Category Archives: Social history

The changing appearance of the Trefeddian Hotel in postcards

The Trefeddian as it was built on the left, and my photograph of it today (28th July 2020) taken from roughly the same angle but from a lower level

You can click on any of the images to enlarge them to get a better look at the details of the building.

The Trefeddian Hotel is one of the major local landmarks, a palatial white immensity overlooking the golf course, sand dunes and beach, recipient of the AA Hotel of the Year Award for Wales 2018/19.  I don’t know anything about the history of the Trefeddian Hotel, but images of the hotel in postcards provide a fascinating record of architectural changes to the building’s exterior features.  It would be great to know the background to these changes and to find out if the interior evolved at a similar rate to the exterior.  All of the images can be clicked on to get a better view of the details.

I have to admit to being slightly in love with the original vision, above, left and below, with its wonderful square chateau-like towers and its mock-Tudor half-timbered exterior.  Or was it inspired by the Alsace as the decorative tiling on the roof may imply?  Whatever the inspiration, it is a bizarre mish-mash of ideas.  Although it breaks all the rules and is anything but elegant, I think that it is delightful, a truly riotous expression of enthusiasm for a very personal conceptualization.  Whoever designed it, it looks as though they were having a great time.  I do wish I could have seen it.  The only piece of history that I’ve picked up is that the hotel has been in the hands of the same family for a century, so it dates at least to the 1920s if not before.  Note the single-storey building to its right/the south, which remains today.

The postcards below show the extension that was added to the north (left, in these postcards).  The second of the two has a postmark of 1934, which indicates that the extension predated that year.  There was no attempt to integrate it stylistically with the original, and it looks very peculiar.  A single storey building to the north, on the far left of this postcard is retained today.

In the first of the two cards, the railway crossing on to the golf course is accompanied by a small building that looks rather like a toll house.  This was the crossing-keeper’s house, and was still standing at least in July 1965 when it was photographed by C.C. Green for his book The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways vol.2.  Today the crossing remains, but the house has vanished.  I’m surprised that the crossing ever needed a keeper, because the traffic crossing the railway must have been minimal, and mainly on foot.

In the two postcards below, the half-timbered effect seems to have been removed, and may have been in the image above as well.  It would make sense that it was taken away at the time that the new wing was added to lessen the contrast between the two.

The following photograph gives a good view of the elaborate porch into the old wing and shows the complex of single and two-storey buildings to the north of the new wing, at the left side of the postcard. The enclosed garden at the rear of the building appears to have a small greenhouse as well as other structures, and looks as though it is laid down, at least partly, to rows of vegetables.

The next architectural reinvention of the building retains the new wing and removes all the original external features including the towers, the original gable and any remaining half-timbering.  Was it a complete rebuild on more or less the same footprint, or just a change to the external features?  I am guessing from the angled corner at the south end where the south tower once stood, visible in the second of the two photographs, that it was a re-invention rather than a complete rebuild.  The aerial view in the second postcard shows the outbuildings and an intriguing view of the garden, all providing a good idea of the scale of the operation.  The first of the enclosed gardens at the rear of the hotel looks as though it was turned over to vegetables. I can’t work out what the other two enclosed gardens contained.

The postcards have postmarks dated 1972 and 1979 respectively, so the conversion was probably done in the 1960s and looks like it.  The northern extension to the left has been retained, but the towers and the mock half-timber have gone and the replacement facade has about as much personality as a cereal box.  The colour change from yellow to white by the end of the 70s was a good move.  The single storey building at the right that I menitoned at the start of the post is visible in the second photograph, now connected to the main building by a corridor with windows.

Today the Trefeddian has retained its gabled north wing, but its box-like southern section has again been reinvented, with a new gable, decorative metalwork and balconies.  Two extensions to north and south have been added, flanking the two main wings, and there are dormer windows in the roof.  The building is still asymmetrical, but it has a much more aesthetically appealing appearance than its previous incarnation.  All the ancillary annexes to north and south of the main hotel building have been retained.

Detail of the top of the southern extension

Compare with the third and fourth photographs from top, where the same railway crossing is shown with a small building, the crossing keeper’s house, to the right of the gates.  As mentioned above, it was still standing in 1965 and looked as though it was in fairly good condition.  It’s a shame that it vanished at some point after that date.

 

Tywyn History Trail leaflets 1 and 2

I was in the Tywyn Co-Op last week and spotted these two leaflets in the leaflet holder by the tills.  Do pick one up if you’re there.  Each of them consists of a fold-out map of Tywyn – Walk 1 is The Old Town and Walk 2 is The Seaside.  The map is numbered, and brief details are given about each of the numbers, so that you can do a self-guided tour.  Introductory paragraphs also give a short overview of the origins of Tywyn and its development.  In something this size (A3, printed on both sides) not a huge amount of detail can be included, but it’s a great starting point for getting to know Tywyn a bit better, and a good jumping off point for future research.  Devised and published by Tywyn and District History Society, their production was partially supported financially by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The image below is a scan of part of Walk 1, to give a flavour of the leaflets

The arrival of gas, running water and electricity in Aberdovey 1865-1945

The following information has been assembled from books and booklets by Hugh M. Lewis M.B.E.  Aberdovey inhabitants and visitors are very lucky to have his recollections, and his investigations into village history, captured in a number of small publications.  Having been born in 1910 he grew up in the village and became a repository of information about the village both during his own lifetime and before it.   Without his work, it would be very difficult to get a clear view of how Aberdovey developed during the late 19th and the 20th Centuries.

The arrival of such things as running water, gas and electricity were important to a village that had ambitions to develop its tourist industry.  The gasworks, finally up and running in 1868-9, followed fast on the heals of the arrival of the railway, and villagers must have felt that modern living really had arrived.

The promenade with a gas light on the corner, sometime after 1900. Source: Aberdyfi: A Glimpse of the Past by Hugh M. Lewis.

In 1864 the Tywyn Board of Health approved an application to build a gasworks near Trefeddian Terrace, to consist of a large gas holder, a tall chimney and a manager’s house.  Work began on the gasworks, but the work was not completed and in 1865 attempts were made to sell them.  It was not until 1868 that the Aberdyfi Gasworks were acquired by the Tywyn Gas Company, and gas was fed from the Tywyn Gasworks in underground pipes, which allowed for the provision of gas lighting and the connection of some houses.  The gas holder in Aberdovey was used for storage and the tall chimney that accompanied it was knocked down.  The lamps were lit manually by a lamplighter, who used a long pole to reach them.  Hugh M. Lewis says that that the street lamps were quite far apart “leaving pockets of darkness in between haloes of light, the weak glare of cottage candles, the beam of an occasional torch, glow of a hurricane lantern or yellow light of a carbide bicycle lamp.”  The lamplighter was first replaced by a pilot light and a timer, and eventually gaslights were replaced by electric street lights.

The Aberdovey village pump, with the bakery and Wesleyan chapel behind. Source: Aberdyfi – The Past Recalled, by Hugh M. Lewis.

It is interesting that gas arrived in Aberdovey thirty years before most houses had permanent running water, with many households remaining dependent on the village pump.   New houses were going up quickly as mining, shipbuilding and trading activities expanded, and the village pump became increasingly impractical.  In 1898 a rectangular reservoir with a capacity of 3 million gallons was built in the hills beyond the village near Crychnant Farm, and water mains were laid in the village, to which homes were then connected.  By 1901 there were 310 houses and the population stood at 1358  people, so the reservoir had a lot of residents to supply.  Hugh M. Lewis (1910-2003) says that even during his own childhood, the water supply often ran out during the summer.  He says that local children could earn “the odd halfpenny” by carrying buckets of water to houses at some distance from the pump.

