A Brief History of Llangelynin Parish




The extent of this study is the ancient ecclesiastical parish of Llangelynin, and in particular the two settlements that fall in the northern part, namely Friog and Arthog. The parish of Llangelynin is bounded to the west by the coast, the Dysynni estuary on the south, and with the adjacent parishes of Llanegryn to the east and Dolgellau to the north. The parish encompasses 11,004 acres, 2,445 of which are water, and contains the townships of Bodgadfan, Cregennen, Morfa, Llanfeddiged and Llywngrwril. The parish is in the Hundred of Talybont and the county of Merioneth and also includes part of the Cader Idris mountain range. The National Gazetteer 1868 described the parish as ‘bleak and uninteresting.’ Within this seemingly natural and rugged landscape are the visible remains of human activity stretching back thousands of years.




Archaeological evidence, including the five finds of stone axes, suggest the activity occurred during the Neolithic period from the 4th to 3rd millennium BC, which is true for most of the county. The absence of chambered tombs from this period indicates that although there was activity in the district this may have been nomadic such as hunting rather than any permanent settlement. Archaeology also suggests an increase in activity during the 2nd millennium BC in two distinct areas. One is on the south-facing slopes of Allt Llwyd near Llwyngwrill, and the other on the plateau south of Cregennan Lakes. Both contain a variety of burial monuments, and the Cregennan area also has a number of standing stones, some of which contain cup markings.


Both these areas are linked by the prehistoric track called Ffordd Ddu, and the Cregennan area is also approached by another ancient route from the west marked with two rows of standing stones and several burial cairns (Bowen and Gresham, 1967). No actual settlement of that period has been identified despite a stone axe hammer found at Fegla Fawr, a hillock at the south side of the Mawddach, and two separate finds of bronze axes on the hill slopes between Friog and Arthog. A further two bronze axes have also been found on the south slopes of Allt Llwyd. In a turbary at Tyn y Coed, Arthog, a copper urn 19 inches in depth and 14½ inches in diameter at the top and 11½ inches at the bottom was found in 1926. A further find from Arthog is that of a bronze bucket imported from central Europe belonging to the 1st millennium BC. (Hemp, 1960). This may have been a ritual deposit although its location close to the head of a navigable creek still does not confirm settlement and may have been discarded while travelling.


Evidence of the first settlements dates from the 1st millennium BC and includes the hillfort above Llwyngwril at Castell y Gaer (Another two hillforts from the 1st millennium are to be found in the neighbouring parish of Dolgellau overlooking the Mawddach at Pared Cefn Hir and Craig y Castell). The settlement at Llys Bradwen (see Medieval), along with its field systems, as well as Cyfannedd and Bryn Seward, are again all linked together by Ffordd Ddu. The sites around Cyfannedd include burial cairns and later prehistoric settlements comprising hut circles, enclosures and associated walls. There are the remains of a settlement from this period, as well as field systems and enclosures at Allt Llwyd, as well as between Llwyngwril and Islawr Dref. Excavation of a round house in advance of forestation at Cyfannedd Fawr above Friog showed it to have been occupied between the 1st millennium BC and 3rd century AD (Crew, 1978, 1979, 1981) and most of the known settlements in this area probably belong to the same period. A rectangular enclosure at Pant y Llan, south of Cregennan Lakes, may have been a slightly later settlement having yielded imported Roman pottery. 

Cregennan Lakes with the Mawddach estuary and Barmouth in the background



From the earliest times the ferries along the shores of Cardigan Bay were of major importance. Until the Reformation they were usually served by monks. This probably also applied to the Mawddach ferry which may have been under the control of the monks from Egryn Abbey just north of Barmouth, or Cymer Abbey near Dolgellau, or the minor monastery in Barmouth, almost forgotten except for a few place names. The island in the mouth of the river still bears the name Ynys y Brawd, the Isle of the Brothers.


The first written reference to the area is a visit by Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, during the spring of 1188. Accompanied by two Welsh princes, two archdeacons and two Cistercian abbots, the retinue left Hereford on Ash Wednesday to reach Chester by Easter. Giraldus Cambrensis, known as Gerald the Welshman, was one of the archdeacons and left an account of the journey, although his descriptions between the Dovey and the Mawddach are sparse. After spending the night at Tywyn, Gerald wrote Early next morning Gryffydd, son of Conan, came to meet us, humbly and devoutly asking pardon for having so long delayed his attention to the Archbishop. On the same day we ferried over the bifurcate river Maw, where Malgo, son of Rhys, who had attached himself to the Archbishop as a companion to the King’s Court, discovered a ford near the sea. That night we lay at Llanfair, that is, the Church of St. Mary, in the province of Ardudwy. (The term ‘bifurcate’ suggests the ferry employed two boats, one running from Penrhyn Point to the island of Ynys y Brawd, and the other from the island to Barmouth).


Llys Bradwen is thought to have been occupied during the early 12th century by Edowain ap Bradwen, a chieftain of one of the fifteen Welsh tribes during the reign of Edward I. The term ‘Llys’ means court, specifically that of the commote. This was an area of jurisdiction, as well as administration and tax collection. By the 13th century it had become the venue of the peripatic court of the princes of Merioneth. The remains reveal a large square enclosure about 115 feet across with a smaller one of 50 feet attached to the eastern side. The entrance to the main enclosure lies to the south of the smaller unit and Roman pottery has also been found in this area. A large boulder stood on each side of the entrance but these were demolished during the second half of the 19th century. On the terrace to the north appears evidence of cultivation. Edowain and his household occupied the larger of the two units with the other being used for court business. During the reign of Henry IV, Ednyved ab Aaron, grandson of Eduowain, entertained Owain Glyndwr after his defeat by Henry IV, hiding him in a cave near the ancient parish church (When Samuel Lewis wrote his A Topical Dictionary of North Wales in 1833 it was supposedly ‘almost chocked up with sand’).


