Bala - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
BALA, a township, market and assize town, and the head of a union, in the parish of Llanycil, hundred of Penllyn, county of Merioneth, North Wales, 18 miles (N. E.) from Dôlgelley, and 204 (N. W. by W.) from London; containing 1257 inhabitants. This place derives its name, which signifies "a running out," from its situation near the efflux of the Dee from the adjoining lake of Llyn Tegid. Its early history is involved in obscurity, and nothing peculiarly remarkable has been with certainty recorded of it. The high artificial mount called Tommen-y-Bala, at the south-eastern extremity of the town, is thought to have been constructed by the Romans, who built a small fortress upon its summit, to protect the pass towards the sea, and overawe the turbulent inhabitants of the district. This mount was afterwards used by the Welsh, as one of a chain of forts which they established across this portion of the principality, for the purpose of defending themselves against the invasions of the lords-marcher. A branch of the Roman Watling-street, passing from the station Mediolanum, in Montgomeryshire, to that of Heriri Mons, near Festiniog, proceeded through or very near the present town of Bala; and at the upper end of the lake, the remains of a Roman station, now called Caer Gai, are very conspicuously situated, around which a great quantity of Roman bricks lie scattered. A castle was erected here, in 1202, by Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, probably, as Mr. Pennant supposes, on or near the site of a more ancient castelet, called "Castell Gronw Bevr o Benllyn." Some vestiges of it are still traceable on the eastern side of the Dee, near the point where that river emerges from the lake. Bala was probably dependent upon the castle of Harlech, and in the reign of Edward II. was committed to the custody of Einion de Stanedon, constable of that castle: in the reign of Edward III. both these places were given in fee-farm to Walter de Manni, a distinguished military commander, who was appointed sheriff of this county for life.
The town, which consists of one wide street and a smaller one, not lighted, but well supplied with water, is situated on the road from Dôlgelley to Corwen, near the north-western extremity of the lake; and although in an unfertile district, and destitute of all the advantages derived from water-carriage, in appearance it is excelled by few towns in the principality. The surrounding country consists chiefly of wild moors and heathy mountains, from which circumstance Bala has become the general rendezvous of gentlemen resorting to this part of Wales for grouse-shooting. A reading-room has been established. There are two factories for carding wool; and Bala and its neighbourhood have for a long series of years been noted for the knitting of woollen stockings, socks, and gloves, but this manufacture has of late been on the decline: in the year 1830, 32,000 dozen pairs of stockings, 10,000 dozen pairs of socks, and 5500 dozen pairs of gloves, were made. The hosiery is distinguished for the softness of its texture, which causes it to be held in high esteem for winter wear, and universally recommended by the medical faculty. The market, which is on Saturday, is well attended; and fairs are held on the Saturday before Shrovetide, chiefly for hiring servants, and May 14th, July 10th, October 24th, and November 8th, chiefly for the sale of live stock: that in July is a great fair for lambs.
Bala was anciently a corporate town, and till about the middle of the last century appears to have exercised in some measure the privileges it had received at a very early period from various sovereigns. The earliest document extant which throws any light upon the history of the borough, is a charter bestowed by Edward II., in the fifth year of his reign, dated the 18th of February, 1311, at Windsor; in which the king grants the town to his beloved burgesses of Bala, to be held by them and their successors in fee-farm for ever, upon paying yearly to the Exchequer of the Crown at Carnarvon, the sum of £10. 2. This charter, although it does not contain any grant of liberties, yet partly implies that the place was a royal free borough. Other charters were conferred upon the inhabitants in the 17th of Edward II., 5th of Edward III., and 2nd and 20th of Richard II.; and of these, the charter of Edward II., which is a highly interesting record, founded upon due inquiry into the circumstances of the district, grants that the town shall be a free borough, and its inhabitants free burgesses, with the privilege of choosing a mayor and two bailiffs. It gives freedom from toll and other exactions as well in England as in all other lands of the king, permission to have a guild merchant with a hanse, and the usual franchises for regulating trade. It also allows a free prison within the borough, for all trespasses there, except cases of life and limb; and institutes a weekly market on Saturday, and two fairs, one on the vigil, feast, and morrow of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the other on the eve, day, and morrow of the Invention of the Holy Cross; together with other liberties and privileges of the usual kind. These valuable customs, which doubtless existed for centuries in full operation, have lately, though not within the memory of man, fallen into disuse, and the venerable borough, having in this manner lost its constitution, is now under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates. The spring assizes, and the winter and summer quarter-sessions for the county are held here; as also is a county debt-court, established in 1847, and having jurisdiction over the registration-district of Bala. The town-hall is a plain substantial building, in the principal street: attached to it is one of the county bridewells, which is under the regulation of the magistrates for the hundred, but is too small to admit of an extended system of classification.
