Nantlle Valley History



Baladeulyn Then and Now

by Thomas Alun Williams

Select one of the following subtitles to learn more about the relevant subject:

1.   Introdction
2.   Baladeulyn
3.   Before the arrival of Edward 1st in the area
4.   Edward 1st in Nantlle
5.   The Mountains of the Nantlle Valley
6.   The Nantlle Lakes
7.   The Rivers of Nantlle
8.   Nantlle Farms
9.   Rhos Pawl
10. Margaret Evans (Marged Fwyn Uch Ifan)
11. Talymignedd Isaf
12. Ffridd Baladeulyn
13. Yr Hen Dŷ Mawr
14. Castell Caernowy
15. Gwernoer
16. Tŷ'n y Nant, Nantlle
17. The First Sunday School in Baladeulyn
18. Adapting the Chapel Windows
19. The Period Between The Wars
20. Deulyn Band 1880
21. The Francis Brothers 1876 – 1936
22. No Traffic 1925-1927
23. Entertainment before 1939
24. Nantlle Youth Club’s Weekly Paper
25. The Club Diary
26. Notes from the Valley
27. The Poets’ Column
28. The Youth Club
29. Also from the past
30. Antiquaries
31. Baladeulyn, Nant Nantlle Today
32. A list of the names of the Quarries


Nantlle (Nant Lleu)

Over the years, poets have praised Nantlle Valley for its natural beauty, a veritable earthly paradise and inspiration to the bards. But understandably, the visitor is immediately struck by the scars and spoil of the once flourishing slate industry and the solid outlines of Non-conformist chapels.

Eisteddfod winner R Williams Parry, a foremost Welsh Language poet, who was born in Talysarn, captures these contrasts in his sonnet “Ddoe a Heddiw” (Yesterday and Today). He describes a conversation between a visitor, who knows that there is only one lake in the valley now and of the legends of mystery and magic in days of old, and a local resident who tells him of the two new “civilisations” of Quarrying and Chapel-going, which had superseded it.

Indeed, Dyffryn Nantlle is known by many people across the globe as the setting for one of the most important episodes in the Mabinogion, a collection of ancient Welsh tales and legends first committed to writing in the 14th and 15th centuries – a classic of world literature.

Let us go back to the yesteryear of the Mabinogion, and summarise the conclusion of the story of Lleu in the fourth branch, together with Math Fab Mathonwy and Gwydion. At the instigation of his wife, Lleu was attacked by his enemy and turned himself into an eagle as he fled to the safety of the branches of the great oak tree on the shores of Nantlle Lake, where the sow came to feast on the strips of flesh that fell from Lleu, until Gwydion came by and turned him back into his true nature.

(The original poems may be seen on the Welsh version of this web page.)

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The meaning of the word Bala is a place at the outflow of a lake, in this case the piece of land between Llyn Uchaf (Upper Nantlle Lake) and Llyn Isaf (Lower Nantlle Lake). But unfortunately there’s only one lake in Baladeulyn now where the River Llyfni follows its course through the valley to the sea.

Again, R Williams Parry writes of the “Spotless Meadow” of Dol Pebin in the Mabinogion and its disfigurement by the rubble tip of Cloddfa Glai Quarry.

It is rumoured that Edward 1st of England once held a tournament there, but certainly, part of it was the football ground of Talysarn Celts for many years after the First World War – the nature of the game changes with the years, but the eternal contest continues.

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Before the arrival of Edward 1s in the area

The Lord of Baladeulyn was Tudur ab Engan, (or Einion), a descendant of Owain Gwynedd of Eifionydd. Engan’s sister was Sena (or Senena) who married Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, who was the mother of Llywelyn ab Gruffydd, that is to say Llywelyn the Last. Engan’s son was was Tudur ab Engan.

When Edward 1st came to stay at Baladeulyn, Tudur was dispossessed of all his lands through the greed of Matilda, Edward’s wife. But by way of establishing peace between Wales and England, a petition in Latin was sent to King Edward asking to have the lands restored. This was granted and signed by Tudur ab Engan, and his sister Gwerfyl, according to the essay on The History of Dyffryn Nantlle by William Ambrose.

It is said that Ty’n y Nant was the home of Tudur ab Engan when Edward 1st stayed at Baladeulyn, and according to tradition, the Prince of Wales was born there and taken secretly to Caernarfon, but there is neither certainty nor foundation to this assertion.

Early on in Edward 3rd’s time, the descendants of Cilmin Droed-ddu established themselves in Nantlle. The descendents of Cilmin were Ednowen and Philip, the one inherited Bodfan near Dinlle, and the other Glynllifon. According to William Ambrose, the great grandson of Ednowen was Ieuan who had a son named Einion, and Einion’s son was Gronw who was the father of Tudur Goch, Nantlle. He was famous as a soldier in the army of Edward 3rd who fought under his banner at the battle of Cressey in 1346, and later in the armies of Edward, the Black Prince at Poiters in 1356 when the King of France was taken captive: as a favour to Tudur Goch, Edward 3rd gave him land in Nant Nantlle or Baladeulyn and he built a mansion in Nantlle.

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Edward 1st in Nantlle

The village of Nantlle was established at the eastern end of the valley, ending at the village of Drws y Coed, and in that place it is said that the Romans began mining for copper. At that time, thick forests covered the valley where wild amimals sheltered, such as deer, wolves, foxes and wild boar. Edward 1st overcame the Welsh Princes, starting his campaign through the valley of Bettws Garmon to Rhyd Ddu by way of Llyn Cwellyn, with his knights and armies. He camped by Llyn y Dywarchen for some days because he enjoyed the peace and wonderful views of Snowdonia.

