Posts Tagged ‘Basingwerk Abbey’

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.


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.


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


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!


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


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.


And here’s the info board


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.


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.


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.


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


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.  

St Winifred’s Well

Hello all. Welcome to my regular guest blogger’s Wednesday post…

I mentioned in last week’s post (8.5.13) our Bank Holiday day out and about all the traffic (which did happen) and the usual expected bad weather (which did not). Where were we going? Well it was to a well – St Winefride’s Well to be precise. (Note here, you were probably expecting to see it spelled St. Winifred’s which is how most people would write it but the site itself, and a number of other sources, use the spelling in my title.) Someone had organised a walk and there were going to be about 8 of us all together.

We got going fairly handily and managed to beat the worst of the outgoing traffic. The well is in Greenfield about half a mile NE of Holywell (pronounced Holly-well) in North Wales. We pulled into the car park right opposite the Well entrance and then one of my passengers (navigator?) said, “I don’t think we’re meeting with the others here. There’s another car park lower down”. Ok, so off we go and yes, about half way down the hill towards the coast, is another car park. We pulled in. We waited. My passenger direction-giver meditated for a few minutes: “What’s the road number of this road we’ve just turned off?”

It didn’t look like it had one. It’s only like a very minor one,” I ventured.

Oh well this isn’t right either!” came the reply. Off we went again further down the hill until we came to the A548 coast road and after turning right we came to car park no.3. “Ooh, there they are”, said my navigator. Then I had to listen while our tale of woe, regarding locating the correct car park, which was somehow down to me of course, was related to the expedition leader. He was standing in his walking gear with the OS map neatly folded in a plastic carrying case on a string round his neck and one of his local history info books in his hand. I hadn’t realised it was like a proper organised walk and thought we were just doing a stroll around the Well itself. Oh well, at least I could relax while someone else did the map/path reading. I’d be the bandit & wild animal look-out covering the rear of the column as we set out on a narrow steeply-angled path out of the car park. It was at this point I realised that when we had driven past the Well we had come quite a long way DOWNHILL! That meant walking would be taking us a fair way UPHILL and me with no oxygen or sub-zero outwear! I was somewhat amazed when, shortly after we started our climb, a guy went past us holding those Arctic ski pole things the professionals use to aid in walking (or skiing) in difficult areas. How hard could this be I wondered? It’s North Wales I thought, not the ascent to camp 4 on the north face of Everest. I couldn’t resist a chuckle seeing him walk past two ladies in their summery clothes pushing prams with little ones in! Bizarre – what’s wrong with this picture sprang to mind?

So on to our walk. The first place of interest on the journey up was the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey. image

It is completely open to the public and as you can see from my pic many were sitting among the ruins on the grass enjoying the sunshine. We stopped and had our sandwiches here as it was around lunch time. image

The abbey had been founded in 1132 by a local earl who brought Benedictine monks from Normandy. Just 66 years prior to this of course those pesky Normans had come over 1066 and beaten King Harold II in 1066. (Sadly, Harold had only been in the king job for 9 months!) That was probably one of the reasons why French monks ended up here. The abbey later became part of the Cistercian order and passed through a couple more changes before ending up under the control of Llywelyn the Great in the 13th century. He was a Prince of Gwynedd which is an area of North Wales. His son Dafydd ap Llywelyn then gave St Winefride’s Well to the abbey.

So, who was St. Winefride? The story goes back hundreds of years even before the Norman Conquest. It is, of course, being over 1300 years old, inevitably bound up in legend but it goes something like this – In around AD 660 a man called Caradoc wanted to date Winefride but she wasn’t interested. He tried and tried but she rejected him. As can happen in these situations Caradog “took the huff” and shortly after took matters into his own hands and came and chopped off Winefride’s head (as you do). Her uncle was called St Beuno and he prayed that she would survive and she did. The re-attaching of her head was a miracle and thereafter the Well became a place of pilgrimage and has remained so to this day. After surviving, Winefride lived as a nun for the next 22 years. The identity of Caradoc is something of a mystery as the name was fairly common around this time but the legend says he was the son of a local prince. Presumably he was used to getting his own way and her rejection was not something he would take lightly. (There is a Caradoc mentioned as being one of the knights at King Arthur’s Round Table but it’s not clear this was the same man.)

