A lovely graphic of the seafront houses.
Archaeology extrapolates from tiny details, individual objects and features, to engage in holistic discussions of livelihoods, societies, technologies, communal ideas, beliefs and long term change. The constant shifting of thought and theory along a continuum from individual objects to generalizing overviews over time is not unique to archaeology, but is one of its defining features. Similarly, with the “twiddly bits” series micro-details have been put at centre stage, highlighting individual elements that by themselves say very little about the context in which they were created, but when assembled together have an awful lot to say about the personality of Aberdovey as a whole.
Having found that I had enough photographs for 70 different images of diverse Aberdovey details (and more, but I judged it time to stop), I discovered that they had coalesced into a comment on Aberdovey that is a real compliment to its inhabitants from at least the 18th Century to the present day. I am truly charmed and impressed by how much effort has been expended by individuals and institutions to give Aberdovey a really personal touch that encourages villagers to stay and newcomers to settle.
The term “twiddly bits” sounds, with hindsight, like a trivialization of all these little touches, but the series itself was intended to celebrate architects who built ornamental flourishes into buildings, businesses and institutions that added admirable public buildings and communal spaces to contribute to the identity of the village and, above all, those residents who added their own subtle decorative enhancements to homes and gardens to give Aberdovey warmth and character, and sometimes humour. Together, these embellishments represent a lot of love and care, and they make the difference between a generic, insubstantial tourist resort and what we actually have, which is a splendid, functioning village supported by its residents. These many tiny details are all the evidence one needs to state with confidence that residents invest both individual and collective pride in Aberdovey. This is not a flimsy, candyfloss, summer-only tourist resort, it is a solid, feet-on-the-ground community, which has an amazing amount going on in the winter. Aberdovey eclipses the image of an average seaside village precisely because so much personal investment has provided it with a very substantial, distinctive and utterly charming character.
I wrote all the above many weeks ago, and scheduled the post to go out at a future date, as I did with all the Twiddly Bits posts. Coronavirus was not even a blip on the monitor, and we were all looking forward to a busy Easter followed by a great summer season. My comments above seem to be even more pertinent, given how Aberdovey has pulled together and practised social distancing, whilst offering friendly support to neighbours. It’s an odd atmosphere, but the community remains a community. Second home owners have largely stayed away, and that’s a real kindness.
I have been asked to provide a “key” to the photographs by a couple of people, which I’ll produce shortly.
If anyone wants to walk and find these features, It might be something to do with older children? Like the teddy bears in windows, but a lot more challenging. I didn’t have any such thing in mind when I started the twiddly bits series, but if it would be helpful, it would be easy to convert the images into a document for printing off, with the key at the end. If anyone would like me to do so, please get in touch.
Each of these images represents a story, and it might be a fun community project to write the stories behind either some of these or other images that residents already have.
A great initiative from the Aberdyfi Butcher, shared from the Visit Aberdyfi Facebook page, with thanks:
ORDER AND COLLECT!
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Please SUPPORT LOCAL in these difficult times, but foremost TAKE CARE of yourselves and others
My usual exercise, not daily but a few times a week, is a simple circuit from where I live, wending my up to the top of Gwlefor Road, down onto the the main road and back up Balkan Hill. I do like to do a longer walk at least once a week, and yesterday I decided to walk down Copper Hill Street and see if the beach was busy. The line of diagonal parking places in front of the Snowdonia Information Centre was almost completely empty, something I have never seen before. In spite of the sun, the beach was incredibly windy and there was absolutely no-one there. As I went along the beach, reaching and turning back by the WWII pillbox, there were a four or five dog walkers and a couple who were clearly walking all the way to Tywyn, but it was eerie how empty it was on such a bright day. The warm wind was so strong that all my clothes were flapping, and on the walk back I was leaning in to the wind, pushing my way back along the sand. The dry sand was drifting in great tendrils a few inches across the beach, very beautiful. The strandline was dominated by huge numbers of rotting leaves, mainly oak and beech, with some ivy. At one point along the waterline the water was completely black as the leaves broke down in the water. There were a lot of dead jellyfish, probably a barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo). It seems early, as they are usually a summer phenomenon, but last year I found one in mid-February.
