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Fairy Falls, Trefriw. Photograph © 'Cottages Snowdonia'

Trefriw is a village on the River Conwy in north Wales, lying a few miles south of the site of the Roman fort of Canovium, sited at Caerhun.

Trefriw forms part of the county borough of Conwy in Snowdonia, lying to the north-west of Llanrwst, and about 4� miles north of Betws-y-coed by road. It is located on the western slopes of the glaciated Conwy valley, the village having been largely built in a semi-circle at the point where the River Crafnant flows from its hanging valley to join the River Conwy. Most of the village lies within the Snowdonia National Park, the boundary running down the main street of the village.

Apart from its reputation as a good starting point for walks, Trefriw is today mostly known for its woollen mills, and for the nearby chalybeate spa, first known to have been used by the Romans and further developed in about 1700 its waters were one of very few throughout Europe to have been classified as a medicine due to their high iron content.

The Romans

Trefriw is no stranger to history. A major Roman road (Sarn Helen) ran southwards through Trefriw from the fort at Caerhun (between Trefriw and Conwy) to the fort at Tomen-y-mur (near Trawsfynydd), and beyond, ultimately reaching Moridunum at Carmarthen. It is likely that there were in fact two roads passing through the Trefriw area, a valley route, and a higher mountain route which went on to link to the smaller forts at Caer Llugwy (near Capel Curig) and Pen-y-gwryd, near Snowdon. The actual lines of these roads through Trefriw can only be conjecture today, but the whole route is discusssed in depth in the book "Sarn Helen" by J. Cantrell & A. Rylance (Cicerone Press, 1992).

The Middle Ages
Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great) chose Trefriw as the site for a hunting lodge in the 12th century. Given that that he had a number of strongholds in north-west Wales, it is not possible to know how much time he spent in the village, although it is reported that he preferred his lodge at Trefriw to his Palace at Aber. There are no remains to be seen today but it is now believed that it was on the site of the Ebenezer Chapel on the main hill. Llywelyn married Siwan or Joan the youngest daughter of King John of England in 1204 or 1205, when she was only about 13. Despite her relative youth, she in time grew weary of the trek up the steep hill to the church at Llanrhychwyn (regarded by many as being the oldest in Wales), and as a result, in about 1230 Llywelyn endowed a church on the site where St Mary's, Trefriw now stands.

Llanrhychwyn (which takes its name from Rhochwyn, son of Helig ap Glanog) is now a small hamlet. In Llywelyn's time, however, it was larger than Trefriw itself, which consisted of "a few houses here and there". In "Hanes Trefriw" Morris Jones also writes in Welsh that Llywelyn built a church for [his wife's] use, and for the use of the inhabitants, for their kindness towards him, and that he donated a number of farms from the parish of Llanrhychwyn, naming them as the parish of Tref Rhiw Las. It got this name from the slope on which it stood."

None of the original church built by Llywelyn in Trefriw remains, except perhaps for small parts of the walls. It was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries, and again in the 19th century.

At the lower (northern) end of the village is located "Ffrwd Gwenwyn y Meirch" - ("poison the horses stream"). It is said that the stream was poisoned by Llywelyn, reulting in the deaths of many horses, at a time when he was at war with the English.

Stuart Times
It seems probable that Trefriw has links with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Thomas Wiliems, who was probably born in the village, and a nephew of Sir John Wynn of Gwydir, went to Brazenose College, Oxford, returned to work as a physician. He was an authority on vegetarianism, and also published a Welsh/Latin dictionary. In 1573 he became Curate of Trefriw. He is reputed to have been a papist (he was certainly charged on that score at Bangor in 1607) and as such would probably have known of the plot to blow up Parliament. According to some sources it was he who, in warning his relative John Wynn not to go to the State Opening, was responsible to either a smaller or greater extent for the suspicions which ultimately caught Guy Fawkes. This story is the basis for a short historical novel written for children by Gweneth Lilly, and titled "Treason at Trefriw" (Gomer Press, 1993).

The 19th Century
By early in the 19th century the village had a water powered fulling mill (replacing the former cottage industry which dated as far back as the 14th century), but serious development of the industry began only after it was bought by Thomas Williams in 1859. The current woollen mill is still owned by the descendants of Thomas Williams. The current roadside mill building, sited below the original buildings, was built in the 1970s.

David Cox Jnr. (1809-85) painted Trefriw near Llanrwst, with mill'.

At the start of the 19th century, boats could only reach the quay at high tides. Subsequent rock blasting downstream, and dredging, enabled ships of 80 tons to reach Trefriw. A quay was built, which became of great significance to Trefriw, its growth, and subsequent history. See the section below for further information on the quay.

