Category Archives: Heritage

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.

Vintage Postcards #20: Aberdovey beach huts (and Melin Ardudwy)

When I first glanced at this postcard I was focused on the busy beach scene, with the row of bijou beach huts and the slightly exotic tents that are rather reminiscent of Rudolph Valentino desert scenes.  Then I noticed the mill in the background.  In spite of the distance of the mill from the camera and the lack of detail, I was chuffed to bits to see it there because this is only the third photograph of the mill I have found.  The steam-powered roller mill, Melin Ardudwy, has been covered on a previous post.

The postcard shows 11 beach huts, and several tents.  The visitors gathered at the water’s edge, women, men and children, are all elaborately dressed in fashionable outfits with hats.  Just like previous postcards that show railway tracks on the beach, this photograph, showing beach huts summer visitors in the foreground, rail tracks at the back of the beach, the Cambrian Railway bridge beyond and the flour mill on the horizon, are all a reminder of two of Aberdovey’s important but sometimes conflicting income streams – industrialization and port trade on the one hand, and tourism on the other.  Having said that, I am sure that most visiting children will have loved to see all the goings-on on the wharf and jetty, with vessels of all size and trains with their cargoes.  It’s a busy scene.  Few have been brave enough to venture into the sea, but a few are paddling in a rather gingerly way.  None of it looks even slightly relaxing.  Visitors at this time probably arrived in greatest number by rail, but the Aberystwyth.gov.uk site says that a steamer offered trips to Aberdovey from Aberystwyth during the summer, allowing day-trippers the novelty of a cruise and the diversion of another resort.

Bathing machines near Aberystwyth c.1800. Source: Wikipedia, which in turn sourced the image from the National Library of Wales

The origins of the beach hut lie with medical professionals of the 18th Century.  Just as warmer climates were believed to be beneficial for alleviating some ailments, and the waters from natural spas at places like Bath and Harrogate were recommended for an assortment of conditions, in the 1700s, immersion in sea water began to be recommended by the medical profession as a cure-all for various health problems.  Just as ailing people began to migrate to spas to take the waters, combining the hope for a cure with the enjoyment of local entertainments, there was a gradual flow of people to the seaside, requiring both facilities for entering the sea and entertainment when back on shore.  In order to enable these early health tourists to immerse themselves in the sea whilst retaining modesty, horse-drawn bathing machines were introduced to beaches, enabling people to dispense of their clothes in privacy while the bathing machine was pulled to the water’s edge.  Initially people entered the sea naked, as in the painting of a scene near Aberystwyth, left.  Soon specially designed beach wear was designed.  By the time Victoria came to the throne in 1837, bathing machines were well established and seaside holidays were becoming increasingly popular, aided by the growth of the railway network. Queen Victoria had her own personal bathing machine at her home on the Isle of Wight (there’s a photograph of it on Wikipedia).

Initially men and women were segregated, and the bathing machines delivered men and women to the designated parts of beaches.  As beach holidays became commonplace, and all-encompassing swimwear eliminated the need for people to be delivered to the water’s edge, the need to divide men for women diminished and mixed bathing became the norm.  The upshot of all this was that bathing machines were joined and eventually replaced by fixed beach huts, which offered people the same facility to change in privacy, but also gave them somewhere to return to as a base for their day on the beach.  Once established, beach huts could be hired by the hour, the day, the week.  Eventually they could be hired by the year or purchased outright.  Beach huts today exchange hands for fairly eye-watering sums.

11 Bodfor Terrace. Source: Google Maps Street View

The reverse of the postcard gives the information that the card was posted in June 1913 from Aberdovey, the year before the First World War. The visitors were staying at 11 Bodfor Terrace, which is still rented out for holiday accommodation today.  Unlike the people in the postcard, these visitors had been swimming and the writer concludes that she and her companions were “very happy.”  It was sent to Lymm in Cheshire.

The postcard itself was one of James Valentine’s but surprisingly isn’t numbered, so no production date is available but the clothing in the photograph is consistent with the postal mark.

