30 April 2019

Penarth : the billiard room with a view

I’ve always wondered about this ruin. It sits on the cliffs of Penarth Head and must have spectacular views over the port of Cardiff and Cardiff Bay, but looks to be sited in an incredibly precarious location, especially as the Penarth Head cliffs seem to be constantly crumbling.

So what was it? Well, it used to be a summerhouse-cum-billiard room for a mansion sited further up the cliff. The mansion was, rather appropriately, called Northcliff and, according to one of several articles about this location on the Penarth News website, ‘It was originally the home of one of the Batchelor brothers who had a shipbuilding business in Cardiff Docks.’ The Batchelor brother was John Batchelor, a renowned but controversial figure in 19th-century Cardiff (you can read more about him here).      

The location of John Batchelor’s former home is also attracting controversy in the 21st century. The original mansion was demolished in the 1960s and replaced with a rather ugly development of flats, as shown in the photo above. And late last year, Northcliff Lodge, a five-bedroom annex to the mansion, was also demolished and is once again being replaced with a controversial construction of ugly box-like apartments, much to the disgust of many local people and despite strenuous efforts to halt the development in the planning stages. It’s such a shame that so little value is placed on the history and heritage of Penarth ... and don’t even get me started on the horrendous environmental impact of the new development!

As to that billiard room with the incredible views ... well, it’s at risk of falling down the cliff at any moment but no one seems particularly bothered about that. There was a serious rock fall in the area in May 2013, which prompted the Cardiff Harbour Authority to erect some mesh-fencing to keep the public back from the bottom of the cliff. But the fencing is flimsy and the path is still within a couple of metres of the cliff bottom – if the structure above did fall while anyone was walking past, I doubt they’d live to tell the tale. Until it does fall, only the birds get to enjoy the billiard room with the million-dollar views.

26 April 2019

Lewes : pubs and their signs

It’s been a while since I blogged any pub signs and, as I photograph them wherever I go, I figured it was time I dipped in to my ‘waiting to be blogged’ album. So, without further ado, let me take you on a tour of some of the many public houses to be found in the charming historic East Sussex town of Lewes, a town which once had as many as 9 breweries and 63 pubs.

Harvey’s Brewery
Actually, this isn’t a public house as such but rather one of the sources of the amber liquid sold in those public houses and the source of that peculiar smell you notice as soon as you arrive in Lewes – the smell of brewing! Though extensively remodelled around 1881, much of this Grade II listed building was originally built in the early 19th century. Harvey’s website provides some excellent information on the brewery’s history, including a selection of wonderful old photographs.

The Brewers Arms
This is another pub with a nice piece about its history on its website. As you can see, the present building is not terribly old – it dates from the early 20th century, but the pub believes there has been an inn on this site since the end of the 17th century, though it has only been named the Brwers Arms since 1769. Its previous incarnations include the Red Lion from 1727 10 1744 and the Ship from 1744 to 1769.

The Gardener’s Arms
I love this sign! It’s not the sign at the front of the pub but is instead attached to the outside wall in the lane at one side of the building. It took me a while to realise that the grubby mark on the gardener’s apron is not actually part of the sign but an addition by a passing bird – I think it adds a note of authenticity!

The Gardener’s Arms is located in Cliffe High Street and housed in a Grade II listed building that dates from the early to mid-19th century. This would originally have been a shop though, according to the local Kelly’s Directories, the location has housed ‘beer retailers’ and ‘beerhouse keepers’, both men and women, since at least 1870.

White Hart Hotel
The white hart (or deer) is a very popular pub name in England, as an article on the History Press website explains:   

In 1393, during the reign of King Richard II, an Act was passed which made it compulsory for pubs and inns to have a sign in order to identify them as official watering holes. Many adopted The White Hart as their sign as it was the personal badge of the King – today it is the fourth most popular pub name in the UK.

As you can tell from the photos, Lewes’s White Hart is not that old, though behind that mid-19th century frontage lurk the remains of a building from the 16th century, if not earlier. Once the town house of the Pelham family, the building became a hotel in the early 1700s, according to the hotel website.     

The pub’s sign is fairly plain but I do really like the statue of the deer that adorns the hotel’s roof, though lichen has changed its colouring from white to some lovely shades of orange.

