This isn’t really a review. It’s more an overview. How Grey Was My Valley is a photo essay using images taken by Peter Halliday that explores various examples of post-war modernist architecture in Wales. It includes images and descriptions of buildings I have known, some in passing, others more intimately.
It was published by the Modernist Society on St David’s Day in an English and a Welsh edition. When I placed my order, the English edition was out of stock. I’ve been tickling about on Duo Lingo trying to get a basic grasp of Welsh, so I bought the Welsh edition, Mor Llwyd Oedd Fy Nghwm, and I’m adding it to my Dewithon reading for Paula’s annual Welsh readathon over at Bookjotter.
I’m working my way through it, translating the Welsh with the assistance of Google translate, trying to learn and recognise words and phraseology as I go.
It’s divided into three sections: buildings designed by Welsh architecture practices; buildings from public sector architects; buildings designed by English architects.
There was a photo feature on the book by the Guardian recently, so you can look online at some of the images Halliday has taken. I’ll include some snaps of my own taken from the book of the buildings that mean the most to me.
The buildings that I know are from two phases of my life: childhood and university.
My childhood holidays were all spent in a small area of Wales along the Cambrian coast between Aberdyfi and Harlech. Featured in this book are buildings in places we visited from our base in Fairbourne on those holiday trips: Theatr Ardudwy in Harlech, Trawsfynydd power station, Llyn Celyn with its space age straining tower, Dolgellau and its county offices, the modernist housing in Tywyn and Aberdyfi that contrasted with the older, more solid architecture of the area. The houses I hadn’t appreciated as special as they were the backdrop to exploratory mooches around these seaside towns.
Theatr Ardudwy was a marvel to me, with its collection of angles and curves springing out like a shout as we drove past. My mum would always say, “One day, we’ll go to see a play in there,” but we never did. My dad didn’t do plays, and he was the driver on holiday.
My dad loved Llyn Celyn. He was fascinated by drowned villages given over to the storage of water. We never saw Llyn Celyn low enough to glimpse any hint of the former village of Capel Celyn, but Dad would tell us about the opposition to the reservoir, which served Liverpool, and the loss of a Welsh-speaking community.
I went to university in Aberystwyth for my undergraduate degree. The Great Hall on the Penglais campus was the site of my welcome to the university and the place where I received my degree, its bell tower a landmark. I studied Economic and Social History with Economics as joint honours, and most of my lectures and seminars took place in the Llandinam Building. I’d loved maths at A Level and foolishly decided to try my hand at a supplementary Pure Maths module in my first year. It didn’t work out, but I did get to experience the externally gorgeous Physical Sciences building, with its wall of pink terrazzo tiles.
Even with my inability to read the Welsh text without assistance, I’ve really enjoyed looking at Halliday’s photographs and remembering places with fondness. As I’m working through the text, translating back into English (the Welsh edition is Grace Page’s translation of Halliday’s words), I’m enjoying gaining new knowledge about buildings I’ve admired at a distance or had direct, practical experience of.
There are also buildings that I don’t know but wish I did. Wrexham police station is a crazy design. Flintshire County Hall, what’s left of it, has a modular Scandinavian feel. Wrexham and Mold are both places I’ve skirted around on my way to somewhere else, rather than visited, so I haven’t seen either of these buildings in person. Maybe one day I’ll rectify that.
This is a lovely collection of images, attractively presented with informative text about the architects.