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New event celebrates the Welsh woman who taught more than 1,000 mariners how to navigate the seas in the 19th century

26 May 2022 3 minute read
Ellen Edwards

A special event has been organised in Caernarfon to honour the life and work of Ellen Edwards, who taught more than 1,000 mariners how to navigate the seas at her nautical school in Caernarfon in the 19th century.

Born in Amlwch, a daughter to Captain William Francis, who left the sea in 1814 to open a school of navigation in Amlwch, Ellen continued in her father’s footsteps, moving to the port town of Caernarfon in 1830, opening her school of navigation at 34 New Street.

Drawing students from a wide area, including Caernarfon, Anglesey and the Llŷn Peninsular, every year from 1850 -1879  about 30 of her students passed the examinations of the Marine Boards of England, Scotland and Ireland.

There wasn’t a board for Wales at that time and the nearest examination centre to the school was in Dublin.

‘Clever woman’

She was recognised in her lifetime as “a clever woman, highly accomplished in the art of navigation, who had taught some of the best seamen to command large vessels”.

When she reached the age of 70 the Caernarfon Harbour Trust lobbied the Government for her to receive an honorary pension.

However, she received only £75 from the Royal Bounty Fund.

At the time of her death, aged 79, at home in 13 Tithebarn Street, a newspaper commented: “She was the most successful seamen’s teacher in North Wales for the long period of 60 years.”

In spite of her achievements, very little is known about Ellen’s life and work, and a Caernarfon-based social enterprise hopes to go some of the way to put this right, with a special event being organised to celebrate Ellen’s life and work.

Gŵyl Ellen (Ellen’s Festival) will be held at Lle Arall, the community events room of Llety Arall, a community enterprise which offers accommodation in the heart of Caernarfon.

The festival has been described as an “afternoon to celebrate one of Caernarfon’s forgotten heroines” and will be held this Sunday (May 29) between 1 and 4.

Immense contribution

Osian Owen is organising the event on behalf of Lle Arall.

He said: “Despite Ellen’s immense contribution to the industrial history of this area, she is barely present in the local area’s public conscience, as opposed to, say, David Lloyd George.

“We hope to go some of the way to righting that wrong with an afternoon of celebration of Ellen.

“The festival opens with Elin Tomos, a historian that specialises in local industrial history, notably women’s part in that history.

Elin will be joined in conversation with Aled Hughes, the BBC Radio Cymru presenter who’s morning programme often focuses on hidden aspects of Welsh history.

Sunday’s event will also feature a set of Welsh, nautical-themed folk music from Gwilym Bowen Rhys, and a look at Merched y Môr, a 2013 book documenting Welsh women’s part in the country’s maritime history, from 1750 to the present day.

If you are interested in following Gŵyl Ellen via the livestream you can book by contacting Lle Arall on 01286662907 or [email protected].

No registration is needed for those attending the physical event, and payment is on a “what you can afford/if you can afford” basis.

You can receive further updates on the event here…..

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Ed Jones
Ed Jones
1 year ago

What a woman. More like this please, diolch yn fawr iawn.

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