|Llangrannog History Pictures|
Since 1909 the Ceredigion Historical Society has published articles written about the archaeology, antiquities and history of Ceredigion, many of these articles printed within the Ceredigion Journal, are about the history of Llangrannog.
The society has also produced three county volumes, under the name of the Cardiganshire County History series, these knowledgeable, learned, comprehensive and scholary publications record the history of prehistoric, early and modern Cardiganshire.
Some aspects in the development of a coastal village
Throughout its long history the sea has been the all-important element in the development and life of Llangrannog. In this respect the village is by no means unique, for dependence on the sea is a characteristic shared by numerous coastal communities, not only in Wales but in all parts of Atlantic Europe from the Iberian Peninsula to Scandinavia. Furthermore, the evolution of Llangrannog is similar to the story of numerous coastal villages in Western Europe. Many of these originate in an ecclesiastical settlement with nucleation around a church established some distance from the sea shore. In more settled times and with the development of commerce along the coast, a beach village was added, while in more recent times superimposed on the earlier nucleation we find a bungaloid growth coming into existence as the result of the popularity of the seaside holiday.
In common with many other Welsh villages Llangrannog represents two separate nucleations- Y Pentre (the church village) and Y Traeth (the beach village)-joined together by a ribbon-like agglomeration of houses strung out along the road side. In the geographical setting of Llangrannog there are three distinct elements, and each stage in the development of the village is associated with one or other of these physical divisions. They are:
I. The flat ledge or platform which occurs where the Hawen valley is relatively narrow and the flanking slopes very steep. This plot, although small, would naturally attract settlement in a valley where suitable building land is scarce. It was on this easily defensible platform, which is not visible from the sea, that Saint Carantoc established his church in the fifth century.
II. The Gorge. The Hawen leaves the platform in the cascading waterfalls of the Gerwyn (Gerw’n) and continues its rushing journey to the sea in a deep steep-sided gorge. This section of the valley is totally unsuitable for settlement, but, nevertheless, in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the present century a number of houses were built here despite the unsuitability of the gorge for settlement.
III. The Beach. On leaving the gorge the river slackens its pace and flows over a relatively flat area, which is never completely free from the dangers of inundation. The flanks of the beach are cliff-bound and northwards the steep cliffs stretch out to the sea in the Lochtyn peninsula which provides shelter for Llangrannog Bay. When the creeks and beaches of Cardigan Bay began to take an interest in the coastal trade in post-mediaeval times, numerous beach villages came into existence. All these nucleations were entirely dependent on trading and seafaring for their livelihood.
STAGE 1. The Church Village – Y Pentre
The first stage in the development of Llangrannog began with the coming of Christianity to Britain. The western seaboard received its religion from the Celtic saints, who established sacred enclosures in many parts of Atlantic Britain. One such saint, Carantoc, set up a religious ‘cell’ at a place which was later to bear his name. Saint Carantoc, or Carannog, is reputed to be Saint David’s uncle and he lived around 500-548 A.D. He may be described as a Pan-Celtic saint, who gave his name to places in Britanny, Cornwall, and Somerset and, if tradition is to be believed, in Ireland as well. As leader of a small band of saints, including Tenan, Columb, and Cubert, he followed the open sea routes and never attempted to penetrate inland. All the churches dedicated to Carantoc, in the Leon district of Britanny, in the Newquay district of Cornwall, and at Carhampton in Somerset, are all in close proximity to the sea.
The church built on Carantoc’s sacred enclosure acted as a nucleus around which a few houses were built. This church was never visible from the sea, for below it the Hawen valley twists and narrows for half a mile, so that the church and the dwellings around it were never a standing temptation to the marauders who once infested the coast. An old-established village such as this possessed a social, economic, and religious life of its own centred on the church. Games were played in the churchyard, while in the then empty space between the church and the river the Crannog fair was held annually on the saint’s day – May 16. At a later date, with the development of traffic along the main Cardigan–Aberystwyth road and the decline of the coastal trade, the fair was moved to New Inn, where it is still held. As recently as 1890 the village possessed its own public house, Dolmeddyg, the last publican being David Jones-Dafi Doctor. Until fairly recent times the church village possessed its own corn mill and general stores while until 1912 the Llangrannog woollen mill was located immediately below the Gerw’n. Today, except for the presence of the church, a Methodist chapel, and a post office, all the economic and social life of Llangrannog is focused on the beach and the importance of Y Pentre in the life of the village has declined very greatly.