In 1833 the old Roman mineral water caves (believed to have been discovered by soldiers of the XXth Roman Legion) were excavated in an attempt to attract people to them. In 1863 Lord Willoughby de Eresby built a small bath-house, replaced a decade later by the current building. Large numbers of people came, no doubt aided by national advertising, and the declaration by Dr. Hayward, a fashionable medical specialist from Liverpool this was "Probably the best spa in the United Kingdom". Today the Spa is open as a tourist attraction.

South of Trefriw were two toll-houses, Ty'n Twll and Hen Dyrpeg, which served the road layout as it originally used to be, namely the Ty Hyll - Llanrwst road meeting those from Trefriw and Llanrhychwyn part way up the hillside behind Gwydir. Gwydir Gate, still standing today on the B5106, became the toll-house when that section of road was built as a replacement. These toll-houses were built on roads used by traffic heading for the quays at Trefriw.

In the 19th century Trefriw was Wales' largest inland port, the river Conway being tidal up to neighbouring Llanrwst. Given the fact that, at one time, the population of Llanrwst was larger than that of any other place in Wales, even Cardiff, it can be seen that the Conwy Valley had great historical significance.

The 20th century
The village was at its heyday in the early part of the 20th century. Many visitors to the Spa arrived by train to Llanrwst (the station opening in the 1860s). From here transport was provided, over Gower's bridge. The Revd Mr Gower, rector of Trefriw, built the road and the bridge to North Llanrwst railway station after the plan to run the railway line down the western (Trefriw) side of the valley was dropped. The line was authorised in 1860 and opened in 1863. The station was originally known as "Llanrwst & Trefriw", and for over 100 years was Llanrwst's only station. The original toll bridge had about 10 wooden piers, and was wide enough to take a horse and carriage. It was demolished in the 1940s, to be replaced by the present suspension bridge. The original toll-house, Gower's House, was also demolished, but remains of its site can still be seen.

In the 20th Century the village was set to be further boosted by the building of a railway from Conwy (plans exist dated 1908), the line coming via Rowen and Tal-y-bont. This was around the time of the growth of Dolgarrog as an electricity generating centre, and the North Wales Power & Traction Co. Ltd, a company which went on to have controlling shares in many of the region's narrow gauge railways, intending to electrify them.

The Quay
As mentioned above, small boats were always able to reach Trefriw at high tide. Rock blasting and dredging in the early 19th century enabled ships of 80 tons to reach the village. The quays were sited opposite the Bellevue Hotel, now the Princes Arms Hotel, and remains can still be seen, best viewed from the walks on Cob.

From the quay was shipped out grain, wool, hide, oak, timber and metals from the mines of the Gwydir Forest. A considerable amount of slate was also shipped, this coming from as far away as Cwm Penmachno and the slopes to the north of Blaenau Ffestiniog where Rhiw Bach Quarry and Blaen-y-cwm Quarry were major suppliers. However, wharfage prices were high at Trefriw, and even before the opening of the Rhiw Bach Tramway in 1863 (which linked to the Ffestiniog Railway at Blaenau Ffestiniog) it was decided preferable (though less easy) to cart slate via Cwm Teigl down to the quays on the River Dwyryd, below Maentwrog. As a consequence slate shipments from Trefriw quay fell dramatically. However, not all the trade from the quay was material heading down-river - commodities such as food, wine (ordered by the region's gentry), coal and fertilizers (especially lime) were brought in.

Bangor University Archives holds some "Trefriw Port Books", which provide details of vessels, tonnages, masters, origins, destinations, cargoes by weight and fees. Two original manuscript volumes range in date from 1826 April 3 - 1835 December 26 and 1835-1847.

Sulphur was also shipped from the Cae Coch Sulphur Mine, prior to the construction of the railway line. The mine is also discussed in detail in volume 7 of "The Mines of The Gwydir Forest", by John Bennett & Robert W. Vernon (Gwydir Mines Publications, 1997). The other 6 volumes, whilst dealing with the mines beyond Trefriw itself, are also of interest in that these mines also provided much trade for the ships.

Up until 1939 the quay was used by paddle steamers which brought tourists up the river from Conwy, hugely swelling the village's population by day. This passage of steamers necessitated regular river-dredging, which has no longer been continued. After 1932 the steamers were beached upstream of Conway bridges, and eventually scrapped.

Famous Inhabitants
Thomas Wiliems (1545 or 1546 � 1622?). Referred to above in connection with the Gunpowder Plot.

