Category Archives: River Dyfi

Dyfi National Nature Reserve booklet

Whilst sorting out some stuff on one of my bookcases I found a bilingual leaflet/booklet produced by Natural Resources Wales giving details of the Dyfi National Nature Reserve, including walks and seasonal highlights.  It was free of charge, and I think I picked it up at the Ynyslas Visitor Centre.  The Dyfi National Nature Reserve includes the Ynyslas sand dunes, the saltmarsh, Cors Fochno, the 5000 year old peat bog and a wide range of wildlife.  It’s an excellent little publication, which I have scanned so that you can download it here.  The following shows the front and back cover, and the fold-out map.

The map shows the village of Furnace on the A487, which has the excellent and well explained remains of the Dyfi royal silver mint and charcoal blast furnace.  I’ve posted about it on the blog here, if you are interested in combining a visit to it with a Dyfi National Nature Reserve walk.

Dai’s Shed – Open and selling seafood on the Aberdovey wharf!

Dai’s shed is open on the wharf, selling freshly caught seafood on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am – 2pm.  So miffed that I didn’t know, because they have had flounder in, and had just sold out when I turned up!  But I came away with a frozen dressed crab, so it was still a splendid result.   Fresh live lobster, and fresh dressed lobster are also available.  Lockdown just got a lot fishier.

This card from “Dai’s Shed,” selling superb locally caught seafood from Easter until Autumn, shows Dai’s fishing boat at low tide against a backdrop of the hills over the estuary.

 

The Loss of the 1857 Aberdovey Schooner Frances Poole


There are a lot of newspaper reports about groundings, collisions and total losses in 19th Century newspapers centred on north and mid Wales.  I stumbled across this story about the loss of the Aberdovey-built schooner Frances Poole whilst looking for something else, and it was less the loss of the ship and crew that startled me than the remarkable brevity of the report.  The story was published in the 27th March 1869 edition of the Cambrian News.  It is a nod at a total loss, and in its very brevity is a comment on how regularly coastal ships foundered with partial or total fatalities.  Ship accidents and tragedies were a dreadfully common occurrence.

I went back through various sources to find out more about the ship, her background and her crew.  The Frances Poole was built in Aberdovey and her senior officers lived in Aberdovey.  There is nothing that particularly stands out about the ship.  She was an average cargo carrying ship going about here daily tasks when she fell foul of a gale on the Cornish coastline when she was just 12 years old.  A reliable ship that made several voyages to eastern Spain, she was well-built, admired for her speed and generally well thought of.

The John Jones schooner Catherine. Source: Lloyd 1996, volume II

Frances Poole was a, 84-ton schooner built in Aberdovey in 1857 by John Jones.  She was 75ft long with a 20ft beam, fitted with the figurehead of a woman.  Sadly there is no known picture of her, or of her builder John Jones.  The photograph to the left is another John Jones schooner, the Catherine Jones, 76 tons (8 tons lighter than Frances Poole and built 12 years later), but gives an idea of the type of schooners that John Jones built.

John Jones, “Jac y Taeth” was the most prolific of the Aberdovey shipbuilders.  He probably settled in Aberdovey in the 1840s, having been born in Llanfihangel-y-Traethau in around 1816, and was accompanied by his wife Catherine with whom he had seven children.  Lewis Lloyd  suggests that John Jones had probably served an apprenticeship in Porthmadog as a ship carpenter.  All his ships were built on the river Dyfi, most at Aberdovey and some at Llyn Bwtri near Pennal and at Derwenlas.  He often had more than one vessel on the go at once, and Lloyd says that he laid 16 keels between 1857 and 1864, and some 29 throughout his shipbuilding career, specializing in schooners.  Of these the smallest of his schooners was c.45 tons and the largest were Sarah 106 tons and Eliza Jane, 131 tons, which seems to have been converted into a schooner.  He also built a small smack, Morben 28 tons, a 209 ton brigantine Rebecca, and the 258 barque Mary Evans, amongst others.  He was clearly a man who could put his skills to whatever type of sailing ship was needed, small or large.  Two of his sons, Robert and Evan, also entered the business.  As shipbuilding declined he seems to have shifted from building ships to repairing them instead, a common solution for former shipbuilders faced with the difficulties of the shipbuilding industry towards the end of the 19th Century.

