Category Archives: Heritage

The Aberdovey schooner Mervinia, launched 1878

The schooner Mervinia. Source: Lloyd 1996, volume 2, with her copper sheathing showing clearly just above the waterline.

After launching Maglona in 1876 (about which I have posted here), the next ship built by Thomas Richards, one of Aberdovey’s most elite shipbuilders, was Mervinia.

My original intention was to take just one vessel from each shipbuilder in turn before looking at other ships in each shipbuilder’s portfolio, but there are both similarities and differences in the information available for Maglona and Mervinia that made it seem worth describing these vessels consecutively.

Mervinia was launched on February 18th 1878.  She was registered at Aberystwyth, no.3.  She was a two-masted top-sail schooner (with three square sails at the top of her fore mast, but gaff-rigged below, and on her second, main mast).  She had a figurehead in the form of a woman, but it not possible to make it out in the above photograph of the painting.  The name Mervinia was chosen to echo the ancient name of Merioneth.At 96 tons and 84ft long, she was smaller than the 114 ton Maglona.  She had very fine lines, as the painting above demonstrates, and was copper-sheathed below the waterline.  The purpose of copper sheathing was to prevent both fouling of the hull beneath the waterline, damaging the wood and slowing the ship, and the incursion of teredo worm, which burrowed lethally into wooden hulls beneath the waterline like giant marine woodworm.  Copper sheathing was adopted in the Royal Navy during the 18th Century, and became standard on deep sea merchant shipping in the early 19th Century.  By 1816, 18% of British merchant ships had copper sheathing.

As with Maglona, Mervinia had only two owners at launch, Richard Owen (who had been the main share-holder in Maglona), a timber merchant from Machynlleth, with 60 shares.  He was also her managing owner (the person who made the business decisions regarding a vessel’s career).  The other four shares were held by her builder Thomas Richards.  More information about both men can be found on the post about the previous ship built by Richards, Maglona.

Source: The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 25th January 1878

The launch of Mervinia on 15th January 1878 was covered in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard:  “The event had excited much interest in the village and neighbourhood and, fortunately the weather was most favourable for the interesting proceedings which, owing to the state of the tide, had to take place at an early hour, viz., soon after nine a.m.”  Fortunately the bottle of wine used by Miss M. Marsh of Carno to launch the ship by breaking it against the hull duly smashed – an unbroken bottle was a very bad omen.  The bottle was “gaily decorated with ribbons” of red, white and blue, and must have looked very celebratory.  The crowd cheered as the ship glided into the water.  The newspaper report goes on to say that “the Misses Marsh” contributed books in Welsh and English for the bookcase that had been fitted on the ship, for the use of the captain and crew.

Following his precedent with Maglona, as soon as the ship was launched Owen began to sell his shares for a profit, selling 30 of his 60 shares over a three day period between 18th and 20th February 1878, which provided a more familiar ownership mix, and a highly localized one:

  • John Jones master mariner, Aberdovey – 8 shares
  • Evan Jones, labourer, Aberdovey – 8 shares
  • David Davies, quarryman, Aberdovey – 4 shares
  • Richard Williams, master mariner, Aberdovey –  4 shares
  • John Evans, master mariner, Aberdovey – 4 shares
  • John Roberts, quarryman, Aberdovey –  2 shares

Mervinia’s first destination was reported as the Shetland Islands, but in April she was in South Shields.  Lewis Lloyd follows her various voyages and crew following her launch.  Her first officers were her Master  John “Black Jack” Jones (1850-1899), master mariner of Aberdovey, aged 27, who remained with the ship in various roles until his death in November 1899 and the Mate  David Jones of Aberdovey, aged 23, John Jones’s younger brother.

The way in which Mervinia‘s senior crew members were organized is interesting.  Both master and mate were paid off in April 1878 but rejoined the ship as Boatswain and Able Seaman respectively two weeks later under Captain John Evans  from Bangor, aged 58.  The switch-around in crew is the first of many, and can probably be explained by the ship’s destination to Portuguese ports, Vianna  do Castelo (and other foreign ports en route) in July 1878, and then to Oporto and other ports in September 1878.  In both cases she returned to South Shields.  As soon as the ship returned to coastal waters, John Jones was restored to Master with John Evans as Mate and David Jones retained as Able Seaman.  John Evans was paid off in October 1878, and David Jones resumed his role as Mate.