Despite its early establishment the church building itself is of little interest as it was rebuilt in 1884 in a rather poor version of the Victorian Gothic style. It does contain a chalice dating from 1574 and a bell dating from 1658, but perhaps a more interesting aspect of its history is the fact that the well-known scholar and a fountain head of the Methodist Revival, Peter Williams, held the curacy of Llangrannog for a short time. Since the thirteenth century the parishes of Llangrannog and Llandysilio were regarded as one and were not separated until 1857. Peter Williams, in an autobiographical introduction to his Bible, gives a vivid account of his life and difficulties during the three months of his curacy in 1745. Williams writes of his quarrel with the incumbent, who wanted to get rid of him and to replace him by his predecessor. The quarrel ended with my opposer taking hold of my collar and I did likewise (I was young and strong then). I got to the pulpit and preached a powerful sermon but my opposer won and I was sacked because I was a Methodist.’ Another leader of the Revival, Gruffydd Jones, held a school at Llangrannog Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, and others were frequent visitors to the district, and the close contact of the community with the instigators of the Revival may to a great extent explain why in the past Methodism was so strong and the Episcopal church so weak in this part of Cardiganshire. Early Methodism flourished in sequestered barns and farmhouses and the two first meeting-places in Llangrannog were the corn mill and Lochtyn. Surprisingly enough, Bancyfelin, the Methodist chapel, was not built until 1863 despite the fact that the early societies of Lochtyn and Y Felin were very strong. When the chapel was built it cost £240 including the furniture while the bridge which had to be built to cross the river cost £50.
STAGE 2. The Beach Village
In Elizabethan times seafaring was not an important occupation along the shores of Cardigan Bay, and the inhabitants possessed no vessels apart from small rowing-boats used for off-shore herring fishing. Pastoral farming seems to have been the main interest of the people with fishing as an adjunct, and contemporary evidence suggests the presence of a peasant-fisherman type of population. These were engaged in herring fishing in late summer and early autumn, in addition to caring for their smallholdings. It is certain that no distinct maritime population existed. In the sixteenth century the requisites of the herring industry, the nets for catching and the salt for preserving, were imported from Ireland or Milford in Irish-owned vessels that for centuries had been engaged in trading along the Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire coasts. The Irish vessels landed their cargoes on the unsheltered beach at Penbryn which alone is mentioned in the Welsh Port Books as being available for landing cargoes at the time. Penbryn Creek, which is located in the midst of an agricultural locality with no seafaring tradition, was in charge of a certain David ap Ievan David ap Howel who was a yeoman farmer. This fact in itself suggests the dual nature of life at this time with a fisherman-smallholder population.
Until the mid-eighteenth century the village of Llangrannog may be envisaged as a small agglomeration of houses clustered around the church. With the advent of a period of security and the disappearance of piracy from the coast, the inhabitants of West Wales began to look towards the sea and become more and more dependent upon the materials that could be brought in from that direction to satisfy their wants. The creek, half a mile from the church village of Llangrannog, was admirably suited for the development of a small sea port, for in addition to its sheltered position the waterway was deep and the empty, flat plot of land at the head of the beach could be used for the construction of warehouses, storeyards, and the other necessities of a port. Although the seventeenth century has been mentioned as the beginning of the golden era in Cardigan Bay the possibilities of Llangrannog were not immediately realised. While Penbryn and Aberporth were engaged in trading from as early as 1603, Llangrannog itself did not become a port until well on in the eighteenth century. That date ushered in a period of unparalleled prosperity in the history of what was to become a substantial village. By 1750 seafaring had become an established occupation, quite distinct and separate from agriculture. The Breton type fisherman-peasant disappeared, never to exist again. Certain families that hitherto had combined farming with a modest amount of fishing now began to specialize in one or the other. Some abandoned their fishing activities and concentrated on farming, while others left their farms and moved into Llangrannog so as to participate to the full in the activity that trade brought to the coastal area. New houses were built near the sea shore, people from inland farms settled there, and the last quarter of the eighteenth century saw the rapid growth of the beach village. The first house to be built was probably a dwelling known as The Hall (‘Rhal) built by a prosperous merchant, who was previously a yeoman farmer, in the 1770’s. By 1825 Llangrannog beach, a village whose whole economic and social life was tied up with the sea and its traffic, had reached very much its present form. In a later section, one must look again at this extremely important formative stage in the development of the village.
