Category Archives: Industry

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.

“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 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 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.

The Aberdovey flour mill: Melin Ardudwy

Melin Ardudwy.  Source:  Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village

From the moment I saw a photograph of Melin Ardudwy in Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village, I wanted to know all about it.  To my immense frustration, there is remarkably little information to be found.  Melin Ardudwy is only mentioned in passing in local history accounts, almost forgotten by most histories of the village.  It is not even mentioned on the Coflein website, which is usually a reliable starting place, often providing a few helpful references to chase. However, a bit of pottering around in my books and files turned up some information.  The photograph in Hugh M. Lewis’s book is shown above right.  In the process of my searches online, I was excited to find, on the People’s Collection website, a superb sepia picture of the mill (below left) showing it behind a train pulled by the locomotive Seaham, ready to depart.  Next, I found that the mill was listed in Gwynedd Archaeological Trust’s document Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi under their “Buried Sites With Poor Archaeological Potential” category as follows:

25065 Melin Ardudwy.  Assessment of Importance: D Site Status Reference: The site of a multi-storey steam flour roller mill of late 19th century date. No above-ground remains are evident and the site has become a housing estate. Easting: 260183 Northing: 296159.

This short piece pointed me in the direction of steam flour roller mills.  By the 1870s roller milling was becoming widespread, and conventional wind-powered flour mills were being abandoned.  Roller mills enabled the mass-production of much greater volumes of flour, which could be consistently graded and were used to make newly fashionable white bread. The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust’s Conservation Area Appraisal for Aberdovey says that the mill was erected in 1881.  Apparently this area beyond the village was known as Ardudwy, hence the mill’s name.

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

The mill used to stand where the little housing development just outside the village on the road to Tywyn, near the golf course.  The mill was four storeys high, stone-built, with five bays on the main frontage, three on the side, and had a protruding extension one bay in width.  The brick-built chimney sits in the corner where the two parts of the building meet.  It is a substantial edifice.  A large shed-like structure stands at its side.  Both photographs show a railway locomotive pulling trucks past the mill.  The one in Hugh M. Lewis’s book shows clearly that a siding also ran into the mill itself, under the large white shelter visible in both photographs.  This meant that flour could be taken further afield by rail, or taken down to the port for loading on to vessels for transhipment along the coast to south Wales.

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from a contemporary postcard showing the mill, taken from the beach.

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

I have been unable to find out when the mill was demolished but a postcard that shows it in the distance (above) shows women in fashions that date to the 1910s/early 20s, so it was certainly still standing at that time.

 

Main sources for this post:

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2007.  Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi. A Threat Related Assessment.  GAT Project  No.1824, Report No.671.1, April 2007

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2011. Conservation Area Appraisal: Aberdyfi, Gwynedd.  GAT Project No. 2155. Report No. 956, June, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

The canalized section of Afon Leri and West Wharf Boatyard, Ceredigion

Afon Leri from the Panorama Walk behind Aberdovey, showing the railway bridge and the boatyard. The road bridge is between the two, but difficult to see in this photograph.

I have been fascinated by Afon Leri ever since I first visited Aberdovey some twenty years ago.  From my living room window it is an unwavering slender scar on the flat landscape to the east of Ynyslas.  From up on the hill its opening is clearly perpendicular to the banks of the Dyfi estuary, and one can see the bridges that carry the road and railway over the river towards Ynyslas, next to a small boatyard.  The river’s course across this topmost corner of Ceredigion is obviously canalized, an engineered artifice, but why?  What was its purpose?

Cors Fochno c.1790, before the route of the Afon Leri was changed. Source: National Library of Wales (where there is a zoomable version of this image)

The Leri rises at Llyn Craig-y-Pistyll below Pumlimon and passes through Talybont, (on the main road between Machynlleth and Aberystwyth) where it meets the Afon Ceulan before flowing behind Borth. The canalized section is 3.35km long and c.35m wide and runs from Ynysfergi in the south to Pont Leri in the north, crossing the low-lying Cors Fochno.  Cors Fochno is a Special Area of Conservation and one of the largest remaining examples of a raised peat bog in Britain, which started to form from c.5500BC.  Afon Leri now opens out into the Dyfi estuary at Pont Dyfi in Ynyslas.   Work on the canalized section had begun by 1790 when the above map was created by T. Lewis, marked as the Pil Newydd.