A photograph showing a formally arranged gathering next to the village pump. I suspect that the above painting was actually derived from this photograph.  Source: Aberdyfi – Portrait of a Village by Hugh M. Lewis

The reservoir above the village, with a capacity of 3 million gallons. Source: Aberdyfi – A Chronicle Through Time by Hugh M. Lewis

The old gas lamp and the modern electric street light, side by side at the bottom of Gwelfor Road. Source: Aberdyfi – The Past Recalled, by Hugh M. Lewis

Electricity is one of those household facilities that one takes very much for granted, but Aberdovey remained without an electricity supply until 1945.   A company was formed, with shares offered at a pound each to raise capital of £13,000.  A combination of water and oil power were used to generate electricity.  Originally it was thought that water-powered turbines would be sufficient, and water was sourced from Caethle steam near the disused lead mines in Happy Valley.  The demand, however, outstripped the supply and water power was supplemented by oil.

After the Second World War, Aberdovey settled into a very different pattern of social and economic activity from its more industrial past.  The copper, iron and lead industries had come to an end, shipbuilding had ended with the arrival of the railways, and Aberdovey retained only a minor role as a port.  Instead, the tourist trade, which had taken off in the 1860s, became the mainstay of the village economy, and for this, the provision of running water, gas and electricity had become essential.

Sources:

The information and images used in this post were sourced from two books by Hugh M. Lewis:

  • Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village
  • Aberdyfi:  A Portrait Through the Centuries.
  • Aberdyfi:  The Past Recalled
  • Aberdyfi:  A Glimpse of the Past

Vintage postcard of fishing-net racks on the beach, postmarked 1917

This postcard was purchased with the job lot that started the vintage postcard series, but for some reason it did not get published with the rest, and I found it whilst putting the entire collection away for safe keeping.  It is interesting, capturing echoes of the small-scale fishing industry.  The postmark has a date of 1917, which means that the photograph was taken before that time.  It shows the lovely four-terrace white building Cliffside that still stands, beautifully maintained.  This side of it, nearest to where the photographer stood, is a low building with a tall chimney at the back.  Does anyone know what the building with the chimney was for?  I’ve been through Hugh M. Lewis books, but I cannot find a mention of anything that would explain the chimney in that location.

All of the buildings adjoining Cliffside are still in situ, but the chimney has gone.   The dominating feature of the photograph is the rickety looking arrangement of poles that run along the beach, for the drying of fishing nets.   There is also a really rather nice little open-top carriage on the road, minus horse.

Above is the same sort of angle today.  The fishing net frames were built where the concrete platform now stands.  The concrete monster puzzled the life out of me for years, but I was told recently that Aberdovey used to have extensive mussel beds, and this platform was used for processing them.  Indeed, it lies next to the foundations of an earlier platform.  It fell out of use when the mussel beds shifted elsewhere.  I do wish that someone would knock it down, as it’s a real eyesore!

In the image below I have superimposed the photograph over the postcard and reduced the opacity of the photograph so that if you look very hard (and it does make your eyes go a bit funny), you can see both the fishing net frames and the mussel sorting platform.   The bus stop has changed the line of the wall, but the slipway is still in situ and the houses have changed only very little.

Not many postcards include a sender address, but this one does, and there’s a neat little cross written on the left of the postcard to show where it is located:  C/O Mrs Richards, Aberdovey Cottage, Bath Place, Aberdovey, Wales.  I think that this is probably now 3-4 Bath Place, known as Dovey Cottage (just east of the Literary Institute).

The postcard was sent without a stamp, and there is a pencil-written note saying “Unpaid.”  Presumably the Ashton Under Lyne recipient, Miss Bishop, had to pay an excess fee.

The card, number 42883, was in the Sepiatone series, produced by Photocrom Co.Ltd.  of London and Tunbridge Wells.

Aberdovey Beach with elegant fashions and tall masts, c.1900

A vintage postcard in the Valentine series.  I go and have a look at eBay and Etsy every couple of months to see if there are any new and interesting vintage postcards available.  This was the only one that has appealed to me since I finished the vintage postcard series in mid March.  The reverse of the postcard was entirely unmarked, so I have no official dating information but the smart women’s outfits of long skirts and well-fitted blouses, suggest the the turn of the 20th Century.  The postcard speaks for itself.  You can click on it to see a bigger version.

 

The Aberdovey schooner Mervinia, launched 1878

The schooner Mervinia. Source: Lloyd 1996, volume 2, with her copper sheathing showing clearly just above the waterline.

After launching Maglona in 1876 (about which I have posted here), the next ship built by Thomas Richards, one of Aberdovey’s most elite shipbuilders, was Mervinia.

My original intention was to take just one vessel from each shipbuilder in turn before looking at other ships in each shipbuilder’s portfolio, but there are both similarities and differences in the information available for Maglona and Mervinia that made it seem worth describing these vessels consecutively.

Mervinia was launched on February 18th 1878.  She was registered at Aberystwyth, no.3.  She was a two-masted top-sail schooner (with three square sails at the top of her fore mast, but gaff-rigged below, and on her second, main mast).  She had a figurehead in the form of a woman, but it not possible to make it out in the above photograph of the painting.  The name Mervinia was chosen to echo the ancient name of Merioneth.At 96 tons and 84ft long, she was smaller than the 114 ton Maglona.  She had very fine lines, as the painting above demonstrates, and was copper-sheathed below the waterline.  The purpose of copper sheathing was to prevent both fouling of the hull beneath the waterline, damaging the wood and slowing the ship, and the incursion of teredo worm, which burrowed lethally into wooden hulls beneath the waterline like giant marine woodworm.  Copper sheathing was adopted in the Royal Navy during the 18th Century, and became standard on deep sea merchant shipping in the early 19th Century.  By 1816, 18% of British merchant ships had copper sheathing.

As with Maglona, Mervinia had only two owners at launch, Richard Owen (who had been the main share-holder in Maglona), a timber merchant from Machynlleth, with 60 shares.  He was also her managing owner (the person who made the business decisions regarding a vessel’s career).  The other four shares were held by her builder Thomas Richards.  More information about both men can be found on the post about the previous ship built by Richards, Maglona.

Source: The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 25th January 1878

The launch of Mervinia on 15th January 1878 was covered in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard:  “The event had excited much interest in the village and neighbourhood and, fortunately the weather was most favourable for the interesting proceedings which, owing to the state of the tide, had to take place at an early hour, viz., soon after nine a.m.”  Fortunately the bottle of wine used by Miss M. Marsh of Carno to launch the ship by breaking it against the hull duly smashed – an unbroken bottle was a very bad omen.  The bottle was “gaily decorated with ribbons” of red, white and blue, and must have looked very celebratory.  The crowd cheered as the ship glided into the water.  The newspaper report goes on to say that “the Misses Marsh” contributed books in Welsh and English for the bookcase that had been fitted on the ship, for the use of the captain and crew.

Following his precedent with Maglona, as soon as the ship was launched Owen began to sell his shares for a profit, selling 30 of his 60 shares over a three day period between 18th and 20th February 1878, which provided a more familiar ownership mix, and a highly localized one:

  • John Jones master mariner, Aberdovey – 8 shares
  • Evan Jones, labourer, Aberdovey – 8 shares
  • David Davies, quarryman, Aberdovey – 4 shares
  • Richard Williams, master mariner, Aberdovey –  4 shares
  • John Evans, master mariner, Aberdovey – 4 shares
  • John Roberts, quarryman, Aberdovey –  2 shares

Mervinia’s first destination was reported as the Shetland Islands, but in April she was in South Shields.  Lewis Lloyd follows her various voyages and crew following her launch.  Her first officers were her Master  John “Black Jack” Jones (1850-1899), master mariner of Aberdovey, aged 27, who remained with the ship in various roles until his death in November 1899 and the Mate  David Jones of Aberdovey, aged 23, John Jones’s younger brother.

