The harvest of the sea was a major protein supplement for the surrounding hinterland that saw many farms buying masses of herrings to preserve by salting or smoking. Brynllys Farm was famed in the past for its sgadan coch (red herrings). Also over the centuries thousands of Borth herrings must have been smoked at Dolclettwr Hall Farm at Trerddol. One can still see the oak poles set on the right side of the interior of the huge chimney. Here the gutted salted fish would be hung whole to smoke, in Welsh 'i cochu'....to redden. Tradition has it that the massive wooden fireplace lintel at this farm was from a local Spanish Armada wreck (Davies, pers. comm. 2003). Many of Borths fisherfolk supplemented their livelihood working the fields in exchange for their own row of vegetables. There is reference to this in a story that A.E. Richards told me about his grandmother who, newly wed in 1865, lost her wedding ring while preparing her potato row in Brynllys field. A period of anguish followed where she had to go to great lengths to hide the fact that her wedding ring was missing. Later in the year whilst harvesting her crop she miraculously found the ring. The spirit of this exchange between villagers and farmers continued into modern times, whereby if one helped out on various farms at harvest time, one could traverse the fields for game during the winter. Another, quirky connection between land and sea occured when the French smack Sans Pareil, on approaching Aberdyfi, lost a cargo of Magnum Bonum potatoes off Borth beach. From that day, these potatoes became a favourite in the locality for quite a time, as they were used as seed potatoes for successive harvests.
Many of the farmers, being tenants of local estates, were enterprising enough to invest in shipping. Their contribution was important to maritime endeavours which in turn provided the only investment opportunity they had in their limited world. Despite most of the mariners being related to farming families in the surrounding areas there developed a social divide that saw the seafarers adopting more scornful attitudes toward their rural relatives. It was mostly a game of one-upmanship by the mariners who, having travelled the oceans, saw themselves as being more worldly-wise, and few were enamoured of things rural. The following description of Llangrannog is applicable to the larger Borth community.
Although most of its early inhabitants moved to the village (Llangrannog) from the surrounding countryside, a dichotomy between an inward-looking agricultural community and an out-ward looking seafaring community soon developed. The difference between a seafaring community and a rural community, although living in close proximity to one another, became so accentuated that it was difficult to believe that they both belonged to the same cultural group (Jenkins, 1982, p.4 ).
An early example of this disdainful attitude toward non-maritime folk is the tale of Will Siswrn, which means Will Scissors, so named for his cutting remarks in public. He was of farming stock himself with relatives at Brynbala and Caergywydd farms. His real name was William Richards and he was a master mariner and grandfather of Jac Richards, who told me the following story which took place in the 1890s:
Captain Richards was in chapel on a warm Sunday, totally relaxed, with his eyes closed. A popular young firebrand of a preacher was pontificating about being close to God. Seeing an apparently sleeping member of the congregation, he decided to bridle the recalcitrant by denouncing those who, even in the house of the Lord, were not paying attention or knowing the nearness of Him. As the congregation followed the preacher's stern gaze, Will suddenly opened his eyes. He looked around and instantly understood the situation and, staring straight back into the preacher's eyes, he said, “Pah I have been nearer the Lord than you will ever be in your pulpit. I have seen his great works and how he manifests himself in the wilds of the vast Atlantic. He has always been with me, guiding me through storms you couldn’t imagine in your worst nightmares. Whilst I have felt his great comforting presence, you and your ilk hereabouts have merely sheltered under a hedge". From this incident the captain earned his nickname and, suffice to say, the preacher became more circumspect from thereonin about his own observations in public.
Captain Thomas Davies, master mariner and owner of the schooners Pluvier and Nathaniel, was on one occasion in his old age, according to Jac Richards, fighting to walk upright against a gale blowing so hard that it threatened to bowl him over. The old captain was implored to be careful in the dangerous conditions- it was at least force 10. “Tempest? Tempest? This is merely a harbour clearing zephyr,” was his retort, which left the youthful listener astounded. He was, according to various local sources, an amorist of note and, not surprisingly, adored by the ladies. Adding to the legend of his carnal splendour was his reputation for upsetting the moral rectitude of some of the congregation of his chapel by always volunteering to read the lesson, which was inevitably segments from The Song of Solomon. Young boys nudged and winked, girls giggled, whilst moralists fumed. The testosterone driven captain probably added more to tooth loss by the gnashing he caused, than poor oral hygiene. When he felt that the disapproval about his lasciviousness was mounting, primarily from the farming community, he would retaliate by swiftly announcing that a hymn would be sung. Inevitably, it produced another barb aimed at the landlubber by extolling God, in the role of the Great Captain, to look after the mariner (J. Richards, pers. comm. 1970). The hymn’s first lines, which I have translated, he would read out with relish:
On tempestuous seas I sail,
To a world that is better
I smile at all the storms
As my Father is at the helm.
(Evan Evans, Ieuan Glan Geirionydd).
In his old age Captain Davies was always chasing passing youngsters away from his house front. The reason for this was that he had a beautiful brass strip on the front gate step which he lovingly polished every day. He obviously feared that local children would ruin his handywork, after all this old seafarer had always wanted everything shipshape. His seamanship was legendary and it was said that dockside workers in many a port would take cover when he was due in. Arriving, he would often disdain any assistance such as a tug if conditions were favourable. The crew had to be dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ and he made his entrance with one hand on the wheel and the other on the massive Bible he carried with him everywhere he sailed his beloved schooners. Under reduced sail he would turn and with one deft move he’d bring his vessel gently alongside the quay. He was not as such a God fearing man but rather a God loving man. He certainly had je ne sais quoi. Ships and women he adored, and they responded unerringly to his firm, loving and knowing hand. Well into his eighties he used to sail his little dinghy up and down Borth Bay, to the increasing concern of his neighbours and family. Finally, pressure from the righteous-minded saw an end to this supposed unseemly behaviour by a very senior citizen. One night some persons hacked a hole in his dinghy. Heartbroken, the captain took to his bed and died soon afterwards.... many a Borth lady wept.
