"A look back at Bardsey in 1885"

By the

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 farmhouses.

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 ducks.

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 and daughter.

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’ Llandwrog.

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 daughter.

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.

Bardsey has many caves here are a list of them:-

(Ogo = Cave)

Ogo’r Cwch Bach, Ogo’r Gwr, Ogo’Dic, Ogo Trwyn yr Hwch Fawr, Ogo Trwyn yr Hwch Fach, Ogo Las, Ogo’r Benddu, Ogo Hir, OgoTan Ddaear,Ogo Werbod, Ogo’r Hen Ffrindiau, Ogo’r Hen Fuwch, Ogo Hen, Ogo’r Nant, Ogo’r Esgid, Ogo Pwll Tarw, Ogo Morlais, Ogo Morlais, Ogo’r Pum Cefnach, Ogo Robin, Ogo Felan Fawr, Ogo Felan fach, Ogo Rhona, Ogo Braich y Fwyall, Ogo Twll y Trwyn, OgoGron, Ogo’r Barcud, Ogo Ellyll, Ogo’r Gwalch. Ogo Sian Goch, Ogo Sgiaren, Ogo Lom, Ogo’r Cafn, Ogo Morgan, Ogo Llety Madain, Ogo Ddelas, Ogo’r Gaseg, Ogo’r Codsyn, Odo Diben, Ogo Lladron, Ogo’r Stwffwl Glas, Ogo’r Tylwyth Teg. Ogo Gwman Shon.

The above is a list of all the caves on land and under the sea in Bardsey.  

Next we turn to the holes where crabs are to be found, these are of great importance to the islanders:-

(Twll = Hole)

Twll y Grances, Twll Llaw Chwith, Twll ar ei ben, Twll tan Gwely. Twll Llech y Bais, Twll Tan y Fargod, Twll Cyfyng, Twll Grynonog, Twll y Crochan, Twll Gryniog, Twll Ynys Bach, Twll Twm, Twll y Gaseg Felan, Twll Ffos Owen, Twll Tocyn Siencyn, Twll tyllau’r cwplws, Twll tyllau Richard Hughes, Twll Ogo’r wiail, Twll Robin Ogo Ddefn, Twll Glaswellt, Twll Pen Gwr, Twll Philws, Twll y Trwyn, Twll Oer, Twll Casnod glas, Twll Ogo barcut, Twll Ebol pen Cristin,

The above is a list of the havens of the crabs.  



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 many generations:-

(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 Dolysgwydd.

Ffynnon Weirglodd Bach.

Ffynnon Uchaf.

Ffynnnon Dala.

Ffynnon Diliaranna.

Ffynnon Waen Cristin.

Ffynnon Cae Dwfr.

Ffynnon Caseg.

Ffynnon Defaid.

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 Bugail.

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 Solach.

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:-

Trwyn Penrhyngogo.

Clepiau’r Gwalch.

Pant yn Canu.

Pant yr Hen Wr.

Y Singrig.

Llyn Bribwll.

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.

"Y Cafn"

Porth Fadog – This cove is to be found not far from the lighthouse.

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 ‘samplers’.

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 others.  

"Bardsey boats"

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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