Maritime, agriculture and mining, the history of north Ceredigion as seen through one family's records

A new book published by Y Lolfa called Land of Lead charts the story and recollections of four generations of the same family, from the 19th century to the mid-1960s. The history has been collected from detailed family records, including detailed notebooks, postcards sent home during WWI and notes left by a great-uncle whilst working on the Rheidol Valley narrow gauge railway. The snapshot of one north Ceredigion family is presented by one of their descendants, Brian Davies, originally from the village of Penrhyncoch, near Aberystwyth.

Author Brian Davies says:

“Aberystwyth and its hinterland is an area in which both sides of my family are deeply rooted. I am exceptionally fortunate that a wealth of documentary evidence survived, which provides a detailed insight into the history of the family and the area. I am acutely aware that analysis and understanding of these records are based on a form of folk memory and a vernacular record which are in danger of being lost as my generation departs.”

Land of Lead provides a glimpse of the social, economic and folk history of north Ceredigion at a time of great change, as well as touching on the history of Aberystwyth and its surrounding countryside, looking at agricultural, mining and maritime employment in the area. The volume also contains a selection of previously unpublished copies of 19th century watercolours in the hand of Master Mariner Captain William James, depicting the maritime history of Aberystwyth and sailing vessels.

“The interconnected links of my family – from the decline of maritime activity and the lead mining industry to the establishment of rail links, especially the narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Branch – provide a detailed historical commemoration of events which impacted greatly on the area,” says Brian Davies.

Land of Lead tells the story of Captain William James (1842 – 1917) who went to sea, and the history of Aberystwyth as a sea port; of his son William Richard James (1895 – 1968) and his service during the First World War with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. The book also recalls of the author’s paternal side with the story of John David Davies (1876 – 1942) brought up in Lledrod and whose father tried to steer him away from mining. Through necessity, John became a lead miner in Ceredigion, before having to leave his family in order to work in the coal mines of South Wales due to the decline of the lead mines; and Isaac Jenkins (1883 – 1966) who worked on the narrow gauge railway from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge, built to transport lead ore more efficiently to the town’s port. Land of Lead also includes a moving manuscript which the author’s father wrote on his childhood and wartime experiences, which provided the significant basis of Brian Davies’ previous book, Salem Soldier.

“This is but one social and historical record of very many which are lost or in danger of being lost which helps us understand who we are. I hope the story gives an insight into some of the history of north Ceredigion and adds to the historical and social record. It is my intention in due course to bequeath the paintings together with the maritime notebook to the National Library of Wales and hope they will have a greater understanding and significance when combined with a written contextual testimony,” said Brian.