The Whitewashed Prince
On Friday 16 December 2016 a plaque commemorating Leigh Richmond Roose (1877-1916), the Welsh international goalkeeper and Aberystwyth old student, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme on 7 October 1916, was unveiled in the Old College Quad next to the Roll of Honour commemorating 102 other Aberystwyth University staff and students that lost their lives in the Great War (https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2016/12/title-195375-en.html). But because of a spelling error on his recruitment papers, recording his name as Rouse rather than Roose, Leigh Richmond’s name was not included in the original Roll of Honour.
Until recently the Roll of Honour had been on display in in the former Students’ Union building at 10 Laura Place, both building and plaque having been presented to the College by the Old Students Association as a joint Memorial to the Founders of the College and to those who had fallen during the First World War. The Students’ Union was officially opened on 30 October 1923 by Edward Prince of Wales who was then Chancellor of the University.
(Principal J.H. Davies, Prince Edward and David Davies walking from the Old College to the Students’ Union on the day of its opening)
The Old College is also the location of the only full-sized public statue in the UK of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII who abdicated in 1936. The statue was given to the College by T.D. Jenkins, who had been born in Aberystwyth and had made his fortune in the shipping trade. He was a member of the College’s Court of Governors, and such was his love of the College and his admiration of Prince Edward that he commissioned the Italian sculptor Mario Rutelli to make a bronze statue of the Prince in his robes as Chancellor of the University of Wales.
The statue was to have been unveiled on 9 October 1922 as part of the College’s Jubilee Celebrations, but it had not been completed in time and instead was to have a special ceremony on 7 December 1922. But some of the post-war students did not share Jenkins admiration of the prince and thought that they could improve his appearance before the grand unveiling.
The First World War was responsible for a great many far reaching changes in society, and Aberystwyth and the College were no different. Before 1914 things at the College had remained more or less the same as they had been since 1872, but now things really changed. Not only did former soldiers not have to matriculate in order to go to university, the government gave generous maintenance allowances to them while they were at university, and as a result a number of ex-servicemen went to university ‘to get an education’.
And amongst those ex-soldiers who came to Aberystwyth was Idwal Jones from Lampeter (1895-1937). Between March 1915 and March 1919 he had served with the army in East Africa, but by October he was a new student, and the following description of the College at that time is taken from D. Gwenallt Jones’s biography of Idwal Jones:
By 1920 there were nearly eleven hundred students at Aberystwyth, and amongst them there were two classes, the ex-servicemen, and the students who had come straight to College from the Grammar or County Schools. The ex-servicemen didn’t think much of the College’s educational system, and they were continuously harshly criticising the lectures, the exams and the social rules. They were of course older than the others and some of them, like Idwal Jones, hadn’t had the opportunity of passing the Matric, while others had passed the Matric but hadn’t sat the Higher Exam; but they had all been out in the world between School and College. Of the students that came straight from School to College it may be said that they were on the whole students who worked hard at their College work, conscientiously making notes in the lectures, rushing for the first to the College Library to borrow books that had been recommended by the lecturers, and that they didn’t have much interest in the social life of the College. The ex-servicemen didn’t think much of these students, and the name that they gave them was ‘swots’.
The other snake that was choking Aberystwyth College life was the social rules. In the book, The College By The Sea, there’s an article by Dr. Thomas Quayle, ‘Far Away and Long Ago’, that describes the College before the 1914-18 War, the College when there 450 students, and they and the teachers lived together as one family, but the sons and daughters were only allowed to interact with each other in the College, on the Vicarage field playing fields, and the railway station. Nor was there freedom to visit a pub. The ex-serviceman weren’t too happy with these rules that had been drawn up in the Victorian age or before the Flood. They had fought for democracy, to put an end to all wars and for a land fit for heroes. The heroes came to Aberystwyth College and found that they weren’t allowed to talk to girls or visit pubs: they had to obey rules created by old dishcloth Puritan teachers, old men whose blood had grown cold and their souls grown bent… Some of the ex-servicemen had experienced more in five minutes on the Somme than these had in the whole of their academic life. There was nothing for it but to break the rules. (Gwenallt Cofiant Idwal Jones. Aberystwyth: Gwasg Aberystwyth, 1958.)
And there was no readier rulebreaker than Idwal Jones. This is how D. Gwenallt Jones recounts his attempt to improve Mario Rutelli’s work:
On the eve of the unveiling he and others went to the statue at dead of night; removed the covering sheet and whitewashed the statue; put a red cravat around the Prince’s neck, a pipe in his mouth and a doll in his arms before replacing the sheet…
(Mario Rutelli’s statue of Prince Edward reimagined by Monica Decelis)
Great was the expectation for the unveiling on Saturday afternoon, in the presence of the great of the Kingdom, but fortunately or unfortunately a porter had removed the sheet in the morning and seen the cravat, the pipe and the doll; and he unwhitewashed the statue. Police searched unsuccessfully for the perpetrators and it is only now that we can recount the incident with the leader and others far beyond the reach of any policeman.
Gwenallt does not record the name of the porter who discovered the whitewashed statue but it could very possibly have been Sergeant E.J. Wakeling, head porter, part-time proctor and ‘lord and master of the Quad’ from 1896 until his death in 1924. D. Seaborne Davies (1904-1984), the lawyer and politician, was also a student at Aberystwyth at the time and recalls the incident with disapproval in Our Golden Years: Aber in the Twenties:
The white-washing of the statue of the Prince of Wales was a truly dastardly act. Far be it for us now to disclose the identities of the conspirators and so undermine their after-acquired (and very spurious) respectability. After the cleaning of it, the Olympian [Sergeant Wakeling] approached a student of unchallengeable integrity and doubtful veracity (he was President of the S.C.M. at one time), and, with a sweet smile and a very knowing wink, said, “We do not know, do we Mr. Davies, who white-washed ’Is Royal ’Ighness?” “We certainly do not”, responded the blatant, if evangelical perjurer. “No”, said the Voice, “but it would be nice, wouldn’t it Mr. Davies, if they recognised the labours of the porters who cleaned ’Im?” And a collection was surreptitiously made and duly handed into the Den.
No doubt T.D. Jenkins, a generous benefactor to the University, The National Library of Wales and Aberystwyth town, who commissioned the statue, would have agreed with Seaborne Davies and we hope to have an opportunity to say more about this interesting, but little known, person next month.
Elgan P Davies - 19.12.16