In this curious hiatus when I am still officially on leave, I have taken the opportunity, unprecedently, of clearing my study at home. Amidst the layers of ancient invitations, offprints and other detritus, I discovered a photocopy of the obituary of Anthony Blunt, written by Peter Kidson, who worked under Blunt at the Courtauld, and published by the British Academy thirty years after his death, presumably in expiation of the row over whether or not he should remain a Fellow (he resigned). It’s the most thoughtful, well considered and judicious account of Blunt’s role as an art historian and how his espionage fitted into it. He presumes that Betjeman was a contemporay of Blunt’s at school, which he was, but a year above, a different generation, more worldly, more English. That generation regarded Blunt as having too much ink in his veins, which may have been true.
We wanted a last glimpse of the sea, so we stopped at Cable Bay, halfway between Aberffraw and Rhosneigr to see the waves coming in and I walked up onto the northerly headland, which is the site of a megalithic burial chamber, the so-called ‘Apronful of the Giantess’. As the Shell Guide says, ‘a good place to be buried’:-
Our last day. We decided to go to the Menai Food Festival, which was unexpectedly cheerful – lots of local producers arranged in tents, not so much sea food as I was expecting, but Thai food, burgers and ice cream. After reading a chapter of my book about apples (did you know that they originated in Kazakhstan ? And that St. Benedict advocated the planting of apples in monastery gardens ?), I was pleased to discover the Anglesey Apple Company:-
Next door was a stall selling plums:-
I thought the rain had stopped at 5 and that it would clear from the west, as it often does. So, I set out for a walk. There was a very beautiful rainbow over Caernarvon Castle:-
The other half was across the fields to the east:-
Then, as I reached the beach I saw the rain in the distance:-
I was soaked.
I walked back up the lane:-
Since the weather has now turned wet, I’m doing the last of my posts from Llanfairpwll (it was a very profitable trip to the launderette).
Down a turning off the road into Llanfairpwll, one goes down to the village church of St. Mary, a mid-Victorian building by Henry Kennedy which was locked. But beyond it is the little path down to the Straits and Nelson, with a couple of good slate tombs and a view up across the fields to the monument to the first Marquess of Anglesey, which annoyingly is closed for the foreseeable future.
The monument was designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester and erected in 1816, only a year after the Battle of Waterloo when the first Marquess, then Lord Uxbridge, commanded the cavalry under Wellington and lost his leg (hence his remark to Wellington ‘By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg’, to which Wellington is reputed to have replied, ‘By God, sir, so you have !’). The statue is by Matthew Noble, who carved one of the figures on Burlington Gardens. It was added in 1860:-
I have been wondering what to do about the suggestion that there might be a picture of me in holiday mode, instead of the photographs of me looking uffish at the Royal Academy. I remembered that a picture had been taken by Charlotte Verity of me lurking in the twilight:-
And, by chance, we had Verdi Yahooda staying as she is working with Romilly on their exhibition at Ruthin. She had never used a camera phone, only analogue, and accidentally took 30 photographs instead of one:-
Yesterday I was able to get a good view of Britannia Bridge from the Menai Straits below. It’s a noble structure, which one can’t really appreciate driving across it. It was designed by Robert Stephenson, who had been appointed engineer-in-chief to the Chester & Holyhead railway in June 1845. The first stone was laid on 21 September 1846. Stephenson laid the stone which completed the cornice on 22 June 1849 (I emphasise the speed of design and construction having just watched the Newsnight programme about the Garden Bridge). It opened to trains running from London to Holyhead in 1850. It’s impressively monumental, slightly Egyptian in the stonework piers, which may have been designed by Francis Thompson, the Company architect, contrasting with the vigorous horizontality of the tubework which was slotted through. It looks very different now because in May 1970 two boys dropped a flare whilst looking for bats, causing a massive fire, and the bridge was reconstructed with more conventional steel arches and a road deck on top.
As it was, as photographed by Edward Piper for the Shell Guide (I can’t help also quoting Lionel Brett’s description in the Shell Guide how ‘Britannia conveys confidence, resolution and a seeming inevitable rightness of proportion exactly in tune with one’s interpretation of the best of the Victorian age’):-
As it is:-