The site of the yard where Thomas Richards built his schooners, now the memorial park on the edge of Penhelig. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory (1948), pl.40

The ship now began to operate on new routes, this time out of Newport in Wales, and again the crew was rearranged, presumably to take advantage of experience in foreign waters.  For a trip from Liverpool to Avila in Spain, returning to Newport between 17th May 1879 and 23rd June 1879, the Master was now Charles Dean Cook of Bristol, aged 57 and John Jones was  boatswain and Purser.  David Jones left the ship.  On her next voyage from Newport to Bilbao and back to Newport (9th July 1879 to 16th August 1879)  John Evans returned as Master, with John Jones remaining as boatswain and purser.  The same arrangement was retained for her next trip from Newport to Alicante and then Runcorn (28th August 1879 to 20th November 1879).  For the rest of 1879, Mervinia returned to the coastal trade, John Jones was reinstated as Master and John Evans was Mate.

These changes in role and status were not merely nominal.  The pay that went with each position was allocated on a hierarchical basis, so every time John Jones, David Jones and John Evans were promoted or demoted, their salaries also changed.  It must have been difficult to plan ahead under such circumstances, even when in full-time employ.

The ship’s various voyages are summarized in Lewis Lloyd’s A Real Little Seaport, volume 1, pages 171-176.  Mervinia operated for at least 12 years after Maglona was wrecked, so the records of the ports she visited are much more extensive.  She called into a remarkable number of foreign ports, apparently becoming a specialist in overseas cargo transport, visiting Portugal, various  Mediterranean destinations, Newfoundland ports (mainly St John’s, Fogo and Twillingate), the Baltic and southern Ireland.  British ports that she visited include Glasgow, Greenock, Grangemouth, Gloucester, Port Talbot, Bristol, Hull, Teignmouth, Newport, Liverpool, Cardiff, Swansea, Parr (Cornwall), Dartmouth, Runcorn, Porthmadog and of course Aberdovey.

This photograph, showing a group of schooners, as well as a steamer, apparently includes Mervinia. D.W. Morgan says that she is the one with the copper bottom, but the photograph is so small that even after expanding it, I’m not sure which one he means. I suspect it is the ship in the middle of the photograph, where a colour differentiation can be seen just above the waterline. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory 1948, pl.41

Unfortunately, the various books do not note what cargo she was carrying.  Some clues can be picked up from Welsh newspaper reports.  On 26th November 1897 the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard records that Mervinia arrived in Aberdovey with cement for Rhayader.  The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on 24th February 1899 reports that she arrived carrying potatoes, presumably from Ireland and the Shipping News of 19th September 1899 edition of the Cardigan Bay Visitor records that she loaded slates from Bryneglwys quarries by the wharf.  In 1900 the Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser reported that Mervinia, now registered in Gloucester, was back at Aberdovey at the end of January loading a cargo of slate. In 1901 she arrived in port at Aberdovey from Antwerp with a cargo of cement, reported briefly in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, July 12th 1901.  In spite of this dearth of information, it is likely that she carried various cargoes.  Helpfully, and already noted in the post about Maglona, in Brief Glory, D.W. Morgan says that traditional cargoes when her destination was Newfoundland, were slate from Aberdovey or Porthmadog to Cadiz, sea salt from Cadiz for St John’s, in ballast (with no cargo) to Labrador where she awaited the arrival of cod that was then salted and dried and brought alongside in small boats.  The salted cod was then taken to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  “The cargo having been sold, iron ore for Mostyn, barrels of olive oil for for Goole, marble for Exmouth as the case might be would be shipped, and the vessel pointed for home.  Usually Aberdovey or Porthmadoc were reached in ballast.”

