Thursday, 30 December 2010

Morfan in its former life as The Queen's Hotel, Parrog

I've just been reading Keith Johnson's book "The Pubs of St David's. Fishguard & North Pembrokeshire" which includes a very useful chapter on the pubs of Newport and the Parrog. There were quite a number of them in the area and a thriving Temperance movement too.

Some of the pubs are hard to tie to existing buildings but the former Queen's is easier to trace as it occupied the large house which is now Morfan, the right hand of the pretty row of cottages lining the Parrog Road in the picture below.

The Edwardian postcard at the top of this blog shows the building when it was the Queen's Hotel and enlarging the card shows what may well be holiday makers outside decked out in their finery.

I suspect that people in these postcards must have known the photographer was coming and dressed accordingly or did young boys always wear suits for the beach?

The pub was sometimes simply called the Queen's but by the 1891 census, it was listed as the Queen's Hotel and was run by Margaret Williams, a mariner's wife. It was quite common for the pubs in the area to be run by retired sea captains or the wives of serving mariners. Sea captains often spent several months or even whole years ashore when they were not in command of a vessel so an alternative source of income must have been useful. It is interesting that the census does not list anyone except immediate family members in residence on census night (5th April) so there do not seem to have been any paying guests present, perhaps indicating that it was still more of a pub than a guest house. It was certainly listed as a pub in the 1895 Kellys Directory.

A bit of digging around on Reg Davies' Welsh Mariners' website shows that Margaret William's husband, David Williams took his mate's certificate in 1869, moving on to become 1st Mate. He was a Captain by 1874, commanding ships such as the Asiana and the Anglo American and survived a shipwreck in the Azores on the barque Keewaydin (not connected to the trawler Keewaydin which can sometimes be seen moored at the quay in Cardigan). Seafaring was David Williams' blood. His father was Captain Thomas Williams of the Parrog, who held shares in the barque Ondara and named his large sea front house after his vessel.

Before taking on the Queen's Hotel, David Williams and his family were living in St Mary Street in Newport. The pub seems to have been a retirement venture but he died shortly afterwards in 1891. His widow was still running it in 1895 but after that it had a succession of landlords before closing in the 1920's.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Watching the boats come in from the Parrog seawall

The tide is in, so far in, that a small tongue of water to the left of the photo spills out into what is now the car park on the Parrog. A group of people sit on the seawall gazing out to sea and a small rowing boat with three passengers is making it's way to shore, a typical holiday scene from the early 1900's maybe. That's how I first interpreted this image until I read what Martin Lewis had to say in "Newport Pem and Fishguard Revisited". He thinks that a vessel has just come into the harbour and that the crew are being ferried ashore. Looking more closely at the rowing boat, the man in the prow seems to be wearing a seaman's cap and perhaps the other men have caps too:-

A further look at the people on the seawall shows that the man third from the left is also in uniform:-

In the early 1900's, the Parrog would have still been a working harbour. Large vessels would have come in at high tide when they could cross the bar at the mouth of the estuary. They would then be beached on the sands ready to be unloaded at low water when carts could come alongside. It is still possible to see tracks cut through the rocks to allow laden carts to be driven straight up to Feidir Brenin from the waterfront. The arrival of one of these vessels probably attracted the curiosity of locals and visitors alike.

It is always interesting how smartly dressed people are in these early photos. Did people always dress this formally in those days or was it for the benefit of the photgrapher? Pictures like this would have been taken on a plate camera. A long exposure was needed to expose the photographic plate and most of the people in these photos would have been posing, motionless. You can just see the blur of the oars but the people in the boat are sitting very upright and straight as if they too know they will be in the picture.

Looking in detail at the limeburner's cottage it seems to have a hole in it's roof. I wonder if it was still inhabited at the time?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Horse Racing near Traeth Mawr, August 1946

I came across an old article from Picture Post about, what they called a "Poor Man's Race Meeting" held in Newport in August 1946. I can't show any of the pictures because they are still owned by Getty Images but following this link will lead you to a sample image on their website and to a further one.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who knows about these horse races in Newport. Judging from some of the photos in the article, this one was very well attended and held in a meadow overlooking Traeth Mawr. I believe it may have taken place in Berry Hill Farm, so Nevern, stictly speaking!

