How "King" Ken battled for disputed island crown

Bardsey Island – rugged and remote, spectacularly beautiful, and not all that long ago ruled by its own king.

Love Pritchard, left, the king of Bardsey Island, pictured in 1925 with a Captain Jarret of Trinity House.
Love Pritchard, left, the king of Bardsey Island, pictured in 1925 with a Captain Jarret of Trinity House.

And during the Great War a place which gave succour to the enemy?

Actually we don't think so, but we'll come to that.

The island lies two miles off the long leg of the Llyn Peninsula, a favourite destination for holidaymakers from the West Midlands and Shropshire.

The last king of Bardsey was Love Pritchard who like many of the islanders left in the 1920s, and died in 1927.

Love Pritchard, left, the king of Bardsey Island, pictured in 1925 with a Captain Jarret of Trinity House.

In 1999 after opera star Bryn Terfel, "the Welsh Pavarotti," accepted becoming patron of the island's trust, its 480 members decided to offer him the Bardsey crown as a thank you.

But when that became public, a challenge arose from an unexpected quarter – a 56-year-old furniture agent from Stourbridge who also ran a pet food business.

Ken Pritchard said he was the great-grandson of the last king and began a campaign to be recognised as the rightful heir to the throne, although his attempt to visit his "kingdom" was aborted because of rough seas.

Ken discovered that details of the royal connection were on his grandfather William Love Pritchard’s gravestone in Runcorn Cemetery.

His own late father, William Horace Love Pritchard, later dropped Love from his name and did not tell his son about the family’s claims to the throne.

Ken Pritchard, left, who was campaigning to become King Ken, pictured in 1999 with son John, and holding a photo of Ken's great grandfather, the last King of Bardsey.

Speaking in 2000, Ken said: "My only concern is that my family is recognised. I don’t want to be a king living on an island. The crown is worthless really, but it is a matter of family heritage.”

The disputed succession seems to have had its effect, as although Bryn Terfel remains a patron of the island's trust, he does not seem to have taken up the offer of the honorary royal title.

Anyway, back to Bardsey, and for 26 years it was home to Nell Williams, although in the old Welsh way she was always known as Nell Carreg after her island home, Carreg Farm.

Her story was told in a 1990s book of her memories by her daughter Bessie, called Twenty Six Years on Bardsey, written and published in Welsh.

Still beautiful and remote – Bardsey Island. Picture: Val Neal

Nell was born in April 1905 in a little whitewashed cottage in the shadow of Y Foel, above Aberdaron, the little village at the tip of the peninsula, but when she was five the family moved to Bardsey (Ynys Enlli in Welsh) which was reached then, as now, by boat.

The properties on the island, she recalled, were all built by the owner Lord Newborough in 1875 who had also put up a monument to commemorate 20,000 saints reputed to be buried there.

"In the 1860s Lord Newborough gave the tenants the right to choose someone from among themselves to be king," Nell said.

"John Williams was chosen to govern the island and a ceremony was held to crown the king. He was given a crown, a cross, and an army.

"His reign did not last long. He was deposed and died in the poorhouse in Pwllheli. Love Pritchard was chosen to take his place."

The king was lazy, and was often sleeping, she said.

In 1921 there was a population of 58 under his rule, 34 men and 24 women. Most were bilingual, but 11 spoke only Welsh.

When Nell first arrived on the island, in the autumn of 1910, there was not one married couple living there, "only bachelors and spinsters and one lame child called Sam."

Now we come to the Great War, and a passage in Nell's memories reads: "I remember well the time when Zeppelins (German airships) used to come above the field in front of our house.

"When they arrived, they lowered a basket down on a rope, and the basket would be full of delicacies, biscuits of every kind, chocolate and fruit.

"After the basket had come down low enough to be emptied, we filled it with butter, eggs and other things which they were pleased to have. The Zeppelins came every fortnight on a Thursday. No-one knew where they came from or where they returned to. It was more than likely that the authorities knew nothing of the visits."

A good clue that these cannot have been German Zeppelins is that no inhabitants of Bardsey were subsequently hanged for treason. They will surely have been British airships – there was a coastal airship base at Pembroke – calling in while on convoy patrol and, although Love Pritchard was allegedly a supporter of the Kaiser and Bardsey was jokingly said to be neutral during the war, perhaps they morphed into "Zeppelins" in the translation of Nell's memoirs from the original Welsh.

Nell was on Bardsey for 12 years before moving back to the mainland, as islanders called it, but missed the idyllic life terribly and was to return to her beloved Bardsey after marriage. She was eventually to return to the mainland for good amid talk of the school closing and because of the poor health of her son William.

The island population in 1935.

"Only once did I return to the island and that was many years later. The place had changed enormously and the houses were empty."

In later life – she and husband Ifan lived into their 90s – their home was at Mynytho, overlooking Abersoch.

Today Bardsey is owned by a trust and is a wildlife haven of international importance, where rare birds are often spotted, like (in 2015) the hoopoe, wryneck, red-breasted flycatcher, and Cretzschmar's bunting. A handful of people still live there and it has properties which are let out to holidaymakers.

A view on the island towards the lighthouse.

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