Modern History 1872-1974
Almost precisely a hundred years before the reincorporation of the borough council as the present Aberystwyth Town Council in 1974, the former acquired added new responsibilities which resulted in the Aberystwyth we know today. The Aberystwyth Improvement and Water Act 1872 authorised the council to erect new waterworks, to purchase the gas-works, to establish markets, to extend the borough and to borrow money for these and other purposes. In November 1873 the Town Improvement Commissioners handed over their powers to the council and in the following year the Harbour Trustees transferred the Harbour to the council. In addition, national legislation, notably the Public Health Act of 1875, conferred additional powers on the council. This period saw the beginning of Aberystwyth's peak as a holiday resort. The council made great efforts to cater for the holiday trade. At the same time, foundries, the Harbour and associated industries were declining, and the railway became the chief employer of labour. Over the next 100 years the University College of Wales became the dominant feature of the town, acting like a magnet to attract other institutions like the National Library of Wales, and offices for local and central government and hospital administration. Attempts to attract manufacturing industry were not spectacular, while throughout the period the agricultural population in the surrounding area declined. One notable feature was that while the population of the borough increased from 6,898 in 1871 to 10,688 in 1971, the population of the county fell by about 20,000. The increased responsibilities of the council included first and foremost the improvement of the sea front. In the 1870's the tourist industry came first in the council's mind.
Seafront, Tourism, Sport
In the 1870s, the promenade stretched only from the University College of Wales to the Queen's Hotel. It was extended towards Constitution Hill and in 1901-04 the great sea wall around Castle Point from the Pier to South Marine Terrace was built at a cost of £16,000. It was designed by the borough surveyor, Mr. Rees Jones. The stone came from Ystrad Meurig Quarry, bought by the council in 1881. The completion of this section made the promenade a mile-and-a-quarter long. The South Promenade extension was completed in 1931 at a cost of £12,000. However, in January and February, 1938, storms washed away much of Victoria Terrace causing £60,000 worth of damage which had to be attended to at once. Sea defence continued to be a major headache for the council and in the 1960s it was found necessary to deposit shale from Constitution Hill on to the beach to protect Victoria Terrace. Meanwhile the promenade was extended northwards a little. Plans to extend it along the slope to Clarach were made in the 1930s but the cost was prohibitive. At the turn of the century, a paddling pool was built at Castle Point but was wrecked by the sea. A new paddling pool was built in the 1960s near the old lifeboat slip.
The boatmen of Aberystwyth enjoyed their heyday before World War I. 70 rowing boats were kept on the beach for summer visitors to enjoy, plus six sailing yachts, three sailing boats, four motor boats and a steamer offering trips to Aberdyfi. Many of these boatmen were Naval Reservists and served in the war. Appropriately, a memorial to Aberystwyth's war dead was built at Castle Point, overlooking the sea. Until World War II the promenade consisted largely of hotels and boarding houses, though many of the boarding houses were taken over by the University College of Wales - it was one of the late Principal J. H. Davies's ideas for accommodating ex-servicemen for example at Plynlymon, Ceredigion, Nos. 10, 11 and 13 Marine Terrace. During the war the Government took over other hotels and boarding houses but few were later put back to their original purpose. The council tried in vain to prevent the loss of holiday accommodation on the promenade, particularly that of the Avondale after the Queen's Hotel was bought for county offices in 1950.
Until about 1940, Aberystwyth's chief popularity was as a resort where families spent a week or a fortnight, often returning in successive years. After World War II the emphasis as on day-trips and touring. In the early 20th century, the council's chief holiday amenity was the Bandstand and minstrels and strolling players were engaged to play there and at the Castle Grounds and Pier. Concerts, and later cinema shows, were run privately. However in the 1920s the council built more shelters, notably the one linking Marine Terrace and Queen's Road. It then spent on building the King's Hall, completed in 1934, which proved a good entertainments centre and conference hall. A council putting green was laid in the 1930s on the Castle Grounds, and the Queen's Road tennis courts were bought by the council, with a putting green being provided on the site of the burned-down College Hall. The bandstand was also enlarged. After the war, crazy golf was provided near the castle and recreational facilities improved generally. Playing fields were laid over the old Plascrug refuse tip. Playing fields were also provided at Penparcau and children's playgrounds were opened there and at Caebach, Plascrug.
The crowning success of the council's efforts in recreation came in 1973 with the completion of a £200,000 swimming pool at Plascrug, a joint project by the borough, rural and county councils. This was eventually extended to include other sporting amenities. Beach swimming was made safer by the creation of a lifeguard corps.