It was a race meeting in a very basic form. As the Picture Post puts it "The field may be rough, the crowd rougher and perhaps the roughest of all are the riders." They rode in gum boots and sweaters, rather than silks, with cardboard numbers pinned to their backs. The starter fired his shotgun from his vantage point on the back of a lorry. Girl guides served tea and onlookers included prisoners of war. Frustratingly, no names are given in the article, nor much sense of local colour. There is only talk in general term about these "flaps" or poor man's races. Prize money could be as much as £100 and starters ranged from locals to "mysterious strangers". There were trotting races too over a one mile course. A bit of digging around online shows that flapping is still popular in Ireland and on the borders of Scotland. It's horse racing not run under Jockey Club Rules and there's a description of a meet here which gives some idea of the atmosphere. Does it still happen in Pembrokeshire at all?

I bet there are some good stories about these races. Was this, I wonder, a one off event in Newport or a regular feature?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Seine Net Fishing on Traeth Mawr

I came across this image recently and it intrigues me. Seine net fishing for salmon and sewin has a long history in the Nevern estuary. Dillwyn Miles thought the monks of St Dogmaels introduced this type of fishing to the area. It involves laying a net with floats at the top and weights at the bottom, in a crescent shape from the shore. The nets used on Traeth Mawr were large and usually laid by boat and required a team of five to pull them in. It was heavy work so it's interesting that in this photo, which dates from 1904, four out of five of the people fishing were women. This is more apparent when the image is enlarged.

The woman on the left below seems to be wearing a tall Welsh hat. The long skirts look thick and sodden and must have made this very heavy work.

If anyone knows who these people might have been, I would love to know. The photographer is a bit of a mystery too. In the message on the back of the card, he says that this was his own photo but I can't quite make out the signature:-

Declining fish stocks have seriously restricted the issuing of licenses for this type of fishing but I took this picture of Seine net fishers at work in June. You can just spot them on the left of the picture silhouetted against the sea.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Bettws and The Mariners, Parrog

Where there were seafarers, there were always pubs and the Parrog was no exception. The Mariners Arms was beyond Bettws and the building is on the right of this postcard which was posted in 1913. Other Parrog pubs included, The Parrog Arms, which is now Morawelon, The Queen's, now Morfan, the Ship Afloat, at Seagull cottage, and the Sloop Inn. According to Dillwyn Miles, the Mariners Arms gave up its licence in January 1903.

Enlarging the postcard shows the building in more detail.

By the 1920's, it had already started to fall into ruin. The limewash had vanished, roofbeams were sagging and slates missing:-

Today there is a small section of wall with a window, fronting on to the Coast Path which some say was part of the old pub. I have also heard that the window was used to serve beer to people out on the path as a means of getting around Sunday licensing laws but to me, the window looks a little small to be the lower window of the main building.

I think the wall looks more like the one the two ladies are sitting in front of in this enlarged detail from the 1913 postcard.

The house called Mariners today was once the cowshed and brewhouse of the original pub. In the nineteenth century, most pubs brewed their own beer, some more successfully than others.

The Mariners is close to a bay called Bettws. The Welsh word comes from the English "Bead House", or house of prayer, hinting that there might have been a chapel here in times gone by. There were many small chapels on the pilgrim route to Saint Davids, so this may be true. There are rumours that there were once the ruins of a small building on the cliffs below Mariners. Looking at the 1913 postcard again, it's possible to see the remains of some kind of wall but it's impossible to tell what kind of building this might have been, although it appears to have a window.

Whatever it was has long since disappeared. Indeed much of that section of cliff has been erroded, several sections crashing down in a recent storm in March 2010.

Here's a more recent view towards Mariners and Bettws.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

More about the Parrog Limekiln

This is the base of the remaining double limekiln which is adjacent to the car park on the Parrog. As a child I remember it much more run down and overgrown, a place to scramble over, our own miniature castle. Now it has been restored and it is far easier to understand the true function.