Captain John Jones died in 1899.  According to D.M. Morgan (in Brief Glory 1948, p.170-172) he had been something of a dark character.  Known as Black Jack along the Newfoundland coast, John Jones “was a s swarthy as a Turk, with white gleaming white teeth, a coal black beard and black gleaming eyes and it was ‘Yo-ho and a Bottle of Rum’ with him, unrestrained in his savagery.  A thimble-full of spirits went to his head, and I have known him on one occasion, when Mervinia was in port, raise the town with his outcry.”  He was Morgan’s cousin, the son of his father’s sister.  Some of the stories, which Morgan describes as “well authenticated” are truly unpleasant.  His one redeeming feature, in the eyes of Morgan, is that he refused to sail on a Sunday.  He died at the Adlard and Co. slate wharf at Dock Head in Bermondsey (London) on November 6th 1899.  As he was walking over the gang-plank from the wharf to the ship he slipped, fell in to the Thames and drowned.  Morgan expresses this with typical panache: “As might have been expected of one of so passionate a nature, Drink and the Devil did for him as it had done for several Aberdovey seamen; they plunged him over a dockside to a muddy doom.”  His body was retrieved and returned to Aberdovey for burial.

In 1900 Mervinia was registered in Gloucester, after which the only reference I have found is the above-mentioned arrival from Antwerp with a cargo of cement.  The Aberdovey-built schooner Sarah Davies was in port at the same time.  This was the era when the steamers Dora and Telephone were regular visitors from Liverpool (about which there is more information here), and on one occasion in 1899 Telephone  tried to give Mervinia a tow into port during a heavy easterly wind, but the rope failed and Mervinia sat at sea until conditions improved.   D.W. Morgan says that she was lost near Oporto, but gives no date or other details.

Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard
Cardigan Bay Visitor
Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser

Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 1. ISBN-10 1874786488
Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496
McCarthy, M. 2005. Ships’ Fastenings: From Sewn Boat to Steamship. Texas A&M University Press
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest.  The Brython Press

The Aberdovey schooner Maglona, launched 1876

Maglona, showing off her very beautiful lines.  Source:  D.M. Morgan. Brief Glory.

The shipbuilder Thomas Richards launched the topsail schooner Maglona at Aberdovey on March 11th 1876.  Maglona was one of the larger Aberdovey schooners, at 114 tons and 87.3ft long.  She had a figurehead in the form of a woman.  She was registered at Aberystwyth, no.6 and was named for a Roman fort that was thought to have existed near Machynlleth.  Topsail schooners combine the usual schooner gaff rig (sails parallel to the hull sides) with two or three square sails, perpendicular to the hull sides), on the fore mast, to take advantage of following winds to pick up additional speed.

Of the 64 shares, timber merchant Richard Owen of Machylleth had 52 shares and ship owner Morgan Owens of Aberystwyth had 12 who became the ship’s managing owner (responsible for all commercial decisions regarding the ship’s career) in May 1876.   Initially, the ship’s builder Thomas Richards did not have any shares in the ship, although he did have shares in other ships that he owned, including his successful 1878 ship Mervinia, in which he held 10 shares from launch.  Almost immediately Richard Owen sold 24 of his shares between 12th May and 19th May 1876, retaining 28, after which the ownership stood as follows (listed by Lewis Lloyd, 1996):

  • Richard Owen of Machynlleth, timber merchant – 28 shares
  • Morgan Owens, Ship Owner and Managing Agent of Maglona – 10 shares
  • David Hughes of Machynlleth, Slate Agent – 4 shares
  • Robert Rees, Machynlleth, Slate Agent – 4 shares
  • Thomas Richards, Aberdovey, Shipbuilder – 4 shares
  • Griffith Griffiths, of Tynhir, Montgomery, Farmer – 4 shares
  • John Jones of New Quay, Cardiganshire, Sailor Retired – 4 shares

It seems a little odd that Thomas Richards only bought shares in his own ship after Richard Owen sold off some of his own shares.

The announcement of her launch in the Cambrian and Merionethshire Standard was both brief and prosaic, suggesting that for Welsh people in general, this was worth noting but was not an extraordinary or unusual event.  Ships were being launched all the time along the Welsh coast.

A fine new schooner was launched on Saturday March 11th, from Mr Thomas Richards’s building yard. The new vessel, named the Maglona,” is of about 200 tons burden, and intended for the foreign and coasting trade. The usual ceremony of christening was performed by Miss Owens, of Machynlleth.

