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Dolgellau


National Gazetteer (1868)

"DOLGELLAU, (or Dolgelly) a parish, market town, locally situated in the hundred of Talybout, in the county of Merioneth, North Wales. It is the county town of Merionethshire, in conjunction with Bala. 16 miles from Machynlleth, the terminus of the Newtown and Machynlleth railway, from whence access is by coach. A railway is now in course of construction. Dolgelly is situated in a beautiful valley, as its name implies, "the Dale of the Hazel Groves," between the rivers Arran and Wnion, under Cader-Idris, the summit of which is about 6 miles distant. The parish contains Brithdir, Isaf and Uwchaf, Cefnyr-Owen, Dolgledr, Dyffrydan, and Garthgynfawr, North and South, in all, eight townships.

In 1404, at Court Plas, Owain Glyndwr is said to have held a council, in which he concluded an alliance with Charles, King of France, but archaeologists seem to think that the house is not of so ancient a date as to justify the tradition, as it does not appear to be earlier than the 16th century. During the Civil War it was fortified by some royalists, who were defeated by Sir Edward Vaughan, The inhabitants are chiefly employed in the manufacture of the celebrated Welsh flannels, and others of a coarser kind for the American dealers; also in currying and tanning. It is a summer assize town alternately with Bala, which, together, contain about 2,500 inhabitants; and petty sessions are held here. The town itself is mean, and the grey, sombre appearance of its houses would be uninviting were it not for the exquisite beauty of its situation. Besides the county-hall, which contains a portrait of the late Sir Robert Vaughan, there are two banks, a savings bank, townhall, market-house, county gaol, and house of correction. It is approached by a seven-arched bridge. The Poor-law Union comprises 13 parishes, with a population of about 13,000.

The living is a rectory in the diocese of Bangor, value 500, in the patronage of the crown. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, has tombs of Chief Baron Richards and of Meiric ab Vychan. Near the church is Moel Orthrwm, a British camp, and Cymmer Abbey. The Independents, Baptists, Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodists have places of worship here. There is Dr. Ellis's free grammar school, and other charities which amount to about 29 per annum. Market days are Tuesday and Saturday. Fairs are held on the 20th February, 21st April, 11th May, 27th June, 13th August, 20th September, 9th October, 22nd November, and 16th December, for cattle, sheep, horses, cheese, &c."

"BRITHDIR, (Isaf and Uchaf) townships in the parish of Dolgellau, and hundred of Talybont, in the county of Merioneth, North Wales."

"CEFN-YR-OWEN, a township in the parish of Dolgellau, in the county of Merioneth, North Wales."

"DOLGLEDR, a township in the parish of Dolgellau, in the hundred of Talybout, in the county of Merioneth, North Wales,"

"DYFFRYDAN, a township in the parish of Dolgellau, in the county of Merioneth."

"GARTHGYNFAWR, a township in the parish of Dolgellau, county Merioneth, North Wales, 2 miles S.W. of Dolgelly."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson 2003]

A Topographical Dictionary of Wales
Samuel Lewis, 1833

DOLGELLEY (DOLGELLAU, or DOLGELLEU), a market town and parish in the hundred of TAL Y BONT and MOWDDWY, county of MERIONETH, NORTH WALES, 18 miles (S. W.) from Bala, 20 (S. E.) from Harlech, and 211 (W. N. W.) from London, containing 4087 inhabitants. This place derives its name (which is compounded of Dol " a dale," and Celli, " a grove of hazel trees,") from being situated in a vale abounding with hazels. During the insurrection headed by Owain Glyndwr, that aspiring chieftain assembled a parliament at this town, in 1404, whence he despatched his chancellor, Griffith Yonge, L.L.D., archdeacon of Merioneth, and his kinsman, John Hanmer, ambassadors to the French court, whose credentials, beginning " Owinus Dei gratia princeps Walliae," were dated thus :-" Datum apud Doleguelli 10 die mensis Maii, MCCCC quarto, et principatus nostri quarto." During the war between Charles I. and the parliament, Dolgelley was occupied by a small garrison for the latter, and was besieged by about one hundred of the king's troops, who, however, were dispersed by Mr. Edward Vaughan, and their captain made prisoner.