Frances Poole was registered in Aberystwyth, no.17350.  Her managing owner, the agent for the shareholders and responsible for overseeing it as a business venture, was David Jones, resident in Machynlleth. The first shareholders for the ship (listed in Lloyd 1996, p.143) are as follows:

  • 16 shares – Griffith Jones, Farmer, County of Merioneth
  • 8 shares – Master William Lewis, Master Mariner (no certificate), Aberdovey
  • 8 shares – John Lewis, Master Mariner, Aberdovey
  • 6 shares – Mary Brees, spinster and shopkeeper (owned shares in a number of ships), Machynlleth
  • 4 shares – David Jones, clerk and managing owner of the Frances Poole, Machynlleth
  • 4 shares – Edward Morgans, farmer, County Merioneth
  • 4 shares – William Jones, coal merchant, Machynlleth
  • 4 shares – Robert Williams, grocer, Aberdovey
  • 4 shares – John Jones, flour dealer, Machynlleth
  • 4 shares – Thomas Edwards, farmer, Cardigan
  • 2 shares – Thomas Llywelyn, clerk, Machynlleth

As Lloyd points out, the large number of shareholders from Machynlleth is an indication of how important the commercial ties between Machynlleth and Aberdovey were.  It is notable that John Jones, the builder, is not amongst the shareholders.  Unlike many shipbuilders, he never owned shares in the ships that he built.

The Frances Poole‘s master since the date of her launch was one of her owners, Captain William Lewis (1827-1863), who was born in Borth in 1827 but had moved to Aberdovey.  She was built partly to meet the needs of the slate trade.  Slate was an important material in rapidly expanding industrial areas, and neighbouring Tywyn and, further afield, Corris, had an excellent supply.  The slate was transported to Aberdovey’s wharf, and was loaded onto small coastal ships, offloaded at suitable ports for carriage inland.  Having dropped off her slate, often in London, Frances Poole then loaded cargoes at those ports for other destinations before returning to Aberdovey.  When she was unable to source an ongoing cargo, she headed to the next port that offered the best potential for a return cargo, known as being “in ballast.”  Although she was initially destined for coast-hugging work, after a decade of coastal work, she began to engage in the Spanish and French trades, suggesting that she was a very robust vessel.

Crew records sourced by Alan Jones (2010, p.52-68) for the year 24th July 1861-17th July 1862 provide a useful insight into the sort of distances that the Frances Poole covered:

The destinations of the Frances Poole in 1861-1862. Source: My Welsh Ancestry, John Jenkins.

  • July 1861, Aberdovey to London with slate
  • London to St Valery at the mouth of the river Somme, unknown cargo
  • In ballast (meaning no cargo loaded) back to Newport
  • Newport to Aberdovey, probably with coal
  • Aberdovey to London with slate
  • London to Penzance, unknown cargo
  • Penzance to Newport, in ballast
  • Newport to Aberdovey, arriving December 1861
  • 11 February 1862, Aberdovey to Bangor
  • Bangor to London
  • London to Whitehaven
  • Whitehaven to Newport by 29th April 1862
  • 2nd May 1862, Newport to Aberdovey
  • Aberdovey to London
  • London to Whitehaven
  • Whitehaven to London by 17th July 1862

The crew for these voyages consisted of:

  • The Master (no certificate), Captain William Lewis of Borth, resident in Aberdovey
  • The Mate, Thomas Jones, age 29, of Borth
  • AB (able-bodied) seaman John Davies, age 20, of Aberdovey
  • OS (ordinary seaman) John Jenkins, age 21, of Borth
  • Ship’s boy Thomas Edwards of Borth, age 16, on his first voyage

The seaside town of Borth was not a trading port in its own right, although it had a long fishing tradition, but it supplied a lot of the Aberdovey trading coasters with crew, and several of the Aberdovey-based Masters came from Borth, much like Captain Williams. Captain Williams sailed with the ship until his death on board at Newport in October 1863 from “a rupture of a blood vessel” at the age of 36.

