A Rhoscolyn Story

Part One: Borth Arian – the house that Sir Patrick Abercrombie built

 

Borth Arian – 1927

Homing in on the Facts

A few people have asked me what my relationship to Rhoscolyn is, and how my husband and I ended up here. It’s quite a long, but (fingers crossed) interesting tale, so I’ll have do it in instalments. I’m going to begin by explaining how beautiful Borth Arian, my family’s Rhoscolyn holiday-home came to be ours – at the same time as telling you about the remarkable man who designed, and once lived in it! I’ve always known the property was owned and built by a well-known architect called Sir Patrick Abercrombie, and over the years have come to understand he was pretty important in terms of town-planning too, but had no idea quite HOW big a deal he was until recently! I do hope you find my research into this groundbreaking man – and how Rhoscolyn came to mean so much to him – as interesting to read, as researching and compiling it was for me! I know my mum will LOVE this though, and that’s enough to be going on with!

‘The Plan’ for Borth Arian. Like the man, Sir Patrick’s writing was neat and refined

Family Planning

Before that though, a quick family history! My relatives’ first Anglesey house, the much loved Ty Llwyd – on Ravenspoint Road in Trearddur Bay (just up the road) – had, by the end of the 1950’s, grown too small for the Henson clan. Built at the behest of our great-grandmother in the 1930’s, and adored by the whole family, by all accounts it was a sad parting. Before that they’d rented, but after the early death of her husband she wanted something more permanent. However, exactly why they’d chosen Trearddur for their holidays in the first place is still a little unclear. Obviously, it must have had something to do with the beauty, rugged charm, and special, seaside atmosphere that we all still love and cherish – but, coming from the Midlands (at least a four-hour drive away today – and even longer when the A5 had a grass track up the middle) – didn’t make it an obvious choice! Apparently though, in the 1920s and 30s, Trearddur was not only a growing seaside resort, but a hot-spot for artists and free spirits alike; being especially popular with those interested in the ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement – as the number of properties built in that style, including our great-grandmother’s, stand testament to. Therefore, we can only assume they were lured by the bohemian ambience; I like to think that my husband and I have something of the same spirit!

Ty Llwyd today – available to rent through Menai Holiday Cottages

Safe as Houses

Ty Llwyd still stands proud today; forever cherished as the cottage my mum and her twin sister were born in, as well as the place that offered sanctuary to our granny (as well as to her in-laws, her oldest children, and their cousins) for the duration of WW2. Being based in Coventry at the the beginning of the conflict, and with Grandpa (and the other men in the family) away fighting, their house in Trearddur Bay offered a welcome refuge from the bombing. They settled in nicely, with the older children even attending local schools, but Granny and our relatives never took their good fortune for granted, often telling of how lucky they’d been – and how, compared to many, they’s had a relatively good war. The present owner of Ty Llwyd has been in touch, and has invited me round for a nosey – which I hope to do (with mum – who was born there, along with her twin sister, 67 years ago today) very soon! Happy Birthday Mum!

Granny (Kathlean) Henson – in the garden of Ty Llwyd during the war years (1940s)

Home Sweet Home

So, overcrowding meant a move was inevitable – but ending up with the property of their dreams was not! My grandparents (Mr & Mrs R Henson) purchased Borth Arian in 1958 – when mum was only 8 years old. However, her father was already acquainted with the house, having visited as a child during the early part of the 20th Century; apparently falling in love with it on first sight! Even as a young boy Grandpa told anyone who would listen that, should it ever come on the market, he’d be first in line to buy it! Many moons later then, he was obviously overjoyed when his boyhood fantasy became a reality! My aunt, wife to my mum’s oldest brother, told me just the other day, that she was actually with Grandpa when he saw the advert for Borth Arian in the window of The Trearddur Bay stores – and how he almost jumped for joy! They didn’t buy it from the Abercrombies though, as Patrick had sold it a few years after his wife died, and when his work in London took him further away; we are, then, the cottage’s third family. Almost 60 years on, we never stop thanking Grandpa and Granny’s lucky stars, as well as our own, for bringing this magical place into our lives. Yet, it’s the man who designed and built the house in the first place that I want to explore in more detail.

