Thursday, 5 May 2016
The architectural legacy of Beaumaris
includes many unexpected Tudor gems
Beaumaris where I spent last weekend is a pleasant, typical seaside resort town. Architecturally, the town is dominated by the castle built by Edward I, and completed in 1296.
The castle followed design for the castles at Caernarvon and Aberconway and was surrounded by a deep moat or fosse that could be filled from the sea when need arose, and a deep canal that allowed vessels to unload their cargoes under the walls of the castle itself.
The Welsh view of the building of the castle is expressed in Richard Liwyd’s poem, ‘Beaumaris Bay’:
Here earth is loaded with a mass of wall
The proud insulting badge of Cambria’s fall
By haughty Edward raised; and every stone
Records a sign, a murder or a groan.
The new town was populated with settlers and tenant from north-west England, mainly from Lancashire and Cheshire, with family names that included Ingram, Godfrey, Norrey, Hampton, Kighley and Bulkeley.
The plan of the town was laid out around the crossing of two main streets, Castle Street and Church Street. These streets were lined with burgages, measuring 80 ft by 40 ft, and by the mid-14th century 150 burgages had been let out.
In the early 15th century, Owain Glyndwr’s followers occupied Beaumaris for two years but the town survived.
By the early 17th century, the houses had expanded north-west along Wexham Street, past Henllys Lane and south-east into Townsend.
When Sir Richard Bulkeley of Beaumaris (1581-1646) died, he was buried in Penmon Priory and his widow Ann married Sir Thomas Cheadle. However, evidence was produced that the couple had an affair while Sir Richard was alive, and they were tried – and acquitted – of murdering Sir Richard.
During the civil wars in the mid-17th century, Thomas Bulkeley (1585-1659) became Governor of the Castle. Charles I gave him the title of Viscount Bulkeley of Cashel, Co Tipperary, in 1644,and he held Beaumaris for the royalists until 1646, when he was forced to surrender to the Parliamentary troops under General Myttar.
Thomas Bulkeley’s son, Richard Bulkeley, was killed on Lafan Sands in 1650 in a duel with Richard Cheadle, who was hanged afterwards in Conwy.
After the Restoration, Thomas Bulkeley’s other son Robert Bulkeley became 2nd Viscount Bulkeley and Governor of Beaumaris Castle, an office that passed from one generation to the next in the family until the death of the last Lord Bulkeley in 1822.
Beaumaris received an architectural and economic in the 1830s boost by prestigious and visual developments at Green Edge and Joseph Hansom’s impressive classical Victoria Terrace and the Williams Bulkeley Arms Hotel, consciously presenting a monumental façade towards the Menai Straits.
In the Victorian period, the town had a number of older coaching inns and newer prospering hotels.
Along Castle Street, the Bull’s Head was an important coaching inn on the corner of Bull’s Head Street and Castle Street. The Oak and the Manchester Hotel stood opposite. The George and Dragon stood near the corner of Church Street and Castle Street with the town hall opposite and the Crown Inn and stables adjacent. At the south-west end of the town, the Liverpool Arms stood on the old Watergate Street.
In the mid-19th century, new streets were laid out towards the Menai Straits at Alma Street and Raglan Street, joined along Castle Street by Bulkeley Terrace.
Apart from the castle and the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Nicholas, the 14th century parish church, the town’s buildings with interesting histories include the Castle Court Hotel (1612), now run by Guy Williams and Katherine Barwood, and where I stayed for the weekend, and the old courthouse (1614) – both buildings are on the same square date from the early 17th century – and the town gaol on Steeple Lane, dating from 1829, with prisoner cells and original artefacts, including a tread wheel. Both the courthouse and the gaol are now open to the public as museums.
But Beaumaris, like Conwy, is one of the few timber towns in north-west Wales and I should have expected some timber-framed structures or the evidence for them.
