Perhaps the most haunting ruins in the whole cwm belong to CWMORTHIN TERRACE later known as TAI LLYN. Often seen first on the approach up from Dolrhedyn, they have been captured on numerous occasions by amateur and professional photographers.
The terrace was built by the owners of Cwmorthin Quarry in two stages.
The first eight houses were erected in the 1860’s and constructed of dressed stone.
A further five made of slate blocks were built in the 1870’s bringing the total up to thirteen by the census of 1881.
In the 1871 census all bar No7 were occupied with thirty-two people living in the row.
In the 1881 count all bar No8 and No13 were in use but with the addition of the five new dwellings the numbering system is confused.
The photo left shows the remains of the more recent additions.
The 1870 build is clearly more stable than the earlier construction although both the outside rendering and the inner wall linings have been completely eroded away.
The lack of any visible roofing material would seem to indicate that the roofs were “robbed” for other building use.
The numbering of the houses in this terrace is a real quandary.
If, as according to the 1871 Census, the stone-built set were numbered 1 to 8 then it must be that the numbering moved back to start from 1 to 13 with the later five taking the role of 1 to 5 and No8 becominh No13.
Examination of the 1871 Census in comparison to the 1881 version shows no correlation between families and house numbers.
The one clue is that the house at the river end used to be licensed to sell tobacco so perhaps the Licensing Records will give a house number.
Right is the combination of fireplaces in the fourth house in, indicating two rooms downstairs – a living room and a kitchen - and at least one grated bedroom upstairs.
All the houses have this format.
Looking now at the original eight stone-built cottages we can see that they have been built with considerable skill demonstrated the clearest in the picture bottom right.
The best view of the early set is from the hill behind the row as shown in the photograph left.
In this way both the front and back walls can be seen as well as the remains of the rear outbuildings.
A further study of this part of the ruins could well reveal that these out houses could have a wide range of uses.
Tai Llyn dig - Preliminary Report
Despite the poor summer, the archaeological dig at Cwmorthin Terrace is coming to a close.
Two dwellings were focused on – No2, built of block ends in the 1870s and No13, the end terrace house built of country rock in the 1860s.
To deal with the latter dig first, the project contractor D&C Jones did the majority of clearance work as the stone blocks were far too heavy to move without mechanical assistance.
A slate slab floor was uncovered with some having already been removed during the many years that the house was empty. Census records show the house being rarely occupied compared with the others and this may be due to the fact that it was poorly built and liable to damp. It may well have been condemned at some point.
The only family listed, and that in the 1871 census, is that of Robert Davies (31) a slate quarrier, his wife Jane Davies (30), two sons - John (6) and Edward (3) and daughter Jane aged 11months. Robert was killed in an accident in Cwmorthin Quarry a year later.
The house was built of local stone with plastered internal walls and few finds came out of the dig. However, the most interesting discovery was made behind and below the main fireplace.
A small skeleton of an animal was found immediately behind the bricks used to support what may well be a cast iron “range” of sorts. No skull was found but further digging uncovered more bones below the fireplace making it possible that two, maybe three animals were buried.
The Veterinary Surgeons at Dolgellau examined the bones but could not formally identify the creatures involved mainly due to the lack of skull bones. The group will now be looking for a forensic archaeologist to examine the bones in more detail.
A decision had already been made to excavate in No 2 even before the capping work was done as Nos 1 and 2 were the last to be inhabited and commenced once the set were made safe and capping complete.
Whilst the longer process of removing wall and roof rubble from within the house was being carried out by Phil and Sion Hughes and Dafydd Roberts the archaeology team set about exposing the back yard.
It was soon discovered that a pathway ran along the back of the entire terrace with upright slate flags forming a “wall” separating the small back yards attached to the house from the track. The yard was floored with irregular slate flags. Some of the finds discovered will be listed later.
The sanitary arrangement for the slate-built section of the terrace was a block of five toilets with a single drain. See on the extreme right of Fig 1 (right)
Needless to say the block was built of slate ends with slate slab floor. The roof was also made of slate slabs sloping to the south.
See close-up of one toilet below. (Fig 2)
The conditions were bad. So bad in fact that comments were made to the town’s District Council meeting in December 1898 as to the sanitary conditions.
Included in the monthly report on the health of the district
The Cambrian News and Merioneth Standard 3rd December 1898 reported
“The monthly reports of Dr Jones, the medical officer, and Mr Williams, the sanitary inspector, were read showing that forty-three cases of infectious disease had been notified during the month, compared with seventy for the previous month, and fifty-two corresponding period last year.
“The majority of the cases were diphtheria cases the epidemic being prevalent throughout the whole of the district
“He desired to call the special and immediate attention of the Council to the disgraceful condition of Cwmorthin.”
Councillor Humphrey Roberts was moved to say:
“We have heard the reports of our Medical Officer and our Sanitary Inspector about the disgraceful condition of Cwmorthin.
