Category Archives: Heritage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aberdovey Twiddly Bits #1

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

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

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

 

“Ellen Beatrice” (built in Aberystwyth, 1865), in Aberdovey Harbour c.1903

The Ellen Beatrice, via the Peoples’ Collection Wales website (Copyright Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru).

I have been working my way slowly through the Peoples Collection Wales website since before Christmas, finding what it has in the way of photographs about Aberdovey and other places of interest.  I have a particular affinity with 19th Century ships, so when Adrian Lee posted the photograph on the Aberdovey/Aberdyfi Past and Present Memories Facebook page asking for information, I recognized it instantly from the Peoples Collection website, which mercifully provided the name of the ship and its port of registration.  From there it was only a few steps to finding out some more details.

This solidly built visitor to Aberdovey, moored up on the wharf is the 88-ton Ellen Beatrice, registered in Aberystwyth, number 49664.  She was built in 1865 by John Faulk Evans of Aberystwyth, whose father John Evans was also an Aberystwyth ship builder.  John Faulk Evans built a number of schooners and at least one brig and one barque.  Her first Managing Owner, who retained the title for many years, was William Owens of Aberystwyth.  The name of the ship is something of a puzzle.  It probably refers to the second daughter of Sydney H. Jones-Parry, Ellen Beatrice Jones-Parry.  Captain  Jones-Parry had joined the East India Company is a boy and served in India, Burma and the Crimea but returned, with his wife and six children, to Ceredigion to turn his hand at farming on the Tyllwyd estate that he had inherited.  I have not managed to find out quite how the family was connected to William Owen, but it may be that Jones-Parry had a share or a number of shares in the vessel.

Photograph of Ellen Beatrice, showing her in Aberystwyth. This was found on the MyWelshAncestry website (original source unknown).  There’s a slightly sharper version here.

Both views are revealing, and both necessary for a full grasp of the ship’s design.  The first photograph shows off that uncompromisingly square stern, whilst the second one shows her beautiful hollow bows and classic schooner lines, and her fine rigging.  The first photograph shows Ellen Beatrice from the rear, giving a clear view of her transom (square) stern.  Although rounded sterns offer greater overall strength to a vessel, particularly important on the open sea, a coaster was usually less prone to stress, and could take advantage of the additional cargo space and deck area that a transom stern conferred.  The second photograph enables a look at her rigging and sails, identifying her as a topsail schooner.  Topsail schooners combined the benefits of sails that were perpendicular to the ship’s sides (square sails) and sails parallel to the ship’s sides (“fore and aft sails”).  The deep sea full-rigged tea clippers and East Indiamen, merchant ships of the same century, were rigged with square sails on all masts in order to pick up the trade winds, but coastal ships had much more complicated winds and breezes to confront.  Two square sails hanging from the yards (cross beams) at the top of the fore mast of Ellen Beatrice enable a following wind to provide speed as the sails billow out and power the ship through the water.  Fore and aft sails are, however, much better for manoeuvrability and tacking, allowing a ship to sail efficiently both downwind and close to the wind.  She also had jib sails (smaller triangular sails) extending from the fore mast to the bowsprit to add to lend extra flexibility and versatility.  An artist’s impression of what she looked like under sail, the painting below left of “The Charming Nancy and Ellen Beatrice” by Terry F.J. Rogers, painted during the 1970s (with Ellen Beatrice on the left), gives a good idea of how she may have looked when at sea.

From the day of her launch, her Managing Owner was William Owens of 21 North Parade, Aberystwyth.  Managing Owners were often the business managers for ships, based on land and running the commercial side of things whilst appointing a Master to take the ship concerned to sea.  The further the ship went from her own port, the more complex this relationship.  William Owens, however, seems to combined the roles of Managing Owner and Master himself.  He was listed as the Master of Ellen Beatrice for many of her voyages between 1866 and 1872, with Glyn Botwood usually acting as Mate until 1870, reappearing in 1873.  After 1872, 50-year old William Owens is replaced as Master by Robert Evans, but is listed as Boatswain.  For a few years Owens returned as Master and even when Richard Davies Jones took over for the rest of the 1870s into the 1880s, Owens often acted as Mate, only vanishing from the roster in the 1890s.