Although I am too young to remember Captain Davies, I remember his daughter well. I was in the first years of primary school and she was one of the cooks there. In her sixties she was a deeply tanned lady with the most startling, kindly, blue eyes. I knew from my family that as a child in the 1890s she had stood on the beach opposite her ship-named house, Nathaniel, whilst a rowing boat came ashore from her father’s schooner to pick her up. Once aboard they sailed south to French and Spanish ports and across the Atlantic to Newfoundland and from there back to the Mediterranean, and then home. Apparently, this diminutive and unassuming lady had often voyaged with her father. There were other intrepid Borth women going to sea before 1800. The women of the Davies family sailed regularly on vessels such as the Sarah, France and the Amity, skippered by John Davies the Elder and his brother Hugh Davies. In 1822 the wife of Captain Evans gave birth to a son at sea who was appropriately called John Seaborn Evans; his descendants now live in London. Captain Abraham Davies's wife Mary often sailed with him on the schooner Ethel Anne. Captain Hugh James took his wife Maggie on several voyages, and one of his sons was born at Scranton, U.S.A. in 1872, and another somewhere at sea in 1880. Captain David Jones, born 1838, often took his wife Margaret with him on several vessels.
Gwen Lloyd, the other cook at the school, was the daughter of a maritime hero. Edward Lewis Lloyd was second officer on the S.S. Volturno in 1913 when she left Rotterdam carrying emigrants to Nova Scotia. A violent storm was encountered in the Atlantic and a fire broke out. Part of the vessel was severly damaged affecting wireless communication. The fire had already claimed a fifth of the passengers when Edward Lloyd climbed up the damaged foremast and made repairs so that an S.O.S. could be sent out. In this process he severly burnt his hands, arms and legs, but his actions prevented a potential catastrophe (D.Lloyd, pers. comm. 2003). Lewis also featured in another rescue when the American liner Clara was disabled in mid Atlantic and had to be towed 1200 miles through storm lashed seas to Halifax Nova Scotia. Lewis at the time was 3rd officer and volunteered to take charge of the boat that would carry the towing hawser to the stricken vessel. It took several trips in the mountainous seas to accomplish this. Just after completing the task Lewis and the boat crew had to jump aboard the Clara as their boat was smashed against the liners side. Both vessels had to put their crews on short rations for the long tow to Halifax.
The sea took its toll on ships and lives often within sight of home. In 1853 the Borth smack Eleanor & Betsey foundered after attempting to enter the Dyfi estuary in difficult conditions. Luckily Captain Hugh Morgan and his crew got off safely by boat. The dangerous entrance into the Dyfi continued to prove treacherous, and in 1857 the ill-fated Venus, a Borth owned and crewed sloop carrying a cargo of limestone from Caernarvon, overran its approach to the Dyfi pushed by a north westerly gale. Unfortunately the elderly sloop got into difficulties, and in an attempt to beach the vessel on the Borth side it struck the bar south of the Dyfi river entrance and foundered. Captain Thomas Davies was the only survivor on this tragic November day. Later on the same day another Borth sloop the Britannia managed to get safely into Aberdyfi despite the difficult conditions. On the 28th of February 1867 a Borth owned and run schooner the Gratitude captained by Richard Jones was wrecked on the Dyfi bar, fortunately without loss of life.
The Venus skipper Thomas Davies is seen in several photographs and in his old age he became a sort of village crier. Folklore has it that he clung on to his Newfoundland dog who brought him safely to shore beneath Moelynys. Leaving the captain, the dog ran south along the beach to the village where his bedraggled presence raised the alarm. The canine inclusion may have been a fashionable embellishment, as in the 19th century stories concerning dog bravery centred on the Newfoundland breed, popularised by the paintings of Sir Edwin Lanseer (Lewery, 1991, p.31). Two men as well as the ten year old nephew of the Captain drowned. The young boy's body was not found for ten days and was so facially disfigured he could only be recognised by a burn mark on the back of his hand. Such tragic loss deeply affected the women folk of the village, especially the boy's mother who in this case was not allowed to see her son’s body. Another tragic story centres around a father and son. In 1880 the schooner Meirion Lass was bought by John Morgan of Troed Y Rhiw Borth for his only son David. Before the year was out, on the 28th December, young Captain David Morgan was lost overboard. His grief stricken father sold the vessel soon after. There was also heartbreak for Captain James of Borth, born 1845, when he lost his fifteen year old son who fell overboard from the Dovey Belle whilst the schooner was lying off Gravesend in 1897. This death heralded the end of the James family association with this vessel. The drowned boy's grandfather Captain John James, born 1813, commanded the Dovey Belle in the 1860s. Strangely some records (Morgan 1947, p.182) associate this ship with Captain John Williams as master and owner... which he was for a short time. Historian Lewis Lloyd wondered if there were 2 Dovey Belles. These assertions and suppositions John Ellis declares as arrant nonsense as his forbears the James mariners built and owned this vessel from 1865 to 1902 when she was sold to Aberdyfi owners. John is angry at the lack of simple research and scholarship shown by both men. The Dovey Belle sank in 1907 under the captaincy of J.Williams of Aberdyfi...thankfully the crew were all safely landed at Holyhead by the ship Foy
