Porth Wen Brickworks – Anglesey

Located twixt Bull Bay and Cemaes Bay, accessed whilst walking the Anglesey Coastal Path.

The area is rich in Quartzite, central to the production of Silica Bricks, which are resistant to high temperatures, much in demand at the height of the Industrial Revolution for lining steel furnaces.

The ore on the headland was first mined around 1850, with the ore being hewn out the living rock by hand.

A little railway brought the ore to the cliff above the brick works, then lowered by gravity to the works below, where the rocks would be pummelled and rendered to a size that could be further processed.

Mining by manual endeavour lasted from around 1850 to 1914, the hazardous harbour and alleged poor quality products hastening the enterprises’s demise.

Porth Wen brickworks was designated as a scheduled monument by Cadw in 1986 and classified as a post-medieval industrial brickworks.

Further information.

I first visited Porth Wen in the late Seventies, cycling to the nearest lane and walking across open fields.

It remains as incongruous today, set amongst coastal agriculture and the shiny sea.

Take care it’s a slippery slope – and the owners forbid access to their private property.

Octel Amlwch – Interiors

Having appraised the exteriors and pumping infrastructure, let us now consider the interior life of the site.

A site where a myriad working lives once unfolded – labourers, technicians, maintenance staff, administrators and managers.

They are now but fleeting shadows, their documents strewn across upturned furniture, empty lockers their standing open and untended, laboratories whose processes have ceased. A chaotic canteen with no-one to cook for, unsafe safety suits and unwashed washrooms.

Home now to pigeons, gulls and swallows alone.

The disconnected telephone remains unanswered.

Octel Amlwch – Pumping

We have taken a trip around the extant exteriors of the processing plant.

Now let’s turn our attention toward the epic infrastructure which extracted and pumped seawater.

Sea water is sucked in and then lifted 50ft into sea water ponds by huge pumps where any debris is removed. It is then passed to the seawater main where chlorine and dilute sulphuric acid are added which releases the bromine. It is literally blown out of the water. This water is passed into the top of a tower where it drops over 20ft through the packed section of the tower. There it is met by currents of air travelling upwards. Where it meets these air currents the bromine gets stripped out the water, which is returned to the sea. Whilst the wet bromine laden air passes from the top of the tower to be treated with sulphur dioxide and water. This produces mists of hydrobromic and sulphuric acids.

This mist passes into an absorber, and the acid coalesces. From here, it blows to a collecting tank. The bromine free air returns to the blowing out tower and the cycle begins again. The acidic product is referred to as primary acid liquor. This is now pumped to the steaming out tower. It enters the top and is treated with chlorine and steam, which releases the bromine as vapour. It is then condensed to a liquid. The bulk of bromine goes to dibromoethane, whilst the remainder is sold or used to make other intermediates.

It takes about 22,000 tonnes of seawater to produce 1 tonne of bromine. Every minute 300,000 gallons of seawater are drawn in.

This now redundant technology has left a legacy of industrial dereliction amongst the ancient Pre-Cambrian rocks and sylvan seas of the Anglesey Coast.

This is a landscape which induces fear and fascination in equal measure.

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.

Edmund Burke

Octel Amlwch – Exteriors

Amlwch has been the centre of the world’s copper industry, a coastal town on Anglesey with a long history of trade, the coming and going of goods.

Once the site of a processing plant extracting bromine from sea water.

The Associated Octel factory was built to extract bromine from seawater and turn it into an additive for petrol engines. At the time, petrol used in road vehicles contained lead. Engine knocking was a common problem, when the mixture of air and fuel didn’t burn efficiently with each detonation. This could damage engine cylinders over time. The additive produced here reduced knocking and improved engine efficiency.

As the health effects of lead in vehicle exhaust gases became better understood, unleaded petrol was developed. It was introduced to UK filling stations in the 1980s, and leaded petrol was later phased out. As demand for anti-knock additive reduced, the Octel factory diversified into other bromine products and was taken over by Great Lakes Chemical Corporation. In 2003, the corporation decided to close the works with the loss of more than 100 jobs.

A detailed history of the site can be found here at Octel Amlwch.

The site has been subject to arson attacks and partial demolition, the extant buildings tagged, tattered and torn.