Home Makers

Our grandparents certainly filled Borth Arian up! What, with 8 children – plus an ever-revolving list of relatives and friends, by all accounts it was a happy, hectic cottage – full of fun, frolics, and fishing gear! Mum and her siblings enjoyed a childhood brimming with jam-sandwiches, prawning, and seafaring adventure – with a bit of squabbling mixed in; if possible, it was even more ‘Famous-Five-like’ than my own school-holidays. I’m told Grandpa delighted in sharing his particular boyhood memories of Trearddur, and Rhoscolyn too – notably those associated with the annual summer-time cricket matches he was once invited to at Borth Arian – along with, to name only a couple, the Verney and Naish families. Grandpa’s hosts, and owners at the time, were the Abercrombies. It was one of these family-friends, Patrick , who’s the man behind the house being here at all! Incidentally, the Verneys (who Abercrombie says were always the most sporty) are still a part of Rhoscolyn life, and many of the houses on their ‘Plas’ Estate can be rented today. The Naishes are still around too – and own the same cottage in Four-mile-Bridge that they did back then; one branch have actually become regular return guests to our own Rhoscolyn holiday rental, Ty Capel – and firm friends too! It makes me smile to think of Grandpa (and Sir Patrick) ‘looking down’ and seeing many of the old connections still going strong!

7 out of 8 of the Henson Siblings – Trearddur, early 1950s (John, Peter, Tick, Charlie, Nonie (mum), Nell…and Nog!)

Coming Home to Roost

Taken in Trearddur, a few of years before the move to Borth Arian, the photos above shows our mum (Fiona/Nonie) along with 6 of her 7 siblings! The Anglesey pull must have got into their bones, because today: one her brothers (Peter) resides in Trearddur full-time, another two are based in Rhoscolyn (Tick and Charlie), with a fourth living on the Bodorgan Estate (Nog). Some of my cousins were brought-up here, with the youngest still at school on the island, and one now lives with his own family in Valley. Although one brother settled in South Wales, he and the other two sisters (Mum’s twin, Nell (or Bun), and Kate (the youngest) not shown) – as well as LOTS more cousins – are all regular visitors; an added bonus to living here!  In fact, the oldest Henson brother (John) along with his wife arrived for a visit to Rhoscolyn just last week – and stayed at Borth Arian!

Mum and her twin – with the Australian cousins sailing in Trearddur! Many of this branch of the family follow my Rhoscolyn Life Facebook Page, from ‘down-under’!

The cousins he went to school with in Rhosneigr all emigrated to Australia, but even they, as well as their kids, come back whenever they can! To add to what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Henson Infestation/Invasion’, my husband and I moved to Rhoscolyn just over 5 years ago. My own siblings, and their families, come for most of the school holidays, and our parents spend about half the year here; I see them all more now than when I lived half an hour away in the Midlands! A lifetime of wonderful holidays, and the pure, unbridled love I have for the place, led, like my aunts and uncles before me, to our permanent posting here!

Grampa Henson, with 7 of his 8 children! Trearddur Bay – mid 1950’s

 

 

One’s Home is One’s Castle

According to Grandpa, when he was boy, Borth Arian boasted a rose-garden, as well as a grass tennis-court on the main lawn! I’m afraid to say it’s not quite as swanky now – although, obviously, it’s far more comfortable in terms of heating, indoor plumbing, and electric lighting! Mum hates it being left empty and without life, so when they’re not here it’s available to rent; contact Menai Holiday Cottages for details! In April 1927, Country Life Magazine describes Borth Arian as one of the ‘Lesser Country Houses Of To-day’. In the article, credit for the architectural success of the cottage is given to the architect/owner, ‘Professor’ Abercrombie, as well as to the local Welsh workmen who built it; their handiwork being described as including: “subtle qualities of variation such as we see in old buildings, before tradition became a bad thing.” It ends by saying, “altogether this is a charming creation and it serves to show what can be made of the one-floor house when discernment and good taste go hand-in-hand”.

