We have an open meeting on the first Thursday of each month where everyone is welcome. Following the general business of the organisation there is usually a guest speaker and tea and biscuits. This meeting gives us a chance to welcome new members and to get together with members of the various groups.
We were visited by Ted Watson of the RNLI at our open meeting in February. He spoke about the history of the RNLI with special reference to the local area, all very interesting.
One of the things he talked about was how the boats of changed from horse drawn rowing boats to the huge boat stationed in Holyhead. The clothing the lifeboat men and women wear has changed too, from jumpers and wellies to the full yellow gear we see today.
The full kit has to be put on as quickly as possible within seconds so Ted asked Jo Hughes to get dressed in the full kit. It took minutes even with Ted’s help — the boat would have gone without her!!
Well done Jo!
Mark Baker, the founder of A Society For the Friends of Gwrych which changed its name to Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust in 2001 and became a registered charity, came to speak to us un March 2015 about Margaret Sandbach and Hafodunos Hall.
Before his planned talk he brought us up to date on the developments up at Gwrych Castle. A band of workers have been busy clearing the vegetation, they have found the old conservatory, cleared the Ladies’ Walk, cleared the Melon House and the courtyard has been revealed. The Archaeological department of Bangor University conducted a geophysical survey of the land and discovered the fountain, also the under floor heating has been uncovered. The ground level has been taken back to the level of the 1970s even though they had to apply for permission to remove the self seeded trees! The ‘mad axe men’ from Old Colwyn have chopped down the trees and the wood chippings have been used for paths, the logs for the edges of the paths. They plan to take off another metre to get back to the eighteenth century. Now they are busy creating paths and repairing an external staircase. The drive was 4metres wide and they plan to restore it to its former full width. Planning permission has been granted for a visitors centre and shop. There have already been successful open days and plans for more in the future.
So on to Margaret Sandbach and Hafodunos Hall.
Margaret Sandbach was born in 1812 and grew up in Holywell. The family were from Liverpool, part of the intellectual society of artists, politicians and such. Her grandfather was part of the anti slavery movement. At that time people with money aspired to buy country estates including the Sandbach family. So with company money Hafodunos, a former gentry owned house was bought by the family.
The Hall itself has a long history. The name Hafodunos means “summer dwelling of one night” and is thought to be connected to the legend that St Winifred body was taken to Gwytherin for burial and the party rested at the hall overnight. It’s said that some kind of miracle happened and a monastery was built there. As with so many monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII the monastery was shut down, the estate was belonged to the Lloyd family who built the manor house and owned it until Sandbach bought the property for his wife, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had a close, platonic relationship with the renowned sculptor, John Gibson. John Gibson was born in Gyffin, a small village just outside Conwy. His family moved to Liverpool and he became apprenticed to a cabinet maker which he didn’t like and managed to get his articles transferred to a firm of monumental masonists. His talent was picked up by the historian William Roscoe, Margaret’s grandfather, for whom he made a terracotta bas-relief which is now in Liverpool Museum. Eventually he went off to Rome where he was very successful and where Margaret Sandbach and her new husband met him on their grand tour honeymoon. Elizabeth sat for him thus beginning a deep friendship. She was an aspiring poet and would send him her poems; in return he would send her a sculpture. When Edward Lear visited Hafodunos he was said to have been entranced by the sculptures in the house. There is a story of Margaret sitting for a bust in his hot studio in Rome, the clay version was almost finished and sitter and artist were happy. Margaret picked up a dog but the dog saw a cat, jumped and smashed the clay bust which had to be restarted. Henry Sandbach had a sculpture gallery built at Hafodunos to display all the sculpture, including a bust of himself. The Gallery was designed by John Gibson and was top lit to display the sculptures at their best. John Gibson’s statue of Aurora to be found the Cardiff museum was apparently the inspiration for the ‘weeping angels’ in Dr Who.
Margaret was not a healthy woman, her mother had died with breast cancer and she was paranoid about going the same way. At the age of 38 she was quite unwell, with a cough and aching arms, suffering with breast cancer. In her final diary entry in 1851 she wrote that she was going to Rome because going to Italy would open her pores and cure her. John Gibson told her to see the King’s surgeon who recommended a mastectomy. She had the operation without the anaesthetics of today and survived for almost two more years. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes which she had removed. She died in 1852.
The window to the right of the altar in Llangernyw church depicts the four stages of her life. She set up the Llangernyw garden society and an eisteddfod is held in the village in her name.
Henry Sandbach was devastated at her death, they had no children and he promised to remarry and not grieve. So he married Elizabeth Williams from Welshpool, who decided that there was far too much of Margaret at Hafodunos and decided to change things. George Gilbert Scott, the designer of St Pancras station, London redesigned the house with some provisos. So the building was extended and recreated in a venetian design inspired by visits to Venice. The garden design of the nineteenth century is said to have been the inspiration for Bodnant gardens. They had five children and John Gibson continued to do sculptures for Henry. Henry died in 1895.
