Historic Landscape Characterisation - Bala and Llyn Tegid Historical Themes

Historical Themes


Penucha'r Llan

The following period sections are intended to set out the general background to the development of the landscape over time, rather than describing the physical attributes of what is visible today. The thematic landscapes are included in the following section, as well as the individual character area descriptions.

There are few monuments from the prehistoric period in this landscape. A complex of Roman military structures were discovered at Llanfor in 1976 (area 07), and Llanfor continued to be of importance during the early middle ages. A 6th century AD early Christian inscribed stone (area 06) ia now housed in the present church porch. An oval earthwork (Pen Ucha'r Llan) north of the church may be of medieval or early medieval date, possibly the centre of an early lordship in the area. There was obviously an important focus of settlement and a market here before the foundation of Bala as a borough and the latter's emergence as the major nucleated settlement in the area.

The Roman road ran from Llanfor (ultimately from Chester) along the north-west side of the lake to Caer Gai (and subsequently on to Brithdir (near Dolgellau)), which occupies a spur above the other end of the lake (area 15). Caer Gai represents the consolidation of the Roman conquest of the area, being a permanent auxiliary fort, replacing the short-lived works at Llanfor. A vicus, or civilian settlement, is known to exist to the south and also possibly to the east of the fort, while again there is evidence to suggest that the site persisted as a centre of activity and cultural importance in the post-Roman period.

Castell Carndochan to the south west of Caer Gai (outside the current project area) was built in the mid-13th century, under Welsh rule. It occupies a strong, commanding position on a high spur overlooking the entrance of the Lliw valley. Notwithstanding, the borough of Bala (area 02) emerged as the nucleus of the area.

In the 16th- and 17th-centuries, Caer Gai was the home of the Vaughan family, Royalist sympathisers who suffered when the house was sacked and burned by Parliamentarian troops in 1645.

The town of Bala, now the major settlement focus in the area, lies along the course of the main road from England (Shrewsbury) to Dolgellau, sandwiched between the north-east end of Llyn Tegid and the Afon Tryweryn. From the early 13th century, Bala was the royal administrative centre of the commote. Two mottes, presumed to be of Norman origin, stand close to each other here (see below). Thus the landscape themes of fortification and the subtle shift of the focus of (administrative and military) control continues over a thousand years.

Bala is undoubtedly the best example of a planned English borough in Meirionnydd. It was founded by Roger Mortimer, ostensibly to bring law and order to the surrounding commote of Penllyn for which it became the administrative centre. It was initially successful, with all but nine of its 53 burgages taken up within a year of its foundation, and the markets and fairs previously held at Llanfor (see above) were transferred here and the borough was given formal grant of privileges in 1324. However, the town declined during the later middle ages as its military functions became superfluous, although it retained some administrative status and later attracted renewed commercial activities which caused it to assume a more urban character. During the 18th-century, for example, a hosiery industry developed which led to much rebuilding in the town and to an expansion of building beyond the extent of the medieval borough. By the middle of the 19th-century, however, the industry had to compete with the factories of the English Midlands, with the consequence that the areaÕs stocking trade gradually declined until it finally disappeared during the early years of the 20th century.

During the 19th century, Bala significantly developed culturally into an important and flourishing centre for Nonconformist religious movements in Wales, particularly during the ministry of Thomas Charles, the famous Welsh Methodist leader. From early on in the century, the town hosted the Methodist Preaching Festival, when thousands of people would gather on the Green to listen to famous preachers, and in 1837 the Methodists established a college in the town (area 03), and this was followed in 1842 by a Congregationalist college. Connected with the town's colleges and chapels were men influential not only in the area, but also across the whole of Wales and beyond. They include Sir O M Edwards, the famous educationalist and writer, Michael D Jones, the Congregationalist leader and protagonist for the Welsh colony in Patagonia, Argentina, and others, to whom there are several monuments and memorials in this town and Llanuwchllyn (area 08).

