Porthgolmon Pilot and merchants.

Wil Llainfatw was the pilot for Porthgolmon. He’d go out in his boat to meet the ships and it was his responsibility to bring them safely alongside, the ship would be tied up to the rocks for discharge. Wil was also responsible for getting them out safely into the bay for their next journey. He would be paid for his services of course.

"Wil, Llainfatw the last Porthgolmon Pilot"

William Williams Pwllcrwn and Thomas Hughes Plas Morfa were the coal merchants and Griffith Williams Pwllcrwn carried on the business after his father.

The ship would come in on the tide and would be tied up safely to the rocks, After the tide had gone out the carts and horses would come along side and the coal would be unloaded into them. When the Llangwnadl Co operative was founded a few changes took place modernisation you might say. At the spot where the limekiln stands there was a shed that housed a steam engine from which a wire rope ran down to the ship. Robert Thomas Hebron House was the engineer that looked after it. The men on the ship would load the buckets and they would then be pulled up, the man on the plain at Porthgolmon had a long pole that he used to trigger the bucket that would then tip out the load onto the coal heap. William Roberts Llainfatw Isaf an old fellow on crutches was the one I remember that used to weigh the coal before it went on the carts John Williams Gyfelan Bach once told me that his mother used to work for Thomas Hughes Plas Morfa weighing coal for many years. Carts would be end to end up the road from Borth to Tyddyn Du.

"Llyn Co-op"

It was by ship to Porthcolmon that the bricks used to build the following houses came in 1913 :- Peny Gongl, Tir Gwenith, Gorffwysfa and Bryn Afon. It was a time when the whole community came together and helped to unload and carry the bricks away. The horses and carts would rush down to Porthcolmon get alongside the ship and the bricks would then be discharged hand to hand and into the carts until their load was complete. I remember a brick landing on Hugh Roberts Tyddyn Du and injuring him quite badly, but he came round and managed to take the load to journey’s end. I also carried some of the bricks with my little pony and when I was on my way down one day someone told me my load would barely be enough to make a chimney!!!

  Extract from Griffith Griffiths book ‘Blas hir Hel’.

The late Sir Thomas Parry reminisces about the little ships of Porthgolmon.

One of the most memorable and exciting experiences of my youth was to see a ship unloading at Porthgolmon, even though I took no part in the task, there was romance in the sea and it’s activities for me.

The technical name for the ships that came to Porthgolmon was ketch two masts the fore larger than aft, but there were no sails on the ones I saw, as engines had come into being by then. Their cargo was about a hundred tons, and it was only in the summer months that they came as there were too many rocks around the little haven, even in summer if the wind suddenly got up from the west they’d abandon the unloading and head out to anchor in the open sea. I heard my uncle tell of ship that came too late in the year a storm got up and she was blown on to the rocks and there she stayed until she was a total wreck.

When sea trade was in it’s heyday the first cargo to arrive was earthenware from Mostyn as I’ve been told, jugs and bowls for use by farmers at a time when churning and selling butter was an important part of the economy of every farm. Then would come cargoes of coal, flour (feed) of every description for man and beast and man made fertiliser, basic slag most often. A large percentage of the needs of a relatively large population in this rural area came by sea to Porthgolmon and other little ports around and about. Unloading of the ships regardless of their cargo was often a bit of a problem, as there were no cranes or the like that would be seen on the larger docks. The old way was for the horse and cart to go to the ship at low tide, but this could only be done for a few hours a day. As I recall there was a wooden stage built out of the rock that was level with the deck of the ship. The Co –op had modernised and mechanised the process remarkably by using wood from a ship that was wrecked to build a shed on the cliff (and a warehouse) in which there was steam engine to wind a ‘bucket’ from the hold of the ship along a wire rope which was attached to the mast of the ship as well as to the shore. This enabled the unloading to be done much faster and when you think of the danger from bad weather speed was an essential factor.


