The Birth and Growth of Aberayron
In the year 1800 there was no town of Aberayron. There was a group of houses near where the Railway Station is situated which might be called as an entity by the name of Aberayron, consisting of The Bont, The Smithy, Cwmmins, etc. The Bridge connecting Bridge Street and Portland Street had not been built. The only way across the river was by the one now replaced by a concrete bridge near the Railway Station. Fifty years later, between 1850-60, the town had grown very nearly to what it is to-day.
Let us imagine ourselves back in the year 1800. The area now occupied by the Harbour, Pwllcam and the bed of the river from the bridge to the sea, was a tract of low lying land, with just an inlet, a creek, a mouth, next the sea where the river now enters and possibly there was also a kind of primitive pier or landing stage there. The river then took a different course. The old course is still the line of division between the parishes of Llanddewi Aberarth and Henfynyw.
What accounts for the erection of a harbour and a town ? The Rev. Alban Thomas Jones, rector of Nately Scures and of Newnham, Hampshire, who appropriated the surname of Gwynne, was a man of foresight and initiative. There were no railways in those days. He saw the commercial value of a harbour and that, if such a harbour be built at the spot known as Aberayron, it would be a centre for distributing building materials and feeding stuffs to a wide area, extending to the central districts of Carmarthenshire and comprising towns and districts such as Tregaron, Lampeter, Pumpsaint, Llanwrda, Llandovery, Llandilo, Llangadoc, etc. The site for a harbour must have been fixed upon for the reason that there was here a cove offering certain facilities. The river at that time branched off from its present course near the lower bridge. It flowed under Bridge-end House, Castle House into Victoria Street, near the site of the Wesleyan Chapel and took a northerly direction, and reached the sea on the other side of what was known as Caer Cadwgan, an elevated saucer shaped mound which has been eaten up by the sea. This Gaer might have been erected to guard the entrance to the river, and to communicate by sign with Aberystwyth Castle and Trichrug battlements.
An Act of Parliament was necessary in order to enable Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne to impose tolls and dues. In this Act, dated 1st August, 1807, the owner is designated as Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, clerk, lord of the said manor of Llyswen, otherwise Aberayron. The limits of the harbour are defined, extending from a certain promontory to the northward, called Craigddu, situate in the parish of Llanddewi Aberarth, to a certain point of land called Carreg Ina to the southward situate in the parish of Llanina; and it was provided “that the powers of the Act should not extend to a certain small creek known by the name of Llanddewi Aberarth, and situate within the aforesaid limits.” It would be interesting to know why this exception ?
A schedule of the Act provides that for every ton of goods articles or things whatsoever that shall be exported from or imported within the said Harbour or limits thereof, or within the said Manor of Llyswen, otherwise Aberayron, by the ton weight or measure, according to the nature of such articles respectively the dues should be one shilling per ton. In 1901 this clause was the subject of a law suit. It was the custom of the owner of the Harbour (in the manner followed by the County Roads Board with their toll gates) to invite tenders for the collection of dues for every year. In the days before the war of 1914-18 the dues were worth £300 per annum and over. During the year 1901 a steamer carrying about 220 tons of coal discharged its cargo; but its registered tonnage was only 90 tons or thereabouts. The lessee for the time being came to the conclusion that under the Harbour Act he was entitled to charge is. a ton on the gross tonnage, and not as was hitherto the acknowledged custom on the registered tonnage. The lessee sued the owner of the cargo of coal in the High Court and won. The coal merchant appealed and the Higher Court allowed his appeal, and the status quo was maintained.
Reverting to the building of the Harbour it may be said that the town was born when the Harbour Act was passed, viz., August 1st, 1807. The quays were built under the superintendence of an Aberystwyth man of the name of William Green, who also established the Calvinistic Methodist Church, which meets in the chapel known as the Tabernacle. William Green saw the advantage of establishing a business too and he spent the remainder of his life at Aberayron. He opened up an extensive trade in buildings provided by himself for the purpose, and used in recent years by the Aberayron Steam Ship Company. The warehouse was utilised for preaching on Sundays and other days.
John Elias, Eben Morris, D. Evans and Dr. Phillips, Neuadd lwyd, preached here. The chapel was not built till 1837. The first house built near the Harbour was the three-storied large one known as the Red Lion, situate on the end of the eastern pier.
The river had now been diverted to reach the sea along the bed of the Harbour, so as to scour and clear it. It stills longs to follow its original course – see its bend below the lower bridge. The Red Lion was built by A. T. J. Gwynne for the accommodation of the Harbour Master, Lewis Davies, of Pennant, near Monachdy. An imposing house was meet for a Harbour Master who had the oversight of a coast line, extending from Graig Ddu to Cei Bach. He would survey the whole from his garret window.