The noted Elizabethan astrologer, Arise Evans, described as ‘an imposter of considerable fame’ was born in the parish. According to Chalmers biography of 1812 Evans was raised in Oxford where he attended university and applied his mind to astrology. He later entered into orders having obtained a cure in Staffordshire but was forced to leave, ‘not only on account of the debaucheries for which he was infamous’, but, as William Lilly, a fellow astrologer recorded ‘for giving judgement upon things lost, which is the only shame of astrology.’ He was described as the most saturnine person that ever was beheld, of middle stature with a broad forehead, beetle-browed, thick shouldered, flat-nosed, full-lipped, down-looked, of black curling stiff hair and splay-footed. He is said to have had a most piercing judgement, naturally, upon a figure of theft, and many other questions, though for money he would at any time give contrary judgement. He was addicted to drinking, as well as women, and when drinking would become quarrelsome and abusive so that he was seldom without a black eye or a bruise of some kind or other. He made a great many antimonial cups, upon the sale of which he principally subsisted. After he was forced from his home at Enfield, Staffordshire, where he also offered tuition in archaic languages, arithmetic and other mathematical sciences, he returned with his family to London where Lilly found him in 1632 and received from him instruction in astrology. It was well known that Evans went beyond simple astrology and had used ‘the circular way of invocating spirits.’ In 1630 he was requested by Lord Bothwell and Sir Kenelm Digby to manifest a spirit which he promised to do. When they were all in the body of the circle which he had made Evans, some time after the invocation, was suddenly taken out of the room and carried into a field and flung down near Battersea Causey, close to the River Thames. The following morning a countryman going to his labour, and espying a man in black clothes, came to him and woke him for it seemed he was asleep, and asked him how he came to be there. Evans by this understood his condition and when Lilly enquired afterwards on what account had the spirits carried him away he answered that ‘he did not at the time of invocation make any suffumigation at which the spirits were vexed.’ Both Bothwell and Digby got home without any harm. During the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I these ridiculous imposters were the fashionable credulity of the times, and the greatest men were often the victims of these pretenders to occult science.

Cymmer Abbey



The ancient parish church is St Celynin’s at Llangelynin, beautifully situated with the cliffs to the east and the sea to the west. Celynin was a monk from Ireland who travelled to the area to spread Christianity, and may have established the first church (of which nothing remains) which would have been a simple dwelling. Disappearing into history he reappeared several centuries later as a descendant of the Welsh king Cunedda Wledig.

St Celynin’s at Llangelynin

The original 13th century church would have had lower walls than the present structure, with narrow windows and topped with a steeply-pitched thatched roof. Sometime during the early 16th century the walls were raised to their current height and larger windows inserted and the pitch of the roof decreased. The alterations can be seen by comparing the square quarried stone with that of the smaller, rounded or rectangular rougher stonework. Tree-ring dating of the tie-beams and rafters of the roof reveal a felling date of between 1502 and 1530.


The south porch which houses the belfry was added during the mid-17th century as the original bell is dated 1660. The current slate floor dates from the end of the 17th century. The holy water stoop in the porch is carved from a pebble from the beach. The narrow slit in the east wall allows the bell ringer to view the arrival of funeral procession.


There is no division between the nave and the chancel. On the south wall of the nave is a coffin bier. The coffin would be strapped to the bier and then harnessed to horses between the front and rear shafts. These were used to transport the coffin along the bridal paths and mountain tracks. 

Coffin bier

In 1823 the 16th century rood screen was replaced, some parts of the screen being incorporated into the new one. Wood from the original screen has been tree-ring dated to between 1497 and 1533. At the same time as the new screen Georgian box pews were installed showing the names of the occupants. Additional windows were also inserted in the north wall.


During the early 1840s there were two rows of eighteen pews flanking the nave with a central aisle. An upper west gallery contained two rows of pews, five against the south wall but only three along the north to accommodate the dog-leg staircase that allowed access from below.


In 1842 the new church at Llwyngwril was consecrated and the original church stood dormant and fell into disrepair until being restored by Harold Hughes in 1917. Sir Stephen Glynn visited the church in 1850 and noted ‘the interior is in a miserable state of neglect.’ A description from ‘Archeologia Cambrensis’ in 1884 noted that ‘the walls are green with damp; from the same cause the memorial tablets have their inscriptions obliterated or have fallen from the walls. The east window and the two-light window are filled in with rotting boarding, through the chinks in which the wind and rain enter.’ Hughes’s restoration included the removal of the west gallery.


Further restoration work was undertaken in 1970 and 2003. The latter date included anchoring the west wall to the main body of the building, walls re-pointed and lime-washed internally, and the roof re-slated. It was during these renovations that the wall painting of ‘Memento Mori’ (‘Remember you must die’) was discovered. This is likely to date from the Tudor period. The majority of the head is missing, probably due to this being where the gallery was located. The window high up on this wall was originally inserted to increase lighting in the gallery.


Two sections of biblical texts also partially survive on the north wall. The one in the nave reads (in Welsh) ‘And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments’ (Ex 20. 6). The one in the chancel reads (in English) ‘Lord I have loved the habitation [of thine] house; and the place where [thine honour dwelleth]’ (Psal 26. 8).


In the churchyard one of the tombstones marks the grave of a cabin boy aged sixteen. By the door lies the body of Abraham Ward, acknowledged as the king of the Welsh Gypsies

Wall painting Momento Mori

The records of St Celynin survive from 1618 until the mid-1860s when the new church, also dedicated to St Celynin, was built at Llwyngrwril. The burial registers reveal that the churchyard contains 2,500 internments, although ‘unofficial’ or un-registered burials may inflate this figure.


