Abergwyngregyn and the Princes of Gwynedd

The pages of Americymru became heated last week following an appeal on the site to sign a petition against the siting of an exhibition about the Princes of Gwynedd in a public toilet, which was felt to be disrespectful and demeaning to Welsh history. Some comments were passionate reflecting the deep offence that had been taken; others saw it as an opportunity to make toilet jokes, and others thought it was justified if it meant keeping a public convenience open in these days of cutbacks and closures of such facilities. Because I live only 20 minutes away I decided to visit the site, to take some pictures and let people make their own conclusion when given more information.

 

I was very impressed with the exhibition, which was located not in the toilet but in an old pump-house (Ty Pwmp) on the edge of the conservation area in Abergwyngregyn village. It was financed by Cadw, Snowdonia National Park, Countryside Commission for Wales, The Welsh Government and others and was formally opened by the local AM Alun Ffred Jones on 11 November. It was located alongside the stream that runs from Aber Falls a couple of miles distant in beautifully landscaped surroundings. The building itself is rather nondescript, but inside it is well-lit and there are beautifully produced and interpreted panels about the Princes of Gwynedd. In one corner of the room there is public toilet cubicle but it is clearly just an amenity in the facility. Any exhibition, museum or gallery contains a public toilet and I think it was mendacious of some of the critics to say this exhibition had been located in a toilet.

 

I studied Welsh history at Bangor University and I didn't see anything on the panels that conflicted with what I had been taught. I understand that some scholars take issues with some of the interpretation but this is an exhibition for the general public and does not go into great levels of scholarship. My wife came with me on our visit and she thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. She would never claim to be knowledgeable about Welsh history but felt she had come away with new knowledge that the Princes had a palace just a short distance from our home.

 

One of the great things about living in Gwynedd has been how often one meets interpretive plaques and how much help they are to understanding the area in which we live. I have learned a lot about South Stack, the burial chamber at Bryn Celli Du, the Llys at Newborough, and about the Dinorwig quarry area from the excellent interpretation provided in Parc Padarn. I believe the interpretation in the Ty Pwmp in Abergwngregyn makes a huge contribution to the understanding of the Heritage of the Princes of Gwynedd.

 

Believing that a picture is worth 1000 words, I append below a series of pictures taken today at the exhibition and I’d be very interested to hear what others think.

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Comments

  • I've just called in at the scene and can report that it offered a very convenient facility after a long journey on the A55.  I put my tourist head on and a couple of things occurred to me:

    1.  The display assumes that I already knew that Wales used to be an entirely separate entity with its own royalty.  Having looked at some earlier discussions on the tourism theme, perhaps this is a little too much to assume?  Bear in mind that a tourist likes to be enlightened and hasn't necessarily read/ retained much.

    2.  You pay good money to advertise in toilets in commercial establishments because everybody knows that at some point people will go in there and will refuse to be rushed.

    3.  About two miles further along the A55, I passed a man in a layby running from his parked car towards the hedge. I felt the need to tell him about a better place, one where he would learn something, one where it was dry, one where it has lighting.  Sadly, by the time I had thought about it I was 200m away in the overtaking lane.  If only he knew!  I wonder where he is now?  He probably doesn't know that he drove straight past the most talked about facility in Wales!

    I'm with Paul on the matter, let's see it as a good start.  Incidentally, I really didn't know about the significance of Aber until we started this debate, I thought it all 'went on' near Corwen.  I would hazard a guess that I'm not alone and that our tourist friends need to know about it.

  • I know the Aber valley well. The visitors fall into two main groups. Ramblers and bird watchers  heading for Aber Falls and the uplands come into the first one. For them the cafe in the Old Mill and the public toilet are are great facility. The second group are the ones that visit Garth Celyn. Into that group come students from all parts of Wales who are studying the play 'Siwan' by Saunders Lewis and 'Llywelyn Fawr' by Thomas Parry. Then there are the readers of historical novels that feature the medieval palace -'The Green Branch', 'The Brothers of Gwynedd (Edith Pargeter), 'Here Be Dragons'. 'The Reckoning' (Sharon Penman), 'Child of the Phoenix' (Barbara Erskine). There are people interested in the Celtic tales such as those in the 'Mabinogion'. These vistitors come from all parts of the world. Then there are Welsh Cultural groups including members of the Urdd. The later group want to learn something specific about the age of the Llywelyn's and the Welsh royal home. The new exhibition is not for them. It is neither educational nor informative to a level that  would be of any use. Infact it is misleading.

     For general visitors to the area an informative exhibition providing a few key facts on the walls of the cafe would have been a good start. Providing that that exhibition was prepared with care and due respect.

    In 1895 letters appeared in Welsh newspapers including the Herald Cymraeg, pleading for a memorial to the Princes to be erected on Garth Celyn, the site of the royal home. Garth Celyn was then owned by Penrhyn Estate, and Lord Penrhyn blocked the idea and prevented it from going ahead. In 1998, shortly before he died, the Welsh statesman Gwynfor Evans put forward the same suggestion. He said that Garth Celyn holds 'the soul of the Nation' and he described the site as being 'the most important place in the history of Wales'. Professor Caerwyn Williams agreed with him.  The owners of Garth Celyn are more than willing to have such a memorial placed on the land. So where do we go from here? I for one would certainly support such a project. It is long overdue.

    Dafydd Bullock's Petition lets the Welsh Assembly know that we care about how the history of Wales is presented. Surely that is something we can agree on.

  • I'm sorry John but I would respect your views far more if you stopped dripping on about toilets. Whatever the history of the place, it is clearly primarily an exhibition centre and in one corner is a discrete, clean, modern toilet facility for visitors. Forget the loo issue - it won't be closed becaise you are over-sensitive about it. Too much has been invested in the building and the attractive landscaping.

     

    Confine your campaign to the history. I am a historian but I also worked for many years in a senior role for the British Tourist Authority. Those interested in the history of the Princes will be visiting Aber with appropriate background knowledge, which they would not have drawn from an exhibition targeted at the general public. In my experience when enthusiastic academics are responsible for providing interpretation of exhibits, the result is a mass of words, far too much information, a lot of jargon and a dull overall result. What a casual visitor, who almost certainly has come there to go to Aber Falls, will want is a simple exhibition that enhances their experience of the area. This will come as a surprise to you, but I agree with you about the lack of content about  Garth Celyn and about the achievements of the Princes.

     

    You are much more likely to succeed in a campaign which says that the exhibition is a good start. But some of the panels need to be replaced with the content that you think is essential. I would even support such a campaign, but not until you and others stop making a huge fuss about the lavatory provided at the centre and to stop dismissing all the content of the interpretation panels out of hand.

  • The organiser of this Petition, Dafydd Bullock, is a respected member of the Gorsedd, and is known to speak out loudly and clearly on many issues that are of concern to the people of Wales.

    Just to clarify the main points of this current debate.

    This small building, then a derelict garage adjacent to the pub, was purchased several years ago and converted into a public toilet. It therefore IS the public toilet for the area; its walls until recently had information on them about the landscape and wildlife of the Aber valley. No problem. We need public toilets in the area, and informative information provided by Snowdonia National Park.

    Before the Edwardian conquest of 1282/4, the GARTH CELYN, ABER GARTH CELYN, was in reality the capital of Wales. As well as being the main royal home of the Princes it was also the seat of government of our independent nation, and the headquarters of resistance to the amitions of our powerful neighbour. Does this come over in the exhibition?  No? Does anyone come away with any knowledge of what Garth Celyn was in its heyday? No. Is there any mention of Garth Celyn in the exhibition? No. Does it show the achievements of the Princes? No.

    The artwork alone makes the Princes look like bumbling idiots. Is this the image that we want to present to the world?

    If public money (in excess of £20,000 in this case) is to be spent, surely it should be used to provide something that that is worthwhile and meaningful.

