A BRIEF HISTORY OF BORTH
Borth’s beginnings are lost in the mists of time. Folklore deems that a Sion Dafydd and his wife Sian were the first inhabitants…a sort of Adam and Eve. In ancient texts it was called Porth Gwyddno after Gwyddno Garanhir, circa 580 a.d. His name still resonates in many features in the area, such as Maes Gwyddno which is the stretch of sea between Sarn Cynfelyn and the Dyfi Bar, and Caer Gwyddno, the Patches shoal. The village is named Porth Gwyddno in a praise poem to Prince Rhys Gryg by the poet Ffylip Brydydd at the beginning of the 13th century. Llandre Church records note that tithes were taken from fishing boats moored at Borth and Aberleri in 1373. In 1565 Borth is mentioned in the Piracy Commissions which were surveys of the state of shipping on the western fringes of Britain. Fourteen fishermen and mariners were listed at Borth in an anonymous survey of 1678. In 1695 Edward Llwyd mentions Borth in the context of the sunken forest remains visible on its beach. By 1750 there were growing numbers of seafarers evident in the grave lists of Llandre Church. In 1746 a Portuguese vessel was wrecked at Trwyn Pellaf. Borth salvagers made a deposition to the Gogerddan Estate for remuneration for providing a quantity of that ships cargo. From this wreck also came the story of the murder of one of the Portuguese survivors. Lewis Morris’s 1748 maritime survey of the Welsh coast mentions Borth in connection with the herring fishery. Borth is clearly marked on Murdoch McKenzie’s marine chart of 1775. During the Napoleon wars several local men served in the Royal Navy…John Owens, David Matthews, Evan Edwards, Thomas Davies and Lewis Morgan.
For centuries, the village had been dependant on herring. The fish was so important to the economy of Ceredigion that it appears on the county’s coat of arms. In 1898, in an October edition of the Cambrian News, it was reported that Borth people would have to suffer a dire winter because of the lack of herrings in the bay. Children often went with the grown ups to chase the seasonal harvest and learned their seamanship at an early age, in what could often prove treacherous conditions. It moved D.W. Morgan, the first Aberdyfi maritime historian of Borth descent, to describe the tough fisherfolk of Borth as “men who worked in this way for a bare sustenance, buying bread for their families, with their lives often, developed qualities of courage, piety, resourcefulness and thrift hardly to be met with under gentler conditions. Like the marram grass, the plant most familiar to them on the exposed foreshore, they adapted themselves, had to adapt themselves, in order to live”.
THE DAVIES FAMILY OF FISHERFOLK
CAPTAIN WILLIAM RICHARDS CAPTAIN J. DAVIES "BODINA"
BORTH DESIGN BOAT
BORTH 50 TO 100 YEARS AGO
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.
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 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).
Village history reveals a resourceful people, living in unimaginable poverty in tiny crowded cottages, built precariously on an exposed coastal shingle bank, flanked on one side by a gale lashed storm beach, and on the other the marshland of Cors Fochno. In Mary Lizzie Davies of Angorfa’s memoirs, life was hard and the village existed on fish, milk and bread, and contact with the outside world came once a week in the form of the Shipping Gazette, which was bought across the estuary from Aberdyfi by boat. Despite all this, they managed to prosper. Through intelligence, a fiercely independent spirit and astounding courage, the villagers made a success from a hostile environment. They were outward looking and sailed the worlds’ oceans to far-flung ports and cities, which they often knew better than the conurbations of their own hinterland. Examples are Captain William Hughes b.1842, who sailed the brig Fanny Fothergill to Australian waters in the 1870’s. Hugh James b.1844 sailed the barques Hawarden Castle and the Carmarthen Castle around the world to ports on the west coast of America, the Orient and South Africa. Captain Lewis Williams voyaged round Cape Horn a dozen times on his way to Wellington, New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia. Captain T. C. Enos knew the ports of the east and west coasts of America like the back of his hand, especially those of Peru and Chile, as he had spent years in the Peruvian Navy. Captain John Williams b.1836 sailed the small 588 ton barque Glendovey, owned by fellow villager William James, all over the world for forty years up to 1900.
