OS Llanrwst

Into the mountains!

The Llanrwst posting was an exciting opportunity: another beautiful part of the world and one that I knew little of and there was new training (for the mountains) on offer. I knew some of the people and it was the people of the srea who made the posting rather special. In the event I had two periods at the office in Llanrwst, a posting to Bala for several months in the winter of 1973/4 provided yet perhaps unique mapping experience.

llanrwst office
The OS office in Llanrwst was on the 1st floor, above the Gwydyr Estate office, at 1 Conwy Terrace. This photo was taken on 13 June 1985 and also shows Jones Brothers garage - now demolished.

The Llanrwst office staff members throughout my time there were:

  • John Kirkwood [section manager]
  • Alwyn Bradford
  • Bill Williams

Alwyn & Bill were super guys - both very friendly and a joy to work with. we also occassionally had visitors such as the local trig and levelling team including Frank Shepard. The Chief Surveyor, based in Chester, was Iain Raitt - a great guy from Scotland who loved the work and hated fuss.

pont fawr
We also enjoyed this amazing view of Pont Fawr and the Afon Conwy from our office window - taken in May 1973

pont fawr - flood
Pont Fawr and the Afon Conwy in a flood - taken in August 1973 (flooding in August was a common occurrance).

Period 1: Around Llanrwst

The posting started off with a slight problem - I had no car. After three clutch failures and a crankshaft replacement with an Austin 1300 in 1972 I had dedicated myself to buying a new car (a Mini 1275GT). I discovered that the Civil Service Motoring Association [CSMA] had an arrangement where discounts of up to11% could be obtained off new cars. This would preclude part exchange so I sold the Austin privately only to learn of a months delay - due to a series of British Leyland strikes [this was the 1970's!].

Living now in Llandudno Junction and the office being 16 km down the Conwy Valley was not as difficult as I imagined. John Kirkwood lived in Colwyn Bay and often gave me a lift and at other times I took the train. The "Llanrwst station" at that time - is the "Llanrwst North" station today. It is a journey worth making today - especially early in the morning when you may see heron on the banks of the sparkling Afon Conwy. There was a lot of 1:2,500 work around the town and in the local area at the start ... so the loss of a car proved to be a minor issue.

Panorama of Snowdonia: from Snowdon on the left to Foel Fras on the right - taking in the Glyders, Tryfan, and the Carneddau. This was taken in mid-late August 1973 from near Nant y Fedwen on the eastern side of the Conwy valley where I was working.

The work mostly involved using the "1:2,500 Air Ground" technique. The map sheet lines were National Grid 2x1 km. The content had been transferred from the 19thC County series mapping and "made to fit" since the scale varied. To make matters worse the Afon Conwy was also the county boundary and hence a join across "Caernavon" and "Denbighshire" map sets was required down the centre of the river (including an ox-bow lake!). These sheets were to be updated, often for the first time in 70 or more years, later fair drawn in Southampton and published as National Grid pairs. The process used a enlarged aerial photographs from which feature changes could be surveyed using a variety of techniques - this rarely involved simple tracing.

Much of the work covered agricultural land which was often very hilly. Communities become remote even within a few km of a town like Llanwst and many still are today eg Nebo. A interesting experience, rather like Pooh sticks, included surveying the "Normal Tidal Limit" [NTL] on the Afon Conwy. The NTL is the highest point to which the tide flows in "normal" circumstances - in this case it was almost as far as Llanrwst.

All major names had already been reviewed by the Board of Celtic Studies who often made many changes. These were largely to revert a name back closer to it's Welsh origins from the anglicised adoptions of the early 20thC: eg "River Conway to "Afon Conwy" and "Caernarvon" to "Caernarfon etc. We also consulted regularly with the National Trust at Dinas on the A5, south east of Betws y Coed, as they are major landowners in Snowdonia.

I was posted to Bala for a few months from November 1973 - January 1974.

Period 2: Return to Llanrwst

On return from Bala and in some new local digs at Betws y Coed the mapping of the southern Conwy valley continued until the spring when we undertook four weeks of 1:10,000 training to work in the mountains . The survey scale1:10,000 was a "resurvey" ie it was based on new aerial surveys and features (rivers, hedges, walls, buildings etc) were plotted by operators using precision instruments in Southampton. The 5x5km maps also included contours at either 5 ot 10 vertical interval.

We still operated standard days at this time (no flexitime) and I found myself increasingly working longer days and on one or two occasions at weekend (in the office) when the weather was bad. I cannot imagine doing that in my Oldham job!

Lunch at Llanrwst usually involved calling in at the local bakery in Llanrwst in Denbigh Street where you buy a fresh, often warm, "cob" of bread and some fruit pies. Along with some bananas or tomatoes - nothing else was required. The bakery is still there - it's well worth a visit!

On 9 April Easter week 1974, I met the OS Director General Brig St John Irwin at Pont y Pair car park in Betws y Coed on one of his field tours. The visit was notable for three reasons: 1) it was super spring day, 2) he opened with "the last time I saw you was in Manchester in 1970" - correct! ... but how he managed this amazed me! and 3) OS was hitting the headlines.

The previous day the press had made a big fuss about an issue regarding the new 1:50,000 series mapping just launched by OS to replace the "One Inch" map. The new series was based on the One Inch content at the start and enlarged but two sheets had been redrawn to the new 1:50k map specification. One of these was the local "Caernarvon & Bangor" sheet 115.

A reviewer had got very excited by the fact that the new District Boundary symbol was much like the footpath symbol. The 1 April 1974 witnessed a major reorganisation of local government involving the redrawing of the local government map. In this part of the world "Gwynedd" was reborn and several districts eg Aberconwy introduced. On sheet 115 the District boundary crosses from the mountains Carnedd Dafydd to Carnedd Llewellyn .... via an intervening valley. Of course walkers follow these symbols religiously and over the coming Easter weekend we could be faced with a heap of bodies as they simply walked over the Ysgolion Duon cliffs thinking the boundary line was a footpath. Of course it did not happen and for OS it was probably very successful exercise in raising awareness of the new series that a formal launch could never have generated.

%50k map cover%
In response OS attached stickers to its existing stock (as shown above). From that point onwards it also altered the District boundary symbol to a dash with a small circle in the centre. Today the 1:50,000 series is of course known as the "Landranger" series.

More local mapping

During the winter work refocussed back to 1:2,500 mapping. This work including an interesting couple of weeks working in Betws y Coed village and will be described on a separate page.

Social Events & Leaving North Wales

During this time I had got engaged to get married and as my future wife was English and did not speak Welsh - she would find it difficult to obtain work in Wales. Fortunately I discovered someone in Penrith who wished to return home the Llandudno - so we did a swap in April 1975.

There were regular socials in North Wales during the early 1970's when staff and frineds would meet up for an evening drink. Sometimes these occurred at Bont Uchaf, near Ruthin, a pub overlooking Colwyn Bay but most often at the Tyn y Coed Hotel in Capel Curig.

%slate fan%
On my last social event at Tyn y Coed my colleagues presented by future wife and I with a slate fan (above) - repaired twice!. John Leonard was manager of West Midlands Region and was also present.

Nevertheless it was hard to leave Wales, fantastic scenery, super people, great work .....fortunately we can still go back there regularly.

Such as the visit in 1980 below where I met up with Bill Williams & John Finlay.

%Bill & John%
Capel Curig: Bill Williams (left) and John Finlay at the house John was living in at the time.


1 Conwy Terrace, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, LL26 %%%

Period 1

Start: 09 April 1973
End: 02 November 1973

Period 2

Start: 04 February 1974
End: 26 March 1975

Updated KJM 03 April 2014