Painting by Terry F.J. Rogers: “The Charming Nancy and Ellen Beatrice,” painted during the 1970s. The Ellen Beatrice is on the left of the painting. Source: National Museum Wales

Apart from master and mate, the crew retained some consistent names from year to year, but there were also numerous changes.  Looking at the Aberystwyth Shipping records for Ellen Beatrice from the 1860s to the 1890s, again on the Taklow Kernewek website, it is clear that most of the temporary crew signed up for short contracts of between four and eight weeks.  The Taklow Kernewek website lists the crew for a large number of her journeys, and although many sailors and mates came from Aberystwyth, and a few from Borth (a supplier to many sailors to local shipping), they also came from far and wide.   The National Archives provides some details of her crew in 1881, a list that shows just how much men moved from ship to ship, in this case coming together on Ellen Beatrice from as near as Aberystwyth and as far away as Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Sydney, Australia.  Perusing the crew listings for Ellen Beatrice on the Taklow Kernewek website, it is clear that very few sailors give their place of birth as Aberdovey.   There are exceptions.  William R. Morris, Ordinary Seaman, born in Aberdovey in 1871 joined the ship at Newport and left it at Cardiff.  David Williams Lewis, born in Aberdovey in 1872, joined the ship at Aberdovey as an Able Seaman and left her at Portmadoc.  Hugh Ezekiel Davies (sic), born in Aberdovey in 1874, joined the ship at Aberdovey in 1894 as Ordinary Seaman an and also left her at Aberdovey nearly two months later.  Ezeciel Davies (sic, possibly the same person as the previous, but listed as born in Aberdovey in 1876) joined she ship from Aberdovey in 1894 as an Able Seaman and left two months later in Portmadoc.  These names turn up every now and again on the ship, but often with a year or more between journeys.  Most of those who remained with the ship from one job to another were from Aberystwyth.  What is interesting, however, is that the port of Aberdovey was a real hub for sailors.  No matter what their places of birth or where they lived, sailors joined and left the ship at Aberdovey again and again.  It is clear that Aberdovey was a good place to find new ships to join during the latter part of the 19th Century, something of a hub for jobbing sailors.

The Aberdovey topsail schooner Catherine. Source: Lewis Lloyd, A Real Little Seaport, volume 2

Aberdovey shipbuilding ended with the launch of the last ship to be built on the Dyfi, the 1869 76-ton 75.2ft schooner/ketch Catherine built by John Jones at Llyn Bwtri near Pennal.  It had been the same story in Borth, across the estuary, and Barmouth to the north. When the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway arrived in the 1860s maritime trade went into decline, together with the shipbuilding industry.  This was just a year before the last sailing ship to be built on the Thames was launched, the 1870 794-ton tea clipper Lothair, part of a trend throughout Britain.  Although the new Dyfi railway bridge, the west coast railway itself and Canadian-built ships were challenges to shipbuilding and maritime trade in the Aberdovey area, there was a much bigger threat to all builders of wooden sailing ships in Britain.  Steam power was slowly taking over the sea, and many steamships and long distance sailing ships were now iron-hulled.  Shipbuilding in Aberystwyth had not quite been defeated by the railway and the arrival of steam, although it was teetering on the edge.  Shipbuilding persisted into the 1870s, although only 15 ships were built. The last big sailing ship to be built was the schooner Edith Eleanor in 1881.

The Ellen Beatrice, via the Peoples’ Collection Wales website (Copyright Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru).

In the photograph at the top of the page, and copied right, Ellen Beatrice is moored at the Aberdovey wharf alongside a big pile of shaped timber, possibly deals (pieces of timber shaped to a standardized 7 ft × 6 ft × 5/2 in) and parallel to the rail tracks that bought slate in to the port of Aberdovey for trans-shipping elsewhere. There is nothing in the photograph to say whether she was, for example, loading slate or off-loading timber.  It is probable that she simply ran various locally produced cargoes into ports along the coast, picking up return cargoes where she could.  The Aberystwyth Observer noted that in the winter of 1890 she was carrying a cargo of firebricks when she ran aground trying to enter Workington harbour in Cumbria during a bad storm.

The Aberystwyth Observer reported the incident on 15th November 1890 when Ellen Beatrice was 25 years old. “The huge waves were sweeping her for stem to stern and the crew must have suffered greatly.”  Conditions were so rough that the lifeboat sent to her aid was was unable to her, forced back by “terrific” breakers at the pier head.  Instead, a rocket brigade made several attempts to fire a line on to the ship, and this eventually worked.  The line was taken on board and made fast, and the crew were taken off by breaches buoy.  The owner William Owen, Captain R.D. Jones from Pembury, his son Oliver “a lad” and his son-in-law Mr Thomas Williams, all from Aberystwyth, were removed safely.  The ship was refloated when the storm dropped, and taken into Workington Harbour.  Another incident is recorded in the Aberystwyth Shipping Records.  In 1910 Thomas Oliver Jones from Aberystwyth, master of the ship, was killed when the Ellen Beatrice was at Cowes “by an iron hook falling on his head, from the boom, whil in collision with ketch Alford.”