Part of the Country Living article…

Bringing it Home to you

Yet, apart from Borth Arian, why the big fuss about Sir Patrick I hear you ask! Well, I’ve learnt that Abercrombie became recognised as one of the UK’s first innovative, as well as influential, ‘modern’ town-planners – being knighted for his contribution to the profession in 1945! Abercrombie is known best for this post-Second World War re-planning of London. Routinely referred to as the Abercrombie Plan, this re-think in terms of what London should look like after the devastation wrought by enemy bombardment, as well as how it would function logistically, marked a huge milestone; not just personally, but for the profession in general. You can even see him explaining this plan to the public, in the Ministry of Information film called ‘The Way We Live’! Not since Wren had such large-scale changes been set in motion! However, by the end of his life had achieved much more than ‘just’ this! Along with the lasting legacy of numerous buildings, towns, and cities with his stamp on them (not just in the UK, but around the world), Sir Patrick’s patromacy is also preserved in a number of other ways. Take The University of Liverpool’s Department of Civic Design, for example, which awards the Abercrombie Prize for excellence in town planning every year. The UIA also presents an annual Sir Patrick Abercrombie Prize to its top-performing student, with the Abercrombie Building at Oxford Brookes University being home to the Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) with Sir Patrick Abercrombie (left) and J. H. Forshaw at an exhibition for the ‘London Plan’.

Building a Brighter Future

In light of his London design success, it’s useful to know that one of Abercrombie’s defining features as a town-planner was his insistence that social, and environmental issues be taken into account when any type of ‘planning’ was required; whether this be in town or country. It was his abiding belief that architecture and infrastructure should improve people’s lives, not blight them. He was keen to preserve our beautiful heritage, craftsmanship, and countryside – but at the same time believed that preservation must work hand-in-hand with modern development. He was of the firm opinion that far more forethought was needed in the provision of housing, business, road, and recreational areas – especially in view of planning for a growing, post-war population, and for areas where there was social deprivation. Although there are some who debate whether he always achieved this aim (Boris Johnson for one), and perhaps sometimes with good reason, Abercrombie never knowingly planned anything without these edicts in mind.

Driving the Point Home

In addition to his other honours, a Blue Plaque hangs on the Birkenhead house he once lived in. He describes Birkenhead as a, “corner he got to know better than any patch of earth – except Anglesey country around Rhoscolyn and Rhosneigr”. English Heritage noted that they thought it appropriate, “that this long period of residence (1915 – 1935) of Patrick Abercrombie in Oxton, should be commemorated in this way – for this is where he spent some of the most formative years of his long and distinguished life”. By the time of his death Abercrombie was an internationally acclaimed figure; increasingly recognised both at home and abroad. As well as the accolades already mentioned, in his lifetime he also received: the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture (in 1946), the GoldMedal of the American Institute of Architects (in 1950),  that of the Town Planning Institute (in 1953), and the LeÂgion d’honneur (in 1956).

Maybe we should suggest one for Borth Arian too – especially as it’s the only house he ever actually built for himself!

Country Living

Less well known is the fact that Patrick was the founding father of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE). Formed in December 1926, his pamphlet on the subject, The Preservation of Rural England, became its manifesto – and he served as its first Honorary Secretary. It’s earliest meeting was held at the London offices of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and was addressed by future prime minister, and life-long member, Neville Chamberlain. I was delighted to discover that it’s still a registered charity today – with 60,000 supporters, a branch in every county, and over 200 District Groups! At its founding it’s principle aim was to limit urban sprawl, as well as to curb ribbon development i.e. the building houses along routes radiating from human settlements.