It was probably much more of an occasion in Aberdovey itself.  Buddug Anwylini Pughe (quoted in Lloyd 1996, p.96) wrote a memoir of her life in the village, and in it she says “I quite vividly recollect, young though I was at the time, the intense excitement that pervaded the whole village on the occasion of a launch.”

The site of the yard where Thomas Richards built his schooners, now the memorial park on the edge of Penhelig. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory (1948), pl.40

Thomas Richards (1819-1880) was brought up locally, attending school in Bryncrug.  Together with John Jones and Roger Lewis, he was a leading shipbuilder in the Aberdovey/Penhelig area.  His shipyard was somewhere near Penhelig, and although his first ship of 1858 was Elizabeth and Margaret, a 44 ton smack (a traditional fishing boat) he specialized in schooners that were big enough to tackle long distance trade, around and above 100 tons burden. Lloyd comments (p.100) “He was soon recognised as a shipbuilder of quite outstanding ability, as an artist.”  D.W. Morgan says (p.126) that  all of his schooners “sailed and looked like yachts.” He built 14 vessels in 22 years, of which only Elizabeth and Margaret and Olive Branch were not schooners His largest vessel was the 204 ton brig Naomi (brigs had two masts, fore and main, both square-rigged, with a gaff-rigged sail on the main mast). Richards was responsible for Aberdovey’s last sea-going vessel, the 99 ton schooner Olive Branch, but died before her completion.  Shipbuilders all had different approaches to the task.  Lloyd says that John Jones often had many ships on the go at a time, but Thomas Richards preferred to concentrate on one at a time, giving full attention to the job at hand.   He did not live to see Maglona wrecked in 1887, dying in 1880.  His obituary in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on January 30th 1880 is a measure of the respect in which he was held as a shipbuilder.

Richard Owen, who was the principal shareholder in Maglona, was a timber merchant based in Machylleth.  I was hoping to find out more about him and his business, but have not found anything so far.  Do get in touch if you have any information.  Timber merchants were responsible for the provision of timber for a variety of trades including the building trade, cabinet making and, of course, shipbuilding, and for each of these trades different types and classes of timber were required, both from British sources and from overseas.  The Baltic, North America and Canada were popular sources of timber for shipbuilding and local timber merchants were also exporting oak and oak bark to other parts of the country.  According to Samuel Lewis in 1833, Derwenlas on the River Dyfi, the furthest navigable port on the river, handled 500 tons of bark, 40,000 ft of oak timber and 150,000 oak poles for collieries.  Timber merchants, often investors in the trades to which they supplied timber, were often very wealthy merchants, and could become people of considerable local influence.

Maglona was initially engaged in local coastal and Baltic trades under Owen Williams of Church Street, Aberdovey and then John Williams of Barmouth, before entering the trans-Atlantic and Mediterranean trades under a Master Mariner David Richards (certificate 97179), who had built up considerable experience in the trans-Atlantic timber trade and, by 1880 was living in a house in Aberdovey called Dovey Villa.  Maglona‘s history seems to be fairly trouble-free until she was wrecked.  The only reference I can find to her on the Welsh Newspapers Online website is in April 1878 when, according to a very brief comment in the South Wales Daily News of 4th April, she arrived at Milford Haven under Captain Owens carrying a cargo of manure, with her foremast mast missing, but there are no further details in this report.  Losing masts was commonplace, if regrettable, and usually occurred in heavy storms.

Her voyages, tabulated from information in Lewis Lloyd’s A Real Little Seaport, are as follows.  I won’t do this for every ship that I talk about, but it seemed worth doing at least one, as it shows  the reach of Aberdovey schooners of this tonnage, the length of individual voyages, the time they took en route between ports, and the time typically spent in each port.  Not all of Maglona‘s home and coastal trips are captured by Lloyd, so more of those were undertaken than are shown here.  I did have a column labelled “cargo,” but the records that were available to Lloyd apparently didn’t record this information, which is a real shame.  D.W. Morgan, however, says that her traditional cargoes when her destination was Newfoundland, was slate from Aberdovey or Portmadoc to Cadiz, sea salt from Cadiz for St John’s, in ballast (with no cargo) to Labrador where she awaited the arrival of cod that was then salted and dried and brought alongside in small boats.  The salted cod was then taken to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  “The cargo having been sold, iron ore for Mostyn, barrels of olive oil for for Goole, marble for Exmouth as the case might be would be shipped, and the vessel pointed for home.  Usually Aberdovey or Portmadoc were reached in ballast.”

