Bangor Civic Society


News & EventsTown WalksTools & FeaturesMembershipMessage Board

Architectural History & Guide (University College of North Wales, Bangor) - (M L Clarke)


This booklet has been written in the belief that a brief history of the College buildings will be of interest both to students and members of the College staff and to Bangor residents and visitors. Such opinions as are expressed on the merits of the buildings should not be regarded as in any way official, nor would I claim any finality for them; my hope is that they will stimulate readers to form their own opinions.

I am grateful to Mr H. J. Slade for his assistance, particularly in connection with the descriptions of the most recent buildings.

July, 1966

The First College

When the College first opened in 1884 it was housed in a former hotel, the Penrhyn Arms, which after a flourishing period in the days of coaching had declined with the advent of the railway. It was built at the end of the eighteenth century by Lord Penrhyn, and designed by his agent Benjamin Wyatt. Wyatt (1745-1818) was brother of the well-known architects James and Samuel Wyatt, and evidently had some of the family ability in architecture, though his work was in the main confined to the Penrhyn estate.

An English traveller who visited the Penrhyn Arms shortly after its erection writes in enthusiastic terms of the hotel and its grounds: `One end of the house, that commands a view over Beaumaris bay towards the sea, is occupied by a subscription newsroom for the inhabitants of Bangor and its neighbourhood, and few places of this nature possess so much either of internal or external elegance. Mr Wyatt's taste is here very conspicuous, not only in the neat design of the room, but in the choice of a situation commanding an uncommonly beautiful prospect of land and water.... Immediately below the bowling-green, into which the room opens, the observer has the busy scene of the port. Here the appearance of the numerous vessels with which this is at all times crowded, and the bustle and noise that necessarily attend the shipping of goods, form a singular contrast with the other mild and beautiful features.' (Bingley, North Wales, 1814, p113.)

The hotel was a plain building of three storeys; a porch with four columns was the only feature which relieved the austerity of the facade.

When the Penrhyn Arms became a University College additions were made to house the Science departments, the architect being Richard Davits of Bangor. After the opening of the new College buildings the Arts departments moved out, but the Science departments remained until 1926, when the new buildings in Deiniol Road came into use. The Penrhyn Arms was then pulled down to make room for a new road, and all that now remains is the porch.

The Main College Buildings

The Penrhyn Arms was only suited for temporary use, nor was its site extensive enough for further building, and with the growth of the College it became necessary to think of building on a completely new site. Such a site became available in 1902, when the City Corporation gave the College some ten acres of land comprising part of the former bishop's park on the hillside to the north-west of the city and the Penrallt estate on the top of the hill. In 1907 the foundation stone of the new building was laid, and in 1911 it was formally opened.

The architect was chosen in 1906 by limited competition, with Sir Aston Webb as assessor. Five architects (one of whom declined to take part in the competition) were invited to submit designs, and the winner was Henry T. Hare. Hare (who died in 1921) has been described by John Betjeman as one `whose detailing was always admirable, whose plans were practical and clear, and whose sense of proportion never failed him'. (Edwardian England, p. 360.) He designed a number of municipal buildings, for example the Oxford City buildings and Stafford Town Hall. His academic work includes Westminster (Presbyterian) College at Cambridge (1899), one of the better buildings of its type and date, and one that is of interest as anticipating, though on a small scale and in different materials, some of the features of the Bangor building.

The original intention was to accommodate the whole college on the new site. On the upper part were to be the Arts and Administrative blocks, Library, Museum and Great Hall, and the departments of Physics and Chemistry. The lower part, at the bottom of the hill, was to house Botany, Zoology and Agriculture, and the two groups of buildings were to be connected by terraced walks and steps. In fact none of the proposed science buildings, whether on the upper or the lower part of the site, was erected.