Slowly but surely nature breaks through the tarmac and concrete.

The gate is open, the lights are out, there’s nobody home.

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It began on an aimless walk out of Wigan on through Frimley, I found heaven on earth in the warm enfolding arms of the Washeteria. A perfectly preserved fascia, interior and machines, more by diffident neglect than good management. Signature wood effect and patterned Formica panelling, over earnest signs demanding the highest standards of personal conduct, etched in thick discoloured coloured plastic, abound on every surface. Stuttering strip lighting and a stone cold linoleum floor. A dull white ceiling, with a surface texture formed from deep frozen ennui.

Three years later I had visited and snapped several examples, all with their own uniques characteristics though all contributing to a typology. 

In the United Kingdom known as launderettes or laundrettes, and in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand as laundromatsor washeterias.

George Edward Penury created the word laundromat for Westinghouse. 

According to NALI – the National Association of the Launderette industry, numbers peaked at12,500 in the early 80s but have since dwindled to just 3,000. 

The first UK launderette – alternative spelling: laundrette. was opened on May 9th 1949 in Queensway London.

Come with me now and relive those warm damp languorous moments as we visit eight laundrettes.

All the books sold out in three hours – so here’s your chance to flick through the virtual pages as the prewash finishes.

Cardiff Central Police Station

The current five storey Cardiff Central police station was designed by Cardiff’s city architect John Dryburgh and built on the southern corner of Cathays Park between 1966 and 1968. It is described as: The most successful post-war building in Cathays Park and the only post-war building in the area: To be both modern and majestic

The detention facilities at the station were inadequate with only four cells. These were replaced by sixty cells at the new Cardiff Bay police station, which opened in 2009.

This year’s Mayday protests in Cardiff took place outside Cardiff Central Police Station to show the opposition to the increasing criminalisation of public protest.

No Borders South Wales activists were in attendance to show solidarity with fellow protesters and register our opposition to repressive police tactics at all forms of public demonstrations.

The protest was good natured and lively, with lots of music and singing. 

The building is celebrated by photographer Joe Fox via Fine Art America

Who are happy to reproduce the image in the form of this delightful phone case, for the princely sum of twenty two pounds.

I myself was taken by its unapologetic system built panelling, all-round convivial confidence and cantilevered porch.

Plus an exciting array of concrete planters – exhibiting an exciting array of seasonal planting schemes.

Well with a wander around should you find y’self down that end of town.

Brunel House – Cardiff

Originally built to house the regional British Rail offices – it seems that Great Western House has always been Brunel House.

Designed by Seymour Harris – who have also been responsible for the recent refurbishment.

The building is now in multiple occupancy, used for a wide range of services and uses, bringing new life to fine mid-century structure.

Sadly its entrance relief is now nowhere to be seen.

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Sixteen floors standing at 190 feet, two enormous interlocking slabs – it is the largest commercial property in Wales.

Seen from afar your are hit by its impressive rear elevation, with a distinctive grid defined by the slender window frames and a restrained yet earthy palette.

This is then broken up by strong vertical concrete columns.

With bold structural detailing, using a variety of aggregates and finishes.

Side elevations are brut concrete, with limited window space.

Where surfaces and volume conjoin there is further interesting structural detail.

Service areas to the rear.

An exciting encounter with a building of substance and quality – go take a look for y’self.

Bernhard und Hilla Becher – Cardiff

I have admired the work of Bernhard and Hilla Becher ever since seeing their photographs in the one and only Tate at the time, in old London town.

An early example, possibly twelve small black and white prints of pit head winding gear, assembled in a three by four grid.

I became intrigued by the notion of serial art and typology, later in the seventies working as a Systems printmaker.

Very much in the tradition of Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse.

In more recent years I have worked as a documentary photographer, at time paying homage to Bernhard and Hilla.

By placing several cooling towers side by side something happened, something like tonal music; you don’t see what makes the objects different until you bring them together, so subtle are their differences.

So on hearing of their exhibition at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, I excitedly booked my train ticket from Manchester.

Saturday 29th February 2020 – an auspicious Leap Year – knowingly taking a leap into the known unknown.

Braving the imminent threat of Storm Jorge.