Evan Evans ("Ieuan Glan Geirionydd") was born at Trefriw in 1795, the son of a former shipwright. He was of Nonconformist parentage, and his parents are credited with founding the Calvanistic Methodist movement in the area. He started life as a schoolmaster, but he attracted attention by his successes in poetry at various Eisteddfodau, his early imagination being charmed by the picturesque surroundings of his home area. He subsequently decided to move into the church, and was ordained in 1826. He was a hymn writer, but suffered from bad health - possibly a reason as to why his hymns, most in the form of prayers, are considered rather sad and deep. He held successively the curacies of Christleton and Ince, in Cheshire. Ill-health compelled him to leave Ince, and he spent some time in retirement among his beloved hills in Trefriw. When he had partially recovered, he was appointed to the curacy of Rhyl. He died on January 21, 1855, and is buried in the village cemetery. His poetical works were published under the title of "Geirionydd".

The oldest house in Trefriw is reputed to be Gwyndy Cottage, parts of which date back to the 16th Century. There are also two cottages on the village street which have plaques and dates going back to the 18th century. One of them is called "Tan yr Yw" (Under the Yew Tree) - a reference to the yew in the churchyard opposite. This house was at one time the home of Dafydd Jones (1703-1785), a poet who wrote most of his works between 1750 and 1780. He progressed from publishing his own work to setting up on his own as a printer - some say that this was the first printing press in Wales. The house is now a grade II listed building. Some sources refer to Dafydd Jones as the Anglicised form "David Jones". The very first Welsh language publication of a purely political nature was a translation by him of a pamphlet on the American dispute.

Gwilym Cowlyd, a native of Trefriw, was one of the most colourful figures in Welsh culture, and one who was very fond of the Cerdd Dant Festival. William John Roberts (1828-1904) was his given name, and that which he used in his day job as a printer and bookseller. However, he had a bee in his bonnet when it came to the National Eisteddfod and he would assume the bardic name of Gwilym Cowlyd when levelling severe criticism at the Gorsedd for being too Anglicised. Eventually, in 1865, he founded a separate festival to rival the big National Eisteddfod. He called it Arwest Glan Geirionydd (�Music Festival on the Banks of the Lake Geirionydd�), and the meeting point was the Taliesin Memorial which now overlooks the lake.

Mary Owen was born at Trefriw in 1803, and lived to the age of 108! She moved away to live at Fron Olew, Mynydd Llwydiarth, Pentraeth, overlooking Red Wharf Bay on Anglesea. By May 1911 she broke the record to become the oldest person to live in Wales, indeed in Britain. She died in 1911 at 108 years of age and was buried in the graveyard at Pentraeth.

In 1831 James Hughes was born in the village. Proficient on the harp, violin and flute, he became a harp-maker of renown. He died in Manchester in 1878 and is buried in the village churchyard.

T.R. Williams y Ffatri was famous throughout the land as a festival conductor. He composed tunes and anthems, and 4 of them are in the Independent Hymnbook. He was organist in the Ebeneser Church and a deacon for 15 years. He died in 1922 and there is a stained-glass window there to commemorate him.
William Jones, poet, was born in Trefriw 1896. He studied at the University College of North Wales and became a Congregational minister before changing denomination and joining the Calvinistic Methodists. He lived and worked in Tremadog. He published two collections of poetry, Adar Rhiannon a Cherddi Eraill in 1947 and Sonedau a Thelynegion in 1950. As a poet and a person, he has been compared to R. Williams-Parry, who in fact was a great friend of his. He died in 1961.
Pierino Algieri, the renowned local photographer, was born in Trefriw in 1955.

Kate Roberts, the authoress, was first cousin to Hugh Griffith Roberts, who came from Trefriw.

Richard Owen Roberts, the father of Gwilym Roberts the story-teller, was born in Llanrhychwyn. More information.

The Healthiest Place in Wales
In his book "Hanes Trefriw" (1879), Morris Jones writes : (translated from the Welsh)

� Regarding the village itself, its position is such that germs cannot live in it - every part of it is on a self-purifying slope - its pure and balmy air, and its beautiful aspect, it receives the healthiest greetings of the morning sun, so that it fully justifies its title - the healthiest place in Wales. �

Further credence was given to this belief when it became known that Mary Owen, Britain's oldest woman (see above), was born in Trefriw.

Trefriw's links with fairies are noted in the name of the main waterfalls in the village - The Fairy Falls, which is also the name of one of the pubs (previously called The Geirionydd).

