The history of
of the Subject
Falls in Wales
THE HISTORY OF ASTRONOMY IN WALES
Two meteorites falls are known to have occurred in Wales, both coincidentally in the Northwest.
The first took place at Pontllyfni, south of Caernarfon, on 14th April, 1931. It fell within 50 yards of Coch-y-Bug farmhouse. It weighed 146 grammes.
The other fall took place at Beddgelert in the early hours of 21st September, 1949. The meteorite fragmented during descent and one piece fell through the roof of the Prince Llewelyn Hotel. The total mass of the fragments was 723 grammes. A number of fragments of the meteorite are held at the Natural History Museum in London. A replica of the Beddgelert meteorite used to be on display in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
The third edition of the British Museum Catalogue of Meteorites notes a claim that a meteorite fell in Cardiff some years before 1842, but dismisses the claim as being "very doubtful" in the absence of any adequate evidence. A claim was made that stones fell at St Clears in April 1903, but they were shown not to be meteorites.
The Pontllyfni meteorite
At 11h 53m on the morning of 14th April, 1931, a number of people in South Yorkshire saw a brilliant meteor moving across the blue daytime sky. It moved westwards, remaining visible for several seconds until it faded from view. The skies were cloudier further west in Derbyshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, which meant that few people saw the fireball from these areas.
The skies above north Wales were also mostly cloudy. The peace was however disturbed by very loud rumbling noises, like thunder but lasting up to 30 seconds. Bertrand Peek, an amateur astronomer, was climbing on Moel Siabod in Snowdonia. He wrote later,
We went up the N.E. spur, and had reached a height of roughly 2,400 feet, or 500 feet below the summit, when at about 11 hrs. a tremendous roar like thunder came to us over the top of the mountain, i.e., from the S.W. I exclaimed, "Hullo, thunder!" and as the sound went rolling on for longer than one would have expected of a thunder clap, my companion at the time, Mr. A. R. Thompson, remarked, "No, it's a motor cycle." It was certainly a fact that, mingled with the general roar, there was a continuous rhythmic noise, like the sound of a rapidly firing machine gun or a badly silenced motor cycle, which went on for several seconds. The noise was heard widely across Snowdonia. Many people explained the event as an earthquake, but seismographs failed to show any ground movement. The Yorkshire Post newspaper, 15th April, 1931, (quoted in reference ) reported:
There was a terrific double report followed by an awe-inspiring rumble of earth lasting quite 30 seconds. The rumble shook the houses and left an eerie feeling especially to the residents of houses on elevations. People had their fears intensified by the affrighting effect of the disturbance on domestic animals and on birds and cattle ... The effect of the tremor on Portmadoc and neighbouring towns and villages was immediately to empty houses and business premises of their occupants. The streets were crowded with people, whose anxiety was intensified by memory of a terrific explosion during the Great War at a neighbouring explosives factory. Others suggested an explosion in North Wales quarries. Inquiries dissipated these notions.
The noises were also heard by John Lloyd Jones of Coch-y-Bug Farm, 1.5 km southeast of the village of Pontllyfni on the coast south of Caernarfon. A short time later, he heard a different noise, the sound of an object falling at speed through the air. It hit the ground several metres from him. The event was recounted in the Manchester Guardian newspaper (quoted in reference ):
The meteorite fell within 50 yards of the farmhouse. Weight, exactly 5oz. It made a hole 8 in. or 9 in. deep in very hard ground. Mr. John Lloyd Jones (tenant of Coch-y-Bug) was not more than ten paces from the spot when it came down. He was startled shortly before noon by what he took to be a clap of thunder. `He walked 200 yards towards the farm-buildings, when he heard a rushing, whistling sound.' `I stood still,' he added, `and shouted to my son, and then behind me I heard a dull thud. Not knowing what was going to happen, I ran a few steps towards one of the outbuildings. Then my son came up and he took out of a hole in the ground what seemed to be a stone.' Mr. Jones stated that the sky was not noticeably dark when this happened; it was dull, however, and the clouds, though high, were heavy threatening . . . Mr. John Aneurin Jones, a son of the house, said: `I heard a succession of reports like muffled guns, and about a minute later there was a peculiar whistling noise as of a projectile. Instinctively I stooped where I stood in the farmyard. When I picked up the fragment of metal, or whatever it is, it was warm in my hand.' Just before the meteorite fell, he added, horses which were being led reared and whinnied and seemed rather affrighted. Their disorder continued till after the occurrence, when they quietened down.
