Category Archives: Social history

Vintage Postcards #25: Two-masted schooners at Aberdovey wharf

Two lovely postcards showing sailing vessels at Aberdovey, moored against the wharf.  I have no information about either.  The names of the vessels are not visible and there is no information on the postcards themselves, not even a postcard manufacturer name.  As to a date, the postcards post-date the building of the wharf and jetty in 1885.  In spite of the lack of additional information, I love them.  They are incredibly evocative of 19th Century and early 20th Century Aberdovey, when the village was an important trans-shipping port for for exports and imports.  The symbiotic relationship between Welsh sailing ships and the growing network of railway lines, the juxtaposition of old and new, was all about using the best possible solutions for the growth of trade and communication both within Britain and across the Atlantic.

Both postcards were unused, and apart from the fact that they were printed in Saxony, there are no further details.

19th Century John Thomas photograph of cargo vessels at the wharf, Aberdovey

Thanks very much to the Visit Aberdovey Facebook page for posting this photograph of Aberdovey in the final years of sail.  It is in the National Library of Wales archives, where it is listed as “The landing stage, Aberdyfi.” It is thought to date to about 1885 and was taken by Ceredigion-born John Thomas (1838-1905).

The landing stage, Aberdyfi. Source: National Library of Wales (used under terms of licence)

The schooner nearest to the camera is called Adventure.  She is not mentioned in Lewis Lloyd’s book so she was probably not built at Aberdovey but, like the Ellen Beatrice, discussed on a previous post, was probably a coaster that visited various ports on the Welsh coast.  The Crew List website lists over 40 vessels named Adventure between 1857 and 1940, but none of those clustering around the mid to late 19th Century seem to fit the bill.  I’ll continue to look into it, and update the post when I have more information.

All three vessels are beached on the sand at low tide.  If you click on the image to enlarge it and look behind the ships and you can see the rails that ran along the wharf, with some trucks in situ, with a man sitting on one at far left of the shot, and a linkage between the truck and Adventure.   There is a mobile gantry next to the trucks, which would have been shifted along the tracks to assist with the loading and unloading of ships.  I haven’t seen the gantry in other photographs.  Beyond the trucks are what appear to be sails drying.  On the whole, this wonderful photograph poses more questions than it answers.

The People’s Collection Wales website has the following details about Thomas:

John Thomas, excerpted from a group photograph. Source: Wikipedia (from National Library of Wales, where the entire group photograph is shown)

Born in Cellan, Ceredigion in 1838, John Thomas was the son of labourer David Thomas and his wife Jane. Following his education in Cellan, first as a pupil and then a pupil-teacher, Thomas began an apprenticeship at a tailor shop in Lampeter. In 1853 he moved to Liverpool to work in a draper but was forced to leave after ten years to find work in the open air due to ill health. It was due to this that he began work as a traveller for a firm dealing in writing materials and photographs of famous people. Small photographs of celebrities, known as ‘carte-de-visite’ photographs, were extremely popular at that time and made for a very lucrative business.

But, during his travels, John Thomas noticed that there was a lack of photographs of Welsh celebrities. This was inspiration enough for a new business and so, having learnt the rudiments of photography, he began taking photographs of famous Welsh people. He began by asking well-known preachers to sit for their portraits.

His venture was a success and in 1867 he established his own photographic business, The Cambrian Gallery. Travelling the length and breadth of Wales, he photographed celebrities, ‘characters’, chapels, churches, homes and buildings and landscapes, though he remained based in Liverpool throughout his career. Undertaking photography of this style, and on such a scale, was not an easy task. Photographic techniques remained rudimentary for the purposes of external photography, and travel was not easy at this time.  Despite this, John Thomas succeeded in capturing individuals, landscapes and buildings in every corner of Wales during his thirty-year career. The worth of his vast collection was great. He realised its importance and chose some 3,000 glass plates which he sold to O. M. Edwards for a very reasonable price. Thomas had worked for O. M. for many years, supplying him with images for the magazine Cymru and his images would continue to illustrate the magazine even after his retirement.

John Thomas died in October 1905. The negatives bought by O. M. Edwards now form part of the photographic collection of The National Library of Wales and are an important contribution to People’s Collection Wales.

Truly fascinating.  Later this year I hope to post more of his photographs of Aberdovey here, with accompanying information when I can find it.

Vintage Postcards #24: The 1894 school on Pen Y Bryn

The school on Pen Y Bryn prior to the posting date of 1909

The former school in around 1977, minus many original features

I was puzzled when I saw this building in other photographs of the village, because it looked to me like a Nonconformist chapel, but I had no recollection of seeing it.  Local residents Dai and Helen Williams told me that it was once a school and has now been converted to apartments.  I vaguely recalled that in my general reading about chapels, there had been a small chapel on the side of Pen Y Bryn, the small hill with the folly on top, and that this was converted to or replaced by a school.