I came across two unassuming little notebooks, on the front of one were the words ‘Cargo book of the Colonel Gamble. Commander R Hughes ‘ it’s contents ran from January 5th 1910 to February 14th 1914. The other little book had no title only ‘ Robert Hughes of Ketch Tryfan Portdinlleyn Carnarvonshire’. And inside was the record of trips between February 1916 and September 1917.  Towards the end of the ‘Colonel Gamble ‘ book there’s a an entry stating that she left Garston for Porthgolmon with 61 tons of coal and 35 tons of  basic slag on October 9th 1913. I was surprised that she had ventured so late in the year. The account was on the bottom of the page on turning to the next page this is what I saw ‘Blown ashore on top of the Rocks Nov 13th 1913 and on till went total wreck Feb 14th 1914’. And that was the sad end of the ‘Colonel Gamble’.

This was the ship my uncle told me about, the one whose timbers were used to build the warehouse and the engine shed which was owned by the ‘Co – op’. She was built in Rhyl in 1863 and her first owner was William Roberts, Llywelyn Street, Conwy. She started off as a single masted flat but another mast was later added to convert her to a ketch. She was built of wood length 66’ width 19’ and the depth of the hold 7’. When she was wrecked, she was over fifty years old and that was a great age as thirty years was the usual lifespan for the old wooden ships.

The two books that Captain Hughes kept give a very interesting picture of the coastal trade when it was enjoying its heyday. Here are the places the ships would call at Manchester, Liverpool, Garston, Runcorn, Widnes, Hesketh Bank, Point of Ayr, Holyhead, Cemaes , Moelfre, Lleiniog, Biumares, Porthaethwy, Y Felinheli, Caernarfon Portdinllaen, Porth Golmon, Abersoch. The Tryfan came to Porthgolmon ten times in two summers according to the log. It’s apparent that Liverpool and Caernarfon bay were the trading grounds of these little ships. The Colonel Gamble once went as far as New Quay Cardiganshire. The trade had continued longer in Llyn due to the fact that the rail network ended at Pwllheli and road transport was confined to the horse and cart carriers.

Transportation by sea was much cheaper. The cost of transporting coal was 6/- a ton, on a hundred tons the cost was £30. As the owner of the ship Captain Hughes received the money in full (if he’d been employed the owner of the vessel would a third would go to the owners) From this amount he would need to pay crew wages and pay for their food for each trip, pay a pilot and in certain ports a special payment was made, and after sail he would have to pay for fuel for the engine. With fair weather and plenty of cargo the Captain’s income could be about three hundred pounds a year, a very good wage in those days.

One advantage of trading in Llyn was going light ship, that is it’s empty. There were no exports from Llyn at this time other than some manganese from Rhiw Mountain. In the eighteenth century and up to the middle of the nineteenth century there were a lot of exports of cheese and butter, but this had ceased by the time these logs were written.

Road transport is much quicker and better these days than that of the sea. And yet it’s amazing really how quickly cargoes could be transported especially if the weather was kind. On the 16th of June 1916 the Tryfan left Liverpool laden with 98 tons of coal she arrived at Porthgolmon discharged her cargo sailed back to Liverpool loaded 88 tons of coal again and was on her way to Porthgolmon on the 27th of June. Not a bad feat in eleven days when you remember the journey through the Menai Straits and over the Caernarfon bar, where it was all dependant on the state of the tides.

Well this was the coastal trade or coasting a way of work and life that has long since gone, It was a part of the many facets of the sea which include sailing far and wide, ship building, ship repairing, giving work to skilled workers such as carpenters, blacksmiths sail and rope makers in the many small ports and havens along the coast.  


Local shipwrecks

Sorrento        Stuart


We have been unable to find a photograph of a ship at Porthgolmon, and considering how busy this little port was, it's hard to believe that none exist. If you have a photograph, or know of one, could you please let us know.



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