"The flat Ann"

One of the best known rhymes here in Llyn is ‘Fflat Huw Puw’, it has been sung by children for generations and indeed was the inspiration for J Glynne Davies’s ‘The songs of Huw Puw’. Did such a person ever exist, or was he just a figment of the imagination? The truth is that there was such a person, and he was larger than life. His family hailed from the Dolgellau area, but Hugh Pugh was born in the Princess Basin Liverpool, and at one time in his career, became master of the small flat ‘Ann’. The ‘Ann’ was built in Frodsham in 1799, registered in Liverpool till 1848, then sold to Caernarfon on August  4th 1848. Flats were shallow boats that were used to sail up rivers and the Ann sailed the Mersey, Dee, and the river Conway as far as Trefriw. She was 60 tons, had one mast and three of a crew. Her exact measurements were 61.8 ft long. 15ft 1in wide, and a draft of 6ft. 6in. She was described thus ‘Rigged with lifting Bowsprit, square sterned, Carvel built, has neither Galleries or figurehead’.

In Caernarfon she had three owners :- Hugh Pugh, mariner – subscribing owner and two others namely David Davies a stonemason from Caernarfon and Richard Williams from Liverpool a school master. Hugh Pugh had twenty shares, Davies had 32 and Williams 12. In those days ships were divided into 64 shares and four shares was known as an ounce, therefore Hugh Pugh owned ‘five ounces’ of the ship of which he was master.

In the Caernarfon Port records between 1840 and 1847, the Flat Ann appears several times as she paid her dues to the Port Authority. There are 26 entries referring to the Ann and Hugh Pugh as Master, this goes to show that Hugh Pugh was master of her years before he actually bought her. The Ann came from Runcorn to Caernarfon six times – once with a cargo of coal and five times with a cargo of wood and some iron. The value of the wood was recorded three times, £210, £80 and £138, the usual cargo of coal was around 95 tons. During the period 1845 to 1847 eight cargoes of slate were transported from Felinheli (Portdinorwig), five times to Runcorn and three times to Liverpool. She also carried hay, slates and ‘Bar wood’ from Caernarfon to Liverpool, coal from Flint to Caernarfon, coal from Caernarfon to Porthmadog and returning to Caernarfon with slate. She once shipped a cargo of ‘stranded goods’ from Porthdinllaen to Caernarfon. But for the most part she traded between Caernarfon, Liverpool and Runcorn and coal, wood and slate were her main cargo.  

"The Flat Ann"

Reference was also made to the Ann in the Porthdinllaen Harbour Log. Ships captains who ran for shelter in Porthdinllaen used to tie their ships on to the ringbolts on the bar and for this they were charged a small sum. A ship laden with cargo would pay a halfpenny per ton, and a ship in ballast would pay a farthing per ton. In the logbook these were known as ‘Rings Account’. The Ann is mentioned on February 10th 1850 and again on September 2nd 1854, and March 2nd 1858. He paid a farthing a ton the second time and a halfpenny a ton the third time he was there.

In the Caernarfon Register it says 'Lost in 1858' she foundered on the St Tudwals Islands, near Abersoch, on October 18th, whilst on passage from Menai Bridge to Barmouth, with a cargo of timber, and a report of it can be seen in The North Wales Chronicle :-

‘Pwllheli Oct 22. The Flat Ann Pugh ran ashore during a gale on the 18th of October in St Tudwells Roads and went to pieces’

Hugh Pugh was married and had five children. Catherine his wife, and one of his sons David, were with him when the ship was wrecked. Many a tale has been told about Huw Pugh. For example, the time he took a cargo to Cork harbour in Ireland, the ship’s agents came down to the quayside to get their orders, and saw that the ship was called the Ann and saw the skipper’s name on the stern of the boat. So they started to spell out the name ‘H U G H, Hudge, P U G H, Pudge and when Huw Puw arrived to meet them and shake hands, they greeted him thus “How d’ye do Captain Hudge Pudge?” And from then that was what his nickname became amongst his fellow skippers.

At one time a number of captains were staying at a hotel in Mostyn, some had only just come ashore and were preparing to go home to see their families. One of these captains a miserly old fellow had a whole ham that he’d bought cheaply somewhere; and he asked the landlady where he might hide the ham until he started on his journey home, and she showed him the Grandfather clock. All the captains decided to have a meal together, and that each one of them would be responsible for providing various foods for the meal such cheese, bread and pickles. Captain Huw Puw said he would be responsible for the meat. Everyone enjoyed the meal and there was much praise for the ham, especially from the greedy, miserly old captain. “Indeed Huw” he said “You’re a good one for choosing fine ham”. “Just eat it and be quiet” said Huw Puw. But the following morning when the miserly old captain went to get his ham out of the clock all he found was a bare bone!!!! “This is your doing Huw” he said sternly, but he may as well have kept quiet because, as every sailor knows if you’ve been had, you keep your mouth shut!!  

"A flat alongside the quay at Porthdinllaen"

Huw Puw was in a tavern in Pwllheli, with a pint in front of him, when his friends rushed in saying that his ship was on fire down in the harbour. The only response from Huw was to carry on enjoying his pint and to ask loudly for another. Some other men came in, and told him again that his ship was on fire, but Huw continued to sit there drinking pint after pint, no matter who came and told him. Eventually his friends returned to the tavern where Huw was still sitting calmly enjoying his pint, and told him that they had managed to put out the fire on board, to which Huw replied “Thanks lads, I only hope that I can do the same for you one day”!!

From these stories we can see that Huw Puw was quite a character he enjoyed good company, a good yarn and a pint, and that he was mischievous as well. In his younger days when he was about eighteen, he was visiting a brothel in London, when one of the young ladies there feigned a fainting attack, and Huw being the gentleman he was, accompanied her home to her lodging house, where she promptly locked him in her room with the intention no doubt of stealing from him or worse perhaps murdering him! He managed to escape through a window to the backyard, only to be confronted by a huge mastiff that was guarding the place, but he managed to escape by the skin of his teeth, and lived to tell the tale!

Huw Puw died on the 10th of August 1865 aged 70, he was buried in Llanidan church graveyard, along with his wife Catherine who died in 1872 aged 80, and his daughter Margaret who died earlier in 1861 aged 28. He was quite a character and his name will live on forever in the welsh rhyme ‘Fflat Huw Puw’ and his story will remind us all of the bygone days of the coastal traders and the characters that manned them.

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The Sea Shanty "Fflat Huw Puw"

(If you have Internet Explorer 3 or higher, you should be able to hear the melody)

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