By the Banks of the Rheidol

Trefechan and the Turkeys

For those who are not aware, Trefechan is the area of Aberystwyth that lies across the harbour from the town of Aberystwyth, underneath pen dinas. These days, it hosts the fire station and the marina, but is mostly residential.

For reasons that are not officially recorded, people from Trefechan have been historically called Turks or Turkeys and Trefechan itself, on occasion, Turkey Town. The reasons were not plain to me when I wrote ‘By the Banks of the Rheidol’. Indeed, Gwen is heard to say ‘They call us Turkeys, but nobody knows why.’

Following a recent conversation, some theories were put to me and I felt it would be as good a time as any to explore them, so maybe I can make up for it in the sequel!

Aberystwyth harbour was important in the time of sail and certainly before the coming of railways in 1865. The road to anywhere was long, slow, laborious and riddled with toll-booths. the capacity and speed of a cart along the bumpy hillsides of the Cambrian Mountains, made it a slow, expensive cargo option. In comparison, the holds of a sailing ship offered bulk transport of goods. Naturally, the heart of a coastal town would be around its harbour.

Aberystwyth harbour had two quaysides. The town end made a harbour wall, protecting the sea from the river Rheidol. At the end of the harbour, towards the castle, ships were once built at Rofawr. The harbour side was used by brigs and fishing boats and small steamers. Goods, including fish and passengers were loaded and unloaded, The heavier industry tended to be on the quaysides to the south of the river, which lay under Pen Dinas, up to where the Ystwyth had been diverted into the harbour at Pen-yr-Angor. Lime kilns bedecked the shor for  burning the stone to use as fertiliser. Lead ore was delivered for export and many other trades were serviced in the less built up area . Consequently the south end of the harbour was built up with heavy industry; ropemakers, foundries, breweries and smelters for a while on the hill above. As such, the area had a large amount of industrial chimneys.

The welsh word for chimney is Simnai, adopted from the english ‘chimney’ (which is in turn adopted from the French word ‘cheminee’), The word is pronounced as such that ‘ai’ is like the Scottish ‘aye’. However, industrial chimneys are taller, to take the noxious fumes out of the land and away into the higher levels of atmosphere. These are towers, the welsh word for which is ‘Tŵr‘, pronounced in English phonetics as ‘Toor’

Add to that, the Welsh word for Quay, which is ‘Cei’ (pronounced ‘Kay’) and you get Twr Cei (‘Toor Kay’). Another option is the Welsh word for field, which is ‘Cae’ (pronounced K-aye, rhyming again with the scottish Aye) Twr Cae. The theory has a very plausible ring to it.

The other theory is a Turkish ship once pulled into harbour and the exceptionally fertile sailors made their acqaintance with the local female population. It’s not impossible. My branch of my father’s family is reputed to descend from the offspring of an illicit liaison between a Spanish sailor and a Barmouth farmer’s wife. However, that was one example and for a whole town to be labelled as such, would have taken a multitude of ships or some very prolific sailors.

By Geraint Roberts

Stuck in a limbo and desperate to do something meaningful, what to do? That is where writing began for me. A creative way of expressing myself and a chance to harness my wondering imagination. I close my eyes and I'm there. Wish I'd picked 'there' as a warm sunny day on a sandy beach, with the waves gently lapping on the shore...but I have to let the story load in my mind, then watch it unfold, wherever it may be. Currently I'm on a windy bridge, or a Devon beach, or a Cornish ti mine, or a submarine, or looking towards a Hebridean port...

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