The town is justly regarded as the provincial metropolis of Merionethshire, being by far the most populous and centrally situated of any within its limits. It occupies a delightful situation on the road from Welshpool to Barmouth, in a fertile and picturesque vale, bounded by lofty mountains, the sides of which are, in many places, richly clothed with wood, and which is adorned with numerous genteel residences, and watered by the river Wnion, or Gwynion, which unites with the Maw, or Mawddach, near Llanelltyd, about two miles lower down, and thence, under the latter name, flows into Cardigan bay at Barmouth. The streets are irregularly formed, and the houses mostly ill-built; but a good line of houses was begun on the 4th of June, 1830, by Sir R. W. Vaughan, Bart., called, in respect for the venerable nobleman of that name, Eldon Row ; and many other parts of the town have recently experienced, or are now undergoing, considerable improvement. The river Wnion is here crossed by a stone bridge of seven arches, erected in 1638, which was some years ago enlarged and repaired. A book society has been formed, which consists of several highly respectable members. The parish is about sixteen miles in length and from three to four in breadth : nearly the whole of it is rocky mountainous land, consisting of sheep-walks and turbaries, in the latter of which a considerable quantity of peat is obtained; and the proportion of arable and meadow land exceeds little more than one-fortieth part of its superficial extent : upwards of six thousand acres of waste land were enclosed by act of parliament in 1811. A great quantity of peat is brought up the river Maw from an extensive turbary near Barmouth, at which place the coal used by the inhabitants is imported.

Dolgelley and its vicinity have long been noted for the manufacture of a sort of coarse woollen cloth, or flannel, called "webs," or "Welsh plains," in which about one thousand four hundred persons are at present employed : the number of pieces made annually amounts to about thirty thousand, averaging one hundred and ten yards each, which are chiefly sent to Liverpool, and thence shipped to Charlestown, South Carolina. This material is likewise manufactured in two other small districts, one in Montgomeryshire, and the other in Denbighshire ; but the quantity produced in Dolgelley and its environs is by far the greatest. The manufacture of " webs " in this town is of remote origin, as appears by acts of parliament of the first and third of James I., and by two orders for its regulation from the Privy Council of Charles I., which are further noticed in the article on the county of Merioneth. The warp is now composed of the fleece wool of the country; while the woof is a mixture, containing about one-third, and sometimes one-half, of lambs' wool. The "webs " of Dolgelley, in common with those of Machynlleth in Montgomeryshire, are called by the drapers "strong cloth," to distinguish them from those of the Glyn district, near Oswestry, which are termed " small cloth," because the pieces are about one-eighth of a yard narrower, though of the same length. Until towards the close of the last century, the only market for them was one held weekly, on Thursday, at Shrewsbury, in the hall belonging to the drapers of that town, where no buyers but of that particular guild were admitted, and an injurious monopoly consequently prevailed ; but agents are now employed by the merchants of Liverpool and Shrewsbury, to collect them at the place of their manufacture. In the last century they were chiefly sold directly from the loom ; but fulling-mills have since been erected upon the banks of the streams in the neighbourhood, and bleaching-grounds formed along the sides of the hills. Much business is done in the dressing of native lamb-skins and foreign lamb and kid skins, upwards of one hundred thousand of the former being sent annually to Worcester and Chester; and a few to London : tanning is also carried on to a considerable extent, and in some of the adjacent parishes are mines of copper and lead.

During the period of about ten years which intervened between the close of the American war and the commencement of the great European struggle, the web-manufacturers of Dolgelley established a warehouse at the port of Barmouth, and thence conveyed about one-third of their manufactures by sea to London, the small vessels employed taking each about three hundred webs, each consisting of two pieces, over a ballast of slate or paving stones ; and the total number of yards annually exported amounted to about twenty-five thousand. This maritime trade, however, ceased in 1793, when it became necessary to return to the old method of land carriage, which was five times more expensive, and, conjointly with other circumstances, caused such a decline in the prosperity of the trade, that many of the weavers were compelled to seek other employment. At present the webs, skins, &c., are carried by land, in waggons, to Shrewsbury, and thence distributed to different parts of the kingdom.