Romance is also traditionally connected with this spot between Llyn Bwlch-y-Moch and Llyn y Dywarchen, where the farmer’s son from Upper Drws y Coed Farm fell in love with one of the Fair Folk and brought up a family here. It is no suprise that some of the small farmhouses carry names like Llwyn y Forwyn and ‘Foty y Forwyn, in remembrance of Penelope, the most beautiful maiden of them all. But she disappeared, returning to her own people, when her husband unfortunately touched her with the iron on the reins of a horse which he was trying to catch to sell in Caernarfon.

Another story tells of this place being connected with an incident when the soldiers of Edward 1st were riding by Llyn y Dywarchen. The elderly mother of Howel ac Ifor escaped by boat with her children across the lake. She stood, arms aloft, cursing the enemy in her rage and desperation as she disappeared from sight in the boat.

As already mentioned, Edward travelled down the valley and stopped for a while at Hen Dŷ Mawr Nantlle to provision his retinue and stable his horses. A tournament was held on the plain of Dôl Pebin where he announced the birth of his first son, presenting him to the Welsh people as the first Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1282.

Before the coming of Edward 1st, these valleys were the property of the Welsh princes from the time of Owain Gwynedd (1137) where they owned courts and mansions. They were fond of hunting in the Royal Forests of Snowdonia and they were called the Lords of Snowdon. Because of this, ordinary huntsmen had to obtain a licence to hunt signed by the king or prince. One of the courts of the Lords of Snowdon was Llys Lywelyn in Baladeulin in the Nantlle Valley. It is stated that the remains of the court’s foundations are now under the rubble heaps of Pen yr Orsedd quarry in Ceunant Tŷ'n Nant Uchaf and that the kitchen in the field by the lake belonged to the court – To this day the lakeside field by Plas Baladeulyn is known as 'Cae Gegin Bach' (field of the little kitchen).

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The Mountains of the Nantlle Valley

We will start by naming the mountains of the eastern end of the valley. In the middle, between Mynydd Mawr and Craig y Bere, and Cam Farchog stands “Y Garreg”, which extends to Bwlch Cyfyng at the end of the steep slope of Drws y Coed, and by the foot of Cwm Meredydd which faces Penallt and Rhos Pawl and the foot of Mynydd Mawr we find Cwm Cerwyn with its tales of yesteryear. It is said that in this valley criminals would be executed by being placed in a barrel with nails driven through it; then the criminal would be dropped to the bottom of the valley to his gruesome death.

If we follow the northern side of the valley the land rises steeply above Ceunant Tŷ’n Nant stretching westward to Mynydd Cilgwyn, onwards to Parc y Fodlas Talysarn and Clogwyn Melyn.
There are more valleys on the southern side of the valley with the following names - Cwm Talymignedd Uchaf, Bwlch Whiscin, Crib y Ddysgl, Cwm Talymignedd Isaf, Bwlch Tros Bera, Cwm Silyn (known as Graig Las locally), Clogwyn Mawr and Craig yr Ogof, which is connected to Graig Goch and Cwm Dulyn which is above the villages of Tan-y-rallt, Llanllyfni, Nebo and Nasareth.

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The Nantlle Lakes

There were two lakes in Nantlle in the old days but after the arrival of industry producing roof-slates and the development of quarries throughout the valley, it proved necessary to change the course of the River Llyfni and drain the water from the Lower Nantlle Lake. Before that the course of the river followed the south side of the valley to the foot of Pen y Bryn at Sarn-Wyth-Dwr, where the path crossed the river on eight stepping stones. But in consequence of opening the new river bed, making it in the form of a canal straight through the centre of the valley past Llanllyfni to the sea, there was a flood into the Dorothea workings in 1891. The small village named Tre-grwyn was buried under the quarry spoil heaps, and also the Sarn-Wyth-Dwr (causeway), and it is likely that the name given to the quarry village was Talysarn (it being on the ‘Brow of the Causeway’).

The water broke though into quarry workings for a second time in the 1920’s and a special engine to raise water was required to stop the workings from being inundated, but today the quarry is full of water and the engine has been idle for some years. There are two lakes not visible from the village of Nantlle; the lakes of Cwm Silyn and Llyn Dulyn near Graig Goch. There is one lake on the north side of Nantlle, which is Llyn Ffynhonnau, at the foot of Mynydd Mawr near the village of Y Fron.

In the 18th cent. various famous painters came from England to paint Snowdon and the Nantlle Lakes. They include Richard Wilson RA 1714-1782, John Warwick Smith 1797 and Cornelius Varley 1781-1873, also JohnTurner. Richard Wilson’s work hangs in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

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The Rivers of Nantlle

The chief river that runs through the valley is Afon Llyfnwy, or Llyfni and its source is at the eastern end of the valley at Llyn Bwlch y Moch above the village of Drws y Coed. It runs to Llyn Nantlle Uchaf, but the early name for this stretch was Afon Gopr because the water which flowed from the copper and lead workings impared the purity of the water. Not a single trout could survive in the water which had been polluted by the copper mines at Drws y Coed.

We then have Afon y Bala which connects the two lakes, where we would, as children, bathe in the whirlpool before the water disappeared across the old lake bed through Talysarn. Other small rivers pour their waters into Afon Llyfnwy. Firstly on the southern side of the valley flows Afon Gelli Dywyll from the land of Talymignedd Uchaf to Afon Gopr, and next Afon Talymignedd Isaf, and after that is Afon Rhydus on the lands of Ffridd which is the boundary between the two farms. Next are Afon Bach y Ffridd and Afon Tŷ Coch, and Gwernoer on the edge of the Nantlle area.

On the left of the valley we have Afon Gelli Ffrydiau and Afon Pontygelynnen, Afon Bach yr Ysgol and Afon Caeronwy which flow through Ceunant Tŷ'n Nant before slipping out of sight under the Penyrorsedd Quarry spoil heap reappearing as Afon Garth, before passing under the main road through the garden of Plas Baladeulyn, together with those named, to the waters of Upper Llyn Nantlle. Another small stream flowed through Penyrorsedd Quarry, quenching the thirst of Ystablau Farm’s cattle, and to turn the water wheel which was there, flowing onwards to complete the same process of turning the water wheel at y Felin, when the mill was at its peak before the First World War and for a few years after.

