Deeds and Dessert plates of Hafod

by The Curious Scribbler

Last week Jennie Macve addressed the Aberystwyth Bibliographical Group on the subject of Hafod.  Her lecture, entitled Deeds and Dinner Plates – Some Primary Sources, introduced the audience to a variety of lesser-known resources which throw light on Hafod’s past.   Deeds dating right back to Thomas Johnes’s ownership came to light a few years ago, most unexpectedly, in a solicitors’ office in Leeds, and are now in the care of the Ceredigion County Archive.  Other sources include sketches, pictures, and photographs, which trickle in from all sorts of serendipitous sources, – Ebay produced one of a pair of glass plate stereo photographs which shows the Italianate wing added by Sir Henry De Hoghton, from the perspective of the present back drive leading to the estate office in the stables.   Another collector has a Victorian souvenir Prattware plate, on which a well-known steel engraving of Hafod circa 1850 is reproduced.

A steel engraving by Newman and Co shows Hafod after 1850 with the Italianate wing to the left

The same image reproduced on an earthenware Prattware plate depicting Hafod c 1875














A much earlier and more sophisticated source is the Hafod Service, a dessert service commissioned from the Derby Pottery in 1788.  Thomas Johnes had it made as a gift for the then Lord Chancellor Lord Thurlow.  We can only speculate as to what favour or preferment Thomas Johnes was hoping for in return.  It consisted of 45 pieces, two dozen plates and assorted bowls and dishes, each decorated with a view of Hafod.  The pictures were painted in colour by the artists at the factory working from the sketches and paintings by artist Thomas Jones of Pencerrig and other contemporary images. The originals are for the most past lost, consumed, perhaps, in the great fire at Hafod in 1807, so these valuable collectors’ plates are a vital historic resource.

As the immaculately decorated plates turn up, in museums or other collections they throw light on previously unknown views from the late 18th century.  Seventeen items from the service are in the National Museum at Cardiff, and another ten are known in other museums or collections.  The most recent to come to light, in a provincial auction house last year, seems to show a scene on the river upstream from Pontrhydygroes. Two particularly useful dishes show the lodges at either end of the approaches to the house, both of which were subsequently demolished by the Duke of Newcastle to make way for 19th century structures.   These original lodges were built to signal the diversion of the public road, (which formerly ran past Hafod) to its present route (the B4574) along a sinuous lane past Cae Meirch.  Archways over the old road down the valley clearly signalled that this was now private property.

A Derby dessert dish, dated 1788 depicts the lodge and arch at the eastern approach to the estate

It is interesting to reflect that in the last decades of the eighteenth century landowners in Ceredigion were all busily diverting roads in order to improve their properties.  We see the same pattern at Nanteos and at Llanerchaeron where the owners, all influential men, each purchased the old road past their mansion from the Trustees of the Turnpike Trusts on which they served, and thus ensured that the common drovers no longer passed their doors. Designed lodge houses served to emphasise the entrances to what was now private land. Estate improvement also often involved relocating the odd tenant farm to improve the flow of the landscape of the demesne.  Some of the old maps reveal that Johnes too, though in many ways an enlightened landlord, removed farms and cottages which he considered inharmonious in the view.

The gentle watercolours and sketches of two hundred years ago are charmingly familiar, so similar to the views which can be seen today.  But as Jennie pointed out, too many of us forget that the historic footpaths through the picturesque landscape have been hard won, through the last twenty years of restoration.  Before the present concerted efforts by The Hafod Trust in partnership with the Forestry Commission these paths were impassable, blocked and in places broken by fallen trees, eroded by hillside torrents where culverts had become blocked, or entirely obliterated by landslip. When a path is clear of obstruction we take it for granted,   and imagine it was always thus.  Hafod is in fact a fine example of unobtrusive restoration.

Walkers can pass without hindrance along the Gentleman’s walk today

Estate Manager Dave Newnham checks a recently completed stretch of path


A recently restored landslip on the spur path to the Cascade cavern

Hafod is open to the public at all times. For more information see

Aberystwyth Bibiographical Group see


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Storm on the promenade

The much anticipated storm of 27th October passed Aberystwyth with scarcely a  ruffling.  It had been vaunted as the greatest since 1987 and Michael Fish’s famous pronouncement that some woman was entirely deluded in her belief that a hurricane was on its way.  In the event, the storm took a more southerly course and while trees were blown down and four lives lost elsewhere its impact on Aber was non-existent.

Not so last Saturday evening when the still leafy apple trees behind my house creaked and roared with the gale and the last bramleys thundered unceremoniously to the ground. I was relieved to find no trees uprooted the following morning.

The direction of the wind drove great seas across the bay at Aberystwyth, focussing their force especially at the northern end on the promenade.  An occasional but exhilarating sight is the explosive force of great waves sending a sheet of spray right over the terraces houses from the Marine Hotel to Alexandra Hall.  Some years ago I photographed such a scene on a sunny wintery morning.  This time the height of the storm and tide came after dark.

But daylight revealed considerable damage to the promenade opposite the Marine Hotel with the white iron railings uprooted, still attached to their huge anchoring stones  and twisted in the air.  Where the edge stones of the promenade were displaced the sea made short work decorative sets and small paving slabs with which the prom has been refurbished in recent years.  As the waves deposited a slew of gravel across the road they sucked back to the beach, taking the pointing, and whatever substrate secured these small paviors with them.

Sets and paving slabs lifted by the waves where the edge of the prom has been washed away

Cleanup commenced on Monday morning with the combined efforts of men with barrows and road sweepers large and small successively clearing a passage for cars.  The handsome dragon seats all remained firmly anchored in place, but several appear to stand now not on paving but on a shingle beach, pockmarked by the tread of passers-by.

Several inches of shingle covered the promenade and road

Road sweeper outside the Marine Hotel


The smaller sweeper whisks away the remaining pebbles

The Victorian blue and white timber and glass shelter is the most northerly building on the promenade, rashly placed, it would seem, on a projecting semicircular drum of masonry above the beach.  But it has passed through the tempest unscathed.  It seems that it is the lower parts of the prom which have failed to break the waves’ force and have proved the most vulnerable in this storm.

Passers-by survey the damage south of the timber shelter, which escaped unscathed



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