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Liverpool and the Welsh Reservoirs


Source: Fishlock, Trevor. Wales and the Welsh. London: Cassell & Company, 1972. Ch. 6., pp. 102-106.

Cofia Dryweryn.

Capel Celyn was a small village in the quiet Tryweryn valley in the hill country between Bala and Ffestiniog in North Wales. In and around it lived about seventy people and the community was steeped in the Welsh tradition. The people earned their merely modest living through farming, and their social life, with its strong cultural stream and chapel base, followed an old and rich pattern. The village was in the Penllyn district, the home of penillion, which is the singing of verses to the accompaniment of the harp, and there were many harps in the valley. People met for hour upon hour of singing, poetry, reading and the special verse-arts of the Welsh language. Indeed, Capel Celyn, although an obscure settlement, was a precious and rather unspoiled nugget of Welsh values.

Today, however, the name of the valley, Tryweryn, is, for many people in Wales, a shorthand expression for a whole chapter of emotions, and the word is painted on walls and bridges up and down Wales. So is the slogan Cofia Dryweryn - Remember Tryweryn. For the corporation of Liverpool, with measured arrogance, and without consulting anyone involved, announced that it would have the valley as a reservoir, and proceeded to do just that. That harps have vanished, for Capel Celyn no longer exists; farms, school, chapel, store, cottages, are at the bottom of a silent lake.

The episode of Tryweryn was a traumatic one and it is one of the keys to what has been happening in Wales in recent years. From it sprang a great anger and a hardening of resolve; for many men and women it was an awakening, the first indication that the values of Wales were in danger and were meaningless to the authorities in England; it started people thinking and, for a small group of men, it was the last straw that made them channel rage into a cold determination to strike blows for Wales with stolen gelignite and time switches. The bomb attacks on water pipelines and government offices went on for more than four years, but the reverberations of Tryweryn are being felt still. "Tryweryn", wrote Gwynfor Evans, the Welsh Nationalist Party leader, "will become a word of fateful significance for Wales. It may become as well known as a verb as Quisling has become as a noun."

The drowning of valleys in Wales is a sensitive and emotional subject. The lost battle for Tryweryn was fought for much the same kind of cause as the lost battle for Penyberth in Caernarvonshire in 1936. To many Welshmen Tryweryn was, and is, a scandal of the first order, although some people in Wales and certainly the corporation of Liverpool and the government did not see it that way at all. It was simply that Liverpool, a major city, needed water for its factories and its population of more than 600,000. These needs had to be balanced against the uprooting of a tiny village of a few dozen people in a sleepy corner of upland Wales.

It was quite obviously what course had to be taken, a regrettable course, but a fact of life in a modern industrial and thirsty society. It was expected that the noise of complaint would be softened by compensation money, the noise of protest from Wales could be explained as the work of troublemakers, and, in any case, once the legal business was tied up and the people moved out, the fuss would die away.

It did not work out like that, for the people in Wales saw the matter as one of important principle. With the Welsh tradition being everywhere eroded by economic forces and depopulation, such a culturally rich, Welsh-speaking community was of immense value, something that, however small, Wales could not afford to lose. And Liverpool's scheme would make it a total loss. People were appalled to see how vulnerable Wales was; they had expected or hoped that English authorities would consider the social aspects, would take care where they trod. Liverpool was portrayed as a bully shrugging off protests to grab a piece of land. A defence committee was formed and 125 local authorities, with trade union branches and religious and cultural organizations, gave their support, passing resolutions condemning the scheme. A majority of the Welsh Members of Parliament came out against Liverpool (twenty-seven of the thirty-six members voted against the Bill promoting the scheme at the second reading, and none voted for it). Not everyone in Wales was against, but, far from there being just a few troublemakers, it was clear that there was a large measure of united and responsible opposition to the reservoir. Indeed, Wales was united on a simple issue as never before.

Liverpool, with an attitude of pain, now indicated that the Welsh people were prepared to allow 600,000 people to go thirsty. But this was a deception. The city was getting all it needed for domestic purposes, and more, from another Welsh valley reservoir, Lake Vyrnwy. Tryweryn water was not wanted for the children and the teapots. It was wanted for industrial expansion and for re-sale at a profit. The profit motive intensified the anger within Wales.

