Category Archives: River Dyfi

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 #15: Five Points, Smugglers Cove, Frongoch

 

Five points in December 2019 on a very murky, rainy day, resulting in a soggy photographer and a damp camera. I’ll try for a better photo on a sunnier day!

This postcard shows the River Dyfi at Frongoch where it widens into the estuary, with the five small promontories known as Five Points.  The viewpoint is on the road from Machynlleth to Aberdovey just above the Frongoch boatyard, and just around a particularly nasty bend. In the postcard, there’s a lovely vehicle in the foreground, and the railway is ever-present.  The wall between the road and the modern boatyard at Smuggler’s Cove below doesn’t seem to have changed much since the postcard photograph was taken, but the foreshore in the first cove has expanded out into the estuary.  Dated 5th August 1950, the card was sent to an address in Greenford in Middlesex, and has an Aberdovey-Merioneth postmark.

Published by Valentine and Sons of Dundee in their “sepiatype” series, it is numbered W340.  The Jisc archives hub has this to say about Valentine’s:

The company Valentine & Sons was established in 1851 by Mr James Valentine (1814-1879), the son of Mr John Valentine, engineer of wood blocks for linen printing, Dundee. The firm began as early exponents of photography, became pioneers in the postcard industry and later developed the production of greetings cards, novelties, calendars and illustrated children’s books.

James Valentine began in business aged 17 as an engraver. He began to practice Daguerrotype photography, first as an amateur, as an aid to engraving. He was soon proficient and began to take views and portraits in c.1850. He went to Paris to train under M. Bulow, one of the most skilful photographers in that city. On his return to Dundee he set up a studio in the High Street. He received a commission from the Queen to photograph a set of 40 views of Highland scenery and in 1868 was appointed as the Royal Photographer.

James Valentine’s sons were both early to develop skills in photography and by 1879 they were in great demand, having grown into one of the largest establishments in the country. In 1897 the government allowed correspondence to be written on the reverse of a postcard. This coincided with Valentine’s success in collotype printing, a lithographic technique which mechanically reproduced images for printing as postcards. By the end of the century, Valentines had established the perfect method for cheap reproduction of postcards. They were also able to use their immense collection of topographical negatives to issue series after series of scenes from throughout Britain.

By the early 1900s they also had a growing trade in Christmas cards and children’s books and had begun to publish fancy cards. In 1908 they became the official postcard publishers for the international Franco-British exhibition at the White City, and began to publish exhibition cards which are noted for their high quality of design. By the time of the First World War they had become a world-wide name with office branches in Canada, South Africa, Australia, America and Norway. In the 1920s they expanded their trade in Christmas cards and calendars and then in greetings cards which forms the basis of their business today. In 1963 the company became a subsidiary of John Waddington Ltd.

It was during the 1950s that the postcard business began to go into decline, and Valentine’s focused on the more profitable greeting card side of their enterprise.

Videos: Pheasant preening after breakfast; Pen Y Bryn in rain and sun

The first video shows a male pheasant preening in a burst of sunshine – a post-peanut mellow moment.  Two male pheasants arrived today, some time after the females had arrived, eaten, sat for a while with their feathers puffed up, and left.  It had finally stopped raining and at mid-day the garden was bathed briefly in a thin silvery sunshine, which lasted for about an hour and a half before the rain resumed.  The familiar harsh loud squawk announced their arrival so I threw down some peanuts and went down into the village, leaving them to it.  When I returned they were pottering around in the garden, and one of them was enjoying an industrious preen, the bright feathers given a thorough going over.

The second video shows two views of Pen Y Bryn from my garden, one clip from yesterday in the pouring rain and the second in the today’s brief reprieve when the sun came out before the rain returned.  Both are shades of grey, but the main difference between the two scenes is the sound.  In the first clip, even in the downpour Pen Y Bryn looks atmospheric but the sound of the rain is unrelenting.  In the second, with light glinting off the water, peace and quiet has been restored.

I should perhaps apologize for the completely gratuitous scrolling text.  I’ve been messing around with new video editing software, as my previous prog was at all not user-friendly and it had the antisocial habit of freezing solid.  Many of the features in the new application are very gimmicky, with shades of PowerPoint, but the ability to add text in various different forms is useful.  This is the fourth piece of video editing software that I have tried, so I am seriously hoping that this one will be a keeper.

