Ni wn paham, ond amarch,
Ydd awn i’r pwll mawn â’m march.


However, when Leland passed by the bog, it was around the time of Strata Florida’s demise and, more than likely, what he saw was, simply, local inhabitants ‘digge turfes’ for their own domestic use, a practice which continued for centuries, up until the 1950s. After World War II, however, coal and oil became much more affordable, and more readily available, making peat a less attractive form of fuel – and not really worth the physical effort involved in cutting, drying and carting it home. Also, around that time, there was mounting international concern that peat-land habitats were being destroyed so, in 1955, Cors Caron was declared a National Nature Reserve.


Notes


John Leyland (c1503-1552) was a traveller and antiquarian. He visited Strata Florida around the time when Cistercian religious life in Wales was just about to end (around 1536). He gave a pretty detailed description of the decaying monastery - its estates, lead mines, inland fisheries and surrounding landscape. Unfortunately, he never wrote much about people, and made no comment about the men and women living in the area or those toiling away on Cors Caron. He is noted for being very variable in his spelling and, certainly, did not believe in consistency, but his diary may be read without too much difficulty.


For a more detailed account of Leland’s life and works, see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

David H. Williams, The Welsh Cistercians, Caldey Island, Tenby


Further short accounts of peat cutting on Cors Caron (in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century) are given below.

I’r teuluoedd a oedd yn byw yn agos i’r gors, nid y peth a dyfai arni oedd bwysicaf on yr hyn a orweddai o’r golwg o dan y wyneb – y mawn At Dinner on Tregaron Bog  Copyright Ceredgion Museum

D.C. Rees

Emile T Evans gives an interesting insight to peat cutting on the bog in the late 19th century. The peat cutting season lasted for about six weeks and according to Emile Evans :

John Leland Emile T Evanss Evan Evans D.C. Rees

www.hanesybont.co.uk

Cors Caron

Peat and Peat Cutting

Select and click one of the following :

The observations and comments of four authors

John Leland [1] was the first to refer to peat digging on Cors Caron. Nearly 500 years ago, he was on his way to Ystrad Fflur, and while travelling along the edge of the bog he saw people digging peat. He wrote in his own inimitable style :


. . . under a hy Hillside, I saw hard by on the lift honde a great Fenny More, owt of the wich the inhabitantes therabout digge turfes for fier.


Peat was one of the main sources of fuel for the Cistercians of Ystrad Fflur. The abbey owned much of Cors Caron and when it came to leasing out parcels of land to local tenants, the abbey would retain the ‘turbary rights’ (i.e. exclude those parts where peat was cut). D.H. Williams [2] noted that :


. . . a lease of ‘Tydyn-y-gorsse’ excepted (excluded) the turbary which was ‘in the disposition of the abbot’

It could be that Dafydd ap Gwilym (1320-1370) was referring to a turbary on Cors Caron when he wrote his cywydd i’r Pwll Mawn’ (his poem to ‘The Peat Pit’). Late one night, while on his way to meet a lady friend, he and his horse fell into a waterlogged peat pit ― hugely embarrassed he wrote :

1.

2.

Back to top of page

John Leland


The Itinerary

in

Wales

of

John Leland

in or about

1536-1539

Edited

by

Lucy Toulmin Smith

1906

At that time, the peat-cutting season provided some farm workers with an opportunity to earn a little extra cash. Emile Evans refers to one individual, in 1875, who, after finishing work on the farm at six p.m., would dig peat until dark on a personal contract. Then :

I have ascertained that in 1870 the day’s work started at seven a.m. and finished at 6 p.m. First of all the workman removed all live vegetation to a width of four feet and a length of thirty yards. Then he cut the peat into sections of one foot square and sixteen inches deep, which had to be stacked vertically in rows on the uncleared part of the surface so that the wind and the sun could dry and make them fit for combustion. This was no light job, considering that a foot cube weighs sixty pounds. The pay for a day’s peat work was three shillings.


Women were responsible for carrying the peat off the bog :


The peat was carried from the bog in deep D-shaped baskets (called ‘hotts’) made of willow wands with two loops which went over the shoulders leaving the arms free so that the women could knit when carrying peat. The basket was a replica of that used in Swiss vineyards for gathering grapes and had the same name. There was an unwritten law among the workers that those going to the bog to fetch peat should make way on the narrow path for those returning with full ‘hotts’.

Women carrying peat

Copyright Ceredigion Museum

He supped on ‘llymru’ [1], slept in the heather, and woke at dawn to dig more peat until he started his

farm work at seven a.m.


 Notes


Llymru or Sucan was a mixture of oat flour and butter milk that was allowed to go sour. The liquid and heavier matter were allowed to separate; the liquid was poured off and the remainder carefully boiled. It was eaten in bowls with wooden spoons with milk or skimmed milk (see S. M. Tibbott, Domestic Life in Wales, 2002).

1.