Rights of Man
Here’s another pub sign that I really like, all the more so because this pub was only established as the Rights of Man in 2012 – it’s great to see new owners maintaining the old signage traditions. Before the change to its present name, this inn had been called Lincolns and before that The Rainbow Tavern but that’s as much as I’ve been able to find out about its heritage.   

The Lansdown Arms
Built in 1827, the Lansdown’s owners proudly announce on its grey brick exterior that it’s ‘an atmospheric drinking den’ – not a claim that would attract me inside but I guess it works for some people. The pub is part of a terrace of buildings that extends along Lansdown Place, with two shops adjoining the pub and then houses next to those. From the layout of the windows on both the pub and the shops, it looks like it was a purpose-built public house but I’m not certain of that.

The coat of arms on the pub’s sign is that of the Marquess of Lansdowne, a peer of Ireland, and doesn’t appear to have any connection to Lewes. I assume, though the spelling is different, that it was chosen because of the name of the adjacent street.

The Red, White and Blue (now a house)
This last building is no longer a pub, nor does it have a pub sign, but it once was and it still retains some wonderful tile decoration along its frontage. The local Kelly’s trade directories show it was a beer retailer / beer house / inn from at least 1867, if not earlier, until it closed its doors for the final time around 1960. I understand those wonderful tiles were once painted over so well done to the house owners who restored them to their former glory.

12 April 2019

Penarth : the opening of the pier

One hundred and twenty-four years ago this month, on 6 April 1895, the Penarth Pier was officially opened for marine passenger traffic.

The idea of a pier had been mooted for some time and there appear to have been several false starts. The article that accompanied the above sketch of the proposed pier, in the Western Mail of 29 September 1888, reported that ‘The present scheme is not by any means the first, for several projects for meeting this long-felt want—it is a want—have been conceived, and each in turn relegated to “lie in dead oblivion"’ but the Penarth Promenade and Landing Pier Company, a syndicate of London gentlemen, had ‘taken the matter in hand’. The design was ambitious:

The pier, which will extend from a point on the esplanade nearly opposite the swimming baths and the new Esplanade Hotel, will be constructed of cast-iron piles and columns, carrying wrought iron girders, deck planking, and ornamental iron railings. It will contain entrance lodges, shops, refreshment rooms, shelter places, lavatories, and a handsome pavilion, suitable for vocal and instrumental concerts and dramatic performances. The total length will be 600 feet, with a clear width of 30 feet between the railings, the head being 150 feet Iong, with a "T" end having an ordinary width of 50 feet. At the end of the pier, and communicating with the upper deck by easy steps, landing stages will be provided at different levels, so as to enable passengers to embark in or disembark from steamers, sailing craft, and boats at almost any state of the tide.
At the entrance lodges there is to be a collector's office, piermaster's office, cloak-room, and other rooms, and a kind of shelter-place for invalids waiting for carriages or chairs, whilst the shops —four in number will occupy a place 300 feet away, or about the middle of the pier, this part being widened out to a width of 50 feet. The refreshment and dining rooms are to be erected at the head, in the T end. The pier, in short, is to be constructed much after the model of the Brighton pier, so far as promenade purposes are concerned but, in addition to this, the Penarth pier will prove a powerful adjunct in landing from and embarking in vessels.

I’m not sure what stopped the 1888 venture from proceeding but the pier didn’t materialise and it wasn’t until 1893 that the project reared its head again. This time construction finally went ahead. The design is very similar to that proposed in 1888, as you can see from this new sketch (above) and article from the Evening Express of 1 December 1893:

The Penarth Pier is at last to be proceeded with, and the prospectus in connection with it will shortly be issued. A company has been formed, with a very influential directorate. The share capital will be £10,000, and debentures £5,000. The pier (of which a sketch is given) will be 653ft. long by 23ft. wide in the narrow portions. It will be constructed of cast-iron piles and wrought-iron or steel girders, with a timber deck, and will widen out at points to admit of the erection of shops, refreshment-rooms, and a grand pavilion, designed to seat 430 people. The pier will have its starting point from the Esplanade opposite the baths and Esplanade Hotel. The plans, we understand, are ready, the necessary powers have been obtained, and the contractor is now awaiting the signing of the contract. There will be a strong timber landing-stage, and it has been arranged for Messrs. Edwards and Robertson’s steamers to call regularly at the pier. It is expected that the total expenditure of the company will not exceed £14,000. The undertaking is one of considerable importance to Penarth, and will add considerably to the attractions of that increasingly popular seaside resort.

