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The Landscape Archaeology of the Vale of Ffestiniog


Landscape studies of the archaeology of industrialisation have now become an accepted part of the
discipline, and the ‘Manchester methodology’ as applied by the University of Manchester Archaeo-
logical Unit to the Tameside region has made possible a comprehensive narrative of regional
industrialisation that has identified the poorer members of the community as the motors of techni-
cal, economic and social change. The following paper outlines the ways in which this methodology
has been applied to other areas, particularly the vale of Ffestiniog, in north-west Wales, and
suggests ways in which the methodology might be developed.

INTRODUCTION economy, and local tenant-farming families

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became in the fullness of time major mill-

Study of the archaeology of the Industrial
and land-owners. The social distribution of
and Modern period has traditionally been
emergent sites indicates that the main thrust
dominated by technical antiquarianism and
for industrialisation came from the tenant
by a preoccupation with the leading sectors —
farmers who were seeking ways of expanding
specifically, it has been argued, with mining,
their income, whilst land-owners continued to
textiles and the food and drink industries
(Riley, this volume). Re-assessment of what invest in areas they traditionally controlled,
is, or might be, meant by industrial archae- such as mineral rights (Nevell, this volume).
ology has led to much debate, but little This methodology has enabled study of the
resolution; more than one practitioner has archaeology of industrialisation to move
concluded that it is its fate, even its mission, beyond both the functional preoccupations
to disappear in favour of an inclusive form of traditional industrial archaeology and also
of post-medieval archaeology. Even among the ‘object-fixation’ (Newman 2001) of post-
those of us who neither advocate nor antici- medieval archaeology, to write a narrative
pate such an outcome, there is at least a which can comprehend the transformative
generally-voiced agreement that industrial nature of social change at this scale, at least
archaeology must acknowledge its social within this defined region.
dimension, and that the fascination with It has never been UMAU’s claim that this
the machine has run its course. This paper methodology could stand on its own as a
examines one of the more potentially reward- comprehensive approach to the archaeology
ing approaches to the archaeology of the of the industrial period. Instead, the Unit
Industrial and Modern period to have been has looked for opportunities to apply it to
developed in recent years, and suggests ways other regions, with their own distinct natural
in which it might be developed. resources and pre-industrial social and eco-
nomic structure, in order to establish how and
in what way it might be modified and refined,
THE MANCHESTER METHODOLOGY and whether in turn this might inform study
The University of Manchester Archaeologi- of the area where the methodology was first
cal Unit has increasingly taken an explicitly defined. The notion of social ownership of site
social approach to the archaeology of the types in part informed the present author’s
Industrial period, in the form of a research study of a dual economy (small-holding and
strategy which examines the process of transi- slate-quarrying) landscape in North Wales
tion from an agrarian to an industrial society published in The Archaeology of Industri-
through the archaeological remains of the alization; yet the focus here was primarily on
period. These are then related to the contem- the archaeology of identity (Gwyn 2004). In
porary social stratification — lord, freeholder 2003 the present author and UMAU obtained
and tenant — of the study-area. This method- a grant from the Heritage Council of Ireland
ology has been applied to Tameside, a metro- to commission a scoping study of County
politan authority within Greater Manchester Offaly, Republic of Ireland, to determine
which encompasses the ancient lordships of whether the ‘Manchester methodology’ was
Ashton and Mottram, where it traces the truly applicable outside the north-west of
evolution of a thinly-populated margin in the England, and what results it might produce in
17th century into a major industrial region by the light of detailed surveys in Tameside and
the 19th. In the process, the cotton-spinning preliminary surveys in north-west Wales. The
towns of Ashton, Droylsden, Hyde, Mossley survey was carried out by Dr Colin Rynne of
and Stalybridge grew to serve a world University College, Cork, and examined the
© The Association for Industrial Archaeology DOI: 10.1179/030907205X50478