Another major problem that faced the council, as the town grew in size and became a modern resort, was the improvement of its water supply. By the 1870s it was obvious that the old Brynymor Reservoir could not provide enough water for the growing town. The council decided to "think big" and after difficult negotiations began laying a 16-mile pipeline from Llyn Llygad Rheidol on Plynlymon to Aberystwyth. Apart from chlorination, there was no treatment but eminent men testified to the pure qualities of the water. The original eight inch diameter pipes were in use until 1967. Over the years the soft water attacked the pipes to such an extent that their capacity by 1967 was less than half of the designed 500,000 gallons a day. Meanwhile, the Aberystwyth Rural District Council had developed Llyn Craig-y-Pistyll to supply much of their area. Treatment works were built at Bontgoch in 1939 and enabled the Rural Council to sell surplus water to the borough in times of need. By 1960, water shortages had become fairly frequent in Aberystwyth in summer months. The Borough and Rural Councils realised that joint action was needed and drew up a comprehensive plan to transport water from Llyn Llygad Rheidol to Llyn Craig-y-Pistyll and then to new treatment works at Bontgoch. When the Cardiganshire Water Board was formed in 1962, none of these works had begun. The board completed them in 1967 at a cost of £517,000. By then, water consumption in North Cardiganshire had risen to about a million gallons a day. The new scheme was designed to provide up to 1,600,000 gallons a day. The old mountain main was replaced by spun iron pipes and asbestos cement pipes and other old pipes were duplicated. The town's main reservoirs were at Cefnllan, but a reservoir was built at Frongoch to supply the Penglais Campus and Waunfawr. Conversely it was not always a problem of seeking water, but of having too much. The low lying flood plain of the Rheidol was often flooded after heavy rains and sometimes the results were disastrous and certainly were inconvenient to the residents in the lower part of the town. Possibly the worst flood was that which swept away old Trefechan Bridge in 1886. In the 1920s boats had to be used to rescue flood victims in the Park Avenue area and North Parade was flooded to a depth of six feet. Susequently, flooding continued to trouble residents of Cambrian Street and other low-lying streets. Ironically, one flood happened at a time of water shortage. Various flood prevention measures were carried out but it was not until 1970 with the completion of the £200,000 surface water drain for Penglais and Brynymor that the major problem seemed to be over. In the same year, it was decided to proceed with a further million pound drainage scheme.
From the 1870s onwards the sewage disposal system was improved several times, with a treatment works being provided at the Harbour.
Health and Housing
Disease was far more prevalent in the 19th century than in the following century, and many children died in infancy, mostly from diphtheria, measles, diarrhoea or whooping cough. Diseases like scarlet fever - hardly heard of today - were also killers. In 1877 after the Public Health Act 1875, the borough council appointed its first Borough Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Morris Jones, followed in 1885 by Dr. D. Rees Davies. Both men were associated with the local hospital at North Road which replaced a small one in Eastgate in 1888. From 1892 until his death in 1940, the Medical Officer of Health was Dr. Abraham Thomas, an outstanding doctor who was very popular in the town. He was also associated with the hospital and was medical officer to the Cardiganshire Battery which he accompanied on active service to Egypt and else where in World War I. It was Dr. Thomas who initiated the building of the Isolation Hospital at Penyranchor in 1911 to isolate and treat fever patients. This hospital, though inadequate, served Aberystwyth until 1951. It was supervised by Dr. Thomas until 1940 and by the next Medical Officer of Health, Dr. D. I. Evans, until 1951, and was in the charge of Miss Ann Thomas. There was an outbreak of paratyphoid in 1924, but this cannot be compared in its seriousness to the typhoid outbreak of the summer of 1946, due to infected ice cream. There were 200 cases - many of them holidaymakers - and four deaths. The good work carried out by Dr. D. I. Evans and the county Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Ernest Jones, during this outbreak, is remembered with gratitude. From 1951 onwards the post of Medical Officer of Health was held by Dr. I. Morgan Watkin (1951-56), Dr. Dulyn Thomas (1956-1965), Dr. J. R. Jones (1965) and Dr. W. J. St. E-G. Rhys (1965-1974).
Other aspects of public health were under the watchful eyes of the public health inspectors and their predecessors. The Borough Surveyor, Mr. Rees Jones, was also Inspector of Nuisances from 1878 to1903. Mr. Jones continued as Survey or until the end of World War I, but from 1903 to 1923 the Inspector of Nuisances was Mr. James Evans. Mr. Osborne J. Evans (1925-1949) was designated Sanitary Inspector. He was followed by Mr. O. R. N. Hoskins, Public Health Inspector who died in 1968, to be succeeded by his deputy, Mr. D. M. Lewis. Inspectors had a wide range of duties, including those of housing officer, and dealt with conditions in shops, offices, railway premises and factories, sampling of foods like ice cream and milk, the mart and markets, meat inspection at the old abattoir, pest control, and public toilets.