The base holds the hearth where the fire would have been lit once the kiln had been loaded with alternating layers of limestone and the clay and anthracite dust mixture called culm, both of which would have been brought to the Parrog by boat from the south of the county.

In the restoration, the lintel has been constructed from timber, which would not have been practical for a functioning kiln as extremely high temperatures are required to turn limestone into quick lime. The kiln would burn for several days before the process was complete and once it had cooled, the finished quick lime would have been raked out and loaded on to carts. This was why a double kiln was useful so that one kiln could be fired up while the other was cooling.

There is a circular opening at the top of the kiln. Limestone and culm would have been unloaded from nearby boats by horse and cart and brought up to this opening to charge the kiln in alternating layers, See
for more details of the process. There is a useful list of Pembrokeshire limekilns here

If you look closely at the stones at the top of the kiln you can see the crusted remains of the deposits that the lime burning process left behind on the stones of the kiln. This gives some idea of the pollution which lime burning must have caused. Now it makes a good habitat for small ferns.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

From warehouse to Newport Boat Club: the relics of the Parrog's past

This postcard was posted in 1939 and shows the Parrog at the tail end of its sea-trading days. The building to the middle left of the photograph is what is now the Boat Club. During the Parrog's heyday as a working port, this was one of five warehouses on the quay.

The remains of one of the other storehouses is still visible between Camelot and Gorwel. A third is little more than a heap of rubble covered in brambles. A fourth was demolished as trade dwindled after the First World War and the stones were used to build the Memorial Hall. As for the fifth, that became the holiday cottage of Camelot which still has two foot thick walls. Follow this link to find out more of its history.

Camelot is in the foreground here with the converted warehouse which is now the Boat Club shown behind. Vessels came in at high tide to unload here and the area of Parrog Bach behind the seawall gained the nickname Rat Island because of the rats which escaped from these boats.

A closer look at the 1930's post card included at the beginning of this post, shows the final warehouse in a sorry state of decline at this time. The main roof has slates missing, the lean to at the side is falling down. The seawall is also in a poor state of repair and would have left the whole of this area prone to flooding at spring tides.

To the right of the warehouse, in this photo, are the remains of a second limekiln which has since been demolished. In "The Ancient Borough of Newport Pembrokeshire", Dillwyn Miles mentions that it was "wantonly destroyed in the second half of the twentieth century". One double limekiln still remains on the harbour wall and has been restored by the National Park along with the lime burner's cottage alongside it which is lime-washed a cheerful shade of pink which changes colour when it gets wet.

The fate of the one remaining warehouse is interesting. When I was a child I remember someone making a half-hearted attempt to convert it into a dwelling. I think this was Mr Collings who owned the Newsagents in Cambria Terrace. The roof arrived first then, gradually, a window here and there but I don't think work ever got further than the ground floor. It can be seen here in that semi-renovated state, which at least kept the building from any further decay.

In 1976 the building was purchased by a group of founder members of Newport Boat Club and has been extended and adapted over the years.

It's a wonderful place to watch the sunset whatever the time of year.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Parrog's seafaring past

For centuries Newport's wealth, and particularly that of The Parrog revolved around the sea and seafaring. Coastal trading was important from early times. Alexanders and fennel grow in profusion around the harbour walls and along the estuary. These plants were introduced to Britain by the Romans as culinary herbs and are often thought to indicate the presence of an early trading harbour.

By the sixteenth century, George Owen was writing about the herring trade in Newport. Barrels of herring were exported as far as the Mediterranean. This trade died out by the mid nineteenth century, when herrings became scare but the harbour still saw exports of woollen goods and slate from the sea-quarries beyond Pencatman and imports of limestone, coal and culm (a mixture of anthracite dust and clay) from the south of the county. Limestone and culm were burned in the limekilns on The Parrog to provided slaked lime which was used to neutralised the local acid soils. Lime was also widely used in the building trade for lime mortar, rendering and whitewash, all of which were widely used on the nearby cottages. Most of Newport's buildings were whitewashed in the nineteenth century

Another important industry for The Parrog was shipbuilding, some of which was carried out close to Parrog Bach. This trade reached its peak in the nineteenth century when large vessels of around 150 tons were built.

