Mr John Ellis, descended from a Borth maritime family, has kindly allowed me to publish the following history written by one of his antecedents around 1920. This is a literal translation from the original which was written in Welsh. It provides a rare glimpse in to minutae of village life in the early 19th century.
BORTH 50 TO 100 YEARS AGO
There is little evidence concerning the morning of Borth’s history...scant memory or records as there was no chronicler. Most is in tradition (folklore) which has often been lost or embroidered.
The root of the village lies on the southern edges; now upper Borth. There are few remains evident today. A hundred or so years ago there was around twenty or more cottages with very large families in each. The people were simple, unlearned and superstitious working hard for their existence on sea and land...the women as able as the men. It was not unusual for the womenfolk to travel over Rhiw Fawr to Aberystwyth on foot twice a day with a heavy burden of peat on their backs. At other times they walked to the cockle beds at Ynyslas to gather a harvest that they’d sell at Aberdyfi, Tywyn and elsewhere...all this for a few pennies. Men worked for nine pence a day on the farms and the wages for seafarers voyaging on the small vessels from Aberdyfi were one shilling and three pence a day.
From Autumn to March the ships were wintered at Aberdyfi or Ynyslas. During this time the men fished for herring as well as preparing the ships for the next seasons voyages. When night fell they gathered together to recite fairy tales. They were so vivid as to frighten the village children.
The residents were nicknamed crows of Borth...why i am not sure. Some conjectured that it was because they pecked each other. Perhaps the most believable reason is because they always stuck together...if you saw one person from Borth inevitably there would be many others. The menfolk always sailed together as family or fellow villagers had a strong bond whilst seafaring.
Although there was a warmth and a closeness between them it was not extended to the inhabitants of nearby villages or towns. For example if two ships passed each other; one from Borth and the other from Aberystwyth the crew on one ship would ask what have you aboard? If the reply was peat (this meant Borth men as the smoke and scent of peat was redolent of the cottages at Borth). Conversely if the reply was veal it meant the crew was from Aberystwyth as apparently the towns folk were fond of calf meat.
After this description of the villagers ordinary lives i shall attempt to describe the dwellings at Borth and the people in them. Opposite Troed y Rhiw on the upper side of the road leading from Gwastad stood the small smithy with its thatched roof. Here in lived the Jones family with their four children William, John, David and Margaret. Where Frondirion and Bryntirion stand today there were four cottages with earth floors and walls. In one of these cottages began the Wesleyan cause and the first preacher was William Davies Africa so named as he’d been a missionary in that continent.
Just further down near the turning to Nantygarreg were four more mud and thatched cottages wherein lived Evan Hughes mariner, William Williams, William Barrow and the famed Phoebe Evans. Below these, the old school was the first Calvinistic Methodist place of worship. Further down are Hillside Cottages which are two of the oldest dwellings in Borth, though now much improved. In the old days Evan Williams lived in one and Mary Morris in the other. The road (Brynowen Lane) that runs immediately at the pine end of the lower cottage was once the only route from todays lower and upper Borth to Glanwern.
The row of houses called Brynowen Terrace that stretched from today’s Penlon to Rock House, were originally thatched cottages. In the top most lived John Davies then John Edwards mariner and in the next Dafydd and Ann Evans and in the fourth cottage was seafarer William Morgan. In today’s Brynymor lived John the blacksmith and his smithy was today’s Brynowen Cottage.
On the opposite side of the road where today’s Castle Stores stand was John Reece’s dwelling. Tangoitan Cottage and Balmoral House were owned by the brothers Thomas and Edward Richards. On the land that Pengoitan stands on today there was a thatched cottage home to John David Evans and nearby was the old original Pengoitan. There was a tiny cottage where today’s St Alban’s stands and in it lived mariner Evan Hughes and his family and later on James the carrier. Opposite Hollyhock there was an area called the Bydfal where wondering animals were kept until their owners claimed them.
This was the old village but when it became overpopulated some ofg the residents moved on to the Morfa some time before 1820. The first houses on the Morfa were “one night houses” as it was permitted to build a house frame overnight with smoke coming out of the chimney by morning. This allowed ownership of the dwelling and surrounding land. Friends and neighbours helped in this task and were helped in turn when erecting their own one night houses. Later the flimsy structures were made more substantial with beach stone walls. Some of the first were next to Auckland House where previously lived Lewis and Ann Williams. From there northward to the end of the parish cottages were built here and there according to the one night housed rules.