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Nantlle Farms

The farms which surround Nantlle and the Lake starting in the east are: Drws y Coed Isaf, Gelli Ffrydiau, Lower and UpperTalymignedd (Isaf and Uchaf), and finishing at Ffridd Baladeulyn, Tŷ Coch and Gwernoer on the south side, and on the northern side there are Geulan, Yr Ysgubor and Chaeronwy, Blaen-y-Garth and Pen-y-Garth, then Y Bryn, Plas Baladeulyn and Tŷ Mawr and Pen-y-Bryn. The oldest of these are Hen Dŷ Mawr, Gelli Ffrydiau, Ffridd Baladeulyn, Caeronwy (Caer Goronwy), y Talmigneddoedd, Y Geulan and Tiriogaeth Baladeulyn.

In the latter Mr W A Darbyshire lived, and there silage was first produced in the valley; a purpose built structure had been built to complete the process. The hay was put under high pressure in the building, the pressure being adjusted by a chain and pulleys, compressing the silage so that the liquid ran out of pipes in the base of the wall, and the silage heated up and was collected to feed to the animals. A tobacco-like smell spread all about the place.

The old house Gelli Ffrydiau where Angharad James lived has an interesting history. She was the daughter of James Davies and Angharad Humphreys - according to the old Welsh family custom, a girl would take the first name of her mother and her father’s first name as a surname (patronymic). Angharad James was blessed with many talents, she could compose poetry - a genius who had been highly educated because her parents were better off than most and they took care that their daughter had an education of the highest standard and this was advantageous to her in learning other languages, also she immersed herself in Latin and became learned in the law of the land.

Angharad had a harp and according with her customary devotion, she wished that her family and their servants would gather together and dance before retiring for the night.
We heard the story of Angharad James, Gelli Ffrydiau in school when we were little children in Nantlle, and the words which we learned were forever impressed on our memories:

"Mae tinc y delyn ar Glwt y Ddawns
Clywch Angharad yn tiwnio"

Her family moved to Parlwr Panaman, Dolwyddelan when she was 20, and there she continued with her old devotions on the harp. A descendant of the family, Rev. John Jones Talysarn and his brother Rev. David Jones preached in Gelli Ffrydiau according to Rev. William Hobley in Hanes Methodistiaeth Arfon (The History of Methodism in Arfon). William Hobley lived in Y Gelli at one time and the letter H (from his surname) is to be seen on the side of every sheep there to this day.

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Rhos Pawl

Part of the land of Gelli Ffrydiau is Rhos Pawl which faces Talmigneddoedd, on the south side of the valley, and borders on the side of Mynydd Mawr. A romance is associated with the name Rhos Pawl and here is the tradition connected to the name. It is said that a youth from Gelli Farm had fallen in love with the daughter of Talymignedd Uchaf, but the girl’s father was not willing for them to marry. The lad pleaded earnestly with the father for the hand of the girl until in the end, the father agreed, but on one condition; that the youth would go naked to the top of Rhos Pawl on a freezing night and remain there to the morning. The father expected the young man to give up his suit. The youth accepted the challenge and the condition, and brought a post with him, also an axe and a mallet to repeatedly hammer the post into the ground to keep his body warm, whilst his beloved kept her lantern alight in her window throughout the night. He succeded in keeping his blood warm by hammering the post into the ground through the night until the morning came, presenting himself to the girl to the great surprise of her father. Thus he won the hand of his beloved whom he married and the name of Rhos Pawl was immortalised.

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Margaret Evans (Marged Fwyn Uch Ifan)

It is said that Margaret Evans, or rather Marged Fwyn Uch Ifan was born at Talymignedd Uchaf, Nantlle. She was famous for her various talents, and she kept an inn called Talernia below the Gelli Turnpike where the miners of Drws y Coed would go to sing and quench their thirsts. Her husband’s name was William ab Rhisiard. She had two harps, and to the sound of the harp there would be singing and dancing. Marged owned a hunting dog, and she could make her own boat and would fish on Llyn Nantlle. She was a champion wrestler, equal to the men, and could compose poetry as well. The field by Y Tyrpeg is still referred to as Telerni. Eventually she moved to Nant Peris where she entertained the residents for some time and her remains were laid to rest in the cemetery there. There is a memorial verse to her in Cymru Fu.

(The original verse may be seen on the Welsh version of this web page.)

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Talymignedd Isaf

The date 1712 and the two letters RG are above the door of one of the farm buildings. It is believed that RG was Richard Garnon, the owner at the time, and that he also lived in Pant Du Farm near Penygroes. There was another cottage, whose ruins are visible today between the two Talymignedds and it was called Talymignedd Ganol and a footpath connected them all. The family of Talymignedd Ganol moved to Nantlle village to pursue their livihood in Penyrorsedd Quarry. The two brothers were known as Dafydd Williams and Robert Williams, Talymignedd Ganol.

The present owner of the two Talymignedds is a descendent of two famous lineages in the area of Arfon, that is to say from Edmwnd Prys, Archdeacon of Meirionydd 1544-1623 and from the famous Robert Hughes, Uwchlaw'r Ffynnon in Eifionydd. It must be noted here that Hugh Jones, Talymignedd Isaf was prominent in the cause of the Welsh Congregational Church (Annibynwyr) at Drws y Coed, especially for his zeal and energetic contribution to rebuilding the present chapel after the former chapel was destroyed by a great boulder that fell from Mynydd Meredydd in 1882. The family had placed a memorial plaque on the boulder beside the road where the old chapel stood to remember the serious incident that happened there in 1836. Thanks and praise should be paid to Hugh Jones for travelling with cart and two horses to Chester to get wood to build the new chapel. He also succeded in obtaining roof slates free from the generous Mr W A Darbyshire, Plas Baladeulyn, overseer of Penyrorsedd Quarry.