The events were investigated in detail by Alphonso King (1882-1936), an amateur astronomer, a specialist in meteors and a schoolmaster at Ashby, North Lincolnshire. He used observations of the fireball from Yorkshire, reports of the sonic effects from Wales and the fall of the meteorite at Coch-y-Bug farm to produce a scientific analysis in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association. He concluded that the fireball first became visible when 54 miles above a point close to Bakewell in Derbyshire, and that it faded from view when 28 miles above a point 3 miles south-southwest of Mold. The fireball travelled with a speed of 9 miles per second relative to the Earth. The object continued travelling westwards above north Wales, producing the sonic effects. King believed that it reached the Earth at a point 18 miles west of Pontllyfni in the Irish Sea. This implied that the meteorite that fell at Coch-y-Bug near Pontllyfni was only a small fragment that broke off the main body as it passed through the Earth's atmosphere: most of the mass fell into the sea. This explained why John Lloyd Jones heard the rumbling sounds before the fall of the stone on the farm:
Detonations were heard at Coch-y-Bug farm before the arrival of the meteorite. The difference between sound-time and fall-time is not enough to explain the observed interval, which is, however, explicable on the idea that the stone was lagging behind the rest, which is what might be expected. In this hypothesis, the thunder-like sounds heard before the fall proceeded from the main "pack," while the whistling heard simultaneously with the descent of the meteorite would be the whizzing due to its rush through the air.
King communicated a number of times with Mrs. Jones, the wife of John Lloyd Jones. He wrote in his scientific paper,
Mrs. Jones states that the hole made by the meteorite is nearly vertical, with a slight slope to the S. of W., also that the object was apparently directed from the Clynnog precipice of Snowdon. Dr. L. J. Spencer, of the Natural History Museum, went to Pontllyfni in October, and marked the place of the fall - the exact spot had been indicated, immediately after the happening, by inserting a twig in the hole - on a six-inch Ordnance Survey map, as at:-L. J. Spencer (1870-1959) of the then British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington, London, (now the Natural History Museum) was an international authority on meteorites.
The story of what happened to the Pontllyfni meteorite after the fall is itself interesting. Alphonso King noted that
Some delay was experienced in verifying the authenticity of the object as a meteorite, and until this was done the computation of the real path was not proceeded with, also it was hoped that other observations of the fireball might be received to augment the meagre available material. When Dr. Spencer went to Pontllyfni the stone had been sold to a gentleman in Mid-Wales, and was pronounced by the former, on visiting him, to be a genuine meteorite. The present owner prefers not to part with it, so that no chemical and microscopical examination has so far been possible, and Dr. Spencer will venture on no description of the meteorite other than to state that it is `apparently of an unusual type.' Spencer's observation that the meteorite was of an unusual type was significant.
Mr. John Lloyd Jones was approached by an amateur astronomer, John R. Owens (also sometimes spelt Owen) of Ffospilcorn, Llanrhystud, near Aberystwyth. [12,13] Owens had himself heard the sonic effects, despite being about 80 kilometres south of the path of the meteorite. Years later he claimed that he had suspected at the time that the sounds had been caused by a meteorite fall, and placed requests in various newspapers for witnesses to send reports to him. A number of witnesses obliged. Owens learnt of the fall at Pontllyfni and travelled to Coch-y-Bug. He purchased the meteorite from the family and took it back to Llanrhystud. Owens later wrote of what he had been told about the appearance and condition of the meteorite when it was recovered from the ground:
Pan dynnwyd ef allan o'r twll yr oedd yn gynnes ac o liw llwyd-glas. He described its appearance further:
Fe drodd yr ochr allanol iddo yn lliw mwy du yn ddiweddarach o ganlyniad i gyffyrddiad ag awyr (oscideiddiad) ond bu'r ochr fewnol - lle torrodd i ffwrdd yn y ffrwydrad oddi wrth ddernyn mwy yn ei liw glas-lwyd cyntefig. Yn erbyn y cefndir glas-lwyd yr oedd ysmotiau a brychau melyn. Arwydda ysmotiau mae aloion o nicel-haearn oeddynt a bod presenoldeb nicel-haearn ynddo. Pwysau'r dernyn hwn oedd 146 gram. This means that there was a dark ablation surface on the outside of the original body, caused by its passage at high speed through the Earth's atmosphere. The fragmentation of the original mass occurred after it had slowed, and the surfaces that were then freshly exposed were not blackened by travelling at high speed through the atmosphere.
Owens investigated the possibility that further fragments fell in the area. He searched the fields of Bryncroes and other nearby farms for holes caused by other meteoritic fragments, but time was too limited to make a thorough search. He found no other pieces.