In today’s Wesley Cottage lived mariner Richard Lewis and where Eltham stands was John Morris’s cottage. Mariner Richard Jones of the sloop Britannia lived at today’s Pomona. Next were two cottages that belonged to John Lloyd the cobbler. From the Welsh Kitchen, that is London House, to Munding there were a row of cottages belonging to Morgan Hughes and his family. In the first lived Evan Hughes, in the second seafarer John Hughes and in the third seafarer David Hughes. Where the Acorn Garage stands lived a Hughes sister married to John Rees and in the last Morgan Hughes himself.
By the Rhyd stood a cottage wherein lived Lewis Lewis Weaver and family. At Lerry Dale and Alma House lived the Jenkins family. Next to them W. H. Oddy and his butcher shop. The cottages from there to the Railway Inn belonged to mariner David Hughes.
From there to Llys a row of dwellings was raised by David Daniel. From there to Lerry House the cottages belonged to John Hughes Pwll Mawr. Where Lerry House stands today stood the dwelling of Thomas Daniel and family. Where Beatrice stands there was a thatched cottage belonging to Evan Evans. From Beatrice to the bakery Enoch James was the landowner and he built two houses; Resolute wherein lived David Jones and The White Lion where Enoch James himself lived. At Mona lived mariner William Williams. The next two cottages housed John and Susan Benjamin’s family. Next there was a thatched cottage and a smaller one attached to it belonging to John Roberts and where later he built Cambrian Villa.
The Friendship was the first pub in Borth and was owned by John Hughes mariner and shipowner. Along the laneway north of the Friendship were numerous cottages ending in Bodfor owned by mariners David and John Davies. William Williams mariner and his family lived in a cottage where later Everton was built. Bryngwyn was built as it appears today and in it lived John Daniel and his wife.
Thomas and John Price owned cottages from today’s Lodge to Angorfa. John and Mary Rees owned houses and land from Angorfa to Taylor’s Hall. From there to today’s Leronian John Williams owned three cottages ...Lewis Williams and William Arter lived in two of them. Lewis Morgan lived at Gloucester Cottage. David Morgan lived at Morawel and in a nearby cottage lived David Jenkins. The two large houses Diane and York House were built in the mid 1800’s and were occupied by two mariner brothers Owen and David Davies. At Rhydycerrig and Dyfi Belle lived mariners John Hughes and John James.
Brigydon and Brynheuylyn were built where two cottages stood homes to mariners Evan Jenkins and John Arter. From here there were no dwellings except for a cottage where the railway station is today. It was called Terfynau and the home to Old John until you got to Bodlondeb Trigfan and Springfield all three built by David Jenkins. Before the erecting of Glendower, Glanymor and Carron an Edward Jones built a house near the site as did his son David. Elton House mariner Thomas Jones and his wife Hannah. Another Thomas brother and his wife Catrin lived at Hopewell. Further on there was another dwelling home to William and Mary Thomas and the last abode belonged to Old John.
We will now look at the opposite side on “top of the shingle bank” as it’s called. On the foreshore opposite the land where houses were later built from Athlone to Evelwen stood five lime kilns (one ruined) operated by Morgan and Evan Hughes. The limestone canme from Anglesea and the culm from Milford Haven. From these kilns down to the Victoria Inn stood fiftyfive dwellings some of stone and some of earth. Stone built Ty Mawr and Abergeldi were the largest the rest being cottages. Here are the names of the people that lived in some of them. South to north David Jenkins carrier, Richard Edwards mariner, Evan Jones, Morgan Hughes, David Jones, David Daniel, Lewis Jones mariner, John Davies, Evan and David Hughes, John Jones, John Lewis, David Hughes, John and Thomas Richards, Hugh Rees, Thomas Enos, David Rees, Eliza Davies, William Jones, Evan Jones bailiff, Thomas Davies, John Jones, David Davies, John Simon and Eliza Hughes.
From the Victoria Inn northward there were no houses in the early period. Behind all the seaward side dwellings there was a grass bank and some fruitful gardens with the footpath on the seaward side.
