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Tag Archives: Wales

  • Railways of Wales in the 1960s by John Evans

    In 1966, a youthful visitor manages to hitch a ride on the Welshpool and Llnafair Railway’s neat little tank engine ‘Countess’’, which is still busy on the line today. (Author's collection, Railways of Wales in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    A gap of just over sixty years separates my two visits to the delightful little Welshpool and Llanfair Railway. Today it is an important and successful tourist attraction; back in the 1960s it was a fledgling heritage railway short on money and equipment, but long on enthusiasm and ambition. Like many old lines, British Railways finally gave it the axe in the mid-1950s, mothballing the two little engines and allowing the route to succumb to nature.

    But as with so many old railways, especially narrow gauge lines in Wales, there always seems to be someone out there with a Grand Plan. In this case a group of volunteers gamely revived about half the line and it was in this pioneering state when I went for a ride. Compare that with today’s prosperous situation. There is a generous sized booking hall and bookshop (lots of Amberley books – ‘Would you sign some for us please?’). I duly obliged. The engines and coaches are immaculate. At the end of the line I chatted with the driver and showed him some pictures on my phone from my forthcoming book The Railways on Wales in the 1960s. He gazed at them, identifying some of the early personalities who had been at the forefront of getting things going again in the 1960s. When the book appeared a short while ago I was delighted to send him a copy – and the bookshop manager assured me it would be a regular stock item for the railway.

    The Talyllyn Railway’s terminus at Towyn in the early 1960s, a far cry from the much bigger and busier station of today. (c. Ron Fisher, Railways of Wales in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    Going back to somewhere special after many years can be a mistake. It’s all too easy to rewind the clock with dewy eyes and overlook the negatives. In the case of the railways in Wales, they are different today, but just as good. Better actually, as they are mature and vibrant parts of the Welsh tourist industry. When I visited the Vale of Rheidol Railway in 1966 it was still run by British Railways. We drove there in my little cream Fiat 600. The crews did their best, but a clean engine was interpreted very differently on the Vale of Rheidol from enthusiast-operated lines like the Ffestiniog and Talyllyn. Today the Rheidol railway is also run by enthusiasts, and if a spot of oil appears somewhere on the engine, it is immediately wiped away to keep everything pristine. All this is wonderful for the average visitor, but dare I say I quite liked the old British Railways line with its driver in grubby overalls getting paid for doing an honest day’s endeavor.

    Getting ready for the day’s work on the Vale of Rheidol Railway in 1967. The engine is receiving the most superficial effort with the cleaning rag, but it ran beautifully. (Author's collection, Railways of Wales in the 1960s, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the pleasures of writing what I call ‘living history’ – putting a personal touch on events from years ago – is the letters and comments received about subjects being recalled. Of course it would be nice to have had some of these before the book was written! But you meet some wonderful people when researching your narrative. A young volunteer at the Ffestiniog Railway was peering at some pictures in my book and could hardly believe how ‘small and amateurish’ everything looked. Today the Ffestiniog is a big business, but – like other Welsh railways – it retains the intrinsic charm of the old days. In 1966, you could wander around workshops and possibly get a ride on the footplate if you asked nicely. These days, health and safety has reared its head and no doubt you would need a hard hat, training course and hi-vis jacket to do anything remotely like the escapades we got up to. But flicking through the pages of my book with an old friend who accompanied me on my railway adventures back in the 1960s was enough to prompt us into action. We’ve booked a cottage in Wales next summer and – now as a foursome – will relive our youth. Anyone know where I can rent a little Fiat?

    John Evans' new book Railways of Wales in the 1960s is available for purchase now.

  • Caernarfon Through Time by Steven Dickens

    Caernarfon Castle and Slate Quay, c.1880. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The Royal town of Caernarfon overlooks the Menai Straits and the isle of Anglesey. It is a port and holiday resort and is also noted for the substantial monument of Caernarfon Castle, whose construction was undertaken by King Edward I, as part of the English conquest of Gwynedd. It was one of the largest and most imposing fortifications built by the English in Wales. In 1284 the English-style county of Caernarfonshire was established by the Statute of Rhuddlan and in the same year Caernarfon was made a Borough, a county and a market town, and the seat of English government in North Wales. Today Caernarfon is a major tourist centre with its town walls, market and castle, first class attractions.  Travelling to the town has changed greatly since the construction of the A55 ‘Expressway,’ including several tunnels through the sheer rock of the North Wales coastline. In the 1970s when I first began to holiday in this area with my parents and visit my relatives, the journey beyond Llandudno was along a tortuous and winding coast road with 30mph speed limits and a single lane carriageway in many places. Whilst speed limits still apply, the journey takes less time and is of great benefit to those travelling to Holyhead for the Irish ferry.

