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MARGED FERCH IFAN (1696 - 1788 or 1801)

Harpist, wrestler, innkeeper, rower, carpenter, boatbuilder, blacksmith, musical instrument-maker, huntswoman and cobbler. Is this just one woman or has someone been inventing things?

No, no invention, this remarkable woman really lived, although some of her story may be apocryphal as folk-tales grew up around her.

She was born in 1696 at Dyffryn Nantlle possibly at Talmignedd Ucha farm. This area around Drwys y Coed was a centre of copper mining in the 1700s and Marged ran a pub for the thirsty miners called Telyrniau.

She was an imposing woman, at over six feet tall with hair black as the night and hands the size of spades so it was said, she could easily keep the miners in order. She had her sensitive side too, which came out in playing the harp (telyn) and she would play and sing to her customers, which made her inn very popular. More remarkable still, she made the harp that she played herself and also wrote some of the music. So was obviously very clever with her hands and made violins as well as harps.

Welsh harp  Llyn Nantlle
She was married to a man named either Richard Morris or William Richards, there is some dispute. He was reputed to be a small weak-looking man and there is a tale that she once gave him a heavy beating for drinking. This had such an effect on him that he foreswore drink and turned to Methodism and became a prominent member of the chapel. But they stayed together throughout their lives.

There's another legend about her violent nature which involves her love of dogs. She had a pack of hunting dogs which she doted on. One day one of the terriers stole a joint of meat from a miner's house. When this large and powerful man realised what had become of his supper, in his fury he caught and killed the dog and threw it into the river.

Marged heard what had happened and went to his house in a rage. She said she would pay him four times the value of the meat if he would pay her the value of the dog. However this man obviously had little sense and refused out of hand and made the big mistake of threatening Marged. At this she swung a fine left-hook and knocked him out. She then found enough money in his pockets to buy herself another dog. Lesson - it was very unwise to refuse an offer from Marged!

Painting of Lake Nantlle      Llyn Cwellyn With Nantlle Behind
The good days for the Drws y Coed mine eventually came to an end and Marged was forced to move to search for work and a way to make a living. Undeterred, Marged moved to Nant Peris where copper mining was still flourishing. She settled with her husband at Pen Llyn, Llanberis near Cwm y Glo. She built a rowing boat and got a job ferrying copper across Llyn Peris and Llyn Padarn.

One passenger got on the wrong side of Marged when she'd agreed to row him across the lake, possibly the disagreement was over his fare. That was a big mistake! Mr Smith soon found himself in the lake and had to agree to pay her a guinea to save him.

Marged soon became well-known and admired and possibly loved, amongst the locals and earned the title of "the Queen of the Lakes".

Her job rowing copper all day ensured that she stayed strong for her wrestling and one Thomas Pennant claimed that she was still wrestling in her seventies and could take on and beat even the youngest men.

There are other legends about Marged. One says that she built the bridge at Pont Meibion, Nant Peris which is made from one huge piece of slate. Legend has it that Marged held up one end whilst a gang of young men held the other whilst it was fixed in place.

Llyn Peris & Llyn Padarn Nant Peris Bottom Right

Another legend has it that she is buried under the altar stone of Nant Peris church.

It's certain that Marged lived a long life, but there is some dispute about how long. Thomas Pennant has her as still being alive in 1786 when she would have been 90, it is claimed by some that she died in 1788. Others claim that she died in 1801 at the age of 105.

What is also certain, is that she would have been a remarkable woman in any century and deserves to be better known for her determination to always take her own path. She was admirably self-reliant and used all her talents to the full. A fine example of Welsh womanhood and an absolute contradiction to those men who say that women can't be strong. Long may her memory live on!

Mae gan Marged fwyn ach Ifan
Grafanc fawr a chrafanc fechan,
Un i dynnuír cwn oír gongl,
Aír llall i dorri esgyrn pobol.

Gentle Marged daughter of Ifan
Has a big clutch and a little clutch,
One to drag the dogs from the corner
Another to break people's bones.


More of the poem here


I'm hugely indebted to
"Merched Gwyllt Cymru" - "Wild Welsh Women" by Beryl H Griffiths pub by Gwasg Gwynedd, April 2007

She gave me more information than I've seen anywhere and this webpage is based largely on her information.

Buy her book! You can get it here:

G Wales Bookstore

Waterstone's Bookstore

It's an absolute treat with loads of stories about the most remarkable Welsh women through the ages, written in a bi-lingual format which is invaluable to Welsh learners and an enjoyable read for everyone.

Gwerfyl Mechain
Eleanor Butler & Sarah Ponsonby
Nest
Ceridwen
Gwenllian
Buddug (Boudicca)
are just a few of the other fascinating women she covers in a beautifully written and entertaining book.


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