Llangollen, music and boats

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Llangollen to me means two things, beyond the beauty of the town of course, – the international music eisteddfod and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, so when we visited the UK for our self drive, self catering holiday with our Australian friends, Llangollen was on the list.

In 1943 the British Council organised for members of governments in exile (remember WW2 was in to its fourth year) to attend the 1943 National Eisteddfod, which was held in Bangor, North Wales.

It was such a success that the following year an international music festival was held, and again it was successful. In 1945 it was suggested that an international choral festival be added to the 1947 Welsh National Eisteddfod, but this was rejected because arranging the National Eisteddfod was a big enough job on its own.

W.S. Gwynn Williams – a well known Welsh composer, click on his name the for one of his most famous works, who was born in Llangollen, along with George Northing, the chairman of Llangollen town council, drummed up enough support from the local people that planning for an International Eisteddford would take place in Llangollen in 1947.

In June 1947 things looked like there were not going to work out as planned because the French rail workers had gone on strike, and the organisors were worried that many of the European musicians would not be able to attend.

The first to arrive was the ladies’ choir from Oporto, they arrived by bus. The Hungarian workers’ choir completed their journey by hitch hiking from Basle, because of rail strikes.

The eisteddford was brought to a close with a concert on the Sunday evening featuring Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra.

In 1949 the first German choir took part and the organisors were worried about the reception that the Germans would receive only four years after the end of the war. When the train carrying the German choir arrived at Llangollen station the town’s people welcomed them with tea and cakes. The railway station can be seen on the right hand side of the above picture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe river in both pictures is the River Dee that flows, via Chester, in to the Irish Sea.

I have a personal link with the National Eisteddfod because my mother was a member of the Birkenhead Welsh Choral Society, and they sang at one of the eisteddfods, and I believe won.

BWCSThe badge off my mother’s ‘uniform’ for the competition.

Badge

The badge used to pin the cloth badge to her blouse.

Mum

The shield and certificates can be seen, but I am unable to read them even after ‘blowing up’ the picture. When I was younger I am sure I was shown her medal or some commemorative item, but for the life of me I cannot find it, which isn’t surprising after moving to Australia!

My mother is front row, fourth from the left. She was born in 1909 and moved to England when she was twelve (she didn’t speak English until she moved to England). In 1925 she would have been sixteen and the competition was held in Pwllheli. I mention this because of the cost of getting there from Birkenhead, very few had cars. The other thought is that in 1929 the eisteddfod was held in Liverpool, which is a ferry ride across the River Mersey from Birkenhead.

The Welsh National Eisteddfod has been held in each of the traditional Welsh counties, as well as most of the major Welsh cities, except for St Asaph – don’t ask me why . . .

As a foot note – when I was about thirteen or fourteen I was in my school choir (in Birkenhead) and we used to sing in concerts and the occasional  international competitions.
One year my choir was asked to host a German choir, and I had a German boy, of similar age to me, staying in my home for about a week. It was an interesting week because he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak German, and the only other language left was Welsh (Mum), which was of little help.
I can remember him now; we wrote to each other as pen pals, but at that age writing letters was a pain, and it eventually stopped. I often wondered how his life panned out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other interesting point about Llangollen is that it is not all that far to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which is down river from the town.

Pontcysyllte Aquaduct Llangollen Canal North Aerial Canals Water TransportIt is not a railway bridge but a canal on piers to carry the water and the canal boats over the River Dee. There are 18 arches, the canal is cast iron, it took ten years to build, it was opened in 1805, and it is 126 ft (38 mtrs) high, which makes it the highest navigable aqueduct canal in the world. The above picture is off the internet.

2008-06-10 183r.jpgFrom the beginning of the ‘bridge canal’.

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The above two pics show the ‘pool’ where the canal boats wait for their turn to cross.

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A canal boat on its way through.

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Don’t look down to the River Dee.

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Keep going, and hope the canal doesn’t spring a leak . . .

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Get moving . . . . . . . .

A number of the above pictures are thanks to KI, one of our traveling companions.

 

 

Wales – land of my mother

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I’ve always loved North & Mid Wales, perhaps because my mother was Welsh and only when the family moved from Caernarvon (Carnarfon to be PC) to Birkenhead, when she was thirteen, did she start to learn English. When my mother spoke of the move she would comment that she moved to England, which sounded strange to me as a child, because Caernarfon was only about eighty miles from Birkenhead, but it is in England so I suppose she was correct.

When Mum wanted to tell her sisters anything that I shouldn’t hear, it was always in Welsh, which was very convenient for them because they never had to whisper.