    Floating Restaurant, Eagle Tower and Pont Yr Aber, Caernarfon, c. 1950. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The town itself has also changed greatly, with many old buildings now beneath the route of the A55. However, the castle remains much as it appeared in my childhood, with the car park along the old Slate Quay still as packed as it always has been! Some childhood memories are now gone – there is no longer a ‘floating restaurant’ along the Slate Quay – once a popular destination for many tourists, and the roundabouts in the market square are gone, to be replaced by an open ‘multi-functional’ space for traffic, pedestrians and the market. The market, however, still remains a popular feature and is a big-draw in the summer months’ tourist season, especially in the fine weather we have experienced recently! However, there have been reports of localised forest fires in inland areas close to Caernarfon (and notably near Bethesda), reminding us of the potential perils associated with the heat and sun.

    Castle Square from Eagle Tower, c. 1910. (Caernarfon Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Compiling Caernarfon Through Time has brought back many childhood memories of my visits to the area and the times we visited relatives here, or spent our leisure time on holiday along the coast. Some forty years later it is still a popular destination for my children – especially the castle. I hope that the book will evoke some similar memories for the reader, as well as provide an informative and historic record of the way the district has changed over the last century.

    Steven Dickens' book Caernarfon Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of South-West Wales by Geoff Brookes

    The selection of places for this book was very hard to make – of course it was. It is such a wonderful part of the country, full of beauty, history and mystery, and there are always discoveries to be made, always hidden pleasures to unearth. Writing this book has given me the perfect excuse to wander around these beautiful and much-loved locations, and also some which I hope are less familiar but equally deserving of your attention. Because wherever you stop, if you pause and look around, you will find a ‘gem’. That is the point of the book: to urge you get out of the car and be a part of the countryside you see around you. It is hard to think of anywhere richer in history and beauty, more appealing than South West Wales. So here’s a gem to get you intrigued.

    The Church of St Brynach. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of South-West Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    Cwm yr Eglwys

    The Royal Charter Storm

    This is a real gem, an enchanting place forever touched by the sea. It is on the eastern side of Dinas Head facing Newport Bay. You need to leave the A487 between Fishguard and Newport and take the signposted road east of Dinas Cross to Cwm yr Eglwys. The narrow road drops down for around a mile and you will see the superb views to your right that are the reason for your journey. You can park easily close to the beach where you will find safe bathing and easy access to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

    It has a very sheltered position and reputedly has its own warmer microclimate. At the end of the nineteenth century it was claimed that no one in Cwm yr Eglwys died under eighty. It is an achingly pretty place and yet carries within it a striking reminder of the brutality of the sea.

     

    The model of a cwm trader, a coastal trading vessel, at the entrance to the churchyard. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of South-West Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    Above the beach and behind the sea wall you can see all that remains of the twelfth-century Church of St Brynach. The rest of it was washed away in the enormous storm of October 1859, a hurricane in which 133 ships were wrecked and ninety were badly damaged. It became known as the ‘Royal Charter Storm’ when the ship The Royal Charterreturning from Australia to Liverpool was wrecked off Anglesey and at least 450 people died. The hurricane ravaged the whole of the west coast and Cwm yr Eglwys did not escape. There had previously been storm damage in 1850 and 1851 but nothing like this. A storm surge 15 feet above normal high water carried away the side wall and roof of St Brynach, ‘together with a wide slice of the churchyard’. A witness interviewed in 1897 remembered that ‘human remains in large quantity’ were exposed as the earth was washed away. She saw the coffins of the vicar’s six dead children exhumed by the waves and carried out to sea. Two ships were lost in the bay and eight bodies were subsequently washed ashore or recovered from the cliffs.

    The ruins stood until 1880 when they were demolished, leaving just the end wall of the chapel you can see. The sea wall was built in 1882 to serve ‘as a rampart resisting the devastating inroads made by the sullen sea’. The churchyard is now an attractive grassed area ideal for picnics, and it is hard to equate what you see now with the terrible devastation the village and the church once suffered.

    You can use the postcode SA42 0SJ to find Cwm yr Eglwys. The sea has never needed any help to find it.

    Geoff Brookes new book 50 Gems of South-West Wales is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Mid Wales by Geoff Brookes

    The Murder of John Price 1826 - Llanafan Fawr, Powys

    I have included Llanafan Fawr in my book 50 Gems of Mid Wales but I have only been able to give it a bare 220 words. But it is insufficient to capture the story of a remarkable dispute between two families, remembered now by a crumbling gravestone.

    Llanafan Fawr church. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of Mid Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    The B4358 sweeps up from Beulah towards Newbridge on Wye and, if you are paying proper attention to the traffic, you might miss the church which stands quietly opposite the Red Lion, the oldest inn in Wales. The Church of St Afan has a long history – and a murderous one. It contains one of the oldest living objects in the country and also a fascinating gravestone.

    The church, built upon an Iron Age mound, is pre-dated by the huge yew tree, estimated to be over 2300 years old. It is a tree that has seen so much drama, so much murder.

    This is such a beautiful and remote place. Hills unchanged, kites circling as they always have. And through the years a community has lived here, where lives have been carved out, away from the rest of us. Jealousies, rivalries, disputes, vendettas – things that the rest of us have known nothing about – have consumed them, defining their lives and their deaths. Old rivalries. Old crimes.

    About thirty metres away from the church door, on the left, you will find it.  An old weathered stone, almost indecipherable now, but unique, carrying both the name of the victim – and his murderer. If you stare at it long enough the inscription will still emerge from the past.

    John Price who was murdered on the Darren Hill in this parish by R. Lewis.

    April 21 1826

    The gravestone. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of Mid Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    The Cambrian newspaper reported the murder a week later. It tells us that John Price was found, ‘his neck twisted till the blood ran out of his ears so that his death must have been occasioned by a dislocation of his vertebrae.’ Suspicions fell upon Rees Lewis, a shepherd and neighbour, who had disappeared. But the Price’s didn’t need evidence. Their suspicions always fell upon the notorious Lewis family.

    This was one of the final acts in a dispute that combined these two families in mutual loathing and which had sparked another notorious murder 42 years previously, when Lewis Lewis killed Thomas Price.

    The Lewis family were, it seems, a lawless bunch, ‘a vicious, wicked set of people.’ Sheep stealing, riotous behaviour and assault run unchecked through their history. David Lewis was transported to Australia for stealing a turkey. His wife Margaret was accused of murdering an illegitimate infant son, fathered in David’s absence. She was acquitted and went on to become the midwife in the parish.

    The Price family weren’t much better. Thomas Price himself was accused of Riot and Assault in July 1784, just before his murder, and others were involved in stealing livestock themselves.

    By 1784 the Lewis family were finding Thomas Price hard to take. They might have been self-confessed villains but they took comfort from the fact that he was worse. They would often find their sheep dead in the fields, laid head to tail, killed by Price and his dog.

    Then, in October 1784 Thomas Price disappeared. A search was organised, one that even involved young Thomas Lewis, but there was no trace of him. The Lewis family, naturally, were accused by Thomas Price’s wife Gwenllian to no avail. Rewards for information were offered but the trail went cold and the Lewis sheep remain untroubled.

    However, in 1788 John Lewis was convicted of sheep stealing and was sentenced to transportation for 14 years. The prospect was horrifying. He was ‘frightened in the highest degree at the accounts from thence and resolved rather to be hanged here, than to be starved there.’ Who can blame him?

    And so he sang.  He told the magistrates everything he knew about the death of Thomas Price four years earlier. He had fallen out with his brother Lewis Lewis and could see no reason to protect either him or his two sons, one also called Lewis and the other, Thomas.

    So Thomas Lewis was arrested. Within a fortnight he too turned King’s Evidence and in so doing condemned both his father and his brother to the gallows.

    Lewis Lewis the Elder had offered sheep to his sons if they would kill Thomas Price. Lewis Lewis the Younger and his pal Evan Davies were eager to take up the offer, though Thomas claimed that he was less enthusiastic and that it was Lewis who made the plans.

    The yew tree, a silent witness to 2,500 years of history. (Author's collection, 50 Gems of Mid Wales, Amberley Publishing)

    In October 1784 the three of them had waylaid Thomas Price. Lewis knocked him to the ground with a stick and then strangled him, whilst Davies thumped him in the stomach. Thomas Lewis said that he just held down his legs. Their indictment would later say that they ‘did not have the fear of God before their eyes but were seduced by the instigation of the devil.’ Well, it happens a lot in Mid Wales, even today.

