Bangor

I’ve always thought Bangor a rather unsatisfactory city.   It’s got a fine university, which has traditionally dominated the city with the Edwardian gothic university buildings by H.T. Hare up on the hill and now with a new arts centre designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw PPRA and currently under construction (hence the crane in the photograph):

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It’s got a decent cathedral, St. Deiniol, of very early (sixth century) foundation and containing the Mostyn Cross, a rare piece of late medieval wood carving:

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But Bangor long ago allowed its town centre to be hollowed out with a high street of cheap shops and discount stores.   No sense of civic presence, only a long line of discount warehouses out west beyond the railway station.

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Roy Porter

While on holiday, I have been reading Roy Porter’s Enlightenment:  Britain and the Creation of the Modern World.   It was one of his books which I failed to read when it came out.   I’m sure there are many others as he published so much.   Reading it makes me mourn his loss.   He was a larger than life figure, product of the school of Jack Plumb (he’s generous about Jack in the book).   There’s no aspect of the eighteenth century that he doesn’t know about as he swoops from John Locke to Grub Street.   He makes the eighteenth century sound unexpectedly like the 1960s:  ‘the Enlightenment should be viewed not as a canon of classics but as a living language, a revolution in mood, a blaze of slogans, delivering the shock of the new’ (p.3) and ‘Acquisitiveness, pleasure-seeking, emotional and erotic self-discovery, social climbing and the joys of fashion slipped the moral and religious straitjackets of guilt, sin and retribution’ (p.17).   It’s a great book.

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Llanfairfechan

We have been introduced to the pleasures of Llanfairfechan by Jon Savage, the historian of Punk.   It’s a beautiful, early twentieth-century model development, designed by Herbert North, who lived here (his grandfather, Richard Luck, settled here in the 1850s), having previously worked as an assistant to Lutyens.   He published books on The Old Cottages of Snowdonia and The Old Churches of Snowdonia.  

His own house, Wern Isaf, but previously called ‘Rosebriers’ is the best, up on the hill and constructed on a curious inverted butterfly plan and beautifully preserved, with elaborate arts-and-crafts detailing, not big.   This is his signature over the front door:

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Next is the Church Institute, down in the village, which North designed free of charge and where he liked to perform pageants.   They would have performed Under Milk Wood this year if it hadn’t been banned by the Thomas estate.   It was opened in 1911, incorporated a rifle range during the first world war, and still has a strong atmosphere of pre-war village life:

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Beyond is the Churchmen’s Club, built in 1927 for the Church of England Men’s Society and now surrounded by chickens:

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Above the Church Institute is The Close, a planned development of model houses, each of which was expected to cost no more than £1,000.   £1,000 could buy you a lot in those days – a small garden, a hipped-roof garage, an inglenook, all designed in a spirit of art-and-crafts utopianism.   Everyone was out trimming their hedges:

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Plas Rhianfa

Now that it’s been converted from holiday apartments into a luxury hotel, I was able to get permission to poke around Plas Rhianfa, a François 1er chateau on the banks of the Menai Straits.   I’ve always been interested in it because my grandmother died here at the beginning of the second world war.   My grandparents were staying with Sir Harry Verney, who had served in Asquith’s government and owned Claydon.   She was buried nearby, but I’ve never been able to find the grave.

This is the house:

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It was designed by a Liverpool architect, Charles Verelst, on the instructions of Lady Sarah Hay Williams, one of the daughters of the original owner.   She lived at Bodelwyddan and had been taught to draw by Peter de Wint.   I particularly liked the summer house: Continue reading

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Llanddwyn Island

At the end of Llanddwyn Beach lies Llanddwyn Island, the site of an early Christian settlement.   Cut off by high tide, I have always regarded it as a semi-magical place with its row of four pilots’ cottages, two crosses and ruined lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic ocean.   Island of the blessed, it’s called.   Each year I cannot help but notice that access to it is more heavily policed.   I suppose that this is an inevitable consequence of increased mass tourism and the need to look after the natural habitat.  It just increases the urge to seek solitude.

This is the lighthouse, built in 1824 at the behest of the Trustees of Caernarvon Harbour:

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And these are the pilots’ cottages, which had a lifeboat and a gun to summon the crew from Newborough:

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Menai Bridge

Menai Bridge is the middle class stronghold of Anglesey, where I always assume retired Professors from the University of Bangor live and where the Duchess of Cambridge is occasionally spotted shopping in Waitrose.   There’s the noble bridge itself, a monument to Thomas Telford’s engineering skill, connecting Anglesey to the mainland for the first time on 26 April 1825:

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Continue reading

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Jeremy Hutchinson

I was summoned to the bedroom yesterday morning to listen to the voice of Jeremy Hutchinson, aged 99 and the Emeritus Professor of Law at the Royal Academy, being interviewed by Helena Kennedy.   It was the authentic voice of Bloomsbury (his mother Mary was Clive Bell’s mistress):  strong, clear, sceptical and anti-establishment, speaking up for the rights of the poor and the criminal justice system.   I knew that he had defended Lady Chatterley.   I hadn’t known that he had defended the man who stole Goya’s portrait of Wellington from the National Gallery and who got off scot free for the theft, but was put in gaol for destroying the frame.

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