The way in which Mervinia‘s senior crew members were organized is interesting.  Both master and mate were paid off in April 1878 but rejoined the ship as Boatswain and Able Seaman respectively two weeks later under Captain John Evans  from Bangor, aged 58.  The switch-around in crew is the first of many, and can probably be explained by the ship’s destination to Portuguese ports, Vianna  do Castelo (and other foreign ports en route) in July 1878, and then to Oporto and other ports in September 1878.  In both cases she returned to South Shields.  As soon as the ship returned to coastal waters, John Jones was restored to Master with John Evans as Mate and David Jones retained as Able Seaman.  John Evans was paid off in October 1878, and David Jones resumed his role as Mate.

The site of the yard where Thomas Richards built his schooners, now the memorial park on the edge of Penhelig. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory (1948), pl.40

The ship now began to operate on new routes, this time out of Newport in Wales, and again the crew was rearranged, presumably to take advantage of experience in foreign waters.  For a trip from Liverpool to Avila in Spain, returning to Newport between 17th May 1879 and 23rd June 1879, the Master was now Charles Dean Cook of Bristol, aged 57 and John Jones was  boatswain and Purser.  David Jones left the ship.  On her next voyage from Newport to Bilbao and back to Newport (9th July 1879 to 16th August 1879)  John Evans returned as Master, with John Jones remaining as boatswain and purser.  The same arrangement was retained for her next trip from Newport to Alicante and then Runcorn (28th August 1879 to 20th November 1879).  For the rest of 1879, Mervinia returned to the coastal trade, John Jones was reinstated as Master and John Evans was Mate.

These changes in role and status were not merely nominal.  The pay that went with each position was allocated on a hierarchical basis, so every time John Jones, David Jones and John Evans were promoted or demoted, their salaries also changed.  It must have been difficult to plan ahead under such circumstances, even when in full-time employ.

The ship’s various voyages are summarized in Lewis Lloyd’s A Real Little Seaport, volume 1, pages 171-176.  Mervinia operated for at least 12 years after Maglona was wrecked, so the records of the ports she visited are much more extensive.  She called into a remarkable number of foreign ports, apparently becoming a specialist in overseas cargo transport, visiting Portugal, various  Mediterranean destinations, Newfoundland ports (mainly St John’s, Fogo and Twillingate), the Baltic and southern Ireland.  British ports that she visited include Glasgow, Greenock, Grangemouth, Gloucester, Port Talbot, Bristol, Hull, Teignmouth, Newport, Liverpool, Cardiff, Swansea, Parr (Cornwall), Dartmouth, Runcorn, Porthmadog and of course Aberdovey.

This photograph, showing a group of schooners, as well as a steamer, apparently includes Mervinia. D.W. Morgan says that she is the one with the copper bottom, but the photograph is so small that even after expanding it, I’m not sure which one he means. I suspect it is the ship in the middle of the photograph, where a colour differentiation can be seen just above the waterline. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory 1948, pl.41

Unfortunately, the various books do not note what cargo she was carrying.  Some clues can be picked up from Welsh newspaper reports.  On 26th November 1897 the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard records that Mervinia arrived in Aberdovey with cement for Rhayader.  The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on 24th February 1899 reports that she arrived carrying potatoes, presumably from Ireland and the Shipping News of 19th September 1899 edition of the Cardigan Bay Visitor records that she loaded slates from Bryneglwys quarries by the wharf.  In 1900 the Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser reported that Mervinia, now registered in Gloucester, was back at Aberdovey at the end of January loading a cargo of slate. In 1901 she arrived in port at Aberdovey from Antwerp with a cargo of cement, reported briefly in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, July 12th 1901.  In spite of this dearth of information, it is likely that she carried various cargoes.  Helpfully, and already noted in the post about Maglona, in Brief Glory, D.W. Morgan says that traditional cargoes when her destination was Newfoundland, were slate from Aberdovey or Porthmadog to Cadiz, sea salt from Cadiz for St John’s, in ballast (with no cargo) to Labrador where she awaited the arrival of cod that was then salted and dried and brought alongside in small boats.  The salted cod was then taken to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  “The cargo having been sold, iron ore for Mostyn, barrels of olive oil for for Goole, marble for Exmouth as the case might be would be shipped, and the vessel pointed for home.  Usually Aberdovey or Porthmadoc were reached in ballast.”

Captain John Jones died in 1899.  According to D.M. Morgan (in Brief Glory 1948, p.170-172) he had been something of a dark character.  Known as Black Jack along the Newfoundland coast, John Jones “was a s swarthy as a Turk, with white gleaming white teeth, a coal black beard and black gleaming eyes and it was ‘Yo-ho and a Bottle of Rum’ with him, unrestrained in his savagery.  A thimble-full of spirits went to his head, and I have known him on one occasion, when Mervinia was in port, raise the town with his outcry.”  He was Morgan’s cousin, the son of his father’s sister.  Some of the stories, which Morgan describes as “well authenticated” are truly unpleasant.  His one redeeming feature, in the eyes of Morgan, is that he refused to sail on a Sunday.  He died at the Adlard and Co. slate wharf at Dock Head in Bermondsey (London) on November 6th 1899.  As he was walking over the gang-plank from the wharf to the ship he slipped, fell in to the Thames and drowned.  Morgan expresses this with typical panache: “As might have been expected of one of so passionate a nature, Drink and the Devil did for him as it had done for several Aberdovey seamen; they plunged him over a dockside to a muddy doom.”  His body was retrieved and returned to Aberdovey for burial.

In 1900 Mervinia was registered in Gloucester, after which the only reference I have found is the above-mentioned arrival from Antwerp with a cargo of cement.  The Aberdovey-built schooner Sarah Davies was in port at the same time.  This was the era when the steamers Dora and Telephone were regular visitors from Liverpool (about which there is more information here), and on one occasion in 1899 Telephone  tried to give Mervinia a tow into port during a heavy easterly wind, but the rope failed and Mervinia sat at sea until conditions improved.   D.W. Morgan says that she was lost near Oporto, but gives no date or other details.

Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard
Cardigan Bay Visitor
Welsh Gazette and West Wales Advertiser

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
McCarthy, M. 2005. Ships’ Fastenings: From Sewn Boat to Steamship. Texas A&M University Press
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest.  The Brython Press

The Aberdovey schooner Maglona, launched 1876

Maglona, showing off her very beautiful lines.  Source:  D.M. Morgan. Brief Glory.

The shipbuilder Thomas Richards launched the topsail schooner Maglona at Aberdovey on March 11th 1876.  Maglona was one of the larger Aberdovey schooners, at 114 tons and 87.3ft long.  She had a figurehead in the form of a woman.  She was registered at Aberystwyth, no.6 and was named for a Roman fort that was thought to have existed near Machynlleth.  Topsail schooners combine the usual schooner gaff rig (sails parallel to the hull sides) with two or three square sails, perpendicular to the hull sides), on the fore mast, to take advantage of following winds to pick up additional speed.