    Once he was dead, Lewis took Price’s purse and shared with them the contents of 6 shillings. They threw the body into a pool and Lewis hanged Price’s dog with the same cord that had strangled its master.

    Thomas Lewis, already regretting his involvement, joined the search party to throw suspicion away from himself. It was Lewis and Davies who then dragged the body from the first pool and threw it to a deeper one called Varlen Vawr, submerging it with a large boulder. Thomas was the one though who found the body in May 1785, when it bobbed back up to the surface. Together with their father, they put the corpse into a sack and carried it by horse to the home of the Younger Lewis Lewis where they spent all night trying to burn the wet body using wood and turf.

    In the morning they packed up the bones yet unburnt and trampled the fragments and the ashes into the garden. The next night they tried again to burn the troublesome bones, this time at the Elder Lewis Lewis house, again scattering the debris into the garden the next morning. They did indeed stamp upon the skull but the fragments were still recognisable in 1788.

    Evan Davies and the younger Lewis fled once they realised that Thomas was singing in custody. Davies disappeared but Lewis was apprehended in Dolgellau. He was tried and condemned to death. He was reconciled with his brother Thomas and a large crowd witnessed his execution, the first in Brecon for 30 years. It was an occasion of the ‘greatest decorum and solemnity,’ despite his mother turning up to watch, calling out ‘Bydd fawr’n galed Lewis (‘Die hard Lewis’) whilst eating a pie.

    Vendettas have a habit of repeating themselves. In 1826, Rees Lewis strangled John Price with a necktie. He pleaded not guilty but was condemned and, like his relatives before, was hanged at Brecon. The Price family could not miss this opportunity to point a finger at their enemies through the gravestone we can still see. All that passion and hatred, once so real, is now represented by a simple crumbling stone.

    We cannot visit the grave of Lewis Lewis. After his execution his body was displayed in a gibbet near Llanafan Fawr. The family took away his body for secret burial at night during a storm. Unable to release the ankle chains, they cut off his feet and left them behind. A local dog found the feet and took one home to his master.

    Who owned the dog?

    John Price.

    Geoff Brookes new book 50 Gems of Mid Wales is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Wrexham by John Idris Jones

    John 'Iron Mad' Wilkinson (1728-1808). (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    I have already done Secret Chester and found this new work Secret Wrexham is nothing like it, it’s like chalk and cheese. Chester, as we all know, is charm personified. You go back to the Romans, who set its street pattern, and historically it was rich with traders and merchants who occupied its varied locations in the town’s streets, marked by ‘the rows’, making it an unique feature.

    The town of Wrexham has no such rich history. It came alive with the Industrial Revolution; before that, it was a small town with markets; rural and not industrial. The river Clywedog ran through it, and supplied water to the new factories, and to leather works. John ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson was the main man who was involved in the industrial works of Wrexham. Buried in an iron coffin, they say. Coal came out of the ground in some 26 sites; some of the pits were huge; four had shafts descending some 2,000 feet. So the miners needed accommodation; Ruabon and particularly Rhos had rows of dwellings where families crowded-in.  In the present economy, some of these sell for a low price. So coal transformed the town of Wrexham. Then iron-ore was mined as well, and the iron-and-steel industry prospered. They say that cannons were created here for the wars 1780-1815. The small town, in a hundred years, was transformed into an industrial hub.

    Bersham colliery. (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    The strange thing is that ‘Wrexham’ is in two parts.  Firstly there is the town, of some 60,000 folk. Then there is the rest of Wrexham County Borough, which actually has a bigger population.  In Minera there used to be lead works, very bad for your health. In a short walk, out of the town, you enter rich farmland. The most charismatic is the Ceiriog Valley, some 13 miles of it, the road turning and twisting as it follows the trout-rich River Ceiriog.

    Pontcysyllte has the astonishing aqueduct, designed by Telford; it is 336 yards long, a width of four yards and a height of 126 feet. It is still in fine working order, despite its origin in being completed in 1805:  narrow-boats cross it frequently. There are three other spectacular bridges on this part of the Dee.

     

     

    Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. (Secret Wrexham, Amberley Publishing)

    The man who gave his name to Yale University, USA, Elihu Yale, lived in Wrexham; he is buried in the local church.

    Offa’s Dyke runs through the area; built in the late eighth century, to keep the Welsh in order!

