Category Archives: Architecture

Tywyn History Trail leaflets 1 and 2

I was in the Tywyn Co-Op last week and spotted these two leaflets in the leaflet holder by the tills.  Do pick one up if you’re there.  Each of them consists of a fold-out map of Tywyn – Walk 1 is The Old Town and Walk 2 is The Seaside.  The map is numbered, and brief details are given about each of the numbers, so that you can do a self-guided tour.  Introductory paragraphs also give a short overview of the origins of Tywyn and its development.  In something this size (A3, printed on both sides) not a huge amount of detail can be included, but it’s a great starting point for getting to know Tywyn a bit better, and a good jumping off point for future research.  Devised and published by Tywyn and District History Society, their production was partially supported financially by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The image below is a scan of part of Walk 1, to give a flavour of the leaflets

The Tomlins flour mill, Aberdovey: Melin Ardudwy (revised and updated)

From the moment I saw a photograph of Melin Ardudwy in Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village, I wanted to know all about it.  This is my second attempt to supply information about it.

Melin Ardudwy.  Source:  Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village.  It is also shown in C.C. Green’s The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways volume 2, p.80

When I first started to look around for information about the mill, to my immense frustration, there was remarkably little to be found in any of the resources I had to hand.  Melin Ardudwy is only mentioned in passing in local history accounts, almost forgotten by most histories of the village.  It is not even mentioned on the Coflein website, which is usually a reliable starting place, often providing a few helpful references to chase. A bit of pottering around in my books and files turned up only a little information.  The photograph in Hugh M. Lewis’s book is shown above right.  In the process of my searches online, I was excited to find, on the People’s Collection website, a superb sepia picture of the mill (below left) showing it behind a train pulled by the locomotive Seaham, ready to depart.  Next, I found that the mill was listed in Gwynedd Archaeological Trust’s document Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi under their “Buried Sites With Poor Archaeological Potential” category, which contributed a short paragraph on the subject.  However, the best source of information was one I didn’t have and to which my attention was drawn by Sierd Jan Tuinstra, who is an amazing source of information about anything railway-related in Aberdovey.  He pointed me to a book that I hadn’t come across:  The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways, Volume Two, by C.C. Green (Wild Swan Publications 1996), and found some news articles about the mill that also help to fill out the story of the mill.  I also found a number of useful short articles on The National Library of Wales website that added to the story.  With thanks to Sierd Jan, Green’s book and the newspaper articles, I have now revised the original post with the new information.  For the first time I now knew the name of the mill’s owner: Mr James Tomlins.

In the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on 27th August 1880, tenders were requested for the proposed new flour mill at Aberdovey.  The advert was placed by Robert and Evans of Aberystwyth, solicitors to the trustees.  The tender was evidently granted to James Tomlins, and Green (p.64) gives more details:

Mr Tomlin of Warwick wished to erect a four mill, and Mr Humphreys-Owen [of the Cambrian and West Coast Railway] and the solicitor were instructed to look in to the company’s right to use the land.  That report was favourable, and Mr Tomlin proceeded with his building work.

Green’s book has the photograph at the top of this post, showing the very first delivery into the flour mill, by a 2-4-0 Sharp Stewart engine with timber-sided cab. Bankruptcy proceedings in 1897 give details of the set-up costs invested by Mr Tomlins and his investors:  “He built a mill at a cost of about £10,000 and £2,000 had been expended in alterations.  He was allowed an overdraft of £2,000 and to that was added £4,0000 he borrowed and £3,000 he was allowed by a flour firm.

Later, Green makes the following information about the expansion of railway facilities at the mill mill (p.65)

In 1883, there was much debate about providing a ‘Cover for Mr Tomlin’s trucks.’  at the end, it was suggested that the company would pay half the cost of £125 so long as Mr Tomlin provided the labour for the erection of the structure, and undertook to send all his traffic along those routes most favourable to the company.

