Category Archives: Living

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!

 

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

Video: The Dyfi Estuary at Aberdovey

This was a very windy late afternoon in mid December 2019, and I have been messing around in my software to figure out how to eliminate the intense sound distortion that ruins the sound tracks of many of my videos.  It is clear that I need a dead cat mic (charming name!) but it is impressive how well the software can compensate once the damage is done, leaving the gentle sounds of water on the seashore and the bright birdsong in tact.

 

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.