    The village of Marford has peculiar architecture; echoes of children’s stories in its pointed-top windows and doors.

    Erbistock has a popular pub/restaurant on the bank of the Dee.  Overton in 1292 received a charter from King Edward 1st. Hanmer, close to the English border, is where Lorna Sage grew up.  She is famous for her book ‘Bad Blood’.

    So, here is a lot to cover; much variety; from the industrial to the agrarian. My book is full of my photographs of Wrexham and I hope I have done justice to an area that is much more than a centre of industry.

    John Idris Jones' new book Secret Wrexham is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Barry Island by Mark and Jonathan Lambert

    Secret Barry Island 1 Late medieval pilgram's ampulla found near Barry. (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    Barry Island - a renowned holiday destination for generations of working class tourists from the late nineteenth century until the present day; they not only came down from the South Wales coalfields but from further away places such as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester as well as beyond. With the notion of a holiday becoming the norm for the masses, we see Barry Island’s sweeping sandy beach, Whitmore Bay, in times-gone-by with not an inch of sand visible for the sheer number of people present during the summer months. During the 1960s, a Butlin’s holiday camp was constructed on Nell’s Point, further adding to Barry Island’s fame and popularity as a tourist destination. Despite Barry Island being renowned as a place of leisure, its history from its tourism era is very well known. Secret Barry Island offers something a bit different and answers a need for a book with more substance, one which is concerned with a more distant and elusive history.

    The authors of Secret Barry Island both graduated from Cardiff University after studying archaeology, and have been present on many interesting excavations throughout South Wales. During the course of many years research into our locality, to our surprise, we noticed that there was not one single publication dedicated alone to the history of Barry Island, although there was certainly scope for such a work – a vision was formed. Secret Barry Island, which was originally going to be called ‘Saints, Smugglers and Sand – the Barry Island Story’, is the first history book to have been written which deals exclusively with Barry Island and began life as a series of articles that were later adapted for a book format.

    Secret Barry Island 2 Roman key handle found in the Barry area. (c. Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    The choice of Barry Island for a first book was a mixture of a personal connection to the place and also a need for such a book considering how popular this location still is as a place of leisure. It may come as a surprise for some, but we have both been asked on more than one occasion by residents of Barry and beyond…. “Did it [Barry Island] used to be an island then?”

    Previous to our book, one could gain snippets of information about the history of Barry Island in various old and out of print publications, but nothing particularly detailed or anything which formed anything close to a cohesive whole. They all seemed to lack something whether it be detail, periods from Barry Island’s past which were omitted, or were written in a dated style.

    We are also fortunate that during the formative years of the island’s development during the late nineteenth century, antiquarian archaeologists such as John Storrie and John Romilly Allen (not related to Barry Island’s late nineteenth century owner Lord John Romilly) took an active interest in the extant remains and recorded what they could for posterity. A good deal of the nineteenth century archaeological material we used was hidden away in various old and musty Victorian journals, and a part of the way in which we approached the book was to soften the primary archaeological material and ‘humanise’ it for a general audience. If anyone has ever read their way through a typical dry archaeological site report, they will understand the need to do this. We wanted to form a narrative which flowed, was free from jargon but most importantly, told a story.

    Secret Barry Island 3 The remains of the old port of Barry (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    With the clear aim of writing the book in a manner which is accessible yet informative, we take the reader deep into the long distant past of Barry Island to elucidate elements to Barry Island’s history that are genuinely not very well known. Secret Barry Island covers a wide range of periods and has something for everyone, from its enigmatic Bronze Age cemetery, its renowned status as a place of medieval pilgrimage through to its post - medieval lonely isolation. It also has its place in Welsh history as a part of the South Wales coast smuggler’s network. The book finally explores Barry Island’s successful reinvention as a place of recreation; one way or another, whether it was in the high medieval period of pilgrimage or the twentieth century, Barry Island has always attracted crowds of people!

    Overall we are very pleased with the end product, a work that we feel is very well balanced and takes into account all of the major themes of the past – times of this popular resort.  We hope that the people who buy the book enjoy reading about and discovering the history of Barry Island as much as the authors have enjoyed writing this book.