Outside the town, to the north of Bala, the Rhiwlas estate (area 05) has played a major part in shaping the landscape of the area. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, R W Price of Rhiwlas was committed to a policy of converting marginal pasture to meadow, and meadow to arable. It has been said that the Rhiwlas estate at this time illustrated the amalgamation tendency. This prevented young farmers from setting up on their own land and led eventually to depopulation and a contraction of settlement distribution; by 1797 many cottages on lowland farms were uninhabited (E Thomas, pers comm). Half a century later, the estate owned almost 16500ha of land in Merionethshire.

During the latter part of the 19th century, Rhiwlas estate was developed into a game estate by R W Price with considerable success, which altered the appearance of this northern end of the study area (ditto). For example, this colourful character was responsible for the first sheepdog trials, which took place when he accepted a challenge from a neighbour who claimed that his Scottish shepherds were better than the Welsh shepherds employed on the estate here. There has been a succession of houses at Rhiwlas, and the present house was designed by the architect Clough Williams-Ellis to replace an earlier, rather grandiose castellated structure (mirrored in the former railway station at Bala, also long since gone) that was requisitioned by the military during the war and had deteriorated to the point that it had to be pulled down in 1951.

The landscape area also has other important historic and cultural associations. It has long been suggested that it has long been rich in mythology and legend: for example, Sir John Lloyd (History of Wales, II, 614) wrote about Penllyn that 'the land is one of legend, rather than of history'. Caer Gai is held in Welsh literary tradition to be the home of Cei mab Cynyr, Sir Kay in Arthurian romances (White, 1985). Llanfawr (Llanfor) and its local rivers are recorded in the early Welsh stanzas, Canu Llywarch Hen, which probably date to the 9th or 10th century (area 06). Llyn Tegid/Bala Lake (area 01) was a particular focus of legends and tales, many of which, perhaps not surprisingly, are concerned with flooding and drowning.

In recent times, the landscape area regained its cultural pre-eminence in Wales as a centre of considerable religious significance, with Bala and its numerous Nonconformist colleges and chapels (and lake) being famously described as the Geneva of Wales. Fach-ddeiliog, overlooking the lake near Bala (area 11), was the summer retreat of the well-known antiquary Richard Colt Hoare, while Coed-y-pry, Llanuwchllyn, was the home of the famous Welsh writer and educationalist Sir O M Edwards (area 08).

Back to Bala Landscape map


Prehistoric landscapes

The earlier prehistoric period, before about 5000BC, is poorly represented in Meirionnydd in general, which is notable for the small number of stray finds of lithic objects belonging that period compared to the coastal areas of Llyn, Anglesey and north Gwynedd (Smith, 2001). The inland area around Llyn Tegid is no exception, although there is more evidence of activity than in the surrounding uplands. Environmental studies of pollen preserved in upland peats in Ardudwy, close by to the west, have shown that these uplands were covered by well-developed woodland before the middle of the fourth millennium BC (Chambers and Price, 1988).

Evidence of activity in this area during the neolithic period between about 5000-2000BC is also largely absent, although there are large burial mounds that might be of neolithic date in the upper valley of the Dee to the east of the study area, one of which at least, Tanycoed, is chambered (Gresham 1967, 29-32). A large sub-circular enclosure has been identified on the flood plain of the Dee, at Ty-tandderwen, just east of Llyn Tegid, from aerial photographs and geophysical survey, and this seems likely to be a neolithic settlement or ceremonial enclosure (Smith and Hopewell, 2006).