Captain Williams was replaced the next day by Captain John Evans, aged 43, who held a Certificate of Service (no. C.S. 701507), a native of Bangor but resident in Aberdovey, and the Master of Jane Gwynne (also built by John Jones, and of a similar size).  Under Captain Evans, the ship engaged in the Spanish trades, calling at Valencia, Lloret de Mar, Malaga, Tarragona and other ports, sailing mainly from Newcastle.  She also visited French ports, including Boulogne, Dunkirk, Dieppe, Quimper and St Valery.

Captain Evans was succeeded by John Williams (no certificate) from Aberdovey, by 1867.  From then on here trips were mainly along the British coastline, again, but included at least one visit to St Valery.

Captain John Williams was in turn succeeded as Master by John Morris, aged 35, of Aberdovey in 1868 (no certificate), the same year in which he became managing owner for the Frances Poole.  He had formerly sailed on Mountain Maid, and took on William Morris, aged 33, as Mate, also formerly on Mountain Maid.  By 1869 he had been replaced by Hugh Pugh of Aberdovey, having previously served on the Mary Jane. A common port of call was Runcorn.

The Frances Poole was still sailing and trading until March 1869.  The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard reported on the loss on 27th March 1869 (the short report is shown on the left).  Frances Poole had set out from Cork, heading from Liverpool, then Runcorn before heading down to Faversham with a mixed cargo.  She was wrecked during a gale against the rocks of “Godvery” (probably Godfrevy) Head near St Ives in Cornwall, with the total loss of the ship, the Master and other unnamed crew members.   The captain, John Morris, and crew member Hugh Pugh both came from Aberdovey.  The Mate, William Morris, may have been the elder brother of John Morris.  The captain’s widow was pregnant with three children.  Pugh had worked on the paddle steamer Elizabeth, which provided a ferry service between Aberdovey and Ynyslas when the final leg of the Cambrian Railway was being built to connect Aberdovey, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth.  He left a wife and child. Frances Poole was not the only ship wrecked in the area that night, but the other ship’s crew were fortunate enough to survive.

As I said in my introduction, it is the brevity of this report that is so startling, not just because all lives were lost, but because it is clear that this was not an unusual event.  Ships and crew were lost on a distressingly regular basis, and rarely merited an in-depth analysis in newspaper reports.

 

References:

The National Library of Wales
https://papuraunewydd.llyfrgell.cymru/view/3305862/3305866

Jones, A. 2010.  John Jenkins of Borth – A Welsh Master Mariner’s Story.  Maritime Wales/Cymry A’r Mor 31, p.52-68.  Available online at: http://www.mywelshancestry.co.uk/John%20Jenkins/John%20Jenkins%20Story.html

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

The Panorama Walk on the August Bank Holiday 2019

I have just realized that this post from August 2019, last year, was still in Draft status, so I’ve hit the Publish button.  A lovely day, a superb walk, part of the Wales Coast Path and it seemed a shame to waste it.  Also, given that it’s early March right now, it’s a really rather nice reminder that the summer will eventually return :-).

To enjoy the Panorama Walk using Aberdovey as a starting point, turn into Chapel Square, go straight up Copper Hill Street, take the second turn on the right, which takes you into Mynydd Isaf. At the top of the road turn left and follow the road to a junction, and turn right, following the Wales Coast Path signs. From there follow the single track lane all the way. You can walk or drive. The path is clearly marked. You will cross several cattle grids, and if you are driving you will need to stop to open a gate at one point.  If you are driving you will need to keep an eye open for passing places and when you reach the end of the metalled road you can either park and do the walk to Bearded Lake, or turn around and go back. You can also start from a Snowdonia National Park car park in Happy Valley, but it’s a steeper climb.  Look out for wild flowers and insects in the hedges and verges.