Town & Country

Just as discourse over building rights on our green belts and rural areas still rages today, this kind of development, as well as infrastructure issues, provoked fierce debate during the 1920s and 1930s too – in Britain and elsewhere. The organisation’s main role, therefore, was to articulately argue the case for protecting England’s most beautiful areas…and argue they did! Indeed, they were responsible for the idea of green belts in the first place! The CPRE’s campaigning lead to many other changes in rural planning too; most noteworthy of which were: the Town and Country Planning Act (1947), the Access to the Countryside Act (1949) – and even the formation of our National Parks! He was always especially proud of the fact that he had highlighted the need for the Snowdonia to be protected; leading to its status, in 1951, as the first of three National Parks in Wales. The CPRE also managed to bring together like-minded groups such as – the National Trust, and the Commons & Footpaths Preservation Society  – both of whom were represented on the founding committee –  joined shortly afterwards the Ancient Monuments Society, the RSPB, the Ramblers – and many more!

The Green, Green Grass of Home…

But, what about Wales, I hear you cry! Never fear, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW)/Ymgyrch Diogelu Cymru Wledig (YDCW)) was set up just two years later. The catalyst to create what became Wales’ first fully-functioning, landscape charity was, undoubtedly, linked to the establishment of Abercrombie’s English Council. We know this because, at the beginning of 1928, a provisional committee of the CPRW was organised by the Cymmrodorion in Shrewsbury (followed by a meeting in May, at the Royal Society of Arts, London), with the  Shrewsbury session being addressed by non other than Sir Patrick himself! Incidentally, the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (Anrhydeddus Gymdeithas y Cymmrodorion), was founded by brothers, Lewis and Richard Morris, both natives of Anglesey!  The name, coined by Lewis, was a form of the Welsh, ‘cyn-frodorion’, which translates as something akin to ‘earliest natives’ – and references the place Welsh people hold as the direct-descendants of ancient Britons. Former presidents of the CPRW include Clough Williams-Ellis  – Patrick’s best friend, and creator of the ‘Italianate’ village of Portmeirion.

Home is Where the Heart is

The son of a Manchester stockbroker and business man, Patrick was 7th of nine children. Interestingly, his younger brother, Lascelles, became a journalist, noted poet, and literary critic. Born on the 6th of June, 1879, in Ashton upon Mersey, Cheshire (now Greater Manchester), Patrick attended Uppingham, in Rutland (Leicestershire), followed by a year in Switzerland, then a 7 year architectural apprenticeship with firms, first Manchester, then Liverpool. Apparently he wasn’t altogether happy during this time away at school, and the loss of the sight in one eye (the result of contracting whooping cough as an infant) didn’t help him on the playing-field. Later Images show him as neat, formally dressed man – often sporting a bow-tie – and, interestingly, always wearing either steel framed Georgian spectacles, or a monocle. Whether these were to disguise the impairment, help with the eyesight he had left – or a bit of both, is something to muse over. Whatever the truth, his glass eye certainly didn’t stop him from achieving great things!

Sir Patrick with his trademark monocle!

Coming Home to Rest

Sir Patrick died peacefully, aged 77, at his last home (in oxfordshire) on the 23rd of March, 1957. At the time he was still working on a small-scale proposal for Winchester, as well as preparing his ‘Addis Ababa’ report for publication. Fittingly, these two very different projects embodied the sort of scope his professional career had encompassed throughout his life. However, although Oxfordshire, and the northwest of England were undoubtedly close to his heart, he requested he be buried in St Gwenfaen’s churchyard, Rhoscolyn – from where you can just make out his old house, Borth Arian…as well as Rhosneigr! I believe this, more than anything, tells us about his special relationship with this pretty little corner of Wales. But, I’ve always wondered exactly why he chose to build, and be buried here, in the first place. The words on his gravestone hold some of the answers. Although a little difficult to make out, they read: Here rest Patrick Abercrombie Kt – Architect and Town Planner – 1875- 1957 – and his wife – Emily Maud – 1886-1942.