I thought that it might be fun to share some of my “use it up at all cost” experiments here, making use of just what happens to be in my fridge, freezer and/or store cupboard. Although I rarely plan ahead regarding food, for me the game right now is to try and make everything I have last as long as possible so that I don’t have to shop again any time soon. I’m not self-isolating but I have seriously bought into the social distancing message and the easiest way to reduce risk to everyone is minimize trips to supermarkets. This is going to be more of a challenge as time goes on, and my freezer empties and I over-use my potted herbs, but I am intending to enjoy that challenge.
The freezer part of my fridge-freezer is not really big enough for my needs, particularly as I have always had the habit of batch-cooking meals and freezing them for days when I don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen. It’s a matter of making sure that whenever I take something out and make a space, I cook something from items in the fridge to put back in the freezer, which is a good way of ensuring that fresh food is used and not thrown away.
For the first time in a fortnight, I was compelled to go food shopping for on Friday, sporting latex gloves and maintaining a rigid 2m distance from all other shoppers, and everyone seemed to be acting responsibly. I had been doing okay for meat and fish in the freezer but was very short of fresh veg and dairy, and there was plenty of both available.
As I already had some very old veg kicking round, just sad, random odds and ends that I needed to use up, my priority was to find ways of using those. For one thing I haveMaris Piper spuds that are sprouting terribly (even though I keep them cool and in the dark) because you can only buy them in huge packs and I don’t use them that often. Two rather superannuated leeks, a bit dry at the ends, and some just-starting-to-wrinkle mushrooms were still usable. A single courgette was perfect, but well past its sell-by date. If you are staring at some rather sad, must-be-used and apparently incompatible ingredients in your fridge, and wondering what on earth to do, you might try typing some of those ingredients into the BBC Food website’s search facility, an absolute mainstay of mine to find recipes that use up random ingredients: https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/search.
A curry seemed to be called for. So today’s extravaganza was an ersatz chicken curry, Patak’s Korma paste from a jar, which is such a cheat but is a very handy store cupboard ingredient. I messed around with it to make it a lot spicier, hotter and un-Korma like, and added Greek yogurt instead of coconut, which I detest. It could be done equally well with lamb, beef, pork, king prawns or mixed veg.
After tossing the chicken thighs in oil, browning, I added six cardamoms and seriously good amount of cumin to the pan, then the roughly diced onions, courgette, an elderly spud and and two stray mushrooms that I found, bewilderingly, in the salad draw. Courgette is a wonderful component, as it soaks up the flavours terrifically and has a lovely texture of its own. Usually I reduce the onions to a pulp prior to adding, but as I had the paste, and to make the meal go further, I diced them to use them as a veg rather than a base. There was a tiny thumb of dried ginger left over in the fridge, so that went in. I tossed it all together for a few minutes, and then added the korma paste and water. No fresh chillis, but the dried ones did the trick, and there was hot chilli sauce on standby. Half an hour before the end I tipped in a dollop of the yogurt and some leftover baby spinach leaves.
In spite of the lack of fresh coriander, the result of all this somewhat arbitrary activity was really rather delish, with a good squeeze of lemon juice over the curry, and all served with a dollop of divinely creamy Greek-style yogurt (from a producer in North Wales, Llaeth Y llan) mixed with mint and finely diced cucumber, a sort of Greek-Welsh raitha. The Spar in Tywyn is usually a very good source of mint and other fresh herbs, not sure how they are coping at the moment. The whole thing was incredibly faux, but I seriously enjoyed it. By having used the extra odds and ends of leftover geriatric veg to fill out the chicken, I have enough for another meal.
Saturday was my birthday, and I usually celebrate by going out to dinner, but under current conditions the best of the remaining options was to stay put, so I treated myself to a roast, which is not usually a one-person meal. I had a rack of lamb in the freezer, mint growing in a pot in the garden (spectacularly early for its height and spread, but full of flavour), an ancient spud for roasting, a leek, leeks being obligatory as an accompaniment to lamb in my book, a pack of slightly yellowing tender stem broccoli (it is quite new but doesn’t last well in the fridge), two Chantenay carrots, halved (which do last brilliantly in the fridge but were distinctly on the edge), an old spud for roasting, and some lamb stock from the freezer.
The briefly pan-fried lamb was provided with a crust (whizzed-up fresh and panko breadcrumbs, lemon zest, anchovy, parsley, rosemary, a clove of garlic and capers), stuck on to the lamb with Dijon mustard. When I run out of lemons, I am going to try replacing lemon zest with sumac, a dried and ground berry from the Mediterranean that has a strong citrus hit and is great on salad and chicken.
