AN OLD CAERNARFON FAMILY
It is hardly likely that anyone who has lived in Caernarfon for any length of time has not heard of this family and associate it with the age of the Caernarfon Schooners and the activities on the waterfront, during the 19th century . One need only mention the name Aber, Porth yr Aur and the surname Pritchard and almost everyone living in the area will have guessed as to whom I refer. Yes, the family of Dafydd R'Aber, as it is known to all in Caernarfon. Needless to say the name is far older than anyone today can remember, but how old? That is the question.
One has to search through the Census Returns of the mid 19th century to trace the first David Pritchard whose name is associated with transporting passengers across
the mouth of the river Seiont. The Census of 1851 shows David Pritchard to be a seaman and married to Sarah (aged 22 and born in Dartford, Kent) and they had one daughter, Emma, twelve months old and living at No.7, Shirehall Street (Stryd y Jêl). However, on the 1861 Census, David or Dafydd had left the sea and was a boatman, or ferryman on the Aber or Coed Helen Ferry and by then had three children, Emma, aged 12, David C. aged 10 and John B. Pritchard, aged 4. In 1864, however, Emma died and was buried in Llanfaglan Church Cemetery. According to the Census of 1871, David Pritchard was still the boatman and with his eldest son David C. (aged 19) assisting him and his youngest son John B., aged 13, still at school. In the 1881 Census David Pritchard is described as boat owner and David. C. as being an employee of his and John B's name is not recorded. The father died in 1884, aged 76, and the 1891 Census shows David C. Pritchard to be the boat owner, his brother John B. as his assistant and a young lad, Griffith Evans , age 16, as a "Boat boy" for them.
It is more than likely that this was the situation when the Caernarfon Borough Council decided to build the first Aber Bridge, which was officially opened on St. David's Day, 1900. This meant that the Council would, according to law, have had to pay compensation to the owner of the Ferry. While the actual figure that David Charles Pritchard received is not known, it is believed to have been a considerable sum as he was able to buy a Bakery at Bryngwyn, Llanrug and he and his wife then moved there to live. It was where his first son, David Charles Pritchard, the same name as his father, was born and his name appears on the Census of 1901 as being aged 7 months. On the same Census the father was said to be "living on his means."
Again there is no evidence to show how long he enjoyed living under those circumstances, but in 1908 he put his property, Bryngwyn Bach, Llanrug, up for sale by auction to be held at the Sportsman Hotel, Castle Street, Caernarfon, but for whatever reason, it was not sold. Things then went from bad to worse for the family and David Charles Pritchard was declared Bankrupt and they returned to Caernarfon to live. According to his grandson, Councillor Richard Bonner Pritchard, his father, who was also called Richard Bonner Pritchard, often spoke to him of those days at the beginning of the 20th century. He and his two brothers, Charles and Bob, used to walk daily to the Sailing Club where they were given free meals and his name for that unpleasant journey was "Walk of Shame."
The three brothers, at an early age, decided upon a career at sea as
many other young Caernarfon lads did at that time. Charles and Richard joined the Merchant Navy during World War 1 and with the youngest brother Bob, following their footsteps shortly after the end of the war, but all three returned to their home town early in the 1920's.
Charles was the first to return and he started up in business by hiring rowing boats in Porth yr Aur and in 1927, the year their father died, Richard was fortunate in securing a contract to transport materials to and from the castle by the then Ministry of Works. On the strength of this he bought a lorry which gave birth to a successful business called "Pritchard Brothers, Removals" in partnership with his younger brother Bob. Charles also joined them and his duties were shared between boat hiring and work locally including meeting the first train to arrive at Caernarfon Station early every morning.
However, to return to the names of those who ran the Aber or Coed Helen Ferry, one will undoubtedly have realized by now that there were two persons named David Pritchard, who spent years transporting passengers across the mouth of the Seiont Estuary, which prompts the question - Which one was the original Dafydd 'R Aber to the natives of the town? Was it the father, David Pritchard, (1808 - 1884) or was it David Charles Pritchard, (1851 - 1927)? And to whom does the ditty "Mae cwch Dafydd 'R Aber ar y môr, which has been sung by generations of Caernarfon children, refer? While researching for information about this family, Councillor Richard Bonner Pritchard gave me a copy of a painting of his great grandfather and on the back of the painting the following words are inscribed:
DAVID PRITCHARD 1808 - 1884
This may hold the answer to the question and that the ditty dates back to the third or even last quarter of the 19th century. Who knows?
There are usually 4 verses to the ditty:
1) Mae cwch Dafydd 'R Abar ar y môr, mae cwch Dafydd 'R Abar ar y môr.
O mae cwch Dafydd 'R Abar, cwch Dafydd 'R Abar, O mae cwch Dafydd 'R Abar ar y môr.
2) Mae'n llawn o benwaig cochion medda nhw, mae'n llawn o benwaig cochion medda nhw, mae'n llawn o benwaig cochion, llawn o benwaig cochion, mae'n llawn o benwaig cochion medda nhw.
3) A rheini wedi drewi medda nhw, a rheini wedi drewi medda nhw, a rheini wedi drewi, rheini wedi drewi, rheini wedi drewi medda nhw.
4) Mae nhw'n ddigon da i'r Saeson medda nhw, mae nhw'n ddigon da i'r Saeson medda nhw, mae nhw'n ddigon da i'r Saeson, digon da i'r Saeson, mae nhw'n ddigon da i'r Saeson medda nhw.
and they can be translated thus:
1) Dafydd 'R Aber's boat is on the sea. Dafydd 'R Aber's boat is on the sea. O-oh! Dafydd 'R Aber's bo-at, Dafydd 'R Aber's boat, Dafydd 'R Aber's boat is on the sea.
2) It is full of red herrings, so they say, it is full of red herrings, so they say, it is full of red herrings, full of red herrings, full of red herrings so they say.
3)And they are truly stinking, so they say, they are truly stinking so they say, O-oh! they are truly stinking, they are truly stinking, they are truly stinking so they say.
4) They are good enough for the English, so they say, they are good enough for the English, so they say. They are good enough for the English, good enough for the English, good enough for the English, so they say.
© T. M. Hughes 2010