Maglona was wrecked only 11 years after she was built on September 2nd 1887, off the coast of Newfoundland at Mistaken Point, southwest of Cape Race.  Fortunately, the entire crew of five was saved.  D. W. Morgan provides an account of how this may have occurred, “derived from one who was a ‘Boy’ aboard her at the time.”  The vessel had arrived late in Labrador due to the loss of her foretopmast and jib-boom on her way from Cadiz, and it was therefore late in the season when she left Labrador for Newfoundland.

All was going well until a fog, the like of which Capt. Richards had never before experienced, enveloped the ship, marooning her in a padded, unreal world of her own.  In this she lay for four or five days, the captain hoping devoutly that nothing untoward might befall them before the sun shone again to hive him his bearings.

It was not to be howeever, for early on the fifth morning the boy on the watch forrard, cried “Brekers ahead” and even before the echo of his voice had died away land loomed out of hte fog dead ahead and no more than a buscuit toss away.

Fortunately for the crew, although the ship struck the rocks, she became wedged in a narrow gully.  Although she was tossed fiercely by the sea, and began to break up, the crew were able to clamber to safety and were spotted by fishermen who were able to rescue them.  The remains of Maglona were put up for auction, where she fetched £15.

Morgan says that after the death of Thomas Richards, his shipyard furnishings and equipment were sold at auction, including sheds, stove and surplus timber: “they were all knocked down for £19/1-/0;  So much achieved with so little.”

Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

  • Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard
  • South Wales Daily News

Jenkins, J.G.2006.  Welsh Ships and Sailing Men.  Gwasg Carreg Gwalch
Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 1. ISBN-10 1874786488
Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest.  The Brython Press

The auxiliary steamer Aberllefeni Quarrymaid, launched in 1858

I have been unable to track down an image of Quarrymaid, but this is Roger Lewis’s shipyard.  Source: D.W. Morgan’s Brief Glory, pl.39

The s.s. Aberllefeni Quarrymaid, unsurprisingly known usually simply as Quarry Maid or Quarrymaid, has two distinctions.  First, she is the only steamer to have been built in Aberdovey, and second, renamed Orcadia, she was the first steamer to serve the North Isles of Orkney.

She was built by Roger Lewis (1815-1906) who Lewis Lloyd describes as a “maverick” and “an outstanding character.” According to Lewis, he came from Llanon in Cardiganshire, “a small but vigorous maritime community” where he was a master mariner (uncertified).  He not only built vessels, but often commanded them, and was a coxswain of the Aberdovey Lifeboat for many years.  Lewis says that whilst he was clearly a skilled seaman and had some experience as a carpenter, he never trained as a shipwright, and his instinctive approach led to results that were not always completely desirable.  In spite of this, or perhaps to reassure other investors, he retained shares in most of his ships.

Roger Lewis had a long-standing shipbuilding business devoted to sailing ships, based on Penhelig beach, just outside the Penhelig Arms (see photograph above).  It is interesting that Lewis went straight from sail to screw propulsion (propellers), bypassing the intermediary paddle steamer stage. Aberllefeni Quarrymaid was named for the three Aberllefenni slate quarries.  According to Wikipedia Aberllefeni was the longest continually operated slate quarry in the world until its closure in 2003.

Quarrymaid was built by Roger Lewis to serve as a coastal vessel.  According to Morgan she had a wooden hull, 83.1ft long, 58 tons.  She was launched in October 1858 and sailed to Caernarfon where she was fitted out with two De Winton 50hp engines and associated machinery at Thomas and De Winton’s Union Foundry.  I have have been unable to find an image, so have no idea about the arrangement of funnel and masts, but she is described in a number of contexts as an auxiliary schooner, presumably with two masts.  Auxiliary ships usually still looked like sailing ships, with the funnel positioned between the two masts, and they could switch between sail and steam as required.  Ships could save fuel when there was wind, but could fire up engines when they were sailing against the wind, in stormy conditions or when conditions were becalmed.  This meant that steamers could stick to a timetable and maintain reliable schedules even when the weather was bad, which was particularly valuable to customers sending perishable goods and livestock and for passengers.  Quarrymaid was registered at Aberystwyth, no.25.

