Rhiw in 1886

My great grandmother Catherine was born on February 28th 1879 and lived with her parents and two brothers at the tiny dwelling of Benallt Bach on the western slopes of Rhiw, above Bodwyddog Fawr farm. According to the 1881 census her mother Ellen by then was a widow. Life must have been very hard for the poor woman, at just 34 years old, having to bring up three children, William 7, Owen 5, and little Catherine. There was no such thing as state benefit either, so deprived and destitute families had to rely on good neighbours and handouts from the church and charities for the poor. They would also have to find employment as servants or cleaners just to keep their children clothed and fed, which is just what Ellen Owen had to do.

Every Sunday Ellen and her three children would join the congregation at Nebo chapel. And by 1885, the three children would attend the “Band of Hope” at the chapel every Tuesday evening. The Band of Hope was a temperance organisation for working-class children, which had been founded in Leeds in 1847. All members took a pledge of total abstinence and were taught the "evils of drink". Members were enrolled from the age of six and met once a week to listen to lectures and participate in activities. These were well attended, and most of Rhiw’s children would have been there.

On one particular Tuesday night in the winter of 1886, all the children and their elders left the chapel at about 7 pm. Quite a few of their parents would have been waiting for them, so there would have been a lot of people standing around outside Nebo, on that cold and clear night. To the northeast in the direction of Garn Fadryn, someone noticed a light quite low in the sky. And as it moved nearer all eyes were glued to it, and the group fell silent as this “apparition” came closer and closer. As it moved through the sky to the northwest of them, Catherine described it as being round and similar in appearance to a farm cart wheel, very large, with bright lights all around the rim, and some more lights at the “hub” in the centre, and was totally silent as well. It took about four to five minutes to travel from horizon to horizon, before finally disappearing over Bardsey Island to the far southwest.

If a large group of people saw something similar today, it would be analysed, in a totally different light to what the people of Rhiw did back then. Some of us would put it down to a “Government Conspiracy” or even blame the Yanks, or the Russians. Because today it would be possible for a similar machine to exist, after all stealth fighters and bombers were flying around for some time before we were told, (or found out about them). But in 1886, it would be another fourteen years before Count Zeppelin took to the sky in his first airship, and even then only managed to circle a field a couple of times before his steering gear packed up. So when people looked up to the sky back then, they wouldn’t expect to see anything more than what nature had provided. And no one in their wildest dreams could have thought something like this up, for then the sky was exclusively for birds and bats. And not till 1947 would the world adopt the “Flying Saucer” term, so in 1886 a cart wheel was a far more acceptable description.

So what did 7-year-old Catherine and the people of Rhiw see in the night sky on that cold winters evening 120 years ago? There’s one thing for sure, they hadn’t mistakenly identified a passing plane, as there weren’t any around then. I think a meteor is out of the question as well, this object was moving far to slow, a meteor would have been over the horizon in seconds rather than minutes. One thing is certain though, they did see something that night, but sadly we will probably never know what.

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(Foot note) I have pondered about which category of Rhiw.com this account should go into, Myths & Legends would be an option, but I’ve decided to imbed it in the Rhiw History pages, where I think it rightly belongs.

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Have you seen something that you couldn’t explain away in the sky over Llyn? Or maybe a similar account to this from the past. Please let us know, as we would like to put them all together on this website.

Accounts of other British sightings through the ages.

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