The building of the Harbour brought together a band of handi craftsmen. It was soon discovered that A. T. J. Gwynne’s prognostigations were correct. Masons, carpenters and smiths were drawn from a wide area, and were ready to build the houses which now became necessary. Building sites were at the outset granted by the landowners on 99 years’ leases. All building operations were subject to a carefully prescribed design, which accounts for the parallelogrammic order of the streets and for the larger corners and centre houses in each street and for the uniform width of the streets. The planning of the town is regarded by experts as a model. Farmers with an eye to business saw that the establishment of a Harbour offered rare opportunities. My grandfather, Benjamin Evans, who till then lived at Morfa Mawr and Llety Shon, was one of those who left his farm for the slate and timber trade. I have his ledger of the year 1849 and it is an eye-opener to the wide area which was supplied by the Harbour of Aberayron. There is an entry of 6,525 slates for James Thomas, Llandilo. His customers are men of Llandovery, Llangeitho, Silian, Llancrwys, the Earl of Cawdor’s estate, Sir James Williams, Alltyrodyn, Falcondale, Dolaucothi, Pumpsaint, Llansawel, Campbell Davies Brunant, Aberceri, Jones Dderi. Crickhowell, Llanfair, Ffaldybrenin, Blaenau, Gwenog, Rhydygof, Penrhiwgaled, Tregaron, Ffynnon Geitho, Llanllear, Garregwen, Rhydlewis, Caeronen, Bronwydd, Nantypopty, Newcastle Emlyn, Lampeter, Olmarch, Llangranog, Llandyssul, Bwlchbychan, Llanybyther, Llanddewi Brefi, Plwmp, Troedyraur, Gernos, Llanrhystyd.
When the Mid-Wales and Manchester and Milford Railways were built, the conditions which made Aberayron what it was were removed and its trade was scattered broadcast. Goods were brought in those early years from Bristol chiefly, in smacks built at Aberayron and owned mainly by those who sailed them. Their names were “Beryl,” “Fair Hope,” and “Allright.” The voyage often occupied from three to six weeks. They were frequently wind-bound at Milford. Men poured in from adjacent and distant districts, as men will now when a new coal mine is opened. David Samuel came from Caerbislan and built the north side of Alban Square. The Albans came from Cilcennin and built Masons Row. David Jones came from Cilie Aeron, and established a large grain business. David Jones, “Carrier,” from Tregaron David William Evans from Gilfachyrheda (he built the other side of Alban Square, and established bacon curing stores); Dafydd Tomas y Go established an edge tool manufactory, which goes on still; John Jones, Smith, from Dderwengam, became the chief ship smith; Evan Evans, the watchmaker, came from Cribyn; John Rees and his sons from Mydroilyn; Benjamin Evans from Lletty Shon; W. J. Rees, draper, from Cilcennin; John Hugh Jones, draper, from Aberarth; J. N. Evans, farmer, from Aberystwyth; and Evan Jones, David Jones and John Harries, ship builders, from Aberarth.
David Jones could fashion a vessel of the finest design draught, tonnage, figure, fittings of masts, rigging, etc., though he knew nothing of book mechanics; and, more wonderful, he first made a perfect miniature model of the ship to be built in exact proportion and actuality.
In the great days of ship-building one or two ships were being built at the same time in each of the three ship-building yards. The money made in the building trade was invested in ships. Every family had a share in ships, as in herring nets. In the course of forty years from fifty to seventy ships were built at Aberayron.
When railways came nearer and steam-ships became available, the shipping trade decayed and died. The last ship built, about forty years ago, was designed and built by Captain John Evans for his own grain and timber trade and was called “Cadwgan.”
In the year 1864 the tradesmen of Aberayron had the enterprise to place a contract for a steamer with a Glasgow firm to their own specification. It was called the “Prince Cadwgan.” There was more excitement when it first entered the Harbour than when the railway was opened in 1911. Other steamers owned by the company were the “Ianthe,” and “Norseman.” The latter had to be sold when the war broke out. The fathers had a fine taste for naming their ships — Aeron Belle, Aeron Maid, Aeron Lass, Glyn Aeron, Cilie Lass, Aeron Queen, Aeron Vale, Farmer’s Lass. Others were named after the names of persons who had a large financial interest in the vessels, such as Gowerian, John Pearce, John and Henry, Catherine Ann. Leah, Martha, Mair, Ellen, Eleanor. Others had no typical relationship, such as “The Bee,” “Xanthippe,” “Pleiades.”