In the old days the river Leri spilled into the sea by Moel Ynys Pool not far from today’s Glan Gors. By Felinwern the Leri parted in two, one stream ran past Glanwern and today’s Canteen Stores and there on down the back of the houses by the Rhyd and number 1 Cambrian Terrace onwards to rejoin the Leri just beyond today’s golf club house and in to the sea at Ynyslas.
Old John’s estate..his home Terfynau (Boundaries) was where today’s railway station stands. It stood eastwards of the little Leri tributary and had a bridge to access the village. His estate reached from Diane to Bodlondeb and down alongside the shingle bank to the end of the parish. The Railway Company bought the eastern edge of his land and Old John left the rest to Thomas Nantcellan. Old John was the local lawyer. He wrote letters for people even love letters and often used the same stamp twice.
The Prayer Houses and Schools of the Area.. The first chapel was a Methodist Calvinistic in old Borth built in 1866. It was a beautiful building with stone walls and slate roof with a loft. It could seat over 400 people. One of its most respected members was Enoch James Brynllys who was the local medicine man and a good shepherd to the flock. He was knowledgeable and wise about daily life and the spiritual. John Benjamin of Cwm Cethyn was the “father” at Sunday school and was quite deaf standing on the top step of the pulpit leaning and listening from on high. Enoch of the forge was noted for his praying. Mr. Jones of Brynowen Farm donated the land on which the chapel stood and most of the old cottages were also built on his land. Other notaries were Abraham Jones Glanleri and Abraham Lewis.
In the year 1866-76 the Calvinistic brothers moved to the lower village. There they raised two chapels Libanus and Soar and those that were prominent in the faith were again prominent in the new places of worship. The next chapel was the Wesleyan one. The first of these Morfa chapels was built in 1830. Shiloh had a gallery and seated 300. The prominent men here were William Arter of pleasant mean, Lewis Evans Ty Canol enlightener of the Bible and Richard Jones Britannia God stricken. Richard Rowlands Factory Forge creative. David Griffiths (father of the late Rev John Griffiths) faithful follower. Richard James leader in songs of praise and a leader in all other things. It was soon felt that this building was ageing badly so in 1870 they demolished it and rebuilt it as today Libanus.
The Independent Church. This particular religious branch started in one of John Price’s houses by Jones the bath and his family with the help of Dolybont residents. The chapel was built in 1867 on land bought by David Morgan. Its first minister was a Reverend Williams.
Saint Matthews Church.. Before this was built in the 1860’s worshipers went to Llandre Church. As there was a church school built in the village (National School) it would be appropriate to have a church in the village. Its first curates who lived at Borth were the Reverends Roderick, Poole-Hughes and Evans the Living. The National School was built in 1842 financed by local parishioners. Borth folks gave their labour freely to build it. The stones were carried from the cliffs by boat. Isaac Williams was its first teacher who married a local Mary Rees. He was a fine scholar and a stickler for school rules and was himself a Calvinist. After him came William Herbert who had lost his right arm in an accident at Factory Forge and learned to write with his left. He was a country character; his way of commencing the school day was for the pupils to sing Three Blind Mice.
The next school was the Council School.People of the old village went for learning to the site of this school for years. It was built soon after the education act came into being. Two of its first teachers were an Owens and a Prosser.
Uppingham School. From 1876-77 Uppingham School came to Borth to escape from an outbreak of typhoid. Based at the Cambrian Hotel, later Pantyfedwen, many boys and teachers were billeted out amongst village families. Their presence was enjoyed and they were held in such affection that a path was named in their honour.
Post Office and Pubs.. It was quite awkward for post to arrive at Borth with much to abnd froing as the letters first arrived at Aberystwyth. Ellen Hughes (Auntie Nellie) a popular village lady went to fetch them and then distributed them locally, therefore the first post person in the area. Eventually things got better with a post office in Borth at the White Lion (Mayfield) with Enoch James as Postmaster. He would place letters in the window for the public to view. By now John Evans was bringing them to Borth from Aberystwyth... when he came near the village he would sound a horn to notify the people. This took place mid morning and the villagers gathered at the post office to hear any news from letter recipients. Later the post office moved to James Enos’s house today’s Golf Cott and his daughter Mary delivered the mail. The letters were now coming from Talybont as the big coach was calling there on its way to Aberystwyth from Shrewsbury. The post office moved again to the southern end to Morgan Lloyds house Brynymor with Mary Hughes delivering letters. The last move of the old post office was to London House with Abraham Lewis in charge. After the railways arrival letters arrived directly to Borth station and a postman David Davies delivered from door to door.
