Rhiw mountain rises steeply at the western end of Porth Neigwl to a height of about 1000 feet. Above the bay itself is the rocky Mynydd y Graig with its huge tumblers and further to the north is the Rhiw Mountain with its heather covered slopes and the dome of Clip y Gylfinir making it a landmark from afar.
Between these two heights lies the lower pass “Bwlch y Rhiw” where the road from the east leads across the mountain to Aberdaron. The village of Rhiw lies in this pass at its highest level of about 600 feet. To the east is the steep mountain leading to the five mile long beach of Porth Neigwl and the lowlands of Botwnnog and Neigwl areas. To the north and west the mountain slopes more gently before the lower plains of Bryncroes and Rhoshirwaun are reached.
The soil varies from the heather covered inches of the mountain top to the fairly deep and fertile soils of the western slopes with their rather heavy loam.
Church at Rhiw is on the lower slope to the east and would suggest initial settlement at this lower level, where a road leads along the slope in the general direction of the mediaeval township of Galltraeth to the north. The church of Llanfaelrhys lies on the lower level to the west near the incised valley and near the farm of Llawenan which may have been another mediaeval centre. The fact that the two churches are on the lower slopes would suggest that settlement was at the time on these lower slopes, and that the connecting road through the pass was over the open common. The land across the pass was enclosed at an early date as the names of the smallholdings and farms are mentioned in the documents of the local estates long before the enclosure act of the early 19th century. There is reference to an Inn near the highest point and the smallholder or Inn of Bwlch Rhiw is famous in the religious awakening of the late sixteenth century.
Long before the enclosure act at the beginning of the last century which saw enclosing of further spaces of the Rhiw Mountain itself, the Rhiw area had become of importance owing to the presence of manganese and iron ores. The manganese and iron is found in lodes(?) and veins mostly on the western slopes of the mountain, though traces can be found in many other areas on the Llyn Peninsula. No record shows when it was first developed, but there are remains of working on a small scale on the mountain sides which show that it must have been worked very log ago.
Until the last century it does not appear to have been more than a subsidiary to the agricultural occupation of the inhabitants, and it was only towards the end of the last century that the influx of workers led to development for that purpose. The village itself seems to have grown first as a centre of communication and later to serve the mining and agricultural community.
Settlement and Plan.
The actual village is situated where the road from Aberdaron to Pwllheli, leading over the Rhiw mountain is at the highest point of the pass. Here it meets another road leading from the general directions of Bryncroes and Rhoshirwaun and at that point of the junction an Inn stood during the last century. Near and around this point are situated a number of cottages and smallholdings in a loose scattered structure and here we find the school and the Post Office as well as the chapels of both the Methodists (Calv) and the Congregationalists. The Wesleyans have their chapel on the slopes of toward Bryncroes. Here a few years ago there was the local inn, but the licence was allowed to lapse in a period of depression in the community and there is no inn today.
This is the centre of communications for the roads leading over the mountain. To the east there are a few scattered houses. On the slope with here and there small enclosed patches of cultivated land ,while on the lower plain is the badly drained Neigwl area with its boulder clay foundation.
To the west and north are smallholdings and some larger farms including the Bodwyddog and Meillionydd farms of an extensive nature, both having been fairly important estates at one period. About a mile and a half on the road to Aberdaron is the hamlet of Pencaerau where the Rhoshirwaun road meets the Rhiw-Aberdaron road.
The ardal of Rhiw is practically co-existent with the ancient parishes of Rhiw and Llanfaelrhys now both merged in the larger parish of Aberdaron. The population can therefore be fixed fairly accurately from the census figures.
Population of ardal today is 319. This does not mean that there has been a further fall since 1931. It would appear from other observations that there has not been much change. The fact that one section of the old parish of Llanfaelrhys extended to the ardal of Rhoshirwaun accounts for this discrepancy.
Decline in population has not been so evident as in other rural areas. Increase of population 1800- 1821 probably due to enclosures and encroaching. The manganese outlook has since then determined the main population curves. About 1900 when there were two manganese mines being worked population increased reaching a maximum about 1906 and then declined until the 1914-1918 war when the population again increased only to fall again even more swiftly after 1919 a fall that has been steady until 1939. There may have been some increase since then, but prospects are not favourable.
The figures for various age groups shows a very low % between 20 and 40 years of age, the definitive result of the forced migration of the young people of Rhiw after the 1918 depression in the manganese industry. For the same reason the proportion of married couples under 40 is also low.
Population and prosperity at Rhiw have for the last six years have been governed by the position of the manganese and iron mining industry as well as that of agriculture and as the former has been much more unstable, it is fluctuations in that industry that has been the main cause of depopulation and poverty that has been the lot of the people of Rhiw all too often.