The mint and caper sauce, with a dollop of wholegrain mustard was swiftly compiled, and the lamb was roasted in a medium oven for 20 minutes, emerging pink in the middle. The home made lamb gravy came out of the freezer, and I put in a sprig of rosemary for extra flavour.
There was plenty of lamb left over for another day, and I made too much mint sauce so froze the rest down. It freezes really well as a back-up for when fresh mint is unavailable. The lamb bones also went into the freezer, for making stock when I have enough other ingredients.
Whilst the lamb was cooking I boiled up the rest of my ancient spuds, mashed them with butter, milk, home-grown chives and parsley, and batch-froze them. Then I simmered and peeled some ageing and squidgy tomatoes, mushed them in the food processor and put them in the freezer to use as a base for Mediterranean sauces.
Basically, I spent most of my birthday cooking :-). I haven’t done that for a long time, and it was terrific fun. A very Happy Birthday to me!
Chicken bamya; although a vegetarian version with aubergine, courgette and potato chunks, hard boiled eggs and mild chillis is also good. I had two filleted chicken thighs that I needed to use up so did a meal that I usually do with lamb, which I first fell in love with in Egypt and, when I returned, re-invented for myself. It should be marinated overnight, but the chicken needed using so it only had a couple of hours. It still tasted great. The great advantage of it is that it is peasant cooking, one-pot and easy, superb done in the slow cooker. Bamya means okra/bhindi, but a common substitute is green beans. As it happens, I had some frozen Turkish okra in the freezer, but when they are gone they are gone, because my father buys them for me from a specialist shop near where he lives. Ditto for the last mild green giant Turkish chilli that went in. The spices, a harissa mix and a ras al-hanout mix are all usually available in supermarkets, and I cannot imagine that there’s a rush on them even at the moment.
The chicken thighs are browned whole and then added to a baking dish or the slow cooker. Onion, garlic and chillis are diced and cooked in oil until translucent, when the spices are added. After a few minutes, whizzed-up or finely-chopped skinned tomatoes are added to the pan. These are heated for a few minutes to allow the flavours to merge, and then join the chicken. A crushed ginger cube to stand in for fresh ginger (fabulous, from the frozen section in Morrison’s if you ever get to one) was also stirred in. The additions of dried limes and preserved lemons are just a matter of taste, but if I leave them out I wouldn’t dream of eating this without a big squeeze of lemon juice over the whole thing. The okra, fresh or frozen, go in just 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Fresh okra should be topped and tailed. If using green beans instead, they need about an hour.
Great served with couscous (I buy Ainsley Harriot packs that take just a couple of minutes to cook), plain white rice or a Greek type salad with lots of mint. I like coriander sprinkled over the top of the bamya too, but it’s not everyone’s taste, and mint is a good substitute with this dish. A topping of dukkah or pine nuts provides some additional texture. My addiction to Greek yogurt means that a dollop that always goes well, but if I have mint and cucumber I always take the time to make a raitha/tzatziki. I only ate half of it, so put the rest in the freezer
I dined on part 2 of Friday’s fun curry, served simply with rice and the rest of the mint and cucumber raitha (finely chopped mint and cucumber in good Greek yogurt). As there was rather less than half of the curry left over, I hard-boiled an egg, halved it, and heated that up in the curry. A hard-boiled egg in a curry is always a knock-out and is great for making up volume, as are green beans, courgettes, potatoes and, of course, okra if you can ever get hold of them. The spinach had melted into the sauce, imparting its deep flavour, and everything else had survived perfectly. The flavours had matured, and it was just as good as, if not better than, Friday’s original.
Lovely to have wild garlic at the moment, and it can be used for all sorts of things. It is excellent in soups and stews, can be used wherever you use spinach, and is excellent made into a pesto, just like basil, which can be stored in the fridge or freezer. I grow it in a pot, because it can take over your garden like a small army. Tossed into good quality pasta (mine was Famiglia Rana mushroom and mascarpone tortellini, originally bought some time ago from the Aberdyfi Village Stores and lobbed in the freezer), I had it with some finely chopped very crispy bacon on top, just one rasher, and parmesan grated over the top (another item that lasts well in the fridge). On the side I had a small tomato, wild garlic and onion salad, with a sprinkling of capers over the top. It was all so simple but seriously hit the spot.