There were other quirky accidents involving Borth vessels. Captain John Simon surrendered his certificate in 1917 because he was apparently too old and infirm to continue seafaring. Captain Simon was born in 1843 and served on the Cuerero from 1883-7 and the Ellen Catherine in 1888. He was master of the 73 ton schooner Lizzie Jane when it was rammed by the Ann Jane, another schooner captained by James Morgan of Borth. The Lizzie Jane had been sheltering in the lee of the Pembrokeshire coast waiting for a favourable wind. The Ann Jane had the same idea and unfortunately rammed the other schooner. John Simon and the crew of three jumped onto the Ann Jane thinking their vessel was sure to sink. Next day there was no sign of the Lizzie Jane as during the night she had drifted across the Irish Sea and beached on the Arklow sands. All this was recorded in a court case in which John Hughes of Glasfryn House, Borth, owner of the Lizzie Jane, won £489/4/0 damages from Robert Lewis of Barmouth, the owner of the Ann Jane (Cambrian News, March 6th, 1886). In D.W. Morgan’s account of the misshap it was the Lizzie Jane that rammed the Ann Jane (D.W. Morgan, pp.238-9, 1948). Perhaps Morgan’s version was coloured by the fact that his father James Morgan was the skipper of the Ann Jane. Captain John Simon was involved in another incident when his schooner Ellen Roberts ran aground; fortunately again there was no loss of life. Simon is an unusual surname, although there was an Evan Simon in Llandre in the mid 19th century and also a Daniel Simon at Newquay who built the 31 ton smack Myra in 1832. There were also Simons associated with shipping in Aberdyfi.
Some families moved from place to place following maritime employment opportunities along the west Wales seaboard. There were seafaring Daniels in Borth for most of the 19th century, beginning with Thomas Daniel, born in 1774 who was associated with the sloop Amity in 1799 and the Borth schooner Francis in 1824. His son David Daniel born in 1805 was master of the sloops Dove and Linnet. Captain Aiden Daniel commanded the schooner Aquila in 1834. Were these Borth Daniels related to the Daniels involved with Aberdyfi shipping, especially the brig Charlotte? Another Borth to Aberdyfi movement was by members of the Morgan and Davies families, which is well documented in Brief Glory by their descendant D.W. Morgan. Members of another Davies family that feature in the photograph around the Neena, moved southward to Aberystwyth, whose descendant Desmond Davies, had a long career at sea, primarily in ships captained by Borth men. Another southward movement was by the Jenkins family. Captain David Jenkins, born in 1840, lived at Portland Road, Aberystwyth. He commanded several ships and drowned on the Hope in 1891. His brother Captain Evan Jenkins, born 1841, lived at Havelock Villa, on Penglais Hill. The house was named after one of the ships that he owned and commanded in the 1880s, called Lady Havelock. The Richards brothers, Ted and Jac, always maintained that Captain David Richards of the schooner Maglona, was a close relative of their grandfather, Captain William Richards (pers. comm, 1970). The Maglona and it's master David Richards have to date appeared as part of Aberdyfi's history. No connection with the Borth Richards mariners has been found.... curiously there was a Maglona House in Borth in the 1870s. This schooner was lost at Cape Race, Newfoundland in 1887 whilst seeking a cargo of salt cod. All the crew were saved.
Eminent and respectable though the Borth captains were thought to be, especially in retirement, there were still some scallywags who realised that the captains vanity could be their undoing. This led to a very elaborate series of practical jokes devised by some of the local seamen. The headquarters of the plotters was the Victoria Inn near one venerable Master Mariner’s home. A letter was written by the one with the most decent handwriting purporting to come from a comely Aberdyfi widow, anonymously of course. It was an effusive and gushing letter saying how she so admired the captain and felt that despite her shyness that they should meet. Amongst the letter’s besotted praise for the ‘old salt’ was a passage that appealed to his ‘Cardi’ instincts. It was a thinly veiled reference to the fact that she was well off financially. To add authenticity, scent was sprinkled on the letter and it was given to one of the conspirators relatives to post from Machynlleth on his way to sea at Liverpool. The letter included a date for a meeting at Glandyfi junction. The writer had also included a description of herself as being a lady with a fulsome figure wearing a rose in her hat. Part of the proposed rendezvous plan was that they would travel back together to Aberdyfi for tea.
At the appointed hour the pranksters waited in the pub to see if the captain had ‘taken the bait’. Low and behold half an hour before the midday train was to leave Borth, out of the house stepped the captain in all his finery. His shirt was gleaming white and in the bright spring sunlight the braid and brass was dazzling. Sporting a silver topped cane and clutching a bunch of flowers he set off with a decided swagger toward Borth station. Previously wary boys and cats were unexpectedly given a friendly pat and cheery greetings were surprisingly extended to all those he passed. This striking apparition of a captain left Borth in good humour. Hours later a flustered black browed captain returned and kicked cats and cuffed boys as he stalked back to his house. This left the revellers in the tavern in stitches. This practical joke was extended when another letter soon arrived at the captain’s home, written by the same hand begging his forgiveness mitigating that a bout of nerves and modesty had led her to have cold feet at the last minute, and stating that she had in fact stayed on the train until it got to Machynlleth. The mystery lady from Aberdyfi now arranged another meeting. This happened three times before ‘the penny dropped’. This trick was played on several susceptible captains, as the pranksters realised that embarrassment precluded the captains discussing it with anyone. The storyteller and plotter Gwilym Davies, said “they must have gone to their graves half believing that a rich plump widow had once been within their grasp”(G. Davies, pers. comm. 1964).