Hare planned his buildings around two quadrangles, a large outer one, of which only one side and a part of the second were built, and a smaller inner one. The plan derives from the old colleges of Oxford and Cambridge with their enclosed quadrangles or courts, and is not obviously suited to a non-residential university building. One criticism which might be made is that a quadrangle should be used and not merely looked into, whereas the inner quadrangle, `laid out', according to a document issued at the time of erection, `as an enclosed garden, principally for the use of the professors and staff', is in fact never used, since nothing in the planning of the buildings encourages one to walk or sit in it. Another feature which did not prove a success was the open corridors or cloisters running round two sides of the inner quadrangle. In an article contributed to the College Magazine of March 1911 Hare stressed the importance of ventilation. Conditions `should approach as nearly as may be to an actual outdoor life, plus the warmth necessary for sedentary occupations'. So the students' corridors were to be `open to the winds of heaven', and the lecture rooms were to have windows on either side designed to be kept permanently open. Hare did not make sufficient allowance for the Bangor climate. After fifty years' experience of the `winds of heaven' the college had the openings of the corridors glazed. Apart from the question of ventilation the lecture rooms are the least satisfactory part of the building. More thought seems to have been given to the community life of the college than to its teaching function, and the lecture rooms are by no means up to the standard of the halls, library and common rooms. A peculiarity of the planning is the use of the slope of the hill, as a result of which the ground floor of the administrative block is on the level of the second floor of the lecture room block, an arrangement which involves some sacrifice of convenience but gives plenty of opportunity for picturesque grouping.

Though there are good views across the inner quadrangle to the Prichard Jones Hall and the north-east block, the main architectural effect is concentrated on the front quadrangle and the side overlooking College Park. The recessed front of the Prichard Jones Hall was designed as the central feature of one side of the quadrangle, with the tower at the junction of this side with the library wing providing another visual focus. While the main quadrangle demanded a dignified architectural treatment, the College Park side was no less important. Hare rose to the challenge offered by the exposed and commanding site; the building as seen from the town, with its varied outline, dominated by the tower with its pronounced batter, is at once picturesque and imposing.

On the style of the building Hare wrote somewhat cryptically: `The occasion seemed to demand and suggest some little element of romance and imagination rather than a strictly academic treatment: some suggestion or reminiscence of English (and perhaps Welsh) history: of the history of times when English learning was in the making and when our forefathers were fighting for their liberties.' He meant presumably the period of the Renaissance and Reformation. The style, with its mixture of late Gothic and Renaissance elements, recalls the age of the Revival of Learning, and expresses in architectural terms the continuity which a modern university has with the older institutions from which its learning was derived. At the same time the free treatment of the detail saves the building from mere antiquarianism.

The sense of history and tradition which inspired the choice of style is also to be seen in the heraldic carving and the statuary which adorns the exterior. Over the entrance to the Prichard Jones Hall are the arms of the donor of the hall, Sir J. Prichard Jones, of his native county Anglesey, of the University of Wales and of the City of London; on the central bay of the Library wing facing the quadrangle are the arms of the Drapers' Company, who paid for the wing, while in the corresponding position on the other side are the Royal Arms. Throughout the building the lead rain water heads and the straps securing the pipes are stamped with heraldic ornamentation. The statues represent famous men connected with North Wales.

Between the windows of the tower are figures of St David (north-west face), Owain Glyndwr (south-west) Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (south-east) and Owain Gwynedd (north-east); niches on the library building contain figures of Bishop Morgan (south-east side) and Goronwy Owen (north-west), and the front gable of the Prichard Jones Hall contains a statue of Lewis Morris.

The situation of the college, according to Hare, suggested a building `somewhat severe in its outlines and single in its detail'. The materials used in the exterior were confined to two, Cefn stone and Precelly slate, so that nothing should disturb `the impression of outline and light and shade'. Edwardian architects were given to profuse and fanciful detail, and there is enough in the Bangor buildings, with their turrets, cupolas, dormers and gables, to suggest that Hare might have been tempted to sacrifice too much to the picturesque. But such elements as there are of mere prettiness are subordinated to a general design which gives the impression, if not of severity, at least of strength and solidity.