The pubs were the Friendship Inn kept by John Hughes. The White Lion kept by Enoch James. The Railway Inn kept by Daffyd Hughes. There were also the Nags Head (Cambrian Villa) and the Prince of Wales (Gloucester House).
A list of 39 Borth ships and their captains.
When the new board of trade certificate came in around 1854 John Jones Pwll Mawr and John Francis Glanwern were the first Borth men to pass as Captains under the new system.
Local Happenings..The sinking of the Ruth was an event no one in the area remembers. She was a large fishing vessel that struck the rocks on a dark stormy night. The village women had run along the cliffs up to the highest point with lamps and lanterns so that the boat would see the cliff top lights and steer clear. However it was to no avail as the boat was dashed against the cliff base and all five men on board perished. In the depth of the night there was a great wailing on the cliff top and to this day it is called the Cliff of Vigil because the girls kept a vigil with much wailing.
Another Borth drama occurred during the great gale of 1857 that sank the Royal Charter. Many of the small sailing fishing vessels from Borth were lost and on that day they left seven widows and twenty children.
The schooner Catherine and Ellen built by David Hughes of the Railway Inn was launched from the shingle bank opposite the pub in 1846 with a preacher to bless her launching.
A year or so later a large fishing boat was built for Richard Edwards’s son alongside the lime kiln opposite today’s Y Craig and launched down the shingle in to the sea.
A house built by David Jenkins opposite Trigfan was abandoned half way through construction and left to the elements. David then built another house in the middle of the village where now stands Tyrol. The old ruin could still be seen in 1920.
When the railway came to Borth in 1863 new blood arrived; which was a happy event for the old girls of the area. The Terrace and Grand Hotel were built by Thomas Savin soon afterwards.
There was a lot of poverty in the area with money short and some folk ran in to debt. With the bailiff pending to take furniture etc. Borth ladies and their children would gang together and congregate at the debtor’s house and ensure the bailiff that the eighteen or so children belonging to the one “poor wife”, who was again pregnant was enough to drive the bailiff away.
When young locals got married the groom prepared, made or gathered together furniture a year in advance. The bride, also a year ahead, gathered clothes, linen and crockery. They ensured that everything was in place well in advance. A month ahead all invitations were completed. If the groom was a mariner he had to make a model of a full rigged ship. The day of the wedding there was a procession from Borth to the church at Llandre and back. In front of the procession to and from the wedding, four seafarers in single file carried the model ship. If the groom was a cobbler his tools were carried by a man who sat on a plank carried on the shoulders of two others. If he was a farmer a man decorated with straw ropes and ornaments led the procession. After the ceremony there was a great feast after which each guest gave the young couple a piece of silver.
When burying the dead a crowd walked to Llandre to bring back the bier. The following day they carried the body on it back to Llandre church and graveyard.
There were many characters in the village, such as Richard Edwards who suffered from the disadvantage of Zacheus (dwarfism), William Arter, who constantly denied that he had eligible daughters, Richard Lewis who had a tempestuous nature and often locked his daughters in their home, David Jenkins the carrier was constantly remonstrating with his wife Cati, John Richards and his way of holding his wife’s nose to the grindstone, John Davies who reportedly could spit tobacco from his ear and Lewis Price and his way of easing his wife’s’ asthmatic wheeze and his quirky way of shaving.