There is also a historical record of a stone circle, Pabell Llywarch Hen ('The tent of Llywarch the Old), not far to the north, close to Llanfor. The circle was unfortunately removed in the 17th century during agricultural improvement but was described in an 18th century document (Gresham 1967, 283). Such stone circles are rare and their presence almost certainly indicates areas that were centres of later neolithic, and perhaps early bronze age, activity, perhaps emphasising the area's continuing importance, already alluded to during the Roman and early medieval periods . Three ring ditches belonging to former burial mounds of this period have recently been identified on the valley floor to the east of Llyn Tegid during geophysical survey of the complex of Roman forts there (area 07 - Crew 1997, 17-18) and there are historical records of standing stones near to Llangower (area 12) on the south side of Llyn Tegid. Associated settlement sites are likely to exist in the area and may be discovered during aerial survey work, as with the possible neolithic enclosure at Ty-tandderwen mentioned above.

The first millennium BC is a period, however, when actual settlement remains become quite numerous, with over a thousand examples known in north-west Wales (Smith, 1999). However, this settlement is concentrated around the western fringes of the uplands with little inland, and this holds for inland Meirionnydd and the Llyn Tegid area. However, recent detailed survey of uplands just to the north-west of Llyn Tegid has identified previously unknown widespread settlement remains (Muckle, 1993). These are undated but are of a type of scattered settlement more typical of uplands.

There are no known enclosed settlements or defended enclosures or hillforts of the first millennium BC in the Llyn Tegid area, and the nearest are three sites about 10km to the east. One is a simple, lightly-defended hilltop on Mynydd Mynyllod, which may well be of late bronze age date. The second is a partly-bivallate hillslope enclosure at Cefn Ddwysarn, possibly an unfinished site. The third is a large hillfort at Cefn Caer Euni, a strongly-defended bivallate fort with evidence of numerous houses and probable extension and refortification. This fort, significantly, overlooks the major route between the coast and inland that was eventually taken by a Roman road, rather than overlooking the Dee Valley, and the river crossing at the east end of Llyn Tegid was clearly an important point on this route. That, and the proximity of the hillfort, may have influenced the siting of the early Roman fort at Llanfor, just east of Bala (see above and below), and its apparent continuing importance, although later a new, stone-built fort was constructed at Caer Gai, at the west end of Llyn Tegid (area 15).

Back to Bala Landscape map


Roman landscapes

Caer Gai

Communication links through this central part of Roman Wales were extensive. Five major Roman roads are known to pass through this landscape; those from Tomen y Mur to Caer Gai, Caer Gai to Chester, Caer Gai to Brithdir, Caersws to Caer Gai and Caerhun eastward.

The topographical location is undoubtedly strategic as attested by the succession of Roman marching camps and a large, nine acre, campaign fortress and stores compound on a gravel terrace above the north bank of the Dee and its small tributary, the Merddwr, at Llanfor. The camps are almost certainly a feature of the earliest Roman campaigns in north-west-Wales in the AD60s and 70s. The turf and timber fortress, with its regular disposition of wooden barracks and administrative buildings implies a significantly more lasting forward base for the control of operations and the consolidation of military gains. Within a relatively short space of time, however, the fortress was abandoned in favour of a smaller and permanent auxiliary fort at the southern end of Llyn Tegid, one of a network of inter-communicating forts designed to police and control the region.

Caer Gai is also strategically-positioned, a rectangular Roman auxiliary fort that was probably garrisoned from c. AD 75-130: the earliest part of the fort is a rectangular turf rampart that has been dated to AD 70-85. In contrast to Llanfor, much of the earthwork complex associated with the site is extant, and on the south-west side of the fort the rampart stands as a bank 8m wide. Both the south-east and south-west corners are very well-preserved, with the ditch curving around them. The bank is surmounted by a modern field wall, probably partly overlying the foundations of the original Roman stone wall that surrounded the whole area and incorporates a few of its squared stones. In addition to a civilian vicus, a variety of specifically military features is also clustered around the fort, which includes a bathhouse, a parade ground and a possible mansion.