A large number of Borth captains, many of whom had started in sail during the height of Aberdyfi's slate export boom, finished their careers in steam ships. Their retirement in the first quarter of the 20th century heralded a flurry of house building at both ends of the village. The first houses on the cliff were built by sea captains, beginning with Captain William Richards' houses the two Maelgwyns in 1904. Later Bay Ridge was built by Captain Davies, who had a notoriously rude parrot which verbally abused any visitors knocking at the door. Then came Francon built by Captain Williams who carried horses from the Argentine to supply the army's needs during World War 1. Also built on shipping enterprise were the nearby St. Albans houses by the Jones captains. The row of large houses at the northern end of Borth, including Montford and Ballarah were also built by sea captains. Surrey, Glendower and Maesarfor were associated with another maritime Jones family. It is no surprise that a substantial number of village dwellings were named after ships or favoured ports.
Captain William Richards was based in Mostyn, the port of Chester, in the latter half of his career, and was involved with two steamships the S.S. Eira and S.S. Lady Mostyn. He took his wife on several trips on these vessels. Unfortunately both vessels were lost, but Captain Richards was luckily not on either of them when these tragedies occurred. The Eira, a ship that the captain apparantly never trusted was lost with all hands after departing on a voyage from Whitehaven to Kronstad on the 13th October 1898. The Lady Mostyn foundered in the Pentland Firth carrying railway lines to the Estonian port of Riga in the Baltic. Captain Richards was a pretty tough customer but had a sense of humour. On one voyage three of his Borth crew members found themselves in jail in a French port for drunken behaviour. The captain was summoned by an officious Frenchman to come and redeem them for a certain fee. Richards took one look at the now contrite crew members and announced "pydrwch y diawled", (rot you devils), and stalked out. The French official was told in no uncertain terms by the captain that he wouldn't get any bribe money and the authorities could damn well feed and water the men until he returned in a couple of months’ time (J. Richards, pers. comm. 1970).
Arriving back in a British port one of the first things Captain Richards wanted was an English newspaper. When it arrived the other officers also eager for news began the habit of reading over his shoulder. Fed up with this the captain would turn the newspaper upside down and pretend to read it. In the end one of the over-shoulder readers cracked and asked him why the newspaper was upside down? He unhesitatingly replied "any fool can read it the right way up". He gleefully continued this practice whenever others were present. Newspapers proved vexatious things, even in the captain’s retirement. He would be quite adament about receiving the Cambrian News well before his daughter Elizabeth got hold of it. Elizabeth Richards became a member of the Emmeline Pankhurst circle of suffragettes and, according to Tom Macdonald, in his memoirs entitled The White Lanes of Summer, would cause quite a stir in the villages of Bow Street and Pengarn on her frequent visits home from London. Not only was she attractive, and dressed in the high style of the day, but she smoked in public! If she got hold of the Cambrian News before her father it would become unreadable, as she was unable to judge the distance of the cigarette on the end of a foot long holder. This resulted in the newspaper being inevitably covered with brown and black spots rendering it illegible.
Will John ‘Science’ was a regular Borth crew member on Richards’ ships. William John Hughes' appellation ‘Science’ was given to him because of a physical affliction that saw him walk in an exaggerated manner. The term ‘science’ was used when describing an over elaboration of manner or behaviour. John Hughes of Caenant, tells the story of David John Richards who rode a bicycle all the way down the many steep entrance steps of the now demolished Pantyfedwen. When asked how he managed this extraordinary feat he replied “by science”, thereafter he was known as David John “Science” (J. Hughes, pers. comm. 2003). John Hughes' antecedents were major players in Borth's shipping as far back as the 18th century.
Will John “Science’s” usual job was a cook, where part of his duties was to keep the captain's quarters clean. On his first voyage in this post Will John decided that he would, for the sake of economy, use the dishwater to mop out the captain's quarters. For this he received a clout and was told to mop the vessel from stem to stern with clean water. From there on in there was no further acrimony between these two as Will John Hughes was for years a regular crew member. He is depicted wearing an apron standing behind the bowler hatted Captain Richards in the Eira crew photograph. Thomas Hughes a relative of Will John, was first mate under Captain Williams of Aberystwyth at the time of the sinking of the Eira, which claimed another Borth man Henry Jones, who happened to be Thomas Hughes’ brother-in-law. Although a relief fund was set up, apparently not a penny was received by the Borth victims relatives (N.Sharpe, pers. comm. 2003).
The other side of Captain William Richards' nature saw him take care of a storm battered seagull which had landed on board his ship to seek out scraps. He mended its badly broken leg with delicate splints until it was ready to fly off. His fondness for birds saw him continually bring home exotic parrots. The birds would escape and land in local farmyards to feed with the chickens, causing a great hullabaloo as the poultry were frightened of these strange relatives and no doubt the farmers were likewise startled. It was the captain’s son’s unenviable task to retrieve the birds and calm down all concerned. In the process he was often abused. The captain once brought home a mongoose, whose fate has always been a mystery. Did it escaped to be shot by locals who thought it was a polecat…or was its demise organised by the captain's exasperated son?
