Category Archives: River Dyfi

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: