Study Tour 2021

CDAS  Study Tour 16th to the 20th August 2021, to North Wales and Chester.

Having been cancelled last year and after months of uncertainty about whether  it would take place this year, 25 members of the society and friends, set off on the study tour under the leadership of Judy Lumley assisted by Maureen O'Connor from various pick up points in Nailsea, Clevedon and Portishead. Our bright yellow Eagles of Bristol coach,was expertly driven by Karl, our driver for the week.

Day 1. Our first visit ( delayed by the traffic at the M5/6 junction) was Attingham Hall near Shrewsbury. As with all our visits please see Judy's notes for the tour if you have them or look on the internet for relevant Wikipedia or similar articles for more details of the sites.This article is very much the edited highlights!

We had lunch in the impressive stable yard, enjoyed the many paintings including Lady Berwick (the builders and owners of the house, until it was gifted to the National Trust in 1948) by Walter Sickert, when going round the mansion. The house has supported a group of young carers during the difficult months of the pandemic and they helped to decorate the table in the main dining room as if they had enjoyed their own party.

From there we went on to another NT property, Chirk Castle.  It started as one of the Edward Ist's castles in his campaign against the Welsh Princes. In was bought in 1693 by Sir Thomas Myddleton,  a prominent Parliamentarian during the Civil War, who eventually came over to the Royalist side and helped restore Charles II to the throne. A member of the family helped to bring fresh water into London via the New River. There is a  statue to him on Islington Green. Again there are many portraits of Kings, Queens and family members around the castle and Long Gallery. The castle sits near Offa's Dyke. It came in to the ownership of the National Trust in 1981 but the family ( by now Myddleton-Biddulph) lived there until 2004. It has wonderful gardens with Art Nouveaux nymph statues, yew hedges, colourful boarders and views of North East Wales and over the border into England.  We then went on the the Rossett Hall Hotel near Wrexham, our base for the tour. It is at its core a Georgian House, formerly the home of the Boydell family. It has new wings and wonderful gardens.

Day 2. After breakfast we set off to the North Wales seaside resort of Llandudno where we switched coaches so we could negotiate the narrow roads to the top of the Great Orme, the limestone promontory to the west of the resort. We were unable to go up via the tramway due to Covid Restrictions. After looking at the view from the summit, unfortunately restricted due to cloud we went on to the Bronze Age Copper Mine , a short way down from the summit. The copper ore was mined using stone and antler tools from about 4,000 years ago firstly from the surface and when those deposits ran out, the miners, some of whom where children, dug into the mountain following the seams. These are on 7 levels and we went underground exploring the first 2 levels. When necessary, the miners lit fires against the rock to loosen it. It was abandoned  after 1600BC until mining restarted in the 17th Century. Mining ceased in 1881 by which time the spoil from the later mining had buried the Bronze age workings. 

These were discovered in 1987when work was started on a car park and excavation has been going ever since. A display shows how the ore was crushed and then heated in furnaces with leather bellows until it turned in to lumps of copper. 7 pounds of charcoal were needed to produce one pound of copper.. These lumps of copper were then melted in cruciples and poured in to clay moulds to make axe heads and other objects.

After an unsuccessful attempt ( again Covid related) to get lunch at the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre we went on to Bodnant Gardens. This is in a wonderful position in the Conwy valley.

Unfortunately we could not see the Carneddau Mountains which normally form the backdrop to the gardens due to the cloud. The gardens were started in 1874 by Henry Pochin and his gardener Edward Milner( he had been an apprentice of Thomas Paxton of Chatsworth). The Italianate garden has several terraces and water features and the picturesque Pin Mill rescued from a garden in Gloucestershire. The garden passed to Henry's daughter Laura who married Charles McLaren, 1st Baron Aberconway. Plants were added to the garden following plant hunting expeditions to Africa, Asia and the Americas. Four generations of the McLaren family continued developing the gardens, the Wild Garden that continues up the valley contains their mausoleum. Bodnant became the second garden to be taken over by the National Trust ( after Hidcote) in 1949. The family continue to own and live in the house.

In the evening we had a lecture by Steven Genter  of Wrexham Museum, “ The Romans in North Western Wales.”

Until recently it was thought that the Roman presence in the area was predominantly military. However following the discovery of a lead “Pig” with an inscription from the time of the Emperor Nero, excavations at  Stringer Lane near Rossett has shown that there was a settlement that looks like a civilian Villa. This indicates that this part of Wales had Roman settlements like those found in Southern England.

Day 3. This was spent in Chester. We had an interesting tour of the town led by a member of one of the city's ancient Guilds. We heard about its development from a Roman Fort on the banks of the Dee. The town expanded into a grid pattern with gates in the North, South, East and West sides of the fort. Just outside the walls was an amphitheatre that could seat 6,000 people, one of the largest in Roman Britain. It was a base for the proposed invasion of Ireland.