Captain Richards retired inland to another of his houses, again named Maelgwyn, where he took up gardening in a serious way. He planted an orchard and had a heated glass house producing some of the first tomatoes grown in the area. The old seafarers one concession to his former career was a private study that was planked out to resemble a ships cabin. In the The White Lanes of Summer Captain Richards who is described as having "far seeing blue eyes", is mentioned frequently, and one passage refers to him conversing fluently with an itinerant Italian tramp. Strange to think that with his fluency in Italian he should complain about the difficulties of sitting his Masters Examination when he declared; "it wasn't the complex mathematics or navigational issues that I found hard, but that it was all in English". It was this remark that made me consider that the woman in the photograph Borth Captains and Lady, was coaching the mariners in the intricacies of the English language.
As builder of the first two houses on the cliff on Pengoitan Farm’s land, Captain Richards decided that the stone for the front should come from a cliff top location near Brynbala farmhouse where relatives of his lived. Today on the cliff top walk between Borth and Wallog one may still see the remains of the little quarry. In true Richards style he organised transportation of the stone to the Borth site. After quarrying, the stones were roughly dressed on the cliff top and tossed down the cliff face to the beach far below. A swch (barge), was constructed and floated on the high tide over the rock shelf to the waiting dressed stone deposit. Whilst the tide was out the stones were loaded onto the barge which later moved off with the returning sea. It was towed by another boat using a sail and four oarsmen to help take advantage of the tide flowing northwards towards Borth. It was bought inside Trwyn Cyntaf to the small indent in the low cliffs opposite the building site. To get the stones up a swivelling two pole gantry was constructed so that when the stone load got to the block at the apex everything was pulled in, depositing the stone onto the cliff top. The system of using a barge to transport stones for building purposes had already been deployed when erecting the National School in the 1840's. In this case stones from Aberwennal were moved to the beach opposite the school site, which is now Borth Surgery. This beach location also supplied construction material for Pengraig, Brynrodyn and the Gwastad Farms as well as the conversion of Troed y Rhiw to a stone structure from the earth cottage that had stood there for centuries. According to the late Derek Lloyd Frondirion was also a rebuild from Aberwennal stones carted from there. Captain Richards was always adept at coming up with practical solutions, and once in Bergen harbour his quick thinking prevented a Swedish ship from breaking apart and depositing her cargo into the harbour. He organised chains to be bound around the vessel whilst the crew carefully and quickly unloaded the cargo. He was handsomely rewarded by the ship's insurer for averting a costly disaster. Every two years he would receive a bonus from his own ships insurers for avoiding accidents….a kind of maritime no-claim bonus.
Many others also took advantage of the tidal flow to haul back to Borth rafts of salvaged timber from Traeth Bach near Wallog. In Borth usable timber washed ashore were called 'sprokes', which probably came from the word strakes. The main ceiling beam in the now demolished Felin Wern farmhouse was a ship’s mast (Dilwyn Owen, pers. comm. 1970). Considering the age of the building one wonders if it was from the 1732 Portuguese wreck or even earlier. There is the story about a local cobbler, who having run out of leather decided one summers day to take advantage of the tidal flow and row south with the ebb to Aberystwyth to replenish supplies. To finance this venture he took most of the much needed household budget. Arriving in Aberystwyth hot and sweating after his exertions he decided to quench his thirst at a local inn; this was his undoing. On the long row back, serried ranks of seagulls on the cliff face were the audience for a medley of Welsh hymns sung uninhibitedly by the merry cobbler. Hours later rounding Trwyn Pellaf on the incoming tide, he could be heard singing R.S.Hughes’s song Arafa Don (Slow Thou Wave). His wife who was down on the beach to help pull the boat up, realised that about to disembark was one drunken cobbler with no money or leather, so she bought an abrupt end to the cobbler’s serenading. He was firmly boxed around the ears and from there on in his wife walked to Aberystwyth to ensure a supply of shoe leather. The same cobbler was notorious for wearing customers shoes himself for weeks before mending and handing them back.
Other than mariners, some of Borth’s tradesmen were also attracted to the growing prosperity of Aberdyfi. Blacksmith John Jenkins of Borth moved to Aberdyfi in 1859 where the demand for anchors, chains and other metal parts for shipbuilding was increasing. Amongst the parents of the first pupils of Borth’s Morfa School when it opened in 1842, were five blacksmiths (Enoch, 2002, p.71). Although this does not tally with the 1841 census which records Borth as having only one; the explanation lies in the fact that the five smithies were drawn from the greater Borth area. Other than John Jenkins who moved across the Dyfi, there was John Richards at Rhydmeirionydd, the brothers Lewis and Richard Jones in Penybont, Hugh Williams at Gwastad and John Richard of Borth. Today's Evelwen (White Smithy) must have been a working forge at one time, but there is no record to date of a blacksmith residing in Morfa Borth. Evelwen as far back as 1840 was the joinery workshop of Evan Griffith and upon his retirement in 1880 his son-in-law carpenter John Beynon took over. John had arrived in Borth from the Newquay area and his is the only birth certificate I have seen with the term "changeling" written on it. In a photograph album belong to the Richard's and Beynon families there is a very old photograph of a man in a stovepipe hat whom the family surmise was John's mentor from whom he took his surname Beynon to mask his illegitimacy. I wonder if the mystery man was the builder of the harbour at Newquay. The previously mentioned blacksmith, Hugh Williams of Gwastad, was a renowned poacher. Gogerddan gamekeepers were continually frustrated as they tried every trick in the book to catch him redhanded. He had an uncanny knack of sensing danger and he would often leave his gun and catch hidden in hedges on his way back to Gwastad as he knew the gamekeepers would often be waiting to ambush him. Other favoured hiding places were numerous neighbours haystacks or lofts (David Griffiths, pers. comm. 1970).
