Review of "The drowned village" - how a village in Wales disappeared under water when a reservoir was created and in this novel as a backdrop of a love story

"As he reaches the top of the familiar hill, a startling brightness draws him in like a vision. A glittering lake fills the entire valley. The pretty stone village, and all trace of the girl he loved, are gone…" 

An American navy officer and a girl from Wales fell in love during WW2. Many, many years later the American, captain Al Locke comes back to the village. But it is gone and covered by a water reservoir.

In my country, The Netherlands, these kind of books are popular by readers of Libelle, a women's magazine. With a heroine, a woman a bit older looking for romance and handling a job. In this novel it is the owner of the bunkhouse near the lake. 

Reading we get to know what happened to Al and Elin, why he came back and what he finds. That made me curious but the story itself is quite slow. It is a quiet read and not utterly interesting (for someone like me not reading "mum lit"). What interested me more is the true historical backdrop of the eviction of people from their homes to build a waterreservoir for Liverpool city. I went googling and found a lot of interesting extra material. And how this event caused Wales to rise and demand more independence. And how apologies were made.

When I was given a ARC copy by Netgalley the book was still called "the captain's wife". It is now more aptly named "the drowned village". 

Pub Date 21 Feb 2022
3 stars out of 5

The info on Wikipedia about the village:

In 1960, a private bill sponsored by Liverpool City Council was brought before Parliament to develop a water reservoir in the Tryweryn Valley. The development would include the flooding of Capel Celyn. By obtaining authority via an Act of Parliament, Liverpool City Council would not require planning consent from the relevant Welsh local authorities and would also avoid a planning inquiry at Welsh level at which arguments against the proposal could be expressed. This, together with the fact that the village was one of the last Welsh-only speaking communities in the area,[2] ensured that the proposals became deeply controversial. Thirty-five out of thirty-six Welsh Members of Parliament (MPs) opposed the bill (the other did not vote), but in 1962 it was passed. The members of the community waged an eight-year effort, ultimately unsuccessful, to prevent the destruction of their homes.

When the valley was flooded in 1965, the village and its buildings, including the post office, the school, and a chapel with cemetery, were all lost. Twelve houses and farms were submerged, and 48 people of the 67 who lived in the valley lost their homes.[3] In all, some 800 acres (3.2 km2; 320 ha) of land were submerged. A new reservoir, Llyn Celyn, was formed.

The water in the reservoir is used to maintain the flow of the River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy) so that water may be abstracted downstream,[4] and additionally to improve the quality of white-water sports on Afon Tryweryn.

A full list of the submerged properties (broadly from west to east) is as follows:

Moelfryn Gwerndelwau
Glan Celyn + y Llythyrdy (post office) Y Capel (chapel)
Y Fynwent (cemetery) Tŷ Capel (Chapel House)
Tynybont Yr Ysgol (school)
Brynhyfryd Y Gelli
Cae Fadog Penbryn Fawr
Coed Mynach Dol Fawr
Garnedd Lwyd Hafod Fadog (Quaker meeting place) and
Mynwent y Crynwyr (Quakers' Cemetery)
Y Tyrpeg (The Turnpike) Tyddyn Bychan

Stones from the chapel (built in 1820 and rebuilt in 1892) and other buildings in the village were used in the construction of Capel Celyn Memorial Chapel, designed by the Welsh sculptor R. L. Gapper with the Liverpool City architect Ronald Bradbury, which was completed in 1967 and overlooks the reservoir at the north-west end. It is a Grade II* listed building.[5][6]

Families who had relatives buried in the cemetery were given the option of moving them to another cemetery. Eight bodies were disinterred and the remainder left. All headstones were supposed to be removed, and the cemetery was to be covered in layers of gravel, then concrete, but this was not done.[3]

When the reservoir dried due to a drought in the 1980s and early 1990s the village became visible. The whole of the walled cemetery next to where the chapel stood was completely covered in concrete.[citation needed] There were no gravestones left standing. The removed headstones are in a memorial garden at the memorial chapel.

Hafod Fadog

One of the farmsteads covered was Hafod Fadog, a Quaker meeting place. It is recorded on a bronze plaque in a lay-by near to the dam:

Under these waters and near this stone stood Hafod Fadog, a farmstead where in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Quakers met for worship. On the hillside above the house was a space encircled by a low stone wall where larger meetings were held, and beyond the house was a small burial ground. From this valley came many of the early Quakers who emigrated to Pennsylvania, driven from their homes by persecution to seek freedom of worship in the New World.

Political effects

Memorial chapel for the village at Llyn Celyn

Almost unanimous Welsh political opposition had failed to stop approval of the scheme, a fact that seemed to underline Plaid Cymru's argument that the Welsh national community was powerless.[7] At the subsequent general election the party's support increased from 3.1% to 5.2%.

Of perhaps greater significance, however, was the impetus the episode gave to Welsh devolution. The Council of Wales recommended the creation of a Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales early in 1957, a time when the governance of Wales on a national level was so demonstrably lacking in many people's eyes.[8] By 1964 the Wilson government gave effect to these proposals.

The flooding of Capel Celyn also sharpened debate within Plaid Cymru about the use of direct action. While the party emphasised its constitutional approach to stopping the development, it also sympathised with the actions of two party members who (of their own accord) attempted to sabotage the power supply at the site of the Tryweryn dam in 1962.[8]

A more militant response was the formation of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru ("Wales Defence Movement") or MAC, which blew up a transformer on the dam construction site in February 1963. MAC went on to carry out a number of other bombings in the next six years.

In October 1965 the Llyn Celyn reservoir opened, and there was a sizeable Plaid Cymru-organised demonstration. A year later, Gwynfor Evans won Plaid Cymru's first parliamentary seat in Carmarthen. But according to some commentators, Capel Celyn did not play a major part in Gwynfor Evans's victory: in addition to Carmarthen's long distance from Tryweryn, they claim that Plaid Cymru's victory owed as much to an anti-Labour backlash in the constituency's mining communities as it did to Plaid's successful depiction of Labour's policies as a threat to the viability of small Welsh communities.[9][10]

On 19 October 2005, Liverpool City Council issued a formal apology for the flooding.[11][12] Some in the town of Bala welcomed the move, though others said the apology was a "useless political gesture" and came far too late.[13]



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