In 1884, Mr Tomlin asked for a siding to be laid down out of the company’s empty wagon storage siding to a new warehouse he proposed to erect at the end of his mill.  He laid it in with his own labour to the engineer’s satisfaction, and paid 20 shillings per annum for the use of the company’s land, and a proportion of the cost of the interlocking apparatus in the signal box.

Splendid view of Melin Ardudwy, c.1896.  Source: People’s Collection.

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust publication, Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi says that Melin Ardydwy (GAT25065) was a steam roller mill, and the mill was known both as the Ardudwy Flour Mill and, more formally, as the Cambrian Roller Flour Mill.   By the 1870s roller milling was becoming widespread, and conventional wind-powered flour mills were being abandoned.  Roller mills enabled the mass-production of much greater volumes of flour, which could be consistently graded and were used to make newly fashionable white bread. Apparently this area beyond the village was known as Ardudwy, hence the mill’s name.

The mill used to stand where a little housing development stands just outside the village to the left on the way to Tywyn, near the golf course.  The mill was four storeys high, stone-built, with five bays on the main frontage, three on the side, and had a protruding extension one bay in width.  The brick-built chimney sits in the corner where the two parts of the building meet.  It is a substantial edifice.  A large shed-like structure stands at its side.

It is not clear quite where the water came from.  Steam mills required a reliable supply of water such as a river or canal. Failing this a reservoir was usually necessary with sufficient capacity to supply the mill with at least one day’s supply of the required water.  James Tomlins’s name occurs time and time again in debates in Tywyn concerning the supply of water to Aberdovey for sewerage, drainage and the supply of businesses dependent upon it, but it is completely opaque how the mill was supplied with water until he managed to secure agreement for an improved water supply.  That agreement was finally made on 13th February 1894, with the Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser reporting that

Mr. Tomlins has for years been agitating respecting the insufficient water supply and constructed drainage of the place, but he failed to make any tangible impression on the Board representatives until last summer’s drought proved his hypothesis. Penyroror Hill is the site fixed upon for the new reservoir. The result of the enquiry will soon be made public.

As an amusing aside, the author of the report finishes with a rather embittered rhetorical question:  “By the way, can anybody enlighten us why an enquiry closely pertaining to Aberdovey should be held Towyn?”

The traditional approach to flour production was to crush wheat grain between two circular millstones, an upper runner stone that rotated and a lower bed stone that was fixed into a stationary position.  The runner stone was powered either by wind or water.  In the 1850s the repeal of the Corn Laws meant that imported grain was affordable and Britain’s dependence on imported grain grew from 2% in the 1830s to  45% (and 65% for wheat alone) during the 1880s.  The arrival of the railway in Aberdovey seventeen years previously had resulted in an expansion of the deep water sea trade with imported cargoes from Ireland, South Wales, Newfoundland, the Baltic, South America and elsewhere, which in turn led to the expansion of the coastal and rail transport from the port.  Cargoes were trans-shipped, via rail or coastal vessels, to other parts of Wales and England.  Hugh M. Lewis says that wheat and barley were imported from the Mediterranean, Australia and Canada.  At a time when white bread was increasingly in demand, mill technology was changing and rollers began to replace millstones all over Britain  Rollers were cheaper to make than the skilled but arduous and time-consuming dressing of millstones.  The website From Quern to Computer has a useful overview of the reasons that steam-powered mills became so popular, and why they were often located, like Melin Ardudwy, at ports:

Henry Simon was one of the main manufacturers of roller machines for flour milling. Source: From Quern to Computer (full reference at end of post)

In 1878 The National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim) was formed for ‘mutual advancement and protection’ in the light of the ‘great changes which are now in progress in the manufacture of flour, and in the machinery used for that purpose’.  These ‘great changes’ . . . were driven by two related factors:  the growing demand for white bread and the increased importation of hard wheats from North America, Russia and also Australia and India, to meet demand.  These hard wheats gave good quality flours, naturally higher in gluten than native soft wheats, which enabled the production of well-risen white bread.  The gradual reduction method employed by the new roller mills was not only better suited to milling hard wheats than traditional millstones, but also to extracting a greater proportion of fine white flour.  In addition, changes were taking place in the location of the milling industry, as large new mills were built at ports and on navigable rivers and canals, well-placed to receive deliveries of imported wheat.  Such changes were also facilitated by the use of steam power.