The first shareholders were as follows (listed in Lloyd 1996, Appendix V, p.124-5):

    • Robert Davies Jones, Trefri, Esq – 16 shares
    • Roger Lewis, Aberdyfi, builder and master mariner – 10 shares
    • Robert Gamlen Sweeting, Soutlan, Warwickshire, Gentleman – 8 shares
    • Ann Pughe, Aberdyfi, widow – 4 shares
    • James Webster, Aberdyfi, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • Hugh Jones, Gelligraian, Farmer – 4 shares
    • Evan Anwyl, Llanon, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • Elizabeth Jones, Crosswood, Montogomery, Spinster – 4 shares
    • Joseph Sheppard Draper, Haselbury, near Crewkerne, Somerset, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • George Jonathan Scott, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • David Jones, Machynlleth, Montgomery, Agent – 2 shares

There are often a diverse set of occupations listed, and widows are frequent shareholders, but what is surprising here is the sheer geographical scope of Quarrymaid‘s shareholders.

Quarrymaid undertook her maiden voyage from Aberdovey to London in April 1859, with several of the owners on board, some of whom disembarked at Aberystwyth.  The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald had this to say about her maiden voyage on April 20th 1859:

The steamer started on her first voyage to London on Saturday.  Several of the owners and gentlemen were on board.  Also some ladies who went as far as Aberystwyth.  Robert Davies Jones, Esq., Trefi, and Lady R. Webster, Esq., Aberdovey etc, were on board.  The Quarrymaid steamed beautifully out of the harbour and made about nine knots an hour.

9 knots is just over 10mph/16.6kmph.  Steamships did not become commonplace in Aberdovey until the 1860s, so she must have been something of a novelty.

Initially, Quarrymaid‘s standard route was between Aberdovey and London, averaging a round trip per fortnight, stopping at Barmouth, Aberystwyth and Aberaeron as well.  An advert was placed in  The Aberystwyth Observer on the 23rd April 1859 just after she was built, announcing her first commercial voyage on 25th April 1859.   D.W. Morgan says that at one point her engineer was Tom Hughes of Gogarth, who had been an officer on the fabulous London tea clipper Cutty Sark and that at some stage she was lengthened by Roger Lewis.  Her first master was also her builder, Roger Lewis, and she was managed by David Jones and Rowland Evans of Machynlleth.

Pickle Herring Wharf, Bermondsey, in 1899 by Joseph Pennell. Source: Frontispiece.

Pickle Herring Wharf, Quarrymaid‘s destination in London, was in Bermondsey, part of a vast complex of wharves that lined both sides of the Thames.  The etching on the left, by well known artist Joseph Pennell, shows how the warehouses were linked to the waterside wharves across the cobbled road.  Where it once stood is now the section of Thames Path in front of the HMS Belfast.  However, it looks like a clone of the contemporary Butler’s Wharf, which survives today as a major tourist destination just upriver from where Tower Bridge (built 1886 -1894) is now located.  The warehouses were great terraced blocks of multi-storey buildings, and for the general public and watermen to reach the river, staircases were provided, the watermen’s stairs.  Those that ran down to the river were just behind this image, to the left, and were marked on contemporary maps as the Pickle Herring Stairs.

Pickle Herring Wharf from the river, by J.A.M.Whistler. Source: Art Institute of Chicago

Later, Quarrymaid switched routes at some stage before 1862, running between Aberdovey and Liverpool.   Although it is not explicitly stated anywhere what her cargo may have been, it seems likely that she was carrying slate, at least when she was running into London, but may have switched to perishables when she switched to Liverpool.  Steamers were comparatively expensive to run, costs being accrued both in fuel and additional crew requirements. Their cargo carrying prices were therefore higher, meaning that they were often used mainly for time-sensitive cargoes, when the risk of spoilage merited the extra cost of reliable steamers. that were far more predictable to scale, and arrived to schedule.

