The village beneath the lake

It is so very, strikingly easy to bury the distress of those by whose plight we are not directly affected.

Just as in the last quarter of the nineteenth century 37 houses, a church and two chapels, three pubs and several shops were flooded so that the good people of Liverpool could have a dependable water supply.

Visit Lake Vrynwy in Powys these days and it is serene to the point of Alpine smugness. It has its own silence, surrounded as it is by thick woodlands maintained jointly by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Severn Trent Water Authority. On a sunny day it is very blue, and birdsong abounds.

In 1871, 443 people lived in the little village of Llanwddyn. If there is a record of what happened in 1877 when the Corporation of Liverpool identified their Welsh Valley as an appropriate site for a reservoir to supply Liverpool, I have not yet read it.

I do know a few things though: I know that no-one consulted the villagers of Llanwddyn to find out if they wanted their village flooded. And I know that of those 443 people, 331 signed a petition asking for an immediate halt to the plans.

I suppose the villagers were small fry, compared to the population of a major English city.

It would not be the last time a village of few was submerged to create such a resource for the many. Chapel Celyn, drowned by the Tryweryn Reservoir, had its living casualties too, as recently as the 1950s and 1960s.

Their residents were able to record more about the trauma of losing their home.

Eurgain Prysor was only three years old when his fellow villagers began protesting. The Liverpool Echo reports his reaction: “People came to see the village before it was drowned and they used to say ‘oh, isn’t it traumatic, isn’t it awful, you’re going to lose your home, what’s going to happen, where are you going to live?’

“Well, to us as children, it was a very unsettling time. We didn’t quite realise what was happening but we knew our home would be gone, our chapel would be gone, our school would be gone, our friends would be moved to different parts.

“It was a very, very sad and traumatic time and I think if it happened today we would have counselling for trauma.”

It is well over a century since Lake Vrynwy submerged Llanwyddyn. The new village sits below the dam, and to drive around the tranquil little road that skirts the lake you would never know that at its heart lie the remains of a little village.

Change comes sometimes in great swathes, and envelops and obliterates, and human memory is a four-score-and ten affair. It occurred to me, on the azure evening I stood on the dam, in warmth and brilliant sunshine, that it is so easy, so simple and so convenient just to forget.

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9 thoughts on “The village beneath the lake

  1. It’s a shocking story, Kate, although at least partially familiar in regions where water has been the source of conflicting need. This gorgeous area you’re describing looks perfectly serene and no one unfamiliar with this story would ever dream of its past. Long gone, of course, but I really feel for those people!

  2. Why is it so impossible to create a win-win situation in these cases? Granted that the need for the dam was pressing, the needs and rights of the villagers should have been of equal importance. They should have ended up with better than they had in compensation, and if the need of the city/ies was so great, they should have paid for it. I just hope that new village was a worthwhile exchange.

    1. I agree, Col, and put it down to it being a Victorian attitude – and then found the same thing happening in the 60s. I am sure the people of Liverpool would think the exchange was a good one, though maybe the villagers would disagree.

  3. Why do we English treat the Welsh so badly, they are such wonderful people, yet they are treated, worse than second class citizens, by us! Obviously the then Prince of Wales didn’t give a damn, much more important things to think of than the welfare of some of his people.

  4. I remember going to see a very moving b/w film in the late nineteen-forties or early fifties called “The Last Days of Dolwen” about a village being flooded to make a reservoir. I was very young, but it made a lasting impression on me.

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