George Ernest John Powell
George Ernest John Powell was born the 10 February 1842 at 20 Promenade Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (christened at St. Mary’s Cheltenham on the 28 February). Eldest son of William Thomas Rowland Powell and his wife Rosa Edwyna Powell. Later the family lived at 57 St George’s Road, Pimlico SW London.
George had one sister Harriot two years younger born at Nanteos, sadly Harriot died at Nanteos in 1857 at the age of 13 of consumption. Another sister was born in 1843 but sadly was still born.
When George was eight years old, he received a book as a gift from his parents. It looks deep reading for an eight-year-old. His father had high hopes for his son and heir.
George was witness to a nasty relationship between his parents, who eventually separated. His mother Rosa was only allowed to see her children under supervision. All correspondence between mother and children was intercepted by William, all this obviously effected George. After a Deed of Separation in 1854, Rosa moved into a small cottage in Capel Bangor, Aberystwyth. George would often visit and stay with her. In the same year William Thomas Rowland Powell became the head of the Nanteos estate with the death of his father William Edward Powell.
William’s hopes and plans for his son and heir, dwindled as George got older, his father’s behaviour with his mother did not help matters. George’s enthusiasm for the hunting and shooting on the Nanteos estate was practically nil. One day at Nanteos, in his frustration William gave his son a shotgun and demanded that he was go out with it and not to return until he shoots the first thing he sees! George reluctantly takes the gun and obliged his order and shot his father’s best prize bull. This action of course did not go down well, and the relationship between father and son deteriorated even more, never to be restored.
George entered Eton College, then at the age of 19 George attended Brasenose College, Oxford in 1861. He had by now published his first poetry book Poems, by Miölnir Nanteos 1860 under the name of Miölnir. He also published Quod Libet 1860, and second series 1861.
During his college years he became a close friend to the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 - 1909), a strange looking man with a small body, and flaming red hair. They were inseparable, and both left Oxford without taking their degree.
George spent most of his time travelling and in 1863 was in Iceland for 6 months collaborating with Eirikur Magnusson on his Translations of Icelandic Legends. His translations were published in 1864 and the 2nd series in 1866.
He travelled much of Europe over the following years. Collecting works of art of his way. Meeting many influential people, including the composer, Richard Wagner. Meeting Wagner was indeed a tremendous thrill for George, and he stayed in Wagner’s home as an honoured guest. He was thrilled to attend Wagner’s first ever performance of The Ring of Nibelungs at Bayreuth in August 1876. He treasured the invitation card that he was given (which is in his collections at Aberystwyth University to this day).
A Broadwood grand piano once sat proudly in the music room at Nanteos for over a century. George purchased the piano from John Broadwood & Sons, London. He wrote to his father at Nanteos stating what he had purchased and that no one was to tamper with the delivery until he arrived home. He came to Nanteos as soon as he could to deal with his precious delivery. He had it placed in the Music Room on the first floor. When he visited home, he would practice for hours for his public appearances on his special Broadwood Grand.
The 1871 and 1881 Census Returns show that George occupied rooms at 41 Mornington Crescent, London for well over 10 years. He lived in London and France, only occasionally returning home to Nanteos, which he called his ‘Beautiful, But Unhappy Home’. By the early1870s his father was an invalid, and during one visit to Nanteos, George rode his horse on the bridle path up to the house. It was during the hunting season, he noticed that there was a gathering of people Otter Hunting around the lake, as he approached to an opening of the path he saw all the eager sportsmen on the banks of the lake, his father and a friend, both in invalid chairs, with three servants to a chair holding umbrellas and halloaing like mad, in the excitement, the men in charge of the two invalids let go of the chairs, which proceeded to free wheel down the drive, the air was blue with the language, while the men chased frantically after the invalid chairs with the terrified occupiers.
Another visit home was not so hilarious in October 1866, George invited Swinburne to stay at Nanteos. George’s father was in residence refused to allow Swinburne to stay. A witness who was there at the time remembered Swinburne’s high-pitched voice and the feverish way he carried on. Instead, George took Swinburne to Aberystwyth, and they stayed at the Queens Hotel Aberystwyth. During his stay he and George behaved in an ungentlemanly manner, halloaing on the beach on their horses and shouting unrepeatable things to the girls in town. They all drank in all the lowest Inns in Aberystwyth which annoyed the Colonel when he heard about it, it was not the way for a ‘Powell’ to behave.
Further misbehaviour with Swinburne took place in Normandy in his cottage Chaumiere Dolmance, Etretat, including eating monkey and cavorting with Sailors. In a letter written from the cottage in December 1868, George writes to Swinburne ‘The latest news of a certain Col. P are that is twice as fat, as before, heavy even to stupidity, always absent in mind, and just gone to Nice’.
In 1871, George tried to establish a Free Library and Art Gallery in Aberystwyth to donate his books and paintings. After many meetings and debates, the idea was dropped, much to George’s disappointment. In 1874, a smaller scale library was eventually established in Pier Street Aberystwyth with 1,500 books, which most of the books donated were from George Powell’s own private collection.
In 2015 some of George Powell's collections were part of an exhibition ‘Queer Taste’ held at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Giving people a glimpse of his interesting but short life, below is a few photographs taken on the event.
George Powell carte de visites
A small selection of his collection at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, display for the George Powell Exhibition in 2015.
He had many carte de visite albums, cabinet cards given to him by people he had met through his travels. Many famous in their day, with many personally signed to George.
In amongst the cards are several cards of Nadars Giant Balloon dated 18 October 1863, in Paris the hot air balloon had made its maiden flight on the 4 October. George may have indeed been there in person to witness this historical event.
At Nanteos, George had a some of his collection in a cupboard, as this old label shows. It is quite a small closet so perhaps his most prized possessions were kept.