The first church at Fairbourne was a small wooden structure erected by a Lay reader, which hosted a communion service once a month. In 1924 a legacy of £3,000 and an annual endowment of £100 from a former rector, the Rev J Evan Davies, was used to establish a permanent church. A committee was formed under the Chairmanship of Lord Kenilworth, who had built a bungalow on the hill known as Ynys Bugeiliaid (Shepherd’s Island). The proposed site, a rocky outcrop of Ynysfaig, was given by the Fairbourne Estate. The church, designed by J B Mendham, was built by local labour, who quarried off the top of the hill to form a plateau, using the same stone they had removed for the walls of the building. A contractor from St Albans was responsible for the roof, and it was through them that oak from Hatfield Park, home of the Cecil family, was obtained. The Jacobean pulpit and altar rails are also made from the same oak. The tiles in the centre of the chancel and in the sanctuary came from several old chapels of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges as a gift to the architect. The east window shows St Cynon, who with St Cadfan, is reputed to have formed the monastic settlement on Bardsey Island about 500AD. The holy women, St Gwenfaen and St Cywair, by his side, are believed to have given St Cynon his first Christian training. The first sod was cut in December 1925, the foundation stone laid by the Bishop of Bangor in July 1926, and the completed building was consecrated in July 1927.

St Cynon's, Fairbourne

St Cynon’s has remained largely unaltered during its ninety years of existence. The nave is flanked only by a north aisle with a porch and vestry set against the south wall. There was also a church dedicated to St Mary at Rhoslefain.


Non-Conformity also existed within the parish. The Congregationalists held their first meetings at Bwlchgwyn Farm in 1865. Later they acquired a chapel near Morfa Mawddach. The Calvinistic Methodists also held meetings in farm houses before building Saron Chapel near to Sea View. Outgrowing this, they erected a new chapel on land provided by Colonel Sir Percy Simner at the corner of the lane where Murneauadd stands. The foundation stone was laid by Simner and the centenary services were held in 1965.


One unusual feature Llywngrwril at is the Quaker burial ground towards the southern end in Bryn Tallwyn. By the late 17th century, many families in the area were Quakers. Dr George Walker (1807-84) who developed the quarries in the Panteinion valley is interred in the Quaker burial ground.

Fairbourne from Fford Ddu



The Fford Ddu, or Black Road, sometimes referred to as The Roman Road (although, as already mentioned, was in existence during the prehistoric period), runs from Dolgellau to Llwyngwril. A series of branches from this road ran to the settlements below including Friog and Arthog. At its northern end it connected with other mountain roads running to Bala and Dinas Mawddwy, and at its southern end the valleys of Dysnni and the Dovey. The branch to Friog ran from near the ancient farmhouse of Cyfannedd Fawr down into the Pantenion Valley. In 1748 Cyfannedd Fawr was occupied by Morus Jones, a well-known poet and winner of many bardic chairs.


The Act for turnpiking all principal highways in Merioneth was passed in 1777. The road from Dolgellau to Barmouth was completed shortly afterwards although it was not until the mid 19th century that a turnpike road was constructed from Tywyn through Llwyngwril, Friog and Arthog and on to Dolgellau. This expanded an existing trackway that appears on the first Ordnance Survey map of 1837 and which also suggests that Ffordd Ddu was still a prominent a routeway. The same map reveals that the island of Ynys y Brawd to be a much larger landmass with the main channel of the river flowing to the north of it, entering the sea where a sandbar now blocks the way. Penrhyn is shown towards the end of the peninsula, with Ynysfaig approximately where the shops and railway station now stand. Henddol appears to refer to the area around the church and Salt’s garage, while Friog is the area on the main road stretching from the junction of the road leading up to Panteinion Valley and the one that runs down to the beach road. This road began at the ferry, travelled through Penrhyn and along its current course parallel with the shingle outcrop before making a sharp turn to rise and meet the main road where the toll house stands. The tenancy of these toll houses was auctioned annually. At the 1862 auction the house and gate at Friog was assessed as producing £50 annually. Other local gates included Llanelltyd at £163, Barmouth at £120, and Rhoslefain at £28.


We already have a brief description of the ferry from Gerald of Wales. For two hundred years following the Reformation this was run by local fishermen. A survey taken during the reign of Elizabeth I it was recorded that ‘Res ap Res and Harry ap Eden with their towe litel bootes carried men across that passaidge.’ Increased use necessitated a more substantial ferry that was worked by two boats, one for passenger traffic and the other for goods and livestock. It was a common sight to see sheep and cattle being ferried across the estuary. There was a house built at Penrhyn Point about 1820 as a shelter for those waiting for the ferry. At one stage it became roofless and was renovated with a bell added along with a sign that read ‘To cross the ferry ring the bell.’ Children used the bell as target practice with stones often hitting the roof slates so that the house became roofless again. This was still in existence one hundred years later when coloured postcards of the Bellhouse were sold when the Fairbourne Tramcar used to run to the ferry.


During the mid-19th century the ferry was run by Penrhyn Farm, the tenant of which leased it from the newly-formed Barmouth Harbour Trust. This was a major form of income for the farm, as the Catalogue of the Sale of Ynysfaig Hall and Farm, Friog Farm and Penrhyn Farm 1860, confirmed that a new carriage road had been built because the Royal Mail route ran ‘through this property.’ The farm also had stables in which those going to Barmouth on business could leave their horses if they preferred rather than taking them across the ferry.