On Wednesday I felt like something dead simple, very British, very understated. Sausages, eggs, bacon and a few mushrooms, with a huge dollop of German medium-strength mustard. A special edge was that the sausages were pork and Welsh laverbread, from the Aberdovey butcher, an absolute favourite of mine. They are long, very slender sausages, so it’s important not to over-cook them. Happiness on a plate.
Soup. Big soup. Avgolemono, which in Greek means egg-lemon, is surprisingly filling, and I always struggle to get through a bowl of it, even though I serve it as a meal on its own and is a lifetime favourite. It is made with good quality chicken stock. I used one from the freezer that I had made from a leftover roast chicken carcass, but the usual way of doing it is to poach fresh chicken. The other key ingredients, if you base this on one serving, are three tablespoons of lemon juice, an egg, loads of parsley and (the element that makes it a main meal), a handful of rice. Rick Stein chops poached chicken into his, but I prefer it without.
The rice is cooked in the stock, with a lid, until ready. Whilst the rice is cooking, the lemon juice and egg are whisked together with a hint of cayenne, a little salt and a pinch of sugar to balance the lemon. I usually do this with just the yolks, but I noticed that Rick Stein does it with the whole egg and a bit of butter, so I tried it and it worked well, thickening the soup more efficiently. The trick with this dish is to add spoonfuls of the hot stock to the room temperature egg and lemon mix, stir it well, repeat, stir well and repeat until the egg and lemon is warmed through and won’t separate. Then pour the whole lot back into the stock and rice pan and heat very gently with the chopped parsley, being careful not to bubble it, or it will separate. It is so easy to make, has been a favourite of mine forever, and it hit the spot today after a day bullying the garden into shape.
The lemons are running out fast!
I cheated. I had spent the afternoon scraping moss off my garage driveway with a trowel, and I seriously didn’t have the energy to cook anything. Averdovey fish and chips would have been my go-to solution. Instead I cheated in a different way. In my freezer was half a sizeable beef and ale pie. I married that with a rich beef gravy and, because it was irresistible, a simple side order of baked beans and HP sauce. Bliss. There is something very decadent about baked beans, and I always eat them with a mixture of pleasure and guilt. Guilty pleasures are often the best. An infrequent but much loved treat.
A more than averagely British week on the cooking front. Normally my cooking is dominated by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, but from a purchasing point of view, the excellent fresh veg available the week before last, and the need to select stuff that would last in the fridge, suggested that traditional British fare would be best, and I think that my curry comes into that category as I cannot see a native of India recognizing it as remotely related to the real thing. It has made a surprising and pleasant change. Thinking about the week, having changed overnight from an ad-hoc whenever-I-need-to shopper to a once-a-fortnight-except-in-emergencies shopper, I have come to the following conclusions.
- Thank goodness for a freezer that, small as it is, resembles a Tardis. Doing an inventory of everything that it contained was essential to forward planning and matching freezer contents against fridge and cupboard contents. Amazing the items I found stuffed into the very back.
- I ended up eating or cooking (for the freezer) a lot of chicken because I had put a whole pack of six thighs into the freezer instead of splitting them into separate bags. I have nothing against eating a lot of chicken, but it would have been a lot less hassle to be able to take out just what I wanted to use.
- Tender stem broccoli does not keep well in the fridge, cauliflower and mushrooms are a lot better, but leeks, pointy cabbage, baby carrots and onions are the real keepers
- With one-pot meals like stews, casseroles, curries and pies, cooking more than you need and freezing down the rest is great for saving time later on and ensures that fresh ingredients are used up.
- In an effort not to deplete supermarket shelves, I bought half my usual number of eggs (usually 12) and lemons (usually 8), and bought fewer other items too, which with hindsight was probably a mistake as there was no shortage of either in that particular store. Had I used common sense, I would probably have avoided the shops for another week.
- Worse, I left my shopping list at home, meaning that I forgot fresh ginger, chillis, potatoes, flour and spring onions, or substitutes. Aaargghh! My shopping list is more important than ever, and needs to be updated as soon as essential ingredients are used up.
- Pots of herbs rock. If the supermarkets are still selling them, just re-pot them into bigger pots to give them room to grow, and give them food and water, and you’ll have them for the entire summer if you treat them kindly.
