One of the oldest 19th Century buildings remaining in Aberdovey, resembling earlier 18th Century vernacular architecture, is the lovely little row of homes now known as Penhelig Lodge, on the left after you pass the Penhelig Arms public house and walk under the railway bridge on the way out of Aberdovey towards Machynlleth (grid reference SN6211696171). It all looks to be in excellent condition, much-loved, and has been grade 2 listed since 1994 (Cadw 14963).
Engravings of Penhelig Lodge survive dating to around 1837, some twenty five years years before the coming of the railway, which transformed both the appearance and the economy of Aberdovey and Penhelig. Hugh M. Lewis says that it was originally fisherman’s cottages. When it was built it comprised three terraced houses. The engravings show a low, long two storey building with four chimneys, the lower storey protruding out onto the very edge of the road itself. Made of local stone with a slate roof, It is thought that the three small windows retained in the central terrace were the original design, the middle one set immediately over the front door, whereas the more obviously Georgian taller sash windows in the flanking homes that reach into the eaves were later 19th Century replacements. There appear to have been three of these taller windows on the left hand building (no.1), but the central one was bricked up at some time in the past, perhaps to avoid the 1696-1851 window tax. No.3, at the right end only ever seems to have had two. Looking at the 1837 engraving, there is a clear delineation between no.2 and no.3, perhaps suggesting that no.3 was in fact a later addition and that the original building only consisted of the two homes. This needs checking against other engravings of this part of Penhelig, if there area any. At this time Aberdovey and Penhelig were closely related but still maintained their own identities. The three terraced houses overlooked a sloping beach that became a shipyard. The beach came right up to the road, which was only changed when work on the railway began in the early 1860s.
In 1844 the leader of the local branch of Plymouth Brethren, Dr John Pughe (Ioan ap Hu Feddyg), came to stay in the terrace, convenient for assembling in their chapel on the beach, the former bath house, which in turn became the Aberdyfi Literary Institute in 1882. I’ll add more about Dr John Pughe when I have found out more about him.
The arrival of the railway in the late 1850s and early 1860s, eventually opening fully in 1867, cut Penhelig Lodge off from the beach and the shipyard that operated there, inserting a raised railway embankment between the road and the beach. On the other side of the railway a new set of houses began to be built in 1860 on part of the shipyard and using quarrying refuse from the tunnelling for the railway as a base. This new row of houses is now known as Penhelig Terrace and the shipbuilding yard became a ship repair yard instead, a common fate for shipbuilding premises from the early 1850s onwards, as steam took over from sail and rail took over from shipping. If you click on the photograph and look at Penhelig Lodge, you can see that the upper storey of Penhelig Lodge has had half-timbering applied to the outside walls, giving it a mock Tudor appearance, presumably to make it look older than it actually is. If you look at the railway tracks, you will not that there is no station here at this stage. Penhelig station was only added in 1933.
In 1882 the terrace became an exclusive boarding school for young ladies, set up and run by Mrs Sarah Scott. In his booklet Pages of Time Hugh M. Lewis quotes its mission statement, which says that its aim was to “impart sufficient culture, etiquette and deportment to the public to enable them to assume their proper places in society.” Presumably in such a remote area its emphasis there was little opportunity to but these skills into practice locally. The school apparently endured for two decades and there is a memorial to Mrs Scott in St Peter’s Church. I will add a photograph of this when I have had chance to visit the church.
In the early 20th Century it became the lodge for Plas Penhelyg (Penhelig House), built in 1903-6, and was occupied by the head coachman and head gardner. Thanks to Dai and Helen Williams for telling me that Plas Penhelyg used to be a hotel but is now in private ownership. This photograph shows it in the early 20th Century with the half-timbering still in place. The extension to no.1 was already added in the above 1837 engraving, but appears to have had a prominent bay window added, which survives today.
Today 1, 2 and 3 Penhelig Lodge has been restored to three terraced houses. It is lucky to have maintained much of its original appearance, although as discussed above the windows have clearly been altered over the years. In at least one of the houses, no.3 Penhelig Lodge, the room used today as a kitchen has natural bedrock exposed as part of the rear wall of the building.
The Coflein website describes its current appearance as follows:
The terrace is two storeys, with a band course between floors and a slate roof with 4 small rendered chimneys. The left house has two windows with small-pane sashes set at the eaves. The central house has, on the first floor, three 9-pane hornless sash windows; and a central doorway flanked by small-pane sash windows. The right house has two windows with first floor small-pane sashes set at eaves; the ground floor has 2 tripartite casement windows to the front. To rear of the left house, there is an extension with a gabled half-timbered oriel window.
Horns, if you are unfamiliar with the term, are the bits of wood that extend down from the top piece of many two-part Georgian sash windows.
It bears a remarkable resemblance to Yr Ysgwrn, farmhouse and home to Welsh poet Hedd Wyn (the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey), a mile to the east of Trawsfynydd. It is now owned by the Snowdonia National Park and preserves the interior as a museum. You can see a photograph here.
An advert for the sale of 3 Penhelig Lodge on 15th November 2018 shows a view of the house and the interior with the exposed bedrock in the kitchen, which is absolutely superb.
If you know more about this building, wish to make corrections, or have photographs that you would not mind sharing, I would love to hear from you.
Aberdyfi Chamber of Trade 2018. Aberdyfi Aberdovey Walks.
British Listed Buildings website
Coflein (National Monuments Record of Wales) website
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2007. Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi. A Threat Related Assessment. GAT Project No.1824, Report No.671.1, April 2007
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2011. Conservation Area Appraisal: Aberdyfi, Gwynedd. GAT Project No.2155, Report No.956, June 2007
Lewis, H.M. 1989. Pages of Time.
Lewis, H.M. Aberdyfi. n.d. A Glimpse of the Past.