It’s difficult to overestimate the impact on society of the Protestant Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries which followed it. Monasteries and friaries had played such an important part in everyday life especially in the areas of education and social care.
As hundreds of years of prayer and learning came to a surprisingly swift and brutal end, a generation’s education was under threat. Fortunately, there were a number of people who were determined to do something about it, and amongst these were Nicholas and George Hawe, two prominent Walsall townsmen who sought out Queen Mary Tudor, then on her way to Winchester Cathedral to marry Prince Philip of Spain, and asked permission to found a new grammar school in her name.
The Free School of Queen Mary, Walsall was founded by Letters Patent on July 2nd, 1554.
Four hundred and ten years later, another group of Walsall townsfolk continued the philanthropic tradition and gave generously to found the school’s Welsh centre at Farchynys, creating a wonderful tapestry of experience and learning for Marians on the Mawddach.
We hope this will resume soon as we are freed from the miseries of COVID.
For those whom like a good narrative arc, it is interesting to see Mary Tudor’s Welsh ancestry in her version of the Royal Arms. Floreat!
The hillwalking adventures of four late Victorian schoolmistresses whose names were Margery, Christina, Constance and Leonora are captured in their marvellous 1890 monograph, Through North Wales with a knapsack. In this extract, the intrepid ladies have climbed Cadair and on descending, having taken tea with a charming couple in Arthog before resuming their hike, heading for Barmouth before sunset.
Leaving Clan-y-wern, after a chat with the kindly hostess, we were directed to follow the railway line to Barmouth. It seems very common practice hereabouts for people to do this. One train passed us; it was curious to be so near. The line traverses some waste ground, partly bog, partly sand, partly ditch and wholly beautiful with wildflowers, among which were: the yellow iris, bullrushes, meadow sweet, loose-strife, red, white, and sea- campions, hemp agrimony, vetches, ling, hawkweeds, ragwort, and many others which made a beautiful foreground to the solemn mountains beyond. From the long bridge which spans the estuary, we had a splendid view both ways – westwards, the setting sun, red and glowing; eastwards, the estuary narrowing between ranges of hills and peaks of all tints of purple.
Since 1956, youngsters have discovered the benefits of life adventures courtesy of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and following the opening of the Farchynys Coach House in 1963, many Marians have gone on to earn their Gold Award on challenging expeditions in Snowdonia with the help of inspirational leaders like David Hart. I am glad to be able to share the plan for this hike dating from October 1986, and captured in the famous Farchynys logbooks. A great legacy for the Duke.
It was in October in 1978 that Babs and I first enjoyed the luxury of one of the great County class inns of the Principality, when we passed our honeymoon in the shadow of mist crowned Cadair. We enjoyed cocktails in the Blades Bar, four course dinners in the Dining room and Irish coffees in the Resident’s Lounge complete with roaring fire and knitting dowagers before repairing to our room complete with four poster bed. Only the Bri-Nylon bedding disappointed, and then only for a second….
Far away, in a world without lockdowns and the cat and mouse games of track and trace, enlightened companies organised team building events for their staff and close associates and much fun was enjoyed by all, with past performance celebrated and future plans brainstormed.
My own company The Value Engineers was no exception, and we enjoyed many adventures both at home and abroad including several trips to the Mawddach Estuary, probably, it has to be said, due to the conscious bias of its Queen Mary’s educated CEO.
We camped in the foothills of Cadair, cycled the Mawddach trail, drank Moonshine spirits dancing to a Celtic Bluegrass band, abseiled from the granite rocks of Barmouth’s Panorama, paddled in the sand-art shallows of the estuary at Bontddu and danced the night away in Black Tie to Duran Duran – well at least a cover version performed our own house band, The Bluffers.
Whilst a long car journey from The Thames Valley followed by camping in the morning rain beneath Tyrau Mawr was not to everyone’s liking, I can attest that our adventures on the Mawddach really helped nurture the culture of The Value Engineers, and by way of fair exchange, the place won more than its fair number of brand strategists’ hearts: such is timeless magic of the Mawddach.
Back in the now contemplating the shortcomings of even the most inspiring of Zoom events, let us hope that all businesses can soon enjoy once more the tremendous benefits of socially proximate summer conferences and training events in the Big Outdoors. And if you need it, I know the number of a very good Celtic Cajun band….
I was desperately sad to hear of the fire which engulfed Bontddu Hall on Friday morning and claimed at least one life.
Bontddu Hall is one of a number of places along the Mawddach estuary which has a special place in my heart. I have vivid memories of a team building event in the 1990s held by my company, The Value Engineers, which inevitably featured our house band, The Bluffers, working through a host of familiar Abba and Oasis covers in the cocktail bar after a hard day cycling along the old railway track and paddling in the warm June mudflats below the Hotel’s splendid terrace.
This was one of the hotels run by the Hall family who had created in a Birmingham mayor’s country retreat, a civilised and comfortable place to escape the madness of the city. The profile from the 1958 Ashley Courtenay Let’s Halt Awhile is a fair reflection of what I experienced when I stayed there on several occasions before it closed as a hotel.
And when the Hotel closed, Babs and I were lucky enough to be amongst its final diners, paying rather more than the 12/6 featured in the 1958 menu for an excellent dinner of Merioneth black beef. I was also successfully tempted to buy (to take home!) the final 3 bottles of Clos de Vougeot which the Hotel cave was offering at an everything-must-go special price.
I do hope Bontddu Hall will be restored to its former glories….
There are many calls on budgets, but education in the great outdoors should be seen as a key investment and not a cost. We should not sit in silence as these great places of learning and experience are being dissolved.