Three words sum up Borth's maritime ethos, transitions, triumphs and tragedies. The transitions refer to the ability of local mariners to smoothly change from sail to steam, but also to move to larger deep water ports other than those of nearby Aberdyfi and Aberystwyth. Perhaps the latter transition was not going to be difficult, as they had never sailed from their natal village, as it had no natural harbour or port facilities. Captain David Davies b. 1848, is a perfect example of a man who made the transition from sail to steam as he had served on the sailing ships Sarah, Jane Sophia, Acorn, Margaret Lewis, Rowland Evans, Clara, Lord Tredegar, Granville, Snowdon, Emily A Davies, Zimmy, Iolo, Ivanhoe and the Coromandel, and then progressed to the steamships; Lady Mostyn, Eira, Harkaway, James Wishaw, Manchester and the Iolo Morganwg. There was also Captain John Lewis b.1836, who lived at Cambrian Villa and commanded the schooner Margaret Lewis, the barque Snowdon and steamer Nant Gwynant. The tragedies are evident, not only in the occupational hazards of seafaring, but compounded by two World Wars and other 20th century conflicts. The triumphs are celebrated in individual and family achievements that sprang from an extraordinary entrepreneurship that resulted in better living conditions, alongside improved educational and income opportunities.
Borth mariners were proud of their achievements, and especially the ships they served on or owned, to such a degree that they named their houses after them; a few of these are Gleanor, Leander, Hopewell, Ivanhoe, Sabrina, Emmett, Convoy, Mayfield and Acorn. The schooner Acorn which sailed for over eighty years, was captained and owned by John Rees b.1820. This vessel sailed under his command from 1864 to 1880, back and forth to the Mediterranean as well as venturing to the West Indies. Sadly, her end came when she was eventually sunk by a U-boat in 1917. Her name lived on at Acorn House, later Mr. Budge’s Acorn Garage, and nowadays, the Acorn Fish and Chip Shop. The house name Munding, came from the S.S. Godmunding, captained by Thomas Jones 1845-96. He had previously been mate and captain on the Rhiwderin, from 1865 to 1868. He died whilst a passenger on the Bathurst, leaving his widow, who lived at 3 London Place, £145.
As previously noted Borth seafarers are mentioned in a 1678 document as part of a survey of fishermen and mariners.. Llandre churchyard reveals that many villagers were engaged in seafaring in the 1700’s, such as Captain Richard Jones, who ran the sloop Britannia in the 1750’s. Captain Thomas Thomas b.1793, captained the Caernarfon brig Elizabeth at twenty-six years of age. Thomas Hughes 1721-78 and Hugh Richards 1733-1800, are noted as mariners on their gravestones. There were master mariners Enoch James b.1779 and William Thomas b.1770. Local sloop captains John Jones, John Rees, John Thomas, David Daniel, David Hughes, David Morgan, Hugh Humphreys and Thomas Daniel, all sailed in the 1700’s.
Researching the past can be fraught as often one is dealing with folklore and family tales that have been embellished over time. Any errors in this website are mine and I attempt where possible to double-check the facts presented to me. Janet Greenwell relates a cautionary tale about her own investigations concerning one of her ancestors who was purported to have been a fiddler on Nelson’s Victory. Her exhaustive researches have revealed that, contrary to family lore, there was no Hugh Jones on any of Horatio Nelson’s vessels. The plausible explanation is that it was the Hugh Jones who commanded the local Borth sloop called Victory in 1829, who may have been a musician. It is difficult to keep track of family members using the same Christian name. The crew of the 37 ton sloop Morriston: Thomas Davies, master b.1816, Thomas Davies, mate b.1842 and Thomas Davies, ships boy b.1871, can cause confusion and matters become more convoluted when the latter two eventually became master mariners themselves. It is not easy to trace the careers of some other members of the Davies clan when one considers that on a voyage to the Baltic in 1878 on the 103 ton schooner Cecil Brindley, every crew-member was a Davies. They were David Davies b. 1838, master, John Davies b.1844, mate, David Davies b.1852, able seaman, James Davies b.1859, ordinary seaman and Richard Davies b.1864, ships boy.
