Llangollen (Part 2)

Morning, readers. It’s time for Rambler5319 to finish a story he started telling us a few weeks back. Enjoy!

 

If you remember my post from a couple of weeks ago (The Aqueduct, 4.9.13) well this is part 2 of that trip (or the rest of day 1). After the aqueduct we headed out of town just a couple of miles to what is called Valle Crucis Abbey. It means valley of the cross. (You’d never have guessed that would you?) The cross in question is actually another ancient monument which we’ll come to later. Now LLM was mentioning old stuff in her Monday post so I couldn’t resist this as I can beat her, twice actually! Firstly this Cistercian abbey was built during the reign of King John in 1201 – that’s 14 years before the Magna Carta and beats her sink by about 124 years! (If you remember the post from 15.5.13 on St Winifred’s Well, Basingwerk Abbey was also Cistercian & Welsh, from 1132, so pre-dated Valle Crucis by about 70 years.)

Here’s a pic.

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You’ll prob notice things like no roof or glass in windows. Apparently there were about 3 fires in its early days and that’s the reason for some of the damage and the brown tinge on the light coloured stone around the arched doorway. However the chapterhouse around the grass quadrangle is in better condition.

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Here’s the arch at the end of that block. You can see the different types of stone and the crack above the arch. And a view looking inside

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As part of their subsistence living the monks at Valle Crucis had a large fish pond; apparently monks were forbidden to eat meat from animals with four legs. For any of you searching for monastic fish ponds in Wales look no further – I can tell you this is the only surviving one!

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This small building, next to the pond, had a date stone showing 1773 over the door so much later than the original abbey.

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Coming out of there we walked along the road to find the “cross” which the abbey is named after. Here it is unfortunately surrounded by railings so you can’t get close up to it. It is called Eliseg’s Pillar and is built on top of a burial mound.

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And here’s the info board

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Now the number is not that clear but it does say the 9th century. Yep, read that again, THE 9TH, which means built in the 800s. This is the second time I beat LLM’s sink but this time by about 500 years!

Think it’s worth saying though that it’s not just the age that is interesting. I agree with LLM that once I’ve told you it’s nearly 1200 years old and you’ve said “Wow!” you do just move on. No, for me the interest is in the stories behind the object, building or place and their connections to the present day. I’m imagining how in the 800s a guy commissioned a stone mason to make the pillar and then for it to be moved to where they put it up. I wonder how much he was paid as it was a royal commission. Was it put on a horse and cart to take it there? Did the guy work on the stone first then move it or work on it at the spot where it is now? What made the man who commissioned it want to do it? A person? An event or historic victory? It’s all those sorts of things which make it interesting.

Another thing which makes historical things interesting is their rarity or in some cases uniqueness: the fish pond for instance being the only one in Wales; the pillar, as we’ll find out later, celebrating a king and a victory. If you know there’s only one of something and you’ve seen it you kind of feel as if you’ve achieved something in finding it or coming across it if you hadn’t gone looking for it.

At the Abbey I’m wondering how these monks actually got all the work done to build the place and then to grow, fish or hunt enough to survive in what is a fairly isolated place. Some questions can be answered by referring to other historical documents and sources but some remain cases for speculation. Basically I suppose I think places of historical interest are as interesting as you the viewer want them to be. One person can be very excited at the surroundings and the stories associated with them but another may just think it’s boring. (“Each to his own” comes to mind.) I think the most interesting historical bits you come across are those that relate to your own family history. Knowing about the history of the area around Llangollen is one thing but know about where your actual ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents etc) lived makes it so much more relevant and personal to you. It’s your story and it means something because your family is associated with that place. If any of you watch that programme Who Do You Think You Are? You can’t fail to notice how emotional some people get when they’re taken to places their ancestors lived or worked or had something tragic happen there or meet living relatives of their ancestors. There’s a kind of bond even though they’ve never met before.

So, back to the pillar. I can tell you that it was erected by Cyngen, the last king of an area of Wales called Powys, in memory of his great-grandfather Eliseg who recovered the land of Powys from the English. It commemorates a great victory. The inscription also tells us that Eliseg was a descendent of Vortigern, a 5th century warlord, who after a tragedy in his own family apparently took refuge in North Wales and also, via marriage, of the 4th century Emperor Magnus Maximus one of the last Roman rulers of Britain.

