I hate pebble dash. It is boring and beige. Wales has far too many pebble-dashed houses. If are not familiar with the phenomenon its a “coarse plaster surface used on outside walls that consists of lime and sometimes cement mixed with sand, small gravel, and often pebbles”. Its a way of tarting up the outside of a house. I guess its cheaper than having the bricks re-pointed because it seems to stay that horrible porridge colour for ever. Welsh terraces in the towns and valleys are full of these dull fronted houses. I much prefer red brick. Or painted. Many of my houses for the “Hollowed Community” exhibition were red brick or painted interesting colours.
In Ireland it seems that all the Victorian terrace houses and cottages are painted in bright colours. (See photos of Cobh Harbour above )
Having a brightly painted house is a gift to the community. It does not matter if your house is a grand detached house with a sea view or a humble terrace, it is cheering to behold. When a whole street does it, it becomes a cause for celebration and art!
If you walk north of Brynmill, you start to go up in the world. The surburbs of Ffynone, Uplands and Sketty are perched on one of Swansea many hills. The houses that were built here after the First World War are big and spacious. Swansea, like the rest of the UK, experienced a house-building boom in the late 1920s and the 1930s. This put home ownership within the reach of many for the first time. Now families with modest means could see their aspirations realised in bricks.
Some edgy flat roofed Art Deco houses were built. Much more popular, were detached and semi-detached mock Tudor styles with front and rear gardens. Their interiors had to be fashionable. Art Deco fireplaces were everywhere. Electricity was also installed. That way, the family’s maid could use new domestic inventions like the wireless and vacuum cleaner. They were light, clean family homes that were both practical and elegant. This was suburban splendour.
Old time house buying
This was the chic of “Metroland”. This so-called”Metroland” or “Metro-land” was the name given to the suburbs of north-west of London that was served by the Metropolitan Railway (The Met). The term “Metro-land” was coined by the Met’s marketing department in 1915 when the Guide to the Extension Line became the Metro-land guide. It promoted a dream of a modern home in beautiful countryside with a fast railway service to central London. The Metroland style was self-consciously rustic. It was a peaceful Eden that harked back to a Shakespearean “golden age” of England. It was a style that was adopted by builders wanting to appeal to the professional classes of Wales too.
Metroland was part of popular culture of the 1920 and 1930s. There were several songs about Metroland. Evelyn Waugh had a character Lady Metroland who appeared in several of his books (“Decline and Fall”, “Vile Bodies” and “A Handful of Dust”). Poet John Betjeman, wrote poems about Metroland. He even made a celebrated documentary for BBC Television, called Metro-land, in 1973.
SPTS1070, Dunlop Tennis, 1930s advert for the tyres on an English country house sporting theme
We took the train down to Cardiff on Friday to look at the venue for my “Gafnu Cymuned: Hollowed Community” exhibition in the
madeinroath 2017 festival. It was great to visit Cardiff again. I used did my degree and PhD in Cardiff in the 1990s and I used to know the areas close to the university, Roath and Cathays, very well.
The city has changed massively in the last 20 or so years. It has become more European, in its feel. The centre is full of massive shops and eateries. Around the edges of the main shopping district was full of building work, where lots of purpose-built student accommodation was being put up.
My exhibition will be in the Inkspot Art Centre, off Newport Road. I have the wall by the windows on the right hand side and a hall with a beautiful Victorian wooden ceiling. The Festival runs from Sunday 15th to 22nd October 2017.
I love Victorian tin chapels. Maybe it’s because a playgroup I went to as a child in Hereford was held in one. I think that one was painted dark green. It was near the racecourse.
This tin building is at the crest of the hill, on Rhyddings Park Road. The corrugated iron is painted cream. It is jammed in by the side of the much larger and grander Argyle and Rhyddings Park Presbyterian Church.
The tin chapel is a friendly and welcoming building. The painted blue door always seems to be open. Playgroups meet here. I often see people with small infants coming and going.
There is a banner hanging above the door advertising “English Corner” for visitors to come and practice their English. This Welsh church has clearly gone out of their way to welcome international students and immigrants. I knew nothing about this community until I looked at their website and discovered that the church has been led by two energetic and thoughtful overseas mission workers, Charles and Molly Chua ,from Singapore for the past 11 years.
English Corner was set up by Charles and Molly after they found two lost Chinese students wondering the streets of Swansea. Charles and Molly took the two students to a Chinese shop and then drove them home. Over a cup of tea, the students pleaded: ‘we need someone to help us with our English!’ So they did something. The church set up weekly English classes on Friday evenings, and “English Corner’ grew rapidly, from 9 to 29 Chinese students in 3 weeks. Now 50-60 students regularly attend. It has since grown to become an international community linked with the Universities and Language Schools in Swansea. This proactive and positive work has had many benefits for the local community, students and new residents as well for the church which has a diverse congregation of Welsh and Chinese, Asians, Europeans and Africans worshipers.
So this unassuming little tin building holds a strong and vibrant community. I like that.
People remember Edward VII. He is in History books and TV programmes. In Brynmill there is a road named after him. Kings Edward’s Road was once part of Gorse Lane, the narrow road that runs along side Patti Pavillion and St Helen’s Rugby and Cricket Ground that has been there since the 1870s. The street had its name changed in 1904, in honour of the new-ish king Edward VII, known to his family as Bertie.
On 20th July 1904, Bertie came to visit Swansea. He arrived in the royal yacht “The Victoria and Albert” and “cut the first sod” of the new King’s Dock named in his honour. Thousands turned out to see Bertie and his Danish wife, Alexandra, drive through the streets of Swansea in an open-topped carriage. They also traveled up and down on the Mumbles railway in a specially decorated carriage.
Ordinary people liked Bertie. He had the common touch. He had been Prince of Wales for many, many years before his mother, Queen Victoria, died in 1901. He had spent many of these years drinking, gambling and womanising, but when he became king, he proved to be a popular king.
When I first moved to Swansea in 1998 to do my teacher training course, I used to walk around the area, exploring. My friend bought a house at the top of Rhyddings Park Road. She later moved to Sketty and now rents the house out to a PhD student and his family. Rhyddings Park Road had very few student houses in 1998 many three or four. It’s all changed now. There are 40 students on Rhyddings Park Road.
King Edwards’s Road is over 52% students houses (that’s about 90 of them). It feels like more. Its a rather soulless street now. The large pub on the corner is closed. The grocers on the opposite side of the road is gone. The house in the painting isn’t very pretty. Covered in ugly pebble-dashing. I can’t remember if it had pebble-dash on it in 1998.
I remember going into the shop and admiring its wooden floors. It was light and airy. However, grief haunted that shop, like a heavy pall. I never forgot it. The old grocer sat, silently next to his till, starring into to space. There were not many vegetables in the shop but there were some green apples. On a piece of folded paper on the counter there was a colour photograph of a cheerful old lady wearing glasses. In wobbly old fashioned hand writing, next to the photograph was the statement “SMOKING KILLED MY LOVELY WIFE”.
It was heart-breaking. I didn’t know what to say to the grocer. So I just asked for a few apples. He put them in a brown paper bag and I paid for them. Later I saw that the notice had been placed in the window. Then the shop closed. I suppose the grocer died or went into a home. He didn’t look like he’d go into a home. Now, it is a characterless house. The shop front was changed, the windows were made smaller. Maybe, the pinkish pebble-dash was added to the house then. It’s a personal history lost.
I suppose that’s one of the distressing aspects of this transient community, no-one remembers. We are just here for a year. Passing Through. No point investing time or energy here. All is forgotten and something very important is lost. I don’t know what the grocer’s name was, but I still remember him.