The town is principally supplied from Liverpool with groceries, which are brought to Barmouth, and thence conveyed up the river Maw, in boats varying from ten to twenty tons' burden, to a place near Llanelltyd bridge, within two miles of Dolgelley. There are two weekly markets, on Tuesday and Saturday ; and fairs, chiefly for the sale of horned cattle, horses, cheese, butter, &c., are held on February 20th, April 21st; May 11th, June 27th, August 13th, September 20th, October 9th, November 22nd, and December 16th.

The summer assizes, and the Easter and Michaelmas quarter sessions, for the county are held at Dolgelley; but seldom more than two or three prisoners are tried at the former, and frequently none at all. The county court, for the recovery of debts under forty shillings, is also most commonly held here, though sometimes at Bala ; and petty sessions are held here for the division. The county hall, which is situated near the river Wnion, is a neat stone edifice of mixed architecture, erected in 1825, at an expense of 3000: the length of the front is seventy-two feet eight inches : the court-room is handsomely fitted up with necessary accommodations for the officers of justice, and measures forty-three feet nine inches by thirty feet : on the right of it are, a retiring-room for the judges, an apartment for the petty jury, and the record office ; and on the left are a grand jury room and an armoury for the county. The county gaol, situated at the outskirts of the town, is a semi-circular edifice of stone, built in 1811, at an expense of nearly 5000 : it includes also the house of correction, and comprises three day-rooms and four airing-yards, and will admit of a classification of the prisoners into five divisions.

The living is a rectory, in the archdeaconry of Merioneth, and diocese of Bangor, rated in the king's books at
13. 1. 8., and in the patronage of the Crown. There is no parsonage-house, nor was there any land attached to the living prior to the enclosure of waste land in the year 1811, when five acres, lying about three miles from the town, were assigned to the rector out of the allotment due to the crown. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a neat structure, principally of Grecian architecture, with a square embattled tower, containing an excellent peal of eight bells : the interior exhibits a singularity in the seats, which are simply forms, or benches, with backs to them. There is an ancient monument to the memory of Meiric Vychan ab Ynyr Vychan, fifth in descent from Prince Cadwgan, son of Bleddyn ab Cynvyn, who resided at the neighbouring house of Nannau, which still continues in the possession of his descendants : he is represented as clad in close mail, wearing a helmet and neck guard, with a sword in his hand, and a dog at his feet : his shield bears a lion passant gardant, with the inscription " Hic jacet Mauric filius Ynyr Vychan." A handsome modern monument has also been erected to the memory of the late Lord Chief Baron Richards, who was a native of this parish. An ancient chapel, called Yspytty Gwanas, was formerly situated on the road to Dinasmowddwy, about four miles distant, the site of which is now marked by a few yew trees. There are places of worship for Baptists; Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists, with a Sunday school attached to each.

The free grammar school was founded in 1665, by John Ellis, D.D.; incumbent of this parish, who bequeathed a tenement called Penrhyn, in the parish of Llanaber, in this county, for the instruction of twelve poor boys : it was further endowed by the Rev. Ellis Lewis, of this place, by will dated August 21st, 1727, with a tenement called Cilgwyn, in the parish of Llandrillo yn Rhos, Denbighshire, and with 50 for the erection of a school-room; also with 300 in the three per cent. consols., by the Rev. Mr. Tamberlain, a late incumbent : the present income, arising from these and some minor donations, is about 40 per annum : the master, who is appointed by the rector of Dolgelley, must be a graduate of either Oxford or Cambridge, and is not allowed to accept church preferment, without resigning his situation. A National school, in which about one hundred children of both sexes are at present instructed, was established in 1827, and is supported by subscription. John Rowlands, Esq., of London, left the sum of 4 per annum for apprenticing poor boys : and a few other small benefactions have been made for the poor of this place, the principal of which is a farm, called Vaenol, in the parish of Towyn, producing about
15. 15. per annum, for distribution at the discretion of the rector.

