ConsultantWyn ThomasHistorian

50 years on

21 October 2015 marks half a century since one of the most controversial construction projects in modern Welsh history was officially opened.

In 1965, Capel Celyn in north Wales became notorious as the village drowned to give another nation water. But Tryweryn also ignited political change in Wales, and provided a focus for the growing devolution movement.

20 December 1955

A new reservoir

Alex Dellow / Stringer, © Getty Images

A group of people at the village of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn Valley (copyright Getty)

A group of people at the village of Capel Celyn, 1950s.

The Liverpool Daily Post reported that the Liverpool Corporation intended to flood Capel Celyn, a small village in rural north Wales.

The scheme involved damming the valley at one end to form what is now the Llyn Celyn reservoir. The 67 Welsh-speaking residents of the area were shocked by the news.

Tryweryn: Footage of Capel Celyn before it was flooded

1956

A village up in arms

Photographer Geoff Charles © LLGC/NLW

The Plaid Cymru "Keep Tryweryn" Rally at Bala, October 4, 1956.

The Plaid Cymru 'Keep Tryweryn' rally at Bala, 4 October 1956.

The quiet village sprung into action setting up a committee. The Tryweryn Defence Committee was established to oppose the drowning.

Other branches set up included the Capel Celyn Defence Committee and the Liverpool branch of the Tryweryn Defence Committee. On 7 November 1956 the Committee sent a delegation of three – Gwynfor Evans, the president of Plaid Cymru, Rev R Tudur Jones and Cllr Dafydd Roberts – to address Liverpool City Council. But Gwynfor Evans was shouted down and the three were escorted from the chamber.

PCW: The campaign to save Tryweryn

21 November 1956

Taking to the streets

Photographer Geoff Charles © LLGC/NLW

Protest in Liverpool, 21 November 1956. Charles, Geoff, 1909-2002 © LLGC/NLW

Protest in Liverpool attempting to stop the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley, 21 November 1956.

Capel Celyn and local supporters took to the streets of Liverpool during a second meeting with the council.

Liverpool had a population of 750,000 people in 1955 and would soon require 65 million gallons of water per day. Post-war Liverpool had some of the worst slums in Britain and the city argued for more water for improved sanitation. This was not the first time Liverpool had looked to Wales for water. Eighty years earlier they had turned to Lake Vyrnwy in mid Wales for drinking water. Llanwddyn was drowned, losing two chapels, three pubs, 10 farms and 37 houses.

PCW: Geoff Charles, photojournalist

The reception we had was awful. People were spitting at us and throwing rotten tomatoes at us, and it was an awful disappointment.

Eurgain Prysor, three years old when inhabitants of Capel Celyn took to the streets of Liverpool

19 December 1956

The bill goes to Parliament

Alex Dellow / Stringer, © Getty Images

Reservoir threat  (Getty images)

Tenant farmer and local councillor David Roberts (right) explain the extent of the proposed Llyn Celyn reservoir on 27 February 1957.

Liverpool Corporation's Tryweryn Reservoir Bill was deposited to parliament as a private member's bill.

In January 1957, it began its journey through the parliamentary system. By obtaining authority through an Act of Parliament, Liverpool City Council avoided having to gain consent from the Welsh planning authorities.

3 July 1957

The go-ahead

Photographer Geoff Charles, © LLGC/NLW

Work on the Tryweryn dam, and views of a forlorn valley

English-only signpost reminding the Capel Celyn residents of the fate of their village, 14 November 1963.

The focus switched to London. The bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on 3 July 1957.

It was passed by 166 votes to 117 without any support from the 36 Welsh MPs. But while 24 Welsh MPs voted in opposition, the rest either abstained or didn’t vote at all. The bill would allow the compulsory purchase of land to build a reservoir to supply water to England. The construction was a five-year project costing around £17m.

22 September 1962

Resentment grows

Photographer Geoff Charles, © LLGC/NLW

John William Evans and Mabel Evans, 1961. C NLW

John and Mabel Evans standing outside their home for the last time, 27 July 1961. They left for a home provided for by Liverpool Corporation.

Indignation at the proposed scheme was felt beyond the Welsh-speaking village. David Pritchard and David Walters from Gwent damaged site equipment.

