Category Archives: out & about

History of the Shipwreck on Rhossili Beach, South Wales

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When I was living in the Swansea Valley, one of my favourite walks was the 3 mile length of Rhossili Beach, on the Gower Coast.  The remains of the shipwreck are often submerged by water, but when the tide is out they are a reminder of the dangers that often occurred during the days when wooden ships sailed the seas.  

The Gower Coast, just a few miles outside of Swansea, is a very popular tourist area, and I’m sure some of my readers will have visited it.  I have never heard the full story of the shipwreck so when I found this article on Wales Online,  I thought you may like to read it too!

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Almost completely submerged in the heavy wet sand, the rotting timbers of the Helvetia shipwreck rise out of a Gower beach like ribs from an unknown animal.

Helvetia was once a proud ship: her sails billowing as she scudded across the Atlantic Ocean and her deck a hubbub of activity as sailors shouted to each other in the winds.

Now all that remains is a carcass, visible only at low tide, as the ever-hungry sea tries to reclaim her timbers to the deep blue.

The remains of the Helvetia, a Norwegian oak barque, have become a landmark of Rhossili, attracting photographers from all over keen to catch a glimpse of the relic from a bygone era.

(Image: South Wales Evening Post)

Standing high on the cliffs looking down on the bay, the shipwreck is the only thing that punctuates the golden sands, which stretch for three miles into the distance.

But what is her story, and how did a ship, originally from Horten in Norway, come to rest on Welsh sand?

Stormy seas

On a stormy evening on October 31, in 1887, the Helvetia arrived off the coast at Mumbles.

Captained by a man named Stevenson, she had sailed from Cambeltown, New Brunswick on the east coast of Canada, loaded with 500 tonnes of timber and bound for Swansea Harbour.

According to the late Ron Tovey, in his “Chronology of Bristol Channel shipwrecks”, the crew were five miles from her final destination, where Stevenson ordered for “signals to be burnt” to guide them into the harbour.

But a “fresh breeze” sprang up from the South East, forcing the crew to stay where they were for that night.

Abandon ship

By the next morning, the winds had grown stronger, blowing the oak-constructed barque of the Helvetia down the Bristol Channel.

Disaster struck as she hit the dangerous sandbank of Helwick Sands, a good 10 miles away from the harbour.

With the next turbulent swell, she escaped the shallow waters, but was swept around Worm’s Head and into Rhossili Bay.

Stephenson took the decision to drop anchor here and was taken ashore by the coastguard.

He refused to abandon his ship altogether, fearing looters might try to strip her of her cargo. He ordered his crew to stay aboard the barque for the night.

But by nightfall, as the incessant wind reached galeforce, the Helvetia could not be stayed and her anchor was ripped free from the sand.

(Image: South Wales Evening Post)

As she strayed perilously close to the expansive sands of Rhossili beach, the decision was reluctantly made to abandon the ship.

Shipwreck

The next morning, when Stephenson and his crew returned to the beach, they discovered the tortured wreck of their ship.

She had come to rest upon the sands, the remains of her wooden cargo scattered all around her on the beach.

During the following weeks, the timber was collected from the beach and gathered for auction sale.

South Wales timber merchants bought it at a bargain price, planning to take it off Rhossili by ship in the summer months.

The wreck was sold cheaply to a local man, who intended to strip the precious copper keel from the vessel.

But before he got the chance, the Helvetia had already sunk into the sand. Local rumour suggests he had to settle for salvaging the ship’s deckboards, which he used for the floor in his kitchen.

(Image: South Wales Evening Post)
(Image: South Wales Evening Post)

Anna Stevens, who lives in Llangennith and works at the King’s Head Hotel, has collected a whole file of information on the Helvetia.

“I started to research the history of the King’s Head, and that’s when I came across the stories about the Helvetia shipwreck,” she said.

“I have never heard about whether wood from the Helvetia did ever end up in the local buildings. I don’t know if that is merely rumour or local hearsay.

“I do know that wood from another shipwreck, the infamous Dollar Ship, was used when that ran aground off the Llangennith coast. The spoils were used to build Dollar’s Cottage, a small cottage in the village.”

Unceremoniously stripped of anything that had any value, the Helvetia has lain on Rhossili ever since.

A tragic sequel

In the springtime after the disaster, a steamboat from Llanelli called The Cambria was used to retrieve the timber.

A big ocean swell, combined with low tides, almost caused the boat to capsize. Only escaping certain wreckage with help from the coastguard, The Cambria lost her anchor which was dragged back over the sands to the corner of the bay at low tide.

Returning some months later to retrieve the lost anchor, The Cambria’s master, John Hopkins, sent a boat ashore with some day-tripping landlubbers.

After spending the day at ‘The Ship Inn’, they finally retrieved the anchor.

Unfortunately, the weight of it, accompanied by the weight of the six rescuers, proved too much for the boat. It capsized and all six men were thrown into the ocean. Only one of the men made it to the shore alive.

The shifting sands and relentless tides on Rhossili Beach still do their utmost to reclaim The Helvetia.

One day, she won’t be there.

