Victorian Philanthropy

St David's Church 1881Philanthropy had many flavours in Victorian England from treating the ‘deserving poor’ in an age when we sent people to the workhouse to movements like the Co-operative Society which originally sought to provide goods and services at reasonable cost. The Salvation Army is another visible remnant of this philosophy and of course a religious overtone was often present. Generally these people tended to come from the ‘well to do’ and many moved to Barmouth, built large houses, and some were involved in the themes of the time. The census of 1851 shows an almost exclusive Welsh population but by 1901 there were many English speaking families in and around Barmouth. Fanny Talbot was an important figure who lived above Barmouth and she listed among her friends leading members of the wealthy intellectual classes. An early beneficiary of her generosity of spirit, as well as her purse, was John Ruskin the social commentator, art critic and polymath who was so important to the development of philanthropic thinking. Talbot was enthused with Ruskin’s ideas and especially those that were incorporated in the Guild of St. George The Guild was  established to provide land and education to house the working men of England and Wales and train them in ways that harked back to the craft skills of medieval times, while promoting progressive ideas. For a consideration of £1,000 she transferred a number of cottages in the Old Town to the Guild in order to begin setting up this social experiment; social housing you might call it now, with tenants enjoying a security of tenure at a fixed rent . The idea was providing such accommodation and education would nullify the ferment of radical ideas that might form in the minds of working men whilst teaching skills being lost to the industrialising effects of capitalism. It seems, however, that it fell to Fanny Talbot to maintain the experiment as Ruskin rarely visited Barmouth. 

Twenty years later Talbot donated the first piece of land to the newly forming National Trust – Dinas Oleu - meeting frequently with doyens of the movement like Octavia Hill and Canon Rawnsley.

The foundation of the Sailor’s Institute by Canon Edward Hughes in 1890 as a reading and recreation room for mariners and others was another symbol of public spiritedness.

Other magnates of Victorian and Edwardian industry also settled around Barmouth. Mrs. Sarah Perrins of Lea and Perrrins Worcester Sauce fame came to Barmouth and built a large house called Plas Mynach. She later funded most of the construction of the huge St. John’s Church and its later Church Hall. Across the Mawddach estuary the McDougal’s Flour family constructed much of early Fairbourne, previously called South Barmouth, although it was primarily constructed for the arrival of wealthy industrialists!