Former Customs office, Porth yr Aur, Caernarfon

Former Customs office, Porth yr Aur, Caernarfon

The building known as Porth yr Aur was built for the Inland Revenue in the mid-19th century. Previously Customs officers were based in the old building which became the Anglesey Arms.

Porth yr Aur takes its name from the nearby medieval gate. The purpose-built Customs office re-used a plot where a grand house, named Plas y Porth, had belonged to the Penrhyn family in the 16th century.

Officials at the Customs office kept an eye on goods imported through Caernarfon’s docks, to ensure correct duties were paid and prevent smuggling. Their new building included storage space for bonded goods (taxed when sold rather than when they arrived). It featured deep cellars, thick stone walls and extra-strong beams. There were two projecting pulleys, on the south and east sides, for hoisting goods to the second floor for storage.

One of Caernarfon’s customs officers, William Burns of Bangor, moved to a similar job in west Africa, later emigrating to Australia. There he enlisted in the army during the First World War, despite being above “military age”. He was gassed on the Western Front in France in May 1918 and died four days later, aged 49.

After the Second World War, part of the warehouse was packed with goods belonging to the American military. The War Office stopped paying for storage in 1960.

After the customs officers left Porth yr Aur, the building was occupied by the Pritchard brothers, Charles, Richard and Bob, who hired boats to visitors. Their grandfather David had operated the ferry across the Seiont before the swing bridge was built.

In 1927 the brothers bought a lorry for a contract to supply sand to the Ministry of Works for restoring the medieval town walls. Later they branched out into furniture removals. Architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, best known for his Portmeirion village, commissioned them to move furniture c.1948 to Penrhyndeudraeth station, where it was loaded onto Ffestiniog Railway wagons. Further up the line towards Blaenau Ffestiniog, the brothers unloaded the furniture and carried it across fields to Sir Clough’s houses.

Sir Clough visited Porth yr Aur to discuss this complex operation with Richard Bonner Pritchard. He was accompanied by his friend, the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. See the Footnotes for recollections.

Richard was in the Home Guard during the war. His wife Megan drove a lorry delivering supplies to prisoner of war camps, with two German PoWs assisting. She also played the cello, alongside her violinist sister Arfonia, in live broadcasts from Bangor of the evacuated BBC radio show It’s That Man Again from Bangor. She became Caernarfon’s first female mayor in 1974.

With thanks to KF Banholzer, author of the guidebook ‘Within Old Caernarfon’s Town Walls’, and Richard Bonner Pritchard

Postcode: LL55 1SN    View Location Map  

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Footnotes: Recollections of Frank Lloyd Wright’s visit to Porth yr Aur

Richard Bonner Pritchard, son of removals man Richard Bonner Pritchard, recalled in 2021: “Frank Lloyd Wright asked me how I was. I was a little boy, and nobody had ever asked me how I was. I had no idea how to answer. I just stared at him. Clough Williams-Ellis was wearing yellow socks and plus fours. His legs seemed to go on forever. On our second floor, the ceiling was so low that he was able to raise a leg and put his heel on the beams.”