Photo taken in March 2016

By early 1895, the pier had been completed and was in use for promenading but it wasn’t until Saturday 6 April that the first passenger vessels called at the new landing stages. Break out the bunting and get that band playing! Here’s the report from the following Monday’s Evening Express (8 April 1895):

On Saturday the Penarth Pier, which has been already described in these columns, was opened for marine passenger traffic, and the Boonie Doon and Waverley stopped there on their way across the Channel, and on their return. Unfortunately, the weather was most unfavourable for the opening of the excursion season, rain falling incessantly, and a stiff breeze making the trips anything but pleasant. A good number, however, braved the elements. The Bonnie Doon left the Pier-head at Cardiff about 2.15, and was the first steamer to go alongside the new pier where there was a liberal display of bunting, and the approach of the steamer was announced by the discharge of rockets, to which the captain responded by blowing the steamer's hooter. A large crowd had assembled on the pier, where the Cogan Military Band played a selection of music. The first to step on to the pier from the boat was Mrs. Edwards, wife of Mr. Fred Edwards, who is one of the directors of the company. Mr. Edmund Handcock, jun., was the only other director present. A few minutes later the Waverley came alongside, and was received in similar fashion. The pier, as well as forming a pleasant promenade for the residents of Penarth and visitors to that popular watering place, will be a great convenience to those who desire to make excursions to the more distant points to which the boats run during the summer. In the past people living in Penarth have been unable to avail themselves as fully as they otherwise would of the marine trips, because they were unable to catch the last train to the suburb on their return to Cardiff, and had to take cabs home. At present there are only two shops on the pier, and those are situated at the shore end. One is for refreshments, and the other is a daintily-fitted fruit and flower shop.

The Waverley still occasionally calls at Penarth Pier. This photo was taken (through shrubbery so slightly obscured) in September 2018.

Photo taken in March 2017

Now, the astute amongst you may notice that the pier in my more recent photos does not exactly resemble the proposed pier in the 1893 sketch above. That’s because the pier, like so many such exposed structures, has suffered the occasional disaster during its lifetime but that’s a story for another day, another blog ...

08 April 2019

Barry : St Baruc’s Chapel

Though very little now remains of the structure that once was St Baruc’s Chapel on Barry Island, it is an important part of Barry’s history.

For a start, it’s likely that the place name Barry is derived from the name Baruc, the Celtic saint who was apparently buried at the chapel site c. 700AD. The very good signboard at the site explains:

St Baruc … was a student of St Cadoc who founded the monastery at Llancarfan, about 7 miles away.
During the Middle Ages a pilgrimage to Baruc’s burial place was considered to be very important. It was claimed that four visits to Barry Island were equal to a visit to Rome.

There is still a church dedicated to St Baruc on Barry Island – a short distance away in Phyllis Street – but it’s a sad-looking modern-blockish monstrosity compared to the old chapel. So, it was good to read that a service is still held amongst the ancient ruins, once a year on St Baruc’s Feast Day, 27 September.

According to archaeologists, there have been a series of constructions on the chapel site. The earliest was probably a simple wattle structure that would originally have been built over St Baruc’s grave. Then a single-roomed chapel was built on top of the adjacent burial ground. In Norman times this was augmented by another building, consisting of a nave and chancel, and, later still, two-room accommodation for the resident priest was built adjoining the chapel. The buildings were probably in use until around the 16th century, before falling into ruins and being covered, over time, by wind-blown sand, as the signboard also explains:

When John Storrie, archaeologist and curator of Cardiff Museum, excavated the site in 1894-5, he uncovered the remains of the chapel, buried under mounds of sand that had blown on to the headland. Some of the stones used in the chapel were identified as Roman in origin. Storrie found evidence of wall paintings inside the chapel, a fireplace in the priest’s house and fragments of a stone coffin which may well have once contained the remains of Baruc himself.
John Storrie’s dig also discovered a vast cemetery along Friars Road where many thousands of burials have taken place … The extent of the burial ground suggests that this site was very important in the Middle Ages.

There was once also a holy well, St Baruc’s Well, very near to the chapel. Pilgrims who believed in the healing properties of its water would tie rags in the surrounding trees and drop offerings into the well, in the hope of miraculous cures. Sadly, the well was filled in and covered over with houses in a 1960s development.