Emile T Evans

Cors Fochno
and
Cors Caron


Journal Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society

1950

Vol 1, No 1,  

pages 97-101

Evan Evans from Berth near Tregaron, recalls peat cutting on Cors Caron in the early part of the twentieth century. For local people peat was, he says, the bog’s most important produce – rather than anything that grew on it :

Evan Evans


Ar
Ymylon
Cors Caron

Cymdeithas
Lyfrau
Ceredigion
1967

Cors Caron has been described many times as sad and solemn, and this view is encapsulated in the following ‘englyn’ included in D.C. Rees book.


Daear fawnog heb dir fwynion, ei gwedd

Sydd fel gwg ellyllon;

Garw erch grug hagr yw hon,
Cwrs yw cyrrau Cors Caron.

                                             

D.C. Rees claims that Cors Caron’s peat beds were the deepest in Wales and that it was possible to cut strips

Yn union ar ôl y Rhyfel Cyntaf daeth rhyw estroniaid i edrych ansawdd y gors gan fwriadu datglygu’r lle ac elwa’n fawr ar yr anturiaeth. Codwyd adeiladau yn ymtl y ffordd fawr nepell o fferm y Camer-fawr. Y bwriad oedd sychu’r mawn trwy gyfrwng gwahanol i haul a gwynt. Torrwyd peth wmbredd o fawn a cheisiwyd eu sychu ond i ddim pwrpas. Ni chafodd y cwmni ddimai yn ôl o’r hyn a wariwyd ganddynt.


The general tone of Evan Jones’ account suggests that this was an un-welcomed project, perhaps, because it was seen as an intrusion by strangers, and a threat to a long-established local practice. Clearly, there were no tears shed when the company was forced to abandon the whole enterprise.


Evan Jones referred to three types of peat on Cors Caron which gave three different cuts (i.e. peat blocks or briquets) – one which was bran-like in texture (un frannog), a red one (un goch) and a black one (un ddu). The top two layers had to be cut and harvested before reaching the superior ‘black stuff’. This was the layer which yielded the best cuts – when burnt, they gave off more heat and produced a lot less ash. Not surprisingly, it was considered well worth the extra effort to dig deep down f or this material :


Fe geid ar y gors dri math o fawn, un frannog, un goch ac un ddu. Yr un frannog a’r un goch sydd agosaf i’r wyneba rhaid torri’r rhain cyn dod o hyd i’r un orau, yr un ddu. Byddai’n werth ymdrechu a mynd yn ddyfnach i gael gafael ar hon. ‘Roedd mwy o wres ynddi a llosgai heb adael cymmaint o ludw a’r lleill.

He makes no reference to anyone being paid to cut peat. For families living around Berth and Swyddffynnon at that time, this was not an option; money was scarce, and each household took it upon itself to ensure it had enough fuel to last the winter. Even when the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway was opened in 1867 and coal became available, peat cutting continued in the area well into the 20th century. Peat was relatively cheap, while coal cost money.


Evan Jones recalls an attempt being made (around 1920) to exploit the bog’s peat on a commercial scale. Some buildings were erected near Camer-fawr farm to fast-dry the cuts, but the whole venture was a failure. The company lost all the money they invested in the project :

Back to top of page

. . . a future generation may see ‘peat bricklets’ being despatched from Tregaron station to compete with the patent fuel manufactured in Glamorgan.


In fact, what ‘the future generation’ actually witnessed was peat cutting being declared illegal on the bog and Tregaron station being forced to ‘shut up shop’ in the early 1960s – radical changes in a very short span of time.

The man behind the failed ventures was T.W. Jones (the station-master at Tregaron). There are a number of reports alluding to his involvement, including the following in the Welsh Gazette (22nd November 1900):


. . . Mr T.W. Jones, Caron-house, who has taken much interest in the bog, has again received further correspondence from peat experts asking for terms to work the bog. Mr Jones has forwarded a number of samples of peat for trial and this week received a very favourable reply from one firm. It is now believed that a large industry will be carried on here within a short space of time, provided favourable terms can be secured from the land-owners.


The Western Mail, on the 4th October 1928, refers to one of the above ‘peat experts. In 1898, it seems that experiments were carried out by:


. . . two German chemists, Messrs. Cantley and Springborn


The results indicated that a variety of chemicals could be produced from peat by distillation. These were:


. . . lubricating oil, naphtha, ammonia, camphor, paraffin, wax and tar . . . gas for lighting . . . (that) gave a whiter light than coal gas.

 

However, in the end, all the efforts came to nothing. Cors Caron remains, to this day, a bird and animal sanctuary ; the peat is still there, but there are no signs of peat-cutters. It seems that we are now all coal, gas or oil consumers.

D.C. Rees

Author of

Tregaron : Historical
and
Antiquarian


Llandysul
1936

 [Glanaraeth]

. . . about 20 inches long, by six inches wide


Two attempts were made early in the twentieth century to exploit the bog’s huge natural resource – to create a local peat industry. These were unsuccessful, but D.C Rees foresaw:

Back to top of page

Back to top of page