Ceri Shaw



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Unraveling the Legend of Siôn Cwilt: Ceredigion's Colorful Smuggler of the 18th Century

user image 2023-12-05
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Welsh History


In the heart of 18th century Ceredigion, a mysterious figure emerged from the shadows, leaving an indelible mark on the region's history and folklore. Known by the intriguing moniker Siôn Cwilt, this enigmatic character was more than just a smuggler; he was a symbol of defiance against heavy taxes, a master of evasion, and a key player in the clandestine world of contraband trade along the Welsh coast.

Siôn Cwilt, also known as John White, arrived in the picturesque parish of Llanarth around the middle of the 18th century. His residence, a humble cottage named Sarnau Gwynion, became the epicenter of his smuggling operations. Clad in ragged clothes, Siôn Cwilt was said to patch the holes in his attire with pieces of cloth in every color imaginable, earning him the distinctive nickname.

The choice of the name "Cwilt" is shrouded in ambiguity. Some locals speculate that it could be a corruption of the word ‘gwyllt’ meaning wild, an apt descriptor for a man who rode boldly to meet smuggler ships under the cover of darkness. Others believe it may have originated from the colorful coats or cloaks adorned with multi-colored patches that Siôn Cwilt purportedly wore. The intrigue surrounding his name only adds to the allure of this elusive character.

For much of the 18th century, smuggling was not just a forbidden act; it was a way of life for many along the Ceredigion coast. The Napoleonic Wars brought with them heavy duties on imported goods, with exorbitant taxes on items such as tea, wine, salt, spirits, and tobacco. The taxation on salt, in particular, fueled an illegal trade, as it was used for pickling and salting fish.

Siôn Cwilt thrived in this atmosphere of economic discontent. Operating from his clandestine residence on Banc Cwm Einion, he orchestrated smuggling runs with mules over treacherous terrains to meet ships anchored in Cwmtydi. These vessels, carrying illegal cargo, were a lifeline for Siôn Cwilt, allowing him to acquire goods that would fetch a hefty price in a region burdened by oppressive taxes.

As Siôn Cwilt's activities gained notoriety, authorities caught wind of the old smuggler's operations. Faced with the imminent threat of imprisonment, Siôn Cwilt had to make a daring escape, leaving his cottage filled to the brim with wine bottles. The once-secretive Banc Cwm Einion transformed into Banc Sion Quilt in the wake of this event, a name that endures to this day, etching Siôn Cwilt's legacy onto the landscape of Llanarth and Synod.

The decision to rename the ridge was a symbolic acknowledgment of the notorious figure who had once roamed freely, defying the authorities and outwitting capture. Banc Sion Quilt stands as a testament to the resilience and audacity of a man who left an indelible mark on the region.

Intriguingly, Siôn Cwilt's connections extended beyond the shadowy world of smuggling. Stories suggest that he supplied contraband wine and brandy to none other than Sir Herbert Lloyd at Plas Ffynnon Bedr in Lampeter. The High Sheriff of the county, Sir Herbert Lloyd, played a pivotal role in local governance. The alleged collaboration between a smuggler and a prominent figure like Sir Herbert adds layers of complexity to the Siôn Cwilt saga. Was it a strategic alliance born out of necessity, or did Siôn Cwilt possess an uncanny ability to navigate both sides of the law?


Cwmtydu Beach: Where Smugglers, Limekilns, and Seals Collide Through Time

Nestled along the rugged Ceredigion coastline, Cwmtydu Beach stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of history that has unfolded on its secluded shores. This little bay, once notorious for smugglers and pirates who took advantage of its hidden caves and coves, now echoes with the whispers of bygone eras. From the exploits of smuggler Sion Cwilt to the limekiln that stands on the seafront, and the wartime encounters during World War I, Cwmtydu Beach carries the imprints of a multifaceted past.

In the 18th century, when smuggling was a thriving yet illicit trade along the Welsh coast, Cwmtydu Beach served as a haven for individuals like Sion Cwilt. The hidden little caves and coves provided the perfect cover for smugglers to carry out their clandestine operations. Sion Cwilt, a legendary figure known for his audacious exploits, utilized the bay's secrecy to conduct smuggling runs, navigating the treacherous waters under the cover of darkness.

The tales of Siôn Cwilt's colorful attire and strategic evasion tactics add an element of intrigue to the history of Cwmtydu Beach. As the waves lapped against the shore, smugglers like Siôn Cwilt left an indelible mark on the landscape, shaping the lore of this secluded bay.

Standing stoically on the seafront, the limekiln at Cwmtydu Beach is a tangible relic from a bygone era. Once a crucial element in the local economy, limekilns were used to produce lime by heating limestone. The restored limekiln at Cwmtydu serves as a poignant reminder of the region's industrial and maritime history.

As one explores the limekiln, a sense of nostalgia permeates the air. The meticulous restoration efforts have allowed visitors to step back in time, envisioning an era when the kiln was a hub of activity, contributing to the economic livelihood of the coastal community. The juxtaposition of the limekiln against the backdrop of the serene sea evokes a sense of continuity, connecting the present to the industrious past of Cwmtydu Beach.

The echoes of history extend to the tumultuous times of World War I when Cwmtydu Beach became an unexpected pitstop for a U-boat commander. During the war, the waters off the Welsh coast were fraught with danger and intrigue. In a surprising turn of events, a U-boat commander ventured ashore at Cwmtydu to gather fresh supplies for his crew.

This wartime episode adds a layer of complexity to Cwmtydu's history, showcasing the beach as not only a haven for smugglers but a strategic point with unexpected visitors during times of conflict. The footprints of war left on the shores of Cwmtydu serve as a poignant reminder of the diverse narratives that have unfolded on this secluded beach.

As the tides of time ebbed and flowed, Cwmtydu Beach underwent a transformation, now welcoming a different kind of visitor. Amidst the tales of smugglers, limekilns, and wartime encounters, the beach has become a sanctuary for Atlantic Grey Seals. During the autumn season, these marine mammals grace the shores of Cwmtydu to give birth to their pups.

The once-turbulent waters that may have witnessed clandestine activities now serve as a peaceful birthing ground for seals. Nature has reclaimed the bay, harmonizing the historical layers with the natural rhythms of life. The juxtaposition of seals landing on a beach once frequented by smugglers paints a picture of resilience and renewal, where the cycles of nature intertwine with the echoes of human history.


Dirgelwch yr Ogof

A fresh release of a thrilling tale delving into the clandestine realm of smuggling amidst the coastal enclave of Cwmtydu in late eighteenth-century Cardiganshire. This captivating adventure, initially unveiled in 1977, takes readers on a riveting journey through the secrets and intrigues of a bygone era.