Lewis Lloyd gives details of the Crew Agreement for the Aberdovey to Liverpool half year ending 30th June 1862.  He says that it is the only one that was available at the Dolgellau Record Office, from which he derived the following information:

    • Captain:  David Lloyd of Cardigan, aged 24
    • Mate:  Richard Davies of Merioneth, aged 25
    • Engineman:  William Davies of Anglesey, aged 30
    • Stoker: Griffith Evans of Merioneth, aged 28
    • Able Seaman: Thomas Jones of Merioneth, aged 30
    • Able Seaman: John Griffith of Merioneth, aged 23
    • Cook: Evan Lloyd of Cardigan, aged 13 (possibly the younger brother of the captain)

Lloyd says that during the period covered by this contract, Quarrymaid made 13 voyages between Aberdovey and Liverpool, about one per fortnight.

In 1860 it was reported in the North Wales Advertiser and Chronicle of 15th December, that the captain of the Quarrymaid was pursuing a case against a deserter, more to make a point than to pursue any heart-felt grievance:

James Webster, Esq., the princi- pal owner of the steamer Quarrymaid,” plying between Aberdovey and London, preferred a complaint against a lad named Jonas Jonas, (who did not appear) for leaving the steamer on the 3rd ult., just as she was ready for sea, and thereby causing a delay of two days before another lad could be procured. He did not wish to press the case but for example’s sake he wished to bring the case before their Worships, to know whether these sort of things were to be carried on with impunity.

On February 9th 1861, Quarrymaid collided with the Ann Jones from Porthmadog, the cause apparently being a particularly strong tide.  The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald reported that both ships were damaged, the Quarrymaid losing her jibboom and the Ann Jones losing ropes and the gaff, which fell on deck, striking the mate.  There were no fatalities but there were two casualties, one on each ship, both taken away for medical care. Later in the same year, the 14th September edition of the North Wales Advertiser and Chronicle‘s review of the Petty Sessions of Friday September 6th contained this fascinating and amusing story about the second mate stealing bottles of wine from a hamper that had been loaded in Liverpool for one Miss Griffiths of Trefri, although perhaps not so amusing for the accused, who was sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour:

Stealing Wine.—Mr. D. Pughe appeared for the prosecution. Roger Lewis, captain of the steamer Quarrymaid, of Aberdovey, preferred a charge of felony against the second mate Hugh Davies. It appears that a hamper of wine, consigned to Miss Griffiths, of Trefri, had been put on board in Liverpool, on the 20th of May last. It was a two dozen hamper.  The captain stated that he stove it away himself in the hold, in Clarence Basin Dock, and that on his arrival at Aberdovey it had disappeared. The prisoner’s berth was in the forecastle, and there was an access from there to the hold without coming on deck. The vessel was not full at the time. The hamper was put on the starboard side, and was approachable for any one. Thomas Morgan, a sharp lad, about 17 years of age, who had evidently imbibed some strong potations previous to coming into court, stated that he was on board the Quarrymaid, but never recollected seeing the hamper stowed away. Remembers seeing Hugh Davies, the prisoner, coming up out of the hold one day with four bo-tles before they left Liverpool. We were about half laden at the time. We were the only two on board at that time. The Captain and others had gone ashore. I saw him tap one of the bottles; and as he had no cork screw he did it with his finger and thumb. He gave me some of the wine, but I did not know then that he had stolen it. I thought perhaps he had some of his own, until he said “mind and don’t split,” then I smelt a rat. He gave some to Daniel Davies, and told him it was teetotal stuff, and Dan drank some then. I saw four bottles on his bed at supper time, but had no more of it after I left Liverpool. John Richards swore having seen eight bottles on Hugh Davies’s bed the day the vessel sailed. Thos. Smith, fireman, recollected having something to drink out of a bottle at Aberdovey from Hugh Davies, but could not say whether it was wine or not, for he never accustomed himself to drink it. He could manage porter as well as any man. (Laughter.) Cross-examined—Can’t say it was wine; knew it was not porter, nor gin, nor brandy, nor physic, nor ink. Could not say what it was; it went down very nice. Daniel Davies swore that he saw bottles on the bed of the prisoner. Had tasted the wine because he told him it was teetotal stuff. After reaching Aberdovey the Captain went to Machynlleth, when the prisoner said it was a good chance to dispose of the hamper; he said, what hamper; and he answered, the wine hamper, he would throw it overboard. Believe prisoner cut the hamper with his knife. P.C. Roberts deposed that he apprehended the prisoner on Thursday. Told him the charge. He asked what imprisonment he was likely to get, and acknowledged he had done it. Prisoner was then asked whether he was guilty, which he owned, and was sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour.

