Rhydfendigaid  
(the Blessed Ford)
(1714-1777)
in
Edward Richard’s time
Page 3
A Pack-horse Convoy by Louise Huard [1]
The Rhydfendigaid Bridge
A Rural Community in  18th Cardiganshire C
On the 12th July 1759, it was passed at a meeting of the Quarter Sessions held at the house of a Richard Evans, an innkeeper at Tregaron, that [2] :
. . . the Honourable Wilmot Vaughan Esq., William Powell Clerk and James Lloyd clerk of the peace be desired to inspect the decay of Pontrhydbendidged bridge presented to be out of repair and that they, or any two of them, agree with proper workmen and artificers to rebuild the same and that such agreement be under the general order of this court for the reparation of publick work.
Rather than repair the existing wooden bridge, the three named gentlemen (representatives of the ‘great ruling families’ referred to above) decided that a substantial stone crossing should be built at Rhydfendigaid  - over the river Teifi and the ‘blessed ford’. Edward Richard, in his first bridge song paid tribute to these gentlemen for graciously lowering themselves to help people less important than themselves, and he urged the local freeholders and tenants to show loyalty and gratitude to them and their families. He was sure that the new bridge, when completed, would stand proud and distinct, a white edifice straddling the ‘blessed ford’  [3].  
By the end of 1760,  Rhydfendigaid had its bridge - an arch of stone. Admittedly, it did not live-up, architecturally, to Edward Richard’s expectations, but, nevertheless, it was progress for  this small, isolated settlement.

The timing of this ‘modernization’ [see page 2] is surprising.  In the mid 18th century, a stone bridge, anywhere outside of a main town, was a rarity. So, what prompted these gentlemen to direct the county to invest a significant sum of money in this development [page 2]. Surely, improving communications in the area could not have been a priority ; neither could the bridge be of significant benefit to the county. So, what was the reasoning? Edward Richard, gives some indication in his bridge song. He wrote – it will ‘attract the rich, loaded with money, and will make this pleasant little village forever wealthy’ [3] :   
Gwna’r penter’ mwyn serchog, tros fyth yn gyfoethog,
Wrth ddwyn yr ariannog yn llwythog i’r lle.
This was the time when the lead mining industry in Cardiganshire was buoyant. Most of the productive mines were situated north of Rhydfendigaid (north of the river Teifi). Edward Richard, no doubt, thought that the Rhydfendigaid development would stimulate interest south of the river (i.e. the parish of Caron). He understood that one of the main obstacle to the profitability of any mine was the transport of ore to the sea port at Aberystwyth – normally, by a convoy of pack-horses along poor roads and across rivers. His friend, Lewis Morris wrote in the 1740s that [4] :

The chief thing to be considered in a new mine . . . is its situation, a mine poor in ore if well situated may be more profitable than a very rich vein ill situated.

Lewis Morris  was an experienced mine manager who, in the early 1750s, re-opened the Esgair-mwyn lead mine (near Ffair Rhos) and turned it into an extremely profitable enterprise. At one time he had sixty-three pack-horses carrying ore to the port at Aberystwyth, and, naturally, he was very mindful of transport costs. Being a friend of Edward Richard, it is quite likely that the two would have discussed how the state of the roads, and a poor crossing over the Teifi were hampering mineral exploration south of Rhydfendigaid.
. . . hill called Bannau Bron y Mwyn, from the mine work which used to be carried on here. There are now to be seen several deep shafts, and a level on the east side of the hill, in a place called Cwm y Graig Goch . . . it is said that silver, as well as lead ore, is lodged in the bowels of this rocky hill ; but no attempt to dislodge it has been made for many years

Evidently, by the end of the century, this mine had been abandoned, but in Edward Richard’s time, it must have been considered very promising, especially, because of the high silver content of the ore.


Edward Richard, plainly, had an interest in mining, and was mindful of possible benefits to local communities. However, there is no evidence to suggest that he was ever, personally, involved in the mineral-extraction business. Neither is there any evidence linking him to the Rhydfendigaid bridge project. He was first and foremost a teacher and a poet ; what interest he had in mining probably stemmed from the company he kept – Lewis Morris and the local gentry of Trawscoed, Nanteos and Mabws


It was the latter (the Honourable Wilmot Vaughan of Trawcoed, William Powell of Nanteos  and James Lloyd of Mabws) who authorized the Rhydfendigaid development. Perhaps, this was not surprising - the Trawscoed and Nanteos estates had a lot to gain by improving communications in this part of the county ; between them, they owned virtually the whole  of the land  in Caron and Gwnnws. They were already heavily involved in mining north of Rhydfendigaid and were involved, at the time, in a ‘mad scramble’ to exploit all the underground wealth in all corners of their estates, including that which was south of the Teifi