The mail coach, which was a larger version of a gig, would leave Dolgellau and on reaching Barmouth the horse would be stabled at Cors-y-Gedol Mews where Woolworth’s later stood. The horse and gig then returned to Dolgellau and the mail transferred to a larger coach to continue the longer journey to Machynlleth.


This also helps to explain why the watercourse by Einion House is known as ‘Pistyll-y-mail’ being the point where the horses would be watered. That it is located near to what was the New Inn meant that it was also convenient for human refreshment with passengers waiting as the coach rounded the corner from the beach. Passengers were carried on all mail routes, where possible, as a means of reducing costs.

Einion House, Friog

Cambrian Railways was formed in 1864 through the amalgamation of five smaller companies. The line from Aberystwyth to Portmadog, via Machynlleth and Barmouth, opened on July 3rd 1865 with the exception of the section that skirts the cliffs south of Friog through Gallt Ffynnon yr Hydd. This was the most difficult section to engineer and for eighteen months a coach operated between Llwygwril and Penrhyn ferry. The ferry continued to be used until the line opened in its entirety, including the completion of the bridge that spans the estuary, on October 10th 1867. It quickly became apparent that this was detrimental to larger ships wishing to access the original Barmouth harbour which lay further up the estuary than the present one and a cast iron swing section of the bridge was added in 1899. In 1868 a siding was added at Morfa Mawddach station to service materials brought down from the slate quarries above Friog.


The railway had a drastic effect upon the ferry. The Catalogue of the Sale of Ynysfaig Hall and Farm, Friog Farm and Penrhyn Farm 1860 recorded David Owen as the tenant of Penrhyn Farm. Seven years later it was occupied by Gryffyd Owen, probably his son. He was given £50 by the Cambrian Railways Company, not as compensation, but as a present when the bridge was constructed. Owen was ill-advised in 1867 to sue the Company for the loss of his livelihood. The Company pointed out that they were not stopping Owen from operating the ferry nor were they compelling the public to use the railway.


The Minute Books of British Rail which refer to the incident are brief. They begin in April 1867 when Owen’s claim to the ferry was read, and two months later a notice from Owen’s solicitor was passed to the solicitor of the Railway Company. Nothing more was recorded until April 1869 when another Minute disclosed that there had been a trial in the Queen’s Bench, and an award made. Again two years elapsed before another Minute of June 1871 stated an award had been made to the arbitrator for the loss of ferry business sustained by the claimant and a sum of £600 was recommended to be paid. Being more than four years between the first claim and the decision to pay the award Owen suffered in both purse and health, and then it appeared that he did not receive the money, which may have been paid to the owners of the ferry. Possibly, when the fact emerged that the claimant was only the annual tenant of the ferry, and that the owners themselves made no claim the whole case collapsed.


In 1899, when a large part of would later become Fairbourne was owned by Sir Arthur McDougall, he built at his own cost, a station to serve his development of the area. Just before the station was opened a group of local people approached McDougall with the request that the station carry the original name of Ynysfaig. McDougall said that had they approached him earlier he would have gladly agreed, but the name boards were already painted with the new name of Fairbourne. The newly-formed Fairbourne Estate Company purchased the station two years later and built the station house.


On New Year’s Day 1883 the early morning train making its way down the cliffs met with some obstruction, never fully explained, causing the engine to hurtle to the beach below killing instantly both the driver and fireman. The engine had uncoupled itself from the train although the first coach tilted dramatically over the edge, hanging only by its couplings to the coaches behind. Fortunately the coach was empty, as was almost the whole train. History tragically repeated itself on March 4th 1933. At the same location the early morning train again crashed down to the rocks below killing both driver and fireman. Neither of the two enquiries found a conclusive cause for the accidents. The watchman had patrolled that section of the line and found it free from obstacles. Possibly the vibration of the approaching train had brought down loosened rock at the moment of passing. Immediately after the Second disaster the hillside was cut back a considerable distance above the railway line and road. A strong retaining wall was constructed with a sloping roof to ensure that any future landslides would be propelled directly into the sea below.


The extension along the southern shore of the Mawddach was closed in 1964-1967.

Fairbourne, early 20th century

Friog and Fairbourne


The southern shore of the Mawddach failed in its attempt to mirror the success of Barmouth on the north in becoming a haven for Victorian holidaymakers. Tourists began to trickle into the area since the beginning of the 18th century although it was not until the railway boom that Barmouth developed as a popular resort. John Hucks travelled through Barmouth in 1794 and his diary entry for July 29th recorded that ‘in season the company is full who resort thither for the purpose of bathing.’ The railway brought rapid expansion in the form of hotels and lodging houses to meet the influx of visitors. Previously Barmouth had been a small fishing community although towards the end of the 18th century it had grown into a small port, most notably for the export of locally-produced woollens. The northern shore attracted many artists, writers and other personalities through the combination of pleasant beaches set against the backdrop of wild mountain scenery. These included  Shelley (1812), Wordsworth (1824), Pennant, Darwin (1828-9, and many later visits up until his death), Ruskin, Gladstone and Wilberforce.


Fairbourne is almost exclusively a 20th century planned development. Much of the area of Morfa Mawddach was owned by the Ynysfaig Estate in 1703, and a map of Ynysgyfflog, Fegla Fawr and Fegla Fach drawn by T Roberts in 1804 (NLW 49-18-22) shows a huge area to the south-east of those areas as being unenclosed and labelled turbary. From that period, to at least 1836 (Roscoe, 1836), the area was known as Morfa Mannog and in the early 19th century, a vast quantity of peat was cut from here, dried out and ferried across to Barmouth for export or up to Llanelltyd from where it was sent to Dolgellau and its neighbourhood.


