This is a tale of the workhouse involving a saint and a sinner.

I’ve been researching a little more of the history of the building, and came across some interesting history after its uses changed from being a workhouse, and then until 1869 a militia barracks.

At that stage it was owned by the squire of the Rhiwlas estate, Richard John Lloyd Price, an eccentric figure who then owned 64,000 acres of land in North Wales, and was captain of the Merioneth Militia.

The land he owned included St Bueno’s well on the edge of Bala town. St Bueno, a 7th century Welsh abbott, credited with raising seven people from the dead, founded many wells across North Wales, including one at Holywell, and the Bala well was said to have healing properties, being good for the ligaments and bones, for eyes and for the liver, kidneys and bowels.

A former high sheriff of Merionethshire, Price was a journalist, author and all-round countryman, and organised the first sheepdog trials held in the UK, in Bala in October 1873. He was also something of an entrepreneur – although not necessarily a very successful one.

He saw the burgeoning Victorian market in spas and health cures and founded St Bueno’s table waters and Rhiwlas sparkling water, bottling them at the old workhouse. He also set-up the Welsh Whiskey Distillery at Frongoch. After it closed the site became an internment camp for German prisoners during World War 1, but following the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 was used to house 1800 Irish dissidents – including one of their leaders Michael Collins.

The bottling plant didn’t last long and neither did the Welsh whiskey venture, and the workhouse went on to become a biscuit factory and later made pajamas.

Why was Price a sinner: In 1859 he notoriously turned seven tenants out onto the streets because they voted for the Liberals in a hard fought General Election. Price backed the High Church Tory, Charles Wynne, but the Liberal candidate David Williams was proving surprisingly popular. Wynne won by a narrow majority, but Price still took revenge on his wayward tenants.

Later, when Price stepped forward to again nominate Wynne at the 1869 election, such was his unpopularity that he was shouted down by the people of Bala.

I’m hoping the Old Workhouse B&B will prove more popular!

I hope you find these few snippets of local history interesting, and I will add more as I come across them.


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