A chapel of ease was erected by subscription, in 1811; it is a small plain structure, with a low tower surmounted by a spire. There are places of worship for Calvinistic Methodists, Independents, and Wesleyans; and the great annual meeting of the Calvinistic body in Wales, called the Bala Association, is held in the town. Academies have been established here of late years for the education of young men, connected respectively with the Calvinistic Methodists and the Independents. The Calvinistic Methodist College was founded in 1837, to educate candidates for the ministry, and prepare young men as schoolmasters: the students are at present about twenty in number. It is supported by the Calvinistic Methodist congregation in North Wales, Liverpool, and Manchester, and in part from the interest of a small fund derived from the same source. The education is free, the only expense incurred by the students being for board and lodging, which they provide for themselves in the town. Of the candidates for the ministry, a few proceed to University College, London, or the Scottish universities. The lecture-room is an apartment attached to the meeting-house; it is spacious, in good repair, and well furnished with maps, &c.: there is a library connected with the academy, containing encyclopedias, books of history, and some standard English authors, but consisting principally of works upon divinity. The Independent College was established at Llanuwchyllyn in 1842, and removed to Bala in November of the same year. Its objects are precisely similar to those of the other academy; it is supported by collections, donations, and subscriptions from the Independent body of North Wales, and by the profits of a periodical called the Dysgedydd, or "the Instructor." The students are about twelve in number; their education is quite free, and they receive £12 per annum each towards their support. Those intended for the ministry proceed to any college to which they can gain admission; some have gone to Airedale College, in Yorkshire, some to what is called the Presbyterian College, at Carmarthen, but the majority to the academy at Brecon.
A Grammar School was founded under the will, dated 1712, of Dr. Edmund Meyrick, chancellor of St. David's, who bequeathed land for the instruction of thirty poor boys of North Wales in a grammar school, and for providing each of them with clothing. The "Bishops of St. Asaph and Bangor for the time being, and the heir of Ucheldre for the time being," were appointed visiters and trustees; but it appears that the funds are now in the hands of the Principal and Fellows of Jesus' College, Oxford, who appoint the master of the school. The number of boys is thirty; the master has a salary of £80 per annum, with a house and some land, and £60 per annum are expended in clothing for the scholars, who are all chosen by the master. The value of the endowment has considerably increased of late years. In 1842 a charity school was commenced here, under the general endowment left by Dr. Williams in the last century, from which the master receives £25 per annum; and in 1843 a British School was established, which is partly supported by subscriptions and donations, but principally by the parents of the children. There are also two or three Sunday schools. The poorlaw union of which this town is the head, was formed January 10th, 1837, and comprises the five parishes and townships of Llanddervel, Llangower, Llanuwchyllyn, Llanvawr, and Llanycil; it is under the superintendence of twelve guardians, and contains a population of 6953. The Rev. T. Charles, of Jesus' College, one of the founders of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and an indefatigable promoter of Sunday schools and circulating charity schools, resided at Bala, where he died in 1814; and was interred in the parochial church. He also distinguished himself as the author of an extensive work, in the Welsh language, entitled Geiriadur Ysgrythyrol, or a "Scriptural Dictionary."
Bala lake, called also Llyn Tegid and Pimble mere, is the largest in Wales, being about four miles in length, and in some places nearly a mile in breadth; its greatest depth, which is opposite Bryn Goleu, is about forty-six yards. Its overflowings, when the wind rushes from the mountains at the upper end, occasion much damage: in stormy weather it receives a great accession of water from the mountain torrents, and rises to the height of seven or eight feet above its ordinary level, covering a considerable portion of the vales of Penllyn and Edeyrnion, and even endangering the security of the town itself. The river Dee has its source under Aran Penllyn, a high mountain at the head of the lake, and has been said by Giraldus Cambrensis, Drayton, and others, to flow through the lake without mingling its waters; as the Rhone is fabled to pass through the lake of Geneva, and the classic Alpheus through the Adriatic sea. This assertion is partly founded on the circumstance that salmon, which are plentiful in the river, are never found in the lake; while gwyniaid, which swim in shoals in the lake, are never seen, except rarely, in the river: but this may be accounted for by the instinct which all creatures exhibit, in resorting only to those haunts most congenial to their habits, and most convenient for feeding and shelter. The lake abounds with pike, perch, trout, and eels: there are also a few roach, and innumerable gwyniaid (so called from the whiteness of their scales), a species of fish found only in Alpine waters, and resembling whitings in flavour, which spawn in December, and are caught in great numbers in spring and summer. The fishery, in the thirteenth century, belonged to the abbot and monks of Basingwerk: the whole is now the property of Sir W. W. Wynn, Bart., who has a handsome villa, called Glàn Llyn, pleasantly situated upon the margin of the lake. From the summit of Tommen-yBala, at the north-eastern extremity of this fine sheet of water, the view to the south-west is exceedingly grand: on the right it is fringed by a line of rich meadows, and on the left is the bridge, under which the Dee passes; a large rocky hill, the sides of which are well clothed with wood, rises over it in picturesque beauty, and hence the eye is directed along a ridge of craggy elevations, to the lofty Arans, with their two pre-eminent summits, Aran Mowddwy and Penllyn. On the north-west soar the Arenigs, Vawr and Vach, with the cloud-encircled summit of Cader Idris terminating the prospect.
The local tradition vulgarly connected with the formation of this lake, in common with most other large pieces of water in the principality, is, that it occupies the site of the palace and grounds of a rich, haughty, and irreligious prince, whose wealth, acquired by acts of rapine and murder, was preserved by oppression and the violent exercise of arbitrary power; till at length, disregarding the warnings he had often received from a superhuman agent, he drew down upon himself the vengeance of an offended God, and his magnificent mansion was suddenly swallowed up, whilst celebrating the birth of his eldest son's first-born, and surrounded by a gay concourse of lords and ladies, whom he had invited to participate in the festivity. The towers and parapets of the palace are credulously reported to have been frequently seen, by the boatmen of former times, when the bright full moon reflected its lustre upon the surface of the unruffled waters.