Vintage Postcards #25: Two-masted schooners at Aberdovey wharf

Two lovely postcards showing sailing vessels at Aberdovey, moored against the wharf.  I have no information about either.  The names of the vessels are not visible and there is no information on the postcards themselves, not even a postcard manufacturer name.  As to a date, the postcards post-date the building of the wharf and jetty in 1885.  In spite of the lack of additional information, I love them.  They are incredibly evocative of 19th Century and early 20th Century Aberdovey, when the village was an important trans-shipping port for for exports and imports.  The symbiotic relationship between Welsh sailing ships and the growing network of railway lines, the juxtaposition of old and new, was all about using the best possible solutions for the growth of trade and communication both within Britain and across the Atlantic.

Both postcards were unused, and apart from the fact that they were printed in Saxony, there are no further details.

Photographs today of Tal y Llyn, Llanuwchllyn and Bala

On my travels today I was lucky enough to see some remarkable weather.  Things started out with a sky so blue and a sun so yellow that the colours seemed almost fantasy-land.  The grass was white-topped and scrunched under foot when I left the house, and the air was so cold that it froze my breath.   It was a challenge, after turning right at Bryncrug and heading towards Tal y Llyn, to keep my eyes on the road, because the scenery was so glorious as it emerged from its icy white lace.  Tal y Llyn itself was simply spectacular, mirroring the sun-lit south-facing slopes in a near-perfect reflection.  At this time of year the contrast between sunny colours and black shadows is dramatic.

Tal y Llyn

As I approached Llanuwchllyn, which sits at the foot of Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) and according to the Visit Bala website means “Church at the top of the lake,” there were fascinating horizontal bands of cloud sitting above the ground and beneath the hilltops.  On the south-facing slopes these were against bright hillside colours and blue skies.  On the north-facing slopes they sat above trees and fields still spiked with frost, the sun so bright that the sky seemed silver against the darkness of the hills.  My lovely Canon digital SLR (known for reasons lost in the mists of time as Josephine The Second) turned out to be impossible to get to in a hurry, so I used the little Sony that I keep in my handbag.  It struggled desperately with some of the lighting conditions, but I have posted the photos anyway because they do capture something of the magic.

 

 

These strands of white mist presaged, to my surprise and dismay, a tediously dreary fog.  Ahead of me a car was just a ghostly shape, and beyond that any other vehicles were a mere suggestion.  The lake was invisible.  I had been expecting to stop and take photographs of another beautiful mirror image, another spectacular vista, but beyond the road that runs along its north bank there was nothing but a dense veil of unvarying, damp, impenetrable murk.  In the picture below, where I pulled the car over, I am standing at the water’s edge.  Normally the lake would stretch out as far as the eye can see, contained within a sloping valley, very beautiful.  Today even the seagull floating only a few feet away from me was seriously blurred and ill-defined.

When I quite suddenly re-emerged into the sunshine, the impact was rather like stepping off an air-conditioned plane onto the top of the mobile steps in a very hot country – a moment of pure sensation and a blissful sense of mild disorientation and very pleasurable surprise.

Another fabulous Aberdovey sunset tonight

Following a stunning day of sunshine and blue skies after a crisp, scrunching frost, another outstanding Aberdovey sunset.  Life is head-spinningly hectic at the moment, so it is great to take a peaceful step back, to enjoy the scenery and be a little mellow.  Again, no filters applied, no Photoshop employed.  A true miracle of nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

19th Century John Thomas photograph of cargo vessels at the wharf, Aberdovey

Thanks very much to the Visit Aberdovey Facebook page for posting this photograph of Aberdovey in the final years of sail.  It is in the National Library of Wales archives, where it is listed as “The landing stage, Aberdyfi.” It is thought to date to about 1885 and was taken by Ceredigion-born John Thomas (1838-1905).

The landing stage, Aberdyfi. Source: National Library of Wales (used under terms of licence)

The schooner nearest to the camera is called Adventure.  She is not mentioned in Lewis Lloyd’s book so she was probably not built at Aberdovey but, like the Ellen Beatrice, discussed on a previous post, was probably a coaster that visited various ports on the Welsh coast.  The Crew List website lists over 40 vessels named Adventure between 1857 and 1940, but none of those clustering around the mid to late 19th Century seem to fit the bill.  I’ll continue to look into it, and update the post when I have more information.

All three vessels are beached on the sand at low tide.  If you click on the image to enlarge it and look behind the ships and you can see the rails that ran along the wharf, with some trucks in situ, with a man sitting on one at far left of the shot, and a linkage between the truck and Adventure.   There is a mobile gantry next to the trucks, which would have been shifted along the tracks to assist with the loading and unloading of ships.  I haven’t seen the gantry in other photographs.  Beyond the trucks are what appear to be sails drying.  On the whole, this wonderful photograph poses more questions than it answers.

The People’s Collection Wales website has the following details about Thomas:

John Thomas, excerpted from a group photograph. Source: Wikipedia (from National Library of Wales, where the entire group photograph is shown)

Born in Cellan, Ceredigion in 1838, John Thomas was the son of labourer David Thomas and his wife Jane. Following his education in Cellan, first as a pupil and then a pupil-teacher, Thomas began an apprenticeship at a tailor shop in Lampeter. In 1853 he moved to Liverpool to work in a draper but was forced to leave after ten years to find work in the open air due to ill health. It was due to this that he began work as a traveller for a firm dealing in writing materials and photographs of famous people. Small photographs of celebrities, known as ‘carte-de-visite’ photographs, were extremely popular at that time and made for a very lucrative business.

