Category Archives: Vistas

Vintage Postcards #6: Dysynni valley and Bird Rock

Amongst all the recent postcards, this is one of my favourites, mainly because it is so relentlessly prosaic.  Straying out of Aberdovey, but not too far, it’s a peaceful view of cattle in the Dysynni valley with Bird Rock unmistakeable in the background, seen from the west near the coast.  Numbered 36502, and dating to 1895 (courtesy of the Francis Frith Collection website for the date) it is characteristic of Francis Frith photographs, offering a slightly unusual take on the usual subject matter.  Unlike other contemporary views of scenery which focus on the romantic this shot is particularly evocotive of the the landscape as I have seen it so often, with Bird Rock looking rather intimidating, and the lugubrious cattle waiting patiently for whatever weather is about to emerge from the clouds.  Cattle stand in water to cool themselves down on hot days (in some states in America where summer temperatures are usually high, cooling ponds are often provided) so although the sky looks rather overcast, it was probably a hot, sunny day.  There is a real sense of timelessness about this photograph.

In a part of the Dysynni valley to further to the east (with Bird Rock this time to the west) and below Castell-y-Bere are fields along the river Dysynni that are still used for pasturing cattle, as well as sheep.  There are some lovely walks along the Dysynni valley, which is well worth exploring.

The card was completely unused. I like the “Post Card” font, which has panache.  I instantly liked the little saying at the top of the reverse side, below, “T.N.T. – Today, Not Tomorrow!”  At first it amused me because it could have been written for me, as procrastionation is probably my worst sin, and I could often do with a bit of explosive to move me in the right direction :-).  But when I looked into it, it turns out to be a wartime slogan introduced by British Minister of Production, Captain Oliver Lyttleton, during September 1942, the thrust of which was that there was a new urgency to the production of war supplies. It gives one pause for thought.  What is interesting here is that, as above, the photograph is listed in the Francis Frith archive as dating to 1895, but it is clear that the early photograph was re-used later for post-1902 postcard production (see below) and in at least one of its more modern iterations carried a 1942 slogan.

Francis Frith is probably the best name, amongst non-specialists of early postcard production.  There is a lot about Frith and his photography business on the Francis Frith Collection website, which is a going concern and preserves an archive of his work.  It is a really fascinating story.  Frith was born into a Quaker family in 1822 in Derbyshire.  He built up a thriving grocery business in Liverpool, which he sold in the 1850s, making him financially independent, in today’s terms a multi-millionaire.  A founder member of the Liverpool Photographic Society, only 14 years after the invention of photography, be began to pursue his hobby on a full-time basis, travelling to the Middle East for fourteen years between 1856 and 1860.  I was very familiar with his Egyptian photographs, having a particular interest in this field, but the Francis Frith Collection website gives a real insight into the scope of Frith’s intersets and abilities.   Marketed by Negretti and Zambra of London, he became rich on the sale of his images as prints and steroscopic views.  After he married and settled down in England, he opened his company F. Frith and Co to “create accurate and unromantic photographs of as many cities, towns and villages of the British Isles as possible and sell copies of the photographs to the public, who were travelling in ever greater numbers and looking for souvenirs of their travels.”  He eventually retired and left the company to his sons, dying in 1898.  His sons built on their father’s legacy, and when in 1902 the Post Office agreed the design for the postcard, with a picture on one side and a divided plain side on the other for message and addresss, the Frith brothers jumped on the bandwagon and became one of the market leaders in postcard production and distribution in the first half of the 20th Century, using the extensive archive of existing photographs.

Digitization of the Frith collection, consisting of over 300,000 images, is ongoing on the other website, with a searchable archive, where 21 other views of Dysynni (and 105 of Aberdovey) can be found.


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.

Vintage Postcards #2: Sheep herding on Trefri Road in 1903

Like the postcard #1, which was a 1910 sepia photograph, this 1903 scene really throws one back to a previous era where the threat of being run over by one of the hundreds of cars that use the A493 estuary road simply didn’t exist.  The mid-1850s Trefri Hall is again visible in the background, but this postcard gives a real sense of rural isolation.  This sense of isolation is, however, quite misleading.  An east-west turnpike was built following the Merioneth Turnpike Act of 1775, which ran from near Pennal through Cwm Maethlon (Happy Valley) towards Tywyn, and although it bypassed Aberdovey it was still an important link between the coast and the interior of mid Wales.  Most importantly, the railway was established in 1864, connecting Tywyn, Aberdovey and Machynlleth with other parts of north Wales and England.  The industrial revolution and the demand for raw materials such as copper, silver and lead, as well as the slate trade had made Aberdovey an important port and shipping was a major activity, both via river and sea, and the tourist industry was becoming increasingly important.  By the turn of the century, Aberdovey had at least six places of worship, at least one pub, a literary institute and several hotels.

1903 postcard

The stamp shows Edward VII who reigned from 1902-1910, and this particular shade of blue-green was issued between 1902 and 1904.  The stamp is postmarked Stowmarket and is dated 9.30AM, June 26th 1903.  Perhaps the purchaser bought it in Aberdovey and took it home to post.