After all, the dynasty was descended from the Tudors of Penmynydd, a noble family connected with the village of Penmynydd in Anglesey. And so, as Anglesey was the ancestral home of the Tudor dynasty, I was on the lookout for Tudor buildings.
The Tudor house at 32 Castle Street, Beaumaris, dates from 1416, and is reputed to be one of the oldest houses in Britain. This building is home to the offices of estate agency Joan Hopkin, and today it looks rather out of place among the larger buildings that line Castle Street. However, at one time most of the buildings on Castle Street would have been of similar timber-frame construction.
The building is known as Tudor Rose comprises a hall-house on a north-south alignment and a southern wing of two storeys, perpendicular to the hall.
The building is larger than the street frontage suggests. This was originally a hall house, the centre of which was a high room with no ceiling. A two-storey solar wing at the south side – the section that can be sees from the street – provided family living accommodation and storage. The hall survives behind this wing.
A floor at first-floor level was added in the 16th century. Originally there was probably also a north wing, at the far end of the hall.
Local stories say timbers from Beaumaris Castle and a 12th-century house were used in building the hall’s upper floor and the solar wing. However, an analysis of wood samples and the carpentry work show that this is unlikely.
Recent dendrochronological dating in 2010, as part of the North West Wales Dendrochronology Project, has helped to date the house. Dendrochronology is the science that dates timber and wood in buildings.
The study finds the timbers used for the solar wing were grown in North-West Wales. One was felled in winter 1485-1486. It was not possible to date timbers in the hall, which could pre-date the solar wing.
The hall and wing together were standing during the second half of the 15th century. The house was timber-framed in the early phase and several components of its construction have survived despite a later stone-clad revamp. During the later 16th century, or perhaps in the early 17th century, the hall was provided with an upper floor and the traditional open hearth was replaced by a chimney stack against the north gable of the hall.
There are indications of the former presence of rooms on two storeys beyond the present north end, but these are now lost.
Tudor Rose is now a Grade II* building, listed for its exceptional interest as one of the few surviving pre-Georgian houses in Beaumaris, with especially notable interior details and distinctive front, and for its contribution to the historical integrity of Castle Street.
The George and Dragon on Church Street claims to be one of the oldest pubs in Wales. Despite the appearances of a Georgian façade, this much-loved heritage site dates back to 1410, and offers a wealth of “olde worlde” charm with a timber frame, exposed beams and a recently discovered fireplace dating back hundreds of years.
The George and Dragon Hotel was originally a town house. The ‘Dating Old Welsh Houses’ project has established that the earliest parts of the building date from 1541. But the first building on the site is mentioned in 1410, and the present building dates from the mid-16th century.
Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratories carried out a scientific survey of the pub some years ago. The report shows that beams in the George and Dragon were felled in Winter 1536-1537, Winter 1539-1540, Winter 1540-1541, and Spring 1541. The axial beam dates from 1536-1540, the transverse beam from 1539, and the joists from 1534, 1539 and 1540.
The present George and Dragon may have been rebuilt in 1595. Originally, the upper storey overhung the side of the street. Alterations were made in the 17th and 20th centuries but original beams survive. Also noteworthy is the 17th-century panelling.
One of the roof trusses bears pictures and words from 1610. It is highly unusual for a building of this era to have both words and illustrations on the same truss. A painting of a bleeding heart occupies the centre of the apex. The Latin motto reads: Pax deus vobis require defuge deus providebit nosce te ipsum.
Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed here in 1643, and that two Cromwellian soldiers were courtmartialled for being drunk in the inn – although there is no record of what Cromwell thought of Latin prayers on the premises.
In the following century, leases show that the inn was known as the Red Lion and was owned by the Williams, Lloyd and Hughes families. By 1821, the place was known as the George and Dragon, and the extended premises included a cottage, stables, coach houses and a yard.
John Williams, who ran the George and Dragon in the 1820s and 1830s, was also an agent for steam packets sailing between Beaumaris and Liverpool.