But as long as her prow continues to rise high and proud out of the sand, she will always attract photographers from far and wide.

List of Craft Shows & Events in UK

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A few years ago I put together a list of events for Crafters on this blog under the tab of craft events, but unfortunately it was too complicated to keep it up, altho you can  still find the old dates and click on the links to see the current dates etc.

There does seem to be a lot going on this year, and so I have copied the listings from two different sources – hence the change of style half way down! – so do have a look and see if there is something that catches your fancy.

UK CRAFT SHOWS & EVENTS

Take a look at the fantastic range of events taking place from August to November
The British Wool Show 2018 
Whatever your chosen craft there will be exciting treasures for you to discover as you explore the stands at the show.
York Auction Centre, Murton Lane, Murton, York
YO19 5GF
10th – 11th August 2018
Click here for more information
Festival of Quilts
Visit Europe’s leading quilt show where you can view over 1,000 amazing quilts as well as stocking up on fabric and other quilting suppliers from the 300+ exhibitors.
NEC, Birmingham
9th – 12th August 2018
Click here for more information
Henley Handmade Fair
Explore marquees and outdoor markets filled with handmade jewellery, homewares, clothing and more – all lovingly created by specialist Craftspeople.
Stonor Park Henley on Thames RG9 6HF Oxfordshire
24th – 27th August 2018
Click here for more information
Southern Wool Show
Visit wonderful stands selling a wide range of products, workshops and free demonstrations allowing people to share their passion and skills for woolly arts and crafts.
Newby Racecourse, Newby, RG14 7PN
1st September 10am to 4pm
Click here for more information
Great Northern Needlecraft & Quilt Show
Patchwork and quilting exhibition and needlecraft with trade stands selling all items within the needlecraft trade.
The Great Yorkshire Showground, Harrogate, HG2 8QZ
31st August – 2nd September 2018
Click here for more information
The Creative Craft Show
Stitching, Sewing & Hobbycrafts is where you’ll discover ideas, inspiration and all the supplies you could ever dream of! Discover new products and innovations, watch demonstrations and take part in workshops.
EventCity, Manchester, M41 7TB
6th – 8th September 2018
Click here for more information
Perth Festival of Yarn 2018 
Bringing together independent dyers, farmer, small-holders, knitters, spinners, felters and weavers
Dewars Centre, Glover St, Perth PH2 0TH
8th – 9th September 2018
Click here for more information
The Handmade Fair
The Handmade Fair is brought to you by Kirstie Allsopp and is all about appreciating the beauty of handmade, and learning the skills to become a maker yourself! |
The Green, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, KT8 9BU
14th – 16th September 2018
Click here for more information

Cornish Yarn Festival

15 & 16 September 2018, 10am to 4pm St John’s Hall, Penzance

http://www.cyfonline.biz

Shetland Wool Week

22 – 30 September 2018

A busy week dedicated to celebrating Shetland wool and textile heritage.

Includes classes, talks, drop-ins, art. See website for the full events listing.

shetlandwoolweek.com

Masham Sheep Fair

The Wool Event, Masham Sheep Fair

Saturday 29 Sep and Sunday 30 Sep 2018, Masham Town Hall

Craft market and fleece stalls, specialising in British wool to compliment the sheep-related events that fill the square of Masham over the weekend.

http://www.mashamsheepfair.com

Yarndale

Yarndale

29 and 30 September 2018, Skipton Auction Mart, North Yorkshire

For you if you love yarn and are passionate about all things woolly. It aims to celebrate the beauty and diversity of wool, cotton, linen and silk fibres in all their forms.

yarndale.co.uk

Bakewell Wool Gathering

Bakewell Wool Gathering

Bakewell Agricultural Centre Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 October

An event for wool lovers in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales.

There will be exhibitors, demonstrations of fibre crafts and a fleece stand selling plenty of local fleece.

bakewellwool.co.uk/

West Wales Wool Show 2018

West Wales Wool Show 2018

Saturday October 6, Queen’s Hall and Plas Hyfryd Hotel, Narberth, Pembrokeshire

A celebration of all things woolly. From beautifully hand crafted items, clothing and footwear to knitting wool, fleece and all the equipment needed to make at home. Demonstrations run throughout the day with stall holders sharing their skills and knowledge with visitors plus wool skill workshops such as felting.

westwaleswoolshow.weebly.com

Kendal Wool Gathering

Kendal Wool Gathering

Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th of October

Kendal Wool Gathering mixes demonstrations, fun activities and displays, all connected to the cloth on which the town’s wealth was built.

Stands and stalls representing all aspects of commercial wool products, including carpets, looms, spinning wheels and crafts will be on display at a large unit at Kendal Leisure Centre. Outside there will be livestock, walks and talks. Linked fun events take place throughout the Kendal.

www.kendalwoolgathering.co.uk

Nottingham Yarn Expo

Nottingham Yarn Expo

Nottingham Conference Centre Goldsmith Street Entrance, Nottingham. NG1 4BU

Workshops Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 November. Market place Sunday 11 November

https://www.nottinghamyarnexpo.com

Sheep Shearing in the UK

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Following on from my previous post – the video of shearing a shetland sheep in USA – I thought I’d add a couple of my old photos of sheep shearing, taken about 30 years ago!  I can’t remember where I took them – somewhere in South Wales.