The mid 18th century was a high point in the authority and influence enjoyed by these two estates ; they formed part of a very small privileged group of families at the top of the social pyramid in north Cardiganshire. Every aspect of public life in Caron and Gwnnws was dominated by them.  Most importantly, the economic fortunes of the region was under their control. It is not unreasonable to say that their power over the common people was unrestrained, and. perhaps not unexpectedly, they used their position to maintain their social status and lifestyle wherever and whenever possible. This, in part, meant monopolizing and taking advantage of all the wealth creating opportunities that presented themselves.  Often, it meant adopting cut-throat actions and setting in train some unpleasant hostilities.


For instance, in the early 1750s, Lewis Morris was the Deputy Steward of the Crown Mines of Cardiganshire and he claimed the Esgair-mwyn lead mine for the Crown,  having first established that it was actually situated on Crown land. As indicated earlier, he succeeded in developing  Esgair-mwyn into a very profitable enterprise. This infuriated the Vaughans of Trawscoed and the Powells of Nanteos and, in 1753, it led to some ugly on-site scenes. The story has been documented by W.J. Lewis:[7] :


This so excited the envy of the landowners concerned, mainly Lord Lisburne and  the Rev Dr William Powell of Nanteos, that they decided to take possession of the mine by force. In February 1753 a small army made up of landowners,  Grogwynion miners and Nanteos tenants marched to the mine and took possession. Morris was threatened with a pistol by the notorious Herbert Lloyd of Peterwell, Lampeter, and thrown into goal in Cardigan. While he was there, the Rev Dr Powell of Nanteos ordered his men to carry away £2000 worth of ore lying unsold on the bank of Esgair-mwyn.

At first, Morris was strongly supported by the Treasury, which not only had him released from prison but also sent a detachment of soldiers to repossess the mine. But such was the power and influence of the landowners that Treasury Officials began to change their attitudes and Lewis Morris was forced to yield Esgair-mwyn mine to his opponents

Following this skirmish, metal mining in the area became totally controlled by the Nanteos and Trawscoed estates


The Esgair-mwyn incidence was not an isolated one ; there were numerous other recorded instances in the mid 1700 suggesting that the Trawscoed and Nanteos gentry’s could act quite ruthlessly at times, and, often, be indifferent to the plight of people less fortunate than themselves. Thomas Powell of Nanteos [8] :


. . . thought nothing in 1731 of gathering a posse of servants and tenants together, arming them with guns, blunderbusses, swords, pistols and staves and using them to intimidate alleged trespassers  


Perhaps Lewis Morris may have been a little biased, but his opinion of landed gentry was not particularly flattering. He wrote [9] :


Your landlord shall be your God

Beside him you are a mere wren

For you dwell on his land


Evan Evans (Ieuan Brydydd Hir), one of Edward Richard’s brightest pupils, also questioned whether most of Cardiganshire’s gentry had [9] :


. . . thrown away all regard for religion and morality, and are become as slaves to their vile lusts  ; and in order to pamper them, rack their poor tenants?


Edward Richard’s may have expressed a wish that the Rhydfendigaid bridge would  attract the rich, loaded with money, and make the village forever wealthy. However, he was an astute man, and probably knew quite well that the main beneficiaries would be the landed gentry. The village welfare was never a primary consideration, that was unquestionably — to improve the means of transport across the Teifi, so as to stimulate interest in mineral exploitation on land south of the river. This land was owned by Trawcoed and Nanteos and this was, almost certainly, a case of the privileged using their dominant position (and in this instance, public finances) for private gain. Of course, there was nothing unusual in this at the time, and the immense disparity between the wealth and power of the gentry compared with that of the lower orders of society was, in general, accepted by both sides.







According to Edward Richard, it was the ‘great ruling families’ of Cardiganshire (Trawcoed, Nanteos and Mabwys) who saw the need for a new stone bridge at Rhydfendigaid and who, (in 1759) authorised the development