On passing through the main entrance the visitor finds himself in a vaulted vestibule, perhaps a little too encumbered with heavy stone piers, which provides access to the Prichard Jones Hall. This is of six bays, with an additional bay-and-a-half occupied by a balcony over the vestibule, and at the opposite end the equivalent of two bays, occupied by a platform and an apsidal recess originally intended for an organ. Above the lateral passages there are large traceried windows, with panelling below, broken by pilasters extending from floor level to the spring of the coved plaster ceiling. The stage that now occupies the far end of the hall detracts sadly from the effect of the interior. There are electroliers of great splendour contemporary with the building, but the windows lack the heraldic glass which was part of the original decorative scheme.

In the corridors of the Administrative block the simple but graceful electric light fittings should be noted. It was probably hoped that all the windows here would be filled with stained glass. As it is there is heraldic glass in the window on the main staircase (Royal Arms) and in that opposite the top of the staircase (Arms of Gwynedd), while the four-light window opposite the old library entrance contains figures representing Painting, Humanity, Music and Science, and the corresponding window on the floor below depicts St David, with four allegorical figures. The small window adjacent to the latter represents

Architecture; it was the gift of the architect, and in the bottom right-hand corner can be seen his rebus (a hare). The two large windows are signed by J. Dudley Forsyth. The Council Chamber has carved stone work around and above the fireplaces, embodying the coats of arms of the old North Wales boroughs, and oak panelling to the height of the walls. The coved ceiling is adorned with the arms of the medieval princes of North Wales. The electroliers are of traditional chandelier type.

The library wing comprises two main rooms. That on the ground floor (the present Lloyd Reading Room) was intended to house the museum, and its present fittings do not therefore represent the architect's intentions. That on the first floor (the present Shankland Reading Room) was the original library. It has walls of dressed stone, and two oriel windows on either side; there is a coved ceiling of plaster panels (some with heraldic decoration) framed in oak. In the oriel windows are painted the arms of the city of Bangor, the Drapers Company, the Prince of Wales and the University of Wales, treated with considerable freedom and boldness. The electroliers, of elegant design, and the woodwork of Renaissance character forming arches over the central passage help to make this perhaps the most attractive interior in the building.

In the period between the wars no additions were made to the main College buildings. In i934 however the old County School for Girls, adjacent to the College, was acquired. This unlovely building of Ruabon brick, which now houses the Museum of Welsh Antiquities, dates from 1897 and was designed by J. H. Phillips of Cardiff.

After the Second World War the need was felt for an extension to the library, and plans were made for a new wing extending along Penrallt Road. A neo-Georgian design by Sir Percy Thomas and Sons aroused some criticism, directed not so much against an outmoded style and one out of keeping with the existing building as against the proposed use of brick. The architects then produced a completely new design which, with considerable modifications, was eventually adopted in the building begun in 1960 and completed in 1963

The new wing is connected with the existing library by an unobtrusive link and makes no attempt to reproduce the style of the older building. The main feature is the row of stone mullions carried up from the ground floor to the roof, with panels of travertine at the base of the two floors. At the two ends and at the basement level on Penrallt Road local slate is used as the facing material. This is not entirely successful. The slate blocks are of different sizes, and the irregularity of the courses is out of keeping with the unbroken straight lines of the building as a whole, while the dark colour of the slates contrasts too violently with the plain white cornice carried round the top of the building. The entrance bay with projecting roof over the doorway and a large gaping window above seems crude and aggressive in comparison with the careful detailing of Hare's adjacent building.

The library wing was designed as part of a scheme for completing the front quadrangle, and work is now in progress on a new wing opposite to the old library to provide additional accommodation for the Arts Faculty.

Science Buildings

Towards the end of the First World War a North Wales Heroes Memorial fund was instituted. The sum contributed was used to erect a Memorial Arch and to finance the building of new premises for the science departments. The cost of completing the original design of the main buildings would have been prohibitive, and it was decided to build on a new site on Deiniol Road acquired in 1923. The foundation stone was laid in that year, and the buildings were formally opened in 1926. The architect was Alan E. Munby, a former science teacher who had turned to architecture and specialised in designing science laboratories. The only part of the buildings of any architectural interest is the School of Agriculture, which presents to the main road a symmetrical facade of brick and stone, in a somewhat indeterminate style of classical inspiration.

