In 1965, Capel Celyn faced an upheaval so profound that its name would become synonymous with a political awakening in Wales, the legacy of which can still be felt today.


The decision to displace its residents and build a reservoir would result in bitter protests and even, for some involved, imprisonment.

What happened at Capel Celyn?

Capel Celyn was a Welsh-speaking village in the Tryweryn Valley, situated between Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog.

In 1965, despite outrage and protests – even bombings – the area was buried beneath 70 billion litres of water to meet Liverpool’s need for more drinking water.

What was Capel Celyn like before it was flooded?

A view over the village of Capel Celyn
A view over the village of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn Valley. (Photo by Alex Dellow/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Capel Celyn, one of the last Welsh-only speaking community in Wales, was a tight-knit community, rich in Welsh culture and traditions. It was home to 75 people and had just one school and general store, a chapel, a cemetery, 12 farms and a post office.

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However, Capel Celyn wasn’t a village stuck in the past. Some residents had mod-cons like TV and radios, and more properties were on the electricity grid. It was a community gradually embracing the modern world.

Who decided to flood Capel Celyn?

The plan to flood Capel Celyn was discussed privately in 1955 between the Liverpool City Council; residents of the village discovered the council’s proposal in the Welsh edition of Liverpool Daily Post – just a few days before Christmas.

In response, they created the Capel Celyn Defence Committee, which publicly criticised the plan in Welsh media. They also marched in Liverpool to highlight their objections.

Eurgain Prysor Jones was the youngest protestor in a march on Liverpool Town Hall: "I was three years old and the oldest lady was over 80 years old,” she told the BBC. “I had a massive poster to carry which was bigger than me, really.

"The reception we had in Liverpool was awful. People were spitting at us and throwing rotten tomatoes at us. It was an awful disappointment."

Protestors carrying placards in protest of the reservoir.
Protestors carrying placards in protest of the reservoir. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Alongside these protests, all Welsh MPs but one (who abstained) voted against the initial bill when it was brought before parliament in 1957.

However, despite the objections at both local and parliamentary level, the bill was passed in the same year.

When the reservoir was being built, protests escalated in an attempt to sabotage works.

In September 1962, David Pritchard and David Walters were arrested and fined £50 for damaging machinery.

In the February of the following year, three men – Emyr Llywelyn Jones (a university student), Owain Williams (a farmer’s son), and John Albert Jones (a former military policeman) – bombed an electricity transformer on the site. Emyr was imprisoned for a year. It wasn’t until a second bombing of a pylon that Owain was jailed, and John received probation. Speaking to the BBC, Williams explained his belief that this was a political awakening for Wales, "a seed planted to develop for the future, when we would have some kind of democratic defence".

How many people lost their homes in Capel Celyn?

A couple at their home in the Tryweryn Valley, sat by the fireplace. The man is smoking a pipe.
A couple at their home in the Tryweryn Valley. (Photo by Alex Dellow/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A total of 75 people lost their homes at Capel Celyn. Once the bill had passed, these residents lived in the area while work went ahead for two years – often highly disruptive with loud noise and vibrations, it was a reminder that they would soon be forced out of their homes.

“It was a very unsettling time,” former resident Eurgain Prysor Jones told the BBC in 2015. “We knew our home would be gone, our chapel would be gone, our school would be gone and our friends would be moved to different parts… I think if it happened today we would have [been given] counselling for trauma.”

What happened to the people who lived in Capel Celyn?

The people who lived in Capel Celyn were displaced in the early 1960s. Compensation was offered, but not until a decision had been made to flood the Tryweryn Valley.

Many villagers moved to nearby places within the Gwynedd region, while others relocated further afield.

One of the last Welsh-only speaking community in Wales was gone.

When was the reservoir flooded?

A view from the dam of Llyn Celyn reservoir.
A view from the dam of Llyn Celyn reservoir. (Picture by Getty)

The reservoir was officially opened on 21 October 1965. Despite the widespread anger this decision had caused, the flooding was far from an understated affair.

The Corporation of Liverpool invited 400 guests to witness the event. But they would be outnumbered by protestors, who cut microphone leads so speeches were drowned out by chants, and subjected the Lord of Mayor of Liverpool to insults.

The ceremony was planned to be 45 minutes long, but ended up being cut short to just a few minutes before Alderman Frank Cain, Chairman of the Liverpool Water Committee, pulled the lever to flood Capel Celyn and create the Llyn Celyn reservoir.

Protestors at the official opening of the reservoir.
Protestors at the official opening of the Llyn Celyn reservoir. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

The Liverpool Echo documented the scene: “Alderman Cain then pressed a switch to release a jet of water for the lake representing the maximum discharge of 250,000,000 gallons a day. Such was its roar as it erupted from beneath the dam that it drowned even the singing of “Land of My Fathers” by the demonstrators.”

Despite the urgency that had caused people to press on regardless of widespread anger, it was later discovered that Liverpool wasn’t using the water supply from the reservoir. Instead, the water was being sold to other counties for a profit.

What is the legacy of Capel Celyn?

After the flooding of Capel Celyn, two words started springing up over Wales in graffitied lettering: “Cofiwch Drywern” (“Remember Tryweryn”).

The most iconic example can be found at Llanrhystud, near Aberystwyth, and is now regarded as a memorial to those who lost their homes.


In times of drought, when much of the reservoir dries up, remains of the village become visible; a haunting reminder of the people that once called the valley their home.


Lauren GoodDigital Content Producer, HistoryExtra

Lauren Good is the digital content producer at HistoryExtra. She joined the team in 2022 after completing an MA in Creative Writing, and she holds a first-class degree in English and Classical Studies.