Part of the building in which a parliament was held by Owain Glyndwr is still standing among a group of old houses near the Ship Inn, and is called Cwrt Plas yn y dre'v, " the town-hall court." The Roman Via Occidentalis is supposed to have taken its course from Menapia (St. David's) to Segontium (Carnarvon) by this town, between which and Trawsvynydd, at a place called Pen y Stryd, or " the head of the street," part of it may yet be traced. Close to the town, near a well called Fynnon Vair, " St. Mary's Well," the water of which was formerly considered efficacious in the cure of rheumatic diseases, a few Roman coins have been discovered. A golden torques (a baldric worn as a badge of distinction by some of the Roman conquerors of Britain, and by such of the ancient British chieftains as were their allies) was found in a turbary, on the 2nd of September, 1823, on the margin of Llyn Gwernan, near the northern cliffs of Cader Idris, by James P. Hughes, Esq., who discovered it whilst shooting, and, ignorant of its value as a very rare relic of antiquity, offered it for sale to a friend for five shillings, but the offer being rejected, he presented it to David Jones, Esq., one of the clerks of the ingrossments of the House of Commons, by whom it has been discovered to be a torques : it is forty-two inches in length, weighs eight oz. and eight dwts., and the intrinsic value of the metal is about 36.

In the grounds of Nannau, in this parish, there are the remains of a British fortification, called Moel Orthrwm, "the hill of oppression," or Moel Ofrwm, "the hill of sacrifice :" it is formed by the summit of a high rock, encircled by a rampart of loose stones. The mansion of Nannau, situated about two miles from Dolgelley, is a handsome substantial structure, rebuilt on a more eligible site by its present owner, Sir R. W. Vaughan, Bart. ; it stands on very high ground, and is surrounded by thick woods and plantations, which hold a high rank among the beauties of the Vale of Dolgelley. In the reign of Henry IV., the estate of Nannau belonged to Howel Sele, a warm partisan of the house of Lancaster, and the bitter enemy of Owain Glyndwr, his first cousin. To reconcile the kinsmen, the abbot of Cymmer contrived a meeting at this place, and apparently succeeded in his design ; but whilst walking out, Owain, observing a doe feeding, pointed it out as a fine mark to Howel, who was considered the most skilful archer of that period, and the latter bent his bow, and pretended to take aim, but suddenly turning round, let fly at Owain, who, however, being protected by armour which he wore under his clothes, received no injury. Owain immediately seized his treacherous kinsman, and burnt his mansion of Nannau to the ground. Howel was conveyed to some place of imprisonment, and was never afterwards heard of alive ; but, about forty years after this event, the skeleton of a man, supposed to be his, was discovered in the hollow trunk of a huge oak, in which he had probably been confined by Owain.