Excerpt from the above map of Cors Fochno showing the former course of the Afon Leri at far left.  The Leri begins at Borth and meanders along the coastline to the west of Cors Fochno up to the point where it emerges into Cardigan Bay at Aberlery (which means the mouth of the Lery).  Source: The National Library of Wales (where a zoomable version can be found)

In the early 19th Century local landowners and neighbours Pryse Pryse of Gogerddan and Mathew Davies of Cwmcynfelin were incentivized by the General Enclosure Act of 1801 to reclaim land from the bog in order to develop it for pastoral agrarian use.  Land reclamation would require the waterlogged land to be drained.  There was little recorded opposition from parishioners, and royal assent was granted on June 22nd 1813.  The land surveyor Charles Hassall saw the advantages of enclosing the 5106 acres but warned the landowners against contractors who were either duplicitous or ignorant of the task ahead.  His words were almost premonitionary as successive problems plagued the project.  Disagreements between land owners, contractors and commissioners, together with serious and ongoing financial problems, caused major delays.

Charles Hassall’s plan was to divert a number of streams that entered the bog to drain away spring floodwaters and build embankments along the Dyfi estuary to prevent salt-water transgressions.  He recommended an experienced contractor called Anthony Bower, who was employed in 1815.  Bower suggested that using the river Leri to drain water from the land was the most viable solution, but there were problems.  The course of the Leri ran along the far western edge of Cors Fochno and emptied a little further up the coast at Aberlery into Cardigan Bay.  It was insufficiently deep and fast-moving to serve as a drain for the bog, so Bower suggested that the best solution was to deepen, widen and straighten the river.  As Professor Moore-Colyer describes it:  “A sluice was to be constructed at the river mouth from which a main drain would run through the centre of the bog. This would be accompanied by a catchwater drain which would follow the course of the Lerry to the foot of the hills and then along the south-eastern boundary of the bog to join the River Cletwr.  By this means, Bower believed, water from the hills would be prevented from entering the bog while an embankment on the southern side of the Dyfi would preclude the entry of salt-water.”  Sluices and catchwater drains would be employed to control water levels.

In 1815, an alternative proposal was put forward by Griffith Parry of Penmorfa, and which carried an estimated cost of £10,000.  Griffith Parry had trained under the great engineer Andrew Rennie on the construction of the London Docks.   He also favoured diverting the Leri, but from the west end of Ynys Fergi in a straight line to Pont Afon Leri, and he too believed that deepening, widening and straightening the river was the solution, which he thought should be embanked with clay.  In addition, he suggested deepening, widening and embanking surrounding ditches and streams to improve the drainage potential offered by canalizing the Leri.

Gogerddan estate, the seat of Sir Pryse Pryse. Source: Parks&Gardens

Hassall died in 1816 and was replaced by co-commissioners Robert Williams of Bangor and David Joel Jenkins of Lampeter.  Williams was staggered by the estimated total cost of £30,000 proposed by Bowers which, with the widening and deepening of other existing drains, would absorb over 1000 acres, and would create a total landmass with a value of only £20,000.   Bower and Williams fell out over both this and more personal reasons.  For the next two years the parties vied for position, with Jenkins supporting Bower and Williams supporting Parry.  Parry’s plan eventually won out.  Contractors, to be paid £2500.00 in instalments, were appointed.  A final payment of £250.00 was to be withheld until two years after the project was completed, to provide insurance against post-completion problems. Additional costs, including raw materials, were provided by the Aberystwyth Bank after Pryse Pryse of Gogerddan provided security of £6000.00 for the loan,  the balance of the cash was raised by selling land on the peripheries of the marsh for over £2340.00 initially.  However, financial problems and disputes plagued the drainage scheme, particularly in respect of the contractors not building various elements to specification.   Williams resigned and in 1822 Richard Griffiths of Bishop’s Castle, with three successful enclosures under his belt, was appointed in his stead.  After the change in commissioner, the appointment of the surveyor Charles Mickleburgh of Montgomery, a new Act of Parliament in 1824, the chaos of further financial difficulties, escalating debts and a court case, the project was eventually completed by 1847, and a small  harbour was provided for the local shipbuilding industry.  It is difficult to see how the project could ever have seen a return on its investment.

