The Harbour

Some of the earliest records of ship movements from Amlwch are recorded in the Beaumaris Port account book for 1730. Two vessels from Conwy, the Cotton and the Pembroke are recorded as carrying Oak and Alder timber from Amlwch.

In 1748 Lewis Morris a custom officer produced a map of the North Wales coast for the Admiralty. He described the haven at Amlwch :-
“I do not think it worthwhile to publish a plan of this place as it is now, because it is no more than a cove between two steep rocks where a vessel hath not room to wind, even at high water. But a large vessel might be saved here in case of necessity, provided the mouth of the harbour can be discovered which is now difficult for a stranger.” To aid in navigation he proposed ” Two white houses, for landmarks, one each side of the harbour’s mouth, would make the entrance conspicuous to any stranger, the east mouse , a small island near the place being a good direction until you come close to shore”

Lewis Morris also recorded that vessels came to Amlwch to load corn, butter and cheese and that the Liverpool Pilot boats lie afloat to be ready to meet any vessels in the offing.

The steep gorse lined sides made it difficult to berth. However, in 1750 a 15 ton sloop called Nancy from Dulas is recorded as being tied up to the gorse bushes at the east side of the creek. The fee for using this type of mooring was a quart of beer to the owner of Bodednyfed estate.

By 1766 Iron links had been set into the rock in place of the gorse bushes. A charge of 6d was made for every ship’s rope which was attached to the links. This fee was payable at the “thatched roof inn known as Bellas Inn, which was situated near the old labour exchange.

In 1775 John Thomas wrote ” History of the Island of Anglesey” and described the harbour thus :-
“Amlwch harbour in the North West part of Anglesey, is a small cove, formed as it were by an excavation of a large rock, the extension of which, as far as navigable, we compute, without measurement, to be 40 pearches, and from side to side, which are uncommonly steep, no more than 5 pearchs. When the tide is in, ’tis here nothing strange to see men fishing while they stand on the brim of the cavitation. The harbour is much frequented by small sloops, Here the Liverpool pilot boats usually moor, to be ready to give assistance to such vessels as are unacquainted with the coast”

The rediscovery of Copper at Mynydd Parys in 1762 resulted in the need to develop the port to export goods and import raw materials. In 1770 Nicholas Bayly paid £13/19/7 to a workman for the making or modification of copper receiving bins and a storehouse at Amlwch port.
However only two small ships each carrying 16 tons of ore left for the smelters at Flint but timber and bricks and old iron was imported for use at the mines. (MMS2242). By 1772, 970 tonnes of ore a year were being exported.

A map of the Bod Ednyfed and Glanllyn estates which bounded the port, drawn by Richard Owen in 1780 shows that some buildings had already been built at the far landward section of the eastern side of the port. These building backed right up to the port to allow for vessel loading. A small pier was also built by the Parys mining company in 1782 at a cost of £7000. At the same time the company was trying to purchase or lease the land around the port to try and develop it further. This pier was later removed as part of a further development of the port.

Nicolas Bayly of the Mona mine had a 60-foot quay on land leased at Amlwch to export his copper ore from the mine to Warrington for smelting. However this quay was badly in need of repair and loading from it cost twice as much as from the Parys quay.

Ships like the Speedwell of Pwllheli, Morning star of Conwy, Molly of Cemlyn the Providence of Caernarvon, The Blessing of Aberystwyth, and the Jenny of Amlwch were among those who took cargoes in 1770 & 1771 to the Warrington Copper & Brass company. Each less than 30 tons to enable them to use the facilities at Amlwch.
In 1771 twenty-three different vessels took a total of 2236 tons of ore from Amlwch. The heaviest cargo was that of William and Jane who took 10 cargoes of 70 tons each. While the lightest was Sea Horse with 3 cargoes of 16 tons each.
In 1775 two hundred and two tons of copper ore were shipped for Sir Nicholas Bayly for Neath in five vessels, William and Jane, Peggy, Providence, Happy Return and William and Mary.
In the late 1780s the mine owners had made a small investment in 36 vessels for the copper trade and were doing their best to encourage masters to bring their ships to Amlwch for the copper trade.