Grand Canal and the estate towns that grew The precise boundaries chosen are those
up along its banks (Rynne 2004). Detailed of a Landscape Characterisation exercise
research agenda must await the full publica- carried out by the Gwynedd Archaeological
tion of Dr Rynne’s results, but the project Trust (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2003
concluded that the methodology which had — Figure 1). They straddle the historic
been successfully applied in Tameside to counties of Caernarvonshire and Merioneth,
explore proto-industrialisation as well as covering an area of approximately 120km2.
industrialisation did also prove capable of Topography varies from the ruggedly moun-
explaining why, even within an economy tainous, reaching 770m aod at the summit of
directly locked into that of Britain from 1800 Moelwyn Mawr, enclosing the upper pastures
to 1922, these processes were not prevalent in of the parish of Ffestiniog and the hanging
Ireland. The study concluded that, given her valley of Cwm Croesor, as well as extensive
extremely limited mineral resources, Ireland areas at sea-level, around the broad estuary
worked to her strengths, and that the bur- known as Traeth Mawr, where the Glaslyn
geoning industrialisation of Britain became river met the sea, and along the Traeth Bach,
the main market both for Ireland’s agricul- the lower reaches of the river Dwyryd.
tural produce and agricultural processing In terms of its post-medieval development,
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industries. the story, at least in broad outline, is relatively

This project in turn demonstrated that straightforward. Statistics are elusive,
the UMAU methodology, with some modifi- because the area does not fit neatly into the
cation, is able to interrogate not only the parish structure, but it is clear that in the mid-
archaeology of Tameside’s tenant-farmers’ 18th century the great majority of the land
successful evolution over time of the condi- was held by a comparatively small number
tions for sustained industrialisation, but also of landowners, all Welsh, ranging from non-
a radically different case, the failure in Offaly residents like the comparatively wealthy
of an initiative sponsored by a landed élite — Wynns of Glynllifon and the impecunious
the canal — to make possible anything more Wynnes of Peniarth through the resident
than limited development. What results might families — Gryffydd of Tan y Bwlch,
emerge from a study of a third area, one Williams-Ellis of Plas Brondanw — to
with very different cultural traditions and squireens like Humphrey of Coed Cae Du.
industrial potential? The freeholder/yeoman class was practically
unknown, though some of the tenant-farmers
were comparatively wealthy men, as both
documentary evidence and the archaeology
As yet, no detailed study comparable to those of their substantial farmhouses makes clear
undertaken on Tameside has been under- (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2003). Even
taken of any area within north-west Wales, so, the social grouping which most clearly
yet for several reasons it suggests itself as a affected the area in the late 18th and early
location in which the methodology can be 19th centuries were the landowners, at least
tested in the same way in which it has been from when two arrivistes made their home in
tried out in Ireland. The level of existing his- the area, one through marriage, one through
torical and archaeological knowledge is high. purchase.
Industrialisation, based on the quarrying and In 1789 William Oakeley (1750–1811), the
export of slate, was patchy, enabling areas son of a Shropshire clergyman (and nephew
within the region that directly experienced the of a Governor of Madras), married Margaret
process to be compared with those that did Gryffydd of Tan y Bwlch, the estate which
not. It served markets world-wide, yet the dominated the parish of Ffestiniog. He and
region is still distinctive in terms of its built his son William (1790–1835) were keen build-
environment. It took place at a time when ers, not only reconstructing their own home,
literacy was common — indeed, when plebe- Plas Tan y Bwlch, but also creating the mark-
ians were readier than the élite to put pen to edly gentry village of Maentwrog at the tidal
paper — so sources are unlikely to be unduly head of the Dwyryd nearby. This river had
biased towards particular monument-types. already seen a long trade; from when records
Transport networks were all-important to the begin in 1750, there were regular exports of
successful export of slate, enabling compari- slates and hardwoods, especially oak, as well
son with the network of roads, canals and as imports of limestone, culm and consumer
railways identified in the Tameside and goods (Lewis 1989).
Offaly studies. The Vale of Ffestiniog has The other was William Madocks (1773–
been identified as a ‘test-bed’ landscape for 1828), of a Flintshire family, who bought a
the purposes of this paper because, unlike small estate at the mouth of the Glaslyn in
other industrial areas within the region, no 1798 and secured an enclosure act. As well as
one landowner was all-powerful, and the building the Italianate village of Tremadoc
interplay of the various social groupings (‘Madocks’ town’) nearby, between 1808 and
might be more apparent. 1813 he built an embankment, ‘the cob’, to
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drain the estuary mouth. Fortuitously, the connection with the quarrying areas. Every Figure 1.
diverted river scoured a harbour where it penny of its original capital came from Map of the area.
entered the sea through Madocks’ new sluice Ireland, and the registered office was in Dame
gates, deep enough at least for small sailing Street, Dublin. Initially only one quarry made
ships to enter. Quays were built here from use of it; it was not until 1868 that the last
1824, and the town of Portmadoc (now one pensioned off its carters and boatmen. As
Porthmadog) grew up around them (Beazley it was, it only very briefly had an effective
1985). monopoly of its traffic, as both the London
The creation of the harbour enabled the and North Western and the Great Western
slate quarries in the hinterland to develop. railways made their way to Blaenau in 1879
Slate had been systematically worked in the and 1881 respectively, but it was this line, the
upper part (the blaenau) of the parish of famous Festiniog Railway, which in the 1860s
Ffestiniog since about 1760, and the industry and 1870s attracted worldwide attention as a
had developed in the early 19th century with prototype for a cheap form of secondary rail-
the arrival of experienced quarrymen from way engineering. Since 1954 it has again made
the English Lake District and the investment a name for itself as having, against the odds,
of entrepreneurs such as Lord Palmerston, re-opened with volunteer labour and regained
who retained an active interest in the Welsh its original terminus at Blaenau Ffestiniog
Slate Company quarry from the 1820s until despite the destruction of part of its earlier
his death in 1865. A more transient interest route.
was that of Nathan Meyer Rothschild, whose When the railway opened it ran through
Royal Cambrian Company only operated a barely populated landscape; yet within two
from 1825 to 1827, though he bequeathed generations towns which ultimately merited
a precipitous cart-road up the slopes of UDC status had come into being at its lower
Moelwyn Mawr known to this day as ffordd and upper terminus (the harbour town of
yr iuddew mawr, ‘the road of the great jew’. Porthmadog and the quarry town of Blaenau
Export initially was by packhorse and by Ffestiniog respectively), and a substantial
cart down to the Dwyryd, whence river boats dormitory village settlement in between, at
took slates to sea-going ships, initially for Penrhyndeudraeth. This was built by David
transfer in open waters. Porthmadog offered Williams (1799-1869), a tenant-farmer’s son
a more sheltered transhipment point, and who became a solicitor and managed the
from 1836 the quays here were served by a Madocks estate, in the process acquiring
railway which gave a more or less direct property of his own, and building his own

