this fountain was another of Walter MacFarlane’s designs, a number 7, and

The original structure was 5 feet 8 inches high, a single pedestal with four decorative columns and descending salamander relief that supported the decorated basin. A central urn with four projecting tendrils offered drinking cups suspended by chains. The terminal was a crane, a symbol of vigilance.

This drinking fountain was apparently purchased in 1911; it was certainly installed prior to 1915 as it can be seen in an old postcard of the park dated that year.

It seems Penarth may once have had more historic drinking fountains which have since been lost as I found this report in The Cardiff Times of 10 July 1886, p.8:

The usual monthly meeting was held on Monday evening, there being present Messrs Edwards (chairman), Forrest, Ingram, Pile, Bevan, Shepherd, Belcher, and Corbett. The Chairman reported that the seats, committee had arranged to place 36 seats in various parts of Penarth (such as the Esplanade, the Dingle, and Beach-hill), one set of ladies' retiring-rooms, two urinals, and two drinking fountains on the Esplanade, one drinking fountain near the police-station, and another near the Ship Hotel.

The Ship Hotel was demolished soon after the Second World War and, though I’ve walked the streets around the other locations named in the newspaper report, unfortunately I’ve found no evidence of those other old fountains. What I have found though is the modern equivalent.

The 21st-century version was installed with much fanfare in September 2013 in Belle Vue Park. The Penarth News blog reports that this modern American-made drinking fountain, ‘the first of its kind in Europe’ (!), was erected to celebrate the centenary of the park. Two councillors turned out, local residents dressed in period costume, and a time capsule was even planted beneath this new-fangled innovation.

It may provide ‘a vertical stream from which people can drink, a bottle filling facility which it’s hoped will encourage the re-use of plastic bottles and a special drinking bowl for dogs at the base’ but, personally, I think it’s ugly, and it’s certainly no match for the wonderful works of art that Walter MacFarlane & Co manufactured back in the good old days!

17 March 2017

Salisbury: pubs and their signs, 1

The lovely historic city of Salisbury seems as awash with public houses as it is with rivers – it sits at the confluence of no less than five – no wonder it was so foggy when I visited on a grey December day in 2016! Its public houses must number far more than five but I hadn’t time to explore more than a few streets in any direction from my hotel and the cathedral, and there were more than five in that small area alone. Here are just four that took my fancy.

The Cloisters
As I had just enjoyed a peaceful stroll around the large cloisters (the largest of any cathedral in Britain) at Salisbury’s magnificent cathedral, it was this pub’s lovely sign that initially caught my eye. The pub itself is in a Grade II-listed building, which the pub’s website says dates from around 1350AD but the British Listed buildings website, probably more accurately, dates to the 15th or 16th century, though it has had more recent modifications, with an early 1800s shop window on one side of the ground floor and a more modern shop front on the other. Given its cosy dimensions and advertised open fires, it sounds the perfect place for a winter warm up.

Queen’s Arms
This, too, is a Grade II-listed building, though the British Listed Buildings website reports it is a more recent 17th or 18th century construction, with 19th century alterations and a modern glazed shop window and door. The pub’s own website, however, says that, prior to becoming an inn, the building was ‘bequeathed to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral in 1440’ and also that it was first licensed as an inn in 1558, the year Queen Elizabeth I took the throne, so it claims to ‘have the longest held continuous licence in the city of Salisbury’. Whatever the truth of the matter, I was particularly struck by the very literal interpretation of the ‘Queen’s Arms’ name on their sign and the thoroughly modern take on the queen, with a tat of a coat of arms on her arm.

The Wig and Quill
I was not able to discover anything about the history of The Wig and Quill, though it does appear to have a good reputation for a ‘Fantastic Sunday roast, warm fires, great seating and a good beer selection’. The bar features beamed ceilings and has open fires for winter warmth, plus there’s a sheltered courtyard garden in which to enjoy a cold drink in the warmer summer months.

I assume the name is a reference to the legal profession – perhaps solicitors and judges are frequent visitors, or it may be that the building previously housed offices of legal professionals, or perhaps there is a courthouse nearby.

The New Inn
Not one but two signs adorn the frontage of the New Inn – unfortunately, I didn’t get a good shot of the better, pictorial sign – but don’t you just love the badger symbol of Hall & Woodhouse, the brewery with which this pub is affiliated. 

And if this is the new inn, I wonder what the old one looked like, as this was a superb example of an old black-and-white building, all wonky angles and not a straight line in sight.

According to British Listed Buildings, this really is a historic building, with construction dating from around the 15th or 16th century, though it has seen a few changes since those early days. You can get a better look at the outside and some of the interiors on the pub’s website here

And what’s not to love about a pub that includes a photo of their cat in their photo gallery. Top marks, New Inn!

13 March 2017

Lavernock: Grave of James Richards

I was admiring all the lovely lichens when the epitaph on the grave of James Richards caught my eye during my recent visit to Lavernock’s Church of St Lawrence:

to the memory of
James Richards,
native of the town of Cardigan
who died at Cardiff Docks
on board the S.S. Crindau
Sep. 4th 1885 aged 46.
Be ye also ready for we know not
what moment we may be called to judgment.