Statistics show 36% of the population occupied in agriculture with a further 10% in building and 10% in domestic service. It does not show any miners, though there are two quarrymen. It is only since the end of the war that the mines were closed, yet the working population have no difficulty today in being classified as labourers, smallholders or rabbit catchers etc .History has shown them that to be a miner in Rhiw is to be unemployed, and thus mining is an occupation for those years when the mines are prosperous. The statistics hide the presence of many skilled efficient miners and engineers.
Agriculture ie therefore the main occupation at ordinary times and it is always the occupation of a large proportion of the inhabitants and more especially of those living on the lower slopes.
The main occupation. Fairly good land on slopes. Some large farms on western slopes. Mountain poor land. Some 300 acres of common today useless as animals are apt to roam into nearby roads and be a danger to traffic. Necessary for some control over Common so that it can be used. It is possible that there is very good land on some parts of the Rhiw mountain which is not cultivated as it is not enclosed.
Smallholdings on highest slope. Many very small and around Rhiw village. Very popular in Rhiw. There is always a keen demand for smallholdings due to frequent opportunity for other occupations which may be of a supplementary nature at certain seasons such as fishing (the sea) etc. Mining, quarrying, agricultural labour. Poverty of land and its patchy structure makes small holdings the only possibility apart from unenclosed areas.
Agricultural labourers only a fourth of the number in the past – due to increased use and efficiency of machinery. Some scarcity especially when the season is bad for cultivation, but position much worse as regards female domestic service. Almost impossible to secure services of young girls for farm and domestic work. Need for electricity thus all the more urgent.
Large farms on slopes compromise lowland loam varying gradually to the open heathlands of the higher slopes. At one time a number of small estates were founded in the parish-the Meillionydd (Williams-later Rice) Bodwyddog (Parrys) etc. These have all disappeared after comparatively short life leaving large farms and surrounding holdings as evidence.
Smallholdings involve hours of extra labour at certain times of the season, but valued for their independence and are free to undertake other work as and when necessary . Smallholders here as elsewhere take a keen and active interest in the life of the community in all its aspects. The larger farmers have also taken an interest in the local communal life, both in its religious and social aspects and they continue to do so.
Number of tourists rather high especially when the inaccessible situation of Rhiw is considered. The main attraction is the panoramic view from the two hills and the miles of sandy beach at Porth Neigwl.
The presence of English immigrants at the manganese mines from time to time has led to a tourist intrusion of a certain amount since the early years of the century. It was after the 1918 peace that the number increased and became fairly general. The depression at Rhiw was more severe than elsewhere as both agriculture and the manganese mining industry were suffering at the same period. The mines were closed and there was much distress in the area.
The influx of visitors proved most valuable at that period and it has increased since. Visitors stay at both farmhouses and other houses. The number could be rapidly increased but for the lack of housing and lack of facilities that make it impossible for many houses to undertake the extra work. The lack of a supply of water is evident at this height and when this is remedied it will make much difference to the tourist industry.
There is little evidence that there has been any local enterprise to meet the increased market for vegetables etc. These are often obtained from Pwllheli and elsewhere, and when transport to Rhiw is considered there is no doubt of the possibility for market gardening to meet some of the demand. There are excellent spots where very many crops can be grown on the lower slopes and summer crops of a good quality can be grown on smallholdings in general.
The income from visitors has gone to help the upkeep of the houses and this has proved useful in many cases where there was until then need for repairs and furniture.
Some visitors seem to take a keen interest in the area and some have settled down in the area.
Good catches of fish obtainable at Porth Neigwl. Some of the smallholders and others possess boats and do a certain amount of fishing in the evenings or when other work permits. There is also a good market in summer with the tourist influx. The one thing lacking is a good anchorage. There are 8 boats in the bay but it’s with great difficulty that they can be pulled up out of the reach of Porth neigwl waves- which have earned for it the name Hells Mouth. A slight expense and an excellent anchorage could be made. Until then it is doubtful if much activity can be seen.
Iron and manganese mines on Rhiw mountain. Probably of long duration. Ore was shipped from shore at Aberdaron and Hells Mouth early last century. Workings appear to be spread over a fairly extreme area usually small outcrop working, probably the work of individuals. Demand for manganese towards the end of the last century led to increased production .Two joint stock companies undertook the work , one on the higher level, the ore being transported overhead to a jetty at Hells Mouth, the other working in a lower level with a railway running down to a jetty at that creek. Working was brisk in both from 1900 to about 1910 when the easily worked ore had been extracted and competition proved too severe.
The outbreak of war in 1914 led to a reopening of both these mines on a large scale, the ore being transported by road as well as by sea. The era of peace again saw the rapid disappearance of the demand with the increased supply from Indian sources.
In 1939 the war again led to difficulties in securing supplies of manganese and the ministry of supply reopened the mines as one unit and they were working up to a maximum capacity until peace was declared when the mines were once again closed and the machinery dismantled.