The Mercantile Navy List includes her up until 1924.  During that period she changed hands several times.  Her Managing Owner from 1865 was William Owens who was registered at 21 North Parade, Aberystwyth.  The vessel’s registered tonnage was 88 tons when she was launched, but was changed to 76 tons in 1892.  Between 1902 and 1914, presumably on the death of William Owens, the title and responsibilities of Managing Owner passed to Mrs M. Owens of 41, North Parade, Aberystwyth.  It’s a different address, but she was probably his wife, unmarried sister or daughter.  Between 1915 and 1917 her Managing Agent was Ernest Brown, Tintagel View, Port Isaac.  Between 1918 and 1920 she was in the hands of The Weymouth Diving and Touring Company at 17A King Street, Weymouth.  Finally, between 1921 and 1923 (now registered 73 tons) her Managing Owner was William T Cundy of Lipsom Road, Plymouth.

I don’t know why her registered tonnage was reduced from 88 tons to 76 and then 73 in the Mercantile Navy List.  It is possible that there were errors in the record, or that the way in which tonnages were calculated changed.  This did happen from time to time, because duties for cargoes were based on various measurements including tonnage, but it may also be that the ship was physically altered in some way, and that her actual tonnage was reduced as a result.

There is no record of her in the Mercantile Navy List after 1923 but I have been unable to find any record of a wreckage or sale.  As she was by then 59 years old, after a reliable but strenuous career, she was perhaps too old to be seaworthy without costly repairs.  It seems plausible that the decision was taken to break her up but it would be good to have a definitive end to her story.

There are so many gaps in this, a huge frustration.  Who was William Owen, what was his background and how did he manage his business?  Was he the sole owner of the ship, or were there other share-holders?  Did he own and manage other ships?  Did the vessel get her name as a result of a connection with Jones-Parry, and if so what was this connection?  Who were the Aberdovey sailors that sailed on her, and did they remain based at Aberdovey or did they move away?  What were Ellen Beatrice’s regular cargoes and routes, how long did they take and how did she meet her end in 1923/24?  So many other questions besides.  If anyone has any of the answers, please get in touch.

I had fun doing the reading for this post.  Thanks to Adrian Lee for setting me off down this particular path.

 

Main sources:

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

Aberystwyth Harbour, Shipbuilding and Ships (C.1850-1880)
http://www.mywelshancestry.co.uk/John Jenkins/Aberystwyth Harbour and Shipping/Aberystwyth Harbour and Shipbuilding.html

The Aberystwyth Observer
https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3045806/3045811/33/ellen%20moulsdale

The Mercantile Navy List
http://www.maritimearchives.co.uk/mercantile-navy-list.html

Peoples’ Collection Wales
https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/405446?fbclid=IwAR1Tx6nySDcE23NtQD0XdvhSV4hgGNTUePO4oW3MspRQOGMWizl0GGZfzp0

Taklow Kernewek
https://taklowkernewek.neocities.org/abership/crewlists/vessel184.html

Vintage postcards #22: The TalyLlyn Railway

In spite of the big car park at Dolgoch, I have often taken the train to Dolgoch to walk the falls, instead of the car, because it has such charm.  I have also enjoyed sitting back on more lazy days with visitors, taking the train to Abergynlowyn for the pleasure of the superb views along the valley and towards Cadair Idris, drinking coffeee and munching cake at the station’s cafe.

The TalyLlyn Railway was built in 1865 along the south side of Fatthew Valley, to bring slate down from hills along the valley as far as Nant Gwernol into Tywyn, a distance of over seven miles, a trip of just under an hour.  Before the railway, from 1840, the tons of slate and slabs excavated from the Bryn Eglwys slate quarry at at Nant Gwernol, were carried by pack animals, carts and sledges to Aberdovey, where it was loaded on to ships bound for the building industry in cities across Wales and England.