Many of the Borough Surveyor's duties were indirectly concerned with health, for example refuse disposal. The tip at Felin-y-Mor (now moved to Glan-yr-Afon industrial estate) was well-placed in that it was out of sight of the town. The previous tip was at Plascrug and subsequently helped create the present playing fields.
In the 19th century, the local Burial Board decided to close the old cemetery at St. Michael's Churchyard and opened a new one at Llanbadarn Road in 1860. The council eventually absorbed the Burial Board.
Another important body, concerned with the health of the poor, was the Board of Guardians. It built the Bronglais Workhouse in 1840. Boards of Guardians were abolished in 1930, after which Bronglais became a public assistance institution and later a geriatric hospital. The building was demolished to provide a car park for the new hospital opened in 1966.
Council houses were originally seen as an aspect of public health, aimed at fighting the evils of overcrowding and bad sanitation. The Housing for the Working Classes Act was passed in 1890 giving councils powers to build houses and borrow money for them on the security of the rates. In the years leading up to 1914, Aberystwyth Borough Council built houses in Greenfield Street, Trefechan, Skinner Street, Poplar Row and Trinity Road. The old Barracks was converted to council dwellings after the War Office gave it up in 1911, and it was renamed Gogerddan Place. Until 1920 Aberystwyth was the only council in Cardiganshire to build council houses. In the early 1920s a few more houses were provided in Glanyrafon Terrace, Mill Street and Riverside Terrace. About 1924 the first 90 houses at Caeffynon, Penparcau were built, to be followed by a further 38 in 1930 and more at Maesheli. Also in the 1930s, houses were provided at Portland Road, Yr Odyn, Maesyrafon, with flats at Portland Road and Riverside Terrace. Some older private houses were converted to council dwellings. After World War II, the council bought more land in Penparcau, some of it by compulsory purchase and built about 200 "temporary" houses and flats very much with economy in mind. However, the council was anxious to avoid concentrating all housing in Penparcau which was now in danger of becoming the second largest "town" in Cardiganshire, with more people resident there than in Lampeter, Cardigan, New Quay or Aberaeron! In 1946 the council took steps compulsorily to purchase part of the northern side of Penglais Road to build 50 houses. After objections by the University College the idea was dropped. As a result, much of Penglais Park was presented to the town for use as a public park. Meanwhile building went on and Council flats were erected at St. John's Buildings, Thespian Street, Harbour Crescent, Cambrian Square and Trinity Road, while after 1951 the old isolation hospital became Penyranchor Flats. A new phase began in the 1960s with the erection of 52 flats at Penybont East. In 1967-1968 the council built 103 high-standard houses at Penybont East, and earmarked 15 for sale. Unfortunately, the idea of selling the houses was a failure in so far as it was intended to provide relatively cheap homes for sale to young local people. Finally several were bought by the Police Authority. A further 32 houses at Tynyfron on the Penybont East Estate were completed subsequently. Another development was the erection of 18 old people's flats - with a warden service - built at Rheidol Place for £52,000. A block of flats was planned for North Road Gardens. In all, the council spent about £1,500,000 on building or improving its dwellings which totalled 954 (735 houses, 219 flats) by 1974. Certain houses were earmarked for Civil Servants and key workers in the hospital service, industry and public undertakings.
Until 1972 the council had the power to fix its own rents. For 10 years to 1972 the rents remained basically unchanged thanks to a differential rents scheme tied to an income scale. Despite protests, the council was forced to implement the "Fair Rents" Act in 1972 and this resulted generally in increased rents thereafter.
The council also contributed to the general housing situation by providing local couples with mortgages and allowing grants to improve property. As ground landlord of hundreds of houses, it also ensured maintenance of standards in older properties.
During World War II, the council found accommodation for the No. 6 I.T.W. Wing of the R.A.F. - not only at Queen's Hotel, but in other places in the town, and also for hundreds of evacuees. The people who stayed in the town had very happy memories of Aberystwyth and many of them and their families have continued to holiday here for many years.