The diary of Elizabeth Baker, a resident in the home of Hugh Vaughan of Hengwrt, possibly employed in some secretarial capacity, and later who ‘took rooms in Dolgellau’, covers the years 1778-1786. On Saturday July 22nd 1780 she wrote Whilst preparing tea Mrs Jones acquainted me that her relation, Owen Owens, the deputy sheriff, went with several bailiffs to take David Williams of Henddol for a debt of £200 for smuggled goods, that he had given a note of hand to a Frenchman. Owens fired at him; David Williams returned the charge, wounding the deputy under the eye and in the side. Also, two of the bailiffs who lived at Bala were wounded. The surgeons, Owen and Roberts, are at Barmouth attending the three patients. Assistance has been demanded from Mr Corbet, Mr Wynne Nanney, Mr Hugh Roberts, etc. David Williams has fixed upon his house the English colours and defies the besiegers; on the other hand, report says that the posse comitatis will be raised and the house pulled down to seize the debtor. Unfortunately the diary provides no further information on the issue. Possibly Mrs Jones was more concerned with the injuries to her relation, the deputy sheriff, rather than the fate of David Williams. Subsequently, the dwelling was not pulled down and in 1860 was in the occupancy of a descendant, Lewis Williams.


David Williams had a son, William Williams. Elizabeth Baker’s entry for June 9th 1783 reads that an individual named Sidney Jones was brought to her with a paper, she being the only person in the neighbourhood who could read French. The paper had been drawn up by a notary in Corlech, Brittany, on behalf of Abraham Jones, the son of Sidney Jones, who for two years had been held hostage for the ransom of 250 guineas against the ship named ‘Friendship’, captained and owned by William Williams.  The Friendship had been captured and only allowed to depart on the solemn promise that Williams would pay the ransom within six weeks. Abraham Jones had since been imprisoned with ‘thieves and assassins’ on an allowance of 7½d a day, sleeping only on bare boards, and his health had seriously suffered. He therefore empowered his father, by the legal document, to seize and imprison Williams until the ransom had been paid, and satisfaction for his imprisonment and suffering. Baker wrote But whether this instrument will avail I am doubtful, for the scoundrel of a captain has sold the vessel for twelve hundred pounds, and the fact that a second vessel of his has been captured makes it unlikely that he is now possessed of the means to ransom the first.


At the beginning of the 19th century Ynysfaig Hall, (also known as The Plas, and later the Fairbourne Hotel), was the home of Thomas Jones, sheriff of the county. Thomas, along with and his brother Hugh, began the Old Bank in Dolgellau, (later taken over by the Midland Bank). Thomas also had his own private bard who lived with the family at the Hall, Dafydd Ionawr. Panteinion Hall was built towards the end of the 19th century and altered extensively during the 1930s.


The first Sunday School was started at Ynysfaig Farm by Mrs Jones (possibly the wife of Thomas Jones of Ynysfaig Hall) in 1812. There were fourteen pupils who met in the big kitchen of the farmhouse, and who were given religious instruction as well as being taught to read and write.


In 1865 Thomas Sarin, a railway contractor, purchased the Ynysfaig Estate, with the aim of developing land to the west of the new railway as part of a larger scheme to develop large areas of Cardigan Bay following the establishment of the Cambrian Railway. Work had begun at Aberystwyth and Borth when Sarin was made bankrupt. The estate passed through several hands until 1895 when it was purchased by Sir Arthur McDougall who also saw the potential for developing what was then known as Morfa Henddol, as well as land at Friog and Panteinion, into a seaside resort.


A plan for the site was drawn up in 1896 by Silk Wilson & Sons, Manchester, in which plots were allocated for 250 dwellings, a church, post office, hotel, market place and baths. In addition there was to be a 6 yard-wide esplanade that was to run for a mile and a third facing the sea, a pier with a pavilion, a landing stage for ocean-going ferries, and a wider road and new railway station. The whole was to be called South Barmouth. McDougall’s vision, however, never became a reality. By 1900 a few terraced houses had been built along Beach Road and Belgrave Road, along with a couple of shops and a post office (now part of the Emporium), as well as tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course and pavilion on Beach Road, with the former Penrhyn farmhouse becoming the new golf club house. Several wealthy industrialists bought plots and built holiday residences where their children stayed over the summer with their governesses, and where some families even spent Christmas away from the smog and smoke of the city.


Fairbourne continued to be developed but never became the resort which McDougall had envisaged, and in 1912 he sold it to the Fairbourne Estate Company. This was a syndicate of Lancashire businessmen, the chief of whom were Sir Peter Peacock, Messrs Harry Hawksworth Hornby, Robert Lloyd Jones and Arthur Peacock. The last individual was for many years the General Manager of the Estate Company and occupied Ynysfaig Hostel (formerly the Hall) after the tenancy of Mr Hornby. The Estate Company continued to develop Fairbourne slowly and operate the tramway.


Little remains of the brickyard McDougall started to help with the building of his resort just north of the railway station, but the light railway he laid from it to the main Beach Road, and from there to the shore, to carry building materials in horse-drawn trucks still survives. When this was completed the tramway was also used for passenger traffic and was extended to Penrhyn Point, although the section between the brickyard and Beach Road was discontinued. In 1916 the horse-drawn tramway was converted to the Fairbourne Minature Railway.