Main sources for this post:

A Short History of Beach Huts
https://www.beach-huts.com/history-of-beach-huts.php

The History of the Humble Beach Hut Unveiled
(For those interested in verifiable factual information, the Daily Mail is perhaps the antithesis of a research tool.  It does, however, have a review of a new book about beach huts by Karen Averby, and there are some really splendid beach hut photos on the page).
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4418120/The-history-humble-beach-hut-unveiled.html

Vintage Postcard #19: The Battery, Aberdovey

An unused postcard showing a row of cannons facing the slipway and the wharf beyond.  I had never seen a photograph of these before.  It took me a minute to realize exactly where they were located, but it was obviously the Literary Institute, which was established in 1882.  There is a photo on a stock library website taken in 1901 and showing a similar view from the Francis Frith collection.

In 1900 an article in the Welsh Gazette stated that the ultimate origins of the cannons was unknown but they had been presented to the Institute by the Urban District Council who had presented them to the Institute, and the letters G.R. on the barrels showed that they had once belonged to the Crown.

Henry Birch’s 1982 booklet about the Literary Institute (A Brief History of The Aberdovey Literary Institute 1882-1982) makes reference to the cannons in connection with celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897, when they were rusty and badly neglected after standing outside the Institute “for some years” and it was proposed that they should be restored and mounted.  There was an unverified local story amongst older residents that the cannons were fired to celebrate the end of the siege Mafeking, and that a ship at anchor in the estuary was dismasted in the process.  The booklet says that in later years the cannons were used by boats alongside the wall as mooring posts.  By 1940 the Institute’s committee had decided that they should be scrapped to help the war effort but they were unable to find a scrap dealer who was interested.  In 1941 a letter to the Committee indicates that two were to be retained and restored “for sentimental reasons” and the others were to be “sold to the local salvage depot for 6d each.”  There is no mention of what happened to the final two.

This is a Wrench postcard, number 73082.  Evelyn Wrench, who set up Wrench Postcards in 1902 when he was in his early 20s, was celebrated as a business success story, a model for other young entrepreneurs, and several newspaper articles were written about him.  There is more about him at the end of an earlier post.

Vintage postcards #17: A special train on the Cambrian Coast Line

This must have been a wonderful sight – a steam-hauled special train on the way into Aberdovey along the side of the estuary on the Cambrian Coast Line.  The reverse of the postcard says that it was sold in aid of the Talyllyn Railway in Tywyn.  The Aberdovey stretch of the railway was established in 1864, connecting via Machynlleth to the south in 1867 (the subject of an earlier post) and the last steam engine run along the route was in 2017, marking the 150th anniversary of the Grade 2 listed Pont Y Bermo (Barmouth Bridge), that carries the line over the Mawwdach estuary.

I naively thought that it would be easy to find a date for what I thought must be an unusual event, but my assumption was wrong.   Thanks, therefore, to Sierd Jan Tuistra, via RMWeb member Martin McCowgill, who provided the information that this is one of the annual AGM weekend specials from Paddington to Towyn, 24th September 1960.  It was a double-headed special, with two engines pulling the carriages from Shrewsbury to Towyn, each pulling a coal truck before the passenger carriages. The engine at the front is 9017, otherwise known as the Dukedog class, which was the nickname for the Great Western Railway Earl Class.  Behind it is engine 7330 in the Mogul (GWR 4300) class.

Steam was not an uncommon sight on the Cambrian coast, a lot of regular services were steam hauled until 1966. Double headed train were less common, but quite a number of Cambrian Coast express summer Saturday specials were double headed because of the number of passengers & carriages.

Apparently there also used to be occasional summer steam trips on a Sunday from Aberystwyth to Pwllheli, so although this was a fabulous sight, it was not actually as rare as one might have expected.  Halliday, the photographer, specialized in vintage train photographs in the 1950s, mainly black and white.

Produced by Judges, about whom more on an earlier post.