Back to Bala Landscape map


Medieval landscapes

The project area falls wholly within Merioneth, one of the three original shire counties created by the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, following the Conquest of Edward I. It also lies within the (earlier-established) medieval commote of Penllyn, itself divided into Is Meloch and Uwch Meloch. Later, in a survey of 1419, the northern-eastern component of this same division is referred to as Uwch Tryweryn and the townships recorded under this designation can be seen to lie beyond the boundary of the Tryweryn river and the Hirnant. The significance of this observation is, if the distinction is ancient, that the hamlets of the bond tenants of the Prince all lie within Is Tryweryn and, equally significantly, cluster close to Bala at Llanycil, Cyffty and Bedwarian. There is also an enclave of the Prince's bondmen south of the lake in the free township of Penaran. This may very well be explained by the proximity of the very extensive royal hafodydd which range round the south-western border of Penllyn from Amnodd and Nanfach to Wenallt, Cwmdadi and Cwm Fynnon. The prince's interests in Penllyn were concentrated in Is Tryweryn; Uwch Tryweryn was the preserve of the freeholders. The disposition of the prince's bond tenants, before the conquest, clearly point to Bala as the commotal centre with the prince's fridd or cattle-lands on the high ground to the south-west of the lake.

During the wars of 1282-3, there had been considerable destruction across north Wales, particularly in Penllyn where whole townships were described as terra vasta, and beyond them the collapse in the values of the upland vaccaries implies a massive reduction in their livestock numbers caused by invading armies. There is evidence that during the final campaign to defeat Llywelyn Fawr, cattle were removed from the vaccaries in Penllyn to feed the English armies, and it was clearly some time before their subsequent restocking restored them to their former value (Smith, 2001, 428). The entry for the township of Penmaen (just north of the study area) may bear witness to the destruction wrought by the war in 1282-3 (see Williams about Basingwerk below). Here we have a snapshot of many aspects of society and economy in Merioneth as they were when the independence of Gwynedd came to an end.

The Borough
In order to secure the conquest, Edward I built a ring of castles in north Wales, and planted boroughs where English colonists could settle and live by trade. There were three such boroughs in Merioneth - Harlech, Bere (which, according to evidence within the 1284 Extent, was probaby the prime symbol of princely authority in the pre-conquest cantref of Meirionydd) (Carr, 2001, 704) and Bala.

The first two were of royal creation, existing to perform a military function (they had castles) and strategically placed, but Bala was different. By 1310 Roger Mortimer had laid out 53 burgages 'for the king's benefit for the security of those parts and to restrain the malice of evil-doers and robbers in the locality'. Thirty-four of the burgages occupied part of the former Prince's demesne land in the commote. The remainder was annexed form the land of free tenants. The demesne land would have transferred into the Prince's hand at the time that Elise ap Madog was expelled. It is probable that Llanfor had been the more important community, in a number of respects, for some long time. However, In 1310, the hamlet or town of Bala was enlarged and the fair and market of Llanfor was transferred to Bala from Llanfor. In 1324 Bala received its Burghal charter.

Ecclesiastical land
Basingwerk Abbey held a number of granges in the area around Bala, to the south-west and north-west of the town, including the grange of Gwernhefin, which was a large acreage of pasture centred on the present farm of that name (south-west of Llyn Tegid, area 16, centred on SH894329). In addition, it also owned the important asset of Llyn Tegid, where fishing was of considerable importance to the economy of the abbey. (Strata Marcella also had lands which abutted Basingwerk lands in Bala-Penllyn, but these were to the north of the study area).

Some medieval granges or farms were little more than sheep runs, while others were substantial complexes, important not only for agriculture, but also for the transaction of business and the hospitality they afforded. They were model farms of their day, with their nucleus comprising a refectory and dormitory, an oratory, a granary and other necessary farm buildings, probably built of a of mixture of wood and stone. Those in low-lying situations were generally much smaller than upland ones, which were mostly employed for sheep rearing, frequently with boundaries delineated by streams and rivers, and which can possibly be traced at Gwernhefin.