STAGE 3. The Ribbon Village
The third stage in the development of Llangrannog began in the 1860’s and it witnessed two distinct developments. The first of these was the joining together of the hitherto separate villages, the one grouped around the church and the other near the beach. The second development was the extension of the beach village to the steep slope of Banc Eisteddfa, on the south side of the valley. The extension of the village in this way was partly the result of commercial activity and the need for more houses to accommodate sailors, merchants, and their families, but it was also the result of a new activity, namely, catering for summer visitors. In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century Llangrannog drew its visitors from the agricultural, woollen-manufacturing, and mining districts of Carmarthenshire and many people from that region settled in the village on retirement.
The Tithe Map of 1840 does not show the existence of a single house between the Gerw’n and the beach village, but by 1890 at least a dozen houses had sprung up in this area, while the Congregational chapel was built on the northern slope of the valley in 1889. A will made in 1854 bequeathes various plots of land as building sites in this section of the valley and when houses were built in the 70’s and 8o’s they were built in the face of great natural odds. The northern side of the valley is in no way suitable for development, for its steep slopes are built up of coarse boulder clay in which the river is deeply en- trenched. The soil is always liable to slip towards the valley bottom indeed all the houses built without artificial concrete foundations have quickly fallen into ruin. In an attempt to bind the soil together, small plantations of coniferous trees have been planted on the slopes. Despite the unsuitability of the Hawen gorge for settlement, the process of joining the hitherto separate villages together has, however, gone on for nearly a century.
2. The Coastal Trade
Before the advent of the railways and improved road facilities, the mountain-moorland block of Central and West Wales acted as a natural barrier to movement from the east, and its presence gave sea transport a greater value to the inhabitants of the western coast than the far more hazardous journeys by land.
By 1750, seafaring and trading had become established in Llangrannog and for over a century the village and the Cardiganshire coast in general became an area of great activity.
Maritime activity in the eighteenth century was not always limited to peaceful pursuits of trade, for the coast between New Quay and Aberporth was notorious for smuggling and piracy. Howell Harris, on visting the district in 1743 and again in 1747, preached on both occasions against the wickedness of stealing wrecks, cheating the King of things excised and their inhuman behaviour towards shipwrecked sailors. Locally owned vessels, together with Irish and French ships, took part in the smuggling operations, bringing in such commodities as wines, spirits, tobacco, and tea. The most important smuggled commodity seems to have been salt, brought in from Ireland and landed on secluded beaches. Salt was widely used for the preservation of bacon and herrings, which, in addition to being important items in the diet of the people, formed too a substantial part of the export from the region. It is not at all surprising that the people took advantage of this brisk unlawful trade in salt, which could be bought from the smugglers for as little as two pence per pound, as compared with fourpence per pound on the legitimate market.
Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Llangrannog ships were owned either by the shipmasters, by merchants, or by syndicates, but by 1850 ownership had passed into the hands of two families, who in addition held a monopoly of harbour facilities in the village. They owned limekilns, coal-yards, and warehouses and, by 1850, most of the shipmaster-owners had disappeared and had become employees of these merchant families.
