St Baglan Church, Llanfaglen, Caernarfon

I haven’t blogged much lately, because I’m writing a new book (details to follow!), but the very nice weather drew me out today to explore a church I’ve not seen before. It required crossing the Strait, so isn’t strictly Anglesey History, but is still a very interesting place. And it overlooks Anglesey!

Img2017-05-07_131745St. Baglan’s Church stands in an isolated position, overlooking the mouth of the Menai Strait, just south-west of Caernarfon. Finding it requires driving down a narrow coastal road, passing Caernarfon Castle across the Afon Seiont on the way, then walking across a field of barley to the church nestled within a grove of trees in an oval-shaped church enclosure wall.

Img2017-05-07_125552Like most medieval churches in Wales, this one, dating to the 13th century, is a small and fairly simple church. However, unlike most, it wasn’t renovated by the Victorians, so retains its medieval character and the 18th century benches and box pews, many inscribed with names or initials and dates from the 1700s. As a result it was given a Grade I historic building listing in 1968, indicating it is of exceptional interest. It became redundant and in 1991 was taken over by the Friends of Friendless Churches.

Img2017-05-07_130007Inside the church are numerous 18th and 19th century memorial plaques and gravestones, and the churchyard surrounding it contains many more 19th century and recent gravestones. However, the window-sill of the porch consists of a reused gravestone that is probably from the 13th century. It depicts a ship as well as a cross, and may have been the tombstone of a mariner.

Img2017-05-07_124809The most famous internment at this church is a recent one. In January this year the burial took place here of Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones. He is better known as Lord Snowdon, well known photographer as well as former husband of Princess Margaret and brother-in-law of the Queen. The Armstrong-Jones family hailed from this part of Wales and he spent much time at the family home of Plas Dinas, Bontnewydd. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother married the Earl of Rosse from Birr Castle in Co. Offaly, Ireland (a favourite place of mine to visit during my regular visits to the Irish midlands), where he also spent much of his youth.

On such a beautiful day there was a steady stream of visitors to this remote church. Some were coming with curiosity like us, others came carrying flowers for their loved ones. Whatever your purpose, this church is well worth a visit. You can find it with this Google Map.

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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.

Surprises in Llanddyfnan

img2016-11-11_091935It was a clear, frosty morning, and I was thinking of standing stones. A couple of days previously I had driven over to Holy Island, aiming to clear my mind of the recent American election results, as well as visit the Penrhos Feilw standing stones (more on these some other time). As I looked at the photos from there I realised to my shame that I hadn’t photographed the nearest standing stone, which I drive past regularly: the megalith in Llanddyfnan. So this morning was a good time to take a quick trip up the road with my camera.

This single standing stone is just beside the road between Pentraeth and Talwrn, close to the Llanddyfnan parish church and its neighbouring Ty’n Llan farmhouse. The Stone Science museum is across the road. I got some nice photos of a well-lit monument, plus some of a herd of curious cattle who ran over to the fence, either to see what I was up to, or to see if I was bringing their feed. I then went over to the church, which I had photographed before, but several years ago.

img2016-11-11_093013After a few shots of the church I began wandering around the graveyard, mindful that some of the people I mentioned in my recent blog about the abandoned house, Ynys, at Cors Bodeilio might be here. Sure enough, two prominent slabs near the church door were for the Thomas family of the Bodeilio estate, including Evan Rice Thomas, who died 20 August 1875. Back by the wall was the grave of William Williams, the last recorded resident of Ynys, who died in 1906, and his wife Ann, who died the next year.

img2016-11-11_093935A few other interesting stones were spotted, including a Commonwealth War Grave stone for Corporal H. Jones of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who died in November 1940, aged 28. I stood by his grave for a moment in advance of the minute silence later in the morning for Armistice Day.

But the real surprises were to be found in the newer section of the cemetery. I spotted a grave with a number of plants and flowers around it, and a familiar name. Ann Benwell was a prominent local historian, a retired university lecturer, devoted member of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and trustee of Menai Heritage, of which I am also a trustee. She died suddenly in 2013. I was surprised to find her here in Llanddyfnan, as she had lived in Menai Bridge, and I didn’t know of any connection to the parish. I’ve since learned she grew up near Talwrn.

img2016-11-11_094848I was further surprised when I looked at the grave next to Ann’s. This was for Eirian Llwyd, a well known local artist and wife of former Anglesey MP, AM and Plaid Cymru party leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones. She died after a short battle with cancer in 2014. I met her a couple of times a few years ago when I bought two of her prints, which hang proudly in my house. One of these prints is of a raven, so I was touched to see her gravestone also features a raven, a bird that appears in a number of her artworks. It must have had special significance to her, perhaps because of the association with the figure from the Mabinogion, the giant Welsh king Brân the Blessed, brother of Branwen.