Of the 64 shares, timber merchant Richard Owen of Machylleth had 52 shares and ship owner Morgan Owens of Aberystwyth had 12 who became the ship’s managing owner (responsible for all commercial decisions regarding the ship’s career) in May 1876.   Initially, the ship’s builder Thomas Richards did not have any shares in the ship, although he did have shares in other ships that he owned, including his successful 1878 ship Mervinia, in which he held 10 shares from launch.  Almost immediately Richard Owen sold 24 of his shares between 12th May and 19th May 1876, retaining 28, after which the ownership stood as follows (listed by Lewis Lloyd, 1996):

  • Richard Owen of Machynlleth, timber merchant – 28 shares
  • Morgan Owens, Ship Owner and Managing Agent of Maglona – 10 shares
  • David Hughes of Machynlleth, Slate Agent – 4 shares
  • Robert Rees, Machynlleth, Slate Agent – 4 shares
  • Thomas Richards, Aberdovey, Shipbuilder – 4 shares
  • Griffith Griffiths, of Tynhir, Montgomery, Farmer – 4 shares
  • John Jones of New Quay, Cardiganshire, Sailor Retired – 4 shares

It seems a little odd that Thomas Richards only bought shares in his own ship after Richard Owen sold off some of his own shares.

The announcement of her launch in the Cambrian and Merionethshire Standard was both brief and prosaic, suggesting that for Welsh people in general, this was worth noting but was not an extraordinary or unusual event.  Ships were being launched all the time along the Welsh coast.

A fine new schooner was launched on Saturday March 11th, from Mr Thomas Richards’s building yard. The new vessel, named the Maglona,” is of about 200 tons burden, and intended for the foreign and coasting trade. The usual ceremony of christening was performed by Miss Owens, of Machynlleth.

It was probably much more of an occasion in Aberdovey itself.  Buddug Anwylini Pughe (quoted in Lloyd 1996, p.96) wrote a memoir of her life in the village, and in it she says “I quite vividly recollect, young though I was at the time, the intense excitement that pervaded the whole village on the occasion of a launch.”

The site of the yard where Thomas Richards built his schooners, now the memorial park on the edge of Penhelig. Source: D.W. Morgan, Brief Glory (1948), pl.40

Thomas Richards (1819-1880) was brought up locally, attending school in Bryncrug.  Together with John Jones and Roger Lewis, he was a leading shipbuilder in the Aberdovey/Penhelig area.  His shipyard was somewhere near Penhelig, and although his first ship of 1858 was Elizabeth and Margaret, a 44 ton smack (a traditional fishing boat) he specialized in schooners that were big enough to tackle long distance trade, around and above 100 tons burden. Lloyd comments (p.100) “He was soon recognised as a shipbuilder of quite outstanding ability, as an artist.”  D.W. Morgan says (p.126) that  all of his schooners “sailed and looked like yachts.” He built 14 vessels in 22 years, of which only Elizabeth and Margaret and Olive Branch were not schooners His largest vessel was the 204 ton brig Naomi (brigs had two masts, fore and main, both square-rigged, with a gaff-rigged sail on the main mast). Richards was responsible for Aberdovey’s last sea-going vessel, the 99 ton schooner Olive Branch, but died before her completion.  Shipbuilders all had different approaches to the task.  Lloyd says that John Jones often had many ships on the go at a time, but Thomas Richards preferred to concentrate on one at a time, giving full attention to the job at hand.   He did not live to see Maglona wrecked in 1887, dying in 1880.  His obituary in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard on January 30th 1880 is a measure of the respect in which he was held as a shipbuilder.

Richard Owen, who was the principal shareholder in Maglona, was a timber merchant based in Machylleth.  I was hoping to find out more about him and his business, but have not found anything so far.  Do get in touch if you have any information.  Timber merchants were responsible for the provision of timber for a variety of trades including the building trade, cabinet making and, of course, shipbuilding, and for each of these trades different types and classes of timber were required, both from British sources and from overseas.  The Baltic, North America and Canada were popular sources of timber for shipbuilding and local timber merchants were also exporting oak and oak bark to other parts of the country.  According to Samuel Lewis in 1833, Derwenlas on the River Dyfi, the furthest navigable port on the river, handled 500 tons of bark, 40,000 ft of oak timber and 150,000 oak poles for collieries.  Timber merchants, often investors in the trades to which they supplied timber, were often very wealthy merchants, and could become people of considerable local influence.

Maglona was initially engaged in local coastal and Baltic trades under Owen Williams of Church Street, Aberdovey and then John Williams of Barmouth, before entering the trans-Atlantic and Mediterranean trades under a Master Mariner David Richards (certificate 97179), who had built up considerable experience in the trans-Atlantic timber trade and, by 1880 was living in a house in Aberdovey called Dovey Villa.  Maglona‘s history seems to be fairly trouble-free until she was wrecked.  The only reference I can find to her on the Welsh Newspapers Online website is in April 1878 when, according to a very brief comment in the South Wales Daily News of 4th April, she arrived at Milford Haven under Captain Owens carrying a cargo of manure, with her foremast mast missing, but there are no further details in this report.  Losing masts was commonplace, if regrettable, and usually occurred in heavy storms.

Her voyages, tabulated from information in Lewis Lloyd’s A Real Little Seaport, are as follows.  I won’t do this for every ship that I talk about, but it seemed worth doing at least one, as it shows  the reach of Aberdovey schooners of this tonnage, the length of individual voyages, the time they took en route between ports, and the time typically spent in each port.  Not all of Maglona‘s home and coastal trips are captured by Lloyd, so more of those were undertaken than are shown here.  I did have a column labelled “cargo,” but the records that were available to Lloyd apparently didn’t record this information, which is a real shame.  D.W. Morgan, however, says that her traditional cargoes when her destination was Newfoundland, was slate from Aberdovey or Portmadoc to Cadiz, sea salt from Cadiz for St John’s, in ballast (with no cargo) to Labrador where she awaited the arrival of cod that was then salted and dried and brought alongside in small boats.  The salted cod was then taken to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  “The cargo having been sold, iron ore for Mostyn, barrels of olive oil for for Goole, marble for Exmouth as the case might be would be shipped, and the vessel pointed for home.  Usually Aberdovey or Portmadoc were reached in ballast.”

Maglona was wrecked only 11 years after she was built on September 2nd 1887, off the coast of Newfoundland at Mistaken Point, southwest of Cape Race.  Fortunately, the entire crew of five was saved.  D. W. Morgan provides an account of how this may have occurred, “derived from one who was a ‘Boy’ aboard her at the time.”  The vessel had arrived late in Labrador due to the loss of her foretopmast and jib-boom on her way from Cadiz, and it was therefore late in the season when she left Labrador for Newfoundland.

All was going well until a fog, the like of which Capt. Richards had never before experienced, enveloped the ship, marooning her in a padded, unreal world of her own.  In this she lay for four or five days, the captain hoping devoutly that nothing untoward might befall them before the sun shone again to hive him his bearings.

It was not to be howeever, for early on the fifth morning the boy on the watch forrard, cried “Brekers ahead” and even before the echo of his voice had died away land loomed out of hte fog dead ahead and no more than a buscuit toss away.

Fortunately for the crew, although the ship struck the rocks, she became wedged in a narrow gully.  Although she was tossed fiercely by the sea, and began to break up, the crew were able to clamber to safety and were spotted by fishermen who were able to rescue them.  The remains of Maglona were put up for auction, where she fetched £15.

Morgan says that after the death of Thomas Richards, his shipyard furnishings and equipment were sold at auction, including sheds, stove and surplus timber: “they were all knocked down for £19/1-/0;  So much achieved with so little.”

Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

  • Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard
  • South Wales Daily News

Jenkins, J.G.2006.  Welsh Ships and Sailing Men.  Gwasg Carreg Gwalch
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
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest.  The Brython Press

The auxiliary steamer Aberllefeni Quarrymaid, launched in Aberdovey, 1858

I have been unable to track down an image of Quarrymaid, but this is Roger Lewis’s shipyard.  Source: D.W. Morgan’s Brief Glory, pl.39

The s.s. Aberllefeni Quarrymaid, unsurprisingly known usually simply as Quarry Maid or Quarrymaid, has two distinctions.  First, she is the only steamer to have been built in Aberdovey, and second, renamed Orcadia, she was the first steamer to serve the North Isles of Orkney.