I was given the warmest of welcomes by the gallery staff, spending a good while chatting to James, a fellow enthusiast.

My first surprise was the Bechers’ drawings, painting and notebooks.

A revelation.

Then onwards into two large, light spaces, with the work – actual Becher archive prints, displayed with the reverence that they deserve.

Given space to breath, in a calm contemplative area.

With a quiet attentive audience.

So here that are in situ – worth the wait, worth the train ticket, worth the two way seven hour rail trip. Seeing the prints close up reading the exposure, the thrill of the dodge and burn, a lifetime’s ambition realised.

Thanks to all.

Shelters – Rhos on Sea

I thought that you may have all been removed – phase two of several phases reshaping the hard landscape of Wales.

It seems I was incorrect – I’m happy to report that as of last Friday only one of our shelters is missing.

So I more or less repeated the task undertaken on my last visit.

Yet another series of photographs of the amalgamated municipal mash-up – concrete glass pebbles pebbledash paving mosaic and imagination rendered corporeal courtesy of Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Conwy.

And the constantly berated Undeb Ewropeaidd.

Jubilant Leave supporters in Conwy are celebrating a convincing win in the historic EU referendum vote.

The Brexit backers secured a majority of more than 5,000, winning the poll by 35,357 votes to 30,147 votes.

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So here we are almost all present and correct – let’s take a stroll down the prom together, stopping only to snap and shelter from time to time, from the short sharp September showers.

Penrhyn Bay – Again And Again

Here we are again again.

Baby it happens when you’re close to me
My heart starts beating – hey a strong beat.
Oh I can’t leave you alone
Can’t leave you alone

I walk over the Little Orme and there you are so well behaved – trimmed topped and tailed polished window washed windswept so sub-urbane.

Nothing ever happens here or does it?

The highly popular singing duo Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth retired to a small bungalow in Penrhyn Bay.

It provided a location for an episode of  Hetty Wainthropp Investigates

Originally a small farming community, Penrhyn Bay came to rely heavily on the employment opportunities of the limestone quarry operating since the mid-19th century, and served by its own narrow gauge railway, but quarrying ceased in 1936.

However, Penrhyn Bay expanded rapidly in the 20th century to become a desirable suburb of Llandudno – my you’re a hot property.

Almost half a million pounds and counting as the ever mounting mountain of retiring and retired knock upon your over ornate uPVC doors.

So here we are, as the rain clears and the sun almost breaks – your carefully rendered and stone clad walls, not quite awash with a golden midday glow.

Just like Arnie and General McArthur I’ll be back – I shall return.

Capel y Rhiw – Rhiwdywyll

Digressing for once from the modern to the near modern in an ancient landscape. Having cycled to Tregaron I took a walk along the Mountain Road with chapel hat peg expert Tim Rushton.

Afore very long we came upon a chapel, set slightly back from the track, tucked snugly into the trees.

Deserted yet maintained, grass trimmed the low structure sealed soundly against the weather.

Calvinistic Methodist small chapel/schoolroom of 1866, a branch of Bwlchgwynt Chapel, Tregaron. Simple plastered interior with cast-iron and timber combined pews and desks. Small plain pulpit. Listed as the best preserved of the small branch chapels in the region. Historically important as illustrating the spread of non-conformity during the mid to later C19 in sparsely populated upland districts.

British Listed Buildings

We took a look inside – there the bare wooden benches remained, touched only falling dust and time.

An anachronism within an anachronism surrounded by wood and fern.

Shelters Rhos to Colwyn

I have previously sought succour in your shady shelters, as unrelenting sheets of steel grey rain peppered the wind whipped Irish sea.

A concrete cornucopia of Californian screen block, glass, pebbledash, mosaic and crazy paving.

Municipal modernism under threat as the unstoppable force of coastal improvement lumbers on, a pantechnicon of shiny surfaces, sensitive planting, contemporary seating and laser-cut, contextually appropriate historical panels.

As Hardscape introduces a wholesome dose of CGI style medicine to the promenade

I for one will miss you all when you’re gone.

Next time I pass all this will seem as a dream, a tale told by a fool full of sand and fury signifying nothing.

Return To Penrhyn Bay

Then the very next morning it came right back to me.