the beginning of the 19th — late compared to

Tameside and even Offaly. The first workers’
terrace made its appearance in 1809 (the first,
so far as is known, in north-west Wales), on
Madocks’ estate at what became Porthma-
dog, a row of three dwellings with distinctive
foundry type windows (SH 5722 3849). On
the other side of the estuary, at much the same
time, Madocks built a two-storey regency-
style barracks for the workmen constructing
the cob (SH 5848 3791). These might be
accounted anomalies, the effusions of a
landowner prone to architectural whimsy and
with a developed sense that workmen should
have their share of the improvements he was
bringing to the area. Yet even in remote
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Blaenau Ffestiniog, there were exceptions to

the vernacular rule. The oldest surviving
industrial house (in the sense that it was built
for industrial workers) dates from 1825, and
is a central chimney house of a style that
ultimately dates to a renaissance gentry
pattern (Figure 2), of which other examples
are to be found elsewhere on the Newborough
Figure 2. mock-baronial castle nearby, at Castell As housing styles developed, several differ-
Ty r’uncorn Deudraeth. Williams, who became an MP ent idioms become apparent. Porthmadog
(‘one-chimney house’) and sent his son to Eton, is in this sense a builders, doubtless taking their cue from the
(Blaenau Ffestiniog classic example of the tenant-to-landowner
© Falcon Hildred).
agent of the Tremadoc estate, continued to
switch which the Manchester methodology build in the Regency style along broad,
identifies, but his rise was from the middle straight streets until the end of the 19th cen-
ranks of local society and was achieved as an tury. In Blaenau Ffestiniog, though terraced
administrator rather than as an entrepreneur. housing is evident as early as 1838, the older
The expansion of the slate industry went parts of the town are still made up of vern-
on until the end of the 19th century, and was acular cabins. It is not until the 1860s that
followed by a long 20th-century decline, only terraced houses predominate, erected by
arrested by tourism and the establishment of speculative builders to a distinctive pattern
pumped storage and nuclear power schemes that is not local in inspiration, characterised
in the 1960s. Other 20th-century influences by height rather than width or depth and with
include Portmeirion, where the architect prominent pointed dormers (Roberts 1988).
Clough Williams-Ellis (1883–1978), himself The same move away from purely vernacu-
of a local landowning family, perpetuated lar idioms to imported or learned styles is
the area’s tradition of designed landscapes found in the archaeology of religious dissent
by creating the Italianate fantasy village of within the area. Hen Gapel (‘old chapel’, SH
Portmeirion on David Williams’ old demesne 7114 4261), built in 1784, the first in
(Williams-Ellis 1991). Ffestiniog parish (Owen, 92) and the oldest
Enough has been said to suggest that the survivor, looks little different from the ver-
hand of the various social groupings is likely nacular houses in which its first congregation
to be evident in what is still, visibly, a 19th- lived. This is broadly true of most of the first
century landscape. Can we, by asking who generation of dissenting chapels in Wales,
were the agents of change within this land- though predictably, an early exception to this
scape, and establishing the time-scale to rule is to be found within this area, and was
which they worked, establish a narrative of built under Madocks’ sponsorship. Peniel in
industrialisation for this area in the same way Tremadoc (SH 5624 3988) was constructed
that the methodology has made possible in for the Methodists just as they were making
both Tameside and Offaly? the final break with the Church in 1811, and
Leaving aside for the moment the problems is based on the design of Inigo Jones’s chapel
in relying on the RCHME Thesaurus classifi- in Covent Garden. It was at the time unusual
cation (a point made by David Cranstone in in having a clear patrician hand in the design
his review of From Farmer to Factory Owner of a nonconformist place of worship, and
[Cranstone 2004]), it is clear that new, distinc- though it set the style for what was to become
tively ‘industrial-period’, monument-types the dominant pattern of Welsh chapel
emerge at the end of the 18th century and at architecture (a rectangular-plan structure

with an ornamented façade facing the street),

for many years Peniel remained exceptional
in Welsh terms as well as within the locality.