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Ffridd Baladeulyn

Since the quarries came to the valley there is a new building in Ffridd Baladeulyn which at one time belonged to the Dorothea Estate. Here two of the most prominent preachers of their time were brought up. They were John Roberts and Robert Roberts, sons of Robert Thomas and Catrin Jones; John Roberts was born in 1752 and was a shepherd at Blaenygarth, he died aged 82 in1834 and his son was Michael Roberts. Many of his family are in the U.S.A.

Robert Roberts was spoken of as an angel in everyday speech; he was not a physically strong man, his health was weak, but he became
famous as a preacher among the Calvinistic Methodists and he was referred to as Robert Roberts, Clynnog. His brother John Roberts also became famous as a preacher and he was called John Roberts, Llangwm because it was there that he lived for the greater part of his life. Some of his descendants returned from America to visit Baladeulyn and took a photograph of the place where their forebears where brought up. I was in contact with some of them when they called here and left me a copy of their family tree. It was a joy to us both to trace the mutual family connections to the third and fourth generations.

In 1854 an old stone pulpit and an iron candlestick were found in the environs of Ffridd. The candlestick came into the possession of Parch D O'Brien Owen but it is not known what became of the old stone pulpit.

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Yr Hen Dŷ Mawr

This is one of the oldest houses in the village of Nantlle and its history goes back to the time of Edward 1st and parts of its walls are four feet thick. It is said that Edward 1st had stayed here for some days and had stabled his horses and held a tournament in the nearby meadows at Baladeulyn and Dol Bebin; this was before the age of the slate quarries.

In the year 1826, near Hen Dy Mawr, two gold medals or coins were found; on one side was stamped the image of Edward 1st , sword in hand, sitting in a ship – around it are inscribed the Latin EDWARD, DEI, GRA, REX ANGL, DAS HYB DAQUI'. On the other side are stamped four lions and four crowns with the following words - 'ipse, aniem, Transienu, per, medium, morwm ibat'.

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Castell Caeronwy

In the year 1847 near Castell Caeronwy, a number of shillings commemorating Henry VIII were found, and close to the same spot a heavy lump of smelted copper was discovered , which came into the possession of John Lloyd Jones, Baladeulyn, son of the celebrated Rev. John Jones Talysarn.

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In the olden days, Gwernoer bordered on Tŷ Coch Farm, which was on the shore of Llyn Isaf Nantlle, the old home of Rev. David Hughes,a most cultured man, who was a lecturer at Cambridge where he stayed for the rest of his life. There is a memorial to him in the renowned college recalling his generous and liberal spirit. He shared all his property between his relations and his Welsh pauper-contemporaries.

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Tŷ'n y Nant, Nantlle

Mention has already been made of Ty’n y Nant where there was once a noble family’s mansion, which is now under the spoil heap of Penyrorsedd Quarry. In that place was the dwelling and court of the Welsh Princes. The great mound that was there was excavated and a large upturned earthenware urn full of ashes and charcoal was found. Rev. John Jones was of the opinion that this was the burial place of Mabon ab Madron because his grave was in the uplands of Nant Lleu (Nantlle) according to Englynion y Beddau.

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The First Sunday School in Baladeulyn

According to the biography of Rev. William Hobley, and through the help of the biography of my great grandfather Owen J Hughes, Y Grafog, it is said that the Methodists organised preaching and also established the first Sunday schools in Gelli Ffrydiau and Ffridd Baladeulyn. When the slate industry came into full production in Dyffryn Nantlle, Owen J Hughes said that it was in Hen Dŷ'r Felin in about 1857 that they started to hold Sunday schools for a period of time. The establishment was assisted for some time by John Robinson, Talysarn, who was a deacon. He persuaded John Lloyd Jones in Y Plas to help him. There were 19 members then present and it was moved to Hen Dŷ Mawr later. It remained there for two years, increasing in membership from 80 to 100 in number.

In 1859, 87 was collected to repair and adapt Hen Ysgubor in Hen Dŷ Mawr, and the first service was held on the following Easter Monday, led by Robert Hughes Uwchlaw'r Ffynnon, J. Jones Brynrodyn and Edward Jones, Welsh Congregational (Annibynwyr) Minister in Talysarn.

In 1859, £87 was collected to repair and adapt Hen Ysgubor in Hen Dŷ Mawr, and the first service was held on the following Easter Monday, led by Robert Hughes Uwchlaw'r Ffynnon, J. Jones Brynrodyn and Edward Jones, Welsh Congregational (Annibynwyr) Minister in Talysarn.

At that time, there were only some 20 houses in the neibourhood of the chapel and young people were beginning to settle in the village. The leader of the cause was J Robinson but J Lloyd Jones was the natural leader, David Davies the secretary and O J Hughes yn the first overseer of the Sunday School.

Richard Davies, Caernarfon was the builder and the roof was of three types of slate coloured blue and red, pews of red fir wood without doors, the pulpit of pitchpine, and the floor of many coloured tiles, a half-round ceiling and thirteen windows, four brass lamps with three chains each. At the same time a chapel house was built and on 27 February the first lecture in the chapel was given by David Saunders on “The Government of the Pope”. There was a profit of £20, and the following day Owen Jones, Plas Gwyn, John Griffiths Bethesda a David Saunders preached.

J Lloyd Jones moved from Baladeulyn to live in Bontnewydd in 1874 and in 1876 Edward Davies was chosen as Treasurer.

In 1884 new deacons were appointed - Thomas Roberts, Caeronwy, in 1887 John Jones y Geulan, Thomas Evans and Richard Morris Griffiths, and in 1893.

Rev Morris Williams of Llangwn received the call to come as minister to Baladeulyn MC.

