12) The Harbour or Quay

The Harbour at BarmouthIf Barmouth’s early heritage can be seen in Old Barmouth the breath-taking vista enjoyed from the Quay in some ways says everything about the town’s later development.

As you would imagine the early settlement in Barmouth was centred along the water’s edge but the town was laid out along one main road with buildings initially clustered around the harbour and then developed northwards as the town grew. The earliest building is Ty Gwyn built around 1465 but most of the few early buildings now date from the 17th century onwards. The town gradually developed, largely thanks to maritime trade and shipbuilding, with over 300 vessels being built in Barmouth and along the estuary. 

 The original harbour was further upstream, just beyond the later railway bridge. It was a busy port with a hundred ships being registered there in 1795, thanks mainly to the Merionnydd woollen industry and the difficulty of reaching this part of Wales by land. So busy was the port that an Act Of Parliament was passed in 1797 for the repair and enlargement of the harbour and the port remained busy with exports or woollen cloth, timber, manganese, copper and lead ore, slates, butter and cheese. But increasing difficulties of access to the harbour and the arrival of the railway in 1867 hastened its decline.  

Barmouth Railway BridgeBarmouth Railway Bridge must be one of the most iconic structures in Britain. The bridge was built by the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway and opened in 1867, master-minded by Thomas Savin, a Welsh entrepreneur. Construction was difficult due to the strong currents and two men were drowned. As built, it included a lifting drawbridge section to permit the passage of tall ships, and was constructed entirely of wood. The drawbridge section, at the northern end of the bridge, was rebuilt in 1901 as a swing bridge with two steel spans. 

Serious doubts emerged in 1980 concerning the safety of the ageing wooden structure under the weight of modern locomotives which led to a ban on locomotive-hauled trains. The main problem was that the timbers were suffering from the activity of teredo worms. These small creatures live in salt water and bore holes in timber to secrete their larvae. To bore the holes they have two miniature shells in the head which act as boring wheels. It is said that this was the source of the inspiration of Sir Marc Brunel which led to his tunnelling shield used in boring the Thames tunnel. A major overhaul of the bridge led to the locomotive ban being rescinded in due course. 

One feature of the harbour is the ferry which has existed as a Crown lease since medieval times. It is the oldest continuous human activity here…

Sadly the port now boasts just a few working boats and mainly serves the pleasure craft of locals and visitors.

You can take a virtual tour of the Quay and Harbour here: