Historic Landscape Characterisation

Mawddach - Area 11 Fairbourne (PRN 18341)



Historic background

Up until 1860, when it was sold, the Barmouth Ferry (see area 09) was run from Penrhyn Farm on Morfa Mawddach, situated where the modern settlement of Fairbourne is now. This provided the main income for the farm as the Royal Mail route then ran from Dolgellau to Barmouth, across to Penrhyn Farm and then on to Towyn and Machynlleth. The 1860 sale document for the farm says that a new carriage road had recently been made which ran through the property and which was used by the daily mail coach which followed the above route. The line of the road has been preserved in the modern main road which runs just behind the shingle beach. There is a single reminder of the former ferry in a water trough at Pystyll-y-Mail in Friog (area 10).

In 1865 Thomas Sarin, a railway contractor, purchased the Ynysfaig Estate (see area 10), with the aim of developing land to the west of the new railway on the flat morfa, as part of a larger scheme to develop huge tracts of Cardigan Bay to the north of Aberystwyth following the establishment of the Cambrian Railway. Work had begun at Aberystwyth itself and Borth (just over the border in Ceredigion) when he was made bankrupt. The estate passed through several hands and in 1895 was finally bought by Sir Arthur McDougall (of self-raising flour fame) who also saw the potential for the development of what was then known as Morfa Henddol, and convert it into a popular seaside resort. It was well-endowed for this purpose - the land was wide and flat and very sandy, all set against a magnificent wider landscape, the winters were mild and there was good access via the railway direct to the Midlands.

A master plan for the site was drawn up in 1896 by Silk Wilson & Sons, Manchester, in which sites were allocated for 250 dwellings, a church, post office, hotel, market place and baths, plus a 6 yard-wide esplanade which was to run for a mile and a third facing the sea, a pier (with a pavilion), a landing stage for ocean-going ferries, a wider road and new station. The whole was to be called South Barmouth. However, it didn't work out. By 1900 a few terraced houses had been built along Beach Road and Belgrave Road, along with a couple of shops and a post office adjacent to the level crossing (now part of the Emporium), plus tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course and pavilion on Beach Road. The former Penrhyn farmhouse had become the new golf club house. Several rich industrialists bought plots and built holiday residences where their children could stay over the summer with their governesses, and many families even spent Christmas here away from the smog and smoke of the city.

McDougall planted a rose tree in the garden of every new house he built. In addition he built his own brick works just north of the present station which was served by a horse-drawn tramway, and in 1899 he built, at his own cost, a station to serve his enterprise. The name agreed between McDougall and Cambrian Railways for the new station was Fairbourne' (some locals had wanted it re-named Ynys Faig but the company refused). The horse-drawn tramway (the originator of the Fairbourne Light Railway) was probably extended to the ferry in 1898 and became a popular tourist attraction (as it still is), also providing links to the beach and golf course.

Fairbourne continued to be developed but it never became the holiday centre for the Midlands' which McDougall had envisaged, and in 1912 he sold it to the Fairbourne Estate Company which continued to develop it slowly and operate the tramway. However, in August 1917 the Estate was broken up and sold in parcels at auction and since then the settlement has been subject to piecemeal development as a holiday resort. St. Cynon's church was consecrated in 1927.

Key historic landscape characteristics

20th century seaside development, light railway

Fairbourne is a modern (20th century) holiday village originally developed by McDougall of self-raising flour' fame which is situated on the southern side of the seaward end of the Mawddach estuary, opposite Barmouth. It bears the hall marks, in its layout and building stock, of having been built deliberately as a seaside resort, serviced by both railway and road, and it retains that atmosphere and character today. It is served by road (from Dolgellau to the east and Tywyn to the south) and rail (Cambrian coast railway), and its principal attraction is the Fairbourne light railway.

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