Lewis Morris [5]
But why?
Notes
[1]
See Samuel Smiles, Lives of the Engineers : History of Roads, London, 1904
[2]
Ceredigion Archives, Quarter Session Records.
[3]
Yr Eos: sef gwaith awenyddawl Mr. Edward Richards, I. Bugeigerdd; II. Bugeugerdd; III. Can y Bont; IV. Ateb i Gan y Bont; V. Emyn neu Hymn; VI. Marwnad Iorwerth Rhisiat, [sic], Carmarthen, 1813. Caneuon y Bont are the first Welsh pastorals in the classical style
[4]
Owen, Hugh (ed), Additional Letters of the Morrises (1735-1786), Part 1, London 1949, pages 49-50
[5]
Cambrian Register (1796) p 231
[6]
Anonym, Some Account of the Parish of Caron, Cambrian Register, 1796
[7]
Lewis, W.J. Leadming in Cardiganshire, Cardiganshire County History, Cardiff 1998, pages 163-164
[8]
Geraint H Jenkins, The Foundations of Modern Wales, Oxford, 1987, p. 100
[9]
David W Howell, The rural poor in eighteenth-century Wales, Cardiff, 2000 p. 119
[10]
W Jones-Edwards, Ar lethrau Ffair Rhos, Aberystwyth, 1963, p 2
[11]
Geraint H Jenkins, The Foundations of Modern Wales, Oxford, 1987, p. 100
[12]
Gerald Morgan, Nanteos : A Welsh House and its Families, Llandysul, 2001, p 30-31
Why Edward Richard should choose to stress the benefits to the village as opposed to the gentry, one can only speculate. He was clearly keen to portray the Tawscoed, Nanteos and Mabws families as virtuous and magnanimous.  It is known that Edward Richard was a frequent guest at Trawscoed and Nanteos and a very close friend of John Lloyd of Mabws ; perhaps, under the circumstances, it was to be expect that his relationship with these families would influence his writing to some extent.
As far as north Cardiganshire is concerned, there is no evidence of a lead mine making any village or community forever wealthy. The best the industry offered was subsistence level employment. Miners were never well paid, with wages barely more than that required for survival. Men’s earnings were so low that women and children worked alongside the men to supplement family incomes. In mid 1700, real earnings were, often, further reduced by the ‘truck’ system –  the selling of goods to the miners by the mine owners at inflated prices. W Jones Edwards [10] in his book ’Ar Lethrau Ffair Rhos’ refers to the area around Ffair Rhos being, at one time, an El Dorado for speculators and investors, but that the miners never received a just share of the wealth created :

Bu’r ardal unwaith yn El Dorado i speculators ac arianwyr, ond ni chafodd y gweithwyr nemor ddim o’r cyfoeth a wnaed
Edward Richard, probably, thought (and rightly so) that any improvement in the infrastructure (i.e. a substantial bridge across the Teifi) would entice investors and speculators to the area in search of rich mineral deposits. Lead ore was known to exist at several places in Caron, in particular, at Bronmwyn, The latter must have been an attractive site, full of potential ; an article in the Cambrian Register (1796)  written by an anonymous local man refers to a [6] :
However, he was also very close to Lewis Morris and Ieuan Brydydd Hir with whom he was in regular contact around this time. Both of these men were renown free-thinkers, with a history of being a bit of a thorn in the side of the gentry. Gerald Morgan in ‘Nanteos : A Welsh House and its Families’ gives some indication of Lewis Morris’ utter contempt for the  Powells of Nanteos [10]. Surely Edward Richard would have known that his generous praise of the Trawscoed and Nanteos families would be anathema to both men, but, particularly, to Lewis Morris.

Edward Richard always had his work when still in the draft stage scrutinized by Lewis Morris and Ieuan Brydydd Hir, and he did so with ‘Can y Bont’. Yet, surprisingly, there is no hint of any disapproving comments from either of these two men. Could Edward Richard be pleading with his friends to be a little more careful - more deferential in their dealings with these wealthy gentlemen?  Perhaps he was trying to caution them that only the brave or the foolhardy dared to challenge these people [11]. Maybe, Lewis Morris and Ieuan Brydydd Hir knew this and chose not to respond.

There may be one other possible explanation. Gerald Morgan has suggested that William Powell may have been making some effort, in 1760, to mend the rift between Nanteos and Lewis Morris [12]. Could it be that Edward Richard’s reference to the gentry’s generosity had something to do with the Nanteos-Lewis Morris feud. Who knows?  Certainly Edward Richard’s efforts, if he was trying to influence Lewis Morris in any way, were in vain.

Conclusion

Edward Richard chose to lay emphasis on the financial benefits to Rhydfendigaid of a new stone bridge over the Teifi. In truth, the main beneficiaries would have been the big landowners - Trawscoed and Nanteos. The new bridge was the landowners’ initiative, and primarily for their benefit. As things turned out, Caron did not produce much ore, and the bridge was really a poor investment for both the landowners and the county (who paid for it). It never did make Rhydfendigaid forever wealthy,  but the village did end up with a fine public facility, probably, about 30 to 40 years ahead of time.