Trade and Industry
In 1874, Aberystwyth was described as "a bustling, thriving town, with its foundry chimneys, its gasworks, its railway stations and its magnificent hotels. "There were also slate works, saw mills and shipbuilding yards. By 1974, however, most local jobs were in service industries, including education and public administration. The need to find new jobs to replace those in declining industry was recognised as early as World War I when efforts were made to attract a Government munitions factory. Many young workers had to leave the town in the 1920s and 1930s to find jobs, and the Council repeatedly tried to attract new industry. In 1939 it attempted to attract a Royal Navy shipbuilding yard. After World War II, it pleaded for light industries but the response was disappointing. From the 1950s onwards, the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association attracted many new industries to Mid-Wales, but only about 100 new jobs in three firms were attracted to Aberystwyth (at Llanbadarn). In 1968 the Council made a personal appeal to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, to open more Government offices in Aberystwyth. In the following year the Council and Aberystwyth Rural Council set up an action committee to attract jobs. The most encouraging development, however, was the acquisition by the Cardiganshire County Council of 62 acres at Glanyrafon, where an industrial estate, providing around 1,000 jobs, was developed. Public offices like the Welsh Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Forestry Commission provided another source of employment.
The Harbour has been one of Aberystwyth's chief assets. By an Act of 1780, Harbour Trustees were appointed and empowered to enlarge and preserve the Harbour. One of their achievements was to divert the Ystwyth to meet the Rheidol, thus helping to keep the Bar clear. In 1836 a further Act was obtained and the stone pier and the main quay were built. Aberystwyth was a leading Welsh port until the coming of the railways. In 1874 the borough council obtained an Act which transferred the Harbour from the Trustees to the Council. There were then about 300 ships registered at the port, employing 900 seamen, men and boys. By 1925 the Harbour trade had dwindled so much that the visit of a ship was quite rare. The Vale of Rheidol Harbour branch line was finally closed in 1930 when the lead trade had already stopped. The Council sought in vain in the 1950s to revive sea trade and the only hope seemed to lie with pleasure boating, the lobster trade and other fishing. Various plans were put forward and in 1972 the borough surveyor, Mr. W. Rees Davies, produced a scheme that included a new quay and a lagoon for sailing boats. The University College put resources into a study aimed at solving the silt problem. In 1964, the withdrawal of the traditional lifeboat was seen by the council as a blow to the seafaring tradition, but the inshore rescue boat filled the gap adequately in the following years.
Livestock was sold in Park Avenue for well over a century (now moved to Lovesgrove) and the old name for the area is Smithfield. The abattoir or slaughterhouse was built adjoining the sale area and also conveniently close to the railway. After World War II, local farming interests approached the Borough Council to improve facilities and in 1948 the Ministry of Agriculture approved the building of an attested mart on the the site of the old borough sale room. An auctioneer's firm was granted permission in 1952 to hold weekly Monday marts and two years later the new mart was opened by the then Mayor, Mr. Ernest Roberts. In 1960 concern was expressed about the health dangers at the old abattoir and in 1964 the Council reluctantly closed the abattoir because it was felt that to bring it up to new Ministry standards would be too costly. The average annual kill at the abattoir was about 35,000 beasts and local farming interests were naturally dismayed at the closure. An attempt was made in 1966 to persuade the Council to re-open the mart, but this was not successful and the old building was demolished to make way for a car park. However, the mart continued to flourish thereafter.
Although Aberystwyth was designated a growth town in the 1960s development was only gradual. Following the 1968 roads plan, the County Council commissioned a "master plan" for Aberystwyth and District with the aim of increasing the population of the area under review from 17,000 to 24,000 in 20 years. The report, published in 1972, said 1,000 more jobs were needed in manufacturing industry in the next 20 years, and there should be a special development agency. It recommended new roads, but stressed that the character of the town centre should be retained and enhanced. Other ideas covered the development of tourism, the harbour, a park in the Rheidol Valley, renewal of certain shopping areas and provision of car parks. The most controversial proposal, a new village at Lovesgrove, met with much opposition and the idea was shelved. In 1963, a Walsall firm had proposed a £2m. redevelopment of the Eastgate area, but the council finally rejected this as "too grandiose" and because it would spoil the character of the town centre. Traders and residents showed overwhelming opposition to the plan. In 1964 the Council for British Archaeology said Aberystwyth had an historic quality which required careful treatment in planning and redevelopment proposals. Subsequently, much of the town centre was designated a Conservation Area. Meanwhile, the town was allowed to grow "naturally" side by side with the University College of Wales and other institutions also expanding. In 1914 the borough boundary was extended towards Llanbadarn and Waunfawr, but in 1937 a further attempt to extend it to include Llanbadarn failed when a town poll decided an extension was not needed.