I thought perhaps James had met with a shipboard accident but the truth was much more gruesome, as the Welsh newspapers were quick to document.

Here’s one of the more concise reports, from the Denbighshire Free Press 12 September 1885 p.2:

Lloyd's agent at Cardiff telegraphed: “The Crindau, steamer, of Newport, entered the Bute Dock, Cardiff, and was ordered out again next morning's tide, with one man dead from cholera, and four others sick."
It appears from medical examination that the fatal case of cholera that occurred on board the steamer Crindau, of Newport, from Barcelona, was Asiatic cholera. The following particulars have transpired: Four men were engaged to assist in loading the Crindau with coal for Cadiz. One of them named James Richards, from St. Dogmaels, was observed drinking from a cask of water under the fore bulkhead, which had been filled up at Barcelona. He shortly afterwards complained of griping pains and excessive diarrhoea, to relieve which the chief officer give him some cholera mixture. Richards, however, grew rapidly worse, and soon after nine o'clock was found dead in the latrine.
Dr. Laen and Dr. Paine, the port sanitary authorities, examined the body, and concurred in the opinion that the deceased had died of Asiatic cholera. Captain Pomeroy, the dock master, promptly had the Crindau towed out of dock to the quarantine station at the Flat Holms. The body of Richards was sewed up in a tarpauling [sic], weighted with iron, and sunk off Breaksea Point. Dr. Paine, after having the steamer disinfected, examined the crew and found them all in a good state of health.

We tend to forget these days how frightening diseases like cholera can be, how rapidly they kill and how quickly they can spread, especially in a busy port city like Cardiff then was. Cholera had struck Cardiff several times before, with devastating effect. The first great epidemic was in 1832, then it struck again in 1849 resulting in 396 deaths – that number may not seem large but we need to bear in mind that Cardiff’s population at the time of the 1841 census was only 10,079.

As G Penrhyn Jones noted, in his article ‘Cholera in Wales’ (National Library of Wales journal, vol.X/3, Summer 1958). Cardiff in 1849 was seriously overcrowded, with far too many people squeezed into poorly ventilated slum housing, with no proper drainage systems, and almost all drinking water was drawn from the Glamorganshire Canal or the river, into which filth and raw sewage were also deposited.

Cholera broke out in the city again in 1854, when 225 people died, and the disease struck once more in the summer of 1866, resulting in 76 deaths. No wonder the authorities were quick to act following James Richards’ death.

Unfortunately, his burial at sea was not the end of the story for James, as the South Wales Echo reported on 15 September 1885:

Inspector King, of the Penarth Constabulary, has had reported to him that a corpse has been discovered at Sully, cast up by the rising tide. From the appearance of the body, as described to the inspector, it had been encased in canvass, and wrapped up as if consigned to the deep after death on board ship. No detailed particulars are as yet to hand, but in the mean time there are the gravest suspicions that the corpse is that or the man James Richards, who died of cholera on board the Crindau. Our readers will remember that the corpse was taken to below the Breaksea Point in a ship's boat in tow of a tug, and after being properly weighted was cast overboard.

This further report by the South Wales Echo, on 17 September 1885, explains how James Richards came to be buried at the Church of St Lawrence in Lavernock:

The body of a seaman, supposed by some to be the body of the man Richards, who died from cholera on board the Crindau at Cardiff, and was buried in the Bristol Channel on the 5th inst., was, on Wednesday, interred at the churchyard, Lavernock, the service being performed by Rev W. Evans, vicar of Merthyrdovan. The body, still encased in a canvas bag, was enclosed in a coffin, and interred in the usual way. The pilots are of the opinion that from the set of the currents in the Bristol Channel, a body buried at Breaksea would be carried to the Somersetshire side of the channel, and something very unusual would be required to bring a body from Breaksea to the spot where it was found.

The death of James Richards was a tragedy but some good did come from the misfortune of Cardiff’s cholera victims. Penrhyn Jones writes that the epidemics ‘had the consequent virtue of stimulating the public conscience on matters of sanitary reform and the great improvement in the public health in the latter half of the nineteenth century can, in some measure, be attributed to the sobering and salutary lessons of that vicious disease’. Rest in peace, James Richards.

12 March 2017

Lavernock: Church of St Lawrence

One day last week I walked along the Wales Coastal Path to Lavernock and discovered the wonderful old Church of St Lawrence. Not surprisingly, it’s a Grade II-listed building which, according to the British Listed Buildings website, may well date from the 12th century when the Black Canons of the Order of St Augustine first established themselves along the shores of the Bristol Channel.

It wasn’t possible to go inside but, apparently, the narrow pointed chancel arch may be medieval, as might the windowless north wall. The rest of the structure was extensively restored in the mid 19th century. There were some interesting headstones dating back to the early 1800s but more on that subject in my next post.

Unfortunately, the church closed in 2008, though the site is now managed by a voluntary Friends group so there are occasional church services and open days. I’m hoping to take advantage of one such day to get a peek inside.