Gwynne Griffiths: Transport in Aberaeron – A Different Perspective (2011)
Transport has always been vital for the development of the town and its prosperity. Much has been written about sea and land transport vehicles and two recent excellent publications by Eddie Parry and Roger Bryan are well documented and illustrate the development of wind and horse transport to those driven by modern fuelled engines. Hence it is the purpose here to examine the more unusual mode of transport in the Aberaeron area.
Aberaeron has always boasted of having residents in the community that had the ability to be both creative and innovative. Examples are the achievements of Davies y Gof who manufactured the famous “long-handed, heart shaped” Aberaeron shovel and the Parry family’s new designs of the tweeds, in the 1930’s, that won many competitions at the National Eisteddfod; the building and operation of the electric generating station at the site of the old Llyswen Mill by Eric Richards; the creation of “The Aeron Express”; producers of different types of food and beverage; the works of artists (both portraits and landscapes painters), authors and poets, etc., etc.. Additionally the feature of Aberaeron is the ability of its residents to be able to adapt existing modes of transport to meet the needs of the community. Whilst at school, the groundsman was known as Dai “Fakes”. He was so named because he was renowned as being an “engineer” that would make any machine work, adapt it for a different use or retool a replacement part. This is a further example of what people in Aberaeron were capable of doing.
Before the introduction of the motorised mode of transport to the area the only alternative methods available were those powered by horsepower or human muscle – the latter being the bicycle. The use of the horse was for the more affluent, particularly if speed and/or distance were the important factors, and these were only suitable for a type of cob or pony for a small trap. To transport a heavy load, a larger and stronger type of horse, was required. In most cases carts had to be adapted to meet a specific need. Even after theWW2, carts were still used for the delivery of milk around the houses using their own urn and measuring jugs and Griff “Allt-y-Graig” was using his own cart for the removal of disposable household rubbish whilst being an employee of the then Aberaeron U.D.C.
In contrast the potential for the use of a bicycle was limited but nevertheless, a considerable varied use was achieved. Whilst the primary use of the bicycle was the method of transport to work or school, it was also used for leisure. This resulted in the formation of a local cycling club and later a cycle track was built around the Square Field, which was also used for competitive cycle races. Having large baskets in front of large bicycles was not unusual. They were used by the shopkeepers to deliver ordered goods to local houses. Such bicycles were provided by two of the local butchers to provide a service to its customers. These were used by schoolboys at week-ends – two of these later in life created very successful businesses of their own. In more recent years the local ice-cream maker had its own bicycle but this was probably used more for its promotional value as opposed to being an ice cream selling point.
Bicycles could also be used as a support as used by a nice old gentlemen named “No complaints” Jenkins. On his way home on a Saturday evening after attending a social evening at one of the town’s hostelries leant and pushed his bicycle home. Likewise, onions“ Sioni Winwns”, the French onion seller, who yearly was seen in the area with his bicycle and using the same technique.
John Davies, a former Wasps London Rugby Player and a regular participant at the local swimming regattas in the harbour and an expert on the greasy pole! He lived in a farm along the steep hill on the New Quay road and used a bicycle to travel home. This was very physical task and as an aid, a small machine was attached to the front wheel of his bicycle. To try this out Howard Lewis (“JR”) had a go, but unfortunately the front wheel jammed and its rider as sent head first over the handlebars. Obviously it was not a great success! To solve the problem John bought a small Ferguson tractor that was primarily used for farming purposes, but it was also used as a means for travelling home along the road. Most pre-war tractors were not capable of achieving speeds of 15 miles per hour, whilst the post WW2 tractors were capable of making much greater speed. It was claimed that John, when on his tractor, overtook a car driven by a senior bank officer on the hill outside the town.
After the WW2 the availability and cost of surplus MOD vehicles were comparatively cheap and could have been used for a range of different uses. Dai “Diesel” obtained a Duck (DUKW), an amphibious truck that was used for the transportation of goods and troops for use on both land and water. It was used at Aberaeron for fishing, trips around the bay and on occasions had been hired as an extra for filming making purposes. An army armoured vehicle, missing its guns had been used for farming purposes; an American Jeep was used as a personal car and a motorbike and a sidecar was used to transport building material and tools. Later, new motorcycles with sidecar, were produced by the AA for use by their patrolmen. At one time the local patrolman was Teifi Jones.
For over a 100 years or more gipsy horse drawn caravans have been periodically seen in the Aberaeron area. One favourable site was the Aberaeron Cwmins. Probably the last user was Ted Morris, who casually worked for local farmers during the harvest season. He was a most competent fisherman probably using an unorthodox technique for catching sewin.
Another caravan that was frequently seen in the area was one that was somewhat similar, but bigger and drawn by a steamroller. The driver of the steamroller was involved in the maintenance of the County’s highways and lived in the caravan. These caravans provided only the basic amenities, such as sheltering, sleeping and cooking and not comparable with the present caravans with all their modern technology and luxury. For many years a gipsy caravan was parked outside Llysaeron at Lampeter Road.
The creation of The Aeron Express to transport workers and residents across the harbour was suspended in 1931 when the owner failed to obtain adequate insurance cover at an acceptable premium. With the initiative of two young entrepreneurs – Peter Harvey and Bob Griffin, The Aeron Express was recreated in 1988. It resulted in an immediate positive reaction from both local residents and tourist. It was evident that the product had the potential for it to be used as a promotional tool attracting additional visitors and hence providing an economical benefit to the area. Unfortunately, The Council being somewhat short-sighted and unsympathetic for the project, presented the operators with a large business rating charge that affected the project’s viability. Regrettably, The Aeron Express closed in 1992.
The various crafts mooring in the harbour is always a good indication that people are attracted to participate at water based activities. Two yachts were built by John Osborne and David Sinnett-Jones, the well renowned yachtsman. In the first yacht David successfully sailed it across the Atlantic to South America. A great achievement! The building of rafts for racing down the Aeron at the then annual Regattas were of a different quality. Problems were encountered with the low level of the water in the river, and the idea was soon shelved after the first year.
Airborne crafts are not on a regular schedule to Aberaeron. These are normally restricted to the use of a helicopter – VIP visitors to the area or to rescue activities relating to the work of the Welsh Air Ambulance or the Police’s own helicopter. A venture, which offered people trips in a hot air balloon from a field near the North Beach, was short lived – due probably to the unpredictable weather and the proximity of the local hills.
Over the past 100 years various modes of transport have been used in Aberaeron either in its original form or an adapted one to meet a changed need. With the advancement in modern technology, one cannot forecast what new forms of transport will be used in Aberaeron in the future.