"A look back at Bardsey in 1885"
Rev Peter Jones, Pwllheli
(Gleanings from his essay on the Island)
The lowlands of the island are fertile, and the best of
barley and wheat is grown there as well as a great variety of vegetables. At the
market in Pwllheli the farmers of Llyn all want the barley seed from Bardsey, no
matter what season it may be, and are always prepared to pay the highest price
for it. As well as being proficient farmers the men of Bardsey are renowned
fishermen. They are resourceful and successful fishermen, and a great variety of
fish and shellfish are caught in their pots and nets for example lobsters,
oysters, crabs, herrings amongst others. They used to send the fish to markets
in Liverpool and Caernarfon, but now they are taken over to Aberdaron as there
are plenty of customers waiting there to take the fish to various markets.
Fishing is a very profitable industry on the island, and Bardsey fish are highly
regarded and much sought after in the markets.
In 1880 the Rev. W T Jones took the census on the island
and it includes everything to be found on the island, here we give you the
results of that census:-
The houses on the island – 16, of which 10 are
Utilised land – 250 acres, the rest is mountain.
Number of cattle - 58.
Number of horses – 21.
Scores of sheep, tens of pigs a dozen hens and a few
There were 16 cats and 12 dogs.
The population is 72, of which 36 are male and 36 are
female, equal in number as you see.
12 bachelors and 13 spinsters
Number of children 12, from only three families.
We now have a list of all the houses including head of
households, husbands, wives, children, servants and maids:-
Hendy – Home of the late Rev Robert Williams. 5 in the
family Capt Griffiths his wife (daughter of the late Rev Robert Williams) a son
Nant – Morris Williams the chapel elder and his wife
Jane their daughter and a servant live here.
Mission House – Home to the Rev W T Jones and his
family 5 in number.
Ty Newydd - The home of Samuel Jones his wife and their
five children. Thomas Jones Samuel’s brother and his son also live here thus
making the number nine.
Ty Bach – Anne and Jane Williams two sisters and their
brothers Thomas and John and Anne’s daughter Mary live here, five in total.
Garreg Bach – Nathaniel the old minister’s son, Mary
his wife and their son reside here a total of three.
Carreg Fawr – Home to Sydney, Ellen and Evan their
brother. This family are related to the late Capt Williams ‘Mount Hazel’
Plas Bach – The largest farm on the island it includes
a quarter of the island in its land. This where Lord Newborough used to stay
when he came to visit the island and they had rooms set aside especially for
him. The family is made up of Mrs Ann Williams, three sons a daughter and her
Cristin Uchaf – This is the Royal Palace where the
‘King and Queen’ John and Jane Williams lived Their children John, Sydney
and Jane live there now.
Cristin Isaf – Ellen Williams, a widow and daughter
for the late minister lives here with her two sons and a daughter.
Ty Pellaf – Griffith
Pritchard the ‘Old Patriarch’ lived here he was quite a character. He was in
old age when he came into the fold and therefore his communion of faith was but
a short one. He joined the church at Bardsey on the 1st of April
1876, and died on the 16th of January 1883 but during this time he
was exceptionally faithful and dedicated. He was buried on the 20th
of January in the ‘Saints graveyard’ on the island. At the time he died the
weather was very stormy and it was impossible to get to the mainland to fetch
the carpenter to make a coffin for him. The minister had to make the old
pilgrims coffin himself and he had a good funeral as the storms had abated and
his family from the mainland were able to attend and pay their last respects. As
I mentioned earlier Griffith was a faithful and dedicated member of the cause on
Bardsey and he was chosen as an elder at the same time as Morris Williams. Even
though his ‘talents’ were but few, he was ardent in his prayers. His
supplications were unusual but amongst them were pearls of wisdom. He prayed for
a faith that kept sight of that ‘old lighthouse on ‘calvary’ and for
having a ‘lifebuoy’ to sustain him and that he may be launched on the
‘ship of salvation’! The familiar things of the island were intertwined in
his prayers and supplications as you can see.
Dyno Goch – Is home to Hugh and Margaret Hughes,
William, Hugh’s brother, Ellen their sister and two children.
The Lighthouse – This institution consists of three
houses. Mr Brown the Principal his wife and three children live in one. The
other is occupied by Mr Davies the ‘lightkeeper’ and in the third lives
another lightkeeper Mr Neal, his wife and child and her sister.
The above is a full and complete list of all Bardsey residents in 1880.
We look next at the wells of the island which are of
vital importance to the islanders and which have sustained life on Bardsey for
(Ffynnon = Well)
Ffynnon Corn – The main well on the island and is at
the base of the mountain.
Ffynnon Barfau – It can be found on a rock and two
holes full of crystal clear water can be seeb. Tradition has it that these holes
are the giant’s footsteps which were made when he jumped from Maen y Bugail in
the Sound and landed here. It is also said that this is where the old saints
used to shave their beards as the clear waters of the well could be used as a
mirror in which to see their reflection, it is also said that they kept their
razors in a nearby hole. But this well is of great importance as it is always
full come summer or winter. (Barfau = Beards)
Ffynnon Owen Rolant – This well is not far from the
above and is reputed to be medicinal and beneficial to health.
Ffynnon Weirglodd Bach.
Ffynnon Waen Cristin.
Ffynnon Cae Dwfr.
Ffynnon Tan Radell.
Numerous rocks are situated both on the island and
surrounding it, we mention but a few below.:-
Maen Du – Found in the sound close to the Parwyd.