In rural Welsh communities wisdom was usually disseminated in the various craft workshops of smithy, carpenter or cobbler. In Borth this wisdom was mainly within the province of sea captains, as after all they were the village’s main employers and provided the only investment opportunity. To achieve this they obviously had to be worldly wise and shrewd in their business dealings. However there were others who were viewed as sages, such as John Beynon, who in the last quarter of the 19th century played a major role in constructing the first large-scale sea defence system in Borth. The Rev. J. James of Brynllys was also held in high regard. He was a deeply religious, kindly man who was adept at bone setting and provided herbal medicines that like his advice, were free of charge. William Jones professed to cure many ailments by using wool as a healing medium which was a common practice in Wales. He would bind various parts of the body with woollen twine or cloths which he would remove and rebind until the patient was cured. Many of my generation suffered the indignity of having to wear a woollen piece of cloth next to our chest to ward off colds in the winter time which was probably a direct decendant of the wool cure-all! Jeffrey Davies told me that when his uncles were children they were annually wrapped in flannel from November to March. William Jones lived near today’s Craigfryn in the ruined cottage whose gable end remains can be seen in the old photograph of Borth taken near the slip.
There were others who were apparently involved in the darker arts which were still practiced even in my childhood. I grew up in a world where the Welsh word rheibo, to curse, was in common use. I notice that a Mr Pryse of Ffos-y-gravel gave generously to the Llandre church’s one million pound fund, with a contribution of £100 (Enoch, 2002, p.147). He was a relative of the Pryse's of Brynbwl and therefore of the Pryse's of Gogerddan. He must have been having an each way bet as he is the feared conjurer mentioned in The White Lanes of Summer, where it records that when Mr Pryse’s coffin was lowered into the grave hordes of black goblins escaped (Macdonald, 1975, p.69). The present incumbent of Ffos-y-gravel, Mr Iorwerth Mason, related that Mr Pryse built the farmhouse with very high ceilings to accommodate a tall lady from Llandre whom he intended to marry. Alas it was not to be, and as Mr Mason wryly observed, “despite a fearsome reputation he wasn’t much of a conjurer after all” (I. Mason, pers. comm. 1999). Even an Enlightenment sophisticate like Lewis Morris believed in ‘knockers’, which were supposed to be beings who lived in the earth and caused knocking sounds often heard in the lead mines of Ceredigion.
Another story about a curse was told to me by Thomas James Davies about his father, long time merchant seaman Thomas Davies. When Thomas Davies b.1901, was 11 years old his school days had ended so he was looking for a job somewhere in Borth or the surrounding area. Upon hearing that there was a job vacancy at nearby Ynysfergi Farm, Tom went along the track down the Rhyd over the railway line and on to the farm. After securing the job he was walking back the way he had come when he met a tall ginger haired and bearded man who stopped him and asked the way to the farm. Tom pointed the farm out and asked him if he was after the job there. Yes replied the man, whereupon Thomas informed him that he had just been given the position. The tall man became very angry and roundly cursed him and said” you have not heard the last of this or me”.
After going to bed that night Tom became very ill and had great difficulty in breathing. His mother became quite distraught and early in the morning sought out a local healer who came to the house. After a long conversation in Welsh with his mother the man put a small leather pouch on a string around young Thomas's neck and told his mother that “when the amulet disappears Tom will be well”. Tom remembered little of the first few days but gradually became better and after a week he woke up and realised that whatever infection he had was gone, and so too the amulet. He asked his mother if she had taken it off “no” she replied after searching through the bedclothes and on the floor. To his dying day he could not explain what had happened.
As a boy Thomas was hardly able to walk until he was 8 years of age. His father Richard would carry him to the rock pools at the southern end of Borth every morning summer and winter and rub his little legs with seaweed. Thomas later conjectured that it might have been something to do with the iodine or the daily massages he received. He was fit and active by the time he was 10 and throughout his live a great walker up until his death at the age of 84.
In 1917 at the age of 16, Thomas had to go to Portsmouth to identify the body of his father Richard. Richard Davies had died on the minesweeper Evangel. This harrowing event made Thomas decide to join the Merchant Navy, which he served in up until the 1950's. In his 33 years of service he was torpedoed twice in W.W.2 and was once presumed drowned. Tom's brother Richard was in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was captured in the Far East by the Japanese. Life being intolerable in the camp he planned an escape. The burial of prisoners during the night was the norm and Richard hid under one of the cadavers which were carried to the grave site on a crude stretcher. He managed to escape and thankfully as this was near the end of the war survived and was repatriated . He could not settle down to a normal life and became a sort of tramp wandering about the countryside as if he was for ever in escape mood, and it was with great sadness that his brother Tom heard of his death in 1964.