They were arrested and fined £50 each, paid for by well-wishers. Yet it would be wrong to say that everyone opposed the flooding. Some Welsh industrialists believed it would regenerate the north-west Wales economy. Bala Town Council passed a motion supporting the construction of the reservoir, believing it would provide much-needed employment. While many of those forced to leave their homes were angry and traumatised, others accepted the opportunity to leave for better housing.

How reservoir of anger 'fuelled nationalist cause'

1962

Moving out

Photographer Geoff Charles © LLGC/NLW

The last days of Capel Celyn School, 1 November, 1962.  © LLGC/NLW

The last days of Capel Celyn School, 1 November 1962.

Homes in the village of Capel Celyn were demolished as the planned flooding drew near. The fight had lasted eight years.

The 67 people who lived in Capel Celyn were displaced. A large crowd turned up for the final service at the chapel and the school, Ysgol Capel Celyn, which had educated generations of the local community, closed its doors for the last time.

BFI Player: Archive 'Tryweryn, the Story of a Valley'PCW: Leaving Capel CelynPictures: A village before the drowning

10 February 1963

Dramatic protest

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BBC News footage from 1965 featuring presenter Vincent Kane reporting on the tensions during the building of the dam.

While the reservoir dam in Cwm Tryweryn was under construction, it was the actions of three young men that were making the headlines.

Emyr Llywelyn Jones, a student from Aberystwyth, Owain Williams, a cafe owner, and John Albert Jones, a former RAF policeman from Pwlheli, placed an explosive device at the base of an electrical transformer, at the construction site. The resulting explosion caused serious damage. Llewelyn and Williams were both jailed for 12 months and Jones was placed on three years’ probation. The court cases drew crowds of supporters to Bala.

The blast was to awaken a national consciousness and the fallout was felt for decades afterwards.

Wyn Thomas, historian

21 October 1965

Opening ceremony

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Manon Rhys was at the opening ceremony and describes the emotional impact as the water was turned on. (From Tryweryn: 50 Years On, BBC One, 2015.)

The Llyn Celyn reservoir is officially declared open, with a ceremony laid on to mark the occasion.

The dignitaries from Liverpool were present, but the Welsh establishment stayed away. Alderman Sefton from Liverpool Corporation was to address the crowd in a planned 45-minute ceremony. But it didn’t last more than three minutes as protesters cut the microphone wires and ran down the escarpment to disrupt the opening ceremony proceedings.

Tryweryn: 50 Years On

These people had drowned this village and driven people from their homes, and they were suddenly arriving to have a tea party.

Alun Ffred Jones, who was a 15-year-old boy at the time.

Late 1960s

Appeasement?

BBC

Jim Griffiths, Labour politician

James Griffiths, first ever secretary of state for Wales.

Certain concessions to Wales were made following the building of the Llyn Celyn reservoir.

The position of secretary of state for Wales was created, the DVLA opened in Swansea, the first Welsh Language Act was passed and the Royal Mint moved to Llantristant all before 1970. There was also a huge investment in steel production at Llanwern.

Archive news: Building the Capel Celyn memorial, 1967

19 October 2005

An apology

Remember Tryweryn graffiti

'Remember Tryweryn': the Welsh language graffiti recalling the drowning of Capel Celyn in 1965.

Exactly 40 years since the reservoir was opened, Liverpool City Council issued an apology for Tryweryn.

They released a statement in which it apologised for 'any insensitivity shown' by the previous council's endorsement of the proposal to flood Cwm Tryweryn. However, for many the devil was in the detail, as it failed to apologise for actually flooding the valley.

Blog: Why Tryweryn should be remembered

For any insensitivity by our predecessor council at that time, we apologise...

Liverpool City Council, 2005

17 October 2015

March to remember

The last class of Capel Celyn school reunited in 2015.

Former pupils from the last class of Capel Celyn School reunited in 2015.

In 2015, over 400 people attend a rally to mark 50 years since the creation of the Llyn Celyn reservoir.

Former residents of Capel Celyn, who were children at the time of the flooding, were among the crowd who attended the march.

Tryweryn: March to remember flooded villageDrone footage of reservoir 50 years on