This basic plan was only adopted in the late
1850s, when a crop of large self-confident
chapels came to be built, both locally and
all over Wales, reflecting the work of profes-
sional architects. Several examples remain in
use; since 1860 Porthmadog’s Independents
have worshipped in a ‘spacious sanctuary’
(Figure 3) designed by the Revd Thomas
Thomas, a minister of the connection, and a
prolific chapel-architect, which makes use of
his distinctive halo-arch front (Hughes 2005).
Some of the materials were local, such as Figure 3.
blue stone from a local quarry, but others Thomas Thomas’
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came from further afield. Grey marble from chapel for the
Penmon in Anglesey went into the façade, Independents,
though again it is likely that the pine timber Porthmadog.
was from Canada (Congregational Yearbook,
1860, 269). As well as the distinctive local
that is demonstrably local or regional here.
stone, specialised building materials are to be
Leaving aside the significance of the London-
found in other public buildings in Porthma-
built locomotive and the Birmingham-built
dog, such as the Scandinavian rock known to
carriages, the passenger accommodation and
later generations of geologists as ‘montague-
the public area contain many of the common
burtonite’ because that ‘tailor of taste’ chose
cultural elements of the mid-19th-century
it for his retail outlets across Britain.1 What
railway station –- the gas lighting, and the dis-
is not clear is whether these were specially
imported to Porthmadog or brought in as tinctive railway architectural features, such
ballast and worked over by enterprising as the ornamented barge-boards, patterned
stone-masons. roofing slates, and decorated finials. Possibly
The use of imported material was not the timbers in Ebenezer Roberts’ shipyard
confined to civic infrastructure, and began at in the foreground are from neighbouring
much the same time. Small, often experimen- Ardudwy, in southern Merionethshire, but
tal, slate mills had been built in or near the they are at least as likely to be from the Forest
quarries since the 1820s, but it was only in of Dean or the New Forest, if not British
the 1850s that these were followed by large North America Much of the ship is likely to
integrated mills, in which all the processes of have been built of imported material, and the
sawing and splitting were carried out under train and the station stand on ballast dredged
one roof. Their walls were slate slab, but the from most of the maritime countries of
roof-timbers were brought in by sea. From Europe, with some addition from the St
this period also dates the fan-tail viaduct Lawrence and Pensacola (Hughes 1977, 59–
which formerly connected two parts of the 60). One could go further, and point to other
Welsh Slate Company’s quarry (Figure 4 [SH elements of cultural novelty here –- the very
6961 4672] — ab Owain 1992). It was built fact that the photograph formed a carte-de-
by Thomas Williams the quarry joiner but visite; the evident pride of the men in their
designed, almost certainly, by Charles Easton uniforms and work clothes, and in the jobs
Spooner, the Festiniog Railway’s engineer, they are doing.
who had served his apprenticeship with The railway itself acted indirectly as a
Brunel on the Taff Vale Railway. Brunel went sponsor within what was already a fast-
on to build many timber viaducts on masonry industrialising environment, evolving a
piers, to a similar, though not identical, plan ‘metropolitan corridor’ along the valley. It
(Binding 1993, esp. 79–83). It was not just dictated the location and morphology of
material that came from outside the area. settlement. At Tan y Grisiau, near Blaenau,
The photograph of the train in Portmadoc Sam Holland (1803–1892), lessee of one of
station around 1870 (SH 5711 3837 — Oakeley’s quarries, created a village for his
Figure 5) illustrates this point. The mise-en- quarrymen which came to be built, in the
scène is iconic — one might say, quintes- absence of any roads, alongside the railway,
sentially Welsh, with its narrow gauge steam often with front doors facing the tracks. It
locomotive, and one of the distinctive locally- also altered the community in less obvious
built and -crewed sailing ships, whose masts ways. Delivery of groceries to the com-
are just visible, in the harbour. Yet to say so munity’s first shop, owned by a Porthmadog
obscures as much as it reveals. There is little captain, was by horse-drawn train, though
Published by Maney Publishing (c) Association for Industrial Archaeology 134 GWYN: THE VALE OF FFESTINIOG