Vintage postcards #14 – Penhelig from a boat or Ynyslas

Penhelig, possibly 1923

Penhelig seen from Ynyslas in February 2019

It is almost peculiar how little has changed between these two dates, 1923 and 2019.  Immediately in front of the houses on the left the memorial park has been developed, a small shelter has been added, and there is now a sea wall in front of it, and the trees behind the houses seem to have grown and spread, but little else has changed.  The postcard was unsent.  It is another produced by “Gwilym Williams, Aberdovey” about whom I have been unable to find anything, but there is an additional piece of information on the picture side of the card – a series number:  88213 JV.  The initials JV usually stand for James Valentine, so perhaps Gwilym Williams occasionally worked as a local agent of Valentine’s.  According to the Valentine’s postcard dating page, this number falls in a series that date to 1923.

Vintage postcards #13 – Aberdovey shopping centre

The idea of Aberdovey as a shopping centre is a somewhat staggering notion, given the modern sense of the term, which usually involves ugly custom-built malls and airfield-sized car parks, but it must have been a very busy high street, an important source of all sorts of goods in a period when people shopped close to home.  Although today most of the frontages along the promenade are businesses that rely on supplying the tourist industry, shops like the butcher and pharmacy both have dates over their doors today (1861 and1863 respectively, see photographs below) demonstrating that village stores were very important as Aberdovey continued to grow.  In this picture there is a dairy too, which today is an excellent ice cream shop.  The cars have real charm but the bicycles lined up against the wharf fence tell the real story about how most people got around.  Over the fence is one of the rail trucks that ran on tracks along the wharf and jetty for loading and unloading ships.

This turns out to be a photograph of a postcard, rather than the original postcard itself, so the reverse side is completely blank. A shame, as a huge part of the story is missing.

Vintage Postcards #12: The Tennis Courts

 

The tennis courts were located in front of the approach to Aberdovey railway station.  Now, it’s a bowling green, with a small section fenced off to the left that still has a tennis court.  The little tennis pavilion has now been replaced by two slightly larger structures.  It is possible that the blue X marks the house where the visitors were staying.  My excellent uncle occasionally does the same thing in the postcards he sends.  The houses in the postcard and my photographs below shows how foliage can change aspects of a scene.  The house at top left now has a tree in front of its central gable, and the one immediately above the tennis pavilion previously had Virginia creeper or similar clinging to the walls, which has now been stripped off.  There are a couple of new buildings in the picture below, but on the whole that stretch of Aberdovey retains most of its character.

The same view in November 2019

The bowling club was established in 1921.  The postcard was sent to Solihull in 1934, with an Aberdovey Merioneth postmark.  The stamp is a George V 1d red that was issued between January 1st 1912 and 1934.  I’ve seen an identical postcard with the postmark dated 1926, so this postcard had obviously been in circulation for some time.

Vintage Postcards #11: Along the promenade towards the old jetty

A quiet day in Aberdovey.  The history of the wharf and Jetty are described in Hugh M. Lewis’s booklet A Riverside Story, and in C.C. Green’s excellent The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways, volume 2 (1996).  Today’s jetty dates to 1970, but Aberdovey’s original pier and jetty were built with double railway tracks and turnable and completed in 1885 at the same time as the new wharf and storage buildings, enabling the unloading and loading of steamers directly from and into railway trucks.  Slate was the primary export, whilst coal, limestone, livestock (cattle, pigs and horses), wheat and potatoes were major imports.  During the First World War the wharf was used as a coal dump and the jetty went out of use.  Both continued to deteriorate after the war.  Beginning in 1962 British Rail entered negotiations to surrender the wharf and jetty to the Crown Estate Commissioners and Tywyn Urban District Council, together with a sum to enable the Council to carry out repairs, but there were numerous delays.  In 1965 Mr James Griffiths, the Secretary of State for Wales, intervened and the Council at last acquired the property and began to initiate a number of improvement schemes.  The first work was completed in 1968 and included a new sewage station, underground holding tanks, a sea outfall and public toilets.  The wharf was resurrected with new steel pilings and a wall with concrete coping with ladders and bollards.  A new slipway was added at the western end of the wharf area.  The jetty was found to have been attacked by Teredo worm, the bane of sea-going ships for centuries, and was riddled with holes, meaning that the existing jetty could not be repaired and had to be replaced with a shorter and narrower structure.  Funding was a difficulty, but the Outward Bound Sea School, for whom the jetty was of considerable value, provided 47% of the total cost.  The balance was paid by British Rail Board and the Aberdovey Advertising and Improvements Committee. At the same time the buildings that they used on the wharf were renovated.   The big seafront car park replaced the old rail track that led in to the wharf and on to the jetty, and was completed in 1970.  In 1971 the information centre for the Snowdonia National Park was built on the wharf, paid for by a grant from the National Parks Commission and a new clubhouse was built for the Dovey Sailing Club , which also opened in 1971.

