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Caersws Basin
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Making of the Caersws Basin Landscape


The historic landscape area is associated with a number of individuals prominent in the industrial and cultural life of Wales in the later 19th and earlier 20th century.

David Davies (1818-90), the so-called ‘first Welsh self-made millionaire’, was born at Llandinam and started his working life as a jobbing labourer and saywer. From the profits made from early contracts for building road bridges in Montgomeryshire, such as the cast iron bridge across the Severn at Llandinam in 1846, he became a contactor for the major programme of railway construction being undertaken in mid Wales, including the Newtown and Llanidloes line completed in 1859, the Oswestry to Newtown line completed in 1861 and the Newtown to Machynlleth line completed in 1862. He subsequently invested in the rapidly developing mines on land leased from the Crawshay family in the Rhondda. From sucesses at the Cwmparc Mine in Treorchy the Ocean Coal Company was formed, from which he was accorded the sobriquet ‘Davies the Ocean’. He established the Barry Docks for the export of coal, in competition with the powerful Bute family who controlled Cardiff Docks.

He continued to live at Llandinam throughout his life and to worship at the Calvinistic Methodist chapel there. He commissioned the Italianate mansion at Broneirion, across the river from Llandinam as his home in 1864-65, whose grounds were made available for games and other activities by the local community. He later purchased Plas Dinam, just to the north of the village, for his son Edward and family, as well as the estate associated with it. He became an important local benefactor of building project such as the almshouses in Llandinam, and also played a major role in establishment of the University College at Aberystwyth. He was a Calvinistic Methodist elder and a generous supporter of the Forward Movement which sought to bring the gospel to the industrial towns and valley communities of South Wales. David Davies’s Statue, a bronze replica of the statue at Barry Docks, stands near the southern abutments he built for the road bridge across the Severn at Llandinam.

David Davies left a considerable fortune to each of his two granddaughters, Gwendoline (1882-1951) and Margaret Davies (1884-1963). The two sisters were nonetheless brought up in a strict Welsh Nonconformist tradition and remaining strict sabbatarians and teetotallers until their deaths, becoming major benefactors of charities and cultural institutions in Wales. From a beginning in 1906 they had by 1924 amassed the largest collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in Britain.. Together they bequeathed a visually stunning collection of over 260 works to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, which completely transformed the character of the Welsh national art collection. The two sisters became closely associated with the large mansion at Gregynog which they purchased in 1920, but they had begun to amass their collection of paintings while living at Broneirion, Llandinam, which they had inherited from their grandfather. Amongst their purchases were a number of poignant though fashionable depictions of the 19th-century rural poverty by Millet, Daumier and others, which is has been said ‘hint at the depth of their social concern and foreshadow their decision, in later life, to foreswear art for charitable works’.

A further important figure in the cultural life of Wales who is associated with the historic landscape is the famous Welsh lyrical poet and collector of Welsh tunes, John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-87), whose works include ‘Dafydd Garreg Wen’ (David of the White Rock) and ‘Clychau Aberdyfi’ (The Bells of Aberdovey). Hughes, a churchman, whose grave lies in the churchyard at Llanwnog church, returned to Wales to take up the post of stationmaster at Llanidloes in 1868 and two years later was appointed the first superintendent of the newly-opened Van Railway. Working from his office at Caersws, this began an important and productive period in his literary activity, which included many popular and often sentimental Welsh poems.

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