George the avid collector, have numerous autographed letters, including a letter of Byron and many others. He bound letters he received from Swinburne into a volume, which quite upset Swinburne.
George’s collections were of various themes, painting, music scores, rare objects, the list is endless.This includes the Nanteos Cup (The Holy Grail) made his first public appearance in an exhibition at University of Wales, St. David’s Lampeter. This was displayed in the Cambrian Archaeological Association Exhibition, held in 1876.
In the August of 1878, George became the head of the Nanteos Estate, with the death of his father in May 1878. After many years of traveling and living in Normandy, London and Fishguard. In August 1878, he made his way to Nanteos, his arrival at Aberystwyth Railway Station caused a great stir amongst the town folk, he received a hero’s welcome. Hundreds of people welcomed the new Lord of the Manor to Aberystwyth.
Who would have even thought, on that jubilant day that August, that George Powell would only live another four years? During the four years he became the High Sheriff of Cardiganshire, during the ceremony held at the church of St Mary’s in Cardigan, he caused himself great embarrassment when he tripped over his sword while coming out of his carriage.
He did not spend much time at Nanteos, in May1880, George married Dinah Harries in London. A girl he had meet in Goodwick, Fishguard, where he had a cottage.
St Matthew’s Oakley, Camden, London.
Marriage of G. E. J. Powell Esq.
The Aberystwith Observer 21st May 1881
‘The marriage of Mr G E J Powell, of Nanteos and 41, Mornington Crescent, Regents Park, London with Miss Harries of Goodwick, Fisguard was solemnized on Tuesday, of the 10th Inst., at St. Matthew’s Church, Oakley-Square not at St Pancras Church as has been sated. The Rev Charles Phillips, M.A., vicar of the parish – brother of the Rev Chancellor Phillips, vicar of the parish of Aberystwyth – was the officiating clergyman. Mr Charles Bevan acted as best man, and the bride was given away by Mr James Milo Griffith, Miss Williams, Miss Fanny Williams, and Miss Clara Williams were bridesmaids. Thus, all persons formally associated with the ceremony, which were unattended by any approach to display, were natives of Wales. The above and a few private friends partook of breakfast at Mornington Crescent, after which the happy couple proceeded to Tenbury, Worchester, for the honeymoon.’
On their return to Nanteos from their honeymoon, the tenants and tradesmen presented the happy couple with a richly illustrated certificate in a gold gilt frame, celebrating their marriage, together with an inscribed silver cruet-stand, which they proudly displayed in the library at Nanteos.
They spent a lot of time in their cottage, and he wrote much of his later poems from the beach. ‘Beach Cottage’ still stands and is lived in today. You can plainly see the beauty of the coast which he found inspiration in the early 1880’s.
Beach Cottage, Goodwick.
George Powell’s health had been deteriorating for quite some time. He suffered many bouts of illnesses. Sadly, at the age of only 40 years, on Tuesday October 17th, George Powell died at Nanteos, after an illness of only a few days. It is very curious that he died the very minute when the first chords of his concert would have sounded, in a performance that would have been held at Aberystwyth to fund raise for the Free Library in the town, which he was so much looking forward to attending.
Cambrian News and Welsh Gazette, October 20, 1882.
Death of G. E. J. Powell, Nanteos.
'On Tuesday evening last, October 17th (1882). Mr George Ernest John Powell died at Nanteos, after an illness of only a few days duration. He made an appointment to be in Aberystwyth on the Monday morning of last week to make arrangements for the concert which was to be held last Tuesday evening the aid of the funds of the free library in which he took a great deal of interest. It is a curious fact that Mr Powell’s death occurred at the very moment when the first chords of the concert had it been held, would have been sounded.
Mr Powell had an attack of illness about three weeks ago and recovered, but between three and four on Monday of last week he was seized by violent cramp, which continued until Tuesday last, when death supervened, Dr Gilbertson, Aberystwyth and Dr Burd, Shrewsbury, were the medical attendants.'
28 October 1882
Funeral of Mr. G. E. J. Powell – The funeral of Mr. G. E. J. Powell, Nanteos, took place on Tuesday, and, notwithstanding that the weather was most unpropitious, it was very largely attended. The deceased gentleman was very highly respected by all classes and his tenantry from the Nanteos and Tregaron Estates, to the number of between 300 and 400, were present, beside a very great gathering of the surrounding people from Aberystwyth and the neighbourhood. Clergymen and ministers of all denominations were also fully represented, The funeral cortege left Nanteos mansion shortly after eleven o’clock, a brief service having been first read by the Rev. John Pugh, and then procession was about half-a-mile in length. The deceased gentlemen was 41 years of age, Much sympathy is expressed with Mrs. Powell, and Mr. Powell’s death is felt by all to be a public loss.
George Powell is buried in St Pardarn Church in Llanbadarn Fawr.
His wife Dinah, who was only 18 years old on the death of her husband, emigrated to Illinois, America. She remarried in 1889 but continued to receive an annuity from the Nanteos estate, but at a reduced rate. She dies at the age of 89 in 1953.
Two months before George’s death he wrote a poem to his brother-in-law.
Lord, shed the calm of holy sleep,
Upon all tempests’ wars,
And spread this night above the deep,
Thy canopy of stars.
Let them that wander of the waves,
Feel thy protecting hand,
Draw them past ocean’s countless graves,
Safe to the longed-for land
Loadstone and beacon, Lord, be thou,
To them that weary roam,
Grant them a respite, Saviour, now,
And bring them to their home.
So shall their voices blend with ours,
And with loved voices rise,
To praise the King and years and hours,
The Lord of seas and skies.
Goodwick, August 31st, 1882