Aberaeron Street Names
The names of the streets show discernment. One could almost follow the trail of the dates of the building of the town from the nomenclature of the streets.
The Battle of Waterloo was fought in 1815. The Harbour was finished about the year 1811, the town began immediately to grow, and so we find Wellington Street, and Waterloo Street. Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, and we have Princess Street, Queen Street, Albert Street, Victoria Street. The names of the other streets are typically apt. The chief spot is Alban Square, called after the name of the landlord. Vulcan Place was the residential and industrial quarters of the ship smiths. Quay Parade lines the Harbour. North Road leads out to the north. Market Street has in it the Town and Market Hall. Peniel Lane is a precinct of Peniel Chapel and Tabernacle Street of Tabernacle Chapel. Portland Street faces the Harbour. Water Street flanks the river. Masons Row was the hive of the stone masons. Until the County School buildings were erected the three chief buildings were the Town Hall built by Colonel Gwynne for accommodating the Court of Quarter Sessions; the Workhouse, now the Cottage Hospital, and the Feathers Hotel. The three buildings were built previous to 1852. Daniel Jones, mason, who lives to-day, can remember things clearly from that date. He remembers buying a “corn cynhauaf” of Thomas and Nancy Tinman, who lived in “Bedlam Barracks,” a street of diminutive cottages situate far out on the sea shore, below the Tabernacle Chapel. Every vestige of the ruins has long been razed and obliterated by the sea. There was a plot of green in front of these cottages. Hence the name Ffair Lan Y Mðr, by which name our annual hiring fair is still known, for it was there the fair was held. This fact will demonstrate how much the sea has encroached in seventy-five years.
The Workhouse was built to meet Poor Law requirements.
Tabernacle and Peniel Chapels were built in 1833 and Trinity Church in 1842. The front part of the Feathers Hotel was built between 1840 and 1850 by Major Lewes, Llanaeron. The back part of the building was built later to accommodate the large number of magistrates attending Quarter Sessions, and to meet the convenience of commercial travellers. As a poorly-equipped and badly conducted hotel has a good deal to do with lowering the status of a small town, so has a well-furnished, well-equipped, well-managed hostelry much to do with establishing a respectable reputation for a community. The Feathers Hotel from the earliest years bore the highest reputation for good management, comfort and a first-rate table. For this reason commercial travellers, who travelled leisurely in those days, concentrated on the Feathers Hotel for the end of the week, so that it was nothing unusual to find from twelve to twenty spending their Sunday there. In Cumming’s and Selby’s days the fare and cheer were the talk of ten counties. The china, silver, and attendance would not lower the standard of a lord’s house, and the posting met the large requirements of those days.
The enterprise of the earlier inhabitants has not been unworthily emulated by their descendants of late years. They seized the chance to establish a County School at Aberayron and quickly subscribed a sum of £1,500, the sum required from them by the Commissioners who had the choice of sites in their hands.
The Railway Contract -(the railway was opened in 1911)- was £72,864, and the cost exceeded £80,000. This miracle must primarily be attributed to Mr. Harford. Although our share in money was small-I think £1,500 subscribed by the Urban District Council-still some strenouus work was brought to bear to assist in obtaining the help of the County Council, for without that nothing could be done. Another sign of a progressive nature is discerned in the action of the inhabitants between the years 1890 and 1895 in petitioning the County Council for urban powers-powers conferred by the Local Government Act, 1888, so as to be emancipated from parochial control and to enable the people to embark on town improvements. Not much has been accomplished; but that fact speaks for itself. The greatest change of recent years has been the purchase of the freeholds of a great majority of the houses by the occupiers. In this, Commander Gwynne, like all the Gwynnes, displayed a considerateness and magnanimity only to be found once in a blue moon.
I have not written about antiquities because there are none. There is no old church or chapel, no castle or moat. We are a brand new community. Perhaps I ought to refer to the Goredi, which are situate about three-quarter mile to the north, and near the village of Llanddewi Aberarth. They belong to the people of that village and, if not originally built by them, they are repaired and maintained by them, and that is no easy task. If you turn to a dictionary the word for Gored is Weir, but a weir means the smooth water that is caused by an obstruction placed across a stream for the purpose of diverting the water to a leet. The Gored I am now referring to is a crescent made of dry wall of large stones. The convex part is towards the sea and here the wall is high, say five feet, the two arms tapering landwards. The tide covers the entire structure. Fish at certain seasons enjoy the shallows, they tarry within the area of the Gored, and are left behind. A leet at the back of the wall with a grating helps to empty out the water. The owner, with a net, wades into the water at the ebb, and takes valuable hauls of fish, sprats, mackerel, congers, sewin, salmon.
