Wednesday 26th August
Today with the rain moving East to London we took off West to the sunshine of South Wales but first detoured to the beautiful harbour city of Bristol to find Bristol Cathedral. The church historian and architectural scholar Pevsner describes this Cathedral whose nave was not completed until the 1860’s as superior to anything else built in England and indeed in Europe at the same time. This is high praise but the Cathedral does make an impact. The reason for this is that the nave, choir and aisles are all at the same height creating effectively a mediaeval “hall church” …a lofty and elegant space with a series of elegant arches.” With the technology then available, flying buttresses were no longer required and the result is a very “clean” building with flowing lines.
Originally a Norman “hall church” was built within the abbey in 1298 but Henry V111 ordered the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 and only the choir remained until the nave and west front was added in Gothic Revival style in the 1860s.
It’s latest claim to fame is as the site for the filming of Hilary Mantel’s impressive Reformation novel Wolf Hall detailing the contribution of Thomas Cromwell to Henry V111’s court and to the Reformation. The chapter house and church were both substantially used in this BBC production and the church was turned into Westminster Abbey for Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn
Moving on from Bristol we crossed over into Wales via the amazing suspension technology of the bridge over the Severn River.
Our first goal was Llandaff Cathedral in the city of Cardiff. It is approached from a carpark high above the building by a series of steps …”The Dean’s steps” and one then arrives at a quite small front door which opens to four or five steps down to the floor of the cathedral so that you enter with a total overview of the whole interior from above.
A church has stood on this site since 546. The C12th early Romanesque/early Gothic building fell into decline during the Reformation and Puritan era and was severely damaged by wild storms. In the mid C18th restoration began but the building was again severely damaged by a German landmine in World War 11. Architect George Pace lead the reconstruction after the war which included a brand new chapel (The Welch Regiment Memorial), strengthening of the C19th tower and the extraordinary introduction of a concrete chancel arch which holds the former organ case on which was suspended the figure of Christ in Majesty by Sir Jacob Epstein.
Artistically there are many treasures here including a set of porcelain panels by C19th Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones showing the six days of creation above the communion tabel in the Dyfrig Chapel, and “The Seed of David” triptych in the Euddogwy Chapel by another Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti. In addition there is the very modern “Annunciation” by Clive HIcks-Jenkins completed in 2010 and a memorial of St Francis of Assisi in bronze. This is a cathedral of surprises and it is completed by the installation in 2010 of a huge new organ (the largest wholly-new British built organ to be commissioned in a UK cathedral for 50 years).
After lunch we ventured back into Cardiff Central, past the beautiful homes in Cathedral Place and the sensational Millennium Stadium and found a lucky park near to the C12th Norman Cardiff Castle and keep.
This huge walled site has also had a chequered history through all the wars and ups and downs of Welsh and British history too complex to describe here. Eventually it came into the hands of the Marquesses of Bute and one John Stuart who employed Capability Brown and Henry Holland to create a Georgian mansion on the site alongside the fortified castle keep. With wealth from the coal industry this family continued to expand the buildings, destroying most of the mediaeval components in the process.
In the first half of the C19th John Crighton -Stuart employed archtect William Burgess to create a bizarre Neo-Gothic Revival house superimposed on the existing mansion and this is now what the National Trust cares for today. It has a romantic, almost Disneyland happy feel and on a beautiful summer’s day it was a nice place to be.