We arrived at the church, small and neat as country churches often are, and there was a church warden standing just outside the door watching us. We were in the churchyard of St. Gallgo’s in Llanallgo on Anglesey. We had done our research thoroughly before we left home, so we knew our targets and could see them quite clearly from the path. I started to take photographs. I am not very good so I need to take plenty to give myself a chance of getting something acceptable.
The impatient look on the face of the gentleman by the door softened as he recognised our mission.“You are looking for the Royal Charter,” he said.
He was right. 140 of the victims of the great shipwreck of 1859 when The Royal Charter was driven on to the rocks at Moelfre were brought here. The story is still remembered in the parish, which emphasises the enormity of the event itself. 400 people returning from Australia lost and a stash of gold, some of which allegedly still lies in the bay. Optimistic divers still go down, for the wreck lies in just 10 feet of murky water. The possibility of treasure can be so difficult to ignore. This will be a good story for the magazine, though someone far greater than I will ever be, had beaten me to it some time ago. Charles Dickens came to Anglesey to report on the wreck at the end of December in 1859 for his own mag.
The gent by the door was David Hitchen and he was there to welcome a wedding party. However they were already late. Well actually it was more than that. They had failed to turn up at all on a previous occasion and didn’t seem likely to appear this time either. David was there to greet them and then call the minister, who clearly was not ready to turn out without the positive and confirmed sighting of a bride. We were a welcome diversion.
David showed us round the church. He spoke about a recent fire, blamed on rats that had gnawed through electrical cables. At least the wooden beams were saved and so the integrity of the church had been preserved. He showed us the restored chairs for the congregation, re-sanded by a local carpenter. We saw the table in the corner placed back-to-front to hide its date, and so deter thieves.
Outside he showed us the things that we knew about and some other things that we didn’t. The Victorian Memorial has a serious list and needs to be re-sited, for it was originally placed on inadequate foundations. It is currently taped off. We saw the recently renovated grave of Reverend Stephen Roose Hughes who invested such emotion and compassion in supporting the families of the victims, that he died of exhaustion brought on by his duties. We knew about this. We didn’t know about the other graves he showed us, one of which was a faded chest tomb containing the Davies family, mother, father and their children, paid for by their surviving son and daughter. He showed us a stone laid recently by an American family who had lost an ancestor in the disaster.
David stopped occasionally, gazing skywards as we watched trainee pilots from RAF Valley. A man like David with a military background has a duty to watch and respect such activity. But there was no sign of activity from the wedding party. Having married off two daughters and experienced the inescapable momentum that wedding arrangements generate, I cannot understand how anyone could approach the event so casually. We thanked David for his help. We are lucky that there are still people like him and his friends in the church who are ready to remember and preserve our past in the way that they do. We should all be grateful that there are communities that value their place in history. Now I have seen the memorials I really want to get on with the story. I just hope that I will be able to do justice to such a tumultuous story. It will be hard to follow Dickens, for whom words were never a problem.
We went off up the hill to the Derimon smokery where we bought excellent smoked duck and delicious salmon. We had to go there. They supply produce to the El Bulli restaurant in Barcelona, which is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world. We couldn’t be so close and then not call in. It was a very pleasant visit. The owner had just returned from sailing out on the flat-calm sea to look at seals.
When we drove back David had given up on the wedding and gone home.