It has been stated on what ground is not known that the supply of ore is exhausted. The ore appears to be in lodes and there have been outcrops in many parts of the Peninsula. Some drilling was carried out during the last war, but as yet no exhaustive survey has been carried out in the area.
The ore at present mined is of a much lower grade both in iron and manganese content than that which was formerly mined. On the other hand transport and mechanical assistance has led to much more efficient production.
At periods of maximum activity the mines employed from 150 to 200 men and this led to additional supplementary and auxiliary labour in the area. There were periods of activity when trade was good, income secure and high to be followed by periods of deep distress. It was probably this cyclical phenomenon that led to the survival of the smallholder- miner in the area. The other miners had to seek work elsewhere Workers came from the whole southern part of the peninsula, but more especially from the Rhiw and Rhoshirwaun districts.
Many houses small cottages erected early last century. Other more modern dwellings erected during the boom period in the mining industry after 1900
Many of the earlier houses have been allowed to fall in ruins, especially those in the more inaccessible areas. Others have been bought strangers who occupy them during the summer months. The cyclical fall in employment has usually led to the emptying of these more inaccessible houses and their owners could hardly afford to keep them in repair.
It is doubtful whether it will ever again be possible to secure local families to take up some of the more inaccessible dwellings especially as they are bound for a long time to lack electricity and water. The long distances to school and the community center is bound to make it all the more difficult. There is however a demand for houses suitable for workers in the vicinity of the village itself and near the main roads.
Roads and transport.
Condition of the main road has improved of late years. Main road to Pwllheli over the steep Rhiw hill now used by buses. Side roads still in bad condition, but roads to some farms worse. Need of direction notices in side of the roads leading to beaches etc as well as on paths.
Bus services have been very poor lately. Operation by Crosville since 1930’s previously by local carrier. Urgent need for better service, especially for the late bus on Saturday when so many young people go to Pwllheli; for connections with Aberdaron. Saturday connection with 10.35 train for the Midlands etc necessary . Services improved since meeting connections now available with Aberdaron.
Lack of water very grave owing to high altitude of village and smallholdings. Houses and farms have to carry water for long distances. Some large farms on the slopes have to carry water in summer for the animals a distance of over half a mile.
Lack of water supply makes work heavier on farms and houses and militates against both agriculture and the tourist industry. Local council has a scheme in draft form but it is doubtful whether any action will be taken in near future. Any scheme to Rhiw would involve pumping.
A supply was brought into the village during the war years in connection with the manganese mines, but has not been made available for the public apart from one chapel. Need for electricity as in all other rural areas, more especially so owing to the inaccessible position of Rhiw. The farms would benefit greatly from a supply at the present tome and it would help in the present difficulties of securing domestic servants.
Two general stores in the village one acting as Post Office. Inaccessibility of village makes it necessary for the local shops to keep ample supplies, especially during the winter months when snow may make contact with Pwllheli impossible for a period. Shops very flourishing when the mines are working, but at other times trade is slack.
Need for drapery and boot dealers nearest being in Pwllheli or Pencaerau on the Aberdaron road.
A good general store at Pencaerau, Siop Pencaerau at one time noted as the “druggist’s” who lived there and carried on a general store in addition to his specialised trade. It still functions as a store for drapery and some ironmogery in addition to grocery and the storekeeper has inherited his well known cure for warts of a dangerous nature as a consequence the store has a very wide attraction.
There appears to be need for both fish and fruit in the summer months and a supply at the local store would prove beneficial to the housewife as well as the local smallholder who could easily supply the deficiency of both.
Nursing services in connection with Aberdaron etc doctors available Botwnnog (3 miles) Hospital service very inadequate. Nearest hospital at Bangor.
Standard of living
War time is the time of prosperity at Rhiw. At other times Rhiw has suffered gravely from unemployment and poverty leading to migration of the young people. This was especially the case after 1920 when the depression of both basic industries followed. It was a severe struggle in the mountain village during those days. The late war brought unusual prosperity but the number working at the mines did not reach the high figures of previous eras of prosperity. Thus there has not been so much unemployment since the mines were closed.
Agriculture is more prosperous than it has been within living memory owing to the security of prices. It is this security that is the foundation of the success of the agricultural industry. The liquid milk sale has brought ready cash, but there is a greater attraction in the Rhiw area for the higher prices and secure prices for the stores (Cattle).
Lack of capital still hinders the industry owing to past poverty. Generally speaking there is more security of a social nature than ever before and the standard of living is higher than it has ever been in peace time and more stable. There is no unemployment although some have to travel to Pwllheli for their work.