All Llangrannog ships were registered at the port of Aberystwyth where the only insurance society between Fishguard and Portmadoc was to be found. As a seaport its trading activity was controlled by Cardigan, whose Customs House was responsible for all creeks and harbours between Fishguard and Aberaeron. The vessels that plied the coastwise track were small and sturdy, and were built to withstand the pounding they were subjected to on the beaches where they were taken to discharge their cargoes. Some of these vessels were actually built at Llangrannog, for even as late as 1875 the village had its shipbuilding yard on the north side of the beach. Although this yard specialized in building coasting vessels of under 100 tons, the SUSANNAH GWENLLIAN of 50 tons being typical, the yard also built ocean going vessels of up to 400 tons. The largest vessel ever built was the ANNE and CATHERINE, a schooner of over 300 tons. This ship was built by James Lloyd around 1870 and it had a crew of nine. The ship sailed on a maiden voyage from Swansea to Lourenco Marques in East Africa with a load of railway lines. She then sailed in ballast to Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico and left with a load of cotton for Liverpool. Unfortunately, she was wrecked on the Anglesey coast but all hands were saved.
Ships were built of oak from the Bronwydd estate and masts and spars were shaped from coniferous trees grown in local plantations. Launching day was of great importance and was in the nature of a public holiday, and, since there was no slipway, local labourers dug a long trench from the yard to the sea. At high tide there was a great deal of hauling and shouting as the ship was dragged from the yard on rollers to the artificial channel and the sea. Immediately before the launching a religious service took place in the yard and a local lady performed the launching ceremony. After the launching a feast was held in one of the four public houses, while the newly-built vessel was towed to New Quay to be rigged with sails, ropes, and anchors before sailing on her maiden voyage.
Most of the trading carried on by Llangrannog ships was coastwise in nature and small ships of between 30 tons and 60 tons plied their trade from Bridgwater in the south to the Mersey in the north. Trading across the Irish Sea to Ireland was also very important, as it had been for many centuries, with the difference that locally owned ships now participated in this traffic. Ireland was a source of salt and a market for local herrings, which were preserved in barrels. It is interesting to note that many members of the Pigeonsford family were educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and that one became an archbishop and Vice-Chancellor of the College in the mid-eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century a regular passenger and cargo traffic was maintained by Llangrannog vessels between the Cardiganshire coast and Dublin. The charge for the voyage in 1835 was between £6 and £8.
Unfortunately, very little is known of the vessels that traded with Llangrannog but the following is a list of some of the ships that did visit the village in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:
- SPEEDWELL. A vessel of 50 tons captained by Capt. Thomas Pengwern. Around 1865 an error of judgment brought the ship on the rocks and two of the crew were drowned. The skipper managed to scramble on a rock some distance from the shore, and the incident earned him the nickname of Twm y Tonnau (Tom of the Waves).
- MARGED ELLEN
- EAGLE. Both vessels were owned by Capt. Owen of Pentre Arms who later kept a navigation school at Cardiff.
- MARI FACH
- SUSANNAH GWENLLIAN. Both vessels were owned by Capt. Griffiths, The Ship. The first was at one time captained by Joseph Jenkins and the second by his son, David Jenkins. The owner had spent many years in the Klondyke.
- ANN DAFIS. Owned by Mr. Griffiths, Golygfor. Wrecked in St. Bride’s Bay in 1880.
- HAWEN DALE. Master-Capt. Daniel Davies, Seaview.
- WILSON. Master-Capt. Edwards, Waunlwyd.
- JESSIE. Master-Capt. Griffiths, Sarnau.
- OCEAN. A smack owned by Mr. Morgan Jenkins of Morfa Uchaf. It cost £120 and was paid for by instalments. She was built at Cardigan. Master-Capt. Rees, Dolhawen.
- MARY ELLEN. Owner-Mr. Evan Jenkins.
- SYLPH. Master-Capt. John Jones, Castle Hall.
- MARGED ANN. A smack of 60 tons owned by Capt. Parry, The Ship, Tresaith.
- ESTHER. Built in 1888 for Mr. Morgan Jenkins.