Patrick and his wife’s gravestone, St Gwenfaen’s Churchyard, Rhoscolyn. I’ll leave it up to you to find out exactly where!

Set in Stone

Firstly, I think its interesting to note the simplicity of the grave. Much like the man himself, it’s both understated and stylish. Bear in mind, Patrick was extremely well-known at the time of his death, and could have chosen a more flamboyant memorial, as well as a grander resting place; but he didn’t. Perhaps most lovely of all, it’s clear he chose to be buried with his wife ‘Emily’ Maud; not only does it show she was quite a lot younger than him, but that she also died 20 years before he did. Perhaps then, because his wife had been buried here three years before his knighthood he couldn’t change things – but more likely it’s because Rhoscolyn was their favourite place! From his writings is clear they absolutely adored each other, as well as North Wales  – and he explains how Anglesey became, “deeply etched into the earliest days” of their married life – and beyond. The bee motif above the grave’s writing, as many will know, is the emblem of Manchester (where he was born), and has long been byword for business, industriousness, perseverance and teamwork; all associations that can be applied, not only to this great city, but to Sir Patrick as well!

Sir Patrick’s fame was so great in the 1940s that he was even depicted in cartoons!

Firm Foundations

In his unpublished autobiography he describes an almost idyllic childhood in (rural) greater-manchester, and how he was extremely close to both his parents, as well as his 8 siblings. Their home was always one full of music, talk, teasing and laughter. He states that they “became, as a large family can, very self-sufficing”. Both parents had a love of the open countryside, walking, and horticulture – as well as collecting, interior design, architecture, history, art, literature – and much more besides – which they shared with their children.  He describes his upbringing as having “no serious Victorian inhibitions”, and the girls as being equal to the boys, including in terms of education.  Like many middle-class late-Victorian families, they liked to rent somewhere for the long school holiday – and Anglesey, became family’s “summer play-place” (beloved by them all) quite early on. Patrick describes these holidays as becoming,  “fused into one almost continuous unfolding picture of sea-coast happiness”!  This is a sentiment our family, and so many others, can completely relate to! Recalling later memories, he describes calling in to his daughter’s school in Denbigh, on their way to Anglesey,  as: “an extreme heightening of emotion” because of the combination of “school break-up, the prospect of the cottage (Borth Arian), [and] summer holidays”! He also states that it was in Wales where, the “quick responsive alertness” and  “ready wit” of its people, as well as “an interest in literature and legend, and a welcome hospitality”  made him feel, “more at home than among the solid virtues of the typical north or south country Englishmen.”

Rhoscolyn from Rhosneigr

Island Dweller

Being based where they were, in the NW of England, made North Wales more obvious as a holiday destination than it did for my own relatives, but even so, it was an “old beloved friend” who first recommended it. Before that the family “had tried several British seaside places” but hadn’t been overwhelmed by any of them; finding them somewhat overcrowded, and what we’d now call ‘touristy’.  Their friend told them specifically about Rhosneigr, where, after trying a few places out first, they  finally “found what they wanted” – in what became their “sea home…standing on its shelf above the rocks…on one of the best beaches in the world”. Years later he writes that he can still recall, “as clearly as yesterday the delight, on the first visit, in the wilderness of the sandhill…heather, bracken, the hedgerow gorse, whitewashed (including roof) cottages, the lake…with its beds of reeds, the sea shore, not dragooned or humanized as in places we had been before.”  As far as I can work out, the house they stayed in at Rhosneigr has been knocked down – or completely remodeled – and is one of those shown below – to the right of the red-roofed building, I think, on the end of this row.

The Abercrombie’s Rhosneigr holiday-house…?