Around the town there are still a few green electricity boxes bearing a plaque saying "Aberystwyth Electricity Department. "Electricity was first used in Aberystwyth in 1894. A washing board factory owned by the Aberystwyth Improvement Company began generating their own electricity in 1895 and also supplied a few customers. The Chiswick Electricity Supply Company bought the generating plant in 1910 and extended the supply until there were about 500 consumers by 1918. In 1934 the Borough Council decided to buy the undertaking, despite protests from the Chamber of Trade. The Council immediately altered the supply from D.C. to A.C By this time there were more than 2,000 consumers but this figure continued to increase. The town also switched from gas to electric street lighting. The former engineer to the private undertaking, Mr. E. P. Perkins, was retained by the Council as Electricity Manager.
In April 1948 all electricity undertakings in Britain were nationalised.
Roads and Railways
In the 1870s, Aberystwyth was barely out of the stagecoach era. The railway from Shrewsbury had arrived in 1864 and that from Carmarthen three years later, but of course the motor-car did not come along until about 40 years later, and even then cars were seldom seen much before World War I. A motor-bus service to Aberaeron was begun in 1906. It appears that the car was not too welcome in Aberystwyth, for in 1909 the magazine Autocar advised motorists to steer dear of the town because the police were rather strict! Things did not change much afterwards: in 1972 the local traders were complaining that traffic wardens had "netted" £4,692 in instant fines in nine months - though they were only administering the law as laid down.
Those who witnessed the arrival of the motor-car could hardly have foreseen the numbers on the road today. One early attempt to curb its use was the Council decision in 1911 to ban cars from Plascrug. By the 1930s it was realised that wider roads were needed. Suggestions included using Plascrug Avenue as an alternative to Llanbadarn Road, and building a new road from Southgate, crossing Penparcau and the camping ground to link up with Park Avenue. A through road from Coopers' Corner to Alexandra Road was also suggested. The war cut short these plans, though some of these ideas were revived in the Aberystwyth Transportation Plan prepared in 1968. This plan was produced by consultants after extensive research. It recommended two dual carriageways from the bottom of Park Avenue, one for Lovesgrove and eventually on to Bow Street, the other across the Rheidol, around the foot of Pendinas to Rhydyfelin and Figure Four. A through road from Coopers' Corner to Alexandra Road was again suggested, along with fairly minor improvements in other parts of the town, and the provision of several car parks. After public consultation, much of the road plan was incorporated in the Aberystwyth Development Plan.
The main railway lines were joined by the Vale of Rheidol Railway in 1902, built to take lead from the Cwm Rheidol mines to the Harbour. Most of this trade disappeared soon after World War I and the railway became almost entirely a holiday attraction. By the 1960s, the Vale of Rheidol was the only steam-operated line run by British Railways and it was feared it would be closed because it did not pay. A strong local "save the line" committee was formed and succeeded in greatly increasing the annual passenger total. In 1967, British Railways offered to sell the line to the Borough Council and soon after it was reported that some London businessmen were interested in it. However, local people were determined to make British Railways recognise its potential and today the Vale of Rheidol trains (now privately owned) are among the most popular of "The Great Little Trains of Wales."
Aberystwyth had less success with the line to Carmarthen, which in 1964 fell a victim to the Beeching "axe". The Borough Council's campaign to save the line was led with great determination by the Town Clerk, Mr. W. Philip Davies, but all appeals were in vain. In 1966, a total of 10,000 people petitioned Parliament to have the line reopened, but again their plan was turned down.
Fortunately, the Shrewsbury line and its link to Pwllheli remains, though heavily subsidised. In the 1970s, the Borough Council co-operated with other authorities in trying to ensure that there was no rundown of services.
Bus services were the subject of many Town Hall debates, particularly regarding fares on the Penparcau route. In 1969 and 1971 it was suggested that the council should run its own service. This was ruled out on grounds of cost and the likelihood that the Traffic Commissioners would not permit it. By 1970 the Council provided several more bus passenger shelters in the town.
Aberystwyth had its own part-time fire brigade until World War II. In early days from the 1890s to the beginning of World War I, it had a horse-drawn fire engine operated by a found-hand pump. Firemen had a smart uniform with brass helmets, and a silver one for the captain, who at various times was a councillor, the borough surveyor and the chief constable. Mr. Richard Arfon Jones, who joined the brigade in 1920, after a motor fire engine with solid tyres was introduced, recalls that it was kept in the Park Avenue Fire Station. The firemen rode outside, clinging to a brass handrail. The brigade strength was usually about 12 to 14, and they also had to tackle floods and cliff rescues. Mr. Jones remembers using boats to rescue people in Park Avenue in one flood. Big fires between the wars were the Waterloo Hotel (1919), the Farmers' Co-operative (1922), the College Hall (1933) and the Palladium Cinema in Market Street (1935). On Mayor's Sunday, the borough fire brigade were always the Mayor's guard-of-honour and the Mayor in turn traditionally presented each fireman with white gloves. The brigade was absorbed by the National Fire Service in World War II, and fire-fighting is now the job of the Mid and West Wales Fire Brigade, with a new fire station at Trefechan built in 1962.