Since the Second World War the pace of expansion has quickened. In 1947 the College acquired the Tanrallt site extending from the existing science buildings to Glanrafon, which provided much-needed space for additional buildings. The first post-war science building, the Dobbie Chemistry laboratories, was however erected in the rear of the existing buildings on a somewhat cramped site under the hill. Like all the post-war buildings on the Deiniol Road and Tanrallt site, it was designed by Percy Thomas and Sons.

More opportunity for architectural expression was provided by the new Botany and Forestry building on the Tanrallt site, completed in 1954. This is a red-brick building of three storeys over a semi-basement, extending along the main road to the corner of Glanrafon, with a wing projecting at the rear. The design was largely determined by the desire to exclude the noise of the main road; the street front is mainly occupied by passages and staircases, and windows are, apart from the large staircase window, few and small. The result is a rather striking elevation, with the strong horizontal lines of the passage windows, all the more marked owing to the bare expanse of the wall above the first-floor windows, contrasting with the uncomprising vertical movement of the projecting staircase block. In the rear of the building a rather half-hearted attempt has been made to give the elevation some architectural interest by extending the window cills and heads to form continuous bands at each floor.

At the rear of the Botany-Forestry building is a building for the Physics department, erected in two stages, the first completed in 1953, the second in 1961. It is interesting to see how a few years' interval brought a change of architectural style. In the later part (south-west half) the architects have made use of new facing materials and have produced a more vigorous and interesting elevation than in the first stage. At the south-west end an unusual effect is produced by the diagonal line of the window, corresponding to the tiered seats of the lecture room within.

At the south-west end of the site a new building for Zoology was erected in 1953 and extended in 1960 and 1963. The Animal Nutrition building, completed in 1963, is a simple rectangular block, three storeys high. The structural frame, of reinforced concrete, is exposed externally, and the regular lines of the columns and beams are deliberately emphasised by contrasting colour. The bays formed by the intersecting columns and beams are filled in with buff facing brick and white painted windows to a uniform pattern. The result is an unpretentious building, not unattractive because of its simplicity and the crispness of its lines and detail.

The new Chemistry building, the upper floors of which are occupied by the Mathematics department pending the erection of a new Physics and Mathematics building, was occupied in 1965, but will not be finally completed until a second lecture theatre and more lecturers' and research rooms are added at a later stage. It consists of a tower block of eleven floors, together with a two-storey wing containing the lecture theatre and the central boiler house, which will ultimately serve the whole site. As in the Animal Nutrition building, the lines and detail of the structure are simple. The vertical members of the reinforced concrete frame have been exposed externally and emphasised by colouring, and curtain walling, glazed with coloured glass to cill levels and with clear glass above on each floor, has been used to clad the facades between the structural columns. The vertical lines are thus strengthened, but the effect is marred by the proportions of the tower, which despite its great height appears somewhat squat.

From the architectural point of view it is impossible to regard the Deiniol Road science buildings with much satisfaction. The site, a narrow strip between the main road and a steep hillside, is not a good one, and it has been developed in piecemeal fashion to meet immediate needs. The latest addition, the Chemistry tower block, is conspicuously out of scale with its neighbours. The firm of architects employed since the war cannot be blamed for the situation; they have carried out the wishes of the College, and the College has been unable to foresee for more than a few years ahead what money will be available for building. A scheme has been drawn up for the redevelopment of the site, involving the replacement of one-storey buildings by tall blocks and the consequent release of more space for circulation and landscaping. The realisation of such a scheme could make the area considerably more attractive.

The acquisition in 1926 of an old mill in Dean Street to house the Department of Electrical Engineering has led to the development of a new site for science buildings. The mill was replaced in 1959 by a new building of brick with a low-pitched copper roof, designed by Mr Colwyn Foulkes of Colwyn Bay; it is an unambitious building with a certain quiet elegance about it which contrasts with the aggressive modernity of some recent Engineering buildings erected elsewhere.

