Early Barmouth

Early Barmouth circa 1780We know little of the early history of Barmouth, or Abermaw to give it its Welsh name. Dinas Oleu, which means the ‘fortress of light’, is a pre Roman site that sits on top of the hill above the town and was the first land donated to the newly formed National Trust in 1895. Early settlements in Wales were generally based upon dispersed farmsteads and this was commented upon by Geraldus Cambrensis, (‘Gerald of Wales’), who travelled through Wales in the 12th century. This area was no exception. There were small towns and villages in Meirionnydd but scattered farmsteads were normal. Shortly after the conquest of Wales by Edward I in 1282 a subsidy or tax of 1292 listed some 100 taxpayers in the parish of Llanaber which now includes Barmouth. Many of the farmhouses in the surrounding area date to the 15th century, those buildings themselves being constructed on the sites of earlier occupations.

The Bishop’s Census of 1563 gives an idea of the population as it lists 60 households in the Ville of Llanaber while an Elizabethan survey in 1565 of the Havens and Creeks of the coast in Wales, (an audit of the weaknesses of the coast to invasion or piracy), lists Abermowe (sic) being likewise a haven having no habitation, but only foure howses whereof there are owners Res ap Res; Haryy ap Eden; Thomas ap Edward and John ap Howard Goche…

The town grew very slowly as another Crown Rental of 1638 mentions some ten houses in Barmouth amongst 90 houses in the ville Llanaber.

 

The first mention we have of a building in Barmouth itself is a poem dedicated in praise of the builder of Ty Gwyn yn y Bermo, and written around 1465. It is hoped to tree-ring-date this building soon but until then we must enjoy the legend that Ty Gwyn was used as a meeting house for the Lancastrian supporter Jasper Tudor to plot the overthrow of the Yorkist supporters during the Wars of the Roses. It is most likely to have been used as a warehouse or later as a customs house. Barmouth Quay in 1795 by John Baptist Malchair

Studies of two boats lying one on top of the other just off the shore at nearby Talybont reveal that one of them dates to the 15th century and is armed with canon and is the earliest evidence of a craft in these waters. It was possibly engaged in the war. The boat lying on top is thought to have gone down in 1709 so is fairly recent in comparison! The story and artefacts from these wrecks are displayed in the Ty Gwyn Museum on the quay and well worth a visit.

If the town grew slowly most of the population lived on farms within a short distance of Barmouth within what was called the Townshippe of Llanaber. These houses invariably date from the 16th century onwards but older buildings undoubtedly existed in some form. We also know that houses were built on the steep hill above the harbour in what is now known as Hen Bermo or Old Barmouth. The earliest buildings in the ‘old town’ date from the 17th century but remnants of older buildings may exist. Up until the middle of the 18th century virtually the whole town was situated in this location, safely above the waves.

A ferry has existed, under Crown licence from late medieval times at least, and still carries passengers to the south side of the estuary to this day