Aberdovey in the late 1880s/early 1890s, from the book Round The Coast

Sure enough, Hugh M. Lewis (who attended the school) says that the school replaced a small Congregational Chapel called Capel Bach (Low Chapel) that had been built on the site in 1845. In the photograph to the right it is shown overlooking the sea at the very far right of the scene.  The photograph, from the book Round the Coast, is described on an earlier post.  The chapel was abandoned when the Congregationalists built a bigger chapel on the seafront, on Glandyfi Terrace, opposite today’s Information Centre, where it still stands (you can read about the Congregationalist buildings in Aberdovey on an earlier post).

Lewis says that the old chapel was knocked down in order to erect a purpose-built school that cost £600.00 and opened in January 1894 with 102 pupils.  The building is rendered today, but was presumably built of local stone, and has brick features around the windows.  The bell at the front of the school was used to call children to attend, in the same way that church bells call congregations to worship.  Playgrounds were segregated, one for girls and one for boys.  This was not the first school in the village, and I’ll talk about education, which was influenced by religious interests, on a future post.  I love the washing hanging on the line in the foreground – not a usual feature of picture postcards these day, unless you happen to be in Venice.

Other buildings of note are also shown in the photograph, all covered on earlier posts.  At the far left is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, and in the middle of the photograph, now Dovey Marine, the roof of Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in the middle of Chapel Square is just visible.  In the background, the tower of St Peter’s Church is clearly visible, and just beyond and set above it, the Calvinist Tabernacl dominates.

I realized that it had to be somewhere near the footpath from Chapel Square up to Pen-Y-Bryn, and when I walked up there, it turns out that one side sits along the footpath.  The photographs above were taken from the footpath and from Pen-Y-Bryn.

The card is by Sir Evelyn Wrench’s early postcard company (about whom more on an earlier post).  Wrench had been out of business for five years when this postcard was posted in 1909 from Aberdovey to an address in the village of Bawdeswell near East Dereham, Norfolk.  This says a lot about the dangers of using postmarks to date photographs on postcards!

Main Source:

Hugh M. Lewis.  Aberdyfi Portrait of a Village.

Vintage Postcard #21: Rolling stock on the tracks, Aberdovey beach

Where the big 1970 car park is now located, railway tracks used to cross the beach in front of Glandyfi Terrace.  There is more about the rails and the jetty in an earlier post, and there isn’t much else to say about this postcard here, but I like it very much.  The row of freight trucks with their big wheels divides the tourist beach from the houses, and tell their own story about the various economic imperatives of Aberdovey in the earlier 20th Century.  As ever, the 1897 shelter on Pen Y Bryn looks out over the scene, the village’s most conspicuous landmark and one of it’s most visited tourist attractions.  The photograph was taken from the jetty and I have tried to reproduce the same viewpoint.

Typically for such an everyday scene, this was a “Gwilym Williams, Aberdovey” postcard.  It was posted from Llandderfel, near Bala, in July 1912 to an address in Nelson, Lancashire.

Vintage Postcards #20: Aberdovey beach huts (and Melin Ardudwy)

When I first glanced at this postcard I was focused on the busy beach scene, with the row of bijou beach huts and the slightly exotic tents that are rather reminiscent of Rudolph Valentino desert scenes.  Then I noticed the mill in the background.  In spite of the distance of the mill from the camera and the lack of detail, I was chuffed to bits to see it there because this is only the third photograph of the mill I have found.  The steam-powered roller mill, Melin Ardudwy, has been covered on a previous post.

The postcard shows 11 beach huts, and several tents.  The visitors gathered at the water’s edge, women, men and children, are all elaborately dressed in fashionable outfits with hats.  Just like previous postcards that show railway tracks on the beach, this photograph, showing beach huts summer visitors in the foreground, rail tracks at the back of the beach, the Cambrian Railway bridge beyond and the flour mill on the horizon, are all a reminder of two of Aberdovey’s important but sometimes conflicting income streams – industrialization and port trade on the one hand, and tourism on the other.  Having said that, I am sure that most visiting children will have loved to see all the goings-on on the wharf and jetty, with vessels of all size and trains with their cargoes.  It’s a busy scene.  Few have been brave enough to venture into the sea, but a few are paddling in a rather gingerly way.  None of it looks even slightly relaxing.  Visitors at this time probably arrived in greatest number by rail, but the Aberystwyth.gov.uk site says that a steamer offered trips to Aberdovey from Aberystwyth during the summer, allowing day-trippers the novelty of a cruise and the diversion of another resort.

Bathing machines near Aberystwyth c.1800. Source: Wikipedia, which in turn sourced the image from the National Library of Wales

The origins of the beach hut lie with medical professionals of the 18th Century.  Just as warmer climates were believed to be beneficial for alleviating some ailments, and the waters from natural spas at places like Bath and Harrogate were recommended for an assortment of conditions, in the 1700s, immersion in sea water began to be recommended by the medical profession as a cure-all for various health problems.  Just as ailing people began to migrate to spas to take the waters, combining the hope for a cure with the enjoyment of local entertainments, there was a gradual flow of people to the seaside, requiring both facilities for entering the sea and entertainment when back on shore.  In order to enable these early health tourists to immerse themselves in the sea whilst retaining modesty, horse-drawn bathing machines were introduced to beaches, enabling people to dispense of their clothes in privacy while the bathing machine was pulled to the water’s edge.  Initially people entered the sea naked, as in the painting of a scene near Aberystwyth, left.  Soon specially designed beach wear was designed.  By the time Victoria came to the throne in 1837, bathing machines were well established and seaside holidays were becoming increasingly popular, aided by the growth of the railway network. Queen Victoria had her own personal bathing machine at her home on the Isle of Wight (there’s a photograph of it on Wikipedia).