Researcher John Ellis, who has compiled a comprehensive history of his antecedents, the seafaring James family of Borth and contributed generously to this website has his own story of the often frustrating and erratic nature of research:-
"My researches began with Richard James of Ty Gwyn Borth, my four times grandfather who was born in the mid 1700's. His son Enoch b.1787, had married Margaret Hughes in 1809 and they had nine children: Margaret, David Enoch, Richard (died as an infant), Richard, John, Enoch, Mary, Hugh and Ellen. Enoch was a master mariner and ran the White Lion pub as well as being a postmaster in Borth. He had shares in the schooners Mary and Ellen and the Resolute as well as the sloop Aid. Over the years I have managed to piece together the history of all Enoch and Margaret's children except for their youngest son Hugh. I could find no information as to what had happened to him after the 1841 census when he was thirteen years of age. For over ten years I followed numerous leads with no success until March 2017. I'd discovered a website called A Pint of History Please. This project was gathering information about old drinking places in Ceredigion. I was curious to see what was written about Enoch and the White Lion pub in Borth, aware that his will was the cause of many bitter family disputes. These travails were settled and Enoch's son Captain John James, was able to purchase the property in 1871, which he then renamed Mayfield House. Whilst perusing the site I was not surprised to find details of the various family court appearances, but what did amaze me was a reference to a newspaper report published in the Penbrokeshire Herald on 21st June 1844, stating ...Death by drowning-Last Sunday, as Mr Hugh James, a Young man about 18 years of age, son of Captain Enoch James, White Lion, Borth, was leaving his father's vessel in the river Dovey, he missed his footing as he descended in to the boat and fell in to the river. The current running very strong, it is supposed that he was carried out over the bar and drowned. His body has not yet been found. After 20 years I finally found out what happened to poor Hugh on a website dedicated to the pubs of Cardiganshire; but most of all I am amazed that a drowning in the Dyfi was reported in a Pembrokeshire newspaper published in Haverford West. There is no record of this event in any newspaper in Cardiganshire of Merionethshire, so I will never know the details surrounding that event. This is not the only mystery of my antecedents that I have to solve as in the family plot at St Michael's Church Llandre a headstone reads...In memory of Richard James of Manchester who died in July 1865. Is it Manchester House Borth or the city of Manchester? currently I have no idea but perhaps I will stumble across the answer sometime in the future in the most unlikliest of places".
It is likewise tricky to disentangle links through marriage that connect many village families making it impossible to isolate some family histories into neat chapters. An example is the Davies mariners of Maesteg House who are entwined this way with the Lloyd, Enos, Williams, Herbert and Jones families. This collection of family and individual stories does not sit easily within chapters, so I have written them as a series of events; like a logbook recording a voyage through Borth’s maritime history. As the website progresses historically from the Second World War to the present the number of mariners dwindles, resulting in individuals being profiled rather than extended families. As a consequence contemporary accounts are lengthier and more detailed.
Seafaring was a hazardous occupation, exacerbated by conflicts. In World War 1, 3,305 merchant ships were sunk with the loss of 17,000 lives. In World War 2, 4,780 merchant ships were sunk with the loss of 32,000 lives. Below is a list of Borth mariners who lost their lives during the two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War.
Basil L. Davies
Thomas H. Dutton
Daniel Evan Jones
David Kenneth Jones
David Llewelyn Lewis
John Morgan Lloyd
ROYAL NAVAL RESERVES
John Hayden Ellis
John Emlyn Herbert
John Ivor Kinsey
Evan William Lewis
David Hughes Richards
David John Thomas
William David Thomas
Evan James Williams
Howard Lloyd Williams
Henry Levi Williams and Captain John Edwards lost their lives during the Spanish Civil War.
3 ANONYMOUS YOUNG BORTH MARINERS PHOTOGRAPHED IN SAN FRANCISCO
BORTH FROM CRAIG Y WYLFA
A SOCIAL HISTORY OF BORTH
One of the distressing aspects of family life in Britain in the 19th century was infant mortality. A glance at local records inform us that Captain David Hughes of the sloop Brothers, and his wife Elizabeth, buried Eliza age 2, another Eliza, again aged 2, John at 18, mariner James, drowned at 24 and mariner Evan drowned at 25. Another mariner, Evan Hughes, buried 1-year-old Hugh, 4-year-old Eliza and 5-year-old David. The women bore the brunt of the distress and made the funeral arrangements because the fathers were often away at sea; many of the seafarers never seeing the faces of their own children.