In 1880 Wirt Sikes published his book "British Goblins - Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions", from which comes the following passage :

� In the course of the summer of 1882 I was a good deal in Wales, especially Carnarvonshire, and I made notes of a great many scraps of legends about the fairies, and other bits of folklore. I will now string some of them together as I found them. I began at Trefriw in Nant Conwy, where I came across an old man, born and bred there, called Morris Hughes. He appears to be about seventy years of age: he formerly worked as a slater, but now he lives at Llanrwst, and tries to earn a livelihood by angling. He told me that fairies came a long while ago to Cowlyd Farm, near Cowlyd Lake, with a baby to dress, and asked to be admitted into the house, saying that they would pay well for it. Their request was granted, and they used to leave money behind them. One day the servant girl accidentally found they had also left some stuff they were in the habit of using in washing their children. She examined it, and, one of her eyes happening to itch, she rubbed it with the finger that had touched the stuff; so when she went to Llanrwst Fair she saw the same fairy folks there stealing cakes from a standing, and asked them why they did that. They inquired with what eye she saw them: she put her hand to the eye, and one of the fairies quickly rubbed it, so that she never saw any more of them. They were also very fond of bringing their children to be dressed in the houses between Trefriw and Llanrwst; and on the flat land bordering on the Conwy they used to dance, frolic, and sing every moonlight night. Evan Thomas of Sgubor Gerrig used to have money from them. He has been dead, Morris Hughes said, over sixty years: he had on his land a sort of cowhouse where the fairies had shelter, and hence the pay. �

A Tourist Destination
Trefriw today is a tourist destination. By car it is only a 10 minute drive to Betws-y-coed, and within 30 minutes drivers can reach either the coast or the mountains. The village is set in a landscape of hills, forests and lakes. Today the village has two pubs and a hotel and there is other B&B accommodation locally. Many visitors come to walk in the area, and Llyn Geirionydd and Llyn Crafnant can be easily reached on foot. The latter is very popular, and many would agree that "the (view along Llyn Crafnant) is one of the most breathtaking views in all Snowdonia." (Forest Park guide, 2002). There is a series of walking trails in the area (see the "Trefriw Trails" link below) but many also start here for longer walks into the Gwydir Forest, or the Carneddau mountains, the latter via Llyn Cowlyd which, although less scenic than Crafnant and Geirionydd, has a wild appeal of its own.

Many visitors came to the village to visit the Trefriw Woollen Mills and Trefriw Wells Spa (see above for the histories of these)

Nearby, on the road to the neighbouring town of Llanrwst lies Gwydir Castle, which is set within a Grade 1 listed, 10-acre garden. Built by the Wynn family c1500 (see John Wynn, 1st Baronet), Gwydir is an example of a Tudor courtyard house, incorporating re-used medieval material from the dissolved Abbey of Maenan. Further additions date from c1600 and c1826. The important 1640s panelled Dining Room has now been reinstated, following its repatriation from the New York Metropolitan Museum.

Many cyclists come to the area to ride the "Marin Trail", a competition standard route in Gwydir Forest. Review.

Floods have always been part of Trefriw's history (being located on the edge of the flood plain of Afon Conwy. On various occasions in the 20th century defences have been built and improved, including the partial diverting of the Afon Crafnant, which itself carries a lot of water from the Crafnant catchment area.

Trefriw recently made national news when, in February 2004, following a period of prolonged rain in the mountain catchment areas of the River Conwy and its tributaries, the village was largely cut off by floods for 3 days, and some properties on the lower High Street were flooded by 3 feet of water. The following January saw a repeat occurrence, sections of the cob again being breached. This second occasion failed to make national news due to simultaneous flooding in other parts of Britain, notably Carlisle.

The Environment Agency are currently undergoing a detailed mapping of the valley, and at some point in the future parts of the cob (the riverside dike) will be realigned and moved further back in order to give a wider "channel".

As a result of the floods, Trefriw was one of the locations visited by Prince Charles in July 2004 as part of his annual summer tour of Wales.

 In Literature
In 1879 Morris Jones wrote "Hanes Trefriw, fel y bu ac fel y mae, Disgrifiad Cryno o'r Aral a'r Trigolion" (A history of Trefriw, then and now, a short description of the area and its inhabitants) Published by W.J. Roberts, Heol Watling, Llanrwst. This book is in Welsh.

In 1993 Gomer Press published published a short historical novel for children by Gweneth Lilly, titled "Treason at Trefriw".