The estate was sold by the family in 1933 and then followed a history of different uses and neglect. It has been a girl’s school, accountancy college and nursing home. On the 14th October 2004 two youths set fire to the house, destroying the inside of the main wing. The owner at the time wanted to build a gated housing estate which the local residents were against. The fire followed, you can draw your own conclusions.
Dr Richard Wood bought the house in 2010 with a view to restoring the estate to its former glory. It is the only George Scott building in Wales. The building is now under reconstruction and is occasionally open for visitors and events.
Mark had a number of his published books about Gwrych Castle, Hafodunos and Y Plas, the book to complement a S4C programme, with him for our members to buy if they wished. Once again Mark had given us a very interesting and informative afternoon and was thanked by June.
This article is written from my notes taken from Mark’s talk on the afternoon and a very small bit internet research.
1100 Bleddyn Llwyd establishes Hafodunos
1400 Owain Glyndwr takes refuge in the grounds of Hafodunos
1674 Manor house built with 'seven gables' for the Lloyd family
1833 Estate bought by Samuel Sandbach, a prominent Victorian merchant
1845 Llangernyw Cottage Garden Improvement Society established
1851 Estate inherited and improved by Henry Robertson Sandbach
1865 New hall designed by Sir Gilbert Scott in the Gothic style. Garden terraces introduced
1895 Death of Henry Robertson Sandbach. Garden reaches maturity
1912 Hall leased to a succession of owners
1945 Hafodunos used as a boarding school
1990 Final fall into neglect
2004 Arson attack
The speaker at our January meeting was Jan Gardner who is our local Tesco store’s Community Champion, a job she has been enjoying for the past six years. Before explaining about her job she told us, in view of the news that day that 43 stores were closing, that Abergele Tesco was not due to close.
Her job is about working with local groups and charities. Tesco allocates her a sum of money annually to spend in the local community, this means Jan has to decide where the money will have the most impact and how Tesco can help groups for the best.
She often donates prizes for raffles because in this way local groups have a chance to raise more money by selling raffle tickets than they would with a straight forward donation. In this way Tesco has helped groups such as the local Morris Dancing group, Abergele League of friends, the handicapped club, the Stroke club and St Kentigerns Hospice. The strangest donation was an end of the line wet suits which went to St Kentigern’s Hospice - all gratefully received and sold on. Groups going on a coach trip can ask to use the car park for the day for longer than the normal three hours. You need to contact Jan and give a list of registration numbers. Easy!
Jan thinks that she has the best job in Tesco, she has the freedom to walk down the high street to talk to people, to visit the different groups who contact her. Tesco, through Jan, work with Pentre Mawr and Hafod y Môr. Jan is an ex bingo caller and went to Hafod y Môr to call out the numbers at their Bingo night, a good time was had by all. At Pentre Mawr Tesco were involved in a project between Pentre Mawr and some of the pupils at Emrys ap Ewan. The pupils interview the elderly people about their life experiences, one of the gentlemen is 105 and has seen a lot of life including imprisonment by the Japanese, not an easy experience to live through. The pupils then went back to school to write poems from the conversations. Tesco then sponsored the binding of two leather bound books of the poems, one to be kept at Pentre Mawr and one in Abergele Library for anyone to read.
Last year a group of children who live in Chernobyl in Russia came to stay locally. The two weeks breathing in the fresh air of north Wales is said to help build up their immune system. Whilst they were here they were given an eye test and a dental check up, they were fitted for new shoes, they went to a fairground and had free rides all day. The children were taken around the Tesco store and were amazed at the produce on display especially tins of food for dogs. They all made doughnuts, this was made quite touching by the fact that the children wanted to box their doughnuts up and take them home for their mums at the end of their stay in north Wales.
The staff at Tesco raises money for charities themselves in different ways from the 5p on carrier bags, ‘silly’ events in the foyer to sky diving. Jan dressed up as a clown when they were raising money for Tŷ Gobaith and made children cry! The sky dive was also for Tŷ Gobaith, on this occasion 8 colleagues raised money through sponsorship but Jan organised the event rather than jumping out of a plane. They raised over £3000 for Help the Heroes over two days as well as raising money for Clic Sergent on different occasion. The carrier bag money now goes to Keep Wales Tidy and Tesco are currently supporting Diabetes UK and British Heart Foundation for three years.
There is also a project called Farm to Fork which involves working with Junior Schools, the school children are invited into the store and are given samples of healthy food as part of an educational talk.
For local groups wishing to apply for help from the community fund, information and a form can be found on the Tesco web site at tescoplc.com
It was a very interesting afternoon which Jan rounded off with a final question and answer session. June thanked her for coming to visit us.
Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.