Festiniog - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
FESTINIOG, a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Ardudwy, county of Merioneth, North Wales, 19 miles (W. by N.) from Bala; containing 3138 inhabitants. This parish is bounded on the north-east and north by the parishes of Penmachno and Dôlwyddelan, in Carnarvonshire; on the south by Maentwrog, and on the west by Llanvrothen, both in the county of Merioneth. It comprises, according to the poor'srate assessment, 8431a. 1r. 33p., of which a large portion is woodland, and the remainder arable and pasture: there are also about 7000 acres of common or waste land, not included in the assessment. The extreme length of the parish is about ten miles, and its breadth nearly six. The hilly parts are stony, and have a thin sterile soil, but in other places the earth is generally light and gravelly, except in the vicinity of the river, where it is loamy, and occasionally very rich: oats constitute the principal produce, very little barley being grown, and still less wheat, five or six acres of the latter making the extreme produce of any one year. The surface is rugged and uneven throughout the larger part of the parish, and its prevailing features are wild rocky hills festooned with beautiful copses, in which, among various kinds of trees, oak is the most conspicuous, and which reach down to the rich valley below, forming a pleasing picture of pastoral, sylvan, and romantic scenery, wherein the sublime and beautiful are strikingly contrasted or harmoniously united. The village is pleasantly situated on an eminence between the rivers Dwyryd and Cynvael, on the road from Yspytty-Ivan and Bala to Trêmadoc and the western coast, and commands a delightful prospect down the Vale of Festiniog towards Maentwrog, Tan-y-Bwlch, and Traeth-Bâch.
This beautiful vale, which is partly included in this parish, and partly in that of Maentwrog, was first celebrated by Lord Lyttelton, about the year 1756, since which time it has been visited by numerous tourists, who have described its pictorial beauties in terms of merited eulogy. The Dwyryd winds pleasingly through the centre of the vale, reflecting the lofty hills on each side, the slopes of which are, in many places, well clothed with wood, finely varied with projecting rocks and verdant sward, and contrasted with the rich corn-fields and meadows skirting its margin. It meets the tide at the lower extremity, and expands into a broad estuary, called TraethBychan, opening to the sea in the northern part of Cardigan bay. This river, which, before its union with the Cwmmorthyn at the top of the vale, is called the Cynvael, separates the parishes of Festiniog and Maentwrog, and in its course receives the tributary streams of the Cymmerau, Llychryd, and Velenrhŷd.
The principal eminences in the parish are the Mannod hills, and the Moelwyn mountains; the summits of the latter not only command a pleasing home view of the interesting beauties of the vale, but embrace a wide and varied prospect of the surrounding country. There are various small alpine lakes in the vicinity, the principal of which are Morwynion, Gammell, and Mannod, all much frequented by anglers, particularly the first, the trout caught in them having the most delicious flavour. Near the village are two interesting cataracts, called the Falls of the Cynvael: the upper is composed of three steep rocky precipices, over which the waters of the Cynvael are impelled into a dark deep basin, overshadowed by flanking rocks. About 300 yards below this the river is crossed by a rustic stone bridge, and at an equal distance lower down occurs the other cataract, consisting of a broad sheet of water sweeping over a slightly shelving rock, about forty feet high, from the bottom of which it rushes with murmuring impetuosity, through a narrow chasm, glistening among the loose fragments of rock that oppose its progress, and, falling from slope to slope, at length gains a smoother channel and winds placidly along the vale to its junction with the Dwyryd. Between this and the bridge, a tall columnar rock, called Pulpit Hugh Llwyd o Gynvael, or "Hugh Lloyd of Cynvael's Pulpit," resting upon a broad base, rises from the bed of the river, detached from those rocks which form its wood-fringed sides. The Hugh Lloyd from whom it takes its name was a reputed sorcerer in the time of James I., and is said to have delivered his incantations from the summit of this isolated rocky pillar, for which dark purpose its situation in a deep umbrageous glen was well calculated. There is also a great variety of picturesque and romantic scenery in the vicinity of a spot called Cwm Cwmmorthyn, near which are four small lakes, named Cwmmorthyn, Dû Bâch, Trwstyllon, and Conglog. On the road to Bala, is a place where, after heavy rains, the waters descend from the mountains with tumultuous rapidity, and form a stupendous waterfall. The vale is liable to frequent inundations, which, when the land floods and tide meet, overspread a considerable portion of its surface; but their injurious effects have been partially obviated by the construction of embankments.
Plâs Tan-y-Bwlch, or Tan-y-Bwlch Hall, the seat of Mrs. Oakeley, is the principal residence in the parish. It is charmingly situated on a declivity, at the north-western extremity of the vale, embosomed in full-grown plantations, whose luxuriant foliage fringes the steep rocky side of the mountain above it: the structure has lately been renovated, and the grounds have received extensive alterations and embellishments, conferring upon them much additional beauty. There are also two ancient mansions, now occupied by farmers, the one called Dôl-y-Moch, and the other Plâs yn Pengwern.
Five slate-quarries are profitably and actively worked here, employing altogether about 1050 men and boys; and their produce, in beauty and goodness, is equal to that of any quarries in the principality. The slate rock lies in strata like coal, and its precipitous escarpments form vast walls, extending from north to south, or from north-east to south-west. When the superincumbent earth is removed, the slate is split into portable blocks by means of wedges and levers, or, when these instruments are insufficient, by the application of gunpowder: the pieces are then conveyed to an open space, and divided with a hammer and wedge into thin laminæ or plates of various sizes. The largest and best shaped are called "queens," the next in size "princesses," the next "duchesses," the next "countesses," and "ladies," and the smaller "doubles:" all these are generally sold by the thousand, and the rough heavy ones, called "ton slates," by weight. The labourers in the quarries, called "blasters," "borers," &c., are several hundred in number, and often work in very dangerous situations, standing on ledges projecting over immense precipices, and descending to their stations with the aid of a rope tied round the waist. When a blast, or explosion of gunpowder, takes place, timely notice is given, by the blowing of a horn; and the echo of the explosions, which are sometimes heard to the distance of five or six miles, reverberating from cliff to cliff, is indescribably grand and appalling. The splitting and dressing of slates, performed by men called "choppers," are operations requiring great skill and much practice. The slates are conveyed by a tramway from the quarries to Port-Madoc, a distance of about thirteen miles.