Generations of Newport men were seafarers and by the nineteenth century, many were master mariners taking vessels all around the world from larger ports such as Swansea and Liverpool, often via Cape Horn. Their cargoes were often hazardous. Many commanded the "copper barques" carrying Welsh coal from Swansea to South America, returning with copper ore for the copper smelting industry in Swansea. The coal was prone to spontaneous ignition in damp holds and many vessels burned, others capsized in stormy weather when cargoes shifted. The stormy seas around Cape Horn were notorious and claimed many ships. Other seamen died falling from the rigging. The gravestones in St Mary's churchyard in Newport tell many of their stories and it's a shame that there is no other monument to these men who brought the wealth to the town to build the big houses of the Parrog which are so sought after today. Fred Nicholls' novels "Master Under God" and "The Dark Ocean and the Light" give a good insight into the lives of these Newport seafarers.

By the time the photograph above was taken in around 1910, the sea trade was already dwindling, although ships continued to unload cargoes until the 1930's. There was a new trade along The Parrog now and that was tourism. Early holiday makers came from the mining towns of the valleys. This was the era when some of the large guest houses such as Swn y Don were established and when the miners on a Sunday would gather at the Cwm to sing hymns. In the post cards, the holiday makers are always in their Sunday best, the boys in this photo with their Eton collars, the women often in wide brimmed hats.

The photograph was taken by Chas. Edwards who produced many of the local post cards of that era. He had several studios around Fishguard from 1891 to 1926 and, I believe set up a studio in Cambria Terrace in Newport.

For further information about specific mariners, try Reg Davies' excellent database. I am indebted to Reg for much of my knowledge of the history of the Parrog and also to Rex Harries and Tyrone Williams but I take full responsibility for any errors. There is also a good summary of the history of the Nevern estuary here.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The story begins....

How often have I had this conversation?

"I'm off to Wales soon." I say to distant acquaintance in London.
"Where in Wales?"
"I doubt you'll know it," I reply. "It's a very small place in Pembrokeshire called Newport..."
"Newport!" the answer comes. "But I spent all my summers there when I was little!"

Soon we're swapping stories of The Parrog, the seawall, the sands, crab fishing and the striped Beach Cafe. Newport is that kind of place, the memories are strong.

The town is situated on the North Pembrokeshire coast at the mouth of the Nevern estuary. It's Welsh name is Trefdraeth, locals call it Tydrath and it huddles in the shadow of a small mountain called Carn Ingli.

The place is in my blood. My grandmother's ancestors, the Laugharne family, farmed at Pant on the borders of Newport and Dinas in the early 1800's. Later my own branch of the family moved over the boundary into Dinas and the extended family is now scattered widely far beyond Pembrokeshire but the connection with the area still runs deep.

In the mid fifties, my mother decided it was time to catch up with this particular slice of our family history. She found us a room in a guest house, Craig y Mor, on the seawall on The Parrog.

We drove all the way from Colchester in our Standard Vanguard. I was squashed in beside my mother on the long bench seat in the front of the car, fighting off car sickness all the way. By the time we reached Newport, rain was teeming down. We took a wrong turning, ending up at the iron bridge further up the estuary. We peered out through the crescents our windscreen wipers had cleared. The tide was out. There was nothing but grey mud, grey sky and a trickle of grey river and that was my first view of Newport. My father was close to driving straight back to Colchester. I'm glad he didn't. I've been coming back ever since.

As a child I started to collect postcards of the area. Now I've added to this collection, fascinated by these frozen moments of Newport's more recent history. Although the place has changed, there is still a timeless quality and the traces of the past are not that hard to find.

I found that there's quite an interest in old photos of Newport and decided that it was time to share some of my collection with a wider audience and to add what I remember, or can discover, of the stories behind them. I hear so many stories of the place told to me by people who unlike me, have lived in the town all their lives and there's a danger that if these are not written down, they'll soon be forgotten. Already, since this blog has started, a few people have emailed me interesting images of their own and I hope this will grow and that we can create a small, online archive here, a celebration of this place which is Newport Pembrokeshire.