Melin Ardudwy was an outcome of this industrialization of flour production.  I can find no mention anywhere of exactly what internal machinery was installed or how many rollers it drove.  However, the basic operation can be cobbled together from general accounts of steam-driven roller mills.

Roller milling, as the name implies, replaced circular stones with rollers, c12 inches in diameter, not unlike a big mangle, through which the grain was gradually broken down through successive pairs of rollers.  These were set at a specific distance from each other, fixed by a technician, spinning towards each other at different speeds in incremental stages until the grain was sufficiently reduced.  Grain was fed in to the rollers and extracted via pneumatic pipes.  Flour was extracted at all stages of the process.

Green provides a fascinating plan of the railway showing the mill in the context of other structures serving or served by the railway c.1923.  It is marked on the plan as Tomlins Steam Mill, and has an accompanying warehouse.  I have scanned it, a pretty poor job that makes a complete pig’s breakfast of the part where the plan spans the page join.  You can click on it to get a better view of it.  It shows how Tomlins Steam Mill was integrated with the rest of Aberdovey’s railway infrastructure. I have highlighted the mill in red and the station in green.

Plan of the railway at Aberdovey, c.1923, showing the Tomlins Mill at Ardudwy. Source: C.C. Green 1996, The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways, Volume 2. Wild Swan Publications, p.74-5

The plan seems to show that the tracks in the photograph at the top of this post ran into Tomlins Mill, shown in red.  There is another siding shown running to the south of that track, terminating next to the mill, and others to the north. The two sidings to the north appear to relate to other activities, with one serving cattle pens and another relating to a proposed goods yard.  a total of four tracks seem to have served the mill itself, a fairly impressive operation.  All of the sidings eventually connect to the main line near the golf club’s club house.  This linkage to the main line meant that flour could be taken further afield by rail, or taken down to the port for loading on to vessels for transhipment along the coast to south Wales.

1884 was a good, profitable year for Mr Tomlins, although he was still in debt.  He had the best possible machinery and established a trade monopoly, but by 1893 he was in difficulties due to increasing competition and ongoing debt.  On 3rd November 1894, the Montgomery County Times and Shrophshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser reported that a wheat conditioning plant was installed at the mill, “giving every possible satisfaction,” but this was obviously not sufficient to rescue the business, which was obviously in trouble.  In 1897 a long report appeared in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, dated 10th December 1897, announcing that the mill had declared bankruptcy, with liabilities of £2,124, 8s 5d.  The public examination heard that “the cause of failure was stated to be the heavy outlay in building a flour mill at Aberdovey, the erection of expensive machinery, insufficient capital to work that business at a profit, heavy insurance and interest, bad debts, competition, and working at no profit for four years prior to 1895.”  A fairly comprehensive list of woes. The mill was sold at auction on 29th April 1897 to a Mr Powell of the Midlands for £1600, but it is unclear what happened to it between then and when the main building was pulled down.

A postcard that shows it in the distance (below) shows women in fashions that date to the 1910s, with the mill and its chimney still in tact.  The picture of the mill on the right, is a detail of the postcard on the left, visible in the distance.

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on 4th December 1908 describes the dismantling of the mill itself, leaving the chimney behind:  “The old flour mill adjoining the railway is being rapidly dismantled, at the instance of the Cambrian Railway Company, its condition having of late become unsafe.  Mr J.P. Lewis undertook the contract, which up to the present has proceeded without incident.”  The chimney remained in place until 1920.