On 18 August 1831, the Rothesay Castle, a steam-packet ship sailing from Liverpool with 150 passengers on board, sank at around 1 a.m. when she ran aground on Dutchman’s Bank, near Penmon and Puffin Island. In the morning, 23 passengers and members of the crew were rescued. The captain, who died, was described as drunk.
The inquest was held in Beaumaris, and John Williams of the George and Dragon was a member of the jury.
The tragedy was all but forgotten in 1832 when Beaumaris celebrated a visit by the Duchess of Kent and her daughter Princess Victoria, who would become Queen Victoria five years later. The royal couple stayed at the Williams-Bulkeley Arms Hotel, now the Bulkeley Arms, on 8 August 1832, during their tour of Wales, and celebrations were held at the George and Dragon and throughout Beaumaris.
John Williams died in 1835 and when she died in 1840 his widow Mary Williams gave her share of the George and Dragon to her daughter Mary Jane, wife of William Rowlands, and her sons Hugh Williams, John Williams, and Peter Williams as tenants in common. Some months later, Ellin Lloyd left her half share in the George and Dragon to her nieces Jane, wife of Ellis Timothy, and Mary Jane, wife of William Rowlands, as tenants in common.
The pub passed from the Rowlands family to Henry Humphreys, and then to John Evans, who was the tenant of the George and Dragon until 1909. His widow Mary Evans then ran the George and Dragon with her daughter Mary and son-in-law John Morgan.
However, the Williams Bulkeley family retained the freehold, until the family’s assets and estates were sold off in a major sale in 1920. By direction of Sir Richard Henry Williams Bulkeley (1862-1942), the George and Dragon Hotel was sold at auction in the Williams-Bulkeley Arms Hotel.
The tenants were Mrs Mary Ellen Morgan and Mr John P Jones. It was described as fully licensed premises, stone built, rough cast, and slated containing on the ground floor two smoke rooms, a bar, a tap room, a kitchen and pantry, coal house and yard. The first floor included drawing rooms, five bedrooms, a lumber room and a box room. The sale also included the shop next door.
The Morgan family was still at the George and Dragon in 1936. Mary Ellen Morgan died in 1940, and in 1945 John Alfred Green bought the George and Dragon Inn. In 1950, the George and Dragon was listed as a Grade II building. In 1968, the licensee, William Broadhurst who sold the George and Dragon to Robinson’s Brewery, who still own the pub.
Next door to the George and Dragon, the Red Boat Ice Cream Parlour is at 34 Castle Street. From the outside, this looks like an ordinary shop from the 19th or early 20th century. But inside it is a mediaeval hall house, about as old as the George and Dragon next door. A Tudor Rose adorns one of the trusses.
The house belonged to the Bulkeley family until the sale of the family’s assets in 1920. The family had probably owned the building since the 15th century. The roof was built in 1483 or soon afterwards – perhaps around the time William Bulkeley died in 1484. He was the Constable of Beaumaris Castle in 1440, and was probably the first of the Bulkeleys to have moved to Anglesey from Cheshire.
The earliest recorded tenant of 34 Castle Street was William Humphreys, one of the bailiffs of Beaumaris, who was tenant from 1739 to 1784. In 1841 a surgeon called Griffith Roberts lived here. From 1843 to 1863, the property was home to a corn trader Robert Parry, who was ordered to pay a fine or be imprisoned for allowing “the soot in the chimney of his dwelling-house to catch fire.”
The building later housed a draper’s shop, and in 1911 the tenant was William Robert Hughes, a railway company agent. The London and North-Western Railway had a parcels and inquiry office on the premises.
With the sale of Bulkeley family estates and properties in 1920, William Robert Hughes bought the building for £800.
In 2008, the Green family bought the building for their ice-cream business, and the premises continue to contribute to the atmosphere that makes Beaumaris a perfect seaside resort town.