Porthysgaden or perhaps Porth Pennog ( herring ) should
be it’s name as sgaden is an old welsh name for herring, it’s unclear as to
what the early history of the place was as regards trade by sea, as no records
have survived if in fact any were kept. What
is known is that it belonged as it does today to the Cefnamwlch estate and it
was an important link to places such as Liverpool and beyond as roads were no
better than dirt tracks that made travel a difficult and arduous task. Being a
rural area people relied very much on the little ships that called at this
natural little harbour to deliver basic goods to them such as molasses, sugar,
tea, salt, and quite often clothing, and of course iron for the blacksmiths,
tar, crockery, tobacco, bricks for building and most frequently coal and lime.
As the season usually came to an end by September it
would not be unusual to see fifty or more carts waiting their turn to get coal
from the little ships at the harbour in preparation for the winter ahead.
Another import would be ‘Sopes waste mixed with dung
‘ which farmers would use to fertilise the land. This came from Dublin and was
the waste from soap factories and the horse manure gathered from the city’s
streets. As with salt there was a duty payable on it, but the farmers swore by
it as a first rate fertiliser.
Morgan Hughes was a customs officer who lived in the
little cottage on the cliff overlooking the little harbour ( of which only the
gable end remains today ). He was the officer from August 7th 1735
until his death on February 27 1768. He was paid £25 a year for his services
and also received a share of the goods he seized off the smugglers, is it any
wonder then that he kept an eagle eye out for ships as he walked the headland
several times a day and night.
According to his log book a ship called ‘Lively’ landed in August 1759 carrying a cargo of 5 dozen felt hats from Caernarfon, this little ship was owned by Evan Mark who himself was from Llyn and the father of Ieuan Llyn the poet from Bryncroes ( who incidently spent some time working for customs and excise in England, but returned to his native land having been dismissed from his position due to the fact that he quite frequently turned a blind eye to smuggling !! )
Amongst other imports were 452 empty barrels from Dublin and a 1000 from Liverpool, some coal and slates. The exports were also of great importance to the local economy things such as butter, eggs, potatoes and herrings that were salted in part of the cottage on the cliff top. The cottage was also used as a kind of lighthouse as a light would be left in the window that faced the sea. In a tenant’s agreement with Cefnamwlch it states that the windows must be kept clean at all times, perhaps this was because the squire’s son Hugh Griffith was himself a pirate and the light enabled him to sail in safely under cover of darkness !!
A fine example of how the residents of the area depended
on the little ships for their goods can be seen in the account book of Rowland
Eames a steward of the Cefnamwlch estate for example in December 1788 he bought
a ton of coal from Griffith William for 22/- and again in January 1790 another
ton from Thomas Williams for 21/-.
Here are a few more examples :-
August 1786 – 111 lbs of iron £1/10d.
August 1789 – 100 lbs of iron for horseshoes from
Griffith William (mariner) £1/0/0d.
On the same day two pieces of timber from Liverpool 80p.
January 1794 – Iron from Liverpool carried by Griffith
William Tudweiliog 15/6d.
Griffith William was believed to be the master of the
ship ‘Providence’ according to the historian David Thomas.
There was also a limekiln at Porthysgaden that was used
to fire the limestone which was then used on the land by the farmers. The kiln
was fired by culm ( coal) and it is said that the wives of those responsible for
the kiln would sit around the fire chatting and knitting, whilst their husbands
tended the kiln.
Two of the last coal merchants in Porthysgaden were the
brothers John Daniel and Hugh Daniel , their family were the last to live in the
cottage on the cliff top, but moved out after their sister Elinor suffered a
fatal accident when she fell over the cliff onto the rocks below. They traded in
coal until 1935 when the last ship called at the tiny harbour.
As happened all along the coast of Llyn there were a few shipwrecks at Porthysgaden, here are eight of them.
Thanks to Mr Gwilym Jones, Tudweiliog, for this article.
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