- Life without bacon would/will be seriously difficult to negotiate 🙂 It’s inexpensive, great in its own right, and can be chopped up and chucked into so many things for additional flavour.
- The BBC food website search facility is wonderful for finding ideas for using up leftovers
As the title indicates, the emphasis in this post is on Tywyn. There are also some fascinating references to the insalubrious dominance of pigs in Aberdovey, which I really must investigate further. The ongoing thread of pig-based conflict in Tywyn, lasting several decades, amused me at first. But the more I read about it, the more I realized that this was a very serious problem, a conflict between individual household needs and the demands of larger scale economic progress. Householders with a single pig were trying to supplement income and provide themselves with additional security. Smallholders with more livestock were trying to make a living. Both were keeping down overheads by using pigs as a low-cost but highly productive solution to impoverished circumstances. At the the same time, at the other end of the economic scale the town’s authorities were attempting to attract visitors to Tywyn, to improve the well-being of the town as a whole, to improve standards of living for everyone. These goals, both of which were legitimate and intelligent, were in long-term conflict.
In volume 2 of Lewis Lloyd’s 1996 A Real Little Seaport, Appendix VIII (full reference below) the author reproduces miscellaneous newspaper and other reports relating to Aberdovey and Tywyn. I was looking for ship-related topics, but noticed that the subject of unruly pigs popped up repeatedly. This post reproduces those reports and letters, and adds several others found on the National Library of Wales website. The reports tell their own story. Another world, and I do wish I could have seen it! But perhaps I should be thankful that I did not have to inhale it :-).
The first story that I have found dates to 1854, and provides the title for this post.
Wandering Pigs in Tywyn
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, April 8 1854
TOWYN – The Pig Nuisance. The local board of health have at last resolved that a stop shall be put to the nuisance of pigs strolling about the streets. Every one found after April 5th will be placed in a pinfold, and a fine levied on the parties owning the same.
Lloyd comments (p.266): “Tywyn was by no means alone in this regard. Foraging appears appear to have offended visitors rather than residents. The remedy was quite effective when strictly enforced.”
The establishment of a fair in Tywyn may have exacerbated the problem of locally raised pigs
The pig situation certainly continued to deteriorate, as this animated and somewhat adversarial piece from 1870 demonstrates. The Chairman and the Surveyor seem to be anything but close friends 🙂
Practice of Killing Pigs on the Highway – Towyn and Aberdovey Local Board
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 10th December 1870
Practice of Killing Pigs on the Highway.—The Chairman: I have had complaints made to me about people killing pigs on the highway. —The Surveyor: They do kill them on the streets. The Chairman I know they do, and I was going to ask you. as surveyor, why you allow them?—The Surveyor: I don’t see them.—Mr Daniels, jun., said that the Board need not interfere, if harm was done to no one. — The Chairman said that the practice was one the Local Board had tried to stop at Aberdovey. Some time ago the Board would not allow pigs to be kept in Aberdovey. One member stated that he knew a man at Aberdovey who had turned the privy belonging to the house he occupied into a pigsty, and kept two pigs there. —The Surveyor: I didn’t know of it. —The Chairman: As surveyor, you are supposed to know by going round the place. Complaints are made to me repeatedly. —The Surveyor: Am I to go to every spot and corner in the place ? – The Chairman Of course; it is your duty. Pigs are springing up everywhere in Aberdovey, and they are kept in a most disgusting state. Some few years ago we would not allow pigs to be kept within some yards of a dwelling-house.— The Surveyor: Pigs have been very high lately. (Laughter.) Everybody that could would keep, one. – In the course of further discussion, the Chairman said he was in favour of building a public slaughter-house, to do away with the nuisance.—An allusion was then made to pigs having been killed on the highway by a member of the Board. – The Chairman said there had been complaints about it.—One member stated that the police knew of it, and blamed Mr Wm. Lloyd for killing his pigs in the street.—Mr Lloyd said he killed them upon his own premises in a passage.—The Chairman said the greater nuisance was caused by dressing the pigs in the street. -The Surveyor: They did it regularly before the Board was formed. (Laughter.)—The Chairman I should like to deal with this nuisance, but it is useless to talk about it.- Mr Daniel: Don’t break your heart, Mr Chairman.— The Chairman Oh no. But I really think that instead of getting better we shall get worse, as a Board of Health. —The subject then dropped.