During the late 12th and 13th centuries, pastoralism formed the mainstay of the Cistercian economy in Wales (ibid, 246). The numbers of sheep given in the Taxatio (1291) show that Basingwerk had over 2,000 sheep in Penllyn alone (ibid, 252), and it certainly had a home trade in wool throughout the 14th century.

The current community councils which extend over the study area are also based on the medieval parishes of Llanuwchllyn, Llanycil, Llangywer and Llanfor. These four parishes correspond with the churches recorded in the Valuation of Norwich in 1254 (Davidson, 2001), although none retains any medieval masonry. The eastern commotes of Meirionnydd, including Penllyn, belonged to the diocese of St Asaph while the western ones belonged to Bangor. Both diocese were creations of the 12th century (Price, 2001).

Back to Bala Landscape map


Post-medieval landscapes

Hosiery trade houses, 18th-19th centuries

Following the Act of Union in 1536, Harlech was established as the county town of Merioneth, but the great sessions, which met twice annually, were shared between Harlech and Bala, and the first recorded meeting of the quarter sessions was held at Bala in 1546. At this time Merioneth was still regarded as one of the most lawless parts of the country (Carr, 2001, 704). Its economy was still suffering from the depradations of the Glyndwr rebellion and the Wars of the Roses, and the burgesses regarded the sessions meetings as their only economic lifeline, since such meetings brought in revenue. Later sessions were divided between Dolgellau, Llanfor and Dinas Mawddwy, but for judges travelling from England and for JPs from the eastern part of the county, Bala was evidently more convenient.

Enclosure of common land was a frequent practice from the 16th-century onwards, mainly for sheep grazing (there were frequent protests of 'sheep eating up men') (Thomas, 2001, 207), although there are a few references to earlier enclosures in official documents of the period 1569 to 1591 (J G Jones, 2001). There was a remarkable increase in population throughout Wales after 1550, and by 1670 the population of Merioneth had increased by 85% (Smith, 2001 (b)). Uplands which had been abandoned because of depopulation caused by the Black Death and intermittent warfare were again restocked. Grazing rights on common land which was attached to freeholds in hendrefi were important to an economy of graziers, and as early as 1573 in some areas there were complaints of overgrazing of commons by intrusive settlers who had built cottages on the commons and claimed a right to graze the land. Freeholders from a number of counties, including Merioneth, gave evidence to the sheriffs of the four mid-Wales counties at this time that overstocking by strangers, deemed to be Englishmen, affected the number of cattle and sheep they were able to keep and find winter fodder for: it was maintained that this problem had arisen since the Acts of Union. Williams-Jones has put forward the idea that farms in 17th-century north Wales probably encompassed '8 to 20 acres of normal farming land' (Thomas, 1968, 34).

Industrial activity, when it came to Merioneth, was geared to the cloth industry which began to flourish before the end of the 17th century, reaching its halcyon days in the 18th, and this was centred on Bala and Dolgellau. This was based on the raising and movement of large numbers of sheep.

Back to Bala Landscape map


Development of the estates

The growth of landed families in Merioneth during the course of the 16th-century was a relatively speedy process, but the shire's social structure militated against the creation of prosperous families with extensive material resources. At the end of the 16th century the majority of farmsteads in Merioneth were still owner-occupied, although a 1592 rental shows that several townships in the county had at least half of the householders as tenants, including Rhiwaedog in Penllyn (Thomas, 1972, 333).

The circumstances surrounding changing settlement in the Tudor period gave the gentry of Merioneth the basis upon which to develop their powers as landowners, exercise control over institutions of government and consolidate their status and leadership in local community life (J G Jones, 2001). For example, Huw Nannau Hen (d 1623) was very influential in county affairs, and took full advantage of changes in landowning in the county: he married his five daughters into substantial houses including Rhiwedog and Caer Gai). However, it was not until the 18th/19th centuries that their pre-eminent wealth and status were absolute.