A manuscript in the County Archives records the thoughts of a group of guests who stayed at Sea View in September 1902. The bread they praise so highly was baked at Friog Farm by the farmer’s wife, Mrs Meredith, who kept a small shop there. This was later succeeded by D J Owen’s Valley Bakery, now known as Hen Bopty at Murneuadd. This, in turn was superseded by the Fairbourne Bakery. They stated that the trains from Fairbourne were inconvenient, stopping only by signal, and that the horse-drawn tramway running from opposite the emporium to the Bellhouse at Penrhyn Point for 2d. to catch the ferry, was ‘quite the nicest way to go to Barmouth.’ They make reference to the shop, the ‘church’, the tennis courts at the corner of Beach Road (the site now occupied by a shop and a bungalow), and the pavilion. This is not the present pavilion, the Methodist Holiday Centre known as Plas yr Antur (Adventure House). The 1902 pavilion was built as a Hall for concerts and public meetings, and on Sundays a place for the services of the Calvinistic Methodists. It was rented by the Education Committee when a school was formed and later bought by them and enlarged and improved. The school continued to be used until the late 1960s when replaced by a modern one built in the field opposite the Welsh Chapel.


On August 28th and 29th 1917, the Fairbourne Estate, then consisting of 370 acres including the Ynysfaig Hall Hotel, the Fairbourne Golf Course and the miniature railway, was auctioned by Knight, Frank and Rutley at the Fairbourne Pavilion. The original Ynysfaig estate was broken up and sold in parcels and since then Fairbourne has been subject to piecemeal development.


Eventually Penryn Farmhouse fell into disrepair although one part was still habitable and rented by the Merionethshire Golf Club. It was also used by visitors as a shelter when the weather was too bad for the ferry to run. When McDougall bought the estate he converted the stables and cowsheds opposite into a large bungalow.


The flood of October 1927 came during the night with the high tide that created damage all along the Cambrian coast. It smashed ‘the Prom’ which ran along the top of the shingle bank in a neat unbroken concrete path with steps at intervals and a couple of shelters from Sea View bungalow to the sand dunes near the golf house. Much of Fairbourne was under water including the basements and ground floors of properties in both Beach Road and Belgrave Road. The smashed concrete lay along the bank for years and the path from Beach Road corner to the golf house was never fully restored. A further flood in November 1938 was less drastic. After the Second World War the sea wall was constructed from near the golf house along the peninsula and during the early 1960s was joined up with the original section.


During the Second World War due to the physicality of Fairbourne beach it was feared that it would offer an ideal landing ground for the enemy. To combat this gigantic posts were erected to dissuade enemy aircraft. Concrete block houses were erected on the shingle spine linked by rows of tank traps affectionately known as ‘dragon’s teeth’ as a deterrent to landing crafts. These still exist as the cost of their removal after the War was considered prohibitive. The beach became a testing ground, especially for the ‘Ducks’ that would come down from  the camps and waddle over the golf course before taking to the water.


Throughout the War could be heard not only Welsh and English voices but also French, German and Italian from the Prisoners of War working on the farms. Due to the district being regarded as a Safe Area came an influx of evacuees. Village schools operated a half-shift system with many children accompanied by their own teachers. The school at Fairbourne catered for evacuees as far away as Llywngwril, and across the Mawddach including Barmouth and Dyffryn.


Groups of Polish soldiers were trained in the locality. They were billeted with families and were well-liked, being absorbed quickly into the community. Their headquarters was in the Pavilion and training included scaling the cliffs and traversing the mountainous terrain, as well as night manoeuvres.


Immediately after the War was the crash of a US troop-carrying plane on the mountainside above Arthog immediately after VE Day with the total loss of crew and homebound American troops.


Fairbourne doubled in size between 1955 and 1965. Two new streets were laid out, Francis Avenue and Llewelyn Drive, and the Springfield Hotel was built. Thirty new houses or bungalows were built on Belgrave Road, as well as others along the Front, on the hills, and in Friog. Three small caravan parks were laid out and the Shropshire Education Committee established a permanent camp at Bwlchgwyn.

Fairbourne 1908

Fairbourne beach - note the missing 'dragon's teeth'



Arthog largely comprises of clusters of 19th century terraces, along with a church, chapel, vicarage and school. Arthog Terrace, built in the 1860s, is a group of twelve gabled, rubble-built houses with a single slate roof and with their gardens located across the road. Y Bont is a similar mid-19th century terrace.  Arthog Hall was built in 1833 for Reginald Fourden, a Lancashire cotton-mill owner (on the site of the medieval Pwll-Arthog). The cottage and home farm stand nearby (both grade II), the latter with a range of agricultural outbuildings including a cart house, stable range and hay barn. The Old Lodge was built in 1835 to serve the hall (also listed).


Above Arthog Hall is Pant-Phylip, a one and a half storey, rubble-built vernacular farmhouse dated 1731. Garth y Fog farmhouse (grade II) is a small, two-storey, rubble-built vernacular farmhouse dated 1796. Tyn-y-Coed is a small Victorian country house built in eclectic Gothic style in the 1860s by David Davies shortly after purchasing the estate and beginning the nearby quarry.


The Calvinistic Methodists erected a chapel in 1808 to which the Sunday School was attached. The National School with its bell tower is dated 1844.


St Catherine’s church was built in the 1830s having a simple rectangular plan with a west gallery. This is accessed from an unusual two-storey vertical addition next to the open porch that houses a spiral staircase. The sanctuary and reredros are wood panelled. Opposite the church is the mill.


During the early 1890s Arthog (particularly Cantref Gwaelod) suffered serious flooding and the whole valley was submerged. The road by Barmouth View was submerged and children making their way to school in Arthog had to walk along the tops of walls where possible.


In 1894, Solomon Andrews, the Cardiff businessman who was also responsible for the development of Pwllheli and other resorts at the close of the 19th century, purchased a large quantity of land at Arthog, including Tyddyn Siefre with its defunct slate quarry. It was his intention to develop the area into a resort although only Mawddach Crescent was completed. In 1899 he built a network of tramways to carry quarry waste from the tips to build a sea-wall facing the estuary.




