The buildings that line our streets have seen generations walk by. Once appreciated, few stop to listen to their story. Graduate student Bethan Scorey speaks to Ballpit about her work. She shares, “I make prints of buildings across Wales to encourage people to engage with the architecture and urban environments on their doorstep.”.
Using a combination of mediums including lino print, screen print, collage and hand/digital drawing, Bethan aims to explain architectural themes in a “fun, diagrammatical way”. “Often these are famous and familiar, yet few people understand their historic and architectural significance.”, she tells Ballpit.
Her interest in conservation stems from working as a museum assistant at one of Europe’s leading open-air museums, St.Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff. The museum “is home to over 50 historic Welsh buildings dating from the medieval period to the present day that have been dismantled in their original locations and reconstructed. The emphasis is on folk architecture and showcasing the environments in which the working-class people of Wales lived, worked and socialised.”, shares Bethan.
Working as a museum assistant, she informs visitors about the collection and familiarises herself with architecture and construction methods from different periods in history. Equipped with a degree in architecture, Bethan speaks excitedly about Bronze Age clom roundhouses and 1940s ‘prefabs’.
Raised and educated through the medium of Welsh, she shares, “I have always been extremely interested in the country’s heritage and culture.”. Her time spent at the museum and university encouraged her to consider Wales’ architectural identity and “whether the population will resonate with the concept of an inherently ‘Welsh vernacular’.” In the coming months, she will be starting a Masters course in History of Architecture at Cambridge University.
“Historically, one consequence of concentrating so much time and energy on defensive measures was the sacrifice of material wealth and standards in Wales. The ephemeral nature of physical objects including ‘visual’ architecture in a country enduring such relentless invasions was widely felt, and it fostered a defiant national spirit.”, Bethan tells Ballpit, “Celtic creativity was diverted to matters of the mind which explains why language, literature and music were adopted as expressions of Welsh identity; a kind of aural architecture.”
“Besides, there was little need nor resource for the erection of sumptuous public buildings in Wales until the age of industrialisation, hence there was no demand for architects, only builders. Folk dwellings became the default national architecture, as local materials and functional concerns produced houses infused with a sense of place and an understated aesthetic appeal.”, she explains.
Interested to read more? Follow Bethan @bethancorey on Instagram and below is an extract from Bethan’s writing about the Norman Castle in Wales, comparing them with the native Welsh Princes’ castles:
Wales’ immense natural landscape is an expanse of earth and stone; enduring, unyielding and strewn with castles. Widely proclaimed as the nation’s greatest architectural heritage, the surviving medieval castles, having long outlived their original military purpose, are being revived as national tokens and tourist attractions. In their current state of romantic ruin it is easy to glorify them. But when you consider their historic origin, and these relics resurface as rather awkward Welsh emblems, for the majority were built by Norman invaders to occupy conquered territories and to enforce sovereignty over the native population (for example: Caernarfon Castle, Harlech Castle, Conwy Castle).
To state that these alien constructions landed on Welsh territory is no exaggeration; Norman strongholds were a new and formidable type of military castle which eclipsed the Welsh vernacular in a display of tyranny over the landscape. Boasting austere curtain walls engineered to withstand total warfare, it is unsurprising that they withstood the passing of time, and today they remain rooted in the Welsh landscape like frozen history. Foreign yet familiar, medieval Norman castles remain the biggest conundrum in Wales’ architectural identity.
Following the collapse of the English state in 1066, the Norman conquerors were soon probing at the Welsh border. With the death of Llywelyn the last Prince of Wales, triumphant Edward I paraded in and founded his ‘Iron Ring’ of castles to issue a statement to the indigenous population. Towns were founded in the shadows of the castles and the two became mutually dependent (Caernarfon Town Walls), as English settlers flooded in and were granted privileges that were not extended to the native Welsh people. Edward I’s Welsh castles are widely considered the finest surviving examples of military engineering in Europe, and their significance extends beyond Welsh and English history; some of the most important events in European history took place at their core.
Aesthetically Edward’s castles were incongruous in their context and loud compared to the humble castles of the Welsh princes (for example Y Bere Castle). Often built from timber and always absorbed in their surroundings, these conformed to the ground’s natural contours with a distinctly horizontal emphasis, and their organic spirit was reminiscent of the earlier Celt’s sinuous defensive banks and hillforts. The Normans destroyed many of these native castles and supplanted them with hostile fortresses which conveyed verticality and mastery over the landscape instead.