In 1900 the old chapel was pulled down and a new chapel was built. The architect was R Lloyd Jones, Caernarfon and the builder was Richard Jones, Llanwnda. The whole undertaking was £2,700 and the total expenses were £3,000. The debt for the first chapel was paid by 1884 and the debt for the new chapel was £1946 by the end of 1900. The church numbers were 195 and the children 142. The second chapel was demolished in 1985 and the Vestry was converted into a chapel.

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Adapting the Chapel Windows

Because of the poor condition of the second chapel, there was not sufficient money in hand to pay the repair cost. There was extensive damp on the walls and the structural timbers were so affected by dry rot and water, that the Building Committee, under the leadership of the minister, Rev Brian M Griffith went to ask the Finance Board and the Denominational Loans Fund for help, and £36,000 was received from them. £1,000 was received from Sir David James, Pantyfedwen and also a gift of £1,000 from the Works Committee. Through the gifts of members and friends of the church and the sale of property, pews and bank interest £48,234.3.8 was received.

The architects were the Robert Davies Partnership, and the company which undertook the demolition and adaptations was the Brecon Company. The pulpit, stained glass windows, stone front facing and old chapel doors were retained. In the meantime, from January to November 1985, the church held Sunday Services in Drws y Coed Chapel, thanks to the great kindness of the members there. On Friday 8/11/1985, the inaugural meeting was led by Brian M Griffith, back from Capel Tegid and Llanfor, Bala who gave his address and his messages to the church. Now, Baladeulyn MC Church has no Minister, but plans are afoot to accept a Pastor. Although we lost Rev. Geraint Roberts who followed Rev Brian M Griffith, the church continues to flourish, without debts.

But unfortunately the number of members has dropped to 39 and two deaconesses, three children and 8 members of Sunday School.

There are two memorials in the entrance hall to remember the boys who fell in the two World Wars, one within the door and one in the Chapel Garden facing the Post Road, together with a monument and the name of the chapel.

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The Period Between The Wars

The first deacons that I remember seeing in chapel before my teens were Thomas Roberts, Caeronwy who was followed by his son William Thomas Roberts; Thomas John Davies, Village Headmaster; Thomas Evans, quarryman and farmer; Evan Thomas Hughes, quarry official; John Edward Roberts, Blaenygarth; Owen John Hughes, Y Grafog (my mother’s grandfather, who was a deacon for 40 years) and later Jonathan Parry Pritchard, chief engineer of the quarry. The Minister from 1893 to 1930 was Rev Morris Williams formerly of Langwm who retired to Llanwnda together with Miss Richards his housekeeper. The former treasurer Richard Morris Jones retired from Siop y Felin to live with his wife in Rhoslan, Cricieth in 1914.

In the early 30s Rev R J Powell was accepted as Minister of this church. He was a native of Trawsfynydd and he settled in Nantlle with his wife Mrs E Powell and their daughter Mair in Bronallt (Tŷ'r Capel) for some years before retiring to Liverpool.

A prominent place was taken by the Band of Hope and the Reading and Prayer Meetings. It worked tirelessly with the young people of the Church, the Sunday School, and the Vestry until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. This was the beginning of the drop in membership and deacon numbers, and the young men scattered like chaff to the four corners of the world. But Mr Powell continued to write and keep in contact with them, including the deacons who were once Sunday school teachers. He ensured that each boy received a New Testament from Baladeulyn Church, and my copy wandered the world with me through six years of warfare. A “Soldiers’ Comforts” Committee was elected in the village and they set up a fund for this purpose. The Treasurer was Harry Lloyd Roberts, and the secretary was my sister Ella Williams, whose job was as a clerk in The Military Division at the Barracks in Caernarfon. Much help was had from the Pritchard Brothers, Y Porth, Caernarfon in transporting tents, furniture etc, holding sheep dog trials, dances and concerts to swell the coffers of the Soldiers’ Comforts.

Both joy and sorrow came to the village when Armistice Day came in 1945. 4 of the village lads had been killed, 10 were discharged, and the number that returned safely after serving King George was 33 – a total of 47.

The Soldiers’ Comforts Committee had to decide what to do with the funds in hand, and a letter was sent to each soldier offering these three options to vote for:

  • Have a public footpath around Lake Nantlle, the farmers being agreeable to this proposal.
  • Raise a Village Hall on Quarry Lands.
  • Share the money between the former soldiers.

The majority voted in favour of the third proposal (to share the money) and £6 was given to each of the 47 ex-soldiers. (12 had voted for the first proposal.) The soldiers were short of money; some were married and needed to start a livelihood anew, such that most were forced to stray from their home area and follow a new career and make a home across the border in England.

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Deulyn Band 1880

During the last quarter of the 19th cent. when the slate quarries were at their peak, the Deulyn Band came into existence under the baton of William Derby, manager of the lead and copper mine at Simdde'r Ddylluan in Drws y Coed. He was Cornish by birth and learned his Welsh by attending the Sunday services in Baladeulyn, and there he married Ann Hughes, eldest daughter of the antiquary Owen J Hughes Grafog, my mother’s grandfather. They emigrated from Nantlle to New Zealand in 1881 with one daughter, Matilda, 14 months old. The band was sponsored by William A Derbyshire Esquire, Plas Baladeulyn by giving them the instruments through the Penyrorsedd Quarry Company, Nantlle. The band won various competitions and were awarded medals after winning a competition in Rhyl. After the departure of William Dudley and his family for New Zealand, the leadership was transferred into the hands of William G Jones (Corn Mawr). Four of his sons and his grandson Willie J Jones were members of the band.

Richard W Jones, eldest son of W G Jones speaks of his experiences as a member of the band when he was only 9 years old, when some local bands gathered at Llandudno to celebrate the official opening of Pier. He was on the top row of the stage when the bands struck the first note so powerfully that the shaky staging collapsed leaving Richard and others on the top row. They did not fall to the stage but were rescued by their fellow instrumentalists.

