Obituary: Aled Eames

Basil Greenhill
Sunday 23 October 2011 09:00

Aled Eames more than anyone else was responsible for bringing the study of the Welsh maritime heritage into the mainstream of academic and popular historical research and writing. Latterly he was spoken of as one of Wales's leading contemporary historians.

Born in Llandudno in 1921 and educated at a local grammar school, Eames joined the Royal Navy early in the Second World War to serve as a seaman in a corvette, the Narcissus, on North Atlantic convoy escort duties. Later in the war, commissioned as a Lieutenant RNVR, he commanded tank landing craft in the invasion of Europe. He was twice mentioned in despatches and wounded at the Waleheren landing of November 1944.

Release from service found him at the University College of North Wales (as it was then known) at Bangor. Here he took First Class Honours in History. He taught the subject in two schools before being appointed in 1955 Lecturer, later Senior Lecturer, in Education at Bangor, and Warden of Neuadd Reichel Students' Hostel.

By 1955 Eames's historical studies had turned to the maritime aspects of the subject, and in that year he was awarded the Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Prize for his thesis "Sea Power and Welsh History during the Reign of Charles I".

From then on his work dealt increasingly with the history of Welsh merchant shipping in the 19th and early-20th centuries. In 1973 he published Ships and Seamen of Anglesey and in 1975 Porthmadog Ships, a brilliant study of the century of shipping prosperity in Porthmadog which followed the construction of the harbour there in 1824. There were studies in Welsh - Meistri's Moroedd ("Shipmaster", 1980) and Machlud Hwylieur Cymry ("Shrouded Quays", 1992) - and in 1987 the masterly Ventures in Sail, subtitled "Aspects of the Maritime History of Gwynedd, 1840-1914, and the Liverpool Connection".

This latter work, like all Eames's books, revealed the breadth of his interest. He saw merchant shipping history as involving not only economic history and the technicalities of seamanship and ship-handling - though a sound basis in these matters he saw as absolutely essential for any scholar working in the subject - but also as social and political history. All his work is characterised by a breadth of human interest and sympathy.

Equally at home in Welsh and English, Eames lectured widely and was a founder editor of the Gwynedd Archives Service annual publication, Maritime Wales, of which he was particularly proud, regarding it as a means of promoting widespread understanding of the significance of the maritime aspects of history.

His widest audiences were reached through television. His major work in this medium comprised the series of BBC2 films Tradewinds (1986), in the production of which I collaborated and which was seen in many countries. He presented a number of programmes in Welsh, including the series Halen Yo Y Gwaed ("Salt in the Veins").

In 1981 I travelled with Aled Eames in the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Maine in the United States. The expedition was organised to enable him to meet like-minded people on the other side of the Atlantic and to visit historic sites. It was part of the preparation for the writing of Ventures in Sail. One of the pleasures of the trip was to see the ease and sympathy with which he related to the very varied personalities we encountered and the skill with which he could draw relevant ideas, views and comment from all manner of men and women.

He was never ruffled, even by the stresses of television work, relaxed and good-tempered whatever happened, and a man of great charm and endless humour (in two languages).

Basil Greenhill

Aled Eames, maritime historian: born Llandudno 29 July 1921; married first Hazel Phillips (two daughters; marriage dissolved), secondly Freda Gale (one son, two daughters); died 7 March 1996.

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