She was built by Roger Lewis (1815-1906) who Lewis Lloyd describes as a “maverick” and “an outstanding character.” According to Lewis, he came from Llanon in Cardiganshire, “a small but vigorous maritime community” where he was a master mariner (uncertified).  He not only built vessels, but often commanded them, and was a coxswain of the Aberdovey Lifeboat for many years.  Lewis says that whilst he was clearly a skilled seaman and had some experience as a carpenter, he never trained as a shipwright, and his instinctive approach led to results that were not always completely desirable.  In spite of this, or perhaps to reassure other investors, he retained shares in most of his ships.

Roger Lewis had a long-standing shipbuilding business devoted to sailing ships, based on Penhelig beach, just outside the Penhelig Arms (see photograph above).  It is interesting that Lewis went straight from sail to screw propulsion (propellers), bypassing the intermediary paddle steamer stage. Aberllefeni Quarrymaid was named for the three Aberllefenni slate quarries.  According to Wikipedia Aberllefeni was the longest continually operated slate quarry in the world until its closure in 2003.

Quarrymaid was built by Roger Lewis to serve as a coastal vessel.  According to Morgan she had a wooden hull, 83.1ft long, 58 tons.  She was launched in October 1858 and sailed to Caernarfon where she was fitted out with two De Winton 50hp engines and associated machinery at Thomas and De Winton’s Union Foundry.  I have have been unable to find an image, so have no idea about the arrangement of funnel and masts, but she is described in a number of contexts as an auxiliary schooner, presumably with two masts.  Auxiliary ships usually still looked like sailing ships, with the funnel positioned between the two masts, and they could switch between sail and steam as required.  Ships could save fuel when there was wind, but could fire up engines when they were sailing against the wind, in stormy conditions or when conditions were becalmed.  This meant that steamers could stick to a timetable and maintain reliable schedules even when the weather was bad, which was particularly valuable to customers sending perishable goods and livestock and for passengers.  Quarrymaid was registered at Aberystwyth, no.25.

The first shareholders were as follows (listed in Lloyd 1996, Appendix V, p.124-5):

    • Robert Davies Jones, Trefri, Esq – 16 shares
    • Roger Lewis, Aberdyfi, builder and master mariner – 10 shares
    • Robert Gamlen Sweeting, Soutlan, Warwickshire, Gentleman – 8 shares
    • Ann Pughe, Aberdyfi, widow – 4 shares
    • James Webster, Aberdyfi, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • Hugh Jones, Gelligraian, Farmer – 4 shares
    • Evan Anwyl, Llanon, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • Elizabeth Jones, Crosswood, Montogomery, Spinster – 4 shares
    • Joseph Sheppard Draper, Haselbury, near Crewkerne, Somerset, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • George Jonathan Scott, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Gentleman – 4 shares
    • David Jones, Machynlleth, Montgomery, Agent – 2 shares

There are often a diverse set of occupations listed, and widows are frequent shareholders, but what is surprising here is the sheer geographical scope of Quarrymaid‘s shareholders.

Quarrymaid undertook her maiden voyage from Aberdovey to London in April 1859, with several of the owners on board, some of whom disembarked at Aberystwyth.  The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald had this to say about her maiden voyage on April 20th 1859:

The steamer started on her first voyage to London on Saturday.  Several of the owners and gentlemen were on board.  Also some ladies who went as far as Aberystwyth.  Robert Davies Jones, Esq., Trefi, and Lady R. Webster, Esq., Aberdovey etc, were on board.  The Quarrymaid steamed beautifully out of the harbour and made about nine knots an hour.

9 knots is just over 10mph/16.6kmph.  Steamships did not become commonplace in Aberdovey until the 1860s, so she must have been something of a novelty.

Initially, Quarrymaid‘s standard route was between Aberdovey and London, averaging a round trip per fortnight, stopping at Barmouth, Aberystwyth and Aberaeron as well.  An advert was placed in  The Aberystwyth Observer on the 23rd April 1859 just after she was built, announcing her first commercial voyage on 25th April 1859.   D.W. Morgan says that at one point her engineer was Tom Hughes of Gogarth, who had been an officer on the fabulous London tea clipper Cutty Sark and that at some stage she was lengthened by Roger Lewis.  Her first master was also her builder, Roger Lewis, and she was managed by David Jones and Rowland Evans of Machynlleth.

Pickle Herring Wharf, Bermondsey, in 1899 by Joseph Pennell. Source: Frontispiece.

Pickle Herring Wharf, Quarrymaid‘s destination in London, was in Bermondsey, part of a vast complex of wharves that lined both sides of the Thames.  The etching on the left, by well known artist Joseph Pennell, shows how the warehouses were linked to the waterside wharves across the cobbled road.  Where it once stood is now the section of Thames Path in front of the HMS Belfast.  However, it looks like a clone of the contemporary Butler’s Wharf, which survives today as a major tourist destination just upriver from where Tower Bridge (built 1886 -1894) is now located.  The warehouses were great terraced blocks of multi-storey buildings, and for the general public and watermen to reach the river, staircases were provided, the watermen’s stairs.  Those that ran down to the river were just behind this image, to the left, and were marked on contemporary maps as the Pickle Herring Stairs.

Pickle Herring Wharf from the river, by J.A.M.Whistler. Source: Art Institute of Chicago

Later, Quarrymaid switched routes at some stage before 1862, running between Aberdovey and Liverpool.   Although it is not explicitly stated anywhere what her cargo may have been, it seems likely that she was carrying slate, at least when she was running into London, but may have switched to perishables when she switched to Liverpool.  Steamers were comparatively expensive to run, costs being accrued both in fuel and additional crew requirements. Their cargo carrying prices were therefore higher, meaning that they were often used mainly for time-sensitive cargoes, when the risk of spoilage merited the extra cost of reliable steamers. that were far more predictable to scale, and arrived to schedule.

Lewis Lloyd gives details of the Crew Agreement for the Aberdovey to Liverpool half year ending 30th June 1862.  He says that it is the only one that was available at the Dolgellau Record Office, from which he derived the following information:

    • Captain:  David Lloyd of Cardigan, aged 24
    • Mate:  Richard Davies of Merioneth, aged 25
    • Engineman:  William Davies of Anglesey, aged 30
    • Stoker: Griffith Evans of Merioneth, aged 28
    • Able Seaman: Thomas Jones of Merioneth, aged 30
    • Able Seaman: John Griffith of Merioneth, aged 23
    • Cook: Evan Lloyd of Cardigan, aged 13 (possibly the younger brother of the captain)

Lloyd says that during the period covered by this contract, Quarrymaid made 13 voyages between Aberdovey and Liverpool, about one per fortnight.

In 1860 it was reported in the North Wales Advertiser and Chronicle of 15th December, that the captain of the Quarrymaid was pursuing a case against a deserter, more to make a point than to pursue any heart-felt grievance:

James Webster, Esq., the princi- pal owner of the steamer Quarrymaid,” plying between Aberdovey and London, preferred a complaint against a lad named Jonas Jonas, (who did not appear) for leaving the steamer on the 3rd ult., just as she was ready for sea, and thereby causing a delay of two days before another lad could be procured. He did not wish to press the case but for example’s sake he wished to bring the case before their Worships, to know whether these sort of things were to be carried on with impunity.