In the middle ages it had an important role in supplying the castles built to subdue the Welsh. During this period the distinctive “Rows” where built. These terraces have houses with stone vaulted undercrofts or crypts where merchants stored their goods. Above this were the shops with a walkway in front.This arrangement kept the shoppers above the street level where rubbish and waste would have been thrown.The shops had a hall behind and living accommodation above.

It had another prosperous period in Georgian times when it was a major port for trade with Ireland.

Horse racing was started in 1539 as a less violent alternative to football for the apprentices on their days off and there has been a race course (the oldest in the country)  since then. On Races Days in August 80,000 can attend. During the day in Chester we heard a lot about the Grosvenor family who came from the Cheshire area. The Duke of Westminster is a member of the family.

We then went on to our tour of Chester Cathedral. There have been religious buildings on the site since the 7th century but the present church dates from 1093 but was extensively rebuilt in the Gothic style from the 13th to the early 16th centuries. There were destruction of shrines (the main one was to St Werburgh, a Mercian princess canonized for raising a flock of geese from the dead.) in the church by agents of Henry VIII, but they missed a boss showing the murder of Thomas Becket ( a usual target for destruction). In the Civil War Parliamentary troops stabled horses in the cathedral. Their destruction was limited to carefully removing three sets of praying hands from a tomb. Carvings in the choir stalls from 1380 were left. Giles Gilbert Scott removed the stone Rood screen but left the section of the choir stalls that were attached to the back of it. 

We went in to the Monks' Refectory and had a excellent lunch. It has a very colourful Millenium window showing the 7 days of Creation. The group had “free time” in the afternoon. Various visits were made to places including the Church of St Thomas to see the “Breeches” Bible (one of only 50 printed), a wine bar in one of the stone vaulted  under crofts in the Rows, the Grosvenor Museum with its collection of Roman Tomb Stones, the Victorian City Hall with its iron gates that have snails on them very much in the “ Mouse-man” style. The Queen and Megan Markle had lunch there, during their visit in June 2018.  People also visited the Georgian Cathedral Close that is entered  through a magnificent Medieval arch.  We returned to our hotel for the evening meal.

Day 4.We went over to Anglesey, Ynys Mon in Welsh and the town of Beaumaris. We had a tour of the Castle. This was one of the ring of castles built by Edward I in his wars with the Welsh Princes.The castle has a double wall, if invaders made it over the first wall they found themselves trapped in a “Killing Zone” between the  two walls. Money ran out before the castle was completed and Edward Ist transferred his interest to trying to conquer Scotland.

We then drove to the Neolithic Tomb of Bryn Cilli Dhu, with its 8.4 meter long entrance passage and chamber that you can stand in that has a mysterious free standing rock pillar. From there we crossed back over the Menai Straits and made our way to St Asaph's Cathedral. We were a little behind schedule and our visit was accompanied by the wonderful singing of the cathedral choir doing their weekly practice.. There has been a church on the site for 1,400 years . The present building dates from the 13th century. It suffered damage by Edward Ist's soldier in 1282 and from Owain Glyndwr's soldiers in his rebellion from 1400. It was largely rebuilt under Henry VIII and heavily restored by the Victorians. Henry Morgan (1545-16604), the translator of the Bible in to Welsh (credited with saving the Welsh language as a result) was Bishop of St Asaph's. There is a small Madonna and Child allegedly from one of the Spanish Armada ships wrecked off the North Wales coast displayed in the Cathedral. We then returned to the hotel We had dinner followed by a toast to the forthcoming marriage of Margaret Medd and Mike Cooke. We then enjoyed a quiz expertly set by Jean Hannaford. 

Day 5. After breakfast and a group photo in front of our coach we made the short journey to Bersham Iron Works, near Wrexham were we we guided around the site by Steven Genter, our speaker from Tuesday night. It was owned by the Wilkinson family who developed a technique of accurately boring the muzzles of cannon. This was especially important due to the series of wars in the second part of the 18th and early part of the 19th century, when the works operated.  The boring technique was also important in producing the cylinders used in Bolton and Watt's steam engines and well as iron pipes. A French General, Marchant de la Houliere, visited the site and persuaded one of the Wilkinson brothers to go to France and help set up the Royal French Iron Works. This later became the La Creuset factory. 

From Bersham we went to Llangollen were we joined a canal barge on the Llangollen Canal for lunch. We left the town along the  beautiful Dee valley making our way to the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The aqueduct was constructed by Thomas Telford to take the canal across the Dee valley. It is over 1,000 feet long, 12 feet wide and 126 feet above the river. A caste iron trough 5 feet 3 inches deep sits on top of 18 masonry pillars. It has a walkway at one side for the  the horses who pulled the barges to cross the aqueduct. It opened to traffic in 1805 after taking 10 years to build.

We were met by the coach who then brought us back to Clevedon. Unfortunately an accident ( no injuries to people just damaged cars) in Walton in Gordano led to a diversion and delay in most of the group getting home.

Many thanks to Judy assisted by Maureen in organizing the study tour in the face of all the uncertainties and problems caused by the pandemic.

Tom Chown 26.08.2021