The demolition of the chimney was reported in The Cambrian News on 4th June 1920, as follows:

On Wednesday week, an exodus of men, women and children, 100s in no.s, was made for Ardudwy and the sea.  For on that night the giant chimney of the old mill, erected at about 1884, was to be rased to the ground.  Since that date, the old chimney had served as an excellent landmark for the Aberdovey fishermen, and they took this opportunity – the heat of its destruction – to organize a collection from the spectators for the Sailors Orphanage Fund, which was some solatium for the loss of their silent friend . . . . At exactly 10 minutes to eight, Mrs Richards, Ardudwy, applied the torch to the well-petrolled timber and in less time than it takes to write, the base was a mass of flames. . . . A neater job was never done.”

I don’t know when the rest of the mill was taken down, and it may have survived until the land was cleared for the modern housing estate that now sits on the land.

It would be rather nice to know more about James Tomlin other than his name.  He was a member of various boards in Tywyn and Aberdovey and, as mentioned above, was involved in a number of heated debates about improvements to Aberdovey’s water supply for drainage, sewerage and business operations, how it should be implemented.  A report of the marriage of his son Herbert in Chaddesley-Corbett in 1903 indicates that he was married with at least one child.  The bankruptcy proceedings recorded that he was very poor at keeping his books in order and he was, according to a report dating to 21st October 1887, a teetotaler!  I could probably find some more odds and ends by trawling through the newspapers online, but whatever I find, it’s not going to make up much of a biography.  If anyone knows of any more about him please get in touch.

Main sources for this post:

The National Library of Wales website (a fabulous resource):
https://newspapers.library.wales

The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways, volume 2, 1996 by C.C. Green.  Wild Swan Publications

Structural Engineering in the Lancashire Cotton Spinning Mills 1850-1914: the example of Stott & Sons by Roger N. Holden, 1993. Industrial Archaeology Review, Volume 15, 1993 – Issue 2

Technology and Transformation: The Diffusion of the Roller Mill in the British Flour Milling Industry, 1870-1907.  Jennifer Tann and R. Glyn Jones. Technology and Culture
Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 1996), p. 36-69 (Available to read on JSTOR)

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, 2011

Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village by Hugh M. Lewis.

Aberdyfi, A Chronicle Through the Centuries by Hugh M. Lewis

From Quern to Computer: the history of flour milling. Roller Milling: A Gradual Takeover. September 06th 2016 by Martin and Sue Watts
https://millsarchive.org/explore/features-and-articles/entry/171161/from-quern-to-computer-the-history-of-flour-milling/11669

England 1870–1914. The Oxford history of England by R.C.K. Ensor.  (1936). Clarendon Press

 

Some final comments on vintage postcards (#30)

Sent in 1977, produced by Dennis Productions, which only closed in 2000. I absolutely love the cars parked along Sea View Terrace, all looking as though they belong in a museum of the 70s. I think that my Mum had the blue Austin 1100 before we left the UK in 1972.  The card was posted from Llandysul in Ceredigion, where the family of four who were on holiday in Aberdovey went on Sundays to Cross Inn for Sunday worship at the Holy Trinity church where, the letter says, there were visitors to the church from Stowbridge, Birmingham, Broadway, Leicester and Tonypandy.  It was sent to an address in Bicester

If you are coming to the postcard series late and want to go back and see what other postcards have been featured, I’ve provided an index of the entire series on the Heritage page, in chronological order (by approximate date of the postcard itself).  Alternatively you can click on the “Postcard” category in the right hand margin to see all the postcards in the series, in the order in which they were published, excluding all other posts: https://aberdoveylondoner.com/category/postcard/.

I knew absolutely nothing about vintage postcards when I bought a job lot on eBay.  The pictures are completely compelling in their own right, but turn the postcard over and, when they have been used, there is a wealth of information about when the postcard was manufactured and sent, and what sort of people were sending them. A note to self has been that it is by far more useful to buy used postcards rather than pristine unsent ones, because the stamps, postmarks, addresses and even the messages contain useful information.  The histories of the postcard companies are also fascinating.  I had no idea that the postcard was such an important source of commercial income, and was clueless how such companies worked.   Postcards are only a partial record of architectural, economic and social history, but they contribute a surprising amount.  Multiple personal, social and economic histories are tied up in these microscopic snapshots of life.  Of course, as insights into the past of Aberdovey and the surrounding area they are quite simply terrific.

