Category Archives: Living

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  The little tennis pavilion has now been replaced by two slightly larger structures.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.  Hugh M. Lewis describes the history of the wharf and Jetty in his booklet A Riverside Story.  Aberdovey’s current jetty was built with double railway tracks and turnable in 1882 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.

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 chapel looms over the houses of Seaview Terrace, a slightly surprising sight as it was such a dominant feature and is no longer there.

The above photograph shows the view from a similar viewpoint on November 29th 2019, and I had to wait for a break in the traffic to take it.  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 Postcards #9: A busy Sea View Terrace

Sea View Terrace

An exceptionally engaging view of Aberdovey.  It has much more of an intimate and lively feel to it than most vintage postcards, which are usually unnaturally empty of any signs of life. It is surprising how few vintage postcards show busy scenes with lots of people, apart from later beach scenes.  I always wonder how the photographers managed to persuade people to stay out of camera shot.  The Marie Celeste approach to postcard photography. This example, with women and children in the foreground, is particularly novel.

The building on the far left is the Dovey Inn, which was first built in 1729 by Athelstan Owen, of the Ynysymanegwyn estate in Tywyn (about which I have posted here), and will have been there throughout the lives of all these women.  What I particularly like about this photograph is not only the impression of very focused activity, but the sense that these are confident women who are heading firmly towards, or from, a particular location.   Given the smartly dressed children in the background and the men in the distance, I initially wondered if they were not heading away from church attendance.  Still, if that were the case it seems odd that they were not in family units.  Another postcard mystery!

View from the Dyfi Inn along Sea View Terrace, November 2019

The postcard was unused, so I don’t have a date. I’m not an expert on early 20th Century fashion but I’m guessing that these outfits were popular in the pre-First World War years, probably in the 1910s. Skirts are long, but above the ankle, and hats are favoured.  If there are any fashion experts reading this, please let me know what you think!

The back of the card credits the postcard producer simply as “Gwilym Williams, Aberdovey.”  If anyone knows something about him, please let me know because he is responsible for quite a few Aberdovey postcards and I have been unable to discover anything at all about him.


Vintage Postcards #8: Penhelig

A crisp, sharp photograph of Penhelig Terrace and the row of houses beyond, a postcard produced by Judges Ltd of Hastings (postcard no.14818).  The memorial park, about which I have posted, had not been established and the ground that it now occupies looks curiously empty and rather desolate.  The roofs and gardens of Penhelig Terrace are shown in the foreground.  The 1864 railway runs past Penhelig Terrace, which was built on spoil from the excavation of the tunnels, one of which is clearly visible here.  A footpath appears to run over the top of the hill, over the tunnel entrance.  Everything looks so crisp and manicured.

The card is unusued and unmarked, so there is no stamp or postmark data to help with a date.  Even though Judge’s is still going in the guise of  Judge Sampson, and this postcard is in their archive, there is no information listed about it.  Judge’s Ltd was established in 1902 in Hastings by photographer Fred Judge, who bought an existing photography business to enter the poscard trade when postcards were accepted by the Post Office in the same year.  His business evolved from a focus on photographic comissions to  the publication of postcards the following year.  This strand of the business was so successful that in 1910 they moved into wholsesale postcard production, appointing agents all over Britain  to sell postcards. In 1927 new premises were built to enable the expansion of the company, with additonal branches established at Ludgate Hill, the West Country and the Lake District in order to facilitiate the distribution of a wide range postcards featuring new resorts and rural areas.  The EdinPhoto website says that postcards began to be numbered after 1906, starting with 50 and going up to 31782.   A history of Judge’s by Judge Sampson is available on the Wayback Machine website.

The row of houses behind the memorial park to the right of Penhelig Terrace on the main road through Aberdovey has not changed much since the above postcard.

The row of houses behind the memorial park to the right of Penhelig Terrace on the A493.

Penherlig Terrace seen from Penhelig beach:

Vintage Postcards #7: Aberdovey Parade in 1905

This scene shows the stretch of Aberdovey that runs in front of St Peter’s Church and beyond.  There is a handwritten note that reads “Sept 15 1905” that was presumably written by whoever purchased it, although it was not used for a message and was never posted.  Perhaps it was a souvenir for a postcard album. Small boats are pulled up on the beach or floating in the estuary, and nets are hung out to dry on structures embedded in the sand.  The church had been standing for 63 years. The mature trees in the churchyard have been removed, but the church is flanked by earlier buildings that still stand.  Two large buildings shown above the village in the postcard are now painted white.  All are visible in the two present-day photographs below, which show the same stretch of houses.  The first is seen from a very similar point on the wharf at Aberdovey, taken in November 2019, the other from the beach at Ynyslas in February 2019.