Festiniog is a place much resorted to during the summer months by tourists, on account of the beauty of the surrounding scenery; and for their accommodation it has a good inn, with a boarding-house attached: the roads in the neighbourhood have been much improved, and are in good order. A markethall was erected in 1843, and a market is now held here every Saturday. Fairs are held on March 7th, May 24th, the first Friday after Trinity, on June 30th, August 21st, September 26th, October 23rd, and November 13th. Festiniog contains a branch post-office; and petty-sessions for the district take place at the inn at Tan-y-Bwlch, on the first Monday in every month.
The living is a rectory, with that of Maentwrog annexed, rated in the king's books at £10. 4. 2.; present net income, £242; patron, the Bishop of Bangor. The tithes of Festiniog have been commuted for a rent-charge of £141. 18. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, was a very ancient structure, about 130 feet in length, with a gallery erected in 1829. It was removed in 1843, and a new edifice built in 1844 and 1845, on a site about fifty yards distant from the old one; this is one of the neatest and most commodious churches in North Wales, and is much admired: accommodation is afforded for 479 persons, and in consequence of a grant from the Incorporated Society 375 of the sittings are declared free. The rectory-house is beautifully situated on the bank of the river Dwyryd. An additional church, dedicated to St. David, has been built in the neighbourhood of the quarries, capable of accommodating 350 persons with sittings, all of which are free; it is a structure in the early English style, designed by Mr. Jones, of Chester, and erected at the cost of that benevolent and charitable lady, Mrs. Oakeley, of Plâs Tan-y-Bwlch, who also liberally endowed it. There are places of worship for Calvinistic Methodists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. A National school for boys and girls was established in 1829, for the parishes of Festiniog and Maentwrog, for which a neat building of English architecture was erected near the village by subscription among the inhabitants, aided by a grant of £62 from the parent society in London; it is partly supported by subscriptions, and partly by small payments from the children. Another school, in connexion with St. David's ecclesiastical district, has been since built at the expense of Mrs. Oakeley, by whom it is supported. More recently, a school on the British system has been built in the parish, by subscription; and there are as many as nine Sunday schools, one of them in connexion with St. David's church, and the others with the dissenters. A sum of £3 per annum, secured by the trustees of a Calvinistic meeting-house in the parish of Llanvawr, near Bala, for money lent, the produce of various bequests, is distributed among the poor at Christmas. £50 were given by a Mrs. Jones, in 1703, the proceeds to be appropriated to apprenticing children. The poor-law union of which this place is the head, was formed May 8th, 1837, and comprises the fifteen following parishes and townships; namely, Festiniog, Llanbedr, Llandanwg, Llandecwyn, Llanvair, Llanvihangel-y-Traethau, Llanvrothen, Maentwrog, and Trawsvynydd, in the county of Merioneth; and Bethgelart, Dôlbenmaen, Llanvihangel-y-Pennant, Penmorva, Trêvlys, and Ynyscynhaiarn, in the county of Carnarvon. It is under the superintendence of twenty-two guardians, and contains a population of 15,437.
In or near the parish is Tommen-y-Mûr, the site of the Roman station Heriri Mons: it lies on the south-eastern slope of a hill, and the station is well defined, measuring about 200 yards by 300; the agger preserved on three sides, with an enormous mound raised artificially at the northern end. Two Roman roads are said to have intersected each other in this vicinity, one leading from Segontium, near the present Carnarvon, to Mediolanum, in Montgomeryshire; and the other from Conovium, at Caerhên, near Conway, to Loventium, at Llanio, in Cardiganshire. Within the parish one of these roads, now called Sarn Helen, signifying "Helen's causeway," or Ffordd Helen, "Helen's way," may yet be distinctly traced, though for the most part covered with turf. It is said to have been constructed by Helena, daughter of a Duke of Cornwall, and consort of the Emperor Maximus, or by Helena, wife of Constantius, and mother of Constantine; but its appellation may be a corruption from Ffordd Lleon, signifying the "legionary way." Near it are the remains of Beddau Gwŷr Ardudwy, "the graves of the men of Ardudwy," which are about six feet long, and were formerly marked at each end by two upright stones, from two to three feet high, and one broad, long since removed. These graves denote this to have been the scene of some unrecorded conflict. The tradition connected with them is, that the men of Ardudwy, in order to people their territory, entered the Vale of Clwyd, and forcibly bore off several of its fair inhabitants; but they were pursued by the men of Clwyd, and overtaken at this place, where a sharp conflict ensued, in which the former were defeated and slain. They nevertheless appear to have secured the affections of the females, who, rather than return home, are said to have rushed into an adjacent piece of water, called from this circumstance Llyn-y-Morwynion, or "the maidens' lake," and there to have perished. A silver seal was found near the mountain of Moelwyn, in 1831, bearing the inscription "S. LODOWICI. EPI BANGOREN. AD CAUSAS," being the seal of Lewis, Bishop of Bangor, who is supposed by some to have been the Bishop of Bangor who, taking part in the insurrection of Owain Glyndwr, was made prisoner in a battle that was fought in Yorkshire, in February 1408, and deprived of his bishopric.