Reading the Hugh M. Lewis books and booklets it is clear that the character of the village has shifted dramatically over the centuries from a rural fishing village with a single water pump to a shipbuilding hub, which became a local outpost of the industrial revolution.  Religious institutions appeared like mushrooms.  An 18th Century turnpike was followed in the 19th Century by a railway connecting north Wales, mid Wales and England.  A tourist industry was established in the 19th Century that continues to thrive today. Gas lighting was installed and then replaced with electric lighting.  Land, foot and horse were first supplemented by bicycle.  The first cars began to appear in the early 20th Century, and were clearly a real novelty.  Although the building of sailing vessels ceased after the 1880s in Aberdovey and sailing ships were the most common sight at the Aberdovey jetty well into the 20th Century, steam ships visited the port regularly, becoming part of the local economic routine.  During the war Aberdovey’s industrial importance decayed, and the tourist industry became increasingly important to the local economy.  The wharf and jetty were rebuilt to reflect this change in the 1960s, a new car park was built in 1970, new houses and community structures have modified the landscape of the village, particularly on the hill above Copper Hill Street, and continue to do so.

In spite of all these changes, what amazes me is how little the core of Aberdovey has changed in its essential architectural character over the last century.  As Aberdovey resident Helen Williams pointed out, there’s not much in the way of expansion that can happen along the seafront, due to its position between the sea and the cliff, which prevents any serious expansion even in the width of the roads.  Gaps between buildings have been filled, but the original buildings are so solidly crafted that replacements have been rarely necessary, and apart from dormer windows that extend the usability of buildings upwards, there’s not much expansion along the seafront.  Instead, newer buildings worked their way uphill, heading up and beyond Copper Hill Street, Gwelfor Road and Balkan Hill, as well as along the hillside overlooking the golf course.  It is remarkable how much of the 19th Century village has been retained intact.

There are some lovely modern photo postcards for sale in the village, by Robin Goodland, Jeremy Moore, Glyn Davies and others. The one here is a bit different, sold during the summer at the Information Centre on the wharf, painted by Dave Thompson (www.davethompsonillustration.com) and produced by Star Editions (www.stareditions.com). It is a rather rather different take on Aberdovey than the photograph postcards, with a 1950s retro travel poster feel to it. In the foreground is the ‘Dai’s Shed’ fishing bat.

Perhaps the most conspicuous difference between past and present in Aberdovey, not visible in the postcards, is cultural.  The Welsh language is still heard in shops, restaurants, pubs and at the Neuadd Dyfi, but since the 1950s there has been an ongoing influx of English people who have holiday homes or settle here permanently.  Beyond sunbathing and watersports, and in so far as any village can be, it is a really rather cosmopolitan place.  As well as an excellent butcher, a post office, a pharmacy, two convenience stores, a dry cleaner, three pubs, numerous cafes, restaurants, ice cream parlours, hotels, holiday lets and b&bs and a number of places of worship, there are more unexpected places to visit.  These include two art galleries, a community hall with a theatre, fashion shops, two hair-dressers, a yacht club, a bowling club, tennis courts, the Outward Bound centre, a Snowdonia National Park information centre and of course the Pen Y Bryn shelter.   There’s a lot going on in such a small place!

Printed picture postcards were first established in the 1870s but became very popular in the 1890s across Europe and America.  In 1902 the current format was ratified by the Post Office, with a picture on one side, and the reverse divided into two, half for the message and half for the address and the stamp.