We have received the same reports about the place several times so that it is nothing new to us. The place is in a disgraceful condition owing to the non-clearance of sewage.
“Must we wait for another ten, twenty, or fifty years without remedying the present state of things? Must young children continue to die through our negligence?
“Yes, I am bold enough to say it is due to our negligence and that we are as guilty of the deaths of these innocent young children as if we had killed them. The sewer was near the houses and the sewage was not being cleared.”
“The Chairman said the new Welsh Slate Company had been asked to effect improvements at their houses.
“Mr H. Roberts said that it was no use asking the Company to do something when we ourselves have done nothing. The late Manager knew well enough we could not force him to work for this reason. I propose that the main drain be extended there.”
The system discovered was probably not much of an improvement on the above situation. The drain from the toilets was extended into the leat carrying water from the lake to the Cross Mill situated about half a kilometre away down towards the edge of the cwm.
The effluent would be flushed into this leat which took it away towards the mill, eventually over the waterwheel and into Cwmorthin River. Obviously not an ideal situation!
The method of flushing was believed to be manual with water being carried to the end of the block (Fig 3 above) and sent through the drain.
It is possible that it was dammed above the first toilet and released when the dam was full to create sufficient force to clean out the drain. Further investigation is needed to see if there was a well further along the stone terrace which provided the water naturally. Above left is the outlet of the toilet drain leading to the leat.
At the western end of the toilet block a set of steps made their way up to the grassy area above the terrace where two posts of the washing line still exist.
The children used to play here also as evidence has surfaced of a game board scratched out on one of the toilet roof slabs.
Fox and Geese seems to have originated in northern Europe some time during the Viking Age. The game is a contest between one Fox and 13 Geese. Play begins with the pieces in the positions shown. Players may move a piece to any vacant adjacent spot on the board, either vertically, horizontally or diagonally along the marked lines. Only the Fox may jump another piece. When a piece is jumped, it is removed from the board. The object for the Geese is to capture the Fox by surrounding him so he cannot move or jump. The Fox must try to remove all the Geese, or at least enough of them so that there are not enough left for a capture
The excavation then continued inside the house. The floor was overlaid with Greaves-cut, planed slate slabs, many of which had been removed, possibly when No1 was the only house occupied.
Concentrating first on a test pit in the north-west corner of the room it was found that the floor has subsided somewhat. This was caused by the sub-layer being built up from the solid ground rock to provide a level floor, the same for No1 and probably No3 to a lesser extent.
Moving on then to the main fireplace (left) where a build typical of the era was exposed. It is possible that this hosted a cast iron range very common in the 19th and early 20th century. A piece of casting was discovered near the parlour fireplace (below) which named the manufacturer as Carron of Falkirk, Scotland.
All the fireplaces left visible in the slate-built cottages are of identical build with little signs of modification.
The stairs to the bedroom area have left no visible remains but were situated against the wall adjacent to No 3 directly opposite the fireplaces.
Due to that particular area of the floor being missing no trace of the vertical support for the stairs and indeed that of the partition wall between the main room and the parlour could be found.
The foot of the stairs would have been at the front door side of the room with the top of the stairs resting on one of the main joists forming the roof of the ground floor. Again due to the working floor of the living room being missing no indication was found of there being a sbensh, the storage area under the stairs, involved. However as this was the norm in the area it is perhaps likely that such a structure was in place.
Left is an impression of how the stairs fitted in the room.
Attention then moved to the outside at the front, facing the lake.
The entire frontage of the block-end built cottages was excavated with numerous minor finds coming to light.
Broken window glass, fragments of china plates, glass jars etc were collected.
It soon became clear that the frontage was treated with respect by the occupiers with small semi-circular quartz-stone edged flower beds existing in front of at least three of the five houses.
No 2’s small front garden was restored at the end of the dig in the hope that it would recover to give an impression to visitors of how it would have looked.
The entire front of the cottages is raised about 1.5 m above the original track to the stone-built row as seen in the photo below.
There would have been a wall running along the edge with steps leading up to the frontage beyond No1 and then down just in front of No 5 as seen in the photo below.
Just beyond No 5 steps led down to the track to Nos 6 to 13.
Plans show the recording of the dig sites at No 2 and No13 by Bill Jones, Project Archaeologist.
Notes on No 13
View of the inside of the front wall
The outside of the same wall showing excellent building stone
The very poor west end wall showing poor grade stone being used
The main fireplace under which bones were found
Exposed back yard and entry. The communal toilet block can be seen on the right, above
One of the toilets in the block
Percieved flush-tank for the block
Site of flush-tank and steps to upper bank
Toilet flush channel outlet to leat
Ground floor exposed - view to back garden and entry
Fox and Geese game marked on slate slab
Percieved position of stairs to first floor
Exposed front flower garden
Restored front garden and frontage around to No1
Exposed frontage of No1 to 5 - the slate block-end build
Site excavation recording for No2
Site excavation recording for No13
The parlour fireplace outline can just be seen near the corner
The bones discovered behind and under the main fireplace