A flying start

NWWT

A look back into the story behind the 'mysterious' walled premises at the west end of the shingle ridge and how Captain Vivian Hewitt came to be an important character in the history of Cemlyn and it's surrounding area.

2021 is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Cemlyn as a Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve. As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, the Cemlyn wardens will be creating a series of blogs delving into the history, people and wildlife of Cemlyn Nature Reserve and answering some of the most common questions they receive from visitors. 

The first blog in this series looks into the story behind the 'mysterious' walled premises at the west end of the shingle ridge and how Captain Vivian Hewitt came to be an important character in the history of Cemlyn Nature Reserve and it's surrounding area. A story that features early aviators and egg collections!

Modest Beginnings and Adventures

The biography, “The Modest Millionaire”, written by the Cemaes GP William Hywel tells the life story of Captain Vivian Hewitt. Born in 1888, Vivian grew up in Flintshire and was a fluent Welsh speaker which proved a great asset when he later settled at Cemlyn.

After leaving Harrow school at 16. he travelled abroad, then worked in the marine engineering workshops of the naval dockyard at Portsmouth. From Portsmouth he spent 4 years as an apprentice at the railway workshops at Crewe. He gained experience in many aspects of railway engineering and became a skilled mechanical engineer.

It was at this point Vivian returned to the family home in Bodfari and became interested in aviation and was the first person to fly across the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dublin in 1912. Vivian Hewitt spent WW1 in the RNVR working in America as a Test pilot, testing and  examining, aircraft that were being built for the British, to be used in reconnaissance over enemy lines. It was as a result of this essential war work that he attained the rank of “Captain”.

Bird Collections and a New Home

Following an accident Capt. Hewitt had to give up flying and he turned his attention to ornithology and particularly to collecting, birds’ eggs and skins, a not uncommon past-tine in Edwardian Britain. He purchased 2 stuffed and mounted Great Auks and 13 Great Auk eggs.  Later, when egg collecting became illegal, he added to his collection by purchasing other oologists collections. In the mid-1930s he became a bird protectionist. He had rented a property at Penmon in the early 1930s for its proximity to Puffin Island and eventually he decided that he would like a home of his own on Anglesey where he could set up a bird sanctuary. He set out with Jack Parry, the son of his housekeeper, to drive around the coast of Anglesey. Beyond Cemaes, in what must then have been a fairly remote part of Anglesey, he came to Cemlyn and saw Bryn Aber, the house that was to be his home for the next 30 years. At first he rented the house, but after 8 years he was able to buy it. Then he bought several adjoining farms from the Meyrick estate: Plas Cemlyn, Fronddu, and Ty’n Llan and finally he acquired Tyddyn Sydney from the Llys Dulas estate: the whole area comprising 200 acres of farmland and mudflats, saltmarsh, and the shingle ridge.

Bryn Aber, Cemlyn Lagoon and Neptune

During the summer months the mudflats partially dried out because the spring tides are not as high as in the spring and autumn. Accumulated rotting organic debris produced an unpleasant smell in hot weather and the mud flats and shallow pools provided an ideal breeding ground for large numbers of midges and mosquitoes. To alleviate this problem, Captain Hewitt had a dam constructed across the stream draining the area into the sea beside Bryn Aber. This created an area of shallow water permanently flooding the mudflats. Later the height of the dam was raised so that the water was 5ft deep behind the weir and averaged 1 - 2½ft across the rest of the lagoon making it more suitable for diving ducks, mergansers, little grebes etc..

To further diversify the bird life around Cemlyn, the Captain reckoned that he needed to provide shelter and trees – not easy in such an exposed place so he had a double brick wall built, employing a number of local men in the late 1930s. The wall was never completed, and large piles of unused bricks were left around the outside base of the wall when construction was halted in 1939 when World War II intervened. The only access to this walled enclosure was by a ladder over the wall. Trees and shrubs were planted but most were unsuited to the climate and the terrain so that the area became congested with dead and dying trees and shrubs.

Eventually Capt. Hewitt’s health deteriorated, and he died in 1965. Jack Parry inherited the Cemlyn Estate and later sold the Cemlyn Estate, except for Bryn Aber and the Coal Yard buildings, to the National Trust, who used Enterprise Neptune funds for the purchase.

Once the National Trust had acquired Cemlyn, negotiations were started with the North Wales Wildlife Trust (then the Naturalists Trust) to establish a nature reserve. The lease began in 1971 to run for 21 years. In 1992 it was renewed for a further 21 years and again in 2013.

We will continue our story another time and look back to some of the important moments in the history of this iconic location.

You can see some of Captain Hewitt's bird collection at the Pensychnant Nature Conservation Centre

Please note, Bryn Aber is now a private residence.

This article is based on material prepared by Jane Rees who has been involved at Cemlyn for many years and draws on the story of the "Modest Millionaire".