The text printed on the back of the postcard reads: “No.2 ‘Sir Haydn’ rebuilt in the 1890s as an 0-4-2 Saddle Tank was originally constructed in 1878 as an 0-4-OST for their neighbours the Corris Railway. Purchased in 1951 for the Talyllyn Railway for the princely sum of £25. It was then named after the General Manager of the line from 1911 to 1950, Sir Henry Haydn Jones.”  On one side of the tracks is the platform and on the other are two water towers. Dalkeith Picture Postcards (no.417)

By the end of 1866 it had been adapted to carry passengers as well.  Although ongoing investment in the railway continued to improve it, the capital investment was high and the immense profits hoped for did not follow.

The mine was closed in 1909.  Purchased by local MP Henry Haydn Jones in 1911 it had a brief resurgence but after the First World War it held on by a thread and eventually closed in 1946 following a serious slate mine collapse.

Haydn Jones continued to run the train as a passenger service until 1950, when he died.  It looked as though the railway’s life was over, but in 1951 the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was formed with the help of the well known engineer and author Tom Rolt, and the Talyllyn Railway became the world’s first preserved railway, continuing the service whilst simultaneously working on the restoration of both tracks and engines.  There is a history section on the Talyllyn Railway website, from which the above information was taken, with many more details and some great photos.

The black and white Frith postcard at the top (number 77789) shows an engine at the water tower at Dolgoch, where it took on water for its trip along the valley.  On the platform there is a small group of people waiting to board the train.  Each engine was numbered and named, and my thanks to Richard Greenhough for the identification of the engine as No.1, Talyllyn.  It was built in 1866 and ran until 1952, when it was removed from service or an overhaul, not returning to service until 1999. There is more about the engine on a dedicated page on the Tallyllyn Railway website.  The unused postcard is not listed on the Frith website, but postcard 77791, also of Dolgoch, dates to 1925, so it seems safe to place it in the mid 1920s.

The Talyllyn Railway Centenary commemorative cover.

In 1870 and for decades afterwards, the Talyllyn railway carried post between Tywyn and Abergynolwyn, the fulfilment of an official agreement with the General Post Office (GPO).  The first Talyllyn train of the day carried mail bags from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn.  The last train of the day took all the local post down into Tywyn.  This was an early precursor of the 1891 arrangement between the GPO and a number of railway companies to which the Talyllyn railway had also signed up.  The 1891 arrangement enabled people to send urgent post via the railways, which delivered them quickly between railway stations.  A small additional postage cost was added to the standard charge, so two stamps would be fixed to the letter:  a normal stamp showing the standard postage rate and a special stamp for the additional amount.  Although this system ended when  British Rail was formed and individual railway companies were either closed or nationalized, Talyllyn had neither closed nor been nationalized, so when it re-opened as a preserved railway in May 1957, in continued to hold the right to send mail.  It takes advantage of this today to help raise funds for the line.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, commemorated by the Talyllyn Railway

Visitors can send souvenir postcards and letters featuring a Talyllyn stamp, which can be purchased from Wharf station, and can be posted at in the Guard’s van, handed in at Wharf and Abergynolwyn stations, or popped in the postbox at Tywyn’s Talyllyn station.  Special cards are produced to mark major Talyllyn events or Post Office special occasions like  First Day and Commemorative Covers, like the examples here.  You can find out more about these stamps and cards on this information leaflet from the Talyllyn website.

The Talyllyn “great little railway” souvenir postcards on this post are all in a series produced for the TalyLlyn railway by Dalkeith Picture Postcards.  Dalkeith specialized in postcard sets of this type, many with transport themes.  Although inexpensive, they are apparently very popular with collectors.  All three shown on this page were unused.

 

Vintage Postcard #21: Rolling stock on the tracks, Aberdovey beach

Where the big 1970 car park is now located, railway tracks used to cross the beach in front of Glandyfi Terrace.  There is more about the rails and the jetty in an earlier post, and there isn’t much else to say about this postcard here, but I like it very much.  The row of freight trucks with their big wheels divides the tourist beach from the houses, and tell their own story about the various economic imperatives of Aberdovey in the earlier 20th Century.  As ever, the 1897 shelter on Pen Y Bryn looks out over the scene, the village’s most conspicuous landmark and one of it’s most visited tourist attractions.  The photograph was taken from the jetty and I have tried to reproduce the same viewpoint.

Typically for such an everyday scene, this was a “Gwilym Williams, Aberdovey” postcard.  It was posted from Llandderfel, near Bala, in July 1912 to an address in Nelson, Lancashire.