On a less factual note, Trefriw was the birthplace of Brother Cadfael, the fictional detective in a series of murder mysteries by the late Edith Pargeter writing under the name "Ellis Peters." His full name was Cadfael ap (son of) Meilyr ap Dafydd and he was born around 1080 to a villein (serf) family. The stories are set between about 1135 and about 1145, during the civil war between the forces of King Stephen and Empress Maud.

The house called "Y Wern" (at the foot of Llanrhychwyn hill) features in the Welsh novel "Os Dianc Rhai" (by Martin Davis, published by Y Lolfa, 2003). This story is set in the mid 1930's and the 2nd World War.

Name Origins & Population
The name 'Trefriw' is variously attributed to 'tref' + 'rhiw' (farm/homestead + hill) or to 'tref' + 'briw' (a wound, i.e. a reference to the healing waters of the Spa). Given the nature of Welsh consonant mutation, both of these are feasible - Tref + riw (soft mutation of rhiw, as the second part of a compound word) or Tre' + friw (mutation of briw).

The information board in the village opts for the meaning deriving from the healing waters, although the following explanation is given on this external site :

"Trefriw means the town of the slope or hillside, and stands for Tref y Riw, not tref y Rhiw, which would have yielded Treffriw, for there is a tendency in Gwynedd to make the mutation after the definite article conform to the general rule, and to say y law, 'the hand,' and y raw, 'the spade,' instead of what would be in books - y llaw and y rhaw."

The word 'tref' historically meant 'farm/homestead'. Today it means 'town'. The definition of the word 'town' has altered over the centuries. Certainly Trefriw, in its heyday, was undeniably a town. Today it would be described as a large village.

Over the centuries the spelling of the name Trefriw has seen numerous versions. As has been mentioned above, "Hanes Trefriw" records that Llywelyn named the new parish "Tref Rhiw Las". A document of 1254AD refers to the place as Treffruu, and a number of documents from the 16th century refer to Treverewe, Treffrewe, Treverow and Treffrew (as well as to Trefriw), with Trefriew appearing on a document of 1795.

By 1801 the village had a population of 301, according to the "Topographical Dictionary of the Dominion of Wales" (1811). By 1851 the population had risen to 428. The 1991 Census records a population of 1286, 54.9% of whom could speak Welsh. The 2001 Census records an increased population as 1338, there being some 565 residences within the Ward. It reports that exactly half of the population is Welsh speaking.

In the Record Books
In 2006 Trefriw won the award for North Wales Calor Village of the Year.

The Worlds Largest Garden Hedge Maze is currently nearing completion at "Garden Art". Covering over 2 acres, this beats the current record previously held by the Marquis of Bath at Longleat. The maze was designed by Giovanni Angelo Jacovelli with assistance from respected Australian artist Bob Haberfield.

Trefriw is in the record books for a record boomerang throw! Englishman Andrew Furniss set the British MTA Unlimited record with 75.41 secs. in the Trefriw Festival (UK, August 2001)].

Trefriw is the home of Roualeyn Nurseries, which specializes in fuchsias. The Nurseries are habitual winners of awards at shows such as Chelsea Flower Show.

Crafnant Guesthouse was the winner of the "Best Wildlife Garden in Snowdonia" competition, 2004.

 Pubs/Bars in Trefriw:
 Fairy Falls Hotel
       The Fairy Falls
       LL27 0JH

 The Old Ship
       LL27 0JH
 01492 640013

 Hotels in Trefriw:
 Gwesty Fairy Falls Hotel
       Conway Road
       LL27 0JH
 01492 642304
 [email protected]

 Hafod House (Country House)
       LL27 0RQ
 01492 640029
 [email protected]

 Princes Arms Hotel
       LL27 0JP
 01492 640592

 B&B's/Guesthouses in Trefriw:
 Crafnant Guest House
       Crafnant House
       LL27 0JH
 01492 640809

 Craig y Felin
       Schoolbank Road
       LL27 0RJ 
 01492 640868
 01492 640868
 [email protected]

 Llys Caradog Guest House
       Conwy Road
       LL27 0RQ
 01492 640919
 [email protected]

 Ty Newydd Guest House
       Conway Rd
       LL27 0JH 
 01492 641210
 [email protected]

 Self Catering in Trefriw:
 Cottages Snowdonia
       2 Tan-y-Fedw
       LL27 0JW
 01690 710601
 [email protected]

 Schools/Colleges in Trefriw:
 Ysgol Trefriw (Primary)
       Ffordd Llanrwst
       LL27 0PX
 01492 640747

St Marys Church, Trefriw. Photograph © 'Cottages Snowdonia'


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