 

 

These are scans of the A6 sepia postcards I published of the original photos – which is why they aren’t very sharp.  The sheep were being sheared in a field, and they were penned to make it easier to do the shearing as quickly as possible.

I did a search for shearing in the UK, to get a bit more info on when shearing is done here, and found this useful piece, oddly enough, published under the name of Sheep Shearing in the UK by Indie Farmer.

 

 

These are a couple of colour photos from that site.

And this is the first part of the blog – written in July 2014

The sheep shearing season in the UK (roughly mid May to mid July) is pretty much finished now, so farmers will be pleased that one difficult and time consuming job is over for another year, and the sheep will be happy to have got rid of their thick fleeces in this hot weather.

Shearing requires both skill and a lot of hard, physical work in hot summer conditions.  Some farmers shear their own sheep but many, especially those with large flocks (anything over a few hundred sheep) hire specialist shearing gangs to do the work for them.  Shearing gangs typically have three to eight members, and travel the country going from farm to farm, shearing every day during the season.  It is a hard life but pay can be good, about £2 a sheep and a good shearer can shear 200 sheep per day.  When the UK shearing season is over, the shearing gangs often travel to other countries where the shearing season is at a different time of year, in what is known as ‘the shearing circuit’, travelling from the UK to Norway, the USA, the Falklands, New Zealand, Australia, and pretty much anywhere that you can find plenty of sheep!  It is a very tough, hard working and hard drinking lifestyle, but it’s a good way to see the world, have fun and make some money.

Wool used to be where the main profit was in sheep farming, with meat as a useful sideline.  Many of the great Cathedrals and castles of the middle ages were built using the profits from the wool trade.  The Lord Speaker in the House of Lords still sits on a ceremonial Woolsack to represent the importance of wool to the economy in former times.  Now, however, sheep farmers make their main profit from meat, with wool being a very minor sideline.

It’s always useful to know a bit more about where your wool comes from!  Especially for spinners who are carding and spinning the raw fleeces!

PS. PLUG!

wingham-carders-standard-pair_Fotor

pair of standard hand carders – 72 pt

I sell hand carders that can deal with raw fleeces and all types of wool fibres – and also are quite useful as brushes for sheep and other animals if you are tidying up your stock for Agricultural Shows.  The current listings can be found if you click on the links below.

Listed on julzcraftstore.com here

USE THE COUPON CODE  customer10%off  at the checkout to get 10% off your order.

Listed on etsy here

Listed on ebay here

A Wonderful Vintage Straw Baler: at Llandysul Agricultural Show

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Yes, I know this is a total change of subject!

I went to Llandysul Agricultural Show yesterday, and it was the best organised show I’ve been to, beautifully laid out, with plenty of room for all the animals and their owners transport.  The weather was warm and  the views of the hills around the area, gave it a very relaxed feel.  Unfortunately for the organisers, it wasn’t as full of visitors as they’d have liked.

I “got into” agricultural shows when I first moved from London to Ystalyfera, and found myself co-opted as “official photographer” of the Swansea Valley Show – which unfortunately is no longer held.

If you happen to share my enthusiasm – there’s quite a lot of my photos of various shows taken over the years, on my rather neglected other blog  “The Spare”

You can find Sennybridge Show HERE  and HERE (kids in fancy dress on their ponies) and a collection of my favourites HERE

fullsizeoutput_273The straw baler is powered here by running the tractor connected to the 1948 machine through the long ‘canvas band’ which turns the wheels.  I’m not sure what the original power source was – all I can say is that it makes a very satisfying mesmerising racket!

In this demonstration, the straw is in the white sacks on the ground and thrown up to the man at the top who empties them into the hopper.

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(PS: after I published this I had a thought – it must have been a thresher with a straw baler, cos that big piece of machinery wasn’t made just to ‘straighten straw’!  – I just assumed it was a baler cos that was what it was doing at the time – and there wasn’t any information board in front of the machine – apologies!)

Which comes out “combed” at the other end.  The man who was making sure the straw got into the next part of the process, has stood in the wrong place, so he’s got straw on his back instead.  However, its a great picture to show where the straw is coming from!  It then goes thro’ the actual baler, and gets compacted into the familiar shape of a straw bale – and I think – the bale is automatically tied with twine to keep it in shape.

I did manage to have a quick word with the owner as they were packing up the machine, near the end of the show, and he told me it was a 1948 machine that he actually brought down from Scotland, as the machine was never used in Wales, because it was too expensive.  He bought it for £6,000 about 5 years ago and had to do a fair bit of work on it to get it running again!

It must be a huge job, transporting it anywhere – just wondering how he even got it to the Show Field!  It attracted a lot of attention from the visitors.

A few more pictures – I didn’t try to cover the whole show, there were also cows & sheep and dogs etc etc as well as a craft tent and the all important food and beer tents!

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