There were three Borth master mariners all named David Davies. One was known as Captain Davies, Glanwern, born 1838, who lived in Glanwern House and was the skipper and principal owner of the schooner Cecil Brindley. He co-owned this vessel with Borth man John Francis. This vessel had strong associations with the village as it had been another Borth man, William Richards' first command in 1873. Another Captain David Davies born in 1854 began his career at 14, and by the time he was 18 he was A.B on the schooner Beatrice. He was lost in 1892 in a massive storm with all the crew whilst in command of the Eleanor and Jane, a Westcountry built schooner which he also owned. The third moved to Aberdyfi around 1875 after marrying Margaret, his first wife. This David Davies, born on the 7th of May 1848 was one of four children of mariner John Davies and his wife Mary, formerly Jenkins. Two of his brothers William and Thomas had connections with the sea and lived at Barry; the third, Lewis, lived at Taliesin. Captain Davies began his long maritime career at 14 years of age on the schooners Sarah, Jane Sophia and the Frances Poole. He was soon a first mate on deepwater sailing ships, which meant his navigational skills were outstanding. It was from the 1,065 ton barque Snowdon, whose commander was Borth master mariner John Lewis, that David Davies went to Hull in 1882 to sit his masters examination where on the 23rd May he was granted his Master Mariner’s Certificate, no.93613.
Many of his discharge papers and letters of recommendation have survived, as has a painted portrait of him and a model of a fully rigged ship named after his first wife Margaret Davies, formerly Gray-Jones. In light of his association with the aforementioned Captain Richards, and the existence of this fine painting, it is easy to identify him as the first mate in the crew photograph of the S.S. Eira taken in 1884. Captain Davies also appears in a photograph of Borth skippers. Like so many others he learnt his sea-going skills in childhood sailing Borth waters chasing the herring.
As well as captains there were ships with the same name. There were three Borth vessels with the name Picton, a sloop in 1824, a smack in 1832 and a schooner in 1839. According to Miss Davies of Angorfa House, there was apparently another schooner called Picton Castle that had connections with the Hughes family of Castle Stores. Prior to the Hughes' association with this property, Captain Hugh James lived at No 2, Picton Terrace, Upper Borth, in the late 1870s, when there were two dwellings at the site of todays Castle Stores. The name Picton moved northwards from here to todays Arfor for a time, and then on to its current location. (Teddy Davies, pers. comm. 2003). There were also two John Wesleys, one a fishing boat, the other a schooner and two Pilgrims, one a brig and the other a schooner. Occasionally a sloops name was used again when the owners acquired a schooner, examples are Francis, Catherine and Britannia. The sloop Mary and Ellen was built at Leri Bridge and its schooner namesake was built by shipwright Thomas Richards at Aberdyfi at the cost of 1,832 pounds. Captain John Davies, born 1850, of the schooner Pilgrim, lived at today’s Holmleigh, next door to the then, 1 London Place, now known as Nerella, where there was a murder in 1894. During an attempted theft, seaman Thomas Richards, brother of Captain William Richards, murdered his wife's sister Mary Davies who was wife of mariner James Davies. The case and trial was reported in the Cambrian News at the time. The perpetrator Thomas Richards, had sailed as a 19 year old crew member on the Cecil Brindley with Captain Richards in 1873. It is believed that the murder took place upstairs in the northern end bedroom. Thomas Richards was hung in Carmarthen and his 38 year old victim buried in Pengarn cemetry (A. Budge, pers. comm. 2003). Perhaps this is the reason that Captain William Richards moved to live at Pengarn and his sister Margaret moved with her husband Captain John Vaughan to live at Llanelli.
Often local boys as young as eight went to sea. This was the age that the uncles of Captain John Davies of Maesteg house began their maritime careers. Unfortunately all three had died before 30 years of age from tuberculosis. In his memoirs Captain Davies tells us of the quirky coincidence where both he and his father had the same skipper on their respective maiden voyages; namely Captain Richard Jenkins who was still commanding ships at 75 years of age. In his youth Captain Davies had served under sail with Captain Evan Lewis Davies of Borth on the barque Zinnia, and went on to have a remarkable career during which he became a ship owner. From 1917 to 1937 in that capacity he owned schooners and steamers. He ‘tramped’ all over the world and was fondly known as John ‘China’, as he had captained the Klukiang, and the Foochow (H.Hughes, pers.comm. 2003). One of Captain Davies’s schooners the Brandon, was sunk by enemy fire in 1918, and another schooner the Industry, still working well into the 20th century, was wrecked in 1921 on the Irish coast. Thomas Rowley Morris and Arnold Davies were on board when she struck rocks , luckily they and the crew managed to get ashore easily. From that time on the captain concentrated on steamers such as the Plas Dinam of Aberystwyth.
Some ships captains resided in the outlying areas of Borth. Captain Richard Edwards and Captain David Davies lived at Glanwern as did the Lloyd family of mariners of Cwmcethin House who are the antecedents of Gwen and Derek Lloyd. Captain Daniel of Pengraig Farm owned the first Borth schooner, the Francis; Captain Thomas Jones of Ffos y Gravel Farm owned and captained the brig Pilgrim and Captain Hugh Hughes of Tynparc was associated with the sloop The Dart. Of the 142 mariners that were members of the Castell Gwallter Ivorites 97 were from Morfa Borth, 20 from Borth, 3 from Gwastad Y Borth, 3 from Penybont, 3 from Glanwern, 2 from Dolybont and 2 from Henllys Farm. William James and his brother Enoch were both master mariners, and lived at Henllys in the early 1870s. Some of the James family moved to Aberdyfi and were involved with the Ocean Belle, Dorothy, Island Maid and the Glendovey; interestingly their successor at Henllys Farm, Richard Watkin Smith had shares in the Glendovey in 1878.