On February 9th 1861, Quarrymaid collided with the Ann Jones from Porthmadog, the cause apparently being a particularly strong tide.  The Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald reported that both ships were damaged, the Quarrymaid losing her jibboom and the Ann Jones losing ropes and the gaff, which fell on deck, striking the mate.  There were no fatalities but there were two casualties, one on each ship, both taken away for medical care. Later in the same year, the 14th September edition of the North Wales Advertiser and Chronicle‘s review of the Petty Sessions of Friday September 6th contained this fascinating and amusing story about the second mate stealing bottles of wine from a hamper that had been loaded in Liverpool for one Miss Griffiths of Trefri, although perhaps not so amusing for the accused, who was sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour:

Stealing Wine.—Mr. D. Pughe appeared for the prosecution. Roger Lewis, captain of the steamer Quarrymaid, of Aberdovey, preferred a charge of felony against the second mate Hugh Davies. It appears that a hamper of wine, consigned to Miss Griffiths, of Trefri, had been put on board in Liverpool, on the 20th of May last. It was a two dozen hamper.  The captain stated that he stove it away himself in the hold, in Clarence Basin Dock, and that on his arrival at Aberdovey it had disappeared. The prisoner’s berth was in the forecastle, and there was an access from there to the hold without coming on deck. The vessel was not full at the time. The hamper was put on the starboard side, and was approachable for any one. Thomas Morgan, a sharp lad, about 17 years of age, who had evidently imbibed some strong potations previous to coming into court, stated that he was on board the Quarrymaid, but never recollected seeing the hamper stowed away. Remembers seeing Hugh Davies, the prisoner, coming up out of the hold one day with four bo-tles before they left Liverpool. We were about half laden at the time. We were the only two on board at that time. The Captain and others had gone ashore. I saw him tap one of the bottles; and as he had no cork screw he did it with his finger and thumb. He gave me some of the wine, but I did not know then that he had stolen it. I thought perhaps he had some of his own, until he said “mind and don’t split,” then I smelt a rat. He gave some to Daniel Davies, and told him it was teetotal stuff, and Dan drank some then. I saw four bottles on his bed at supper time, but had no more of it after I left Liverpool. John Richards swore having seen eight bottles on Hugh Davies’s bed the day the vessel sailed. Thos. Smith, fireman, recollected having something to drink out of a bottle at Aberdovey from Hugh Davies, but could not say whether it was wine or not, for he never accustomed himself to drink it. He could manage porter as well as any man. (Laughter.) Cross-examined—Can’t say it was wine; knew it was not porter, nor gin, nor brandy, nor physic, nor ink. Could not say what it was; it went down very nice. Daniel Davies swore that he saw bottles on the bed of the prisoner. Had tasted the wine because he told him it was teetotal stuff. After reaching Aberdovey the Captain went to Machynlleth, when the prisoner said it was a good chance to dispose of the hamper; he said, what hamper; and he answered, the wine hamper, he would throw it overboard. Believe prisoner cut the hamper with his knife. P.C. Roberts deposed that he apprehended the prisoner on Thursday. Told him the charge. He asked what imprisonment he was likely to get, and acknowledged he had done it. Prisoner was then asked whether he was guilty, which he owned, and was sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard labour.

On one occasion, very late in her life, she was chartered for a pleasure cruise to Aberystwyth and back, as reported in the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser:

ABERDOVEY.—On Thursday the Steamer Quarrymaid from Aberdovey took a trip as far as Aberystwyth and back. The weather was beautifully fine, and a rich treat was thus afforded. About eighty from Towyn and Aberdovey, visitors, &c., availed themselves of a trip, H. Webster, Esq,, of Aberdovey bore the expenses of the excursion, to whom great praise is due for his kindness and liberality at all times in Aberdovey and vicinity. During the passage, singing was kept up with spirit. After spending about six hours in Aberystwyth, the Quarrymaid steamed off at about nine knots an hour, and Aberdovey was reached in good time. Three hearty good cheers for Mr. Webster was given on board, which was joined in by the multitude on shore, who greeted the company on their return. A private company was entertained by the same gentleman at the Hotel, and a pleasant evening spent.

In 1865 she was sold, renamed Orcadia, and entered service in the Northern Isles of Orkney on March 29th 1865, remaining in service until 1868, when she was replaced by a larger steamer.

There is no record of where or when she was broken up or lost.  Perhaps she was scrapped after going out of service in 1868, but the above story about her taking a group of people on a jolly to Aberystwyth is dated 3rd September 1869, so perhaps she returned to Aberdovey to be be broken up, and this was the party to commemorate the event.  A guess.

If anyone knows of an image of her, please get in touch!

Update:  Thanks to  Dai Williams for the information that an earlier and bigger Quarrymaid was built at Pwlleli by William Jones.  Just to avoid confusion, here are a few details about the earlier ship.  She was a sailing schooner built in 1840, was 116 tons, and foundered in 1866 off Flamborough Head.  Jones built another ship, Quarryman, in the same year (source:  rhiw.com).


Sources:

Welsh Newspapers Online: https://newspapers.library.wales 

Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald
North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser
The Aberystwyth Observer

Deayton, A. 2015.  Steamers and Ferries of the Northern Isles.  Amberley Publishing Ltd
Hague, D.B. 1984.  A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Mid-Wales.
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
Morgan, D.W. 1948. Brief Glory. The Story of a Quest.  The Brython Press
Richards, J. 2007.  Maritime Wales.  Tempus

Wandering Pigs in Tywyn

Etching of a pig with spotted markings. Source: British Museum (Museum number 1871,0812.2907)

As the title indicates, the emphasis in this post is on Tywyn.  There are also some fascinating references to the insalubrious dominance of pigs in Aberdovey, which I really must investigate further.   The ongoing thread of pig-based conflict in Tywyn, lasting several decades, amused me at first.   But the more I read about it, the more I realized that this was a very serious problem, a conflict between individual household needs and the demands of larger scale economic progress.  Householders with a single pig were trying to supplement income and provide themselves with additional security.  Smallholders with more livestock were trying to make a living.  Both were keeping down overheads by using pigs as a low-cost but highly productive solution to impoverished circumstances.  At the the same time, at the other end of the economic scale the town’s authorities were attempting to attract visitors to Tywyn, to improve the well-being of the town as a whole, to improve standards of living for everyone.  These goals, both of which were legitimate and intelligent, were in long-term conflict.

In volume 2 of Lewis Lloyd’s 1996 A Real Little Seaport, Appendix VIII (full reference below) the author reproduces miscellaneous newspaper and other reports relating to Aberdovey and Tywyn.  I was looking for ship-related topics, but noticed that the subject of unruly pigs popped up repeatedly.  This post reproduces those reports and letters, and adds several others found on the National Library of Wales website.  The reports tell their own story.  Another world, and I do wish I could have seen it!  But perhaps I should be thankful that I did not have to inhale it :-).

The first story that I have found dates to 1854, and provides the title for this post.

Wandering Pigs in Tywyn
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, April 8 1854

TOWYN – The Pig Nuisance.  The local board of health have at last resolved that a stop shall be put to the nuisance of pigs strolling about the streets.  Every one found after April 5th will be placed in a pinfold, and a fine levied on the parties owning the same.

Lloyd comments (p.266): “Tywyn was by no means alone in this regard.  Foraging appears appear to have offended visitors rather than residents.  The remedy was quite effective when strictly enforced.”