It is quite clear from late 16th -century documents (mainly regarding the Forest of Snowdon (Thomas, ibid, 337)), that illegal encroachments had been made over the centuries, principally on areas of upland pasture which had once functioned as common grazings for medieval townships, and that monastic granges (including that in Penllyn) represented the greatest prizes, certainly in terms of area. Thomas opines that, in general, largely due to a combination of arranged marriages and 'financial dealings that aimed at consolidating family fortunes', the growth of estates in the later medieval period led to the creation of the modern landscape of Merioneth (Jones, ibid, 341).

The Rhiwlas estate has certainly played a major part in shaping the landscape of the area. The Prices of Rhiwlas, descended from Marchweithian, emerged in the 16th-century to achieve a position of some importance in Merioneth. During the period when Cadwaladr Price (who formally adopted the family name) was head of the household, Rhiwlas reached its ascendancy. Educated at Hart Hall, Oxford, he served as Deputy Lieutenant and Sheriff (1592-3) and was member of Parliament in 1584-6, and he was rated highest in the general subsidy in 1598, assessed then at £5 and in 1600 at £10. He and his son prospered from encroachments made into the Forest of Snowdon, especially the Ystrad Marchell possessions in Penllyn, which comprised some 1,400 acres in Llanfor, Llandderfel, Llanycil and Llanuwchllyn. Other lands were added, including holdings in Penllyn and adjacent properties. At this time, it represented perhaps the best example of wide dispersion of property interests in Merioneth (Jones, ibid, 338).

During the late 19th century, R J Lloyd Price successfully developed Rhiwlas estate, which then owned almost 16,500ha of land in Merionethshire, as a 'shooting estate', following examples set by Scotland, but positioned closer to England, and thus more affordable. The modern 'coverts' in the southern part of area 05 were developed for pheasant shooting, and the 2nd edition OS map shows a long row of pheasant-rearing cages along the northern side of what is still the main road out to the east. Cottages for several keepers were dotted around the estate (for example, at Tan-y-garth and Bryn-ffynnon), and these sometimes also acted as temporary accommodation for the servants of clients ('big businesses'), who were attending shooting parties on the estate (and who mainly stayed in the main house or at the Goat in Bala). At the same time, a number of small tenements were consolidated (e.g. Ty'n garth) towards the same end. He also opened a short-lived Welsh Whiskey distillery at Fron Goch.

Further north (and outside the study area), the essential Rhiwlas 'home territory' was focused around Cwmtirmynach, former Basingwerk Abbey land which had been the first and principal acquisition of land in the Tudor period: the landscape remains of rabbit warrens is reflected in place-names such as Eglwys Anne Warren. However, despite Price's best efforts, the estate was actually only saved in 1887 by a wager laid on the horse Bendigo that won the Kempton Park Jubilee race in that year (the same one in which Price died), and it is entirely fitting that a memorial to the latter in Llanfor churchyard (area 06) includes an inscription which reads: 'As to my latter end I go to seek my Jubilee, I bless the good horse Bendigo, who built this tomb for me' (E Thomas, pers comm).

The Atlas Meirionnydd (Bowen, 1972) shows three (post-medieval) estates within the area: Caer Gai (home of the Vaughans, area 15), Glanllyn (with land around Llanuwchllyn, largely areas 14 and 16, latterly owned by the Williams Wynns of Wynnstay) and Rhiwlas (seat of the Prices, and spreading across areas 5, 7, 9, 10 and 11). In 1850, the estates of Rhiwlas and Glanllyn between them extended to more than 14,000 acres, possibly then the third largest in Meirionnydd. James (1966) lists Merioneth as having a total size of 302,657 acres in 1873, with an overall rental of £183,253, of which 137,698 acres and £80,711 belonged to the 'great landowners' (of which R J Lloyd Price and Sir W Williams Wynn had interests in this landscape area). Lower down the order were the Lloyds of Rhiwedog who, around the same time, increased their territory by 460 acres.

