Dolgellau is a market town in Gwynedd, north-west Wales, lying on the River Wnion, a tributary of the Mawddach. It was the county town of Merionethshire (Welsh: Meirionnydd).
The area upon which Dolgellau stands was, in the pre-Roman period, part of the tribal lands of the Ordovices, who were conquered by the Romans in AD 77/78. Although a few Roman coins from the reigns of Emperors Hadrian and Trajan have been found near Dolgellau, the area is marshy and there is no evidence that it was settled during the Roman period. There are, however, three hill forts in the vicinity of Dolgellau, of uncertain origin.
After the Romans left, the area came under the control of a series of Welsh chieftains, although Dolgellau was probably not inhabited until the late-11th or 12th century, when it was established as a "serf village" (or maerdref), possibly by Cadwgan ap Bleddyn - it remained a serf village until the reign of Henry Tudor (1485-1509).
A church was built at some point in the 12th century (demolished and replaced by the present building in 1716), although Cymer Abbey, founded in 1198 in nearby Llanelltyd, remained the most important religious centre locally. Dolgellau gained in importance from this period and was mentioned in the Survey of Merioneth ordered by Edward I (Llanelltyd was not). In 1404 it was the location of a council of chiefs under Owain Glyndŵr.
After a visit by George Fox in 1657, many inhabitants of Dolgellau became Quakers; persecution led a large number of them to emigrate to Pennsylvania in 1686, under the leadership of Rowland Ellis, a local gentleman-famer. The Pennsylvanian town of Bryn Mawr is named after Ellis's farm near Dolgellau.
The woollen industry was long of the greatest importance to the town's economy and by the end of the 18th century, output was reckoned to be worth between £50,000 to £100,000 annually. The industry was to decline in the first half of the 19th century, however, owing to the introduction of mechanical looms. Another important contributor to the local economy was tanning, which continued into the 1980s in Dolgellau, though on a much reduced scale.
The town was the centre of a minor gold rush in the 19th century and at one time the local gold mines employed over 500 workers. Gold prospecting continues today at 'Gwynfynydd Gold Mines', one of the few sources of Welsh gold.
Dolgellau was the county town of Merionethshire (Welsh: Meirionydd); in 1974, following the Local Government Act of 1972, it became the administrative centre of Meirionnydd, a district of the county of Gwynedd. This was abolished in 1996 by the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994.
Today, the economy of Dolgellau relies chiefly on tourism (see below), although agriculture still plays a role; a Farmers' market is held in the town centre on the third Sunday of every month.
The name of the town is of uncertain origin, although dol is Welsh for "meadow", and gelli is common locally in names for farms in sheltered nooks, and this seems the most likely derivation. There is also a word celli (pl. cellïau), which means "grove" or "spinney", while cell means "cell", and it has been suggested that the name translates as "Meadow of Groves" or "Meadow of [monks'] cells", but this seems less likely considering the history of the name.
The earliest recorded spelling (from 1253, in the Survey of Merioneth) is "Dolkelew", although a spelling "Dolgethley" dates from 1285. From then until the 19th century, most spellings were along the lines of "Dolgelley", "Dolgelly" or "Dolgelli" (Owain Glyndŵr wrote "Dolguelli"). Thomas Pennant used the form "Dolgelleu" in his Tours of Wales, and this was the form used in the Church Registers in 1723, although it never had much currency. In 1825 the Registers had "Dolgellau", which form Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt adopted in 1836; it may derive from a false etymology. This, however, is the modern form in English and Welsh, although the town continued to be known as Dolgelley in English until extremely recently.
Dolgellau is home to the further education college, Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor.
Dolgellau is home to Welsh writer Marion Eames, probably best-known for her book The Secret Room (originally published in Welsh as Y Stafell Ddirgel), a semi-fictional account of the events leading up to the 1686 emigration of Quakers from Dolgellau.
Near Dolgellau is the house of Hengwrt, whose seventeenth-century owner Robert Vaughan (1592-1667) kept an extensive library. This was home, among other treasures, to the Book of Taliesin, the Black Book of Carmarthen, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Hengwrt manuscript.
The surrounding area is known for its wild but beautiful countryside and places of historical interest. It is popular with tourists who enjoy activities such as walking, hiking, horse riding, white-water rafting and climbing. Dolgellau is the main base for climbers of Cadair Idris (known as Cader Idris locally).
The Great Western Railway line from Ruabon to Llangollen was extended via Corwen and Llanuwchllyn to Dolgellau, and a station was opened there in 1868. The Ruabon Barmouth line was closed in the 1960s under the Beeching Axe. The railway line was converted some years ago into the Llwybr Mawddach (or "Mawddach Trail") which now runs for some 8 miles from Dolgellau to Morfa Mawddach railway station, near Fairbourne on the coast. It is maintained by the Snowdonia National Park and is very popular with walkers and cyclists. It passes some estuarine areas that are important for water birds.
The site of Dolgellau railway station itself, along with approximately a mile and a half of former trackbed, was used to construct the Dolgellau bypass in the late 1970s.
Historical attractions, apart from the town itself, include the 12th-century Cymer Abbey, a short walk from Dolgellau. The Tourist information centre also has an exhibition on Quakers and there is a Quaker graveyard in the town. A field known as Camlan, in nearby Dinas Mawddwy, has been claimed as the site of the last battle of King Arthur (based on a mention of the name in the Annales Cambriae; see also Battle of Camlann).
Since 1992 Dolgellau has held its own annual world music festival, Sesiwn Fawr (English: Big Session). Originally free and held in the streets of the town, it has now grown too big for the centre of Dolgellau. Since 2002 it has been held on the outskirts of the town and admission is charged, which has allowed the organisers to book such acts in recent years as Cerys Matthews, Super Furry Animals and Goldie Looking Chain. It attracts crowds of up to 5,000 every year and claims to be one of Europe's biggest and best world music festivals. Since 1995 it has been broadcast live on BBC Radio Cymru and since 1997 on S4C.
Every Summer, Dolgellau is also host to the Gŵyl Cefn Gwlad ("Festival of the Countryside"), a mix of agricultural show and fête. Entry is free, but the money raised in the various stalls is given to good causes.
In 1949 Dolgellau hosted the National Eisteddfod and, more recently in 1994, the Urdd National Eisteddfod.
Youth Hostel: Kings
Dolgellau Golf Club
Ffordd y Bala
Rugby: Dolgellau RFC
Tudor Lawson Dallimore & Parry
The Veterinary Surgery