The settlement of Llywngrwril developed where the road crosses the Afon Gwrt. After the arrival of the railway with its own station the settlement expanded largely northwards along the coach road. The railway station is now a private house.


The school was raised by public subscription in 1831. The Rev. Morgan bequeathed a tenement called Ty-croes, and Mrs Morgan another called Pen yr Allt, in trust for the schooling of the poor children of the parish. The original parish church at Llangelynin was superseded by the new one built at Llwyngwril in 1846.


Llwyngwril also contains the remains of a Second World War camp which includes a blockhouse, rifle range, earthen butts and brick-faced concrete plinths along the coastal edge. There was also an army campsite at nearby Tonfanau, a reminder of which is the railway station that was built to service the camp but now consists of a platform only.




The total number of taxpayers in the Lay Subsidy Rolls for Merioneth 1292-3 suggests a population estimate for the parish of between 400 – 500. The rolls also record the parish of Llangelynin as being worth between 40-60 shillings per one thousand acres. There were twenty-one taxpayers in the Bodgadfan township suggesting a total population of 100. At Llanfendigaid there were twenty-three taxpayers. The highest taxpayer in the parish was Madin ap Adaf Nen from the Bodgadfan township which overall was one of the wealthiest parishes in the county, especially when compared with neighbouring Llanaber (30-40 shillings) and Brithdir and Dolgellau (20-30 shillings).


By the beginning of the 16th century the population of the parish, following the national trend in Britain of wars, crop failures and the Black Death, had fallen to around 300. However, the 16th century was a period of excessive growth so that by the beginning of the following century the total population of the parish had probably reached 700. The first of the national censuses in 1801 recorded a total of 754 inhabitants within the parish.





















Population of Llangelynnin from Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales 1870-72 by John Marius Wilson.


The 1891 national census for that part of the parish from Arthog to Friog totalled ninety-nine dwellings. The actual number of buildings, however, would have been more as the enumerator excluded chapels and schools. The total population was 377, comprising of 172 males and 205 females. This total area of the parish was divided into three groups based simply upon geography. Group one consisted of Arthog and its environs including Pant Phylip, Tyddyn Mawr, Haffotty Fach, Pant Llan, Minydon, and Fegla Fach to Tynewydd. Group two consisted of the area around Barmouth Junction  including Fegla fawr, Ynysgyffylog, Bronmeinion and Tyddyn Sieffre. Group three comprised of modern-day Fairbourne beginning at Bwlchgwyn and including Ynysfaig, Murenwedd, Brynmerig, Panteinion, Henddol and up to the old toll house.
































The majority of households in group one ranged in size from two to six, which was also true of group three. Those in group two were much smaller with few above the size of three, including a higher proportion of single-person occupancies. The largest household in group one was that headed by the Lewis family of Glanywern. This was a lodging house, occupied by the Lewis’s (a family of eight) and headed by 62-year-old market gardener and florist Thomas Lewis and his wife Mary, both originally from south Wales. Along with their four children was also a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Lodging with them was William Owen, the curate of Llangelynnin, three undergraduates from Oxford University and a law student from Lincoln’s Inn. The largest household in group two was Bronmerion, then a home for waifs and strays, headed by 41-year-old matron Elizabeth Legge, originally from Warwickshire. She and her three female assistants looked after seven boys ranging in age from five to eleven.


The average family size for group one was, like its household size, between two and six, while those families in groups two and three was largely between two and four. Most families were nucleated families, that is husband and wife (including the heads of households who were widowed) along with direct offspring. Less than a quarter of the households in both groups one and two consisted of extended families, and a lower proportion with just three of the twenty-four households in group three. The largest numbers of extended family members in group one was the total of twelve grandchildren.


Sixty of the 207 individuals in group one had been born in the parish (including the twenty-two that specifically stated Arthog and the individual that stated friog). Ninety-two came from other parts of Merionethshire , a third of these being from Dolgellau and other nearby places such as Llanegryn (9), Talyllyn (6), Barmouth (6) and Dyffryn (5). Twenty-six came from other parts of Wales and seventeen had arrived from England and two from Scotland.


Of the seventy-five individuals in group two twenty-seven had been born in the parish (including seven that stated Arthog). Nineteen came from other parts of the county (including five from Dolgellau), and fourteen from other parts of Wales. Seventeen English people had settled into the community, largely the railway workers around Barmouth Junction.


For the ninety-five individuals that comprised group three, thirty one had been born in the parish, with a further fifty-two from the same county, most notably Dolgellau (9) and Llanegryn (6). Only seven individuals were from other parts of Wales and only one individual from England.


Ten years later the 1911 census recorded a population total of 592 for the same area and 216 dwellings (compared with a population of 377 and 99 in 1891). This steep rise was a result of the building of Mawddach Crescent, four of which were either boarding or lodging houses, Mary Street in Arthog, and the development of Fairbourne. By 1911 there were ten dwellings on Beach Road, nine of which were boarding or lodging houses (although four were unoccupied), Alya Road with six uninhabited private houses and Belgrave Road with twenty new houses, eighteen of which were lodging houses (although seven were unoccupied).


In 1840 there was a total of 220 houses in the parish. During the next 40 years this figure steadily grew to 280. By the 1880s the number actually reduced but the following decade increased from 250 to almost 350 by the beginning of the 20th century. This figure remained fairly static, but following the Second World War rapidly increased from 350 to 450 by 1960.