Video:  the solitary harebell at the end is amazing.  It is unimaginable how anything so delicate on such a fragile stem can stand up to the wind buffeting it around like that.  The camcorder work on the rest of it is a bit wobbly.  It was a very breezy day in exposed parts of the walk, and I haven’t got the hang of taking a tripod around with me.  Holding the camcorder level in a strong breeze, particularly when panning, is something of a challenge, but the video combines quite a nice contrast to the still shots above.

 

Day trip: Ynyslas and Borth in February

On a lovely day, quite unprecedented for February, I decided to go a bit further afield than my usual strolls on Aberdovey beach and go to Ynyslas.  I had been meaning to go for a long time.

Ynyslas carries with it the novelty of parking on the beach.  There is a nominal fee when the visitor centre is open (from Easter to the end of September), but it is free in the winter months when the visitor centre is closed.   The drive to Ynyslas from Aberdovey takes about 40 minutes via Machynlleth, and of course you are driving in a loop around the Dyfi estuary because Ynyslas is immediately opposite Aberdovey.  There used to be a passenger ferry between the two, which had been operated for centuries, but eventually became redundant when the railway was built and the roads improved to handle the growing number of cars.

Visitor Centre, Ynyslas

Ynyslas is a nature reserve, properly entitled the Dyfi National Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre and as well as the sand dunes and the beach,  includes the Cors Fochno raised peat bog, which is of international importance.  I have only been to Ynyslas once before, and then only very briefly when it was an exploratory mission tacked on to a visit to the terrific mill at Furnace (covered on a previous post).  The visitor centre was open then, and had stacks of books on tables for visitors to consult, information boards, and a good collection of relevant books, greetings cards and small toys to buy, as well as a coffee and tea machine.  Considerate to out of season visitors there is a big board outside, by the entrance, showing the layout of the nature reserve, with the paths clearly marked.

Out of season Ynyslas is virtually empty of bodies, just a few dog walkers in the dunes and rather more on the beach.  I decided to do the circular walk that leads through the dunes, out on to a stretch of beach, and then back along the mouth of the estuary to the car. The dunes are of particular interest because they demonstrate all the stages of dune formation and growth, and there are multiple types including both fixed and mobile dunes. There was not a lot to see other than marran grass at this time of year, but come the spring there will be all sorts of flowering plants and insects to see including wild orchids, mosses, liverworts, fungi, insects and spiders.

 

Fringe of pebbles between the dunes and the beach at Ynyslas

Where the path tips you out on the beach there is a big ribbon of huge rounded grey pebbles that lies between you and the vast, eternal vistas of sand.  You need to be a bit careful as they shift constantly underfoot.  Once safely installed on the beach there is tons to see, and it is quite different from the stretch between Tywyn and Aberdovey.  For one thing, there is a sense that you can see forever down the beach along Cardigan Bay.  It is a very wide, open stretch of beach, with the waves chasing each other up the sand in long white-topped lines for as far as the eye can see.

Ynyslas beach (click to enlarge)

Before the beach reaches the estuary, the sand is largely uninterrupted by the mass of small cockle, razor clam and tellin shells that scrunch underfoot on the stretches on the north side of the estuary.  Instead, there are occasional shells of a completely different character, and even the usual species like cockles are generally much larger.  Gigantic Icelandic cyprine and common otter shells are dotted around, big common whelks are a frequent sight and the pod razor clams reach their maximum lengths along this section of beach.  Of the smaller species the limpets were a pleasant surprise, as were needle whelks and acorn barnacles.  Some of the shells contained keelworm tubes (spirobranchus).  In the sand itself there were dozen upon dozen of sandhopper burrows.  I was surprised at how many articulated bivalves I found, both halves still connected, including well preserved cockles

