20 Bronaber army camp   (PRN 18286)

Historic background

A small military camp was established at Bryn Golau, on the southern outskirts of Trawsfynydd village at the turn of the 20th century (southern edge of area 12) (Southern 1995).  In 1906, a larger, more permanent site was established at Rhiw Goch further south: the War Office bought land from the locals and the camp developed.  The site was roughly divided into two – North and South – and tents were used to accommodate soldiers in the early years.  In 1911, a military railway station adjacent to the existing one at Trawsfynydd (see area 08) and road were built to ease the conveyance of guns, trucks, waggons, horses and personnel to the camp.  The military road went from just south of the present junction of the A470 and A4212 north-east to the station, and made transportation much easier. Soon the War Department owned 8,020 acres in Trawsfynydd parish, mainly for artillery practice for both the Regular and Territorial Army. During the First World War the camp became a busy centre not just for accommodation for soldiers, but also as an artillery range and a prisoner-of-war camp. Typically, soldiers stayed at the camp for two weeks during the summer months, while between the end of September and February the camp was closed to allow repair, replacement and maintenance work (carried out by both Royal Engineers and locals) to take place.  As commercialism  increased, a small, purpose-built village was established west of the camp and was named after a nearby farm, Bron Aber (although it became known locally as Tin-town!).  It comprised a collection of metal huts accommodating cafés, shops and petrol stations, and was used by both soldiers and locals.  The camp prospered and an observatory was built on the tope of Craig y Penmaen (area 21) to observe the shelling of both eastward (‘live’) and westward (‘dead’/blank) shells.

By World War II, more-permanent structures had replaced the tents as accommodation, and Rhiw Goch house, built in 1610 and one of the earliest houses in the project area (listed grade II), had been converted into the camp’s Officers’ Mess (unfortunately the interior was much altered in the next few years).  Once again it was also used as a POW camp, though this time mainly for Italian, rather than German, prisoners.

After 1945, the camp gradually lost its importance but was used more as a firing range for unused ammunition, conveyed by rail to Trawsfynydd and then by lorries to Rhiw Goch.  A map drawn up in 1948 (Dolgellau Archives, ZP/12/10) shows the extent of the ‘Trawsfynydd Artillery Range’ at some 8403 acres (‘land owned by the War Department’), stretching form c. Orsedd-lâs farm (SH700313) in the west to c. Foel Boeth (SH778343) and Moel y Slates (SH785365), both outside the project area, in the east.  A public enquiry was opened in November 1949, as the MOD was looking for an extra 5120 acres to provide a ‘practical training area’ using live ammunition under tactical circumstances (Daily Post, 18/11/1949).  The MOD claimed that the land, mainly upland additions to the eastern extent of the area, was of no great agricultural or tourist wealth.  By 1950, still no decision had been made, and protests were held against the expansion in 1951.

The camp was finally closed as a military establishment  in 1957-8, and was re-opened almost immediately to accommodate over 800 non-local construction workers involved with building the Trawsfynydd power station (area 05),  still a self-contained community with its own shops, church, canteen and cinema.  When this was finished, the land was gradually sold back to the original owners (wherever possible).  ‘Tin-town’ was largely demolished in 1971, during the widening of the A470, although a few buildings still exist to the east of the road.  The camp complex is now a hotel and chalet establishment, alongside an artificial ski-slope.

Key historic landscape characteristics

typical and distinctive camp layout, wooden cabins, associated ‘village’

Although Bronaber is principally a construction of the 20th-century, nevertheless the tithe map shows a small concentration of buildings at the road junction here and some of these are still evident (despite much ‘modernisation’ in recent years).  The area is now known as ‘Trawsfynydd Holiday Village’, and most of the structures here are neat, Scandinavian-style wooden cabins (see photograph) set amongst manicured areas of grass and gardens which nevertheless preserve the original layout of the army camp.  The former Officers’ Mess and supposed birthplace of St. John Roberts is still preserved (although much-altered) in the Rhiw Goch hotel, just above and slightly away from the main camp.  There is also a dry-ski slope alongside the hotel which adds to the slightly surreal appearance of the area in the middle of a National Park.  There are a few remains of the purpose-built ‘tin village’ of Bronaber down alongside the modern A470 which are also incongruous in the otherwise bleak, remote, upland landscape.  

© Crown copyright. All rights reserved, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, 100017916, 2005

Back Home