Campaigns and Opinions
Aberystwyth was never a Council to hide its opinions-and some of them seem a little surprising to people today. In 1899 an attempt in the Council to ban Sunday newspapers failed. About 10 years later, the council took exception to open-air meetings held by the Salvation Army and in the same year even refused to allow a Dr. Barnardo's collection. The Council was apparently concerned to keep the promenade as free from obstruction as possible, and as quiet as possible on Sundays. Sunday boating was not permitted until 1935, when a plebiscite showed townspeople in favour of it. National issues were often debated. In 1913 the Council supported the Votes for Women campaign and four years later was calling for prohibition of liquor.
The Council has repeatedly called for a parliament or an elected Council for Wales, even as long ago as the 1920s. In 1951 it submitted a claim for the title of capital of Wales, but, of course, this went to Cardiff. In 1968 the Council again joined in the demand for an elected Welsh Council, suggesting it should sit in Aberystwyth. Campaigns in the 1960s were organised and sustained by the Council over a long period, notably the demand for better radio and television services, particularly the provision of BBC 2.
Aberystwyth received attention in the national Press in 1971 when it embarked on a bold experiment. The Students Union at Aberystwyth was invited to nominate three students to serve as co-opted members on three standing committees. Naturally, the local trade unions and shopkeepers also sought similar representation but were refused. In the event, the student experiment proved a failure, largely because the students seldom turned up, and the idea was abandoned.
The late Dr. Thomas Jones, C.H., in his famous book "Leeks and Daffodils" wrote of the town in the 1890s: "Aberystwyth had a corporation with chained mayor and bewigged town clerk, with aldermen and councillors, gowned and furred to distinguish them from the common citizens. Their proceedings afforded the inhabitants much-needed entertainment and were fully reported in the local Press."
The Mayor's insignia of office comprises a scarlet cloth gown edged with sable, a gold-laced cap, and a gold chain made originally for £70 but now worth many times that amount. An enamel badge bearing a view of the Castle Gate-tower and dated 1896 was replaced with a badge bearing the new coat of arms adopted in 1962. The links in the chain bear the names of some past Mayors. The deputy Mayor and all the aldermen wear scarlet gowns, while the deputy mayor has a silver-laced cap. The councillors wear blue gowns, and like the aldermen wear black cocked hats. Lady members wear tricorn hats. The gowns and caps are worn on ceremonial occasions like Mayor's Sunday and since the Town Hall was re-opened in 1962, at each monthly council meeting. Most councillors regard the wearing of robes as part of the tradition of the borough and an attempt in 1968 to persuade them to give up the robes at ordinary Council meetings met with overwhelming disapproval.
The new coat of arms was approved by the College of Arms in 1962 and is used on Council stationery and the Corporation Seal. Before that date the seal was the lion of the Pryse family of Gogerddan. A seal portraying the Castle Gate-tower was used for a time in the 1870s. The present area is surmounted by a crest which is the same Gate-tower. The shield shows an open book (denoting a university) with the date of the first charter, 1277. Above are two ships commemorating ship-building at Aberystwyth. The shield is supported by the lion of Gogerddan and the Welsh Dragon, bearing emblems of a wheatsheaf (agriculture) and a winged wheel (tourism). The motto is Gorau Moes Gwasanaeth (the best conduct is service).