This modest building soon proved too small with the expansion of what is now known as the School of Engineering Science, and a large new extension from the designs of the same architect is in process of erection at the time of writing. The wing projecting at the rear of the earlier building has been extended to serve as a link with the new one, which consists of two rectangular blocks of similar design joined by an entrance and staircase area. This is executed in brick, as are the two extremities of the building; the main facades are faced with slate panels which contrast with the white painted uprights of the steel frame. A final judgment on the building must await its completion; present impressions are of a sober unspectacular work, well proportioned, and with sufficient variety to give it interest.

The nucleus of the Marine Science Laboratories is a pair of large semi-detached houses in Menai Bridge overlooking the Straits and the pier. Since these houses were acquired the accommodation has been improved, and extensions added in 1960 and 1964-65. The extensions, though large in comparison with the existing houses, have tended to be domestic in scale and character, and use has been made of local stone and of traditional rendered brickwork externally. Because of the piecemeal development of the accommodation and the need to retain the original houses the overall development is an obvious compromise.

Individual parts of the building are not unattractive, but it is doubtful whether an aesthetically satisfactory whole can be achieved on this very small site.

Halls of Residence

The first hostel was one for women students erected in 1886 in the High Street, which had a short life of six years before it closed down and its buildings were put to other uses. A new hostel (University Hall) on a more attractive site, near to that on which the main College buildings were later to be erected, was opened in 1897. The architect was Frank Bellis of Bangor, who was in partnership with Robert Grierson (architect of St Mary's College) until the latter's death in 1897, and subsequently practised on his own. He chose the so-called `Queen Anne' style which had been popularised by Norman Shaw in the eighteen-seventies and was used by Basil Champneys for Newnham College at Cambridge, a style which, as Pevsner says, had `a more domestic appeal than the Gothic and Tudor favoured by the men's colleges'. Additions and alterations were made in 1955-59 from the plans of Sir Percy Thomas and Sons; a new dining hall and kitchens were built in 1955, followed by alterations to the old buildings, and in 1958-9 extensive additions were made to the residential quarters. The dining hall is executed in red brick; the residential wings are cement rendered and roofed with slate. They are without superficial attractions, but fit in well with the site and rightly do not attempt to imitate the dated (though not unpleasing) style of the original Hall. A substantial stone built house, Caederwen, near to University Hall, was acquired for residential purposes in 1903.

Neuadd Reichel, the Hall of Residence for men on Ffriddoedd, was begun in 1939 and finished in 1942, and'an extension to the rear was completed in 1950. It is a brick building in the neo-Georgian style, designed by Sir Percy Thomas and Sons. The original in tention was to give the building a sloping roof, but owing to wartime shortages the design was changed, and the hall now has a flat roof with four storeys in the main block and three in the wings. A very similar design was used for Pantycelyn, the Hall of Residence at Aberystwyth opened in 1951, though there the building is faced with stone and has two main storeys and a sloping roof with dormer storey. The Aberystwyth building prior to its enlargement had something of the character of a large country house, a character which has been lost at Bangor by the change of plan.

At the end of the playing fields opposite to Neuadd Reichel is the site formerly occupied by the house and grounds of Plas Gwyn, which is now in process of development for residential accommodation. The first stage of this development was the erection of the Hall which bears the name of the now demolished house. It was built in 1962-3 from the designs of Mr David Roberts of Cambridge. Halls of Residence may be roughly divided into those of domestic and those of collegiate character.

Plas Gwyn belongs to the second category. The main accommodation is grouped round an open three-sided court, and use is made of the traditional staircase system. The materials used are a local stone, from Penmon in Anglesey, exposed aggregate panels and white-painted cement rendering. The aggregate is of a dark grey colour, which gives a somewhat sombre effect, though this is relieved by the white of the recessed staircase areas and by the varied treatment of the different elevations. On the north-west or entrance side of the building the main interest lies in the powerful elevation of the central block, with the strong horizontal lines of the windows, and in the Dining Hall, with its north-west wall of stone broken only by a row of small windows, and its north-east end, where a decorative feature develops out of the fenestration. A somewhat fanciful porter's lodge, growing as it were out of the old stone wall, provides an effective foreground to the main structure. Plas Gwyn is a building of great interest, the work of an architect of remarkable inventiveness.