The following two pieces from the same edition of the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard suggests that Aberdovey had become an even more chaotic local centre for pig-raising, possibly following the establishment of the market in Tywyn, and officials in Tywyn were seriously concerned that Tywyn could go the same way, and were urging that pigs should be kept to a minimum:
Suppressed Report – Filth in Aberdovey
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 17th May 1872
The prosperity of towns on the Welsh Coast depends on their attractiveness and freedom from unpleasant sights and smells, and therefore no more suicidal policy can be adopted than to save the rates by neglecting drainage and the removal of nuisances. Aberdovey is one of the poorest places on the Coast, and the Chairman of the Towyn Local Board said, at the last meeting, that Aberdovey was quite a pig-breeding establishment, in fact they ‘possessed as many pigs as inhabitants’. Everybody knows, of course, that where pigs abound visitors are scarce, and if Aberdovey refuses to get rid of its notoriety for pigs, and consequently for filth, it must be content to see Towyn, Barmouth, Borth, and Aberystwyth eclipse it in prosperity. This unfortunate apathy at Aberdovey is all the more to be regretted, as Aberdovey, on account of its natural advantages, might easily be made a favourite resort for invalids who need a mild and equable temperature. We are pleased to see that Towyn by prompt action and wise expenditure of public money may still retain its position as a healthy and pleasant watering place
Pigs taking possession of the back streets of Aberdovey
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 17th May 1872
The Chairman on Pigs – Application was made on behalf of Mr Pugh, ironmonger, Towyn, to make a pig-stye at the back of bis garden in High-street.—The Chairman I hope you will not get into the same condition at Towyn as Aberdovey is with regard to pigs. We have quite a pig- breeding establishment there In fact we have quite as many pigs as we have inhabitants. They (the pigs) have taken possession of the back streets, and perhaps they will have possession of the front streets shortly. They are constantly parading the back streets. (Laughter.) It is not the keeping of pigs that becomes a nuisance; it is on account of the disgracefully dirty state people allow them to remain in.-It was decided that, on account of the position of the proposed pig-stye, permission be not given for its erection.
Pigs and Other Nuisances
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 18th May 1883
Pigs and other Nuisances – The Clerk read a letter from the Local Government Board calling attention to paragraphs in the Medical Officer’s report on nuisances caused by the keeping of pigs and the accumulation of manure as in the vicinity of Red Lion-street.—Mr Kirkby thought that pigs should not be kept in a town, and proposed that no pig should be kept within 100 feet of a dwelling house. —The Clerk stated that sixty feet had been adopted at Dolgelley, and it had had the effect of driving nearly all the pigs out of the town. —The Chairman and other members thought that 100 feet was too far, and on the motion of Mr John Williams, seconded by Mr William Lloyd, sixty feet was agreed upon.
By the late 1880s, the pigs, now no longer roaming the streets and now unable to be kept less than 60ft from a dwelling, were a thriving business, but their owners weren’t happy at some of the changes to Tywyn’s sanitation measures.
Pigs in Tywyn
Cambrian News July 19th 1889
TOWYN. PUBLIC SPIRIT – The remarkable success of the movement in favour of pig keeping has infused much additional courage into the hearts of the demonstrators, who now demand full restitution of all ancient privileges, one of which is the right of taking water from the sewers. The means of access to the sewers for this purpose were closed some years ago . . . and on Tuesday evening, the 16th of July, one of the the leaders in the recent demonstration took the law into his own hands and broke into the sewers at the place where water used to be drawn when the rill running along the street was not covered.”
Another two years passed, apparently without incident, and then another article was featured in Cambrian News, complaining once again about the prevalence of pigs, an echo of the grumbles of 1854.
Visitors, Pigs and Tywyn’s Limitations as a Seaside Resort
Cambrian News. May 22nd, 1891
TOWYN. REGULAR VISITORS – Many of those who come yearly arrived with Whitsuntide on Saturday and Monday last. Some expressed their surprise on the little change that has taken place since this time last year. There is the broad esplanade, handsome in its loneliness, not a single additional house overlooking it. The remnant of the old pier stand still to remind people of the transient and illusory start which Towyn made some years ago. But the pigs remain and their unwholesome stench greets the nostrils of the visitors at all the entrances to and at many places in the town. It may be that beings which long ago rushed the swine to the lake of Gennesaret will oblige Towyn in the same way. It does not appear that this nuisance will be got rid of by the action of earthy authorities now in existence, therefore let us pray for assistance from another region.