Borth’s continued existence was firmly reliant on the arrival of the autumnal herring. This fish was also the wellspring of its incredible seafaring ethos. For centuries large families living in tiny overcrowded earth and thatch cottages on the southern high ground eked out a living from the land as agricultural labourers, supplemented by the annual piscatorial bounty. As famine had visited them over the ages it is no wonder that they were deeply religious people who revered this life sustaining fish that symbolized God’s bounty. They saw it as manna from heaven, alleviating both physical and spiritual hunger. When they launched their small open boats it was not just a matter of fishing their home waters, Maes Gwyddnno, but the Galilee itself. In a spiritual and emotional sense they were joining Christ the Beloved Fisherman in this enterprise, and had faith in His guidance and power over the elements to secure their sustenance…they were participating in the Biblical story.
This atavistic association is manifest in Captain William Richards’s scornful reply to a pompous young preacher who chastised him about the nearness of God when he said “I have been nearer the Lord than you will ever be in your pulpit…..He has always been with me, guiding me through storms you could not imagine in your worst nightmare. Whilst I have felt His great comforting presence, you and your ilk hereabouts have merely sheltered under a hedge”. In another instance, Captain Davies Bodina provided sanctuary for over a hundred Jewish people on the S. S. King Edward when it was docked at Cherson, Odessa in 1910. During a pogrom at the time he kept them safely aboard for several days. For this humanitarian act he received a moving testament and a silver chalice from the Jewish community. For the captain these were men and women of the Bible, the same blood as Christ.
The villagers’ resourcefulness knew no bounds, even developing a unique boat design to cope with the storm beach conditions. Borth fishing boats were up to 25 feet long in length with a small transom. They had three masts, two of which were removable. The centre mast was taken down when the fish laden nets were pulled in to the boat. This also accommodated the hazardous backward rowing procedure through the surf, on to the shallow beach. Boat launching from Borth beach is not for the faint hearted; nor is returning. One of Captain Davies Maesteg’s antecedents drowned with other Borth men whilst returning from herring fishing around 1840. Perhaps he was part of the crew of the fishing boat Ruth that was wrecked near Aberwennol on a stormy night. According to one source, this was the event that led to the naming of Craig Y Wylfa. Even the most experienced boatmen can succumb to accidents. In November of 1871, there was a near disaster as ten Borth boats were caught in a storm. Although some landed safely, three were swamped, and a crewmember of the Mary Ann nearly drowned as he became entangled in nets under the overturned boat. Luckily, villagers were waiting anxiously for their return and they rushed into the surf to untangle and save the half drowned man. At the time an Aberystwyth fishing boat, the Fire Fly, had to risk beaching at Borth, from where it signaled to the searching Aberystwyth lifeboat that they were safe ashore.
In 1872, the schooner Merton of Truro was voyaging from Falmouth to Runcorn with a cargo of china clay when she was driven towards Trywn Pellaf in a southwesterly gale. Before the Aberystwyth lifeboat Evelyn Wood came on to the scene, a fishing boat put out from Borth with five men on board; Captains John Hughes, Richard Davies, William Edwards as well as fishermen John Jones and John Jenkins. They rowed through the huge seas and managed to get aboard the schooner. Knowing the local conditions, they would have been able to help her sail out of difficulty, but unfortunately there was no means of safely snapping the anchor cable that was holding her away from the rocks. With the incoming tide, she dragged her anchor and luckily grounded on sand near Trywn Cyntaf. A day later, with seas becoming calmer, she was towed away by a Porthmadoc steam tug. The Borth boat, with the five men on board, capsized on returning to shore, fortunately with no loss of life. Friends and the wives of the boatmen who had previously pleaded with them not to be so foolhardy as to risk their lives in those conditions, were at hand to help them in the time honoured way.
In the same year the brig Humility sank off Borth as she tried to run into Aberdyfi. This ageing vessel was on a voyage from Poole to Runcorn. Even though the villagers launched a boat, no rescue was needed as the weather was calm, and all the crew got ashore safely as the old vessel sank. After these incidents it was stated in the Cambrian News that, “moreover instances of this kind show how desirable it is to have a lifeboat stationed at Borth”. It was to be another hundred years before a lifeboat station was built in the village. Until that time many daring rescues were carried out by local men up until the 1960’s, often unrecorded and unappreciated.
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.
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.
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.
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 housed 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.
Brigadon 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.
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.
This is a remarkable find of historical importance and it has solved a few mysteries such as where a William Barrow mariner lived, as he is only mentioned once in connection with the Morris mariners, and also identifies where Captain John Jenkins's father, David, had begun building his first house before abandoning it to construct today’s Tyrol House.