Kay (writing in 1794) reported that 'very few gentlemen reside in the county to look after their own interests, which may be the cause of much inattention. Their estates are run by agents who seldom look after anything but the rents, and thus great losses accrue'.

The land at this time was mostly enclosed, with the exception of the extensive sheep walks, although the enclosures were in general small. Kay extolled the virtue of improving the land by draining, but as few proprietors then lived in the county it was almost totally neglected. However, he does cite the examples of Oakley at Tan y Bwlch ('embanking and draining a delightful vale') and Corbett of Ynysmaengwyn ('embanking and draining large tracts').

The 19th-century was the great age of estate building (Alfrey, 1989), with estate building programmes which had distinctive architectural characteristics as well developing a vision for the countryside as a 'landscape aesthetic'. By this time,estates were conspicuously richer than ever before, and were developing as an expression of the power and influence of wealthy landlords, enlarged through acquisition and consolidation. From the beginning of the 19th-century, Snowdonia was 'being discovered' by growing numbers of tourists, and the estates had a major role in fostering tourism, with financial investment in turnpikes, and building their own roads and hotels (Alfrey, 1989). Their activities were being carried out under the eye of a discriminating public. Landowners were encouraging tourism, but also shaping its object: improved agriculture, plantations, enclosures, mansions and their offices, even industry, were every bit as interesting and fascinating to visitors as the mountains themselves.

However, cottage building did not appear to be a lucrative proposition for most estates: Alfrey (ibid) quotes the example of Mr Owen Slaney Wynne (Sir W Williams Wynn's agent in Merioneth) who thought that 'you cannot build a decent cottage of any kind under £140'. According to him, cottages were expensive to build 'and you get nothing for it'.

In 1859, there was a contested election in Merioneth, a county which, despite its being overwhelmingly Nonconformist, had become notorious for its reluctance to move against the no-less overpowering presence of landlordism. Now, a lawyer called David Williams was put up against W E E Wynne, the celebrated antiquarian from the mighty Peniarth estate. Williams stood for Nonconformist relief and he got within thirty-eight votes of the Tory. Following this, Price at Rhiwlas and other estate landlords evicted a dozen or so tenants and raised the rents of others, because they had refused to vote in the election as they had been instructed. The shock was considerable, as never before had landlords felt the need to carry their high-handedness that far, and a campaign was started across Wales. The Merioneth evictions became one of the most potent images in a new national mythology of particularly Nonconformist character and the landlords, for the first time, began to feel the ground shift under their feet.

The focus of a subsequent measured and cautious shift into political disaffection was Bala, with its increasing Methodist influence, and a successful campaign to restore the town's incorporated borough status, which expanded into a careful reform campaign, made progress among the tenants and some of the lesser gentry. The response from the landlords was crushing, and the 'reformers' got no further in the election of 1865. However, two years later came the Reform Act which tripled the electorate, and many quarrymen in particular now had the vote.

The 'peasants' revolt' in Merioneth had been partially won, but more evictions followed all over rural Wales. The new Welsh MPs got a Ballot Act, but it took another Reform Act, that of 1884 which turned Britain into a democracy, before, in 1886, Merioneth found its true man. Its voters elected Thomas Edward Ellis, the son of a tenant farmer on the Rhiwlas estate (and educated at Aberystwyth and Oxford) who was briefly to become the shining hope of a new Welsh radicalism before his early death (Williams, 1985).

The Return of owners of land, 1873 (James, 1966) recorded the landlords in Wales whose lands exceeded 3,000 acres, and had rentals of at least £3,000 per annum. In this part of Merioneth, the two 'great landowners' were R J Lloyd Price of Rhiwlas (who owned an estimated acreage of 18,403 with a rental value of £9,762), and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bt., of Wynnstay, Denbs. (with an estimated 87,919 acres with a rental value of £43,274).

Back to Bala Landscape map


Visit our social network sites
Ymwelwch a'n safleoedd rhwydwaith cymdeithasol