You just have to love the Biblical reference and its accompanying optimism. It’s actually a rather sad story for pig enthusiasts. The Miracle of the Swine was, according to the New Testament, a miracle performed by Jesus. Jesus exorcised demons from a man, which were then transferred into a herd of swine. All of the animals in the herd launched themselves into the lake to drown themselves, thereby eliminating the demons. I am not entirely convinced that the artist who painted the scene in the Hitda Codex, above, had ever actually seen a pig.
Only a few days later, more was to follow (which is to say pig complaints, not exorcisms).
Nuisances at Tywyn: Chimney Firing and Pigs
Cambrian News, May 29th 1891.
TOWYN. NUISANCES – The police, with commendable zeal are dealing successfully and most impartially with the nuisance of chimney firing and there is a fair prospect that this remnant of Welsh savagery . . . will be stamped out in the near future. Is it not possible to have other nuisances as objectionable and dangerous dealt with in the same drastic manner? There is something hideous in the very though of the winds wafting the odours of foul piggeries even to the site of a town that is to be distinguished for cleanliness and sweetness. Some strong firm hand is required to deal in a prompt and determined manner with these pet nuisances.
Lewis Lloyd speculates that the complainant must be a newcomer, because any local would have been accustomed to the idea that “the family pig remained an essential part of the domestic economy of the domestic economy of the people at large,” and that “vagrant odours” were part of local life (p.364).
1891 continued to be a big year for pig debates, as the following lengthy heartfelt and anxious piece demonstrates so clearly:
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 3rd July 1891
The removal of pigs is one of the consequences of the growth and progress of a watering place. For years the pig question agitated Aberystwyth, and all sorts of reasons were advanced why pigs should be allowed to thrive in that town. They are not yet quite extinct, but the distance regulation makes it difficult to keep them, and with the exception of a few privileged per- sons nobody now keeps pigs in the town of Aberystwyth. Barmouth, again, has tried to reconcile pigs and visitors, but the attempt has failed, and the Barmouth pig is doomed, although after the manner of his kind he may die slowly and amid much noise. At the last meeting of the Towyn Local Board the pig-keepers of that town presented a. memorial in favour of erecting a piggery somewhere in the district where pigs °°could be kept without being a nuisance to visitors and without detracting from the sanitary condition of the town. The Towyn memorialists were very moderate in their representations, but we appeal to them whether it is not a fact that more than half the value of a pig depends on power to keep it quite close to the dwe ling so that, so to speak, it is almost one of the family. A pig kept at a piggery away from the town would cost more in time and labour than it would be worth. We fear the Towyn pig-keepers, who sent their modestly-worded memorial to the Local Board, are ingenious individuals who only seek to gain time and have no real intention of getting rid of their pigs until they are fat, and will then start young ones on whose behalf the same plea for time will be put in. Look at the Penyparke pig. He is still to the fore. He has survived all sorts of attacks and still grunts contentedly within a few feet of his owner’s front door. What could be more satisfactory than the following extract from the Towyn pig-keeper’s memorial. “We are all wishful that all nuisances should be abated and that our rising little town should be made as sanitary as any in the Kingdom.” This is a beautiful sentiment, but how can practical effect be given to it if all the Towyn pigs are to be allowed to live until they grow fat? The people of Towyn must choose between pigs and visitors. Visitors come from towns where pigs are not kept and where nuisances are removed, not abated. What a long and weary struggle has had to be waged against pigs, cesspools, rubbish heaps, and t5 other nuisances, and the struggle is not yet over. There are always memorialists who honestly believe that pigs are not a nuisance, just as there are always people who see no harm in dirty water, defective drains, accumulated filth, and other health destroyers. The time has gone by when advocates of municipal cleanliness can be hooted through the town, but there are scores of people who would not abstain from keeping a pig, which costs them half-a-crown a pound, to en- sure the permanent success of their town as a summer resort. We trust the members of the Towyn Local Board will be strong. However long the removal of pigs is delayed somebody will always plead for a little more delay. Let the law take its course, and Towyn will never have cause to regret its firmness. Not only must pigs be got rid of, but the inhabitants of watering places in this district must pay attention to order and beauty. Visitors like to see prettiness and order, and both public bodies and private residents should I aim steadily at getting rid of that raggedness and disorder which are so characteristic of some towns of considerable pretensions.