Google map of Afon Leri

The above map from the 1790s, the Google map to the left and the Ordnance Survey map below show the former and present courses of the river. 

A road bridge, Pont Afon Leri,  carries the B4353 over the river at Ynys Tachwedd, connecting Ynyslas with the A487.  A small boatyard is located on the western side of the road bridge.  The Cambrian Coast Line crosses just to its south on a 7-pier railway bridge that was built in 1863.  The river is tidal along the length of the cut, and a footbridge over the Leri where the river meets the Wales Coast Path marks the boundary between the tidal cut and the non-tidal river.

The West Wharf boatyard at Pont Afon Leri has a history dating back to the 19th Century.  Here’s the description from the Coflein website:

Afon Leri from the hill behind Aberdovey, showing the boatyard by the Pont Afon Leri road bridge

Remains of timber-fronted quay on the west side of the entrance of the river Leri constructed by the railway company. The northern end of the quay frontage is degraded and the quay material has been washed out from behind the piling. The section in front of the boatyard has been repaired and remodelled to accommodate a modern boat lift. Sales particulars dating to 1862 reveal that short section of wharf already existed close the road before the coming of the Welsh Coast Railway. The wharf was part of the land holdings belonging to Issac Ll. Williams Esq under the Geneur’rglyn Inclosure Act. The railway company subsequently undertook the development of the wharf to act as a landing point for a new steamer working the Aberdovey ferry. The paddle steamer ELIZABETH started service on 24 October 1863, the day that the railway line between Aberdovey and Llanwyngwril opened on the northern side of the opened. The vessel was to operate every hour and to charge 6d per head for the crossing. Maintaining the service was extremely difficult as the ELIZABTH was frequently stuck fast on the Dyfi sandbanks. On 5 July 1867, George Owen, the Cambrian railway engineer reported that if the railway line to the north side of the Dyfi could not be fully opened soon, then the wharf would need to be piled. The line subsequently opened in August 1867. The ferry’s use of the West Wharf might have ended then, but the railway inspectors required more work to be undertaken on the tunnels. Whilst passengers were taken round by road, goods continued to be shipped across the Dyfi by the tug JAMES CONLEY. The use of the ELIZABETH on the route was abandoned and the vessel sold in 1869. In 1893, it was proposed that that the barges transhipping slate from the Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway would be charged for using the railway company’s West Wharf. Two years later, in May 1895, Mr I Hughes Jones, owner of the East Wharf sawmill proposed the transfer of the business to the other side of the Leri. This was accomplished soon after April 1896 when a new railway siding was opened to service the transferred sawmill. Also in 1896, is appears that the Hafan Sett Quarry (Plynlimon and Hafan Tramway) were still proposing to use the wharf, as they contacted the railway company with regard to installing a level crossing for the tramway. It is likely that the piling for the wharf was extended around this time to facilitate these new developments. The saw mill continued to occupy the wharfside through to the First World War.

Today the boatyard is still a functioning business, offering boat storage, slipway launching and repairs and has a 16-ton slipway hoist.

The Ceredigion Coast Path follows part of the course of the canalized section of the river, and intersects with the Wales Coast Path just east of Borth where the canalized stretch of the river begins, as shown on the above map.  The Ceredigion Coast Path website has more details, and for those wanting to walk the Leri, there’s a good outline of how it can be approached by Ben Fothergill on the UKRGB website.  An official walk across Cors Fochno can be found on the Natural Resources Wales website.

View of the Afon Leri as it approaches the Dyfi estuary. Photograph by Chris Denny (under Creative Commons licence).

Afon Leri from the footbridge where the tidal section of Afon Leri meets the non-tidal section. Photograph by Nigel Brown, used under Creative Commons licence.

Afon Leri in the mist, seen from Aberdovey

Main source for this post and a lot more information, particularly about the financial problems, land sold for financing the drainage, and allotments of land to the poor, with my thanks: