This week's theme was: B is for Brown
Though it's known as Y Gadair Ddu / The Black Chair, this chair is plainly brown. That's because the name derives not from its actual colour but from the fact that the poet, Ellis H. Evans (bardic name Hedd Wyn) who won it in the National Eisteddfod held in 1917 was killed in action just a few weeks before he could receive his prize. At the ceremony of chairing the bard, the chair was draped in a black cloth and hence it got its name.
I have visited Yr Ysgwrn, the home of Hedd Wyn, previously, but since then it's had a lot of restoration work done on it and it's only just reopening now. Partly funded by National Lottery money, the Snowdonia National Park have turned the two old stone barns into a very attractive visitor centre that explains the story of how Ellis Evans ended up in the trenches of WWI and about his death and posthumously winning the poetry prize. I was very impressed with the work they'd done as I had been concerned that they would over-restore the place and it would lose the feeling of being a family home. But probably because Ellis Evans' nephew Gerald is still alive and had been consulted throughout, apart from the wallpaper, the kitchen was exactly as I remembered it. They had altered the parlour, which is where the Black Chair stands in all its splendour. On my first visit, the parlour was crammed with all the bardic chairs Hedd Wyn had won, which was how the family had kept it after his death. Y Gadair Ddu / The Black Chair now has the room to itself and the other chairs have been moved elsewhere.
Regarding the wallpaper...
They took all the furniture from the old kitchen and sent it to a specialist restorer in South Wales. As the cottage was empty, they allowed the fire that had burned continually in the old iron range to go out. So the cottage became cold and damp, and all the wall paper peeled off the wall.
Now I remember on my first visit that Gerald (who did all the talking to visitors back then) had said there were quite a few layers, but the young woman who did the talk this time said -- and I think I heard her correctly -- that there were 28 layers. Layer upon layer. "Insulation," Gerald had said. So they took the wallpaper to someone who specialises in such things who carefully teased all the layers apart. They discovered that the earliest pattern dated to around 1830 and apparently some of the patterns were, to quote, "hideous." So to restore the kitchen, they had to choose one and Gerald had no opinion but his sister chose a rather busy floral pattern which, according the expert, probably dated from the beginning of the 20th century and hence might have been the paper that Ellis Evans had known in his lifetime.
The other thing about the wallpaper... No one had bothered to move the furniture away from the walls. Not only had they not moved the big dresser or the piano, but they'd wallpapered around the barometer! Twenty eight times!
Anyway, if you want to know more about The Black Chair and hear Gerald being interviewed, by coincidence (or possibly not because I think there's quite a lot of events commemorating the Battle of Passchendaele, there was a BBC Radio 4 programme on yesterday about how the empty chair at the Eisteddfod became such a symbol of the terrible loss of so many young men during the First World War. Here's the link if you want to listen...
Just a final thing...
The chair was not carved by a Welsh craftsman but by a Belgian refugee, Eugeen Vanfleteren, who had fled to Britain when Belgium was invaded and had settled in Birkenhead. The work is skilful and complex and full of symbols. The motto of the Gorsedd of the Isle of Britain (top centre of the chair back) reads: "Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd" (The Truth against the World) which is particularly appropriate these days.