History of Cae’r Blaidd

Cae'r Blaidd 1879

Cae’r Blaidd was built in 1879 by William and Elizabeth Davies.

William lived from 1832 until 1903 as the third of five children and on Census forms described his occupation variously as ‘General Merchant/Farmer’; ‘Slate Quarry Owner/Merchant’ and in 1891 as a ‘Brewer’s Agent’.

William Davies J.P.

     William Davies J.P.

He was, in fact, a very talented musician and composer and very much the self-made man and entrepreneur. He was a choirmaster at age 16, later becoming a Churchwarden as well as a Freemason. He held shares in projects like the ship “Rebecca” sailing between Porthmadog and Liverpool, as well as buying and selling a range of properties, including houses, farms and hotels. He was connected to several of the local slate quarries as an investor in some, and part owner in others. He became the sole agent in North Wales for a new type of safer gunpowder that was required in the slate quarries, as well as sole agent for Bass Breweries.

He served on the local board and had dealings with schools, water, electricity, gas works, health, roads and bridges. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1878, the year before having Cae’r Blaidd built. In 1889 he was elected to serve as a County Councillor and soon after appointed chairman of the Finance Committee. Altogether, he was regarded as a pillar of the community and a benefactor in the district.

Because of ill-health in later years, he did not allow himself to be persuaded to stand for election as the Member of Parliament for Merioneth, even though he was widely considered the best choice.

William was described in the local press in 1880 as “the poet and gentleman, the merchant and politician”.   More information

William & Elizabeth Davies 1879

William & Elizabeth Davies 1879

Elizabeth Davies was ‘Born at Sea’ in 1831 and died in 1892 aged 60. She was related to the wealthy and prestigious Casson family, who’s family seat was Plas Blaenddol just a few hundred metres away from Cae’r Blaidd. She was well respected in the local area and was often asked to open events or present awards. The couple had 4 children; John (died aged 6); Robert Walker, who went on to become a solicitor and J.P. having attained a BA from Caius College Cambridge in 1884 (died aged 65 in 1927); Elizabeth (died aged 13½) and William (Junior) who also became a solicitor and a JP in Merioneth, having attended Rugby School from 1886 until 1891, then St. John’s College, Oxford.

Elizabeth Davies

 Elizabeth

Five years after his 60 year old wife died in 1892, William married Esther Chambers aged 28 in 1897. This was shortlived, however, since Esther died a mere 18 months later aged 30, a couple of days after giving birth to a son, David.

William’s younger brother John, became a ‘Surgeon-Major’ in the Bombay Army and for a time was stationed in Karwar on the west coast of India. Between 1875 and 1979, John also held shares in Wrysgan quarry before selling them on to his brother William. Having died in 1892 in London, Dr John’s body was brought back to North Wales, the train getting stuck in snowdrifts outside Bala. He was finally buried in the family plot in St. Michael’s Churchyard.

Photo by John Thomas 1838-1905

Photo by John Thomas 1838-1905

A copy of the photo above is held by the National Library of Wales. It was taken by a travelling photographer called John Thomas probably in 1881. We can identify the two children playing croquet as Elizabeth (11) and William (8) watched over by Edna Southland, a governess from Yorkshire, Ann Hughes the cook and two housemaids, Margaret Owen and Jane Williams.

Jane Williams worked in service to the Davies family from leaving school until she married in 1886 and by 1892 was living in a detached house called Rhiwiau Cochion (now called Trefan) on the Blaenau Road, not far from Cae’r Blaidd.

Jane Jones (nee Williams) at Rhiwiau Cochion in 1905

Jane Jones (nee Williams) at Rhiwiau Cochion in 1905

Jane Jones (nee Williams) 1930

Jane Jones (nee Williams) 1930

Jane’s husband, John Hugh Jones, stood as guarantor for her two brothers who went to America to try their luck in a mining enterprise before the First World War. Unfortunately, this enterprise failed and John and Jane had to forfeit £1000 which resulted in them having to sell their home and contents and move away from Ffestiniog. After living elsewhere for nearly twenty years and having lost her husband in 1919, Jane returned to North Wales for the last few years of her life. Whilst visiting a relative in Ffestiniog in February 1933, she died of a heart attack in a sudden snowstorm. She was buried in Ffestiniog.

Ffestiniog Village 1881 by John Thomas

Ffestiniog Village 1881 by John Thomas

Robert Walker Davies appears to have continued living in Cae’r Blaidd, looked after by the housekeeper (Mrs Hensco), until his death in 1927. We have a copy of a letter he wrote in 1925 explaining that his will was in the safe in the dining room. He too, was an excellent musician and as well as playing the organ in the local church and at numerous concerts, he installed a large (and apparently extremely expensive) organ in the Dining-room. This was offered for sale on 17th January 1931 in the Tamworth Herald.

Mrs Hensco the Housekeeper

Mrs Hensco the Housekeeper

Sometime later, after Robert’s demise, Cae’r Blaidd was sold to Evan Tudor & Sons, Timber Merchants of Trawsfynydd. In April 1938 they sold the house to Percivale Clarke, an architect, for £800, who in October of the same year, sold it to the Youth Hostelling Association, aided by a grant from the Jubilee Trust, also for £800. It opened on May 1st 1938, replacing the original Ffestiniog Hostel (Bryn Llewelyn Cottage).

YHA Log Book

YHA Log Book

Wartime arrangements meant that in 1940 the hostel was rented to International Tramping Tours for 3 months on condition that ordinary members could stay. The hostel operated in 1941-45, though sometimes for advanced bookings only. It returned to full YHA use in the last year of hostilities.

Caer Blaidd images

We came across this wartime memory from a lady who stayed in the Youth Hostel:

“During the war, when my father or uncles could lay their hands on some petrol, the whole family would go to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Dogs, grandparents, cousins, aunt, uncles and parents squeezed into two cars with the addition of the important fishing equipment and food. We stayed in a hostel where the beds were warmed by tea lights in biscuit tins with holes punched in them. The men went fishing in the beautiful rivers which tumbled and gushed the peaty colour of whisky from the mountainsides. The man who ran the hostel used to call me his little blue nosed pirate. I never discovered why. I remember my grandfather catching a monster of a pike and the lady of the hostel serving it up to us in great style. I loved going to Blaenau. Tourist attractions then consisted of running wild in the beautiful countryside surrounding what was then a very industrial little town, and picnics of new bread and syrup, an almost unheard of war time treat.”

Youth Hostel mid 70's

Youth Hostel mid 70’s

By 1994, the Youth Hostel was in a sad state of repair and was closed. After suffering a number of burglaries, it was boarded up and frequently vandalised. More information

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