My grandfather had a butcher’s shop just off the Castle Square at 17, Pool St, which is now a branch of the Lloyds Bank

Lloyd and funny enough at 16 Pool St across the road is

Jones Dafid Wynn Jones the butcher!

It passed through my mind that perhaps the family lived across the road from their butcher shop, but I think it more likely that they would have lived over the shop, because I doubt that they were rich enough to have owned two properties, or even to have rented two properties.

My grandfather’s problem was that he had four daughters – my mother, born in 1909 was the youngest – but he didn’t have a son to take over the butchery shop. In the early part of the twentieth century, and living in Wales, daughters did not run or own a butchers shops. His other problem was his generosity – he allowed his customers to run up bills, because they were his friends, and as one would expect there came a time when his friends couldn’t pay for one reason or another. The mixture of poor payers and the lack of a male to carry on with the business was all too much, so the family ’emigrated’ to England.

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Castle Square around 1900

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Castle Square a hundred years later.

A short while before moving to England my mother’s eldest sister married a local man, so we always had a place to stay when on holiday.

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In the 1950’s I was old enough to be let out on my own and I spent hours in and around the castle. I became so well known at the castle that they gave me the same concession as a local – I was allowed in for nothing.
Later in life I revisited the castle, once in 2004 & again in 2008, (I paid each time) and I was very pleased to see that a lot of care and attention had been spent on the inside of the castle, because now it had become a major tourist attraction. Perhaps the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 had helped create the demand. There have been two investitures in Caernarfon castle in the twentieth century, 1911 and 1969.

As a child the other attraction for me was swimming across the Aber River or this is what I thought the river was called. Later I found out that the river is called Seiont River and ‘aber’ is a Welsh word that means ‘river mouth’ in English, and for years I thought I’d swam the Aber River – we live an learn.

Swing bridgeThe old bridge that I used to cross the river and sometimes swim under when the tide was right.

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The new bridge installed in 1969

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All our yesterdays – I would dive in to the river from about this point and swim across to the trees – I could do it at ten, but I doubt that I’d do it now – too far.

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The red car is near where I was standing in the previous photo.

The first picture in this blog is of the Welsh flag flying over Harlech Castle, which is in mid-Wales. You can just see the sea, which used to lap the bottom of the battlements.

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It is now a long way from the sea. During a siege the castle was supplied by sea.

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The castle can just be seen – I had my back to the start of the sand hills, the sea was further away again from the sand hills.

Men of Harlech the original was as a poem, which was later set to music. In the film Zulu the song that the British (Welsh) soldiers sang was written especially for the film.

Rick Rescorla check this link for something different linked to the music of Men of Harlech and the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York.

To drive from the mainland to Anglesey we would have to cross the Menai Straits.

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P5131829rBuilt by Telford and opened in 1826

Holiday 049rWhat ever the weather I never get tired of the scenery in Wales.

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I did manage to swim the Straits a couple of times, to the house on the other side, and back again, all in one go. At sixteen it seemed a good idea – I slept well that night.

The photo was taken from the Marquis of Anglesey’s home on the Anglesey side of the Straits.

As a child, North Wales was more than castles, bridges or swimming in rivers it meant Gronant, and beaches, where the sun always shined, the sand was clean and the water was warm.

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The boy on the left is yours truly abut 1953, my best mate, John, was three years older than me, but the age difference never bothered us, and we stayed friends for over sixty years – he died a couple of years ago.

We’d never heard of ‘flop flops’, you either had sandals or you went bare foot.

Gronant 1Try peddling these things across grass . . .

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I told you the water was warm . . . me on the right.

The accommodation at Rainford’s Holiday park was a wooden bungalow, which didn’t have running water or an indoor toilet. John and I had the job of keeping two large buckets full of fresh water for the kitchen which we hauled from a central tap. The public toilets were ‘dry’ toilets, so you only visited this area of the camp when you had to  . . ..

We spent a fortnight of living in shorts and running bare foot everywhere everyday unless we went in to Prestatyn for a knickerbocker glory.

knickerbockerglory_bluesmThe treat of the holiday, cost was 1/- when I first went to Prestatyn, (which was expensive, so it was a great treat), but over the  years the price grew to 2/6d by 1958, which, I think, was my last visit to this ice cream shop and my last visit to Gronant.

The whole experience of Gronant was the creation of great memories – we didn’t even have a radio never mind an iPad, smart phone, DVD player etc and our amusement from dawn to dusk was self created using twigs as guns for cowboys and indians and going mad by spending 6d for a bamboo poll with a net on the end so as to fish in the gully that ran from the shore to the sea. With hindsight we were fortunate in not catching anything, other than stings from nettles.