 

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:

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:

Vintage Postcards #4: The Roman Road

The Roman Road as it is today from a similar viewpoint to the first postcard, with Trefri in the background

The Roman Road is a nice local myth.  It forms part of a popular low-tide walk along the estuary to Picnic Island (which I have written about here) and is a truly remarkable sight, cut out of the black Aberystwyth series shales, which in places are so smooth that the rock looks polished and glistens in the sun.

Although there is a Roman fortlet at Pennal 11km away, there are very few indications that the Romans did anything more than pass through Aberdovey, if they even did that.  Trying to find out what it was built for I first looked to Hugh M. Lewis, who wrote several histories of the village, but he was unable to shed any light on the subject.  My original guess was that it was built in the 1860s, part of the works for the building of the railway, but that failed to address the question of the purpose of such a track.  In his description of a 6-mile walk that incorporates the road, the author David Roberts, an Aberdovey resident, states that the track was built in 1808 for horse and carriage, but he doesn’t expand on this observation.  I then found a publication by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (GAT Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd, 2007) that contains the following statement, and which appears to confrim what David Roberts says and provides sources for identifying this as a road designed to connect to a stretch of road that already linked Pennal to Machynlleth:

Fenton remarks in 1808 that a new road was under construction from Aberdyfi to Machynlleth but implies that the section from Pennal to Machynlleth was already in being, that an extension west and north to Tywyn ‘by way of the sands’ was contemplated if not actually under construction. This road, known as ‘hen ffordd Corbet’ was not a success, being built so low that it was frequently covered by the tides. Its course is marked on the plans for the replacement road dated 1823 and prepared by Thomas Penson (DRO: Z/CD/168).  This is probably Thomas Penson junior (1790-1859), county surveyor of Montgomeryshire, a versatile and able architect-engineer, rather than his father. Lewis states that this road was completed in 1827

I am still unsure if this is the correct answer, as the track barely seems wide enough for horse-drawn vehicles, and in places would have been lethal underfoot for horses.  One would need to see Penson’s plans for the replacement road mentioned by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust’s report.  Whatever its original purpose, it is invaluable today as a ready-made footpath for walkers.  The note about the road being unpopular due to being submerged by tides holds true today.  The walk is impossible without wading through water at high tide.  I note that the second of the two postcards does not commit itself on the subject and states merely that the scene shows “The Rocks.”

The first postcard was unused, so there are no helpful postmark or stamp details to give an indication of date.  It was manufactured by Lilywhite Ltd of Triangle, Halifax.  Lilywhite was set up by Arthur Frederick Sergeant (1882-1952) in around 1910 and produced postcards at least until 1931 when their factory burned down, destroying both prints and negatives.  They took over Arrow Series Postcards in the 1920s and as well as retaining the Arrow name for some of their postcards, re-released some earlier Arrow postcards under the Lilywhite name.  I’ll keep an eye open for a used version of this postcard to see if I can find a date or at least a date range.

The second postcard has a Edward VII stamp and an Aberdovey postmark dated August 7th 1904.  Edward VII reigned from 1902-1910, and this particular shade of blue-green was issued between 1902 and 1904.

I loved the brevity of the message, which also contained the brilliant information that the sender had been staying at Glandwyr in Aberdovey. 115 years later it is owned by a very nice local holiday company, Dyfi Cottages, that lets out properties in the village and also runs the Visit Aberdovey Facebook page.  There’s a lovely sense of continuity in those details.  I suppose that postcards were, and still are, a form of social media, a way of maintaining communication with people far away.  The postcard was sent to the beautiful village of Luccombe, which now lies in Exmoor National Park in Somerset.  The house to which it was sent, Wychanger, was a manor house now Grade 2 listed and converted to semi-detached homes.  It is fun to have the full breadcrumb trail.

