The Mother of All Memorials?
I have a research interest in landscape memorials, structures with biographies of use, ruination and restoration and failed monuments that are never completed, adapted from their original design for whatever reason, or simply fail to last as intended. I also like memorials to crazy royals past and present. This site hits the spot in all these regards.
Possibly meaning ‘bare hill of the mothers’, Moel Famau, at 554m OD, is the highest hill in the Clwydian Range in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. At its summit is a ruinous stump of a once-striking neo-Egyptian memorial – Jubilee Tower. It was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the reign of King George III in 1810.
The opening ceremony was attended by over 3000 people, but how many monuments can be said to dominate the landscape in a fashion that this one does and how many thousands more people have subsequently walked to it and seen it from afar?
It was originally a three-tier tower designed by Chester’s Thomas Harrison in the form of an Egyptian obelisk. It never reached full completion and was destroyed by weather in 1862. Subsequently, the upper levels were demolished for safety reasons leaving the base.
The neo-Egyptian base of the Jubilee Tower has been subject to restoration in the 1960s and most recently in 2012. There are viewpoint boards at its top and now plaques marking the location on the horizon of major hilltops and other landmarks like Liverpool’s cathedrals. There are also two plaques explaining the construction and design of the tower: original and actual.
In addition, two brand-new boards have been added to the metal gates preventing access to hazardous areas within the northern and western portals. These plaques explain the restoration of the tower and possible new glimpses into its construction revealed by opening up one of the bastions during the recent work.
To call it a ‘failed monument’ is inadequate, since it was ‘finished’ after a fashion, and even its stump assists in affording this striking hill with a prominent ‘nipple’ when viewed from dozens of miles away across Lancashire, Cheshire and even Shropshire, as well as from the Vale of Clwyd and farther west into Wales.
Likewise, even if it doesn’t look as it was intended, it was a ‘fake’ monument anyway with its grandiose colonial pretensions invoke allusions to posterity and antiquity and seeking to dominate the landscape and seascape of north-west England and North Wales.
Hence, in my view it was a failure from the start and it deserves to be misinterpreted and mocked. Still, I cannot help but be annoyed by one walker we passed who claimed to have just visited the ruined castle….
Walking with the Twinagers
I have made the c. 2km walk from the car park at Bwlch Penbarras to Moel Famau twice before with my kids but never with my youngest – the twinagers – for fear that I couldn’t transport them if their legs gave out. Emboldened by recently taking them up Foel Fenlli and Hope Mountain, I gave it a go this morning.
In good weather and the twins making the entire outward 2km and around 1km back under their own steam without being carried by rucksack and on shoulders, it was a fun trip out. It was also great to see the latest restoration and the new heritage boards.
Nature and Views
As well as outstanding views over the whole of North Wales, with Cadair Idris and Snowdon on the horizon and Liverpool visible in the distance, there was plenty of things to entertain the 2-year-olds. We encountered sheep & sheep poo, rabbits & rabbit poo, dogs & dog poo, ravens, buzzards, stonechats, slugs and bees. Plants included thistles and heather and bare rock on the worn paths. There were thus plenty of fun puddles, plus stones to throw into said puddles and stones to carry for long distances for no particular reason.
Interaction with other walkers is so much easier with kids around. People are friendlier and there is always something to laugh about, even if it is one of my twins falling backwards off a bench and being saved from cutting her head by landing on dried sheep poo. Today, there were lots of friendly happy walkers and runners and only a few joyless miseries. Because I was out with only two children rather than the usual three to five, it was delightful to not receive the usual mindless barrage of well-meaning but mindlessly formulaic and utterly sexist greetings from other walkers along the following lines;
‘you’ve got your hands full, huh huh’,
‘morning, you’ve got your hands full’,
‘ got your hands full there mate’
‘ha ha, you’ve got your hands full’.
Instead I got one ‘they’ll sleep well tonight’ and lots of looks of surprise and smiles to see the twins having fun in the landscape. My kids don’t care in any case, for them they were exploring ‘dragon mountain’ and both excited and scared that there might be a Georgian neo-Egyptian Welsh dragon lurking within the Jubilee Tower.
On such a popular walk in such a dramatic landscape, it is unsurprising that I encountered memorials to the recent dead. En route we stopped several times at memorial benches that punctuate the route and bear small bronze plaques with the names of those who wish to be remembered upon one of their favourite walks. The dead and the living share the same views, since ashes are often scattered at these locales…
I would like to see it rebuilt and finished
Whilst I agree, sadly, the reasons for its physical downfall would, no doubt be the quality of the mortar, and the building method. Therefore, the only way to fully realise the original would be to fully demolish it, and start again. However, if the base was fully rebuilt, it would make a fantastic structure to aid the visions of the finished project. Sadly, the money would have to come from one of those fabled magic money trees, or maybe on the coronation of King Charles…