He goes on to say, “Anglesey has always, to me, been distinct from the Welsh mainland” and that they “did very little expeditioning; the coast was so all engrossing and all glorious.” These summer excursions continued in Rhosneigr, other than the odd year, for his entire childhood – and beyond, right up until he built Borth Arain – and they almost always rented the same Rhosneigr house. From here, his move to Rhoscolyn makes sense – for it’s just across the water on Holy Island – even visible from Rhosneigr! Always one for “escape”,and not keen on crowds, he also thought Rhoscolyn was less built up. As far as I’ve been able to gather, there was a run-down cottages (or two) still on site when Sir Patrick bought the land for Borth Arian. The majority of the building you see standing today, however, was brought to fruition by Abercrombie himself. Situated on isolated, raised ground towards the end of Holy Island, the plot’s amazing views – stretching from above Silver Bay, across to Rhosneigr (!) on Anglesey, all the way to Snowdonia and The Llyn on mainland Wales – must have been the main draw!

The view from Silver Bay (below Borth Arian) – across to Rhosneigr. With binoculars (or a large camera lense) you can see the house they rented in Rhosneigr from Borth Arian, and visa versa!

Better By Design

Before the outbreak of WW1(his poor eyesight kept him from being able to ever join up), Patrick had dabbled modestly as an architect, designing nice, neat, but relatively ‘normal’ Georgian buildings. It’s true he’d won a competition for designing a housing development in Prestatyn, but he only gained real attention in the field when, with two of his students (Sydney and Arthur Kelly), he entered, and won, an international competition to redesign Dublin! Although they’d handed-in their design in 1913, they weren’t announced as the winners until 1916. In later life he wrote he wrote, “I have never recaptured the intoxication of that first big success, shared with M. and N.” (‘M’ meaning Maud, his wife, and ‘N’ indicating Nicholas, his son  – and only child at the time). Incidentally, Abercrombie’s love affair with Dublin continued long after his announcement as co-winner of the competition to redesign it – right up until his death. Providing himself with a base on Anglesey therefore, which he did in the form of Borth Arian, as well as often living close to Liverpool, meant he was able to visit Dublin regularly throughout the next 40 years. Ferries actually play an important part in his life in another way too. When describing meeting the young woman who would become his wife (Emilia ‘Emily’ Maud Gordon) he writes: “I can never be sufficiently thankful that this was not made at a tea table in Oxton or Benington, but in the open air of a Mersey Ferryboat”!

Climbing the Ladder

His career, however, only really began its upward projection when, in 1907, Professor C. H. Reilly, Head of the Liverpool University’s School of Architecture at the time, invited him to accept a very junior appointment in the department. Patrick writes about his surprise at the offer – having no idea Reilly even knew who he was! The immediate effect of this University work was that Maud and he could afford to get married! A few years later, when a generous donation meant a separate Department of Civic Design could be established, Patrick was asked to work there. This was the world’s first university planning school. Although his job title improved, the wage increase was meagre, but he thoroughly enjoyed his time as a research assistant in the new department nonetheless. Hinting at a burgeoning brilliance, he also found time, away from work, to established (as well as edit and contribute to) a new publication called the Town Planning Review, which is still published by Liverpool University Press today!

Building a Reputation

It’s perhaps not surprising then, that only eight short years after joining Liverpool University, aged just 36, he was appointed as Lever Professor of Civic Design (on a starting salary of £400 a year – although he would have earned more from personal commissions). The Lever Chair is the world’s oldest planning chair, Patrick was only the second person to have held the post, and he stayed in it from 1915 up until 1935! At this point It’s useful to remember that Patrick, unlike many of his Uppingham peers, not to mention his colleagues, hadn’t gone on to Oxford or Cambridge, in fact, he had no university education whatsoever, nor an academic qualification to his name! However, his hands-on approach to life and his chosen career, as well as his profound personal interest in a vast array of subjects (scientific, historic, social, political, environmental, literary and artistic…) meant he was undoubtedly a brilliant man. His talents were further rewarded in the guise of the his town-planning success of Dublin, his first major one, which was announced almost simultaneously with this appointment to Liverpool University’s . The recognition that this award-winning design brought him meant his standing as a civic planner was now firmly ‘cemented’. It was during this period as Lever Professor, that Patrick and Maud decided to build their own holiday house in Anglesey – indeed, it was the first time they could afford to do so – and not only this, Patrick was going to design it.