    9781445671918

    Mark and Jonathan Lambert's new book Secret Barry Island is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Conwy by John Barden Davies

    A-Z of Conwy 1 The suspension bridge, designed to blend with the architecture of the castle. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    I have been fascinated by the town of Conwy since I was very young, having been brought up in the nearby town of Colwyn Bay. My parents often took me to Conwy for the afternoon either in the car or for the twenty-minute bus ride. Even from that young age as I explored the castle, looked at the fishing boats on the quay, from where my mother bought fresh fish just landed off the boats, I somehow sensed that Conwy was different from the neighbouring towns of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. Now I would say that Conwy is not just different, it is unique. It was always a treat to go to Conwy Fair when the little town was packed with people, and to listen with amazement to the banter going on between the stallholders and their customers. Since the middle of the twentieth century, I have watched with interest the changes in the town. I remember on one of our afternoon trips to Conwy standing on the suspension bridge and looking across the gap in the middle of the new bridge, just before it was completed.  Later, when I became more interested in history, I liked to read the books by local author and historian Norman Tucker, which included a definitive history of my home town of Colwyn Bay as well as many historical novels. His favourite historical period was the English Civil War and its impact on North Wales. One of his best books was ‘Castle of Care’ which told the story of Conwy in the Civil War.  In later years, he wrote a definitive history of Conwy, ‘Conwy and its Story’.  He and his wife were friends of my parents and my mother typed the manuscript for that book. In those days, of course, it was by mechanical typewriter. After reading the book, I became even more interested in Conwy. Little did I realise at the time that I would write two books about Conwy.

    A-Z of Conwy 2 The anchor commemorating the saving of 400 lives by the trawler Kilravock's crew. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    After I retired, I found that I had time to write. My first book, ‘North Wales Coast Tourism and Transport’ reflected a lifelong interest in public transport and tourism and I told the story of the how transport systems on the North Wales coast developed hand in hand with tourism.  Three years after that book was published, I was delighted when Amberley Publishing asked if I would write a book about Conwy in their Through Time series.  I already had a collection of old pictures and was able to obtain some more and also to take my own photographs in the town. By the end of the summer of 2014, the task was complete and the book was published in the autumn. The following year, I started to write again only this time about the inland resort of Betws-y-Coed. I was fortunate in already knowing that community well as I once lived there and so know many people who were able to help. This was published in the autumn of 2015.

     

    A-Z of Conwy 3 St Mary's Church, on the site of the twelfth-century Aberconwy Abbey. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    By the spring of 2016, my thoughts turned to yet another book. I approached Amberley and we discussed many options of what form my next book would take. We eventually agreed that I should write a book in their new A to Z series about Conwy, but what else could I say about the town?  Whereas the Through Time series describes a comparison of locations in the past and the present, the A to Z series tells one continuous story of people and places, as well as looking to the future.  I have often said to myself, “If the walls of the castle could talk, they would have many an interesting story to tell,” but of course they cannot talk and never shall, but people can talk. While preparing this book, I met many people. It was interesting to chat to the retired fishermen on the Quay who have many an interesting story to tell and are so willing to share their stories. This is living history, not just a dusty past. Almost every building in the town is listed, and has its own story of people who were associated with it. I soon found plenty to write about and plenty of places to photograph and was given much help and support by the people of Conwy.

    A-Z of Conwy 4 Plas Mawr as seen from High Street. (c. A-Z of Conwy, Amberley Publishing)

    Conwy is a small town where (almost) everybody knows everybody. The town is mercifully free from the major development of chain stores and most of its shops, pubs and cafes are independently owned, where the staff know their customers which leads to a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.  I like Conwy early in the morning before it gets crowded, when there is time to buy things in the small shops and have a cup of coffee and a chat. It sounds idyllic, but a walk around the town in the quiet early morning gives time to ponder on the town’s past, which was often violent during the English-Welsh wars and the Civil Wars. It is miraculous that so much has survived and in past centuries, as much of the town was burned down more than once.

    The future of Conwy hangs on a delicate thread. Its popularity with tourists from all over the world increases from year to year and the tourists provide employment for many people in the town. However, there is always the danger that over development could kill the very atmosphere that draws people to Conwy.  The town’s history in the past two hundred years has been about setting a balance and many a battle has been fought between the townspeople and those trying to overdevelop the town. Conwy is often accused of dwelling on its past, but it is the old buildings and the stories around them that draw in visitors. Up to now, common sense has generally prevailed, and although the town is not a museum, but a place where people live and work, it is important to remember it is the old buildings and old stories that attract people to this unique town.

    9781445664392

    John Barden Davies new book A-Z of Conwy is available for purchase now.

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