Abergele in old picture postcards
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Abergele is one of the oldest eentres of population on the coast of North Wales. Situated on the western edge of the Vale of Clwyd and under one mile from the shores of the Irish Sea, it is sheltered from the south by a low-ranging limestone ridge on which the ancient Britons had their fortifications. Three hili forts, one of which, Castell Cawr (Giant's Castle), stands immediately above the town like some other Acropolis, are within two miles of Abergele. In Roman times one of the military roads into North Wales ran two miles to the south of the town and many evidences of the legionary presence have been found in the form of hoards of coins and of bronze cooking utensils. The natives, no doubt, enjoyed a lucrative trade in supplying the legions with meat, both beef and mutton.
The nuc1eus of the future town appeared probably in the form of a Celtic monastic settlement (a clas) of the seventh century on the banks of the river Gele and on the line of the 50 foot contour to ensure safety from the sea, which, from time to time, flooded the Marsh of Rhuddlan. This marsh extended eastwards from Abergele for four miles to the banks of the river Clwyd. The shallow shore line did not invite shipping and settlement.
Abergele developed into a trading centre for an agricultural hinterland and in due course became the religious and administrative centre for the commote of Is-Dulas, A ninth century chieftain or prince, Marchudd ap Cynan, was referred to as being the Lord of Abergele. After the coming of the Normans in 1066, Abergele was to be continually a bone of contention between the Welsh princes of Gwynedd and the invading Normans as the rival forces fought for domination of the land between the rivers Conwy and Clwyd. After the
final territorial conquest of Wales in 1282, Abergele came into the possession of Lord de Lacy of Denbigh castle who immediately planted his trusted followers as burgesses in this market town. They paid rent to him for their lands, for the market tolls, for the dovecot, the mill, and the castle. It took the Welsh many generations before they linguistically and culturally overcame the invaders by a process of assimilation, and thus reoccupied their inheritance.
In 1311 there were 24 burgages at Abergele and this number had increased to 29 by 1334. Already in 1320 it has been recorded that 68 oxen had been bought at Abergele and Ruthin and taken to Macc1esfield. Merchant ships came to North Wales from Liverpool as early as 1317 and they called regularly from Bristol, Fowey and Plymouth with Rhuddlan the effective port for Abergele unless the ships ventured to anchor in the bay, Abergele grew to be a Welsh town with regular markets and fairs being attended by English drovers and graziers. Craftsmen plied their crafts here, and they, together with the merchants, supplied the needs of a rural community.
There were still only about forty houses here as late as 1695, and in 1774 Samuel Johnson found Abergele a mean town in which little but Welsh is spoken. However, a period of marked development was to begin shortly afterwards. To begin with, the new Mail Coach service of the Post Office ran from London to Holyhead via Abergele. Previously the Post Boy had gone from Chester via Denbigh and Llansannan to the Conwy. The roads were improved and travellers advertised the charms of the area. In 1794 the Bee Hotel was advertising that it had every requisite for sea bathers. Then in that same year an Act of Parliament was passed to enclose
much of the land on Rhuddlan Marsh and to pro vide a vitally necessary sea wall for the first time. The Act included a plan for diverting the Gele river from its old channel to the sea at Pensarn so that henceforth it should flow across the newly reclaimed lands to the Clwyd. There was irnmediately a signifieant increase in the population - from 1,728 in 1801 to 2,506 in 1831.
In 1848 eame the railway and added security from flooding by way of an irnproved sea wall. Visitors eame in their thousands, happy to escape from the developing English cities with their periodic summer visitations of the plague, be it cholera or smallpox. The immediate response was the building of the terraces in Pensarn and of larger establishments like Jessamine Villa (Llys Onnen) and the Castle Place area in the town itself. The loeal stone, limestone, was the characteristic medium of building although loeal bricks from the local clays were also used. Before this development Pensarn had only one cottage. Then, abruptly after only some ten years, development at Pensarn stopped. The loeal land owners would not release any more land for building purposes, and Abergele was outstripped as a holiday centre, first by Rhyl, and then by Colwyn Bay, a1though it did have the benefit of supplying bricks for the building of the latter. Not until weIl on into the twentieth century did Abergele grow markedly again. FIOm 1960-1965 the Council built 176 houses and private enterprise 1,176. The population in 1959 was 7,490. In 1971 it was 12,315. Today it is nearly 16,000. How does one account for this continuous growth? Although there is no major industry here, nor ever has there been, AirIine products in Peel Street employ forty people in the production of precision machinery for all manner of
industries, and the tanyard in Water Street still employs thirty-three people, while the various activities of Slaters Garages employ some one hundred and seventy-one, and Abergele is still an agricultura1 centre with its regular fairs, now in a properly appointed smithfield, and not in Market Street as of yore. Early in the century the motor car drove the anirnals into smithfields (there were three at one time). lts Market Street continues to flourish as a centre of business, having been reprieved from strangulation by embottled traffic with the construction of the By-Pass in 1966.