The often-primitive living conditions did not aid in these matters. Yet, to put this in historic perspective, one has to consider that Uppingham School in Rutland, was so unsanitary at the end of the 19th century that there was an outbreak of typhoid. This resulted in 300 pupils and teachers coming to live at Borth for just over a year in 1876-7, whilst comprehensive improvements were made to the school. During this time, 150 of the boys were billeted out amongst village families. Uppingham’s medical officer, Dr. Childs, remarked that he would have liked to have opened a practice at Borth, but that it would not have been financially viable as the village was such a healthy one. He even advocated it as a place of convalescence.
There were constant contradictions about the levels of hygiene at Borth. In 1873, three years prior to Uppingham School’s arrival, there was a series of damning reports about the lack of sanitation in the village. They mentioned that of 200 abodes, there were only 70 with privies, whilst others were deemed unfit for human habitation. Many of the dwellings were overcrowded with ten family members living in one room and the local school’s toilets were apparently a disgrace. Pigsties and manure heaps were everywhere in the village, which were deemed offensive and detrimental to health. Perhaps with this in mind, there was a specific clause written into the original deeds of Arequipa, a house built by Captain Thomas Rees stating that no pigs were to be kept on its land. All this implied that the village was an unhealthy place and could not possibly develop as a seaside resort. Despite this, householders had to make their own arrangements as a sewage scheme did not arrive for another hundred years, regardless of the seeming urgency of the ongoing debate.
Yet, whilst all the furore about the “vile state” of the village was going on, a contradictory letter from a “country vicar and constant visitor” commends the place to all who desire salubrity, quietness, a fine sea and beautiful countryside. “It is one of the healthiest places on the whole of the west coast of England or Wales, and I know that an eminent physician constantly recommends it to his patients. It has the most beautiful pure sea bathing, untainted with sewage on hard and perfectly level and safe sands…and has excellent lodging houses, which are quite above the average…it has clean water and excellent lodgings may be had of a humble description”
Sanitation aside, Borth inhabitants had to fight the sea from the shore as well. Prior to 1840 the shingle bank extended further out than it does today. There are records indicating that the sea side cottages had gardens on the beach side with a path all the way down the village beyond that. Erosion was obviously a threat and it became clear that after heavy storms in the second half of the 19th century that something had to be done to safeguard the village. Many cottages, especially the earth ones had been taken by the sea. The arrival of the railway not only bought new blood to the village, but also the notion that it could become a seaside resort.
THE OLD SEA DEFENSES
Sea defenses were therefore necessary to protect the emerging resort. Initially they were built piecemeal, according to the availability of funds that were raised locally. The first comprehensive groyne systems extending out to the low water mark which ran along the length of the village were constructed by local carpenter John Beynon of Efailwen House around 1880. Each individual owner of properties that backed onto the sea organised their own pallisaded defences as many old photographs testify to. The sea took such an annual toll on the village, that the winter of 1899-1900 was regarded as a rarity in that it was free of shore damage; unlike the storm of 1896 when five dwellings were swept away, and a further dozen damaged. Again, it took nearly a century for a comprehensive defence system to be constructed.
THE SUNKEN FOREST
The herring dependant villagers precarious existence is nowhere more succinctly described than in Brief Glory. “Herring was the main harvest, for of gardens there were few if any, and the bog yielded nothing but peat for kindling; and since it was decreed by nature that even herring should only enter the bay during the season of storm around Michaelmas, it was no easy harvest home”. Although the marshland of Cors Fochno provided peat and turf for fuel, and rushes for thatching, the villagers had a certain instinctive aversion to it. This is exemplified in the folklore of “yr hen wrach ddu y figin” (the old black witch of the bog), which was created to ensure that the young avoided it as it possibly harboured pestilence. The annual winter bog burning of recent centuries, even though it was ostensibly to renew pastures, had far older roots reaching back to ancient times. Marshlands were known to harbour the ague, or as we know it, malaria, so it was very much cleansing by fire. In 1881, it was suggested by a local, that if Cors Fochno were drained it would much improve the health of the inhabitants as “no wonder there were so many weaklings, invalids and asthmatic persons in our midst, a few years ago we were annually visited by the ague”. Many marshy areas in Britain harboured malaria up until the 1840’s, with sporadic outbreaks up to the 1940’s. the superstitious also believed that a giant magic toad lived in the centre of Cors Fochno, and that one could confer with it about the future; that is if you were brave enough to seek out this amphibious oracle.