Later on the Deulyn Band was amalgamated with Talysarn Band to form Nantlle Vale Band, under the leadership of William G Jones. They had the privilege of playing in the Crystal Palace, London, thereby adding “Royal” to their name; thereafter called Nantlle Vale Royal Silver Band.

The band would frequently go around the villages to raise money in order to compete at Belle Vue, Manchester. One time they went to Plas Baladeulyn to perform for Mr and Mrs Stonor, starting ahead of their conductor Johnnie Evans, Penygroes who had been delayed. He was hurrying along on his bicycle on the old road between Talysarn and Nantlle when he had a fatal accident on Bryn Copr Bank near Pen y Bryn. The whole valley was horrified by this tragic news and the sorrowful place was marked with a white cross next to the wall by Owen Jones, Hen Blas Nantlle in memory of the talented conductor Johnnie Evans.

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The Francis Brothers 1876 - 1936

Two brothers who put Baladeulyn, Nantlle on the map were the Francis Brothers, champion Penillion singers. William G Francis was a poet and his contribution of excellent verse was presented to his home district and his contemporaries in his book, Telyn Eryri. Owen William Francis, his brother was a musician who composed tunes for hymns of various denominations; his dependable and praiseworthy accompanist was Robert Owen Drws y Coed, who roamed all of Wales, England and Ireland to support their famous duet.

In 1927, under the sponsorship of the BBC, the Brothers broadcast from Dublin, and we heard their thrilling voices through the ether from Ireland. Their favourite songs were Y Border Bach, Pentref Bach Drws y Coed, Caru Cymru, Gwerfyl Arfon, Cyn Gollwng Cwn y Gelli, Melin Trefin, Stella, a'r emyn Carcharorion Angau. Their names adorned the sides of the main pavilion at the National Eisteddfod in the 1920s together with the names of past and present prize-winning poets in the days before there was a movable pavilion.

It was a great loss to Wales when both were called to eternal peace in 1936.

During the same period as the Francis Brothers, there were many talented reciters who had won praise and prizes in different Eisteddfods throughout Wales. One of the most prominent was Llew Deulyn, that is to say Isaac Benjamin Williams, Tŷ Capel Nantlle who won a carved black oak chair at Tywyn Eisreddfod in 1901, and who trained others including Lizzie Jones (LJ) ac Eillion, D O Jones her husband, also Robert Owen (RO).

We children would listen intently to RO reciting Mab y Bwthyn by Cynan, and enjoying his thrilling interpretation in many charitable meetings in the vestry. There was talent among the children also, and Cantata’r Adar was performed under the sponsorship of the Band of Hope, and trained by Evan John Hughes and Evan Parry, overseer of the quarry in the 1930s.

Later, after the Second World War, a trio of three sisters (Eryl, Marian and Heulwen Morris) succeded in taking the prize under the name of Brethyn Cartref at the National Eisteddfod in Newtown in 1965. Amongst the children of Baladeulyn in the 1950s, they deserve unending praise.

As it is said, 'self praise is no recommendation' but whilst mentioning Eisteddfods, I will take the opportunity to put in here a tiny piece about my own achievements,. Three different first prizes came to me in Metalwork in the Eisteddfods at Llanrwst in 1951; Rhyl in 1953 and Ystrad Gynlais in 1954; as well as second prize in Fine Arts in Caernarfon 1959. In 1956 I was honoured to receive the “Messengers Award” whilst I was following the training course at the School of Silversmiths and Jewelry in Hockley, Birmingham.

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No Traffic 1925-1927

An unforgettable event was when the Post Road between Nantlle and Talysarn collapsed into the chasm of the Dorothea Quarry in 1925. This happened twice despite the redirection of the road through Plasdŷ Talysarn to avoid the weak point next to the hole. This latest piece collapsed into the hole after the 9pm bus belonging to Jim Jones, Caernarfon passed that spot, to the great relief of those on board on their journey back to Caernarfon. This was a subject of great thanksgiving to Providence for the people of the area for a long time after.

Thereafter every traveller from Nantlle had to walk two miles to the terminus at Pen y Bont Talysarn to meet the bus of Jim Jones or Mrs Evans, Liod for Caernarfon; and if going by train, it was necessary to walk a futher quarter of a mile to Talysarn on the Nantlle Railway line.

Four shops and the post office depended on it for their stock. The postman on his bike was able to go to and fro like everyone else along the little tranway that carried the horse-drawn slate waggons from Penyrorsedd, Pen y Bryn and Dorothea Quarries. The postman would wait in the village of Drws y Coed during the day after delivering the morning post in Nantlle and then in the afternoon collect letters from the boxes through the village down to Penygroes.

It was a most inconvenient time In the case of funerals, and such circumstances occured four times, when it was necessary for the vehicles to go back and forth from Nantlle through Drws y Coed, Betws Garmon, Waunfawr, Caeathro, Pontllyfni, to reach the cemeteries of Macpela, Penygroes or Llanllyfni as required.

As pupils of the County School in Penygroes, we had to either get a bike or walk the 3 ½ miles. Pupils of an earlier age would have always done this in all weathers. For two years I would cycle there every school day, until the new road (including three bridges between the two villages) was built on the southern side of the valley.

It was necessary to test the strength and capability of the bridges to withstand the weight to be expected for the traffic at that time. Three steam rollers were put on them to test the strength of the bridges before allowing traffic on them.

After some years, they had to be further strengthened, because the weight of lorries and buses had increased and weight restrictions were placed upon them.

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Entertainment before 1939

At the beginning of the 30s, an industrial depression spread throughout the country, and the number of unemployed rose to 2,000,000 in the period 1931 – 1935: parties of colliers from South Wales came to Nantlle and other villages in the Valley to raise money for their upkeep. They would have bed and breakfast in many a quarryman’s home and in the cold winter evenings, they would continue to sing and collect money in their caps. Some were members of Rev. Tom Nefyn’s church and great was their respect for him.