The Pig War
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 26th June 1891
TOWYN. THE PIG WAR—The notices served on the Local Board of Health to have some obnoxious pigstyes removed have created intense excitement among the pig- keeping fraternity. Some men of no mean intellectual attainments, defend the practice of keeping pigs near dwelling-houses in a manner which savours of a hundred years ago. This does not augur well for Towyn-on-Sea.
The Pig Warfare
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 18th November 1891
THE PIG WARFARE. The recent decision of the Local Board to prohibit the keeping of pigs within certain distances of dwelling houses at Towyn has caused quite a furor among a section of the inhabitants, but as the resolution was passed unanimously, with one exception, at a meeting at which all the members were present, it is probable that no more wavering and laxity will be shown.
I was seriously amused by the following insight into a measure of how times had changed in Tywyn. At the beginning of this post I started with a story about pigs roaming the streets. This paragraph in the of December 1991 refers to a time which such things were indications of a distant past.
Since the days pigs dwelt unmolested on the Streets
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 11th December 1891
THE WEATHER.—Such weather, such continuous rains, such consequent mud on streets and roads, such complaints of cold and rheumatism, such general inertia and grumbling, and that so near Christmas have not existed, it is believed, since the days pigs, cattle and ducks dwelt unmolested on the streets of Towyn
This is a lovely report of a hearing at the Petty Sessions in November 1898, abbreviated with several references to laughter from the assembled company. It is an absolute treat:
Pigstyes and Prayers
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and North and South Wales Independent, 11th November 1898
PIGSTYES AND PRAYERS. — At the petty sessions on Friday, Robert Edwards1, of Vanegryn, was summoned in respect of a nuance caused! by a pig stye. The Clerk: Have you received the notice to abate the nuisance ? — The Defendant: Possibly (laughter).—The Inspector and Medical Officer said the stench was exceedingly annoying to the members of the chapel over the way.—The defendant said he had led the singing for 25 years and never realised any unpleasant odour from the stye, which, to his mind, was superior to many houses, in Dolgelley, the county town.—He cleaned the stye every morning, in fact. as often as he said’ his prayers (laughter).—A member of the Bench suggested that he did not say his prayers often (laughter).—An order to abate the nuisance was made, with costs amounting to 12s, against the defendant.
It is a truly interesting insight into the area’s past that pigs were such a fundamental part of the local economy, and that they were deemed to be counter to the interests of the development of the tourist industry in both Tywyn and Aberdovey. Whether people were for them or against them, they were important to individuals and smallholders as supplements to their incomes, an extension of the concept of the cottage industry. It is easy to understand why pigs were favoured over any other livestock, in spite of the fact that they do not produce milk for human consumption. For one thing, they gave birth to large litters, meaning that they were less expensive to purchase and could be used for breeding. Most importantly, they converted just about anything edible into meat, and were the mobile dustbins of many communities well back into prehistory. This made them almost cost-free to feed and raise. Pig manure could be used as an excellent source of nutrients for soil, if composted first. A pig could be sold for meat or slaughtered by its owner for consumption. In either case, it was an excellent source not only of fresh meat and fat, but of cured or smoked products that would last for a considerable time and could be eked out in times of hardship. Unfortunately, pig-keeping was in direct conflict with other economic demands. If Tywyn was to establish itself as a desirable destination and develop as a tourist resort, pig-keeping had to be moved out of the town itself, and confined to a respectable distance. This was not always easy to implement, but the necessary steps were taken, and the town did develop a successful tourist industry.
I will leave the last word with a Tywyn correspondent who expressed himself in a rather embittered piece entitled Towyn Characteristics (The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 13th June 1890):
As it was in the beginning it is now, and ever will be, pigs, smoke and talk.
The National Library of Wales website (a fabulous resource):
Lloyd, L. 1996. A Real Little Seaport. The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496 (Appendix VIII- Miscellaneous newspaper and other reports relating to the Harbour, town and Townspeople of Aberdyfi, to the Town and Parish of Tywyn generally, and to other relevant matters, 1823-1920)