Many of the newer inhabitants are erstwhile members of the local farming cornmunity, and holiday-makers who enjoyed their visits here in former days, seeking retirement in what are still quiet neighbourhoods, and where gradients are kind to ageing limbs. Whether they be Welsh or English speaking, they find in Abergele an abundance of cultura1, religious and community activities.
With the creation of the new shire of Denbigh in 1535, Abergele was governed by Justices sitting in Quarter Sessions, The Parish Vestry continued as a vital arm of loeal government until 1894, although Pensarn (1867) and Abergele (1876) had established Loeal Boards. They persisted until the creation of the Abergele and Pensarn Urban District Council in 1894. In 1935 the Abergele Urban District Council was formed and finally that Council was incorporated in the new Colwyn Urban District Council with headquarters at Colwyn Bay in 1974. The primary unit of loeal government is now the Abergele Town Council.
1. Panorama of Abergele and Pensarn 1880(c). In the middle stands Glan Aber on the Llanddulas Raad. Running across the picture on the left-hand side is Sea Raad with an uninterrupted stretch of open ground behind it from the Bee, across Groes Lwyd to Pentre Mawr. Of particular interest is the stackyard at the rear of the hotel, the Bee having been an extensive farm. Beyond the Sea Raad line of houses is Fronhyfryd and the houses therefrom to Upton Cottage.
2. Market Street, Abergele 1900(c). It was a week1y occurrence for the cattle to take over the main street. The Ship Inn is on the right (due to be demolished in 1906) with its covered frontage. On part of its site the present day Post Office opened in 1909. Drovers and graziers came from far afie1d to bargain in the market, and mix in co1ourfu1 confusion with the sellers and their horses and cattle, carts and traps. The coming of the motor car put an end to such scenes.
3. Bridge Street - Horse Sale. Abergele horse sales were very famous and prices good, to judge by a note in the notebook of David Roberts, Nant, on 18 June 1873. He says he bought a mare at Abergele Fair for t45. In the centre of the picture is Pwllheli Buildings built by Robert Roberts, a plumber and glazier who came here in 1828-29 from Pwllheli. Nearby was the common Iodging house. The gate to St. Paul's Welsh Wesleyan Chapel (built 1880) is at the bottom right-hand corner.
4. The Station. This is how Lord Dundonald saw the station when he eame home to Gwryeh Castle on 30 November 1900. Over eight thousand people arrived here by train on that day to take part in the rejoicing. The station was reeonstrueted in 1902. It was the busiest station in goods traffie on the North Wales line. In 1895 the Visitor was advertising twenty-one trains to Chester between 6.24 a.m. and 10.59 p.m., and twentythree.to Colwyn Bay bet ween 7.45 a.m. and 9.56 p.m.
5. Beach and Promenade, Pensarn Abergele. A pre-1913 view looking westwards befare there was a bridge at the northern end of Sea Raad. The Crossing House, owned by the Railway Cornpany, and home of the crossing keeper, stands out in mid picture. The house stood on the share side of the railway westward of the present bridge. It was demolished in 1913.
6. Pensarn Beach 1902( c). In this picture the railway station has been rebuilt and the bridge widened and extended, but the toilets have not yet appeared. At the foot of the incline going up to the bridge there appears to be a large notice board. It probably announced the appearance of the mission to save the children, the Children's Special Service Mission. Their services, supplemented by games, treasure hunts and competitions, being attractive to children and their parents. The two ladies in the traditional hats are probably photographer's props,
7. Brynffynnon, Abergele. Built before 1861, Brynffynnon House was the home in 1895 of George Perkins, Auctioneer and General Agent. Next is a lighter coloured house which was inserted at a later date between Brynffynnon and Vale View Terrace. In the distance is the spire of the Congregational Chapel (1861). In the left foreground is the 'srnall' turnpike referred to by Edward Lluyd in 1696. In the picture it was already converted into a shop and bakehouse.
8. Glanrafon Cottages. There were three houses inthis group facing Bridge Street. They were already very old in 1861 and were still there twenty years later and called Tai wrth yr afon (Houses by the river). Their frontage was weil below road level and they were probably built before the bridge was first made. The bridge before assuming its present form in 1906 was a stone arch, higher and narrower. The Gele flows left to right in the foreground.