As I mentioned in my last blog, The Irishman in Church Island Cemetery, every graveyard has several interesting stories to tell, if you just look closely.

The Irishman in Church Island Cemetery

When visiting historic churches, I always have a wander around the cemetery, looking at inscriptions old and new. I often wonder what this person was like, or how that person lived their life. Occasionally, the inscription gives a tantalising clue to an interesting story, which I will sometimes try to follow up later. On a recent trip to the St Fagan’s outdoor museum in south Wales I had a look around the village churchyard. Towards the back was a Commonwealth War Grave stone on the grave of John Heritage, who died in 1982. I assumed he was in the Falkland War. Once home I looked up his somewhat unusual name, to find that he was actually killed in the IRA bombing of the Royal Green Jackets military band in Regent’s Park, London.

img2014-03-30_131010A more puzzling grave can be found hidden behind St. Tysilio’s church on Church Island in Menai Bridge. I spend a lot of time in Ireland, so I stopped in my tracks when I spotted the grave of Thomas Fane Uniacke “of Lynnbury, Co. Westmeath, Ireland”. How did someone who lived in Ireland wind up buried in Menai Bridge?

He was also blessed with a rather unusual name, which made tracking down information about him relatively easy. I first turned to Ancestry.co.uk, where I found several family trees that have him listed. Most of them gave the same death date as on this grave, March 2 1857, but there seems to be uncertainty about the circumstances of his death, as two different death places are given. Some say he died in Co. Cork, Ireland, whereas others say he died in Rifle Township in North Dakota, USA. Many give no death place at all. None say anything about Menai Bridge or Anglesey.

I contacted some of the people who had posted these family trees, but none was able to tell me much about him, other than the basic facts in the trees. He was a side branch of all their families, rather than a direct ancestor.

The basic facts are these: Thomas Fane Uniacke was born in 1792, son of Redmond Uniacke Esq. and Elizabeth Fleming, of Carrig, Co. Cork. He and his family are listed in Burke’s Landed Gentry Of Ireland, and were prominent landowners with their seat at Mount Uniacke, near Youghal, Co. Cork. His grandfather, James FitzGerald Uniacke, was a commander in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, who apparently gave up his horse to King William when the king’s horse was shot in the battle.

The family is full of military men, and Thomas was an officer in the Rifle Brigade. His two brothers were also military men, with Capt. John Uniacke being killed in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain, in 1812, and his four sisters all married officers.  His two sons were officers in the Highland Light Infantry and his daughter married an officer.

Thomas somehow made the move from Cork to Co. Westmeath, perhaps through an arranged marriage to Elizabeth Rochfort, daughter of Gustavus H. Rochfort, Esq, M.P. for Westmeath and grandson of the first Earl of Belvedere. Thomas owned land in the county and was a land agent and a magistrate. His name crops up regularly in newspapers related to court cases and other legal matters, and even as a steward at the races in Mullingar.

The most interesting newspaper article I found about Thomas was one from the Dublin Evening Mail in 1840, headlined “Conspiracy to Murder a Magistrate”. Police in Westmeath got wind that four brothers named Kelly had stockpiled arms and ammunition, apparently intending to assassinate Thomas Uniacke, who was the agent for their landlord. The Kellys were insolvent and not paying their rent, but also refusing to vacate the properties. The article praises Thomas, saying “As an agent, we believe there is no man in the country, filling the same office, more kind-hearted and indulgent – indulgent, perhaps, to a fault – to the tenantry under his charge.”

The last record I find of Thomas Uniacke himself before his death is related to a court case in 1853. What happened to him after that, and why did he wind up dying in Menai Bridge? One clue is the death notice of his wife Elizabeth, just a year before his own death. Curiously, she died at Glenavon, Haverfordwest, in South Wales. Did they have some connection to Wales?

Their daughter Frances, who married Capt. Seton Lionel Smith, settled in Laugharne, about 25 miles from Haverfordwest, after he retired from active military service, probably sometime in the 1850s-1860s. Perhaps Elizabeth had been travelling to visit her when she took ill? Perhaps her husband had also been travelling there a year later when he died? It’s still a mystery, but I’m still looking for clues.