The Living Room (or Big Room) 1927…and (below) today!

Not so very different!

Close Quarters

Although coming from a relatively well-off family, Patrick had never personally had a lot of money, and anyway, his father’s business slowly began to decline, and with it his wealth. Even in the earlier years though, the boys of the family were expected to make a living for themselves. When Patrick first arrived in Merseyside, his relatively lowly status as a poorly paid apprentice, then as a low-ranked architect, meant he had to share digs (for quite a few years) with people in similar hard-up circumstances. For a while this included his brother, friend, and occasional collaborator, Lascelles. Before becoming a respected poet, and professor of poetry, Patrick’s brother had worked as a quantity surveyor – and often helped write the notes that accompanied his brother’s plans, as well as having a close interest in technical planning. Patrick writes that he need not “describe the delights of working with Laselles” because the pair were so obviously good together.

Lascelles left a lasting legacy too…

In the early days, their lack of funds meant they had to find frugal ways to entertain themselves; which for them (having always delighted in the great-outdoors) meant weekend walking-holidays  – more often than not in nearby North Wales, which he later introduced to Maud. As mentioned earlier, they’re said to have been a devoted couple, and it came as a terrible shock when she died early, in 1942. Even when their fortunes improved, the two of brothers and their families continued to enjoy the area’s glorious mountains, architecture, hills, coast and valleys. Borth Arian was a huge part of this. Maud and Patrick had two children, with his daughter becoming his private secretary after his wife’s death, and his son often working alongside him.

One change we have made, is to put windows in on either side of the doors to the porch, or veranda – meaning it’s a lot lighter in there now!

Sir Patrick, accompanied by his daughter Deborah (R), and daughter-in-law Mrs Nicol (L) – outside buckingham palace (1945) – upon attending his investiture! His wife (Emily Maud Gordon) had died two years earlier.

Expanding Horizons

The exposure that the ‘Dublin’ prize brought him meant Abercrombie was now recognised as someone special within the planning world – which meant being recommended for lots of jobs! With his work on the replanning of towns such as Plymouth, Hull, Edinburgh, Bath, and Bournemouth – along with many others –  he continued to affirm his status throughout his illustrious career. Many of his ideas still sound relevant today –  for instance, his Doncaster plan was the first of its kind to emphasise the importance of avoiding development in ‘green’ areas, and highlighted the need to minimise through-traffic in town centres. And there was more –  including proposals for: Warwick, Kingston-on-Hull, the West Midlands; Edinburgh, the Clyde Valley – and his beloved North Wales…to name but a few!

City Living

His tenure at Liverpool was followed by an appointment, in 1935, as Professor of Town Planning at University College, London. By this time he had achieved more than most people would in a lifetime but, unbelievably, his ‘real’ glory days were still to come in the shape of The London Plan! After the move, he remarked that although it was interesting to be at the centre of professional activity in Britain, he missed the international outlook that he had enjoyed in Liverpool – as well as its proximity to North Wales! Its said he always regarded Liverpool as ‘his’ University, rather than any other. It was after the death of Maud, and his move down south, that he let Borth Arian go. He writes, poignantly, of the first holiday there without her, and how it just wasn’t the same.

