Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Dorothea Files 6: the Chapel at Plas Talysarn

When I first glimpsed this structure, it was from the tramway that skirts round the back of the Plas. It was getting dark, I had given up photography for the day and was just mooching about, enjoying the slightly spooky atmosphere that this place has. In the gloom, I saw a gothic window looming from the ruined walls below. I wasn't really surprised, there are so many intriguing features at this site and it seemed logical that the Robinson's, the owners of the Plas, would have their own arrangements for worship.

On our next visit, we walked straight to the chapel by taking the turning off the tramway at what might have been the original gatehouse for the Plas, just after the Talysarn pit, known to local folk as "Glen Cottage".

Passing between a pair of ornamental gateposts, we walked along a quiet sunken road, surrounded on both sides by slate bastions. The moss has covered these and trees have encroached along the way, over- arching the road and giving a magical effect. The chapel comes quickly into view, guarded by yet more ornamental gate pillars, while a mighty tree has grown out of the wall between them, dwarfing everything else.

I was surprised to find that inside, there had been two storeys, with a large fireplace in the lower storey. While internal partition walls have fallen down, it is obvious from the layout that a complex of apartments were installed at some point in the structure's life. It is cheek by jowl with the Plas stables, a door giving access to a jumbled arrangement of rooms in a most confusing manner, as if it had just grown. I wondered if this had been a summer house, or lodgings for the horse groom after it had been a chapel.

It seems that the reality is even more complex.

While researching the quarry, that I found various notes on the internet by the late and much lamented Dr Gwynfor Pierce Jones, the undisputed local authority on Dorothea. With the help of these hints, and by dint of some local information and my stumbling translation of his book about the quarry, I was able to flesh out the story a little more. We know that the Plas was built in 1825 on the site of a C17th farmhouse, and certainly the lower storeys here look old enough to be C17th...the stone is different and the coursing, too, in the lower sections, while bricks and slate are used on the chapel.

According to Gwynfor's notes, the chapel was at first a private place of worship for the family. The first Church in Talysarn itself was built in 1871 and paid for by John Robinson, the owner of the Plas and Talysarn quarry. This was the Church of St John, which had a stained glass window dedicated to Robinson's first wife, who had died prematurely.

The porch entrance to the quarry offices, at the back of the chapel.
It is probably safe to say that from that date, the chapel would have been surplus to requirements, and the notes hint that the place was converted into a rather grand cottage and lived in by the gardener. The rear portion, connected to the adjacent building by a haphazard range of passages and rooms, was used as the offices for the Talysarn Quarry company, which would have been an easy commute for Robinson in the mornings! (Although it was said that the man was an unusually "hands-on" employer, and liked to take a turn with the men in the pit, working the blocks of slate.) After the Great War, the chapel was completely taken over by the quarry as offices.

But, still nagging at the back of my mind, is the hint that the building might have been a gatehouse, which I don't feel rings true. Originally, "Glen Cottage", near the Talysarn pit, was a gatehouse and stood at the end of the road. The chapel was too close to the Plas, admittedly at the end of the stable range, but hardly a gatehouse. Unless the C17 farm was used as the foundations for the chapel and the stables and administrative block were built later. As yet, I have not been able to confirm this. As usual, what we find out just serves to highlight more mysteries that need to be solved.

That's not quite the end of the story, though. Gwynfor says in his notes that the building was gutted by fire in the 1950's and that, many years later, the arsonist confessed his wrongdoings. I wonder if that had been over a pint or two of Marston's Pedigree Ale in the Nantlle Vale Hotel...

Chwarelyddiaeth Dyffryn Nantlle, Gwynfor Pierce Jones, Cyngor Gwynedd, ISBN 0 901337 94 3
Dyffryn Nantlle, a Landscape of Neglect, Alan Carr, Village Green Publishing 1996, ISBN 0 9529244 1 2
Dorothea Diving Group on Facebook
Various conversations with local people including John Pen-y-Bryn...thank you.


Anonymous said...

That place is proving to be a real treasure trove for you, Iain.

More interesting details & the top shot is lovely.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Graham. Glad you liked the photos! Yes, I think it will be a while before I exhaust Dorothea although by that time my blog won't have readers any more!!

Anonymous said...

Quite a story there. If the story about Robinson rolling up his shirt sleeves and doing the odd shift at the quarry is triue, I'm impressed by him. Sad tha more didn't do the same.
It is amazing how what amounted to a small village gradually disapeared into the Welsh jungle.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy. Yes, Robinson was a fascinating man. I have found out some amazing things about him which will feature in a future blog post!

Alan said...

Super light on your first photo, Iain. I've just returned from my second visit and missed the chapel, a good excuse for a third visit. Light was very harsh today, I think overcast suits the location better.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Alan. I am glad you are getting a lot from the is a photographer's treasure trove for sure. We had pretty much overcast light every time we visited and I do think it suits the place well, although I imagine the light through the tree canopy would be beautiful. Will go and look at your Flickr stream now :-)

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