Like a large proportion of rural Merioneth the main form of employment within the parish was agriculture. Most of the drystone walls in the parish contain large and irregular shaped fields, possibly post-medieval in origin. These walls incorporate stones cleared from the fields suggesting some form of arable cultivation. Due to the poor quality of the soils locally this may have been growing hay for fodder rather than cereals for human consumption. Of those who were actual farmers the majority were engaged in livestock, particularly sheep, rather than arable. Due to the poor quality of the soil two limekilns had been built by the end of the 18th century, one at Penrhyn Point and the other at Arthog (where the railway station later stood). With the soil being deficient in lime this was an advance in agriculture was employed by many farmers.


The area was well known for the knitting of socks and Merionethshire socks were extremely popular, especially in London, due to the softness of the wool. The majority of cottages would have had a spinning wheel, or possibly two, the larger for wool and the smaller for flax and hemp. Some would also have had a loom where a travelling weaver would spend several days weaving the store of yarn and thread that the women would have prepared.


The tailor was also a peripatic employee, travelling around to the more substantial farmhouses. A cloth of good homespun quality would provide a man with a suit that would last many decades before being relegated to second-best. Women traditionally made their own clothes.


The majority of male workers in 1881 were engaged in agriculture, although this figure encompassed all those from farmers to the numerous agricultural labourers. The second largest group were those employed in some form of mining, although this was only half of that of those in agriculture. There were also small numbers of those employed in the construction trades and those who were considered professionals. Surprisingly none were listed as being employed in ships or boats. Almost two-thirds of females were listed without an occupation. About a quarter were recorded as domestic servants, and there were marginal numbers of both dressmakers and those employed in agriculture (although these could have been farmers’ wives and daughters).


Based upon the three groups used for the population analysis of the 1891 census of the fifty-four male occupations recorded fro group one half (25) were engaged in some form of agriculture, including farmers (15), gardeners/market gardeners (6), and farm servants/labourers (4). Only six were engaged in the slate quarries and three in coal mining. A further nine were dealers of provisions such as five grocers and drapers (including three assistants), two butchers, a corn merchant and a shoemaker. Female occupations largely consisted of domestic service, washerwomen, and, because of Arthog Hall, a chambermaid, housemaid and cook.


Similarly the largest employment for group two was agriculture with twelve of the twenty-five individuals either being farmers (6) or agricultural labourers. However, over a third were employed on the railway as this group included Barmouth Junction and incorporated a station master, signalman, porter, platelayers and clerks. The twenty-three male occupations in group three included twelve engaged in agriculture, three in slate, a blacksmith, joiner, miner, innkeeper (The New Inn) and labourers.




The slate trade boomed during the middle of the 19th century. Only the most substantial houses built of stone would have been capable of bearing the weight of slate as a roofing material. The majority of dwellings were still constructed of wattle and daub and thatched with straw, rushes or even heather. However, as houses throughout Britain began to be rebuilt in stone and brick slate became in demand and local quarries were begun with slate being exported from Barmouth.


During the slate boom two quarries opened in Friog. Henddol was just above Henddol Farm on the southern slope of Panteinion Valley, and Goleuwern was further east on the same slope. Henddol was begun in the early 1860s and was in production by 1865 but had stopped by 1871 after a rockfall. Goleuwern quarry opened in 1867 and when Henddol reopened in 1892 the two amalgamated as the Cambrian Estates Limited, before finally closing in 1920 (Richards, 1991). Goleuwern closed sometime before the end of the 19th century because the 40ft-deep pit that was deliberately filled with water in 1901 by McDougall to act as a reservoir in a scheme to provide Fairbourne with electric lighting. Pipes were laid down to the village, but nothing came of the idea. This still exists today and is known as the Blue Lake.


Until the 1950s it was still possible to see where the trucks ran down the steep incline. The remains of the slate guillotine are also visible, as well as the offices that served both quarries, the joiner’s shop, the smithy and the cartsheds opposite. There was also the Bryngwyn quarry behind Bwlch Gwyn that had a short life span.


The slate business frequently suffered from fluctuations. Work could be very scarce at times, while at others there would be a rush of orders that necessitated bringing in men from the larger quarries around Ffestiniog and Corris. The outbreak of the First World War is often cited as being a cause for the decline in the quarries. As the larger ones invested in mechanisation it meant that the smaller ones could no longer compete with those at Ffestiniog and Corris.


Tyn y Coed quarry at Arthog was also opened during the mid 1860s and its material was also taken by tramway across Morfa to a small jetty on the estuary and from there to Barmouth for export by sea.


Archaeological evidence suggests not just slate being mined but also smaller amounts of lead, silver, copper and manganese above Cyfannedd Fawr. The remains of the mines and adits, which were initially opened in 1827 but mainly worked between 1851-63, lie to the north of the eponymous farm at the top of this area. The silver mine here, the only one in the district, was producing approximately 40oz of silver from a ton of ore at its height.




The railway not only changed the landscape through its visible presence, the most obvious element being the bridge that carries the line across the mouth of the Mawddach, but also by acting as the catalyst for the development of brand new communities such as Fairbourne, Arthog and Llwyngwrill. These, in turn, altered the social infrastructure of the parish.




The two most prolific artists to have painted the Mawddach and its surrounding landscape include Richard Wilson, who painted Cader Idris in 1770 and John Varley (1778-1842 who painted Cader Idris in 1801).




Harrison, Alison, ‘The Light of Other Days – A Brief History of Friog and Fairbourne’, Y Dydd Press (Dolgellau, 1966).


Williams, Douglas, ‘The Church That Hangs Over The Sea – Llangelynin’, Country Quest 32/3 (1991) p34-5.


‘Hen Eglwys Llangelynnin Old Church’ – Colour church guide, un-credited, post-2004.