Site of medieval port, Aberarth

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As you enjoy the peaceful view down the river Arth from the footbridge, it may be hard to imagine that this was one of the most important ports in Ceredigion in medieval times.

Large volumes of freestone were unloaded from ships here for Strata Florida Abbey, founded in 1164. Freestone (limestone or sandstone) can be cut and shaped in three directions. It was used for window and door dressings, and for cut or carved work such as columns.

Strata Florida is c.35km inland via today’s road system. Hauling stone there over medieval tracks would have been challenging. The limestone freestone came from Dundry, near Bristol, and sandstone freestone from around Malltraeth, Anglesey. See the footnotes to discover why such distant sources were used.

Aberarth port was later used by the abbey for distribution of produce from monastic lands. Coastal shipping was more efficient than overland transport for moving bulk goods to other parts of Wales and Britain.

Some of the grain which arrived in Aberarth was milled in the village, as noted in Strata Florida records from the 16th century. The corn mill was rebuilt in 1819 and still stands. You can see it a short distance up the road from the footbridge on the north-east side of the river.

The monks also operated and developed fish traps off Aberarth beach, as you can read on our page about the remains of the traps.

A small shipbuilding industry later developed in Aberarth, but this and the port went into decline when Aberaeron was developed as a port in the mid-19th century.

About the place-name:

Aberarth or Aber-arth denotes the mouth of the river Arth. Arth is Welsh for bear. This river is one of several named after animals. The parish is generally described as Llanddewi Aberarth, after the dedication of the church south of the village to Dewi Sant (St David).

With thanks to Tim Palmer, John Davies, David Roberts and Michael Statham, of the Welsh Stone Forum, and to Richard Morgan of the Welsh Place-Name Society/Cymdeithas Enwau Lleoedd Cymru

Postcode: SA46 0LP    View Location Map

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: Sources of the two most common Strata Florida freestone types

When the abbey was built, Dundry (near Bristol) was under Norman control and had provided freestone for Whitland Abbey, the parent house of Strata Florida. There was already a strong tradition of sending Dundry stone to South and South-West Wales, also to Ireland and North Devon. English stonemasons who were used to working with Dundry stone would probably have worked on Strata Florida.

The use of Malltraeth sandstone may have been politically motivated, or at least evidence of Welsh patronage of an important religious project. It was the leading freestone of the Princes of Gwynedd and came from coastal quarries near their base at Aberffraw, Anglesey. It is found in various sites in North and Mid Wales, down as far as Llanbadarn Fawr and Strata Florida. The princes may have wanted to underscore their support for the Cistercian projects at Strata Florida, and gifts of essential freestone of the best quality would have been most welcome.

It is not yet known whether both types of stone were used at Strata Florida at the same time or during different phases of construction.