Figure 4. door-to-door deliveries were made by simply area –- both in terms of the ‘soft’ archaeology
Slate rubble en- throwing parcels into doorways. The locomo- of financial and intellectual capital, the ‘hard’
croaches Rhiwbryfdir, tive-hauled trains introduced in the 1860s archaeology of building materials and
one of Ffestiniog’s travelled too fast, so retail facilities came to be machinery. The Manchester methodology
farmhouses. The
centralised at a new station where goods- acknowledges both by restoring human
London and North sheds were built and to which road access was agency to the archaeological resource, and
Western Railway’s constructed, again shaping the community provides a descriptive system in which the
branch line is under in a different way (Gwyn 2002, 85–6). The transformative capacity of industrialisation
construction. Beyond market halls at Porthmadog (1846), Blaenau in this region may be quantified. Certainly,
is the quarry viaduct (1864) were rail-served. The railway was the the appearance of monument-types estab-
of 1852 (National first, and the last, link in a distribution system lishes a generational change in the Vale of
Library of Wales, wet that transformed this once-remote Welsh Ffestiniog from the 1780s to the 1860s, very
collodion negative,
JTC012). valley from a subsistence economy into a different from the long story of Tameside,
world economy, at both the ‘industrial’ level and the abortive industrialisation of the Irish
of the primary industry and at the level of midlands; but is this approach subtle enough
a society eagerly embracing consumerism. to enable us to write the detailed narrative of
Here, the archaeologies of production and industrialisation? Can we go further, and also
consumption merge.2 accept it as a more general explanatory model
Economic historians have long been used for the industrial era?
to the idea that a tightly-defined industrial
region might in fact be tied in to several
‘regional’ realities, encompassing interna-
tional markets and merchant networks, just Applying the Manchester methodology out-
as post-medieval archaeologists have traced side the north-west of England has produced
widening and contracting cultural regions interesting results. Offaly indicates that it
through artefactual distribution. The export requires adaptation to make sense of the Irish
of slate from Blaenau Ffestiniog not only experience. The landscape archaeology of the
affected the built heritage of towns through- Vale of Ffestiniog also suggests a number
out Europe and beyond, but also made avail- of ways in which the methodology might be
able non-local resources within its originating refined.