She wrote upon it:

Return to Penrhyn Bay – so I dutifully did

This is the land of the well-behaved bungalow, neatly tended, conscientiously swept, accessorised by B&Q.

The stoic sea and wind washed link-detached semi.

Nothing is out of place, except perhaps the architectural style – a West Coast blow in on the North Wales Coast.

To wander is to wonder:

Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!

WH Smiths – Colwyn Bay

I have been here before.

I’ve been there too – Newton Powys home to the WH Smiths Museum

Now here I am in Colwyn Bay generally minding my own and everybody else’s business, when all of a sudden I noticed a cast iron glazed awning.

Proudly announcing the proprietors – sadly supported by a distressing modern addition – now I’m not one to decry and debunk the rising tide of modernity, I’m all in favour of unisex clothing and central heating.

But the unchecked encroachment of vacuous vinyl really is the limit.

Businesses displayed a degree of dignified permanence unknown to the current high street trader. So here it is writ larger than life in stained glass and Carter’s Tiles.

Loud and proud.

And as an addendum here are the delightful tiles from the Llandudno branch, snapped two years previously.

On The Waterfront – Llandudno

A welwyd eisoes.

I’ve been here before, as have others before me.

The town of Llandudno developed from Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements over many hundreds of years on the slopes of the limestone headland, known to seafarers as the Great Orme and to landsmen as the Creuddyn Peninsula.

Some years later.

In 1848, Owen Williams, an architect and surveyor from Liverpool, presented landowner Lord Mostyn with plans to develop the marshlands behind Llandudno Bay as a holiday resort. These were enthusiastically pursued by Lord Mostyn. The influence of the Mostyn Estate and its agents over the years was paramount in the development of Llandudno, especially after the appointment of George Felton as surveyor and architect in 1857.

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The edge of the bay is marked by concrete steps and a broad promenade, edging a pebbled beach which arcs from Orme to Orme.

Walk with me now and mark the remarkable shelters, paddling pools and bandstand screens, along with the smattering of people that people the promenade.

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Odeon Cinema – Brighton Road Rhyl

Architects

Robert Andrew Bullivant 1910-2001
Harry William Weedon    1887-1970

Robert Bullivant joined the Harry Weedon practice in 1935 and was responsible for the design of the Odeons at Chester, York, Burnley, Exeter and Rhyl. Taken over by Hutchinson in 1969, this cinema was renamed Astra. It was made into a triple screen in 1972 and the stalls were later converted for bingo. It was designated Grade II listed status in 1989. The cinemas closed in 1995 and the building reverted to a single auditorium for bingo.

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So much of our picture house heritage no longer exists, where once a town or city could support several cinemas of varying scale, architectural merit or style, few now remain intact. Happily the Rhyl Odeon has survived from Astra, Apollo to Gala to the stars and beyond.

Playing to perennially packed houses, the people’s palaces accommodated old and young.

Saturday morning matinees  for the boys and girls – making this Great Country of ours a better place to live in.

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If memory serves, in the Odeon auditorium to the left of the screen there was a suitably stylish, numberless clock of six-sided shape. In 1972 the Odeon, by then taken over and renamed Astra Cinema, underwent alterations to become the first three-screen complex in Wales: Astra 1, 2 and 3. By the mid 1980s the Odeon/Astra had been taken over by Apollo and was running as two cinemas plus bingo at first – and bingo only since the present Apollo Cinema Complex opened on the prom.
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George Owen 1985

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Foyer and auditorium

John Maltby 1937

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Ian Grundy 2008

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Graham Rumble 2016

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An original Odeon Theatre, built for the Oscar Deutsch Odeon Theatres Ltd. chain, opened on 30th October 1937 with Flora Robson in “Farewell Again”.

The corner entrance rotunda was lower than the rest of the building and was faced with cream faiance tiles, broken with windows. Behind this was a tower-like feature which contained the main foyer. Seating in the auditorium was provided for 862 in the stalls and 546 in the circle. On each side of the proscenium opening there were large panelled decorative grilles on the splay walls. Lighting in the auditorium was provided by concealed lighting in troughs across the ceiling.