Thanks to Sierd Jan Tuistra for the information that the photograph, as opposed to the postcard, probably dates to before 1923.  He points out that the low wagon on the wharf has the livery of the Cambrian Railways: CAM [logo] RYS and that Cambrian Railways was acquired by the Great Western Railway in 1923, after which all rolling stock was quickly painted over in GWR livery.

The promenade looks brand new in this photograph, but I have been unable to find out when it was actually created.  The road is empty except for three men with bicycles and a couple of pedestrians.  The road was metalled sometime during or after 1895, when the Council Surveyor purchased a cargo of broken limestone for metalling the streets.   Up against the jetty are sailing boats together with a steamer with smoke issuing from its funnel, giving the peaceful village scene a slightly industrial air.  Beneath the Pen Y Bryn shelter, erected in 1897, a large building looms over the houses of Seaview Terrace, just visible at far right of my recent photograph.  This was a school, the subject of vintage postcard #24, now converted to residential use.

The above photograph shows the view from a similar viewpoint on November 29th 2019.  The most obvious difference is the presence of parked vehicles, and lots of them.  On the day I took the photo there were fishing vessels in the bay, but of a very different order from the ones in the postcard:

Fishing boats in the bay at Aberdovey

The postcard, numbered A0105 was produced by E.T.W. Dennis and Sons Ltd of Scarborough and is unused.  The printing and publishing company was established in 1870 and began to mass-produce postcards in 1894.  Sadly, the company’s pre-war records were destroyed in a bombing raid in 1941.  From 1955 all postcards beginning with the letter A and the number 01 had Aberdovey as their subject matter, but many of the images used predate this time, and this particular photograph certainly predates the 1950s. The firm closed in 2000.

Vintage Postcard #10: Aberdovey from the Island

Although the postcard is entitled Aberdovey from the Island, I assume that this was taken from Ynyslas rather than a sandbank, because the tide is pretty high. Ynys means island, so perhaps that is the source of the postcard’s title.  It’s another gorgeous photograph. That single sail Aberdovey to Ynyslas ferry boat is a think of real beauty, and the placement of fractionally off-centre is sheer genius.

The following two were taken in February 2019 from the beach at Ynyslas.  Although today there are some more buildings visible on the hill, it is actually surprising how few new additions have been built.  The 1960s developments at the top of Copper Hill Street were a commercial decision and were probably good for Aberdovey’s future, as was the car park on the sea front, but it is notable that development has, for the most part, been kept under control.

 

Aberdovey from Ynyslas

The postmark is dated 26th August 1915, and was sent from Aberdovey.  The stamp shows George V (who reigned 1911 – 1936) and is known as a “½d Green,” first issued on 1st January 1912.  A frustration is that the postcard manufacturer is Gwilym Williams, and I have been unable to find out anything about him.  Do let me know if you have any information.

Another frustration is that the handwriting is, for me, almost completely undecipherable.  In the address, the first line appears to be Chetwynd but the town/village took me ages to work out (it’s West Malvern) and the message eludes me completely.  I suppose that as I (and presumably others) have become more dependent upon email and word processors, deciphering handwriting is much less of an everyday task.

This appears to be the house to which the postcard was sent: