The small town of Bethesda grew around the Penrhyn Slate Quarry, one of the largest open cast quarries in the world. Further impetus was given to the village with Telford’s development of the A5 coach road between London and Holyhead, and the construction of the famous suspension bridge over the Menai Strait. The Douglas Arms, a coaching inn with stables, a coach yard, and accommodation for the ostler, was probably built around 1820. The life of the coach road was shortlived however, because by 1846 the railway had superceded the use of stagecoaches. The Davies family took over the inn in 1913. Phillip and Elizabeth and their young son Alfred took up residence and despite Phillip’s early death in 1915 remained here. Alfred married Marjorie in 1929 and they continued running the business until Geoffrey and Sheila took over in the early sixties. Gwyn and Christine arrived in 1997 to carry on the good work! Geoff will be remembered by many for his obdurate resistance to decimalisation and will still quote you in pounds, shillings and pence if you like. (Ready reckoner: one shilling=5p, two shillings=10p, half a crown=12.5p, ten shillings=50p. There were 240 old pennies to the pound.)
Now for the Douglas Arms, Bethesda, Caern. The landlord, Mr Henry Alfred Davies, writes to send a sketch of his new sign, with a heraldic description of it for which he quite needlessly apologises. (You need not trouble, Mr Davies, your heraldry is quite sound in essence though it would probably distress Garter King at Arms.) The arms are those of the Hon. Edward Gordon Douglas, younger brother of the 16th Earl of Morton, who married the co-heiress of the Penrhyn Estate in 1833, and who subsequently took her name of Pennant in addition to his own, and induced the Crown to revive in his favour the title of Baron Penrhyn which had become extinct in 1808. They are nothing to do with the original Penrhyn family. They are much older and more distinguished. In the first and fourth quarters they show argent a man’s heart gules, ensigned with an imperial crown proper on a chief azure three mullets of the field. In plain English this is a silver shield with a blue band across the top and three silver stars on it, and on the shield itself a red heart with a golden crown. These are the famous arms of Douglas and date from the romantic episode in the fourteenth century for which we all have or ought to have learned about in our schooldays. The great Scottish king, Robert Bruce, was never able to carry out personally the pledge he had given to go and fight in Palestine for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. So on his deathbed in 1329 he entrusted the duty to his bosom friend Sir James Douglas. Douglas set off in 1330, bearing with him the king’s heart in a golden casket. This he hoped to deposit in the Holy Sepulchre, but en route he fell in battle in Spain – though still against the infidels. When he saw the day was lost he hurled far into the ranks of the heathens the king’s heart in its golden case. Then he charged after if and met his death as he wished, fighting behind his king. The heart was recovered by Sir William Keith, who brought it back to Scotland and buried it with the bones of Douglas in Melrose Abbey. Ever since then the Douglases have borne on their shield the crowned heart. It is a fine story, Mr Davies, and I am grateful to you for reminding me of it. And it is interesting to find it connected not only, as one would expect, in the state records of Scotland, and on the Douglas estates in Lanarkshire, but also over a hotel in the heart of North Wales.