Owens interpreted the meteorite as a fragment of a comet that collided with the Earth. Indeed he believed that it was part of a comet seen in 1861, on the basis of some calculations he made about the meteorite's path. However, a modern understanding is that comets are predominantly icy bodies that shed dust-like material, rather than having any association with meteorites (meteors that burn up completely in the Earth's atmosphere are understood to originate in comets, not meteorites). Meteorites are today understood to be material more associated with asteroids.
Owens kept the Pontllyfni meteorite, storing it in a glass case for protection. He refused requests by the Natural History museum in London to acquire it, despite the Museum having the definitive collection of British meteorites. The Museum was therefore unable to perform a detailed chemical and mineralogical analysis. Eventually, after four decades, John Owens relented and presented the meteorite to the museum.
Pan yn Llundain yn ystod yr haf 1975, rhoddwyd ef yn anrheg i Amgueddfa Brydeinig (Adran Hanes Naturiaeth) South Kensington, Llundain - ei le priodol. 
The Pontllyfni meteorite could be subjected to a detailed scientific analysis now that it was in an academic institution. It was cut into two main pieces, plus some very small samples. A sample was made available to the University of Chicago, and other analyses were carried out by R. N. Clayton, and by A. L. Graham, A. J. Easton and R. Hutchison. The Chicago study, by A. M. Davis, R. Ganapathy and L. Grossman studied the chemical composition in detail.
One other curious issue surrounding the Pontllyfni meteorite has been its name. Although Alphonso King's paper used the correct spelling of the village - Pontllyfni - throughout, the meteorite was listed in the British Museum's Catalogue of Meteorites as falling at Pontlyfni. Consequently, it is this incorrect spelling that has been used commonly in the scientific literature. Pontllyfni (meaning the "bridge of the river Llyfni") is the correct spelling of the village's name.
The Beddgelert meteorite
Beddgelert is a village situated in a valley in central Snowdonia, along the banks of the Glaslyn and Colwyn rivers, between the towns of Caernarfon and Porthmadog. It is known as a centre for walking and climbing visits to the surrounding mountains.
The peace of the village was disturbed at 1:47 in the morning of 21st September, 1949. A heavy object fell through the roof of the Prince Llewelyn Hotel in the village centre, which overlooks the Afon Colwyn.
The event was referred to a local newspaper, the Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald and North Wales Observer, on 30th September, 1949. It noted in the `Beddgelert and District' section
STRANGE HAPPENING.- About 3a.m. on the morning of September 21st, a piece of metal weighing about 5 pounds fell through the roof of Prince Llewelyn Hotel to a bedroom below. The noise was heard throughout the village, and up to the present no explanation has been forthcoming for the mysterious happening.On 7th October the newspaper printed a letter by Dr. K. F. Chackett of the University of Durham. He offered a 50-pound financial reward to anyone who brought him "any piece of meteoritic material ... and which is accepted by me and by the Curators of the British Museum as genuine." The University of Durham would also pay 5 shillings for descriptions of anything seen.
The proprietor of the Prince Llewelyn Hotel, Mr. Tillotson, reported the fragment that fell into his building. That fragment reached the British Museum (Natural History) at South Kensington in London - as a single piece - in late November. [10,11] The Times newspaper reported that "Half of the stony meteorite which fell through the roof of the Prince Llewellyn Hotel, Beddgelert, Carnarvonshire, on September 21, has been acquired by the trustees of the British Museum. It was obtained partly by purchase and partly by presentation from Mrs. L. Tillotson, wife of the proprietor of the hotel. The other half is to go to Durham University, where Professor Paneth plans to make measurements of the helium, uranium, and thorium content to add to the present meagre data available for calculating the age of meteoritic stones. Plaster casts of the stone will be made before it is divided." The fragment was cut in two at the Museum, and one half was sent to Durham. The Durham research group published the results of its analyses the following year.
Pieces of the meteorite were distributed to a number of research institutions for detailed analyses. Samples of the meteorite weighing 377.5 grammes were held by the Natural History Museum in London. The samples sent to the University of Durham weighed 374g, but these are now located in the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz in Germany.  15g were held by the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.  Samples weighing 22g went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, 17g to the United States National Museum in Washington D.C., and 13g to Yale University 
The Beddgelert meteorite was a chondrite.
M. H. Hey, Catalogue of Meteorites, third edition,
Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), London, 1966.
Other information resources
A photograph of a large fragment of the Beddgelert meteorite appeared in the book The Search for our Beginning: An enquiry, based on meteorite research, into the origin of our planet and of life by Robert Hutchison, published by the British Museum (Natural History) and Oxford University Press, 1983, plate 3.
The author of these pages wishes to thank Dr. Rhys Morris for providing information about the John Owens article in Y Gwyddonwr. Mr. John Lloyd-Jones, grandson of the discoverer of the Pontllyfni meteorite, is thanked for helpful contributions.
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