There is a plausible version of how these Goredi first came to be erected. It may be read in one of the books containing the results of excavation at Strata Florida, that some expert expressed the opinion that certain of the stones used for the Abbey could be unmistakably identified as coming from Pembrokeshire. Another conjecture follows. “How would those stones be brought from Pembrokeshire to Strata Florida ?” The answer is, “Possibly in boats.” “Where would the boats carry the stones to ?” “Well Aberarth would be the nearest creek.” The monks would have to arrange for the transit of the stones from Aberarth to Strata Florida. In their frequent excursions they would notice the sign of fish in the bay and the shallow shore. They had much use for fish for their fast days, more than they could always get from the Teify. They devised the Gored for supplying their demand. Here then at last is an apt subject for the notice of an Archaeological Society.
LETTER FROM MAJOR F. G. DAVIES.
The writer of the foregoing paper has received the following letter from Major F. G. Davies, 19, Churchfield Road, West Ealing, dated January 30th, 1926 — Dear Sir.-In reply to your letter of the 29th inst. The Rev. Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, who built Aberaeron and the Harbour was the son of Alban Thomas, M.D., some time secretary of the Royal Society, by his marriage with Margaret Jones, sister of John Jones, of Tyglyn, and was born in 1751. Another sister, Bridget Jones, married Charles Gwynne, of Monachty, the father of Lewis Gwynne, who died in 1805.
The Rev. Alban Thomas (afterwards the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne), rector of Nately Scures and of Newnham, Hampshire, was twice married-first to Martha Acton, daughter of the Rev. Edward Acton secondly to Susannah Maria Jones, only child and heiress of Henry Jones, of Tyglyn, who was the son of the John Jones above mentioned, and died in 1794. The Rev. Alban Thomas took the name of Jones, in addition to his own name of Thomas, by licence, 12th September, 1797, after his marriage. with Miss S. M. Jones, of Tyglyn, thus becoming the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones. He had four daughters and one son by his first marriage but no children by his second marriage. His eldest daughter married J. Atwood, solicitor, Aberystwyth. The second daughter, Martha Thomas, married the Rev. Thomas Davies, of Nately Scures and of Newnham, Hants. They were my great-grandfather and great-grandmother. The only son, Alban Thomas (afterwards Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, and known as Colonel Gwynne) was, I fancy, the youngest child but I am not certain of this.
Lewis Gwynne, of Monachty, the last surviving son of Charles Gwynne, of Monachty, by his marriage with Bridget Jones, as above mentioned, died unmarried in 1805. He left the Monachty Estate jointly to his cousins, the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones and Mrs. Jones of Tyglyn, for their lifetime, and after their deaths to the only son of the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones by his first marriage, Alban Thomas (afterwards known as Colonel Gwynne). The Rev. Alban Thomas Jones added the name of Gwynne by licence, 21st January, 1806, and so he became the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, of Tyglyn, and Monachty. He died in 1819. His widow, Mrs. Susannah Maria Thomas Jones Gwynne, died in 1830, when Colonel Gwynne succeeded to the Monachty Estate.
I do not think the Rev. A. T. J. Gwynne ever lived at Monachty, but only at Tyglyn. He built the chapel at Tyglyn in 1809. As Colonel Gwynne did not succeed to Monachty until after his step-mother’s death in 1830, he could not have built the town and harbour of Aberayron. Mrs. S. M. Thomas Jones Gwynne left Ty-glyn by will to her step-grandson, Captain Alban Thomas Davies, my grandfather. Alban Thomas, M.D., above mentioned, the father of the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, is mentioned in Meyrick’s “History of Cardiganshire,” page 292.
It is difficult to explain the matter shortly, but I trust that I have made it clear to you.
A PAPER PREPARED AND READ TO THE SOCIETY BY J. M. HOWELL. 1926
Born and bred in this wonderful town so happy to read this history. I spent my whole life at sea as many of the town’s Mariners did. Migrated to Australia in 1965. Promoted to Ship Master in 1975,retired in 1999. Been home many times, but not enough! Hope there will be one final journey, ashes to the sea on the outgoing tide.
Thank you Huw for leaving your comment! Please share your memories of being brought up in Aberaeron, where you lived, school and your seafaring life.
I was very interested to read this because Rev Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne was my fourth great grandfather. I’m writing a family history book for my grandchildren so am keen to learn as much as possible about him and his family.