Amlwch Port by John Smith 1790s

In 1778 Pennant wrote ” the port is no more than a chasm between two rocks, running far into the land and dry at low water, into which sloops run and lie secure to receive their landing”
In 1786 the Amlwch Shipping Company was formed. Its Managers were John Price the Mona Mine agent and Stephen Roose of the Parys Mine. The company had an interest in the following vessels :-

Vessel NameMasterDetails
EagleOwen MathiasRhuddlan,1786 76 ton Brig
MonaJames EyresLiverpool,1786,94 ton Brig
EleanorWilliam WilliamsRed Wharf,1786,81 ton Brig
MaryJames RooseCaernarvon,1784,77Ton Brig
San PareilWilliam HughesPwllheli,1783,61 ton Sloop
AmlwchRowland OwenBeaumaris,1786,76 ton Brig
KittyJohn KackayLiverpool,1785,83 tons,Sloop
PortlandJohn PritchardPwllheli,1778,83 ton sloop

These vessels were purpose built for the copper trade in the previous 2 years and where larger than those used in the trade before. The owners of these vessels were some of the mine managers and traders involved with the developing copper trade.
It has been estimated that 70 vessels were involved in the copper trade between Amlwch and Swansea in the three years following the formation of the Amlwch Shipping Company.
The port records for 1792 show that “Beaumaris & Amlwch” received 327 ships with a gross tonnage of 13287 tons. This compares with say Swansea which received 96 ships and 5521-ton gross in the same year.

Harbour entrance by Thomas Rowlandson 1797

With the rapid increase in trade it was inevitable that the Harbour at Amlwch would have to be improved. In 1793 an Act of Parliament was passed to “Enlarge, deepen, cleanse, improve and regulate the Harbour of Amlwch” . A 28 member Trustee body was set up to control activities in the Harbour.
The Trust set about improving the eastern side of the harbour. It has been estimated that 20,000 tons of rock was blasted away to produce a level floor some 400 feet long and 60 feet wide. The stone removed was used to build a small pier, face the harbour walls and produce ore kilns and storage buildings for the copper ore. The original rock surface level, 35 feet above the new quay was retained as a road to the top of the storage bins. The Mona Mine company spent £100,000 on the project. Some of these features are illustrated in this 1815 engraving by Daniell which looks South into the harbour.

According to Arthur Aiken who visited the area in 1797 the improvements to the harbour meant that up to 30 vessels of up to 100 tons at a time could now be accommodated. A harbour master was appointed at no more than £50 pa. Vessels using the harbour could be charged from 4d / ton for calling to 8d per ton for unloading and loading goods.
Ore from the mine was brought to the port by horse and cart. the carts would be lined up on Upper Quay street and the ore emptied via large shuts down into the “Copper Bins” below. It would take many journeys from the mountain to build up sufficient ore for a ship to carry which was usually between 20 and 70 tons of ore.
The method offloading the ships at the quay side was primitive using tubs or wheelbarrows. Both men and women were involved with this work. Many of them were illiterate. To keep tally of the work carried out a stone or pebble was placed in a can for each barrow loaded onto a ship. At the end of the work the tin can with its stones was presented to the agent for payment.
In 1800 Bingley was of the opinion that: – “the port is very small, but exceedingly adapt to the business of exportation. it is a chasm between two rock, running far into land, and has in great measure been formed by art. It’s width in not more than to allow two vessels to ride abreast: It is however sufficiently long and deep to receive 30 vessels of 200 tones burthen each”.
The failure of the corn harvest in the 1817 lead to riots in Amlwch and the stealing of the rudder of the corn ship The Wellington.
In 1823 the Mona mine company acquired its first vessel named Hero. The ship was captained by John Evans. The vessel was different to most of the others in the trade in that it was wholly owned by the mining company. The ship’s master reported directly to the Mona Mine manager. The vessels were required to trade all the year round and could not select its cargoes as did most of the other vessels.
Another survey of the lands around the port was carried out by William Francis in 1828. This showed how Bayly original buildings at the eastern landward end of the port had developed. It also shows the beginning of a number of ware houses on the western shore which may have been built for Roe & Co to export their ore. Many of these buildings were later incorporated into the ship yard buildings which developed on that side of the port.
The 1843 Admiralty sailing directions for the coast of north Wales has the following information:-
” A small white light-house, was built on the pier head in 1817,it exhibits a fixed bright light, but it is not shown when the baulks are down and by day a ball is hoisted on a staff on the pier head…The mariner should be aware that with the southerly winds this light is sometimes obscured till very near land, by the smoke from the smelting works rushing down the valley, indeed even Lynus Light is frequently indistinct to vessels from the westward from the same cause, beside which they sometimes mistake the fire from the furnaces for the light… with a northerly wind such a heavy rolling sea sets in, that it has been found expedient to block up the entrance with 13 balks of timber, which are let down in place of gates and fixed in grooves on either side”
The balks of timber protected those ships already in the harbour. However, to ensure that ships did not try to come into harbour while the balks were down a “Ball mast” was erected at Llamcarw. When the balks were down a tub or cask would be hauled to the top of the mast indicating that vessels were not allowed to attempt to enter the harbour.