Liverpool had earmarked Tryweryn without consulting the people, the local council of Merioneth County Council; nor would it receive a deputation. Gwynfor Evans went to Liverpool and tried to address the members of the council, but he found himself shouting against an uproar and a banging of desks, and was eventually carried out by the police. Subsequently, the people of Capel Celyn marched through Liverpool's streets and Gwynfor Evans was invited to speak to the council, this time in peace. Later, when the matter was put to the vote, 90 of the 160 councillors voted for the drowning of Trwyeryn. A Labour councillor who voted against was expelled from his party. A national conference, called by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, prepared an alternative reservoir scheme in the Tryweryn valley that would have spared the village. But it would have been more expensive. Liverpool refused to receive the representation of the conference to discuss the matter.

In Parliament, in July 1957, at the third reading of Liverpool's Bill, promoters and opponents came to an arrangement not to debate the issue and the Bill went through in a few minutes. Then it was passed by the House of Lords. "There can be no question that emotions in Wales have been aroused," said Mr. Geoffrey Lawrence, who put Liverpool's case in the Lords, "but Liverpool corporation have to take the constitution as they find it. There is no separate Welsh government. There is no separate demarcation of Wales from Englad from the point of view of water supplies." There was to be no more singing in Capel Celyn. And in Welsh Wales, certainly, there were few men less popular than Mr. Henry Brooke, then Minister for Welsh Affairs. He knew something of Welsh values but in the view of the Save Tryweryn movement he had worked only to help Liverpool. They remembered this part of one of his speeches in the Commons: "Water shortages might occur in the next few years on Merseyside and in South-West Lancashire. I cannot believe that preservation of the Welsh way of life requires us to go as far as that. I cannot believe that the Welsh people, of all people, want to stand outside the brotherhood of man to that extent."

Mr. Brooke was asked not to attend the National Eisteddfod of Wales, the only person to ever receive such a request. It was the ultimate gesture of Welsh disdain.

Many people have said to me that Tryweryn was for them a shock and a kind of landmark. It indicated that Wales had no power to create its own conditions, or to secure its particular possessions. People felt that they had been treated with contempt, and, indeed, the Western Mail stiffly remarked: "There has been every appearance of complete contempt for Welsh opinion on the part of both the Liverpool corporation and of Parliament."

The episode had two effects on the nationalist party. In the short term it threatened to tear it in two. Out of the anger and resentment of defeat there grew an emotional move among some nationalists to retaliate with dramatic gestures and the talk was of using "non-constitutional" methods, by which they presumably meant putting dynamite under some important piece of public property. The split of opinion was very serious for a time, but the moderate view prevailed as anger cooled. The leaders of Plaid Cymru were determined that the party should remain a political one and knew that, had the people who were for physical force had their way, the party would have been broken. There was no immediate effect on the strength of the party after Tryweryn, no rush to join the nationalist ranks, but, as the ripples spread, Plaid Cymru's strength grew. In the long term, Tryweryn, which crystallized the Welsh situation socially and politically for many people, put more bone into the nationalist movement.

Although tempers gradually grew calmer within the nationalist party a few young Welshment still burned with the idea of hitting back. In September 1962 two men opened the top of an oil tank on the Tryweryn dam site and released 1,000 gallons. In the small houes of 10 February 1963, a transformer supplying electricity was blown up and a university student was subsequently imprisoned for causing the explosion. Shortly afterwards, an attempt was made to blow up a pylon carrying power cables to the dam.

In October 1963 the Tryweryn Dam and reservoir, which cost (pound sign) 3,700,000 was opened by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool. It was not a happy occasion. There was stone throwing, shouting and fireworks. But there was a little amusement for the Welsh people there. The sound of Welsh voices, lifted in song, drifted in the air. It sounded rather like a hymn and the Lord Mayor and the councillors and corporation officials listened in respectful silence. It was indeed an old hymn tune and the words were repeated over and over by a group of youths...

"Twll di (with roof accent above)n pob Sais..."

Which, being translated, is "Arseholes to all Englishmen".

· Please delete all my posts
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does any body have any info about diving this resevoir as it is only about 40 minutes from me dads house and would be nice to dive somewhere we went as kids.

any help greatly appreciated
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