Then it was back to the hotel and a quick change. We met up outside for a short walk to our evening meal. It was in a converted mill. Here’s the info sign. You might recognise a connection with our earlier visit to the abbey.

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You see how those bits of history link up. The monks from the Abbey we’d just visited 2 miles up the road were responsible for building this.

Not surprisingly it is called The Corn Mill. We had a great meal & good service – no complaints at all. While we were sitting at our table I noticed an old advertising sign which had been framed and was hanging on the wall.

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If you can see it (or enlarge it) at the bottom it says the firm is based in London. In my own family history I am researching a possible connection with the company. My paternal grandmother, who lived in London in the area near their factory, may have worked for them back in 1901 so that made this sign very interesting for me. There we were eating in a mill originally founded by the monks who built the abbey we had visited earlier in the day and with a possible connection to my family ancestors. For you it’s very probably a shrug and move on to the next bit because it has no connections for you but for me it’s those connections that make it interesting and that’s history. Getting things into a context with events at the time and a historical timeline are what bring the story together. And that’s as interesting as you personally want it to be.

We did a brief walk around the town before heading back to the hotel.

Here’s an interesting little building.

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And then there was this display in Gale’s of Llangollen Wine shop window

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I could only get the first three in the display. There were another 6 going down in size so a total of 9 bottles.

For those of you who are not familiar with champagne bottle sizes. The standard measure is 75cl (0.75L) and is actually called a bottle (should serve 8 glasses). All the sizes going up from this one are multiples of the “bottle” size so it goes Magnum (2 bottles, 16 glasses) = 1.5L, Jeroboam (4 bottles) = 3L, Reheboam (6 bottles) = 4.5L, Methuselah (8 bottles) = 6L, Salmanazar (12 bottles) = 9L, Balthazar (16 bottles) = 12L & finally Nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles, should serve a whopping 160 glasses!) = 15L. The full Nebuchadnezzar is going to weigh you down a bit as it tips the scales at 38 kilos! Not something your plastic supermarket bag is going to cope with. And I guess it’s going to empty your wallet too! (I checked on line and some brands retail at about £1200/$1911!)

In case you’re wondering where the names for these sizes come from there seems to be no definitive answer. One source thinks it’s because a French Benedictine monk (Dom Perignon, 1638-1715) was involved. One Bordeaux wine maker says that they have been using the name Jeroboam since 1725 and that the Champagne region then adopted it. The larger sizes, it is said, came in during the 1940s.

So who were these guys who got champagne bottle sizes named after them (going in order):

Jeroboam (3L) -The nation of Israel had been just one nation until after the reigns of King David & then his son Solomon. During the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam there was a revolt. The kingdom split into two. Jeroboam became the first king of the ten tribes who revolted and formed a completely separate nation in the north of the country. He reigned from about 931BC-910BC.

Rehoboam (4.5L) – His dates seem to be somewhat disputed but from anywhere from about 937BC to around 907BC. After Jeroboam’s revolt he ended up king over the two tribes who remained in the south of the country.

Methuselah (6L) – You probably all know of this guy. He’s the person who has lived longer than anyone else. The book of Genesis gives his age as 969 years. He was the grandfather of Noah (of Noah’s Ark fame).

Salmanazar (9L) – He was king of Assyria 727-722BC and defeated the ten northern tribes who had revolted against him. They were taken into exile.

Balthazar (12L) – Might refer to one of the three kings (Balthasar, Gaspar (or Casper), and Melchior) who came to see the baby Jesus. Could refer to Daniel (of lion’s den fame) who was renamed Belteshazzar by the Babylonians who took him and his three friends away from their homeland to live in Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar (15L) – This is probably Nebuchadnezzar II (605BC-562BC). He had a number of dreams which Daniel interpreted for him as his own “magicians and astrologers” couldn’t. (His son Belshazzar was the king who saw “the fingers of a man’s hand writing on the wall” at a feast he was having. Very probably this is where we get our expression “the writing’s on the wall” from.)

And there you have it. Some strange connections but interesting I think.  

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Fascinating tour, liked this.

    Reply

  2. […] to Llangollen a while ago. Although I’ve done a couple of posts already on the trip (4.9.13 & 18.9.13) there is more to report on so here’s instalment […]

    Reply

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