To assist ships into harbour a number of unlicensed pilots or “Hobblers” worked from Amlwch. These men used small rowing or sailing boats to steer and pull vessels into the narrow entrance. Some Hobblers had been known to sail out 20 miles to Holyhead to pick up a boat destined for Amlwch.

The addition of a 150-foot pier with a small light house, which was completed in 1816 also meant that vessels could use the harbour for refuge in case of storm.
The white watch tower can be seen in the background of this later painting. The watch house was replaced with another larger structure in 1853. Which is still there.

The increase in trade resulted in the appointment of a Tide Surveyor and Coast Waiter in 1815. He had the right to search any vessel of premises for goods on which tolls were due. In 1823 a Mr Millier was appointed as a Customs Officer at the port.


In 1866 the ports of Beaumaris & Amlwch received 298 ships total 19335 tons. A mean 64 tonnes. While Cardiff received 89 with a total of 18252 tons. A mean gross of 205 tons.
The need to insure ships resulted in the formation of the Amlwch Mutual Marine Insurance company, who held regular business meetings in the Adelphi Vaults public house at the end of the harbour.
The cruel sea around the Anglesey coast resulted in many ships being damaged and brought to Amlwch for repair. The ship repair business soon became a lucrative trade in it’s own right. For a 6 month period in 1837 the Treweek yard supplied equipment for the repair of the Hero amounting to £177 and in 1854 a refit costing £332 was required.
Robert Roberts, “Y Sgolor Mawr” described the port in the mid-1850s as :
“a busy port, full of ships, and the smell of sulphuric smoke from the smelting works; numerous public houses around the port, and seamen, shipwrights and hobblers drinking Amlwch Brewery beer (or Greenalls, the company from St.Helens which has been there since 1786), and chewing Amlwch shag tobacco and at least seven pugilistic encounters in the street between old Mrs. Roose’s pub and Roberts’ lodging house”.
Another local writer, Hugh Hughes “Ieuan Glan Elian” wrote about the same time :-
“At present the harbour is very over crowded with ships under repair and others using it for import and export. No less than 516 ships used the harbour last year. Two foreign ships carrying 486 tons,210 ships were loaded with export. There are 78 ships owned by this port, besides others that Amlwch people have shares in. Them from a smack to 3 masted vessels, that trade to the four quarters of the globe.”
Nicholas Treweek felt that his yard on the western side was restricted in scope. He was planning a larger yard with a dry dock for repairs on the eastern side of the harbour. A great amount of rock again needed to be blasted away to create a ship yard and slipway. A dry dock was also created which is still in existence.

A turning point in the history of the port was reached in 1865 when for the first time copper ore from the mountain was exported using the new railway which had arrived at Llangefni. Over the next few years the prices of transporting goods by Rail started to undercut the price of vessels from the harbour. Slowly the use of rail superseded that of ships.
By 1870 the dues collected from vessels in the harbour was only 70% of that 10 years earlier. In 1877 a new lamp was erected in the watchtower using paraffin oil set at 27 feet above HWM

The reduction in duties due to the reduction in ships using the harbour made the job of the Trustee board very difficult. In August 1913 the Trustee board was wound up and control of the harbour passed to the local council.
In 1914 E Roland Williams wrote … in the harbour an ancient…schooner was lying up; alongside the wharf, a little coasting steamer was unloading coal. The little custom house on the pier made a brave show of “notices to mariners” for the benefit of ships that never came. there were still signs of activity in one of the ship building yard, but the guano works had shut down and the wormwood the chickweed grew unrebuked thought the crevices of the paint factory.

It was at the same time that the “Song of the watch tower ” recorded the past glories of the area.