Members and Officers
A remarkable feature of the Council is the number of men who served for more than 40 years on this and other authorities. Undoubtedly the "Big Three" were Peter Jones, D. C. Roberts and C. M. Williams, who dominated local affairs from the 1880s to the 1920s. Peter Jones was a coal merchant who was elected to Aberystwyth School Board in 1870. Fifty years later he was serving his third term as chairman of Cardiganshire County Council. He was also a Town Improvement Commissioner until this body was superseded in 1873. A few years later he was Mayor for a double term and served on the Council a total of 45 years. When the County Council was formed in 1889, Mr. Jones was its first chairman and held office for a double term. He was again chairman in 1919-20 and therefore the only person ever to occupy the chair for three terms. C. M. Williams opened a draper's shop in Aberystwyth in 1870 when he was 20. He was elected Mayor four times, a record equalled only by Thomas Jones earlier in the century. Mr. Williams's first mayoralty was in 1888-89 and his fourth in 1916-17, and he also served the council more than 40 years. Like Peter Jones, he was elected to the first County Council and was twice its chairman. D. C. Roberts was seven years his junior. His father, Mr. Richard Roberts, had been Mayor in 1866-68 and D. C. Roberts was first elected to the Council just after his 21st birthday - the youngest ever councillor in Aberystwyth. Mr. Roberts was three times Mayor, twice chairman of the County Council (a member for 51 years) and first chairman of Cardiganshire Education Committee. He was also treasurer to the University College of Wales and in 1936 after more than so years' public service received three honours: a knighthood from King Edward VIII, the Freedom of the Borough and an honorary degree from the University of Wales. The "Big Three" were all leading Nonconformists and Liberals. Another prominent man of this period was a leading Conservative and Churchman, namely Sir George Fossett Roberts, managing director of David Roberts & Sons, brewers. His father, David Roberts, had been three times Mayor and a member from 1864 to his death in 1908, aged 88. His grandfather, John Roberts, tanner, was also Mayor and the family's service to the Borough therefore spanned 100 years. Sir George was twice Mayor. After leaving the Borough Council in 1936 he devoted much of the rest of his life in serving the local hospital and was president of the National Library of Wales 1944-50. A contemporary of Sir George was Joseph Barclay Jenkins, a bookseller who was born in Cwmystwyth. He too, was Mayor twice and served terms as chairman of both the County Council and County Education Committee.
Until 1887 it was traditional to appoint Mayors for double terms but after that the Mayors were usually appointed for one term only, on a seniority basis. Apart from those mentioned already, several served for a sufficient time to qualify twice for the mayoralty: Dr. T. D. Harries, surgeon, Robert Doughton, ironmonger, E. P. Wynne, chemist (three times mayor), Thomas Doughton, nephew of Robert Doughton, Llewellyn Samuel (also a chairman of the County Council and Education Committee, and John John (railwayman and also County Council chairman), Alderman R. J. Ellis, who was twice Mayor, was still at 85, chairman of the County Planning Committee, Water Board and of Penglais Comprehensive School Governors. Ernest Roberts, a former station-master, was Mayor twice as was Alderman Ifor Owen, a retired electricity worker who is still a member of both county and borough councils. A family record was set by R. G. Pickford, who was Mayor 10 years after his father held the office, and again 11 years after that.
In earlier days, most of the leading businessmen were Council members. Some are already mentioned but others were Philip Williams, printer, John James, merchant, George Green, ironfounder, William Henry Palmer, proprietor of the Queen's Hotel, Daniel Thomas, draper, Edwin Morris, of the Waterloo Hotel and Edward Llewellin, of the Central Hotel. In 1913, the first Labour member was elected and after World War I there was generally a wider cross-section of townspeople on the council. Noted members were Professor Edward Edwards (uncle of Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards), P. B. Loveday, plumber, John Lewis Evans, furnisher, T. L. Old, ironmonger, Fred Foulkes, railwayman, Griffith Davies, headmaster, George Rowlands, teacher (Mayor during the 1955 royal visit) and W. G. Kitchin, Mayor when the new Town Hall was opened. One councillor, John Hugh Edwards, was elected M.P. for Mid-Glamorgan in 1910 and later represented Accrington. A surprising feature, perhaps, is that although there were several women councillors in this period, there was no a woman mayor prior to the reorganisation in 1974.
The early officials worked only part-time for the council. A local solicitor, John Parry, was Town Clerk for the remarkable period of 40 years, first under the Court Leet and then under the Council from its inception in 1836 to 1872. He was followed by William Henry Thomas, a former clerk to the Improvement Commissioners, and who married an ex-Mayor's widow. From 1880 until just after World War I, the Town Clerk was Arthur J. Hughes, a member of a noted family of solicitors. After 40 years, he was succeeded by his deputy, John Evans, a leading Old Student of the University College of Wales. The next Town Clerk was Thomas John Samuel, M.B.E., an ex-Councillor who was Mayor during the royal visit of 1911. Mr. Samuel was also a solicitor and his brother was David Samuel, headmaster of Ardwyn Grammar School. The first full-time clerk was Llanidloes-born Eric Lloyd Horsfall