Vintage Postcards #23: Tal y Llyn Pass

Whenever I return to Aberdovey after visiting Chester this is a defining moment in the drive after the climb from Sarn Helen, when I come over the summit of the A487 and a whole new world unfolds before me.   The Tal y Llyn pass.  The road, carved into the side of a deeply impressive and imposing steep-sided valley, plunges its winding way under Craig y Llam towards an almost sublimely perfect stretch of water at the foot of Cadair Idris.  The slopes change character throughout the year, at their most colourful during heather, gorse and bluebell seasons.  I have seen it looking seraphically innocent and picturesque on sunny blue-skied days, the lake a blissful saphire mirror.  On other days, in wind and torrential rain, snow or hail, everything merges into an undifferentiated vista of muddled shades of  grey and brown, with waterfalls cascading fiercely down the steep slopes, the lake indistinct. I have also driven over that summit when the fog has been so thick that I have only been able to see six feet ahead of me.

In the card to the left, the artist has tried to capture the pass on one of its more socially acceptable days, the colours evoking the valley on a typical cloud-on-blue-sky autumn day, with patches of deeply coloured heather, the lake a moody blue-grey, all very mellow and scenic.  When the heather and broom flower together, purple and yellow, with the heather metamorphosing into bright rust as it goes over, the colour combinations produced could only ever work in nature, and they bring a brightness to the valley that transforms it.  Unused, it is in the Valentine’s “Art Colour” series (number A299) and is from an original watercolour by Brian Gerald.  There’s a lot of information about Valentine’s on the MetroPostcard website, which says that the Art Colour series were produced during the 1940s and 50s using the tricolor technique that was introduced by the company in the early 1900s:  “The basic idea behind tricolor printing is to reproduce a full color image by printing with only three primary colors. This can be used to reproduce illustrations, but the primary goal was to create photo-based images in natural color. While this remained the ultimate goal it did not stop printers in the first half of the 20th century from utilizing the method in various ways that produced very unnatural looking pictures” (MetroPostcard.com).

I took the photographs above on 3rd January 2020, silvery in sun and cloud, on my way back to Aberdovey from Chester, a singularly beautiful trip.

In the second photograph, the road and lake form a dramatic  silver slash across the dark landscape, a sensational image.  I suspect from the bright surface of the lake that it was actually a sunny day, but the darkness of the hillsides evoke the valley on one of its angrier autumn or winter moods.  It was posted from Aberystwyth in August 1953 to an address in Warwickshire.  The writer of the card asks the recipient to bake her a loaf for her return.  It’s the first postcard in this blog series that was produced by Photochrom Co. Ltd., “Publishers to the World,” in Tunbridge Wells, number 5726.  According to the MetroPostcard website, Photochrom originally produced Christmas cards before becoming a major publisher and printer of tourist albums, guide books, and postcards in black and white, monochrome, and colour.

The third card, unused, is a delight less for the view than for the lovely car that drives straight up the middle of the road.  Not that driving up the middle of the road is an uncommon sight in mid Wales, but here it carries much less risk than today!  This is the only postcard that I have produced by Jones Corner Shop in Machynlleth, in their “Maglona” series.  I assume that the series refers to the dubious identification of the name Maglona with the Roman fortlet Cefn Caer at Pennal, near Machynlleth.  All of the photographs in the series were of local views.

Vintage postcards #22: The TalyLlyn Railway

In spite of the big car park at Dolgoch, I have often taken the train to Dolgoch to walk the falls, instead of the car, because it has such charm.  I have also enjoyed sitting back on more lazy days with visitors, taking the train to Abergynlowyn for the pleasure of the superb views along the valley and towards Cadair Idris, drinking coffeee and munching cake at the station’s cafe.

The TalyLlyn Railway was built in 1865 along the south side of Fatthew Valley, to bring slate down from hills along the valley as far as Nant Gwernol into Tywyn, a distance of over seven miles, a trip of just under an hour.  Before the railway, from 1840, the tons of slate and slabs excavated from the Bryn Eglwys slate quarry at at Nant Gwernol, were carried by pack animals, carts and sledges to Aberdovey, where it was loaded on to ships bound for the building industry in cities across Wales and England.

The text printed on the back of the postcard reads: “No.2 ‘Sir Haydn’ rebuilt in the 1890s as an 0-4-2 Saddle Tank was originally constructed in 1878 as an 0-4-OST for their neighbours the Corris Railway. Purchased in 1951 for the Talyllyn Railway for the princely sum of £25. It was then named after the General Manager of the line from 1911 to 1950, Sir Henry Haydn Jones.”  On one side of the tracks is the platform and on the other are two water towers. Dalkeith Picture Postcards (no.417)

By the end of 1866 it had been adapted to carry passengers as well.  Although ongoing investment in the railway continued to improve it, the capital investment was high and the immense profits hoped for did not follow.

