The Williams clan descended on Bodnant Garden on Tuesday, a National Trust property in the Conwy Valley. With its phenomenal terraces and dell filled with all manner of exotic species of trees and flowers, this is a special place, albeit a challenge to navigate with five children, all under six years. Weather was good, and staff were friendly, so were the British and many Japanese and German tourists we met. We couldn’t make it all the way into the dell but we did spot a number of features of mortuary interest.
In previous posts, I have mentioned the National Trust strategy of not included memorial plaques by supporters, volunteers and other categories of the general public to populate their gardens, despite the innumerable benches, rocks and trees that might readily facilitate their popular properties becoming memorial landscapes. In discussing Erddig, Chirk and having now experienced Powis Castle and Attingham Park from this perspective, it is very evident this is a widespread trend at National Trust properties and there are exceptions, the memorials are to animals. The result is, every bench and tree I expect to see a memorial to a human because I am used to walking in public and country parks. Instead, there is nothing, apart from signs – memorial-like in themselves – giving the Latin name of the species of plant.
Bodnant Garden seems to reflect this tradition, with the only memorials evident being ones inherited when the NT took over custodianship. However, there is a difference because one of these monuments – the Poem – is still active. This difference from other NT properties I presume reflects that, for Bodnant Garden, the site is still owned and run by the family, with the NT managing it. If anyone can enlighten me about this fact, I would be very interested.
I make no claim to be exhaustive, but here are the memorials we encountered that together serve to define the landscape as a place of family identity and memorialisation.
1. Comemorating the Garden
There is a memorial commemorating the family member who designed the gardens, therefore commemorating the gardens themselves, their design and the family who developed them. This memorial plaque is situated in the west-facing wall of the terraces.
2. Commemorating Trees
As mentioned above, every plant has its label, explaining what it is. To me, these are memorial-like labels, because they form part of a system for navigating the landscape and commemorating its inception and evolution. Some have the additional component of being historical signs in themselves. In one case I noticed, the sign was historic and a second sign explained why it was now wrong because the Latin name of the tree species has changed!
3. Cat Memorials
At Chirk it is dogs, at Bodnant it is cats! Three, possibly four are on display beneath a giant yew and two rocks (themselves memorials?). One is an upright grave-stone with a cat in relief. The text is not illegible. There are also two grave-slabs, one commemorating MR KIPPS OF BODNANT, CAT TO THE MCLARENS 1943-1950 and another commemorating ANTONIA OF BODNANT, CAT TO THE MCLARENS 1948-1952. Both have at their base, to avoid any confusion, IS BURIED BENEATH THIS STONE. Regarding the boulder, it is unclear whether this also marks a grave or is there to protect and mark the other stones from accidental damage from visitors and maintenance staff.
4. Childhood Memorial
This is a memorial to a family member, the well-known biologist Anne McLaren, celebrating her childhood fondness of the spot, her contribution to science and completed with a quote from Tennyson. Implicit in this structure, and the angle and position of the memorial so that one views it looking up-slope towards the house, is the idea that her experience growing up in the wonderful garden at Bodnant inspired her scientific interests. This is difficult to doubt.
5. Bust Memorial
Situated within the terrace gardens is a bust to the great-uncle of Anne McLaren, Walter Stowe Bright McLaren, a Liberal MP who is remembered for his support for women’s rights to citizenship.
6. The Poem
Finally, we come to the crowning glory of the McLaren family memorials: the Poem. Perched above the dell, this neo-gothic construction is the McLaren family mausoleum. Last used in 2003 following the death of the 3rd Baron Aberconway, Charles McLaren, you can peek through the door and see the busts and memorials within the monument and whose remains lie in the crypt beneath.