This is the same view in 1902:

In this scene taken from the same viewpoint, the foreshore is dominated by the schooner Sarah Davies, 1902. Source: Gwyn Briwnant Jones, Picturesque Aberdovey: A Collection of 20th Century Postcard Views. Gomer 2000.

The card was printed using the autochrom technique, more properly Autochrome Luimière, patented in 1903 and used screen plates to produce layers of colour to create naturalistic results.  There’s a good description of how it works, with some excellent examples, on the National Science and Media Museum blog. It was an expensive method of printing, and this postcard will have cost more than the more usual monochrome pictures of the period.

The postcard was published by the Peacock Brand, with its superbly exuberant logo, itself owned by the Pictorial Stationary Co. Ltd..  The Pictorial Stationary Co. Ltd. was established in 1897 in London and started publishing postcards in 1902, the year in which postcards were given the go-ahead by the Post Office.  A helpful guideline for stamp  values (inland and international) is printed where the stamp was to be placed.

Vintage Postcards #6: Dysynni valley and Bird Rock

Amongst all the recent postcards, this is one of my favourites, mainly because it is so relentlessly prosaic.  Straying out of Aberdovey, but not too far, it’s a peaceful view of cattle in the Dysynni valley with Bird Rock unmistakeable in the background, seen from the west near the coast.  Numbered 36502, and dating to 1895 (courtesy of the Francis Frith Collection website for the date) it is characteristic of Francis Frith photographs, offering a slightly unusual take on the usual subject matter.  Unlike other contemporary views of scenery which focus on the romantic this shot is particularly evocotive of the the landscape as I have seen it so often, with Bird Rock looking rather intimidating, and the lugubrious cattle waiting patiently for whatever weather is about to emerge from the clouds.  Cattle stand in water to cool themselves down on hot days (in some states in America where summer temperatures are usually high, cooling ponds are often provided) so although the sky looks rather overcast, it was probably a hot, sunny day.  There is a real sense of timelessness about this photograph.

In a part of the Dysynni valley to further to the east (with Bird Rock this time to the west) and below Castell-y-Bere are fields along the river Dysynni that are still used for pasturing cattle, as well as sheep.  There are some lovely walks along the Dysynni valley, which is well worth exploring.

The card was completely unused. I like the “Post Card” font, which has panache.  I instantly liked the little saying at the top of the reverse side, below, “T.N.T. – Today, Not Tomorrow!”  At first it amused me because it could have been written for me, as procrastionation is probably my worst sin, and I could often do with a bit of explosive to move me in the right direction :-).  But when I looked into it, it turns out to be a wartime slogan introduced by British Minister of Production, Captain Oliver Lyttleton, during September 1942, the thrust of which was that there was a new urgency to the production of war supplies. It gives one pause for thought.  What is interesting here is that, as above, the photograph is listed in the Francis Frith archive as dating to 1895, but it is clear that the early photograph was re-used later for post-1902 postcard production (see below) and in at least one of its more modern iterations carried a 1942 slogan.

Francis Frith is probably the best name, amongst non-specialists of early postcard production.  There is a lot about Frith and his photography business on the Francis Frith Collection website, which is a going concern and preserves an archive of his work.  It is a really fascinating story.  Frith was born into a Quaker family in 1822 in Derbyshire.  He built up a thriving grocery business in Liverpool, which he sold in the 1850s, making him financially independent, in today’s terms a multi-millionaire.  A founder member of the Liverpool Photographic Society, only 14 years after the invention of photography, be began to pursue his hobby on a full-time basis, travelling to the Middle East for fourteen years between 1856 and 1860.  I was very familiar with his Egyptian photographs, having a particular interest in this field, but the Francis Frith Collection website gives a real insight into the scope of Frith’s intersets and abilities.   Marketed by Negretti and Zambra of London, he became rich on the sale of his images as prints and steroscopic views.  After he married and settled down in England, he opened his company F. Frith and Co to “create accurate and unromantic photographs of as many cities, towns and villages of the British Isles as possible and sell copies of the photographs to the public, who were travelling in ever greater numbers and looking for souvenirs of their travels.”  He eventually retired and left the company to his sons, dying in 1898.  His sons built on their father’s legacy, and when in 1902 the Post Office agreed the design for the postcard, with a picture on one side and a divided plain side on the other for message and addresss, the Frith brothers jumped on the bandwagon and became one of the market leaders in postcard production and distribution in the first half of the 20th Century, using the extensive archive of existing photographs.