- ALBATROSS. Owner-Evan Jenkins. Its last master was Capt. Thomas, Pengwern. The ship was wrecked on Llangrannog beach around 1912.
- LISA JANE. The Lisa Jane was the last Llangrannog ship to bring a cargo of coal from Swansea in 1912. Since the tides were not high enough the vessel had to be unloaded some distance from the shore. A storm came and the vessel was battered against the rocks of Pentrwyn and was a total loss.
- SULTAN. Bought by Mr. Evan Jenkins at Amlwch in 1900. She was in very poor condition and Capt. Daniel Davies refused to sail in her.
- ISABEL. (Of St. Dogmaels.) The last ship to visit Llangrannog in the 1920’s.
- TURTLE. (Of Glasgow.)
- MARY EDMUNDS.
- ANN AND LISA
- MABEL. (Of Caernarfon.) Usually brought in slates, bricks, and earthenware goods.
- KATE. (Of Fishguard.) A smack of 30 tons.
- DUNCOYNE. A steamer.
The main purpose of seafaring in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to import by sea the commodities that could not be produced locally under conditions of economic self-sufficiency. Nearly all the vessels after landing their cargoes on Llangrannog beach sailed away in ballast, for under conditions of self-sufficiency there was very little surplus for export.
- Culm. This coal dust fuel was in general use in Cardiganshire homes until recent times. The main sources of supply were Saundersfoot and Hook in Pembrokeshire, Pembrey in Carmarthenshire, and Swansea. The culm was recognized and described according to its port of origin, the best, but the most expensive, being Cwlwm Abertawe or Y Cwlwm Du Bach. This cost anything up to a shilling a hundredweight to the merchant. The most favoured culm, however, was Cwlwm Hook or Yr Hookyn Bach obtained from Hook, near Milford Haven. This culm was regarded as an excellent heater and, though it burnt at a much quicker rate than Swansea culm, it was much cheaper, costing only sevenpence a hundredweight to the merchant.
In discharging culm, as in the unloading of other commodities, attempts were always made to get the vessel sailing once again on the following flood tide. Time was extremely precious, for activity had to cease in November, and the raging seas of winter put an end to all seagoing traffic until early March. Cargoes had to be unloaded on the ebb of the tide and when a ship arrived with a load of culm discharging began as soon as a horse and cart could come alongside it. As soon as a vessel docked, seven or eight hired labourers were rowed out to the ship. Five or six were engaged in the hold filling up large buckets with culm. These were raised to the deck by a series of pulleys, a spar suspended from the vessel’s mast, and a well-trained horse that paced to and fro on the sandy beach. The culm was first of all dumped on the deck, and there two more labourers shovelled the fuel along a shute to a waiting cart. Three carts were used for each ship and these were hired from local farmers at the rate of five shillings per tide. The culm was carried to one of the four storage yards and sold to farmers and householders at the rate of one shilling and fourpence per barrel, a barrel being slightly more than one hundredweight. It is interesting to note that farmers undertook to carry culm to their landless neighbours, who repaid them by putting in a day’s work in the harvest or hay fields.
- Lime. This was extremely important in the nineteenth century for Cardiganshire soil is particularly deficient in lime. Some farmers obtained their lime by undertaking the hazardous journey by road to the kilns of Llandybie, but most of them depended on lime from the kilns of the coastal villages. The source of limestone was either Caldey Island, off the South Pembrokeshire coast, or the Gower Peninsula. As soon as a vessel with a load of limestone arrived at Llangrannog, hired labourers and children boarded the ship and began to unload by throwing the stones into the sea. As soon as the sea had retreated these were picked up and loaded into the carts and carried to one of the five limekilns. Two full-time workers were engaged at the kilns, and were also responsible for selling the lime to the farmers. When selling a load of lime the commodity was not weighed or measured but a rough estimate as to the correct amount was made.
- General Merchandise. Though culm and lime were by far the most important imports, a wide variety of other goods, ranging from Caernarvon slates to kitchen grates, was imported. One vessel, the MARGED ANN, was employed from 1835 to the end of the century in bringing earthernware goods to Llangrannog from the towns of the Dee estuary. She became known as Y Llong Lestri’. The pottery, together with bricks, tiles, and drainage pipes, was stored in a warehouse, now Glynafon stores, to be sold to the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside.