In the first place, the categories of lord,

freeholder and tenant do not, as they stand,
work in this locality, and more neutral terms
such as patrician, middling sort and plebeian
might work better. Furthermore, whereas in
Tameside capital is generated within the area,
here (and to some extent in Offaly) it appears
from outside — a process to which it is hard
not to apply the word ‘colonialism’. Whilst
both Oakeley and Madocks belonged to a
traditional landed élite and David Williams
joined it, the other sources of wealth were
very different — Liverpool industrialists,
Dublin bankers and the counting house of the
great Nathan Meyer Rothschild. This does
suggest that a fourth citizen or burgess class,
representing landless capital, might need to be
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Secondly, the methodology as currently
understood is largely quantitative rather than primacy of the material evidence, are vital if Figure 5.
qualitative. This is not to say that it ignores archaeologists are to contribute to the narra- Train in Portmadoc
changes within categories, yet possible limita- tive of industrialisation. But it also becomes harbour station c.
1870, from a carte-de-
tions to this approach are highlighted by the possible to suggest that the methodology visite (Festiniog
present paper. Without a doubt it is culturally might write the detailed story as well. Though Railway Company
significant that the first local chapel should its basis is the macro-archaeology of land- photographic
have been built in 1784, and it is fortunate scape, it has the potential to accommodate collection WP/03A).
that it should have survived largely unaltered. the artefactual micro-archaeology which
But it is also significant that the form of this Post-medievalists and American Historical
particular monument-category should have archaeologists emphasise, and to articulate
changed fundamentally in the mid-19th social ownership, social mediation and
century. The break with the vernacular form exchange. On this basis, the Manchester
comes at this stage, not in the late 18th cen- methodology becomes more than a model by
tury, and is reflected in the extraordinary and which to describe the process of industrialisa-
sudden level of change which went on in many tion; it provides the archaeological commu-
different ways throughout the landscape at nity with the means to make a distinctive
that time. In the Vale of Ffestiniog, cultural
theoretical contribution to the study of this
discontinuity is more marked as the monu-
transformative era.
ment category changes form, rather than at
the point at which it is introduced.
These changes can be explored not only ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
by established methods such as typological
studies and artefactual analysis but also by Thanks are due to David Cranstone, Dr Colin
examining those most fundamental processes Rynne, Dr Mike Nevell and Dr Gwynfor
in any society that has moved beyond subsis- Pierce Jones for discussing the issues raised
tence level, the management of resources and by this paper. For specific items of informa-
the exchange of goods. It is these that underlie tion and assistance, I am indebted particu-
the categories with which archaeologists larly to Steffan ab Owain, Dr John Davies of
struggle –- with the archaeologies of produc- the Countryside Council of Wales, Professor
tion, of distribution and of consumption, with Patricia Layzell-Ward, to Falcon Hildred and
the social and the technocentric; it is these to Adrian Gray (Hon Archivist, Festiniog
that mediate the cultural space of human Railway Company). I also owe Dr Michael
society. By incorporating this approach into Lewis a particular debt of gratitude for
the study of monument-types, details become sharing with me the fruits of his many
more eloquent, whether as building com- years’ archival research and archaeological
ponents or recovered deposits. Also, relation- examination of this fascinating area.
ships between different site categories within
the historic landscape, whether of inter-
relatedness or discontinuity, become more
apparent. 1
Pers. comm., Dr John Davies, Countryside
Council for Wales.
And in recovered artefacts; a curious coda to the
CONCLUSIONS archaeology of commerce and to the relationship
between artefactual and landscape evidence emerged
The broad sweep approach of the Manchester in the Guardian newspaper in May 2004, with the
methodology, and its emphasis on the claim that a paper bag which surfaced in a York

bookshop advertising the wares of ‘William Roberts, paper bag in England. Maev Kennedy, ‘Leafing
Family Tea Dealer, General Grocer, Flour Dealer through history: Is this England’s (sic) oldest teabag?’
&c.’ of 128 Portmadoc High Street is the oldest Guardian, 21 May 2004.

Dr David Gwyn is an archaeological consultant, and a part-time university teacher. He is editor of

Industrial Archaeology Review. Address for correspondence:
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Related Interests