From the 13th October 1969 it was taken over by the Hutchinson Leisure Group and re-named Astra Cinema. They triplexed the cinema from 24th April 1972 with seating for 750 in the former stalls and two mini screens seating 250 and 225 in the former circle. Later, the stalls screen was converted into a bingo club, whilst the two mini cinemas continued on film.

In the late-1980’s the building was taken over by Apollo Leisure UK Ltd. and it was re-named Apollo Cinema. The two mini cinemas were closed in October 1995 and the building was de-tripled into one space again, becoming the Apollo Bingo Club, which remains open today.

From 4th January 1989, the former Odeon Theatre was designated a Grade II Listed building.

Cinema Treasures

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Brambell Building – Bangor University

Sited on Deiniol Road Bangor, the 1970’s laboratory building of the University is often cited as the ugliest building in Britain.

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Erchyllbeth y flwyddyn posits Mr Madge.

It was never going to win that many friends in a city of Victorian brick and stone.

The University along with the GPO have dragged Bangor kicking and screaming into the Twentieth Century, dotting the landscape with post war architecture – though try as a I might no record can be found of the Brambell Building’s history or authorship.

Suffice to say that it has survived the slings and arrows of cultural and local vocal criticism and continues to function as a scientific research centre of some standing.

Still standing.

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And as an addendum the adjacent and equally surviving Chemistry Tower seems to have weathered the winters of discontent.

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Rhyl to Wallasey Hovercoach

After Telstar, Rhyl’s residents and visitors have this week been privileged to see another miracle of scientific progress – the Vickers-Armstrong VA-3, which arrived on Sunday to prepare for the first scheduled passenger carrying hovercoach service in the world. 

Strange but true!

It says so here.

The world’s first commercial passenger hovercraft service ran briefly from Rhyl to Moreton beach in 1962, but ended when a storm hit the passenger hovercraft while it was moored, damaging its lifting engines.

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I’m fascinated by hovercrafts, they were for a while the future that we seemed to have been promised, a future that had consistently failed to arrive.

Until even they failed to arrive, or depart for that matter.

I do have a love of doomed hovercraft services – I’ve been to Pegwell Bay.

Youngest passenger was 21 months old Martin Jones, 128, Marsh Road, who travelled with his mother, Mrs Millie Jones, an usherette at the Odeon Cinema: his grandmother Mrs Jean Morris, and Mrs Morris’s 14 year old son, Tony, a pupil of Glyndwr County Secondary School, the first schoolboy to travel on the hovercraft.  Mr Tony Ward of 13, Aquarium street, a popular figure as accordionist on one of the local pleasure boats a few seasons ago, and his 20 year old daughter Rosemary, cashier at the Odeon, who were among the first to book seats at the North Wales Travel Agency, were also among the passengers.

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Mrs Handley was the manageress of the Sports Cafe and got to know all the crew as they had all their meals there, even a farewell party with a cake in the form of a hovercraft.

The Queen and Prince Philip had received an invitation to undertake the trip, but declined perhaps just as well, for on what proved to be the final journey the hovercraft left Wallasey at 1.15 p.m. on September 14th and both engines failed en route.

There has been talk of reviving the service, a service that sadly seems so far to have defied revival.

“It really will be a feather in our cap for Rhyl.”

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Penrhyn Bay – Ranch House Style

There is some far-flung corner for Wales, that is forever California.

As the clippers and steamers left the Mersey Estuary for the New World, cram packed with emigres some centuries ago, would they expect on their return, some centuries later, to find this architectural cultural exchange, located sedately on Penrhyn Bay?

This is a typology with a limited vocabulary, but spoken in a lilt, with an ever so slight, polite Mid-Atlantic drawl.

Lightly clad, stone-faced, light and almost expansive the seaside bungalow.

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Laundrette – Welshpool

When walking the streets of Welshpool, one often finds oneself outside.

Outside a launderette.

I paused.

The porch was decorated by the most enchanting mosaic, Vickery and Co.

Hosiers, Hatters and Outfitters.

Politely, ever so politely, I asked the two local lads if they would step aside from their porch perch one moment, I snapped.

And walked on.

Upon my return, nobody was here, I hurriedly occupied the vacant space, with the expansive volume of my incurable curiosity.

Here is what I found.

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