The export trade of Llangrannog was not of great importance, for under conditions of economic self-sufficiency there was very little surplus which could be exported. Now and again barrels of salted butter were taken to the industrial regions of South Wales, and in the early part of the nineteenth century a little grain was exported. While the trading vessels were laid up on the Teifi in winter, Llangrannog sailors were engaged in herring fishing. The fish which could not be consumed locally was preserved in barrels and exported to Ireland and South Wales in the spring. Some ships were also engaged in exporting Cardigan bricks.
Several attempts were made to discover lead ore in Llangrannog, and one load was actually exported from the village. The source of this lead was Trwyn Croy near Glangraig and in the 1850’s a smack of 35 tons was loaded with lead for Swansea. Unfortunately, this vessel was wrecked on Llangrannog beach before it sailed, and two lives were lost. Unsuccessful attempts were also made to discover lead on Llangrannog beach and above the church by a certain Mr. Nicholas in the 1860’s.
Maritime activity in nineteenth century Llangrannog was allembracing, claiming to a greater or lesser extent the whole interest and time of the inhabitants. Even in the last decades of the century, when maritime activity was rapidly declining, as much as 90% of the village population was either directly or indirectly dependent on seafaring. Many were sailors, engaged either in the coastal or in deep-sea trade some were merchants, others were port labourers. Old men acted as pilots, or as hobblers to assist the crews in docking or sailing. Even children had their place in the activity, they either helped with unloading or with carrying fresh water and provisions to the ships. Some of the older children helped the sailors to hoist sails and weigh anchor, while a special treat was to go on a voyage with a seafaring relative in the summer months. In this way, the children of the village grew up in very close contact with the sea, its shipping and sailors and, by the age of eleven or twelve years, they were usually proficient in the elements of seamanship. When they began their seafaring career they were paid at the rate of little more than ten shillings a month.
The following diagram shows a typical Llangrannog family
A. 1785-1825 (Smallholder and Sailor) B. 1 82 1 — 1906 (Sailor) C. 1847-75 D. 1849-93 E. 1855-93 F. 1858-92 G. dau.=H.1866-1948 (Sailor) (Sailor) (Sailor) (Sailor) 18631938 (Sailor) J. 1881-1948 K. 1883-1940 L. 1885- M. dau.=N. 1886-1929 O. 1890-1909 P. 1892- (Sailor) (Merchant) (Sailor) 1887- (Sailor) (Sailor) (Merchant Q- 1917-52 (Sailor)
The advent of the railways in the late nineteenth century brought about a collapse of maritime activity on the Cardiganshire coast. Although the last ship has long sailed over the horizon and the period of activity is but a memory anchored to the minds of the old people, the seafaring tradition still lives on and finds expression in all quarters of the globe.
J. GERAINT JENKINS.
6. External links
- Coflein, discover the archaeology, historic buildings, monuments and history of Llangrannog, Ceredigion
- Historic Place Names, learn about the field names and house names in the community of Llangrannog
- A Pint of History, read about the history of Ceredigion pub’s, inn’s and local taverns of Llangrannog
- People’s Collection Wales, share your stories, memories and photographs of Llangrannog
Some ideas to share your Stories below!
Have a memory and your not sure what to write? We have made it easy with some prompts and ideas, just think about this place and the importance its had in your life and ask yourself:
- What are my personal memories of living here?
- How has it developed and shops changed over the years?
- Do you have a story about the beach, community, its people and history?
- Tell us how it feels, seeing photographs and images of this place again?
- Tell us your favourite memories about this place?
The aim of the Ceredigion Historical Society is to preserve, record and promote the study of the archaeology, antiquities and history of Ceredigion. That objective has remained the same since the foundation of the Society in 1909, though its name was changed from Ceredigion Antiquarian Society to the Ceredigion Historical Society in 2002.