Digitization of the Frith collection, consisting of over 300,000 images, is ongoing on the other website, with a searchable archive, where 21 other views of Dysynni (and 105 of Aberdovey) can be found.


Vintage postcards #5: Terrace Road in the moonlight

I love this postcard.  It shows Terrace Road in Aberdovey by moonlight, with a slightly overcast sky, the silver sheen reflecting off slate roofs and casting a bright glow over the estuary.  The most prominent building in the picture is the little structure on the beach, a purpose-built lifeboat house to provide a home for the village’s first lifeboat, Victoria, in 1837 and now called Traeth Dyfi (Dovey Beach), it had an entrance for the lifeboat under the west gable and a pedestrian entrance opening out on to the road. Victoria was replaced with two newer and bigger vessels in 1856 and 1865, each kept in the same building, but it went out of use as a lifeboat house when a bigger lifeboat was needed in 1886.  A slipway, which does not appear in the above postcard, was added on this side of the old lifeboat house in 1903 and can still be seen today, although the lifeboat now has its own dedicated building that it shares with the yacht club near the jetty. After the lifeboat moved, Traeth Dfyi became a cake shop and tea room and in the 1960s was converted for residential use.  It is currently available as a holiday let, with pictures on the website of the modern interior, and a history of the building (from which most of the above details are taken) for those interested in more information.  The building seen as a silhouette in side view in the postcard and, in the photograph, as a white-painted building beyond the old lifeboat house is the three-storey Georgian house Plas Dyfi, which is currently for sale.

The above photograph shows the view as it is today, taken on 17th November 2019.  It attempts to reproduce the viewpoint but I couldn’t get the elevation.  The picture was clearly taken from the hillside.  The yellow building on the beach is the old lifeboat house, and the four-bay white house to the right is Cliffside.

The Dovey Belle topsail schooner. Source:  Lewis Lloyd 1996, A Real Little Seaport, volume 2 (plate between pages 120 and 121)

Cliffside is also at the far right of the postcard, a terrace of four very fine four-storey houses.  Before the construction of Cliffside, in the mid 1880s, the site was the site of a lime kiln, employed to turn imported limestone into powder for spreading on lime-starved land.  In 1901 no.2 Cliffside was home to Master Mariner Captain John Williams (1865-1937).  Captain Williams was born in Aberdovey and had served on his father’s ship, eventually becoming Master of the Aberdovey-built Dovey Belle.  He had lived at No.35 Copper Hill Street in 1900 when he was aged 35, but in c.1901 seems to have moved to Cliffside. He became Master of the schooner 1867 Aberdovey-built topsail schooner Dovey Belle, built by Thomas Richards at Aberdovey registered No. 9 in 1867 at Aberystwyth.  According to the well-researched Williams Family Tree website “she became the last locally built sailing vessel to ply to and from Aberdovey on a regular basis.”  No.4 Cliffside was the home of Hugh M. Lewis M.B.E., who lived his entire life in Aberdovey, wrote several memoirs of the village and was awarded an M.B.E in 1993 for his service to the community.

There’s no stamp or postage mark, even though there is a message and a Birmingham address, apparently ready for posting.  It was sent in lieu of a birthday card, and I hope it brought a lot of pleasure to the recipient, Miss Eliza Hodgkins, if she ever received it.  Out of curiosity I looked up the postal address but although St Martin’s Road still exist, half the road is a building site and the other half is dominated by a huge multi-screen cinema and other modern block-like structures.

I can’t read the print under the handwriting.  There is a code on the front of the card, (46845 J.V.), which could indicate that this was manufactured by James Valentine.  If so, the Valentine postcard dating page on the Historic Coventry website puts that code at 1905.  In the picture masted ships are shown just round the corner, there is gas lighting (installed in 1868; electricity was not installed until 1945) and a horse pulls a small cart.  These are all consistent with 1905 being a plausible date but the design and colour printing on the back seem more modern.  It is possible that a newer printing run used an older image.  It would be good to get an idea of a possible date range from other postmark or  from other cards, so I’ll keep an eye open.