The Vale of Dolgelley is remarkable for the number and variety of rich prospects which it affords ; and the scenery of the surrounding country is characterized by a surpassing grandeur, richness, and diversity of aspect : there is, probably, no place in the principality whence so many interesting excursions may be made, as from Dolgelley ; in consequence of which tourists usually station themselves here for some days. Among the principal objects claiming notice is the towering Cader Idris, "the seat of Idris," situated in this parish, the summit of which is two thousand eight hundred and fifty feet above the level of Dolgelley green, being exceeded in height only by two other mountains in Wales : its south-western ascent commences on the sea-shore, close to the aestuary of the small river Dysyni, about a mile from Towyn, and proceeds almost uninterruptedly, first northward for three miles, and then for ten miles east-north-eastward, with a branch, nearly three miles long, extending in a south-westerly direction parallel to the main ridge. The ascent from Dolgelley, which usually occupies nearly three hours, commences about a mile and a half from the town, on the road to Towyn: this performed, and the highest summit, called Pen y Gader, once attained, a richly diversified scene of vast extent, having a circumference of at least five hundred miles, and of almost indescribable grandeur, presents itself. To the north the prospect is terminated by Snowdon, with its dependent mountains; on the west, by the bay of Cardigan, bounded by the Carnarvonshire hills ; on the south, by the Radnorshire hills and Plinlimmon mountain, with a partial glimpse between them of the bay of Swansea and the Bristol channel, together with the conspicuous summits of the Brecknockshire hills ; and on the east by the lake of Bala, the two Arenig mountains, the two Arans, and the  long chain of the Berwyn mountains, with the Breidden  and Wrekin hills, and even Blackstone Edge, on the  border of Lancashire : occasionally also some of the Irish mountains are visible. Within the limits of these interesting boundaries numberless objects of romantic beauty, including mountains of different forms and elevations, valleys, lakes, harbours, towns, and villages, combine to form a picturesque and diversified landscape, rarely excelled for richness and variety. The mountain is steep and craggy on every side, but especially on the south, to the border of Tal y Llyn lake, where the descent is almost perpendicular. Its breadth bears only a small proportion to its length ; a line passing along its base and intersecting the summit would hardly measure four miles and a half ; while in other parts the breadth of the base seldom exceeds one mile. At a place called Rhiwgredydd, within a few yards of the path along which the ascent is generally made, in the side of the mountain, a sort of mineral, much resembling English amber, was discovered in 1831, of which several tons have already been procured : the vein extends horizon-tally between two rocks, and is about three-quarters of a yard in breadth. The cataracts in the vicinity are also of surpassing interest and transcendant beauty. Of these, the nearest is Rhaiadr du, or " the Black Cascade," more commonly called Dol y Melynllyn Cascade, situated a little beyond the fifth milestone, on the road to Trawsvynydd : it is approached by a path leading from the left of the road up a tolerably steep woody ascent, whence the river Camlan is seen pouring its waters over a rocky precipice full forty feet in perpendicular height, in two principal sheets, and through some lateral gullies into a bed of dark - coloured disjointed rocks, through which it rushes with foaming fury, and is speedily engulphed in the darkness of the adjacent woods. A view of its further progress is obtained by means of a steep and intricate path, which leads to the foot of the cascade, where a grand and beautiful prospect opens : an additional waterfall, nearly thirty feet in height, appears immediately in front; to the left, the former cataract tumbles furiously over the rocks, which in many places are covered with a pure white lichen, and to the right rises a perpendicular mass of rocks, crowned with trees. About two miles to the north-east of these falls, in a deep, narrow, and thickly wooded valley, are the cascades of Pistyll Cain and Pistyll Mawddach, situated within a short distance of each other : the former is generally approached over a rude alpine bridge, formed by the trunk of an oak thrown from rock to rock across a dark narrow chasm, through which the river Cayne rushes with noisy and impetuous rage ; after which, descending to the bottom of the fall, the river is seen rolling its foaming waters over a rugged ledge of rocks, about two hundred feet in height, nearly perpendicular, and, falling upon rocks of a light dun colour, has worn them into hollows of great depth and grotesque form. Pistyll Mawddach consists of three falls, the first forming a sheet of water, about twenty feet broad, and nearly as many in height, which is received into a kind of natural basin, about thirty feet in diameter : hence the river glides over the second precipice, by a fall of about thirty feet, into a second basin, larger than the former; and from this, contracting itself, it is precipitated over the third ledge, by a fall of twenty feet, into a capacious pool, from which, issuing with boiling fury, it foams among the rocky fragments that interrupt its course, and proceeds onward to its junction with the Cayne. The small mountain river Clywedog, which rises on Cader Idris, is in this parish, and, in its course of about two miles, forms numerous waterfalls, some of which are fifty feet in height. This river winds pleasingly through the grounds of I. H. Lewis, R. Richards, and J. Edwards, Esqrs., at whose expense an excellent gravel walk has been constructed along each of its banks, with others branching off, so as to afford a better view of the falls ; and its waters, after heavy rains, descend with great velocity and noise over the huge rocks : its banks are well wooded, and the whole forms a scene highly picturesque and romantic.

The road to Dinasmowddwy commands a fine view of the vale, with the town of Dolgelley, and the lofty Cader Idris ; and from Twrglas, near Garthynghared, are seen the bay of Cardigan, Bardsey Island, the coast of Carnarvon, and the town of Barmouth, at the mouth of the Mawddach, with that river winding westward through the vale, which is bounded by the two Arans : the fore ground is delightfully varied by the picturesque road from Dolgelley to Barmouth, and the lofty rugged mountains and well-wooded fertile valleys which intervene. Lewis Owen, Esq., Vice- Chamberlain and Baron of the Exchequer for North Wales, who was barbarously murdered by a gang of lawless banditti, near Dinesmowddwy, whilst on his journey to the assizes at Montgomery, in 1555, resided at Llwyn, near this town.

The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor amounts to 1343. 3.

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