But, during his travels, John Thomas noticed that there was a lack of photographs of Welsh celebrities. This was inspiration enough for a new business and so, having learnt the rudiments of photography, he began taking photographs of famous Welsh people. He began by asking well-known preachers to sit for their portraits.

His venture was a success and in 1867 he established his own photographic business, The Cambrian Gallery. Travelling the length and breadth of Wales, he photographed celebrities, ‘characters’, chapels, churches, homes and buildings and landscapes, though he remained based in Liverpool throughout his career. Undertaking photography of this style, and on such a scale, was not an easy task. Photographic techniques remained rudimentary for the purposes of external photography, and travel was not easy at this time.  Despite this, John Thomas succeeded in capturing individuals, landscapes and buildings in every corner of Wales during his thirty-year career. The worth of his vast collection was great. He realised its importance and chose some 3,000 glass plates which he sold to O. M. Edwards for a very reasonable price. Thomas had worked for O. M. for many years, supplying him with images for the magazine Cymru and his images would continue to illustrate the magazine even after his retirement.

John Thomas died in October 1905. The negatives bought by O. M. Edwards now form part of the photographic collection of The National Library of Wales and are an important contribution to People’s Collection Wales.

Truly fascinating.  Later this year I hope to post more of his photographs of Aberdovey here, with accompanying information when I can find it.

Aberdovey Twiddly Bits #1

Aberdovey has oodles of character, most of it in plain sight, but there are also some rather nice smaller details, from old to modern, which give Aberdovey an extra layer of personality.  Some of these were integrated into the original design of buildings and gardens in the village, whereas others are later additions by local residents and businesses, small flourishes that provide Aberdovey with addition charm.  I have been collecting these small details in the form of photographs for the last year, and thought that they would provide an interesting contrast to the more holistic views of the village shown in the vintage postcards that I have been posting recently.    All photographs are my own.

In completely random order, and in batches of seven, I have divided them into a series of 10 posts entitled Aberdovey Twiddly Bits.  See if you can figure out where they are.  Some are well known, like the wonderful character above, and many are easy to find, but others are less obvious, in hidden corners or out of the normal line of sight.  Some are high up, others are  camouflaged by surrounding features.  Some of them I saw out of the corner of my eye, completely unexpected.  None of the photographs involved intruding on people’s private space.  All were taken from roads and public footpaths, and none of them show interiors.

Several of the features shown in the photographs are something of a mystery.  The gorgeous and beautifully crafted dragon roof filial at the top of this post, for example, is a puzzle to everyone including Hugh M. Lewis who lived here all his life.  And if anyone can tell me the story behind the super dalmation dog in the first photo below, and the corresponding  meaning of DMM I would be most grateful!

 

Vintage Postcards #24: The 1894 school on Pen Y Bryn

The school on Pen Y Bryn prior to the posting date of 1909

The former school in around 1977, minus many original features

I was puzzled when I saw this building in other photographs of the village, because it looked to me like a Nonconformist chapel, but I had no recollection of seeing it.  Local residents Dai and Helen Williams told me that it was once a school and has now been converted to apartments.  I vaguely recalled that in my general reading about chapels, there had been a small chapel on the side of Pen Y Bryn, the small hill with the folly on top, and that this was converted to or replaced by a school.

Aberdovey in the late 1880s/early 1890s, from the book Round The Coast

Sure enough, Hugh M. Lewis (who attended the school) says that the school replaced a small Congregational Chapel called Capel Bach (Low Chapel) that had been built on the site in 1845. In the photograph to the right it is shown overlooking the sea at the very far right of the scene.  The photograph, from the book Round the Coast, is described on an earlier post.  The chapel was abandoned when the Congregationalists built a bigger chapel on the seafront, on Glandyfi Terrace, opposite today’s Information Centre, where it still stands (you can read about the Congregationalist buildings in Aberdovey on an earlier post).

Lewis says that the old chapel was knocked down in order to erect a purpose-built school that cost £600.00 and opened in January 1894 with 102 pupils.  The building is rendered today, but was presumably built of local stone, and has brick features around the windows.  The bell at the front of the school was used to call children to attend, in the same way that church bells call congregations to worship.  Playgrounds were segregated, one for girls and one for boys.  This was not the first school in the village, and I’ll talk about education, which was influenced by religious interests, on a future post.  I love the washing hanging on the line in the foreground – not a usual feature of picture postcards these day, unless you happen to be in Venice.

Other buildings of note are also shown in the photograph, all covered on earlier posts.  At the far left is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, and in the middle of the photograph, now Dovey Marine, the roof of Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in the middle of Chapel Square is just visible.  In the background, the tower of St Peter’s Church is clearly visible, and just beyond and set above it, the Calvinist Tabernacl dominates.

I realized that it had to be somewhere near the footpath from Chapel Square up to Pen-Y-Bryn, and when I walked up there, it turns out that one side sits along the footpath.  The photographs above were taken from the footpath and from Pen-Y-Bryn.

The card is by Sir Evelyn Wrench’s early postcard company (about whom more on an earlier post).  Wrench had been out of business for five years when this postcard was posted in 1909 from Aberdovey to an address in the village of Bawdeswell near East Dereham, Norfolk.  This says a lot about the dangers of using postmarks to date photographs on postcards!

Main Source:

Hugh M. Lewis.  Aberdyfi Portrait of a Village.