Captain John Wedge of the Gwdig  1765-1853

In 1791 Captain John Wedge inherited The Gwdig, an estate overlooking the Burry Estuary in present day Burry Port. He inherited it through his mother Elizabeth Williams (1734 – 1787) who in 1763 married John Wedge, a sea captain from St Ives, Cornwall.

The Gwdig Copyright unknown

John and Elizabeth had two sons, John Junior (1765) and Joshua Thomas (1776). After inheriting the estate in 1791 John came to live at the Gwdig and in 1806 married his housekeeper, Jane Williams of Ty-isha.

Known always as Captain John Wedge the couple had four children: Elizabeth (1806 – 1838), Jane Mary (1810 – 1851), Ann Rachel (1813 – 1893) and John Thomas (1816 – 1851).

Captain John Wedge was a much respected sea captain who owned ships that traded from the West Country and the Burry Inlet. From his home at Gwdig he had a good view of the estuary and in 1793 he describes , in a letter sent to his father, the beaching of two ships at Barnaby Pill which he refers to as “Our sloop and Ephraim’s Green’s brig’.

A number of coal owners and industrialists, aware of the dangerous Burry Estuary and its currents and shifting sandbars, commissioned Captain Wedge to chart the treacherous  waters. This Chart known as ‘A Chart of the Burry Bar and Harbour (Llanelly)’ was published in 1808. This chart was so accurate that it was still in use well into the 19th century, saving hundreds of lives and the loss of many ships.  A further Chart and a Description of Kidwelly Harbour was published in 1814.

Increased demand for coal at the beginning of the 19th century necessitated the need for greater efficiency in shipping out coal. One on the greatest engineers of the time, John Rennie, had been called in to improve Kymer’s Quay in Kidwelly. He reported that constantly changing channels, silting and water levels which had become too shallow for ships at that time would need extensive works which would not prove profitable over time.

As an experienced mariner with an intimate knowledge of the Burry Estuary, the idea of a harbour or shipping place at a site near a rocky outcrop, Carreg Edwig, was put before Captain John Wedge. Along with other seasoned sea captains he had reservations.

Under pressure from coal owners, especially George Bowser and John Stanley the Pembrey Harbour was built, opening in 1819. However, increasingly the need for more coal, larger ships, greater loading and shipping facilities and the major problem of silting up soon made Pembrey Harbour redundant. Whatever Captain John Wedge’s misgivings had been regarding Pembrey Harbour, he became convinced that a new harbour, built a short distance away, would prove successful.

After problems with the harbour walls, the New Pembrey Harbour, or Burry Port Harbour as it was later re-named, opened in 1836. Major repairs and the delay in opening had proved costly, especially to one of the sponsors of the harbour, George Bowser. He had an irascible personality and Captain John Wedge offered to mediate and to assist Bowser and his son Samuel to try for better access for the shipping of his coal.

Burry Port Harbour Copyright Unknown

In social and business dealings in the area Wedge’s extensive knowledge was invaluable. In a letter to Charles Nevill in 1804 he advises that the building of the new copperworks be on a site on the “Llanelly Flats”, suggesting the benefits there would be greater than a site “higher up the river”.

When the enclosures were taking place in Llanelli around 1814, as a sign of the esteem and respect in which he was held, Captain John Wedge replaced Charles Hassall as Commissioner for the Enclosure of Llanelli. He also took an active part in all maritime matters in the area to the end of his life.

Captain John Wedge died at the Gwdig in 1853 aged 88.  I have not found an image of him but contemporary accounts describe him as a kind man, much respected and a man with a strong Christian faith.  He is buried in the family tomb in Pembrey Churchyard.

Wedge tomb at Pembrey Churchyard

Here lie the remains of the lamented Elizabeth daughter of Mr John Wedge of Goodig in this Parish who departed this life on 25th day of March 1835 aged 31 years.
To those whose loss …….. are grieved. This consolation is given ……….. Also of Jane Mary daughter of Mr John Wedge who departed this life on 6th day of February 1851 aged 40 years.
Also John Thomas son of Mr John Wedge who departed this life on 10th day of July 1851 aged 35 years.
Also of Jane the beloved wife of Mr John Wedge and the mother of the aforesaid children who departed this life on 7th day of February 1853 aged 74 years.
Also in memory of the aforesaid Mr John Wedge who departed this life on the 13th
December 1853 aged 88 years.

Sources

Prominent People in and around Llanelli, Compiled and edited  by William & Benita Afan Rees, Meiros Publications.

Homes of Historic Interest in and around Llanelli, Compiled and edited by William & Benita Afan Rees, Meiros Publications.

The Burry Port & Gwendreath Valley Railway and its Antecedent Canals, Volume One: Canals, Raymond E. Bowen, Oakwood Press 2001.

The Industrial and Maritime History of Llanelli and Burry Port 1750 to 2000, R.S. Craig, R. Protheroe Jones, M.V. Symons, Carmarthenshire County Council 2002

ELLEN DAVIES Revised October 2021

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