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Site Details

© Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey licence number 0100022206

NPRN 58040

Map Reference SH93NW

Grid Reference SH9260535985

Unitary (Local) Authority Gwynedd

Old County Merioneth

Community Bala

Type of Site TOWN

Broad Class CIVIL

Period Multiperiod

Site Description The borough of Bala recieved its first charter in 1324, but is thought to have been established in about 1310 to 'restrain the malice of evildoers'. The burgesses were authorised to elect a mayor and to construct a ditch and town wall of mortared stone. At this time there were fifty three burgages, building plots that carried various rights and duties. These were laid out on either side of the present High Street, south-westwards from Bala Bridge and the castle mount (NPRN 303419). It is not clear whether the castle was occupied at this time. In the early fifteenth century the royal garrison appears to have consisted of six burgages. The borough boasted a chapel with burial ground, courthouse and mill.

The medieval town plan appears to have been little changed by the time of the Ordnance Survey County series first edition published in 1888 (Merioneth. XXII.3). The housing plots lining the broad High Street are bounded by narrow back lanes and can easily be divided up amongst fifty three burgage plots.'Old Bala' (NPRN 309129), the city drowned for its wickedness, may be legendary. The fair and market of Llanfor were moved to the new borough in 1310-11.

Source: Beresford 'New Towns of the Middle Ages' revised edition (1988), 557
Source: History of Merioneth II (2001), 230-32

John Wiles, RCAHMW, 9July 2007

Bala is a small town situated at the north end of Llyn Tegid and surrounded by hills and mountains. The historic origins of Bala cannot be entirely verified. There are traces of a Roman presence in the area, but Tomen y Bala, a steep-sided circular mound, almost certainly originates in the twelfth century. Associated with the llys of the Penllyn commote, its conquest was recorded in 1202. In 1310 a planned borough was established. In 1324 the small community received its first borough charter and a settlement began to spread along what is today’s High Street.

Today, Bala is most prominently associated with the rise of Nonconformism during the eighteenth century which had a lasting impact on the town. In 1800, Thomas Charles, a local school founder and Calvinistic Methodist clergyman, was visited by 16-year old Mary Jones from Llanfihangel-y-pennant, 25 miles to the west, who wanted to buy a bible. He was so impressed by her determination that together with influential friends, he established the British and Foreign Bible Society a few years later. In 1837, Lewis Edwards established Coleg y Bala for the Calvinistic Methodists here. Later in the century, Bodivan, the theological college of the Welsh independents followed. The principal of the Bala Independent College from 1855, Michael D. Jones, is best known as the founder of Y Wldfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia.

When the noted German linguist Hugo Schuchardt stayed in Bala for two weeks in 1875, he delighted in the quality of the college libraries and enjoyed practising his Welsh with the local population, the college students and theology lecturers alike. Between talks, Schuchardt spent his time searching for the mysterious afanc living at the bottom of Llyn Tegid or rambling about the surrounding countryside in the footsteps of Welsh poetry and mythology.

Record updated as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
R. Singer (Bangor University) and S. Fielding (RCAHMW), 2017.

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