Churches of Rhiw and Llanfaelrhys on both slopes of Rhiw mountain – probably early settlement on those to lower slopes. Late 18th century members of various nonconformist bodies are mentioned as living in Bwlch Rhiw which may be the village and not the particular house so named today. There were about 1800 prominent members of Baptists, Congregationalists and Calvinistic Methodists and the two latter had their chapels built here in the village itself. The Wesleyan Methodists built their chapel on the western slope during the influx of that movement early in the last century
It would appear that the strength of the Wesleyans was in the broader acres of the western farms, that of the Methodists on the farms either side of the mountain, and that of the Congregationalists in the actual village and its smallholdings. That structure still persists to a certain extent.
There have been periods of great activity but at present .enthusiasm is lacking. There are members of the Church of Wales scattered throughout the parish but they have become fewer and fewer of late years except in the actual vicinity of the churches. Denominational differences do not appear to be hampering communal co-operation. This is more apparent where the young people are concerned and for them there does not appear to be any difference in their outlook, the question of denomination being pure chance. It is always felt that representation on all communal bodies should contain members of all the denominations, as otherwise one denomination might feel slighted. This particular “saving of face” seems more necessary always in the case of the weakest congregation, and is proof of the actual existence of differences of community although the actual theological differences have disappeared.
Neither have ministers resident, apart from the Church in Wales. The cost of keeping the three chapels and two churches for the community must be burdensome.
Elementary Council School in the village. Erected last century, building in rather poor condition.
Prior to erection under Board system in 1870’s there had been a school held at intervals under a local charity, a school circulating between Aberdaron, Rhiw and Bryncroes.
Secondary School- Botwnnog. Now both modern and grammar for all children over primary age.
Number of pupils fluctuating according to prosperity of the area. On the whole a fair standard of education in the area, the sons and daughters of the larger farms have received secondary education on a wider scale than those of the village itself.
Literary society held in various chapels. Lately the Wesleyans have been more active in the field due maybe to the minister in charge at present. The literary society is successful and well attended by all denominations. There is no strong cultural tradition here although from time to time there have been successful choirs.
A branch of the W I has been formed with over 40 members and is doing good work here in the village.
The W E A at one time held the field here with the first class in South Caernarfonshire. That was in 1917 and due to the immigrant miners from the quarrying districts. The W E A proved strong and active for many years with classes in economics and music. The dwindling numbers due to forced migration however made it impossible to carry on, and since then it has not been possible to revive it. The youth movement has taken up the work it was doing in some directions and there is no room in Rhiw fro many movements if they are to succeed.
The young farmers club a youth movement is attended by many besides the young members. It has been active for some years and is well supported. It is successful when well led, but it is apt to flag unless there is good leadership. It has done good work and at present is very strong with enthusiastic members.
A strong trade union movement appeared during the 1914- 1918 war initiated by the miners who had come over from the quarrying districts, but strongly supported by the local workers. The increased cost of living and difficult working conditions led to strife and there was a stoppage of work for a period followed by victimisation of some of the local leaders.
Closely connected with the trade union development was the emergence of a strong political allied movement which became strong at the expense of the traditional Liberal element in the community.
The days of depression saw the waning of both movements and the interest displayed in politics and local government has been slight, though there are periodical organisations of some of the political parties in the village.
The W E A took the initiative in organising a movement for securing a community centre at Rhiw soon after 1920. The movement accumulated funds and secured a plot of land on a suitable position. Enthusiasm dwindled owing to lack of local support during the depression years of 1930’s but the movement has been revived lately. It has a democratic constitution under the Public Trustees and has the necessary land for building and about £300 accumulated cash.
The school room has been used for all local meetings since its erection. Of late the conversion of one room into a dining room has made it difficult to hold meetings there and thus the need for a center is all the greater.
The inaccessible position of Rhiw makes such a center an urgent need if the young people are to be kept in the village.
Community Characteristics (general)
Mixed traditions. Mining activities brought a foreign element which at times led to a deterioration in the traditional way of life.
The one time typical rural community life was often shaken by the sudden impulse of foreign elements with their different language and tradition, to be followed all too soon by distress and migration.
Thus there has been a general lack of security at Rhiw and the traditional background has been affected thereby .The increased population and prosperity at times has led to a number of divisions and societies which though strong at their initial stages have become weak in the course of time. This has led to the many divisions in the religious and social life of the community and these groups are often jealous of one another owing to their poverty.
There is always a feeling of a divided community at Rhiw. Whatever the prevailing movement there seems always to be a section ready to hinder its progress. The emergence of a somewhat artificial class distinction as some persons secure better posts during periodical periods of activity and some foreigners appear on the local scene, these lead to further local division.
Though there is a long tradition of independent thought at Rhiw yet this literary and theological life has hardly penetrated into the present day structure.
The acquisition of a community center should be one of the most beneficial amenities in Rhiw as it would in time tend to diminish the divisions in the communal life.
The very inaccessible position of Rhiw makes this all the more urgent, and the presence of a number of enthusiastic young men and women should make such a movement successful.
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