The establishment of a fair in Tywyn may have exacerbated the problem of locally raised pigs

The Aberystwyth Times Cardiganshire Chronicle and Merionethshire News, 23rd April 1870

The pig situation certainly continued to deteriorate, as this animated and somewhat adversarial piece from 1870 demonstrates. The Chairman and the Surveyor seem to be anything but close friends 🙂

Practice of Killing Pigs on the Highway – Towyn and Aberdovey Local Board
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 10th December 1870

Practice of Killing Pigs on the Highway.—The Chairman:  I have had complaints made to me about people killing pigs on the highway. —The Surveyor:  They do kill them on the streets.  The Chairman I know they do, and I was going to ask you. as surveyor, why you allow them?—The Surveyor: I don’t see them.—Mr Daniels, jun., said that the Board need not interfere, if harm was done to no one. — The Chairman said that the practice was one the Local Board had tried to stop at Aberdovey. Some time ago the Board would not allow pigs to be kept in Aberdovey. One member stated that he knew a man at Aberdovey who had turned the privy belonging to the house he occupied into a pigsty, and kept two pigs there. —The Surveyor:  I didn’t know of it. —The Chairman:  As surveyor, you are supposed to know by going round the place. Complaints are made to me repeatedly. —The Surveyor: Am I to go to every spot and corner in the place ? – The Chairman Of course; it is your duty. Pigs are springing up everywhere in Aberdovey, and they are kept in a most disgusting state. Some few years ago we would not allow pigs to be kept within some yards of a dwelling-house.— The Surveyor:  Pigs have been very high lately. (Laughter.)  Everybody that could would keep, one. – In the course of further discussion, the Chairman said he was in favour of building a public slaughter-house, to do away with the nuisance.—An allusion was then made to pigs having been killed on the highway by a member of the Board. – The Chairman said there had been complaints about it.—One member stated that the police knew of it, and blamed Mr Wm. Lloyd for killing his pigs in the street.—Mr Lloyd said he killed them upon his own premises in a passage.—The Chairman said the greater nuisance was caused by dressing the pigs in the street. -The Surveyor:  They did it regularly before the Board was formed. (Laughter.)—The Chairman I should like to deal with this nuisance, but it is useless to talk about it.- Mr Daniel: Don’t break your heart, Mr Chairman.— The Chairman Oh no. But I really think that instead of getting better we shall get worse, as a Board of Health. —The subject then dropped.

The following two pieces from the same edition of the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard suggests that Aberdovey had become an even more chaotic local centre for pig-raising, possibly following the establishment of the market in Tywyn, and officials in Tywyn were seriously concerned that Tywyn could go the same way, and were urging that pigs should be kept to a minimum:

Suppressed Report – Filth in Aberdovey
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 17th May 1872

The prosperity of towns on the Welsh Coast depends on their attractiveness and freedom from unpleasant sights and smells, and therefore no more suicidal policy can be adopted than to save the rates by neglecting drainage and the removal of nuisances. Aberdovey is one of the poorest places on the Coast, and the Chairman of the Towyn Local Board said, at the last meeting, that Aberdovey was quite a pig-breeding establishment, in fact they ‘possessed as many pigs as inhabitants’. Everybody knows, of course, that where pigs abound visitors are scarce, and if Aberdovey refuses to get rid of its notoriety for pigs, and consequently for filth, it must be content to see Towyn, Barmouth, Borth, and Aberystwyth eclipse it in prosperity. This unfortunate apathy at Aberdovey is all the more to be regretted, as Aberdovey, on account of its natural advantages, might easily be made a favourite resort for invalids who need a mild and equable temperature. We are pleased to see that Towyn by prompt action and wise expenditure of public money may still retain its position as a healthy and pleasant watering place

Pigs taking possession of the back streets of Aberdovey
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 17th May 1872

The Chairman on Pigs – Application was made on behalf of Mr Pugh, ironmonger, Towyn, to make a pig-stye at the back of bis garden in High-street.—The Chairman I hope you will not get into the same condition at Towyn as Aberdovey is with regard to pigs. We have quite a pig- breeding establishment there In fact we have quite as many pigs as we have inhabitants. They (the pigs) have taken possession of the back streets, and perhaps they will have possession of the front streets shortly. They are constantly parading the back streets. (Laughter.) It is not the keeping of pigs that becomes a nuisance; it is on account of the disgracefully dirty state people allow them to remain in.-It was decided that, on account of the position of the proposed pig-stye, permission be not given for its erection.

 

Pigs and Other Nuisances
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 18th May 1883

Pigs and other Nuisances – The Clerk read a letter from the Local Government Board calling attention to paragraphs in the Medical Officer’s report on nuisances caused by the keeping of pigs and the accumulation of manure as in the vicinity of Red Lion-street.—Mr Kirkby thought that pigs should not be kept in a town, and proposed that no pig should be kept within 100 feet of a dwelling house. —The Clerk stated that sixty feet had been adopted at Dolgelley, and it had had the effect of driving nearly all the pigs out of the town. —The Chairman and other members thought that 100 feet was too far, and on the motion of Mr John Williams, seconded by Mr William Lloyd, sixty feet was agreed upon.

 

By the late 1880s, the pigs, now no longer roaming the streets and now unable to be kept less than 60ft from a dwelling, were a thriving business, but their owners weren’t happy at some of the changes to Tywyn’s sanitation measures.

Pigs in Tywyn
Cambrian News July 19th 1889

TOWYN. PUBLIC SPIRIT – The remarkable success of the movement in favour of pig keeping has infused much additional courage into the hearts of the demonstrators, who now demand full restitution of all ancient privileges, one of which is the right of taking water from the sewers.  The means of access to the sewers for this purpose were closed some years ago . . . and on Tuesday evening, the 16th of July, one of the the leaders in the recent demonstration took the law into his own hands and broke into the sewers at the place where water used to be drawn when the rill running along the street was not covered.”

 

Another two years passed, apparently without incident, and then another article was featured in Cambrian News, complaining once again about the prevalence of pigs, an echo of the grumbles of 1854.

Visitors, Pigs and Tywyn’s Limitations as a Seaside Resort
Cambrian News.  May 22nd, 1891

Jesus exorcising the Gerasene demoniac, from the Hitda Codex manuscript.  Source:  Wikipedia

TOWYN. REGULAR VISITORS – Many of those who come yearly arrived with Whitsuntide on Saturday and Monday last.  Some expressed their surprise on the little change that has taken place since this time last year.  There is the broad esplanade, handsome in its loneliness, not a single additional house overlooking it.  The remnant of the old pier stand still to remind people of the transient and illusory start which Towyn made some years ago.  But the pigs remain and their unwholesome stench greets the nostrils of the visitors at all the entrances to and at many places in the town.  It may be that beings which long ago rushed the swine to the lake of Gennesaret will oblige Towyn in the same way.  It does not appear that this nuisance will be got rid of by the action of earthy authorities now in existence, therefore let us pray for assistance from another region.

You just have to love the Biblical reference and its accompanying optimism.  It’s actually a rather sad story for pig enthusiasts. The Miracle of the Swine was, according to the New Testament, a miracle performed by Jesus.  Jesus exorcised demons from a man, which were then transferred into a herd of swine.  All of the animals in the herd launched themselves into the lake to drown themselves, thereby eliminating the demons. I am not entirely convinced that the artist who painted the scene in the Hitda Codex, above, had ever actually seen a pig.

Only a few days later, more was to follow (which is to say pig complaints, not exorcisms).


Nuisances at Tywyn:  Chimney Firing and Pigs

Cambrian News,  May 29th 1891.

TOWYN.  NUISANCES – The police, with commendable zeal are dealing successfully and most impartially with the nuisance of chimney firing and there is a fair prospect that this remnant of Welsh savagery . . . will be stamped out in the near future.  Is it not possible to have other nuisances as objectionable and dangerous dealt with in the same drastic manner?  There is something hideous in the very though of the winds wafting the odours of foul piggeries even to the site of a town that is to be distinguished for cleanliness and sweetness.  Some strong firm hand is required to deal in a prompt and determined manner with these pet nuisances.

Lewis Lloyd speculates that the complainant must be a newcomer, because any local would have been accustomed to the idea that “the family pig remained an essential part of the domestic economy of the domestic economy of the people at large,” and that “vagrant odours” were part of local life (p.364).

1891 continued to be a big year for pig debates, as the following lengthy heartfelt and anxious piece demonstrates so clearly:

Towyn Pigs
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 3rd July 1891

The removal of pigs is one of the consequences of the growth and progress of a watering place. For years the pig question agitated Aberystwyth, and all sorts of reasons were advanced why pigs should be allowed to thrive in that town. They are not yet quite extinct, but the distance regulation makes it difficult to keep them, and with the exception of a few privileged per- sons nobody now keeps pigs in the town of Aberystwyth. Barmouth, again, has tried to reconcile pigs and visitors, but the attempt has failed, and the Barmouth pig is doomed, although after the manner of his kind he may die slowly and amid much noise. At the last meeting of the Towyn Local Board the pig-keepers of that town presented a. memorial in favour of erecting a piggery somewhere in the district where pigs °°could be kept without being a nuisance to visitors and without detracting from the sanitary condition of the town. The Towyn memorialists were very moderate in their representations, but we appeal to them whether it is not a fact that more than half the value of a pig depends on power to keep it quite close to the dwe ling so that, so to speak, it is almost one of the family. A pig kept at a piggery away from the town would cost more in time and labour than it would be worth. We fear the Towyn pig-keepers, who sent their modestly-worded memorial to the Local Board, are ingenious individuals who only seek to gain time and have no real intention of getting rid of their pigs until they are fat, and will then start young ones on whose behalf the same plea for time will be put in. Look at the Penyparke pig. He is still to the fore. He has survived all sorts of attacks and still grunts contentedly within a few feet of his owner’s front door. What could be more satisfactory than the following extract from the Towyn pig-keeper’s memorial.   “We are all wishful that all nuisances should be abated and that our rising little town should be made as sanitary as any in the Kingdom.”  This is a beautiful sentiment, but how can practical effect be given to it if all the Towyn pigs are to be allowed to live until they grow fat?  The people of Towyn must choose between pigs and visitors. Visitors come from towns where pigs are not kept and where nuisances are removed, not abated. What a long and weary struggle has had to be waged against pigs, cesspools, rubbish heaps, and t5 other nuisances, and the struggle is not yet over. There are always memorialists who honestly believe that pigs are not a nuisance, just as there are always people who see no harm in dirty water, defective drains, accumulated filth, and other health destroyers. The time has gone by when advocates of municipal cleanliness can be hooted through the town, but there are scores of people who would not abstain from keeping a pig, which costs them half-a-crown a pound, to en- sure the permanent success of their town as a summer resort. We trust the members of the Towyn Local Board will be strong. However long the removal of pigs is delayed somebody will always plead for a little more delay. Let the law take its course, and Towyn will never have cause to regret its firmness. Not only must pigs be got rid of, but the inhabitants of watering places in this district must pay attention to order and beauty. Visitors like to see prettiness and order, and both public bodies and private residents should I aim steadily at getting rid of that raggedness and disorder which are so characteristic of some towns of considerable pretensions.


The Pig War

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 26th June 1891

TOWYN. THE PIG WAR—The notices served on the Local Board of Health to have some obnoxious pigstyes removed have created intense excitement among the pig- keeping fraternity. Some men of no mean intellectual attainments, defend the practice of keeping pigs near dwelling-houses in a manner which savours of a hundred years ago. This does not augur well for Towyn-on-Sea.


The Pig Warfare

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 18th November 1891

THE PIG WARFARE.  The recent decision of the Local Board to prohibit the keeping of pigs within certain distances of dwelling houses at Towyn has caused quite a furor among a section of the inhabitants, but as the resolution was passed unanimously, with one exception, at a meeting at which all the members were present, it is probable that no more wavering and laxity will be shown.

 

I was seriously amused by the following insight into a measure of how times had changed in Tywyn.  At the beginning of this post I started with a story about pigs roaming the streets.  This paragraph in the of December 1991 refers to a time which such things were indications of a distant past.

Since the days pigs dwelt unmolested on the Streets
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 11th December 1891

THE WEATHER.—Such weather, such continuous rains, such consequent mud on streets and roads, such complaints of cold and rheumatism, such general inertia and grumbling, and that so near Christmas have not existed, it is believed, since the days pigs, cattle and ducks dwelt unmolested on the streets of Towyn

 

This is a lovely report of a hearing at the Petty Sessions in November 1898, abbreviated with several references to laughter from the assembled company.  It is an absolute treat:

Pigstyes and Prayers
Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and North and South Wales Independent, 11th November 1898

PIGSTYES AND PRAYERS. — At the petty sessions on Friday, Robert Edwards1, of Vanegryn, was summoned in respect of a nuance caused! by a pig stye.  The Clerk:  Have you received the notice to abate the nuisance ? — The Defendant: Possibly (laughter).—The Inspector and Medical Officer said the stench was exceedingly annoying to the members of the chapel over the way.—The defendant said he had led the singing for 25 years and never realised any unpleasant odour from the stye, which, to his mind, was superior to many houses, in Dolgelley, the county town.—He cleaned the stye every morning, in fact. as often as he said’ his prayers (laughter).—A member of the Bench suggested that he did not say his prayers often (laughter).—An order to abate the nuisance was made, with costs amounting to 12s, against the defendant.

 

It is a truly interesting insight into the area’s past that pigs were such a fundamental part of the local economy, and that they were deemed to be counter to the interests of the development of the tourist industry in both Tywyn and Aberdovey.  Whether people were for them or against them, they were important to individuals and smallholders as supplements to their incomes, an extension of the concept of the cottage industry.  It is easy to understand why pigs were favoured over any other livestock, in spite of the fact that they do not produce milk for human consumption.  For one thing, they gave birth to large litters, meaning that they were less expensive to purchase and could be used for breeding.  Most importantly, they converted just about anything edible into meat, and were the mobile dustbins of many communities well back into prehistory. This made them almost cost-free to feed and raise.  Pig manure could be used as an excellent source of nutrients for soil, if composted first.  A pig could be sold for meat or slaughtered by its owner for consumption.  In either case, it was an excellent source not only of fresh meat and fat, but of cured or smoked products that would last for a considerable time and could be eked out in times of hardship.   Unfortunately, pig-keeping was in direct conflict with other economic demands.  If Tywyn was to establish itself as a desirable destination and develop as a tourist resort, pig-keeping had to be moved out of the town itself, and confined to a respectable distance.  This was not always easy to implement, but the necessary steps were taken, and the town did develop a successful tourist industry.

I will leave the last word with a Tywyn correspondent who expressed himself in a rather embittered piece entitled Towyn Characteristics (The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 13th June 1890):

As it was in the beginning it is now, and ever will be, pigs, smoke and talk.

Sleeping Pig by James Ward, 1769–1859. Yale Center for British Art, B1986.29.266.

 

References:

The National Library of Wales website (a fabulous resource):
https://newspapers.library.wales

Lloyd, L. 1996.  A Real Little Seaport.  The Port of Aberdyfi and its People 1565-1920. Volume 2. ISBN-10 1874786496 (Appendix VIII- Miscellaneous newspaper and other reports relating to the Harbour, town and Townspeople of Aberdyfi, to the Town and Parish of Tywyn generally, and to other relevant matters, 1823-1920)