Initially men and women were segregated, and the bathing machines delivered men and women to the designated parts of beaches.  As beach holidays became commonplace, and all-encompassing swimwear eliminated the need for people to be delivered to the water’s edge, the need to divide men for women diminished and mixed bathing became the norm.  The upshot of all this was that bathing machines were joined and eventually replaced by fixed beach huts, which offered people the same facility to change in privacy, but also gave them somewhere to return to as a base for their day on the beach.  Once established, beach huts could be hired by the hour, the day, the week.  Eventually they could be hired by the year or purchased outright.  Beach huts today exchange hands for fairly eye-watering sums.

11 Bodfor Terrace. Source: Google Maps Street View

The reverse of the postcard gives the information that the card was posted in June 1913 from Aberdovey, the year before the First World War. The visitors were staying at 11 Bodfor Terrace, which is still rented out for holiday accommodation today.  Unlike the people in the postcard, these visitors had been swimming and the writer concludes that she and her companions were “very happy.”  It was sent to Lymm in Cheshire.

The postcard itself was one of James Valentine’s but surprisingly isn’t numbered, so no production date is available but the clothing in the photograph is consistent with the postal mark.

Main sources for this post:

A Short History of Beach Huts
https://www.beach-huts.com/history-of-beach-huts.php

The History of the Humble Beach Hut Unveiled
(For those interested in verifiable factual information, the Daily Mail is perhaps the antithesis of a research tool.  It does, however, have a review of a new book about beach huts by Karen Averby, and there are some really splendid beach hut photos on the page).
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4418120/The-history-humble-beach-hut-unveiled.html

Aberdovey Vintage Postcard #18: Christmas Greetings!

 

This is the colourized version of the second vintage postcard that I posted, showing sheep being driven down the Machynlleth-Aberdovey road towards Aberdovey village. The sepia one was dated  to 1903 but according to the Tuck’s database, the colour version was issued later, appearing in the 1908/1909 and 1911/1912 Tuck’s Postcard Catalogue.  All the information about the scene, together with some details about what Aberdovey was like at that time, information about Frederick William Hayes, the artist who painted it, and Raphael Tuck and Sons, the company that produced it, are on that post.

The description on the reverse of this postcard says “Aberdovey is a pleasantly situated watering place at the mouth of the Dovey, and is noted for its trim and extensive sands and pretty cliff top shelters, from which magnificent views can be obtained.  During the summer months there is a service of passenger boats to the South of Ireland.”

This card, registration number 6233, was in the Oilette series, which came in during 1903, was one of a series of postcards of which each image was either designed to look like an oil painting or was a reproduction of an actual oil painting.  Most of Tuck’s chromographic (colour) printing was done in Germany, but this one was printed in England.  The red letters “Christmas Greetings” stand proud from the surface of the card.

I hope that everyone has a very Happy Christmas!

 

Vintage postcards #17: A special train on the Cambrian Coast Line

This must have been a wonderful sight – a steam-hauled special train on the way into Aberdovey along the side of the estuary on the Cambrian Coast Line.  The reverse of the postcard says that it was sold in aid of the Talyllyn Railway in Tywyn.  The Aberdovey stretch of the railway was established in 1864, connecting via Machynlleth to the south in 1867 (the subject of an earlier post) and the last steam engine run along the route was in 2017, marking the 150th anniversary of the Grade 2 listed Pont Y Bermo (Barmouth Bridge), that carries the line over the Mawwdach estuary.

I naively thought that it would be easy to find a date for what I thought must be an unusual event, but my assumption was wrong.   Thanks, therefore, to Sierd Jan Tuistra, via RMWeb member Martin McCowgill, who provided the information that this is one of the annual AGM weekend specials from Paddington to Towyn, 24th September 1960.  It was a double-headed special, with two engines pulling the carriages from Shrewsbury to Towyn, each pulling a coal truck before the passenger carriages. The engine at the front is 9017, otherwise known as the Dukedog class, which was the nickname for the Great Western Railway Earl Class.  Behind it is engine 7330 in the Mogul (GWR 4300) class.

Steam was not an uncommon sight on the Cambrian coast, a lot of regular services were steam hauled until 1966. Double headed train were less common, but quite a number of Cambrian Coast express summer Saturday specials were double headed because of the number of passengers & carriages.

Apparently there also used to be occasional summer steam trips on a Sunday from Aberystwyth to Pwllheli, so although this was a fabulous sight, it was not actually as rare as one might have expected.  Halliday, the photographer, specialized in vintage train photographs in the 1950s, mainly black and white.

Produced by Judges, about whom more on an earlier post.