Using postcards as chronological markers is by no means straight forward.  Photography had become increasingly popular, and photographers had been building up sizeable filing systems that were used in successive decades for postcards, meaning that an image and its incorporation into a postcard might be many years apart from one another.  Postcards might be sold for a decade or more after they were first printed, so this too can add ambiguity to the date of the image.  A postal mark might have a solid date, which tells us when the postcard was sent, but the image itself might be years or even decades old.  One postcard in this series, showing the school on the slopes of Pen-Y-Bryn, had a 1909 postmark, but the company that produced the card had gone out of business in 1904.  In this particular case, the main building in the photograph was built in 1894, which gives a time range for when the photograph was taken, but in other examples where there are few diagnostic features, such as landscape photographs and modern photographs of the village, there may be little to help narrow down a date range.  For example, in the set of five at the top of this post, the penultimate photograph also shows the school at Pen-Y-Bryn, but seen in isolation from its more diagnostic companions, it would be difficult to judge when, between the common use of colour photographs for postcards in the 1950s and the 1977 postmark, that photograph was taken.  The postal mark just provides a terminus ante quem, an indication of a date before which the card must have been manufactured.  That can be a useful starting place.

I thought that fashion would be a helpful pointer, but that theory was partially scuppered by two factors.  First is that people are absent from a lot of postcards, and second is that Dai Williams tells me that to make old postcards look more current, people wearing contemporary fashions were dark-room pasted into older photographs.  He showed me one extraordinary example where two almost identical postcards had a group of people walking down the road, but in one the adults were holding the hands of two children and in the second the children had been removed.  Although I have confidence that postcard producer Gwilym Williams, who appears to have been a local photographer, was capturing life just as it was, photographs by the big national postcard producers may have been seriously tampered with.  Vintage cars might have been more useful for dating images, if I knew anything about them.

Glyn and Claire Davies

Another different take on the standard photo postcard is the collection produced by Glyn and Claire Davies based on their original paintings and sold in their shop, The Gallery, in Aberdovey (http://www.galleryaberdyfi.co.uk/cms/). Delicately executed watercolours provide evocative views of Aberdovey, some showing day to day bustle, some showing a more peaceful scenes in and around the village.  Above are two scenes on postcards, on the left by Glyn Davies and on the right by Claire Davies.  I have sent more of the postcards in this series than any others.

This card from “Dai’s Shed,” selling superb locally caught seafood from Easter until Autumn, is both a souvenir postcard and an advert (www.daisshed.co.uk). Dai’s fishing boat is shown in the photo at low tide against a backdrop of the hills over the estuary.

If the postmark is not legible, the stamp can give a time range, and there are a couple of websites that specialize in this.  I had assumed that the collecting of postcards, deltiology, would have a massive online presence, but resources turn out to be very fragmented and incomplete.  There are a number of websites that specialize in providing information about different manufacturers to help collectors find out the essentials about general background and specific postcards or postcard series, most importantly dates.  Unfortunately, some postcards are not included in those databases and several manufacturers are barely mentioned online.  The two best resources that I found are the MetroPostcards website, which is a mine of information about postcard manufacturers and printing techniques, and the enormous and searchable Frith’s database, which is as invaluable collection of as many postcards in the Frith’s catalogue as they have been able to pull together.

My brief flirtation with the picture postcard is over, unless I see anything particularly unusual, but I have very much enjoyed finding out about aspects of Aberdovey that I didn’t know before, and experiencing a real sense of continuity between past and present.

My sincer thanks to Dai and Helen Williams for introducing me to vintage postcards, for talking to me about Aberdovey’s history and for allowing me leaf through their collection.  Also for that fabulous pre-Christmas chocolate biscuit from Fortnum’s!

Many, many thanks too to Sierd Jan Tuinstra for taking the time to have an independent look at the postcards and other posts, using his expertise from  investigations into the Aberdovey section of the Cambrian Railway to clarify some points, expand details, refine dates and provide new information and insights, not just about rail but about all aspects of Aberdovey’s economic infrastructure.  My post on the flour mill will be rewritten shortly with new information, entirely thanks to Sierd Jan.