The postcard was produced by Raphael Tuck and Sons, “fine art publishers to their majesties the King and Queen” in their “Art” series.  Queen Victoria had granted them the Royal Warrant in 1883.  According to the TuckDB website, Raphael Tuck was a Prussian who had trained as a graphic artist and started his picture frame and graphic design business with his wife Ernestine in Bishopsgate (London) in 1866.  It became one of the world’s biggest postcard producers, all based on art works, but produced a number of other products as well, as shown on the 1901 advert below.  Most of the postcards were printed in Germany up until the First World War, and this card is marked “Printed in Berlin.”  The Aberdovey card, by artist Frederick William Hayes, was sold as one of a set of six Welsh scenic views, the others showing Cader Idris, Bala, Harlech, the Dolgellau Precipice Walk and  Llyfnant Valley, Aberystwyth (all of which you can see here, on the TuckDB website).  Later, the a postcard was issued showing the same painting in full, extremely bright colour.

The artist, Frederick William Hayes (1848-1918), was born on the Wirral, trained first as an architect and then as a painter in Liverpool and London before returning to Liverpool where he established a watercolour society.  He was an Associate of the Royal College of Art.  Hayes exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1872 and 1891.  He was a prolific painter, working in pencil, watercolour and oil.  His paintings are usually very picturesque in theme, and he painted a lot of landscape and seascape scenes in Wales and Scotland.

The House of Tuck – an advert from 1901. Source: TuckDB website.

Trefri Hall today. I lacked the courage to dodge the cars in any attempt to reproduce the exact viewpoint in the postcard!



Photographs of Aberdovey, late afternoon today

Some snapshots of Aberdovey this afternoon.  It was a particularly beautiful day, and although I was up to my ears in stuff I really ought to be getting on with this morning, I wanted to take some particular shots to match up with my vintage postcards so I made my escape and went down to the seafront.  At this time of year it’s mad to ignore good weather when it’s available.  I was lucky to find that the light was truly remarkable.


Vintage postcards of Aberdovey #1 – Trefri

I was looking on eBay for something completely unrelated and noticed a small job-lot of vintage sepia and black-and-white postcards of Aberdovey for a bargain price, so I bought them.  It is fascinating to see past views of the village.  Some of the buildings look so crisp and fresh and it is truly interesting on the one hand to see the changes and, on the other, to be surprised at how much remains the same.  The subject matters that were offered by the postcard companies, and which people chose to buy, are often quite different from those that one can buy in the village today.  It feels like invading the privacy of past visitors to read the messages that they wrote to friends and family, but it is also a rather nice way of connecting with the past.  Separately, I bought a page from a book dating to 1895, which is a real treasure.  I thought that others might be interested in this little haul, so as I scan them I’ll post them here.  You can click on the images to see a bigger version.

Postcard of Trefri, Aberdovey

The picture on the card shows Trefri, the area just outside Aberdovey which includes the mid 19th Century Trefri Hall right on the edge of the estuary with its own island, currently painted English-mustard yellow.  I don’t know the house on the hill, but I am sure that other residents will recognize it.  If it still stands, it is no longer in splendid isolation.  Aberdovey has spread both out and up.  The 1864 railway is clearly visible and telegraph polls indicate that Aberdovey had been connected to the rest of Britain in more ways than one.  Today one wouldn’t take one’s life in one’s hands by walking down the middle of that stretch of road, and it is difficult to visualize an Aberdovey where bicycles were more numerous than cars.

Reverse side of Trefri postcard sent in 1910

The postmark says that the postcard was sent from Pennal on May 22nd 1910, and the address indicates that it was going to Birmingham, then as now the main source of tourists for the mid-Welsh coast.   The green half penny stamp, which was issued between 1902 and 1910, shows Edward VII, who died on 6th May 1910, and was succeeded by George V.

Trefri Hall today

Railway track as it leaves Aberdovey for Machynlleth, with Trefri Hall’s island visible where the rails vanish around the bend


Walking from Aberdovey towards Tywyn along the beach

Yesterday’s walk along the beach was extraordinary.  I had intended to park by the cemetery, but by accident parked opposite the row of houses at the foot of the road from the Trefeddian Hotel, crossed the golf course and emerged from the dunes at the Second World War pillbox.   The sun was hazy and incredibly pale, but at the same time reflected off the wet sand, creating some beautiful colour and light combinations.  I walked for far longer than intended, and it nearly became a case of walking into Tywyn and getting a bus or taxi back to my car!  Instead I retraced my steps, and because of the light it was like doing an entirely different walk.  It was lovely to see a pair of oyster catchers, obstinately refusing to do anything other than stand, preening in the sun!  They are in the video at the end of this post.



Snow on the hills on the Ceredigion side of the Dyfi estuary

Snapshots today, walking down Balkan Hill for some odds and ends in the village.  Not very sharp, because I was using the tiny camera I keep in my handbag.  I didn’t dare take my good kit because I knew if I had it with me I’d end up walking along the beach for a couple of hours, and I didn’t have time today!  The very short video at the end is just the view over the estuary and Cardigan Bay beyond from my window as the sun went down, with pink smoke!  The days are getting noticeably a little longer, although it seems like a very long haul to get from the shortest day on 21st December to the end of March.