The surrounding villages of Llandre, Talybont, Taliesin and Trerddol also had ships captains. An example is Captain Griffiths who was the grandfather of today’s Mrs Davies of Dolclettwr Hall Farm. He was born in Dolau of farming stock, and at fourteen had to leave home to make his own way. He went out into the world to work for the vicar of Pennal with only half a crown his widowed mother had given him. He had not been at the post long when he demonstrated his mettle by refusing to carry firewood into the vicarage on a Sunday. His employer quickly realised that young Griffiths was intelligent and had great potential. Having demonstrated a penchant for seafaring, his ecclesiastical mentor sent him to learn navigation with Cranogwen at Llangrannog, south Ceredigion. He eventually gained his Master Mariner’s Certificate at Dublin and commanded the Roebuck and The Mexican. On one of his voyages it was presumed after a two year absence that the ship and crew were lost. No sooner had the insurance been paid out and all other matters settled, than the long overdue ship returned causing great consternation. Apparently after this event Captain Griffiths gave up seafaring to concentrate on farming at Dolclettwr (pers. comm. Davies, 2003).
Mrs Davies of Dolclettwr Farm's great aunt Anne also married a sea captain, Captain William Richards of Borth. Obviously sea captains were quite a catch, but often the uncertain fate of a seafarers life intervened. Amongst many tales of loss and ensuing hardship is the case of Captain David Rees and his wife Elizabeth. In 1879 they became the proud owners of the barque Drusus. This vessel had been built in Sunderland in 1857 and had a male figurehead depicting a Roman noble. An artist was commissioned to paint her so she could be displayed proudly on the wall of Gloucester House. Two years later Captain Rees died and his widow Elizabeth tried to continue with their investment, but after another two years the vessel had to be sold. From that time there is no further mention of the human players in this drama, nor is there at present any documentation of the subsequent fate of the vessel. A descendant of the Rees family on his mother's side, Hugh Hughes, has the painting of this beautiful ship at his home.
When Methodism was at its height some people moved from chapel to a newer chapel, or from the church to chapel. this could sometimes be uncomfortable as there were confrontations. This is exemplified in the tale of a local man who moved from Soar to the newly built Libanus chapel. He was accosted by his former preacher who spied him digging peat on Cors Fochno. Dismounting from his pony the preacher proffered the usual greeting and then pointedly asked him "why is it that you now go to your sister-in-law's house when you have a welcoming home with a fine wife who loves you"? The poor man found it hard to look the clergyman in the eye and answer the question with its non too subtle message. Soon the recalcitrant was back amongst his original congregation.
George Dutton had a penchant for jumping into rockpools when prawning, always predicated by him declaring "Oh Sweet Sir Garnet". He was once engaged to help David Hughes clean out the cesspit at Boston House. All the seaside dwellings at Morfa Borth had a cesspit in their pallisaded backyards which was a dry stone walled inverted cone that allowed continual seepage down through the shingle bank. The job began with the pebbles being cleared away to reveal the wooden plank cover which was removed to access the pit. The cesspool was duly cleaned out at high tide for obvious reasons. With this stage completed Dutton asked for some of his fee in advance and promised to return later in the evening to complete the job. David Hughes woke up early the next morning and decided to close off the cesspit himself rather than wait for his errant helper to turn up. Lo and behold there was Georgie Dutton fast asleep at the bottom of the pit. He’d been to the Friendship Inn after leaving Boston House and returned late at night to finish the job. Obviously fatigued with ale he decided to throw himself in the pit to sleep (H. Hughes, pers. comm. 2003). One wonders if he mumbled “Oh sweet Sir Garnet”on the way down to his stoney bed.
There is a story about a particularly tough, feisty, pipe-smoking lady who lived in a cottage opposite today’s Westward Ho. Being the main breadwinner, after a hard days cockling she was in the habit of taking a drink at the Friendship Inn. On one occasion, having run out of funds but still thirsty, she walked back home to get some money from her ne'er do well husband. He refused to give her any so she changed tack and started canoodling with him. Feigning passion, she suggested he remove his clothing and retire to the bedroon. Bursting with enthusiasm he willingly followed her instructions. Whilst he eagerly awaited her arrival she swiftly went through the pockets of his discarded clothing and took his money and returned to continue her revelry at the Inn.
As in other villages there was a mixture of saints and sinners; the latter long remembered because of their notoriety. Fiery and passionate individuals were abundant as local newspaper reports bear testament to. Descendants even today recall such dramas. Land and boundary disputes between neighbours and within families were often bitter; sometimes over a few inches of ground exacerbated by land being in short supply at Morfa Borth. There were grievances over wills. Captains and crews thrown off trains for threatening behaviour. Assaults and acrimony over the paternity of children. One local captain's towering vanity was displayed in a divorce case held in the north east of England which revealed him to be a braggard and a bully...his wife justifiably won her case and was awarded just compensation.
Other that these human foibles the majority were kind and gentle but fiercely protective when it came to their own community. When a widow or a poor wife of an absent seafarer were threatened with eviction the womefolk would provide a newborn baby, of which there was a constant supply, to place in the arms of the eviction threatened party. This nullified the eviction process, often to the fury of the bailiffs, as it was a ploy used repeatedly. Records reveal that Borth captains rallied to support and sign pension petitions to aid elderly or widowed women who had often descended into pauperism as a result of the toll the sea took on their loved ones. Even the poorest were facilitated in gaining shares in vessels. A single share in Borth could be owned by up to a dozen people which all helped to keep the wolf from the door.
The unforgettable individuals in Borth would dwarf the fictional ones in Dylan Thomas's masterpiece Under Milkwood. There were many colourful Captain Kats and numerous versions of each of his play's colourful characters.
I contend that one did not have to read the classics to understand the human condition as it was all played out in this sea girt village which I feel proud and priviledged to be a native of.