Borth Arian today – with new ‘wings’

Hearth and Home

In Borth Arian today, many of the original ‘Abercrombie’ features have been retained – although there have been changes too. The cross-vaulted ceiling, in what Abercrombie called “the big room”, continues to add grandeur, and the engraved ‘A’ on the slate surround above the hearth, acts as a constant reminder of Borth Arian’s esteemed designer, and first inhabitant! On top of this, the Abercrombie coat of arms still sit in place as motifs along the living-room’s walls; heraldry, I learnt, was another personal passion of Patrick’s! The veranda, the stone flower-pots on the entrance posts, the large wooden doors – as well as the french windows in the master bedroom (!) – as well as the basic shape and layout of the original house – are almost exactly as was! The wooden figurehead, that many may remember (rare because the carving was of a man instead of the ubiquitous female) was donated by my parents, a few years ago, to the Holyhead Maritime Museum. Years of NW Welsh coastal weather had left it somewhat diminished – sadly, though, the museum let it fall into to further disrepair! One day I hope to be able to find a woodcarver to make a replacement! Even the trees in the garden were planted by Patrick – he writes on the subject thus: “Alders have always been a favourite tree with me and I have used them more than any other kind in Anglesey.”

The early days at Borth Arian – with the old figurehead…

Home Comforts

Borth Arian remains a much-loved family holiday home, and the definitely the most special place in our lives! Approximately 9 years ago extensions were added to create two extra wings. The expansion of the family made this unavoidable (my two older sisters (and their husbands) had gone and had five children each! A lot of thought went into retaining the essential essence of the cottage – and hopefully you’ll agree that, in the most part, it kept much of its ‘Abercrombie’ character. I am convinced it will stay in our family forever now – and it makes me happy to think of the generations to come who’ll treasure it as much as the rest of us. I hope Sir Patrick wouldn’t have been too upset with our alterations; I think he’d agree that architecture and quality of life have to be balanced – and therefore, he’d have understand our reasons!  He’d also enjoy the sight children still playing cricket on the lawn!

We also have more comfortable bedrooms nowadays!

Home and Dry

Through my research I’ve come, not only to admire Sir Patrick, but fall for him big time: he was both funny, family-orientated, and a reservoir of culture, humanity and optimism! He also changed life in Britain for the better. Not only in terms of improving the living conditions of many city-dwellers, especially the poor, but also in terms of his voluntary work for the CPRE. It’s is one of the longest running, and most influential environmental groups Britain has ever had – followed closely by The CPRW! By way of interest, the Commons & Footpaths Preservation Society mentioned above (now known as The Open Spaces Society) is Britain’s OLDEST national conservation body! It seems appropriate then, that part of Anglesey’s Coastal Path runs right past Borth Arian, and the fact most of Anglesey is a designated AONB, including many areas of Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI)  – and that these ‘protections’ were all set in motion by Sir Patrick!

Sir Patrick Abercrombie with geographer Sir Dudley Stamp. Although he often looks quite stern in photos, he was know to be great company!

For those that don’t know, Borth Arian translates as ‘Silver Bay’ – and by following the path from thecottage, you can easily walk to this lovely Rhoscolyn beach! Yes, Sir Patrick Abercrombie was certainly a man of his time, and his ideas were also of their time – however, his contribution has been to keep ‘big planning’ in the public’s consciousness! When he talked of retiring it was to be the Lebanon, Cyprus (he was widely traveled) or Rhoscolyn, but while there was a breath in his body he kept working, the same “bundle of energy” he had always been. Along with his many other pursuits, it’s said his abiding interest was music – especially Mozart,  Schumann and Schubert  – and he played too, even, in later life, owning a silver painted grand piano! He was capable of intense concentration over long periods but could relax very readily at the end of the day – preferably with a pre-prandial Dry Fly sherry – on the Veranda of Borth Arian, overlooking Silver Bay – his favourite view in the world; and ours too!

NB I would dearly like to find photos of Patrick in Anglesey, especially at Borth Arian, or as a child in Rhosneigr…if anyone has any, please get in touch!