After the completion of Plas Gwyn Sir Percy Thomas and Sons were given the task of planning further residential accommodation adjacent to it, but of a different type. The intention is to erect two large Halls and a separate refectory, the halls being planned with student rooms arranged in groups, with a common room and limited cooking facilities for each group. The first of the Halls, now in process of erection, consists of three more or less identical blocks of roughly cubical shape, joined by narrow links. In the treatment of the elevations the architects have been guided by the desire to harmonise with Plas Gwyn. At the time of writing it is too early to judge the final effect of the building; by contrast with Mr Roberts's work it will probably be thought somewhat lacking in distinction and originality.

Neuadd Rathbone, a Hall for women students at the junction of College Road and Love Lane, was completed in 1965. The architect was Mr Colwyn Foulkes. The Hall is traditional in its concept and construction, and domestic rather than collegiate in character. A narrow, steeply sloping site has forced the architect to arrange the accommodation in the form of several long rectangular blocks of four and five storeys running parallel to each other and along the contours of the ground.

Extensive use has been made of facing bricks for the external cladding, with windows of more or less uniform size at regular intervals. This treatment, coupled with the similarity in size and shape of some of the blocks, gives an impression of severity, and it may be said that the elevations are lacking in relief and contrast.

Some Other College Buildings

As recorded in an earlier section, the arch in College Park at the corner of Glanrafon and Deiniol Road formed part of a memorial to the men of North Wales who were killed in the First World War. It was opened in 1923, the architect being D. Wynne Thomas. It was evidently designed to harmonise with the main College buildings, its staircase turret recalling that of the College tower, though it is in a more conventional Tudor style, without the Renaissance elements that Hare introduced.

In 1949 it was decided to build a students' union in College Park near the Memorial Arch, and plans were prepared for a building in a style similar to that of the arch. Nothing however could be done at the time, and the plans were abandoned. In 1957 it was decided to build a new refectory, with a Union to be added at a later date. A completely new design, which did not attempt to harmonise with the Memorial Arch, was drawn up by Sir Percy Thomas and Sons, and the building was completed in 1963. The main materials used are a light red brick and exposed aggregate. A striking feature of the design is the curved lounge on stilts straddling the path from the arch to the college; this is designed to link up with the Union building, on which work has now begun.

A pavilion on the Ffriddoedd grounds was built in 1959 from the designs of Sir Percy Thomas and Sons. It is to be regretted that the architects did not use a more adventurous style and a less formal plan; the ymmetrical facade, not in itself particularly attractive, can only be appreciated by the players on the field, who presumably have other things to think about.

In their latest additions to the architecture of Ffriddoedd, the implement store and groundsman's flat (1965) and the changing room adjacent to the pavilion, the architects have moved away from neo-Georgian and have abandoned red brick for dark grey brick and white paint, a combination of colours which suggests that the influence of Plas Gwyn has made itself felt from across the fields.

Some Former Private Houses Belonging to the College

The oldest building in the possession of the College is Tanrallt, which was erected in 1755 for John Ellis, Archdeacon of Merioneth. The bay window on the south-west side is a later addition; otherwise the house has been little altered and retains most of the original doors, windows, fireplaces and plaster cornices, as well as the staircase, described by the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments as `a good example of the local Chinese Chippendale style'.

The former Canonry, now used to house the Bangor Art Gallery, was built in 1862 to provide accommodation for the residentiary canons of Bangor cathedral established as a result of the Welsh Cathedrals Act of 1843. The house is a good example of the domestic Gothic style considered appropriate for clerical residences in the midVictorian period.

The houses Haul a Gwynt, Fron Heulog, Arfryn and Bryn Dinas in the vicinity of St James's church appear to be part of a residential development carried out in 1850 under the Liverpool architect H. P. Horner, who also designed St Mary's Church, Bangor. (The Builder of 1850 contains a notice that the Cae Maeslodwig estate has been laid out for building villas and other residences under the direction of Horner.)





© Copyright Bangor Civic Society 2006 Home | Contact Us | External Links | Link To Us | Other Civic Societies | Site Map | Search | FAQ | Constitution | Site Credits