Turner (1934-37) who later became Town Clerk of Scarborough, Yorks. By coincidence, his successor John F. Guile, was a Yorkshireman. Mr. Guile had been Town Clerk of Hayes, Middlesex, and left Aberystwyth in 1943 to become Town Clerk of Grantham, Lincs. He remained there for 25 years until his retirement in Grantham. A popular appointment in 1943 was that of Mr. H. D. P. Bott to be Town Clerk of his native town at the age of 40. Mr. Bott had been deputy to Mr. Guile before becoming Town Clerk of Dartmouth in June 1941. His term until 1952 was a difficult period for the Council when many changes were taking place. Mr. Bott eventually decided to go into private practice in Aberystwyth and for some years thereafter was Registrar of the County Court. He was succeeded in 1952 by Mr. J, Henwood Jones, who resigned after four years in office. In June 1956, Mr. W. Philip Davies, Town Clerk of Caernarvon, was appointed to the similar post in Aberystwyth. Like Mr. Bott, Mr. Davies was an Old Student of the University College of Wales and was also a well-known speaker and lay-preacher in Wales. He was also a man of great determination and over the next 13 years was to lead several campaigns on behalf of the Council. His period of office was broken when he resigned in 1958 to become general secretary and legal adviser to the newly-formed Farmers' Union of Wales. His place was taken by Mr. John Mason, who left for a post in Zambia after 18 months. Mr. Philip Davies then returned to the Town Hall and remained Town Clerk until he retired on health grounds in 1969. His term also covered a difficult period which included the rebuilding of the Town Hall, the leasehold debate and the formation of the Cardiganshire Water Board. Mr. Davies's successor was Mr. J. Kendal Harris, a miner's son from Aberdare, who had risen from a junior office boy to be a deputy clerk to Aberdare Urban Council. Although Mr. Harris's period was short compared to some of his predecessors, he also faced a time of great changes, the chief of which was reorganisation of local government. Mr. Harris was appointed Chief Executive to Ceredigion District Council, so he continued to occupy his old room in Aberystwyth Town Hall.
For many years, the post of Treasurer to the Council was held by the manager of the bank where the Council had its accounts, and it was he who had the custody of the Council funds. Day-to-day running of financial affairs was in the hands of the Borough Accountant, the first of whom, David Jones, was appointed in 1876. One of the Borough Accountants, Norman Greenwood, later became County Treasurer. Mr. Greenwood was a Yorkshireman, and was succeeded in the 1930s by a Lancastrian, Mr. F. Sharp. After Mr. Sharp's death in 1951, another Lancastrian, Mr. William Lee, was appointed Borough Treasurer, and held the post until 1974, seeing the council's year-by-year expenditure grow to the huge sum of more than £300,000.
An outstanding Borough Surveyor was Mr. Rees Jones who held the post for more than 40 years. He was succeeded after World War I by Mr. William P. Puddicombe and later by Mr. Llewellyn Jones, who was surveyor at the time of the 1938 storm disasters. Mr. Lawrence Whittaker, surveyor from 1959, was tragically killed while on Council business in October 1962 in a road accident in which the Deputy Mayor, Alderman Ivor Evans, also died. Mr. W. Rees Davies, who had been involved with the giant Rheidol hydro-electric scheme, was Borough Surveyor from 1963 to 1974.
Many of the council's staff over the years gave long service, and some spent their entire working lives as council employees. Others continued their career and attained important office in other authorities.
The first honorary freemen, admitted in 1912, were Sir John Williams, the royal physician; David Davies, M.P. (the first Lord Davies), and Lord Rendel, who acquired much of the Penglais Land for the University College of Wales. In 1922, Prime Minister David Lloyd George was admitted, and in 1923 a joint ceremony admitted Lt.-Col. Lewis Pugh Evans, v.c., Lord Ystwyth, the former M.P. for Cardiganshire, and Sir Herbert Lewis, one-time M.P. for the University of Wales and a founder of the National Library. In 1928, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was admitted and in 1936 Sir David Charles Roberts and the Earl of Lisburne were made freemen. Sir Winston Churchill (pictured with award) was unable to come to Aberystwyth to receive the freedom of the Borough in 1951. Instead a deputation led by the Mayor, Alderman R. J. Bills, went to London to present him with the freedom scroll and casket. The Regiment of the Welsh Guards were made freemen in 1955 and finally in 1965 the philanthropist Sir David James, Pantyfedwen, was made a freeman.
Other names were also suggested as possible freemen, notably Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in 1952. In 1969, the Prince of Wales declined the Council's offer of the Freedom of the Borough because he was here as a student and wished to be treated as such - the Council would not normally give the Freedom to a student.
Aberystwyth played a leading part in formulating reorganisation of Welsh local government. In 1959 it suggested the formation of a Mid-Wales county including North Cardiganshire, with Aberystwyth becoming the "capital" of Mid-Wales. This found some favour in Whitehall, but eventually it was decided to place all Cardiganshire in Dyfed, with the old county forming a single district called Ceredigion. On April 1st, 1974, the Borough Council ceased to exist. Most of its powers were transferred to Ceredigion District Council, though some were retained locally in the Aberystwyth Town Council, which holds the Borough Charter in trust for the town.