    But more than that, isn't it time that Welsh history is taught from an open book? Dr John Davies

     

     

     

     

  • @SJ

     

    1. Witnessed, hence the comment below .

     

    2. Very doubtful imho.

     

    3. Not a serious point.

     

    4. Already been done:- "Caused a ruckus when I sued major American print and media (e.g., Los Angeles Times, Universal Press Syndicate, NBC, etc.,), though Twm Sion Cati Legal Defense representing some 17 Welsh Americans, for using the ancient slur "to welsh," and derivatives, e.g., "welsher," "welshed," "welshing," invented by the English to justify their rape, plunder and pillage of Wales (as Americans invented "Indian Giver" for the same reasons here), while the same major media politically correctly eschewed use of all other ethnic or racial slurs, e.g., "to jew," "n---er." As a result of lawsuit, which was filed on the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Welsh American Thomas Jefferson and received national and international publicity, most major American media changed their style books to include the slur "to welsh" and derivatives as one of the offensive slurs to be avoided. Several dictionaries, receiving complaints from Welsh Americans, revised editions to label "to welsh," etc., as "offensive slurs." A California Court of Appeal issued an amended opinion in a case in which it had labeled two miscreant lawyers as "welshers." Former California Republican Governor Wilson publicly apologized for branding Democrats as "welshers" in a budget battle and then-President Democrat William Clinton apologized in a White House press release for calling Republicans in Congress "welshers" in a budget battle. Although the filing of the "welsher" lawsuit scandalized and horrified many of the emigre Welsh living in the U.S. ("What will the English think?" exclaimed a very rich and representative one of them), the fact is the the slur "welsher" has all but disappeared from journalistic intercourse in the U.S. when once it was routine. Thus, the Welsh ceased to be the only ethnic group in America whose national name was regularly used as a slur. I hope Twm Sion Cati, Himself, would be pleased." Rees Lloyd ( see this site )

  • Wherever you stand on the great 'toilet/exhibition' debate it continues to ignite a passionate response. Witness the latest comments from petition signatories:- http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/remove-offensive-welsh-history-...

    And the recent comments by Dr John Davies over on the other thread:- http://americymru.net/profiles/blog/show?id=2111712%3ABlogPost%3A24...

     

    Witness also the following observations ( sent via email ) from one of the chief petition campaigners:-

    1.pictures crude and inaccurate

    2.ditto text

    3. it IS a toilet

    4. It ignores completely the HOME of the Princes, Garth Celyn, a few metres away ..

    5. Look at the circled text: just outside on the right is the name Garth Kelyn (sic), from whence it is sent ..... why no acknowledgment of the proximity of this address, independently verified by leading archaeologists as the home of the Princes?

    Maybe there is some mileage in Graham Williams suggestion that the effect of the exhibit on tourists should be assessed since attitudes towards it in the local community and elsewhere seem to be so polarised.

  • Thanks for being our investigative journalist Paul. If the building used to be a pump house and now is a small exhibition space, then calling it a 'public toilet' is very misleading. I'm sure we'd all like a big interpretive centre/museum, but these things take a lot of upkeep and there's no point in setting something up if it can't generate enough income to keep it going. Otherwise it will just end up closing like Celtica in Machynlleth.

  • Digon teg. Fair enough.

  • Aha, so it was done in the interests of tourism.  We need to understand what the tourists think!  I feel the need to get down there next weekend; the location is such that there will be tourists there throughout the year. Even in winter, it attracts a crowd who park up and walk to Aber Falls for ice climbing.  I blogged yesterday about the image that we portray and it seems to me that a rich history is a component part of our collective persona.  Paul, was there anybody else there when you visited?  Is it a welcoming place that clearly indicates that visitors are welcome?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Aber falls, upstream from the exhibition

  • Thank you Paul! The interpretive exhibit at Abergwyngregyn is but one, a relatively small one, within the context of the extensive heritage project which is recording the History of the Princes of Gwynedd at a large number of sites throughout North Wales. The substantial Grants that the project ( fully described on a CADW internet site, with about "£16,000" originally estimated for an  exhibit at Abergwyngregyn ) has received have been secured largely in the interests of tourism for Wales. It appears that the managers have done a perfectly decent promotional job at  this particular historic site. As a direct descendant of the Princes{ father to son throughout, from Pr. Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd } I would not sign the proposed Petition in such circumstances.

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