The quarryman’s weekly wage at that time was £1.18. 0 and the journeyman £1.15.0. Perhaps the pay at the end of the month would rise to some £3 – 4: this bonus would soon disappear among a family of 6 or more.

But in spite of all the poverty the lads of Nantlle would make their own amusements. The chief games were choosing teams for football, cricket and quoits; in the summer, learning to swim in Llyn Nantlle was very popular, and sports days were enjoyed with running, jumping and throwing the weight (14lbs).

This has all disappeared now, there are no lads here who delight in this sort of amusement, but perhaps there is the opportunity for some of them to join a football club and have pay and travel expenses.

I remember that as Easter approached, the posters would appear advertising football tournaments in Talysarn, Penygroes and Rhos Isaf and that teams would pay a shilling each from their own pockets to join. Once the Cup came to Nantlle under the leadership of our captain Hywel Hughes (a quarryman who became a Calvinistic Methodist Minister after going to college); we beat the Penygroes Central School team in the final at Cae Alun, Talymaes and we had a medal for each member of the team. On Thanksgiving Monday the boys would have saved their pennies to buy a new leather football at the shop of Dafydd Sadler Penygroes and get a tin of Dubbin from Dafydd to rub into the leather to prevent it being damaged by the wet. The greatest pleasure was to go to the football field and have a game between the denominations, afternoon and evening.

Once, a team of boys was chosen to represent Penyrorsedd Quarry in a competitive tournament within the walls of Plas Glynllifon. This was after a hard day’s work in the quarry and they were competing against Emlyn Jones’ team from Bontnewydd, but, more’s the pity, they lost 1 – 0 and to their disappointment were eliminated frrom the competition.

As I already mentioned, almost every boy in Nantlle had learned to swim – there was no need for a better swimming pool than Llyn Nantlle and the older quarrymen would join us after their day’s work. Once a great crowd had gathered to welcome and assist Blind Thomas from Fron who intended to swim across Llyn Nantlle in the company of the brothers Harry Lloyd and Bob Rees Roberts who were already familiar with the enjoyment of this challenge. There was also a boat available to follow the swimmers on that hot afternoon in July and a large crowd of men, women and children enjoyed this unforgettable incident in the life of one so popular as Blind Tom.

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Nantlle Youth Club’s Weekly Paper

Y Cyfnodydd
Price 1d
Editor: Owen M Roberts

After returning in frail health to his home area in Nantlle, having served his country in the Air Force both in this country and in India, my cousin, Owen Myfyr Roberts was appointed a deacon In Baladeulyn Calvinistic Methodist Church, and he was a great supporter and assisted greatly in the denomination in the village until the time came in his career for him to move on and take charge of one or two other chapels.

A new generation of young people has arisen since then in Nantlle, born and bred during the Second World War and Myfyr took on the task of forming the Nantlle Youth Club, editing and publishing weekly the news and activities of the Club for a penny and numbering the pages and dating them. I will quote from a copy I own -

Number 7 Wednesday 24th November 1954. I understand there is enough news to make a page. It is a pity that these pages are not remembered and kept to this day to praise the late Myfyr for all his effort and hard work with Nantlle Youth Club.
Editor OM Roberts, Cynlas, Nantlle.

Diary Page 18th February 1951

Very cold weather, although the wind is from the sea. Snow on the mountain tops. Noticed the grass greening and the catkins on the hazels, a few birds singing. Rhydur Waterfall as shining silver, the newspapers speak of the unusually wet weather we are having. Two farmers manuring and lifting swedes. The lake very wild with knots of white foam on the crests of the waves and one water fowl diving and surfacing again and again. Snowdon is white from head to foot, two killed climbing it last week.

19th February 1951

Snow, cold throughout the morning and hail in the afternoon but it cleared soon and the sun started to shine. The view from Pont y Bala was like some vista of Switzerland. The Lake quite still and blue, and the white mountain peaks in their form around the banks because the wind did not touch the edges of the circle.

Another colour was the gold of the reeds as the sun was setting, reddening the mountain snows. A cormorant came on his black wings, some fifty feet above, leisurely flying toward the lower lake as he sensed I was below, turning suddenly to change course. The river was in full spate and water lay on the fields.

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The Club Diary

  • 3rd December Club visit to Waunfawr Chapel
  • 9th December Whist Drive

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Notes from the Valley

Last Thursday, under the sponsorship of the Youth Club, there was a lecture by Mr W J Davies, (Gwilym Peris) Caernarfon. His subject was “Word Pictures” and his aim was to stimulate an interest in classical literature among the young. He dealt with the works of Thomas Hardy, Kate Roberts and Rev. D Tegla Davies amongst others, clarifying that which the authors were trying to present in their stories. He was a master of his subject, and we hope he inspired in his listeners the desire to read the books he outlined in such a lively fashion.

The Club was visited by members of Bethel Youth Club and all had a most entertaining evening. Bethel Club was beaten in the quiz by only half a mark. Following refreshments provided by the girls of the Nantlle Club, there were games and dancing.

In the Sunday evening service, the Church expressed its sympathy to Mr David J Williams, 4 Glan Rhonwy in his bereavement, having lost his sister. We are sad to note the sudden death of Mrs T S Jones, 3 Victoria Terrace. A well loved, friendly and noble lady and very devoted to the religious cause in Baladeulyn. She was among the faithful in the Sunday morning service, and it is sad to see her seat vacant.

There was a tasty supper to open the Literary Society Tuesady evening 16th November 1951, with a varied meeting to follow. There were solos by Glenys P Jones and Mr Huw Jones and recitations by Mr G O Jones. Ninety nine members joined the society this year.

Few people know that the history of Baladeulyn Eisteddfod goes back to the middle of the last century (19th). We have in our possession a tune performed before the competitive meeting in Baladeulyn Chapel in March 1874. Also there is a report on a Baladeulyn literary meeting in 1877 in the National Library of Wales with the adjudications of Rev. Evan Jones, Caernarfon on the various competitions.