Maen Iau – This is to be found in the sea to the north
west of island and is an exceptional place to fish for ‘red cods’. These
fish are usually caught in the evening by moonlight.
Carreg Rhona – A flat rock of about half an acre which
can be seen on the ebb, it is situated a quarter of a mile out to sea from Porth
Carreg Cybi – Situated to the north west of Porth
Solach, no one other than the finder can claim the driftwood here.
Cwmpas – You pass this as you come into land at Y Cafn.
Carreg Henafol - On this rock there are to be found
ancient inscriptions. Many scholars from time to time have tried to read and
translate them, amongst whom was Mr Jones Parry MP Madryn – his explanation
being ‘Esilu Marchvelio’ which means Esilu Marchwiael (??)
We can also add to this list the following:-
Pant yn Canu.
Pant yr Hen Wr.
Llyn y Felin – The waters from here run down to the
cove at Solach. There are the ruins of an old mill close by and this pond surely
supplied the mill with water.
Brynbaglau – The old saints used to wash in the nearby
well and were cured of their ailments and they would leave their sticks and
crutches here, and this is where the name Brynbaglau (Hill of Crutches) derives
from or so it is assumed.
Around the island are many coves and inlets:-
Heigiol Borth Newydd – This faces the Sound and is the
only place on that side of the island where a boat can run for shelter. It was
only recently constructed.
Porth Solach – Perhaps the proper name is Porth
Solfach. It is to be found in a hidden place not far from the Abbey. In olden
times this used to be the smugglers cove. Nowadays it is only used occasionally.
Y Cafn – The main harbour for the island. It is situated on the southern end of the island nestling in a sheltered cove. This is where the steamer ‘Fairy’ amongst others brings its passengers when visiting the island. There is always a large fleet of fishing vessels to be seen here too.
Porth Fadog – This cove is to be found not far from
Now we take a look at the names of some of the main
boats belonging to the island:-
Happy – This boat was often used to go to Liverpool
and could carry up to 4 tons.
Newborough – Another one that went to Liverpool and
carried six tons.
Fanny - She sailed frequently to Liverpool and could
carry six tons of cargo including fish, eggs, butter, winkles, hens and
Ramphinion – This boat also ran regular trips to
Liverpool for some considerable time and had a six ton capacity.
These are the main boats, doubtless there were countless
Growing on the island is a variety of herbs, some of
them beneficial and some very rare ones. There is an abundance of wormwood and
feverfew and yellow ochre, though no use is made of the latter.
On the mountain are layers of slate and limestone but by
far the most useful is the fine granite a stone much used for paving.
The Islanders though in one aspect may be seen as very
independent, are in reality very much dependant in other ways. In fact I can
think of no others quite so dependant. They rely on goods from the mainland,
things that are essential for daily living. At times there is a scarcity of
goods, if not a famine on the island for these goods, especially when the
weather is stormy and the inhabitants are cut off from the mainland. Within this
Island State there is no mill, no shops, no smithy, no carpenter, no shoemaker,
no tailor, no doctor or solicitor. There’s no Tavern or Inn or anything of the
kind to be found (which is a blessing) The disadvantage of the island is the
lack of resources to meet the needs of the islanders everything comes from the
mainland and that’s not always possible and can be a great problem at times.
Take for example when an illness or accident strikes one of the inhabitants,
there’s no apothecary or doctor to be had and help must be sought from the
mainland and the patient or injured person taken there for treatment. Of course
the weather must be favourable and even if this is the case then they must
travel as far as Nefyn to get to the doctor. If the patient is too ill or
injured the doctor must travel to the island, by which time it may be too late
and the person would have died before his arrival. When disease or illness
strikes the island is neither a happy or safe haven. This is how Mr Jones
describes the matter ‘At the beginning of the year we had a lot of illness and
one islander who was particularly ill and we had to get the doctor to come out,
but hopefully he’ll be soon fully recovered. It’s a very sad place for
anyone who is ill here. But thanks to God’s Grace it is rare for severe
illness to occur to any of the inhabitants’. We should also add that Mr Jones
himself is quite adept at administering medication for common ailments and he
always has a chest full of medicines. It is only when serious illness or
accidents occur that the islanders feel at a disadvantage.
There’s no mill on the island to grind the corn and
make flour, and it has to be sent over to Aberdaron to mill. The islanders often
fear a bread famine, and coal has been very scarce at times. But the worst
famine the islanders could ever imagine and would prove unbearable would be tea
for the ladies and tobacco for the men!!! The hunger for bread, water and a lack
of coal would be nothing as compared to the hunger for tea and tobacco, a
torture too terrible to imagine!!!!!
We’ve mentioned what can’t be had on the island and
to this list we can add the creatures that are not found here. No mules or
donkeys, no frogs or snakes, no partridges, woodcocks or hares. In fact the only
game worth hunting are rabbits, and they are in large numbers on the island.
This is a place without any dangerous or poisonous beasts, no game, no keeper
and no ‘game laws’ for the tenants to worry about!!
From time to time ‘birds of passage’ (migrating)
flock to the island to rest on their long journey to distant lands. Occasionally
a very special bird known as the ‘mackerel cock’ comes by. It is similar to
a pigeon but its shrieks and screams creates fear amongst the islanders and
keeps them awake many nights. Unless it is within sight of the sea it cannot
take to flight and if you placed it in the middle of a field out of sight of the
sea his wings just would not function at all. Another quite rare bird found here
is the chough and as I’ve been told they can be taught to speak.
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