Romantic View of Beaumaris Castle

I’m not a huge collector of postcards, but given my interest in old buildings of Anglesey, I do keep an eye on eBay for new listings of particularly interesting old images of past and present structures. I usually go for ones that show intriguing differences between then and now, or simply attractive ones. My latest acquisition ticks both boxes.

The above image is a view of Beaumaris Castle unlike any that you’ve probably seen before. An Edwardian family pose in front of a castle gateway, with the walls draped with vegetation and bordered with colourful flowers. But, is this really Beaumaris Castle? Where’s the moat and bridge?

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Beaumaris Castle Gateway, 2013

Compare it to a recent photo of mine from the same viewpoint and you can see that it is definitely the gateway to Beaumaris Castle. However, unlike the restored and highly popular visitor attraction that it is today, in the 19th and early 20th century it was a ruin that attracted the interest of the Victorians, who sought out romantic views of ancient buildings.

Beaumaris Castle was built by Edward I in the late 13th century, after he conquered Wales. It was never finished to its full height, and only occasionally saw military action, most notably during Owain Glyndŵr’s revolt and the English Civil War.

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Beaumaris Castle Inner Ward & North Gatehouse, early 20th century

It was bought from the Crown by Thomas Bulkeley of Baron Hill in 1807 for £735. The Bulkeley family had been constables of the castle for generations. They treated it as a romantic Victorian ruin, but also used it for battles of another sort, with a tennis court built in the inner ward, as you can see in this picture.

The Bulkeley family gave the castle to the State in 1925. The Commissioners of Works, the predecessor of today’s Cadw, soon set about doing major reconstruction work, removing vegetation from the walls, repairing stonework, and restoring the moat. It is now one of the most popular visitor attractions on Anglesey and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 (along with Conwy, Caernarfon & Harlech Castles).

This new postcard is from the Tuck company’s “Picturesque North Wales” series, appearing in their 1911-12 catalogue. It was painted by Henry B Wimbush, a London-born landscape artist who did many illustrations for the Tuck postcards, as well as for book publishers such as A & C Black.

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On The Trail of Edward Greenly

One thing leads to another. While working on the new section of my Anglesey History website on Prehistoric Monuments I wanted to compare the geology of one site to the types of stone that were used to build the monument. I thought I had a geological map of Anglesey, but couldn’t find it, so ordered a new one. It arrived yesterday, and my wife and I spent part of the day poring over it with a magnifying glass, looking for interesting features.

Coventry, Gertrude Mary, 1886-1964; Edward Greenly (1861-1951), DSc., Anglesey Geologist
Edward Greenly (painting by Gertrude Mary Coventry, image from Bangor University)

This map is mainly based on Edward Greenly’s pioneering work on the geology of Anglesey. His two volume 1919 work The Geology of Anglesey, followed by the geological map of 1920, are considered classics in the field. The geology of Anglesey is fiercely complex, and his 25 years of surveying the rocks of the island, with the latest geological theories in mind, unravelled its mysteries.

In looking into accounts of his life, most said that Greenly and his wife Annie were buried in Llangristiolus parish churchyard, under “a fine headstone of red ‘Balmoral’ granite.” I distinctly remember visiting a grave of a prominent geologist with an unusual headstone, a large boulder inscribed with the details, many years ago, but this was in Llansadwrn, not Llangristiolus. Which was correct? After another cup of coffee we hopped into the car and headed off on a circular route to both churches.

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Ramsay’s grave in Llansadwrn

When we got to the church we spotted the unusual grave stone, a boulder of Carboniferous limestone, before we even got out of the car. We crossed the graveyard and turned to face the headstone, only to discover that this was the grave of another very well known geologist with Anglesey connections. Sir Andrew Crombie Ramsay was a Scottish geologist who published The Geology of North Wales in 1881, as well as many other earlier important works. He rose to become the president of the Geological Society of London and director-general of the Geological Survey. He retired to Beaumaris, where he died in 1892.

The inscription on his gravestone explains his Anglesey connection. His wife, Mary Louisa Williams, was the daughter of Rev. James Williams of Llanfair-yng-Nghornwy and granddaughter of John Williams of Treffos, in Llansadwrn. Her brother Owen was the grandfather of the famous Anglesey artist Kyffin Williams, thus making her his great aunt. In his autobiography Across the Straits, Kyffin Williams talks about playing with the Ramsay children when he was young.

So, I guess Greenly was really at Llangristiolus. Back in the car to head towards Llangristiolus. We decided to take the narrow lanes from Llansadwrn through Rhoscefnhir and Ceint, which once formed the major post road from Beaumaris to Holyhead (more in this in another blog soon).

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The Greenly’s headstone at Llangristiolus

After a bit of a wander around Llangristiolus churchyard I spotted a grave of distinctive red stone that stood out against the grey slate and black marble of most of the surrounding ones. Here was Edward Greenly and his wife Annie, “reunited”, as the inscription said.

Edward was born in 1861 and died in 1951, having been widowed since 1927 when his beloved Annie died. They first met when he was just 14, when she and her parents visited his family home. She was 11 years his elder, but their similar intellectual and scientific interests soon blossomed into a close friendship, then love. But after four years their parents, worried about such a relationship between one so young with one so much older, forced them apart. Eleven years later they met up again, and this time married in 1891.

Their’s was a close scientific working relationship as well as a loving marriage. Annie also had a keen interest in science from a young age. During his years surveying the geology of Anglesey (and before that in the Highlands of Scotland) she was usually at his side. Although Edward’s name is solely on the publications, he always readily admitted she was instrumental in developing ideas and in organising the publications. She died just days after they jointly finished a short geological textbook called The Earth. To mark her contributions Edward set up an Annie Greenly Fund through the Geological Society of London to support detailed geological mapping.

On the way home we stopped at Oriel Ynys Môn for a bite to eat and a look around the galleries. Who should we run across there but our new-found friend Edward Greenly, in a display in the history gallery, with a copy of his map alongside his portrait and biography.