If you’re interested in learning more about the site of St Baruc’s Chapel, here’s a contemporary report on John Storrie’s excavations from local newspaper, the Barry Dock News, 4 October 1895:

A representative of the Barry Dock News has been able, during the past week, to glean valuable additional particulars from different reliable sources as to the success which has attended the work which is being carried on, under the superintendence and personal direction of the celebrated archaeologist, Mr John Storrie, of Cardiff, with regard to the excavation of rare historic remains on Barry Island.
We have already announced that human remains have repeatedly been unearthed on the "Island of St Baruch" during the past two or three months, including complete skeletons of somewhat exceptional proportions.
In addition to this a fine specimen of an old church, well preserved, has likewise been discovered, and the building in connection with this work, representing periods of antiquity dating back at least 1,250 years – at which time Baruch, a hermit of noble birth, from whose name the island takes its designation, flourished – is well known to historians to have existed towards the eastern end of the island, not far from the site at present occupied by Barry Dock.
A gang of men have been placed at Mr Storrie's disposal with a view of rendering the discoveries as complete as possible and of preserving to posterity the reliable history of this famous island. The remains of the chapel have been carefully preserved with due regard to their original position and function, and the whole of the site, together with the place of burial of a large number of bodies, has been enclosed by means of a neat iron railing.
Mr Storrie has likewise turned his attention to other portions of the island, and amongst the historic discoveries which have been made is a most interesting relic of a cyst tomb, consisting of rows of stone placed on edge, covered with rough slabs, within which were the remains of a female occupying that sitting posture peculiar to the Cistercian mode of burial. This cysted tomb was unearthed amongst the excavations which have been made in view of the erection of the harbour pier, and Mr Storrie, in order to carefully preserve this interesting relic, has had it removed and re-erected within the enclosure containing the church remains.
On a spot a little to the north-west of the church has also been discovered a complete tumulus, and an old British kitchen extending at length about forty feet and in the kitchen were found some excellent specimens of Roman and British pottery and other valuable remains, in addition to the skeleton of a shark which possibly once supplied; an important item in the cuisine of this interesting establishment. Close by was also found an old guests' house in a remarkably good state of preservation. This building, it is believed, must have served as an hotel or public house at a very early period in Roman history.
This reconstruction drawing appears on a signboard at the site
All the portable relics have been carefully removed for preservation, and the structural remains have been re-covered with sand, but will probably be again cleared at no distant date when arrangements have been completed for their permanent preservation. At a point in the direction of the new Marine Hotel – where a tunnel is being formed to connect the Barry Railway system with the pier at the dock-head – Mr Storrie has discovered remains of the old monastery, but it is much to be regretted that most of the masonry had been previously removed, and the stone used for metalling the new roads which are being made on the island.
There are still visible, however, near the old farmhouse, pieces of old walling, concrete flooring passages, and what is left of the old monastic well, which, it is understood, was deepened about 25 feet some few years ago, the water at the original level having been dried up owing to the excavations for Barry Dock. When the well was deepened a collection of old coins and other relics were found, but comparatively little attention was paid thereto at the time, and these votive offerings have by this time, therefore, been irrecoverably lost. The earth foundations of the walls of the old monastery, together with the stone-laid passage thereto, are still visible, and the relics of pottery which have been found include mediaeval specimens of about the time of Henry VIII.
At a point direct south of the church, about 260 yards distant from the sacred edifice, is St. Baruch's Well. It is probable that the whole of the remains, which have been arranged with such scholarly taste and judgment by Mr Storrie, will be so preserved by the noble owner of Barry Island, Lord Windsor, that they will afford permanent objects of interest to visitors to the place for centuries to come. At present the island is being visited by hundreds daily, and it is not unreasonable to state that the discoveries which have been made during the past month or two have attracted at least 2,000 persons to Barry Island every Sunday during the fine weather.
It may be interesting to add that there are indications which point to the probability that the historic remains which have already been unearthed represent but a small portion of the antiquated associations which have made this venerable spot so noted throughout the past ages, and Mr Storrie, we understand, is convinced that there still remains to be discovered, somewhere towards the eastern end of the island, an old Roman villa of exceptional interest. As an indication of the degree of pious and devoted regard with which Barry Island has been observed in the past, it may be stated, in addition, that Divine service has been held on the site of the old chapel of St. Baruch at regular intervals up to a few years ago. We are pleased to understand that it is intended to publicly exhibit in the district at the first convenient opportunity the various interesting relics which have been found.