Photograph showing the location of Glandwr, used with permission, copyright Dyfi Cottages and Aberdyfi Holidays

Evelyn Wrench, from an article in
‘The Pictorial Magazine’, January 2nd 1904. Ref: Wr D 48/65.  Source: The University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections blog

The 1902 Post Office regulations are provided as simple instructions on each half of the back of the card, leaving no room for any confusion!  The title Gwladgarwr at the front of the card is a puzzle, appearing on a lot of Wrench’s Welsh postcards.  It means “patriot” and was the title of a Welsh language newspaper (Yr Gwladgarwr), but the newspaper appears to have no connection with the postcard manufacturer.  The card is in the Wrench Series, no.8006, and was printed in Berlin.

Sir John Evelyn Leslie Wrench (1882-1966) was a British author and journalist.  While in Germany after leaving school, Wrench was impressed with the popularity and high quality of German postcards and decided to shelve his plans to become a dimplomat and instead set up a British business producing high quality postcards in sepia, black and white, and colour.  He had his resort postcards printed in Dresden (Saxony) and Berlin from where they were shipped in bulk to London.  Although it remained in business for only a few years, the postcard company was a initially a phenomenal success and Wrench himself became something of a media darling.  Based in Haymarket in London Wrench’s postcard company had over 100 employees and sold in the region of 50 million cards, all before he had reached 21 years of age.  Wrench went out of business in 1904, having sunk too much capital into the company, leaving him unable to repay loans but he went on to have a very successful career.  He was founder of the Royal Over-Seas League, became editor of The Spectator and was knighted by George V in 1932.

Vintage Postcards #2: Sheep herding on Trefri Road in 1903

Like the postcard #1, which was a 1910 sepia photograph, this 1903 scene really throws one back to a previous era where the threat of being run over by one of the hundreds of cars that use the A493 estuary road simply didn’t exist.  The mid-1850s Trefri Hall is again visible in the background, but this postcard gives a real sense of rural isolation.  This sense of isolation is, however, quite misleading.  An east-west turnpike was built following the Merioneth Turnpike Act of 1775, which ran from near Pennal through Cwm Maethlon (Happy Valley) towards Tywyn, and although it bypassed Aberdovey it was still an important link between the coast and the interior of mid Wales.  Most importantly, the railway was established in 1864, connecting Tywyn, Aberdovey and Machynlleth with other parts of north Wales and England.  The industrial revolution and the demand for raw materials such as copper, silver and lead, as well as the slate trade had made Aberdovey an important port and shipping was a major activity, both via river and sea, and the tourist industry was becoming increasingly important.  By the turn of the century, Aberdovey had at least six places of worship, at least one pub, a literary institute and several hotels.

1903 postcard

The stamp shows Edward VII who reigned from 1902-1910, and this particular shade of blue-green was issued between 1902 and 1904.  The stamp is postmarked Stowmarket and is dated 9.30AM, June 26th 1903.  Perhaps the purchaser bought it in Aberdovey and took it home to post.

The postcard was produced by Raphael Tuck and Sons, “fine art publishers to their majesties the King and Queen” in their “Art” series.  Queen Victoria had granted them the Royal Warrant in 1883.  According to the TuckDB website, Raphael Tuck was a Prussian who had trained as a graphic artist and started his picture frame and graphic design business with his wife Ernestine in Bishopsgate (London) in 1866.  It became one of the world’s biggest postcard producers, all based on art works, but produced a number of other products as well, as shown on the 1901 advert below.  Most of the postcards were printed in Germany up until the First World War, and this card is marked “Printed in Berlin.”  The Aberdovey card, by artist Frederick William Hayes, was sold as one of a set of six Welsh scenic views, the others showing Cader Idris, Bala, Harlech, the Dolgellau Precipice Walk and  Llyfnant Valley, Aberystwyth (all of which you can see here, on the TuckDB website).  Later, the a postcard was issued showing the same painting in full, extremely bright colour.

The artist, Frederick William Hayes (1848-1918), was born on the Wirral, trained first as an architect and then as a painter in Liverpool and London before returning to Liverpool where he established a watercolour society.  He was an Associate of the Royal College of Art.  Hayes exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1872 and 1891.  He was a prolific painter, working in pencil, watercolour and oil.  His paintings are usually very picturesque in theme, and he painted a lot of landscape and seascape scenes in Wales and Scotland.

The House of Tuck – an advert from 1901. Source: TuckDB website.

Trefri Hall today. I lacked the courage to dodge the cars in any attempt to reproduce the exact viewpoint in the postcard!