Site of 1845 fishery dispute, Aberogwen, near Bangor

button-theme-crimeSite of 1845 fishery dispute, Aberogwen, near Bangor

In 1845 a local fisherman won a David v Goliath legal battle which established the public’s right to fish below the high-tide mark west of here. The Pennant family of Penrhyn Castle regarded the entire shore as their exclusive domain and hired one of Britain’s most powerful lawyers to represent them.

The shore from here to Bangor came under the control of Richard Pennant in 1784, when the Crown (effectively the Royal family) granted him and his successors a lease of the office of Crown bailiff for the shore. Even today, the Wales Coast Path has to make a long detour inland to avoid this section of the coast.

The Pennants had already amassed a fortune from sugar production in Jamaica using hundreds of African slaves by 1784, when Richard Pennant, the 1st Baron Penrhyn, began to expand his influence in North Wales. A shipping port had existed at Aberogwen (the mouth of the river Ogwen) for centuries, but in 1850 the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald complained of its “private appropriation” by the Pennants.

The newspaper also bemoaned that the shore from Aberogwen to Hirael (Bangor) had recently been mapped as “an integral portion of the Penrhyn domain”, which it claimed was an illegal “private usurpation”. There had been many instances where poor men were punished for “some trifling trespass” on the beach.

On 31 August 1844 Hugh Hughes, a quarryman employed by Colonel Pennant, was fishing below the high-tide line near the cast-iron bridge over the river Ogwen when three gamekeepers confiscated his net, worth £3, and briefly held him captive. Risking his employer’s wrath, Hugh took the case to the Beaumaris Assizes, where in August 1845 a string of witnesses described how they had long fished on this shore, as had the fathers of some.

Sir Fitzroy Kelly, who had recently become Britain’s solicitor-general, represented Colonel Pennant. He told the jury the case was a waste of time and he had a mass of evidence to prove that Hugh was a poacher and trespasser. However, the jury found that the public were entitled to fish below the high-tide line, and the verdict on the main issue was that Hugh should receive £5 damages.

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