Historic Landscape Characterisation

Vale of Ffestiniog - Area 32 Penrhyndeudraeth

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

Historic background

At the end of the 13th century, Penrhyndeudraeth parish (of which this was a part), was by far the richest parish in Meirioneth (with a taxeable value of over £7 per thousand acres, it was worth more than twice as much as its nearest 'rival'). It was only one of two parishes which had no high (and mostly useless) moorland, and was a source of supply of lime which was used for repairs at Harlech Castle just down the coast in the early 14th century. The present town lies at the neck of the former peninsula, and would have access to the sea on both sides: it would, therefore, have been in an important location.

Modern Penrhyndeudraeth, however, described in 1862 as ‘a dismal village of a few houses scattered among heaps of muck and cockleshells’, owes its origins to the fishing population which also came to be involved in the pre-railway slate-boating business. There was clearly an established community here in the early 19th-century, and the nickname it acquired in this period, ‘Cockletown’, is still current. The solicitor David Williams (Dewi Heli, 1799-1869, Liberal MP for Merionethshire) acquired the site of the village in 1841 and began seriously to drain the marshes, and to build roads and houses, in 1855. Though it had barely grown by 1862, the introduction of passenger services on the railway in 1865 turned it increasingly into a Ffestiniog dormitory village.

Fanny Edwards’ article ‘Penrhyndeudraeth’ in the JMHRS 1 3 (1951), pp. 197-201 considers place-name evidence within the area of the present village.


Key historic landscape characteristics

19th-century settlement

The village of Penrhyndeudraeth spreads out along the main Porthmadoc to Maentwrog road and also to some extent along the Rhyd to Pont Briwat road which crosses it. The main commercial properties (19th century, an now 20th century too along the outskirts) are long this road and one at right angles to it. Housing stock is very largely mid- to late 19th-century, mostly in terraces either along the main or back streets or spread up the hill slopes to the north (where the Ffestiniog passes and which was probably responsible for the growth in this direction). There is little or no evidence of the earlier fishing and cockling community which preceded it. The village has a number of comparatively ornate chapels, some of which remain in use. Others have been adapted to other functions.

Few of the buildings are otherwise architecturally significant and, although the present village was a deliberate creation by the 19th century landowner (following the construction of the Cob early in the 19th century, which made the place a thoroughfare rather than a dead-end), there are few estate touches, possibly reflecting David Williams’s laissez-faire principles. However there was clearly a strong middle-class element among those who lived here, reflected in fairly sizeable houses and in the use of non-local materials such as brick.

A number of pre-village farmhouses survive, such as Cae Canol (SH 6078 3894), but the buildings themselves are of 19th-century construction.

Institutional buildings include the 19th-century Bronygarth hospital, formerly the workhouse (SH 6033 3866) and the 20th-century Snowdonia National Park offices (SH 6017 3853), almost opposite each other on the main road out towards the Cob.


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