When Henry VIII “dissolved” the monasteries in 1536 Basingwerk Abbey was closed. Parts of its structure though were taken to other buildings: the monks’ stalls to Chester, the roof went to two other churches, some of the lead was taken to repair Holt Castle, and one window went to the parish church of St Dyfnog, 18 miles inland, in a small village with a long name – Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch. (The church there was founded in the 6th century.) Why was the window special? It was called the Tree of Jesse window and showed the ancestors of Jesus starting with King David’s father, Jesse of Bethlehem.

A little way past the abbey ruins is the visitor centre. In the next pic, check out the line above where it says Opening Hours (so 4th line up on the English part). How about that?image

We didn’t go in but carried on up the hill. We were soon on to a more path-like route and came to these gates. There was no info at this point to say what they may have been gates to. I could only presume they were possibly for one of the mills situated along the valley although being on two separate paths was a bit of a mystery.image

Then it was past what had been an old flour mill.

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And then a really nice lake. If you look closely you can just about read the old wooden sign – Flour Mill Pool. Not too hard to guess how it got its name!


There were remains of at least a couple of mills on our route which all had harnessed the power from the nearby stream generated by water wheels. Next along were the ruins of Meadow Mill which was used to produce copper sheets. image

Clearly entrepreneurs during The Industrial Revolution saw the potential of the water flowing down this hillside as is evidenced by the variety of businesses that were created here: flour, copper, wire, cotton and a battery factory which also used water to power their machinery. Sadly though, by the 1960s all had closed.

Then it was more paths and more climbing (=walking as opposed to throwing grappling hooks and pulling ourselves up) uphill. And so we arrived at our destination – The Well. Now this is not as you might be thinking a hole in the ground surrounded by a circular wall of stones with a little roof on over a horizontal bar with a winding handle with a rope and a bucket. No, this is serious architecture of massive proportions. Here’s a pic

Just to the right you can see part of a yellow structure – this is one of the changing tents for those who wish to bathe in the water. (Nobody did while we were there.) There is also the usual gift shop and loads of story boards to read with info about the place inside the entrance building.

Then it was a case of re-tracing our steps back down the hill to get a cup of tea/coffee and/or ice cream. It was a Bank Holiday so we expected a big queue but it wasn’t too bad. We joined the queue and noticed ahead there seemed to be two destination points: one for the tea/coffee/cakes stuff and one for the ice cream stall. We checked what people were queuing for so we didn’t jump in front. Lady in front of me says she’s waiting for ice cream so I stood behind. Once the 3 others had been served I get to the ice cream counter and ask for my choice. “You need a ticket”, the lady says.

Me: “Where do I get that?”

Lady: “Over there at the other counter.”

Me: “Where those people are queuing?”

And of course it is. I wanted to ask why there’s no sign to say get a ticket first before you come to this counter but I don’t suppose there would have been a reason to satisfy me so I let it pass. I join the other queue for tea/cakes/coffee in order to get a ticket (and pay of course as there was no till at the ice cream counter) to go back and join the first queue for my ice-cream! Hey-ho.

I got my ice-cream and went outside to join the rest of the group. Despite the crowds, they had managed to get a table and had their order ticket for their hot drinks. I finished my ice-cream and they were still waiting. A waitress comes out and shouts, “35”. No-one answers. “2 coffees and 2 teas”, she says. One of our group puts up her hand. “Your ticket says 41”, waitress says but it’s probably ok. She starts to put the cups on the table when someone else comes rushing over – they’re waving their ticket with of course 35 on. She puts the cups back on the tray, apologises and off she goes. The hot drinks members of our group are soon spitting feathers. Eventually a tray arrives at our table and waitress apologises for the wait saying sometimes they just give random numbers out on the orders. Really?

We make our way down the last part of the hill back to the car park. The weather had held and we’d had an enjoyable walk and a bit of history. Our expedition leader said there was another thing, a bit further along the road near Mostyn, we could go and see but you’ll have to wait til next week for episode 2 of the Bank Holiday day out.