The Icelandic cyprine (Artica islandica, also known as the ocean quahog) is particularly fascinating.  It has a dark brown periostratacum (outer skin of a shell) and lives so long that it is amongst the longest living of any animal – up to 500 years.  Amazing to think that an Icelandic cyprine shell could have contained a creature that was alive when Shakespeare was writing.  The oldest known, its age determined by counting growth rings, was 507, and was nicknamed Hafrún (c. 1499–2006) .  This example is 10cm (4 inches) from top to bottom.

Dog whelks (Nucella lapillus), which are lovely to look at and beautifully constructed along a spiral axis, are actually somewhat stomach-churning in their feeding habits.  Like all gastropods, whelks have a toothed tongue called a radula.  They use it to drill through the shells of other gastropod, and produce a chemical to help with the process.  Once the shell has been pierced, they inject other chemicals into the shell cavity to paralyze and liquefy their prey before extracting it through the hold in the shell.  You can spot the holes in shells on the strandline.

One of the whelks had keelworm (Spirobranchus) tubes.  These calcareous tubes are made by the keel worm with an open and closed end.  The open end allows it to put out tentacles with which it feeds on organic detritus, whilst safely armoured in its shell.  Like keelworm tubes, barnacle shells are also found on shells of other organisms.  There were several examples of acorn barnacles at Ynyslas, like the dog whelk in the above photograph, all in clusters because barnacles form colonies.

Sandhopper burrows (click to enlarge)

Sandhoppers (Talitrus salafor) are interesting too.  At around 20mm in length, they look rather like fleas, with their backs arched.  They live in burrows at depths up to 30cm and emerge at night to feed on the strandlines.  Although they live on the strandline they are terrestrial and cannot survive in the water so when the tide comes in they dive into their burrows, backfilling with sand to plug the passage and protect themselves.  They are targeted by some species of wading birds.

I found two nursehound eggcases, which I dutifully reported to the Shark Trust.  One of them was partially covered with what look like tiny shells, as well as some keelworm tubes.  I thought at first that the shells might the blue-rayed limpet (Patella pellucidum) but quite apart from the fact that they are the wrong shape, I cannot see any of the radiating blue lines that ought to be present if this identification were correct.  Perhaps they are very early on in the growth cycle.

The limpets are common in some areas, but I have never seen one at Aberdovey.  There were plenty on the beach at Ynyslas.  Like dog whelks they have a toothed radula, but they infinitely more friendly to other species.  They feed on algal spores left behind when the tide recedes, and in clearing patches of seaweed they create opportunities for other species to colonize rocks, increasing biodiversity along the seashore.

 

Ducks

As I returned towards the car I thought I could hear oyster catchers, but all I could see were ducks.  If you are a refugee from an urban environment, like me, you might associate ducks with the coarse quacking of mallards, but these sounded more like oyster catchers, with a a high-pitched peeping noise as you can hear in the video.  They were feeding in the marsh grasses in the muddy zone at the edge of the estuary waters.

The views from Ynyslas towards Aberdovey, as you round the corner from the open sea into the estuary, are breathtaking, particularly on a gloriously sunny day.  Beyond the town you can see down the Dyfi, a long peaceful arc of water flanked by low hills.

Aberdovey from Ynyslas

The BBC website has a good suggested walk beginning at Ynyslas, which goes further than I did and can take up to three hours.  The Natural Resources Wales website gives more information about what to see at Ynyslas, and it offers a number of suggested walks of different durations.  I plan to return to do the Cors Fochno walk, and to do another dune walk when there will be plants in flower.

I drove past the golf course into Borth for a quick stroll along the seafront, overlooking the pebble beach and rolling waves.  Now a seaside town, it used to be the main source of sailors for the local shipping trade in the 19th Century.

Borth

 

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: