Category Archives: Social history

Vintage Postcards #12: The Tennis Courts

 

The tennis courts were located in front of the approach to Aberdovey railway station.  Now, it’s a bowling green, with a small section fenced off to the left that still has a tennis court.  The little tennis pavilion has now been replaced by two slightly larger structures.  It is possible that the blue X marks the house where the visitors were staying.  My excellent uncle occasionally does the same thing in the postcards he sends.  The houses in the postcard and my photographs below shows how foliage can change aspects of a scene.  The house at top left now has a tree in front of its central gable, and the one immediately above the tennis pavilion previously had Virginia creeper or similar clinging to the walls, which has now been stripped off.  There are a couple of new buildings in the picture below, but on the whole that stretch of Aberdovey retains most of its character.

The same view in November 2019

The bowling club was established in 1921.  The postcard was sent to Solihull in 1934, with an Aberdovey Merioneth postmark.  The stamp is a George V 1d red that was issued between January 1st 1912 and 1934.  I’ve seen an identical postcard with the postmark dated 1926, so this postcard had obviously been in circulation for some time.

Vintage Postcard #10: Aberdovey from the Island

Although the postcard is entitled Aberdovey from the Island, I assume that this was taken from Ynyslas rather than a sandbank, because the tide is pretty high. Ynys means island, so perhaps that is the source of the postcard’s title.  It’s another gorgeous photograph. That single sail Aberdovey to Ynyslas ferry boat is a think of real beauty, and the placement of fractionally off-centre is sheer genius.

The following two were taken in February 2019 from the beach at Ynyslas.  Although today there are some more buildings visible on the hill, it is actually surprising how few new additions have been built.  The 1960s developments at the top of Copper Hill Street were a commercial decision and were probably good for Aberdovey’s future, as was the car park on the sea front, but it is notable that development has, for the most part, been kept under control.

 

Aberdovey from Ynyslas

The postmark is dated 26th August 1915, and was sent from Aberdovey.  The stamp shows George V (who reigned 1911 – 1936) and is known as a “½d Green,” first issued on 1st January 1912.  A frustration is that the postcard manufacturer is Gwilym Williams, and I have been unable to find out anything about him.  Do let me know if you have any information.

Another frustration is that the handwriting is, for me, almost completely undecipherable.  In the address, the first line appears to be Chetwynd but the town/village took me ages to work out (it’s West Malvern) and the message eludes me completely.  I suppose that as I (and presumably others) have become more dependent upon email and word processors, deciphering handwriting is much less of an everyday task.

This appears to be the house to which the postcard was sent:

Vintage Postcards #9: A busy Sea View Terrace

Sea View Terrace

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vintage Postcards #8: Penhelig

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

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

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

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

Penherlig Terrace seen from Penhelig beach:

Vintage postcards #5: Terrace Road in the moonlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vintage Postcards #4: The Roman Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage postcards #3 – Penhelig Beach

Not quite as vintage as postcard #1 and postcard #2, which were dated to 1910 and 1903 respectively, this view of Penhelig Beach has an Aberdovey Merioneth postmark dated 19th August 1962 and features two Queen Elizabeth II stamps (a blue 1 penny and a green 1 1/2 penny).  Elizabeth had been on the throne for 10 years when this postcard was sent to Harborne in southwest Birmingham.  The big carpark on the sea front and the modern developments at the top of Copper Hill Street, along Mynydd Isaf and Maes Newydd and related roads had not yet been built and the village must have had a very different character.

A view of Penhelig today taken from a very similar viewpoint:

Unlike the 1903 and 1910 postcards, this is immediately recognizable and familiar, and apart from the boats, which immediately indicate that this is not a modern photograph (I particularly like the one furthest from the camera), it looks much the same as it does today.  Penhelig Terrace, immediately behind the beach, was built on the spoil-heap from the tunneling works for the railway in 1864,  which was routed round the back of the village to prevent it impinging on tourism and ship-building activities.

A picture hanging in Aberdovey’s Literary Institute shows the same scene in 1837 before either the railway or Penhelig Terrace were built, with the Penhelig Arms visible at the far left. In this view the low and long Penhelig Lodge (about which I have posted) dominates the scene and looks out over the beach.  It was probably still fishermen’s cottages at this time, although it had various roles afterwards, including a stint as an exlusive school for young ladies.  Penhelig Lodge is now a row of three cottages on a busy bend where the railway crosses the road, hidden behind Penhelig Terrace and the railway, on the edge of Nantiesin car park and overlooked by Penhelig Station, but as a building it has lost none of its charm.

Aberdovey 1837. Source: Photograph of picture hanging in the Literary Institute.

A photograph from Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, A Glimpse of the Past, below, shows Penhelig as it was just after the railway was established and just before the terrace was built in the mid-1860s, with a large vessel moored on a high tide in the days when the beach was a shipyard, with Penhelig Arms just behind it.  In the above postcard Penhelig Arms is out of sight, a few houses to the left and across the road.

Penhelig shortly after the railway was laid, and before Penhelig Terrace was built, showing the railway tunnel and the shipyard just in front of the Penhelig Arms. It is clear that at least two houses were taken down to route the railway round the back of Aberdovey.  Penhelig Station was added in 1833 Penhelig Station was added in 1933, by which time the railway was operated by the Great Western Railway, which absorbed Cambrian Railways in 1922, and was equipped with a single platform and an attractive little wooden shelter that remain today.  Source: Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, A Glimpse of the Past

The row of houses behind the memorial park to the right of Penhelig Terrace on the main road through Aberdovey has changed dramatically since the 1860s photo in Hugh M. Lewis’s book, but not much since the 1962 postcard.

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

Penhelig Terrace today, seen from the memorial park

The postcard producer, Valentine’s (J. Valentine and Co.), opened in 1866 in Dundee, at first specializing in photographs of Scotland, and continued to make postcards for a century.  According to the Jisc Archives Hub, “much of the collection contains views associated with the leisure market, subjects such as fishing were regarded as attractive, agriculture less so, and industry was rarely portrayed. The main features are stately homes, historic ruins, great open spaces, beaches, the grandeur and curiosity of nature and great engineering feats.”  The company stopped producing postcards in 1967 because they failed to make the switch to colour printing for postcards soon enough to be competitive, and they had found that greeting cards were more lucrative anyway.