The mine was closed in 1909.  Purchased by local MP Henry Haydn Jones in 1911 it had a brief resurgence but after the First World War it held on by a thread and eventually closed in 1946 following a serious slate mine collapse.

Haydn Jones continued to run the train as a passenger service until 1950, when he died.  It looked as though the railway’s life was over, but in 1951 the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was formed with the help of the well known engineer and author Tom Rolt, and the Talyllyn Railway became the world’s first preserved railway, continuing the service whilst simultaneously working on the restoration of both tracks and engines.  There is a history section on the Talyllyn Railway website, from which the above information was taken, with many more details and some great photos.

The black and white Frith postcard at the top (number 77789) shows an engine at the water tower at Dolgoch, where it took on water for its trip along the valley.  On the platform there is a small group of people waiting to board the train.  Each engine was numbered and named, and my thanks to Richard Greenhough for the identification of the engine as No.1, Talyllyn.  It was built in 1866 and ran until 1952, when it was removed from service or an overhaul, not returning to service until 1999. There is more about the engine on a dedicated page on the Tallyllyn Railway website.  The unused postcard is not listed on the Frith website, but postcard 77791, also of Dolgoch, dates to 1925, so it seems safe to place it in the mid 1920s.

The Talyllyn Railway Centenary commemorative cover.

In 1870 and for decades afterwards, the Talyllyn railway carried post between Tywyn and Abergynolwyn, the fulfilment of an official agreement with the General Post Office (GPO).  The first Talyllyn train of the day carried mail bags from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn.  The last train of the day took all the local post down into Tywyn.  This was an early precursor of the 1891 arrangement between the GPO and a number of railway companies to which the Talyllyn railway had also signed up.  The 1891 arrangement enabled people to send urgent post via the railways, which delivered them quickly between railway stations.  A small additional postage cost was added to the standard charge, so two stamps would be fixed to the letter:  a normal stamp showing the standard postage rate and a special stamp for the additional amount.  Although this system ended when  British Rail was formed and individual railway companies were either closed or nationalized, Talyllyn had neither closed nor been nationalized, so when it re-opened as a preserved railway in May 1957, in continued to hold the right to send mail.  It takes advantage of this today to help raise funds for the line.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, commemorated by the Talyllyn Railway

Visitors can send souvenir postcards and letters featuring a Talyllyn stamp, which can be purchased from Wharf station, and can be posted at in the Guard’s van, handed in at Wharf and Abergynolwyn stations, or popped in the postbox at Tywyn’s Talyllyn station.  Special cards are produced to mark major Talyllyn events or Post Office special occasions like  First Day and Commemorative Covers, like the examples here.  You can find out more about these stamps and cards on this information leaflet from the Talyllyn website.

The Talyllyn “great little railway” souvenir postcards on this post are all in a series produced for the TalyLlyn railway by Dalkeith Picture Postcards.  Dalkeith specialized in postcard sets of this type, many with transport themes.  Although inexpensive, they are apparently very popular with collectors.  All three shown on this page were unused.

 

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

Vintage Postcard #19: The Battery, Aberdovey

An unused postcard showing a row of cannons facing the slipway and the wharf beyond.  I had never seen a photograph of these before.  It took me a minute to realize exactly where they were located, but it was obviously the Literary Institute, which was established in 1882.  There is a photo on a stock library website taken in 1901 and showing a similar view from the Francis Frith collection.

In 1900 an article in the Welsh Gazette stated that the ultimate origins of the cannons was unknown but they had been presented to the Institute by the Urban District Council who had presented them to the Institute, and the letters G.R. on the barrels showed that they had once belonged to the Crown.

Henry Birch’s 1982 booklet about the Literary Institute (A Brief History of The Aberdovey Literary Institute 1882-1982) makes reference to the cannons in connection with celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897, when they were rusty and badly neglected after standing outside the Institute “for some years” and it was proposed that they should be restored and mounted.  There was an unverified local story amongst older residents that the cannons were fired to celebrate the end of the siege Mafeking, and that a ship at anchor in the estuary was dismasted in the process.  The booklet says that in later years the cannons were used by boats alongside the wall as mooring posts.  By 1940 the Institute’s committee had decided that they should be scrapped to help the war effort but they were unable to find a scrap dealer who was interested.  In 1941 a letter to the Committee indicates that two were to be retained and restored “for sentimental reasons” and the others were to be “sold to the local salvage depot for 6d each.”  There is no mention of what happened to the final two.

This is a Wrench postcard, number 73082.  Evelyn Wrench, who set up Wrench Postcards in 1902 when he was in his early 20s, was celebrated as a business success story, a model for other young entrepreneurs, and several newspaper articles were written about him.  There is more about him at the end of an earlier post.