On one occasion, very late in her life, she was chartered for a pleasure cruise to Aberystwyth and back, as reported in the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser:

ABERDOVEY.—On Thursday the Steamer Quarrymaid from Aberdovey took a trip as far as Aberystwyth and back. The weather was beautifully fine, and a rich treat was thus afforded. About eighty from Towyn and Aberdovey, visitors, &c., availed themselves of a trip, H. Webster, Esq,, of Aberdovey bore the expenses of the excursion, to whom great praise is due for his kindness and liberality at all times in Aberdovey and vicinity. During the passage, singing was kept up with spirit. After spending about six hours in Aberystwyth, the Quarrymaid steamed off at about nine knots an hour, and Aberdovey was reached in good time. Three hearty good cheers for Mr. Webster was given on board, which was joined in by the multitude on shore, who greeted the company on their return. A private company was entertained by the same gentleman at the Hotel, and a pleasant evening spent.

In 1865 she was sold, renamed Orcadia, and entered service in the Northern Isles of Orkney on March 29th 1865, remaining in service until 1868, when she was replaced by a larger steamer.

There is no record of where or when she was broken up or lost.  Perhaps she was scrapped after going out of service in 1868, but the above story about her taking a group of people on a jolly to Aberystwyth is dated 3rd September 1869, so perhaps she returned to Aberdovey to be be broken up, and this was the party to commemorate the event.  A guess.

If anyone knows of an image of her, please get in touch!

Update:  Thanks to  Dai Williams for the information that an earlier and bigger Quarrymaid was built at Pwlleli by William Jones.  Just to avoid confusion, here are a few details about the earlier ship.  She was a sailing schooner built in 1840, was 116 tons, and foundered in 1866 off Flamborough Head.  Jones built another ship, Quarryman, in the same year (source:  rhiw.com).


Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald
North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser
The Aberystwyth Observer

Deayton, A. 2015.  Steamers and Ferries of the Northern Isles.  Amberley Publishing Ltd
Hague, D.B. 1984.  A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Mid-Wales.
Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 1. ISBN-10 1874786488
Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest.  The Brython Press
Richards, J. 2007.  Maritime Wales.  Tempus

Aberdovey Twiddly Bits #10 – last one

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.

 

 

Walking above Aberdovey, returning along the beach.

With thanks (again) to Caroline for yesterday’s super walk.  We took the footpath at the top of Gwelfor Road towards Tywyn, which has some great views over the estuary and Cardigan Bay.  Young lambs were lovely to see, leggy and alert whilst their peaceable mothers grazed.  The walk emerges at the cemetery on the main Aberdovey to Tywyn road, which is full of gorgeous primroses at the moment.  A brisk walk back along a very windy beach was superbly fresh.

Passing some abandoned farm buildings in a sheltered dip surrounded by low hillsides, we stopped to look in detail.  Brilliant white quartz and black slate/shales and mudstone were arranged differently on both buildings, the contrast remarkable and rather beautiful.  Door lintels were made of wood, still in situ, and roofs were tiled with slate, although only tiny pieces of the roofs remained.  One of the walls of the lower of the two buildings had begun to fall outwards, and was propped up with vast buttresses.  An attempt to restore the upper building’s wall with breeze blocks was accompanied by a corrugated asbestos roof that is now disintegrated.  The thickness of the stone-built walls, the heavy buttresses, and the tiny slits for windows are all somewhat reminiscent of Mediaeval castle construction, as is its derelict condition.

Information about mermaid’s purses (egg sacks of small native shark species) can be found on an earlier post. This one, a cuckoo ray that I found on the beach yesterday (Leucoraja naevus), has been reported to the Shark Trust to contribute to their data collection project.