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The Poets’ Column

Going through old handwritten papers I found some “englynion” (a popular type of four-line Welsh alliterative verse) with critical reviews by Ioan Arfon. I gather they are eisteddfod entries, and they are memorial inscriptions to John (Siôn) Hughes and his wife Ann. Ioan Arfon’s handwriting is quite illegible in places, and I cannot give all of his adjudication on the winning englyn. “He was more elegant in his use of language, without his ideas being more poetic than the others. . . . . .” He judged the prize on the grounds of word and conscience.

I cautiously presume that this is the englyn by BP, after research into the death of John Hughes and his wife Ann; and that my great, great grandfather was John Hughes y Grafog, brother of Robert Hughes, Uwchlaw'r Ffynnon, from the Bod Angharad family. (On the Welsh version of this web page, the original verse epitaph for Ann Hughes is to be seen, and also memorial englynion by Carneddog for Owen Francis and Bob Owen).

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The Youth Club

The choir, under the leadership of Mr Harry Eddy, is busy learning a piece by Sir Hugh Roberton “All in the April Evening” for the Baladeulyn Eisteddfod. Also they are practicing carols as they intend to go around the village singing them at Christmas time.

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Also from the past

I have alredy quoted from the notes which were seen in the Youth Club Diary by my cousin Myfyr. The account of the relics and the old coins is extremely interesting as regards the history of Baladeulyn area, and thanks to Myfyr for reminding us in his research to safeguard the history of his adopted district.

Printed and published in the County Education Office on behalf of Nantlle Youth Club.

Editor: Owen Myfyr Roberts

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I have quoted some of the work of the Reverends William Hobley and William R Ambrose and my great grandfather Owen J Hughes, Y Grafog, in these few observations on the antiquities of Baladeulyn, but since the treatise of O J Hughes went missing when Owen Jones, Bryn Eisteddfod, Llandudno handed over the compositions and adjudications to his fellow adjudicator Gwalchmai, on 6th April 1871, the question I then ask is – Where has the second place essay by ‘Un o Hil Rhodri’ gone after it was in the hands of Gwalchmai?

This has been a great mystery to his family for over a century and a half.

I shall attempt to note the chapters of his essay on 'Hynafiaethau a Chofiannau Nant Nantlle' in the competition at the Penygroes Eisteddfod on Easter Monday 1871 as follows:

  • Chapter 1 General Introduction.
  • Chapter 2 Definition of the place.
  • Chapter 3 Local names within the boundaries such as farms, their taxation value, their size and their owners.
  • Chapter 4 Memorandum about the beginning and growth of the religious cause among the various denominations, reminiscences about the old ministers.
  • Chapter 5 Observations on the nature of the rocks worked in the slate quarries, the successive adventurers in the quarries, the different sorts of slate that are cut and the value of that which is produced.
  • Chapter 6 Recalling famous people of the Nantlle valley.
  • Chapter 7 Conclusion with stories arising from the foregoing links, that gradually raised the Nantlle valley until reaching the present situation.

Perhaps the lot will come to light some day, who knows?

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Baladeulyn, Nant Nantlle Today

Not a single quarryman lives in Nantlle Village now but sometimes I imagine I can hear their footsteps coming and going from Penyrorsedd Quarry morning and evening, where I spent four years in my early life, before the coming of the Second World War and the subsequent call to battle like many another village lad who left his homeland for six years of his life, thankful to Providence for his safety and opening the door to new hope for the future. During the last twenty years there has been an influx of English people to reside in the village. Initially their plans were to have summer cottages until the day of their retirement, and today not much Welsh is to be heard on the street as before and only a small number of the descendants of old families still loyal to the religious cause remain now.

The foreigners are rapidly outweighing the Welsh speakers. The times have changed completely since the Second World War, where once there were only three or four owners of motor cars, but today in a wealthier age, cars are to be seen in front of almost every house, and in some house two or three for the same family. Their youngest children are taken by a parent to school by car to keep the numbers up, lest the school close because there are not enough children in Nantlle to keep the school open. Today they are bilingual, like in several of the County’s schools. The older children are conveyed to the upper schools free, as the Education Committee pays the bill.

The number of pensioners is increasing, and they now have free travel passes on the buses of Wales and since the cost of living is so high, more of them depend on the Welfare State to support them.

There is no shop or post office in Nantlle village, where I remember when I was growing up, five shops and a Postmaster, also coal, paraffin and petrol were sold at Bryncir House. Many changes have occured in the history of Plas Baladeulyn, where the owners have changed six times since Mr & Mrs Stonor’s family left in the 1920s. By now the name has been changed to Trigonos, and belongs to a community group but before this company was established, it was known as the Richard Wilson Centre in memory of the famous picture of Snowdon from Llyn Nantlle by that painter.

The Nantlle News Committee was established here to work with Trigonos, to discuss as a Nantlle community action group and they published their news bulletin in the village now and again. Arising from this, the committee went into partnership with the same sort of committee in Talysarn, and the two are called the Talysarn and Nantlle Partnership. Exellent things are expected to come from this Partnership which is busily making an effort to develop community entertainment. Perhaps new life will come to the area and success and prosperity will dawn anew in these villages despite the poverty of the past since the age of the quarryman came to an end.

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A list of the names of the Quarries

I would like to list here the names of the quarries whose sirens we would hear as a shot-firing warning throughout the day when they were in full operation:

  •  Penyrorsedd
  •  Dorothea (and the big clock)
  •  Y Cilgwyn
  •  Y Fron a'r Foel
  •  Pen-y-Bryn
  •  Gallt Fedw
  •  Talysarn
  •  Nant y Fron
  •  Cors y Bryniau

They are all silent now since the Second world war 1939-1945, and, more’s the pity, the lads who loved them have left.

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Translated by Vernon Oldfield from the original 'Baladeulyn Ddoe a Heddiw' by Thomas Alun Williams

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