No one knows precisely when people in west Wales first started eating laver, some say it was first introduced as a survival food by the Vikings, but whether the locals turned to the nutritious snack out of necessity or delight we will never know.
Apparently the first written description of it appeared in William Camden's Britannia – 1607, where it vividly describes the springtime gathering of "Lhawvan" from the beach of Eglwys Abernon near St David´s in Pembrokeshire1,2:
"Near St Davids, especially at Eglwys Abernon, and in many other places along the Pembroekshire Coast, the peasantry gather in the Spring time a kind of Alga or seaweed, where they made a sort of food called lhavan or llawvan, in English, black butter. The seaweed is washed clean from the sand, and sweated between two tile stones. The weed is then shred small and well-kneaded, as they do dough for bread, and made up into great balls or rolls, which some eat raw, and others fry with oatmeal and butter".
William Camden - Britannia - 1607
During the mining era in the eighteenth century, "lawr" became a staple food of the pit workers as part of breakfast. In 1865 George Borrow on his travels wrote of "moor mutton with piping hot laver sauce", a great dish of the time1.
Though consumption of laverbread has declined, as has the mining community, and the popularity of the cooked breakfast, it is still eaten throughout South Wales1.
A small cottage industry in collecting Laver slowly developed throughout Pembrokeshire between the 18th century to around the 1950s, the remnants of which can still be seen at Freshwater West where a laver seaweed drying hut has been restored. At one time up to 20 drying huts could be found along Freshwater West, each one maintained by a local family from Angle.
"When laver gathering was a thriving industry at Freshwater West, the drying huts were arrayed along the shore. The women from Angle walked the beach with baskets of the seaweeds on their heads".
"Women and girls are no longer seen making their way from Angle at first light, buckets on their arms, a sack tucked into the girdle. 73 year old Mrs. Joan Eynon recalled the days when as a young women she and her friends had gone laver gathering. When the tide was right they would set out at 4am to cross the fields and walk along the beach to reach the flat seaweed covered rocks on the south side.
"It was women's work", she said "and very much a local industry. When I was doing it there were about 12 of us, but I think that once there were about 50 gatherers. In the summer you'd get a bag full in no time, but sometimes you could work for hours to get it full".
"She said the weed was spread out in the thatched huts to dry and on Monday mornings was sacked and labelled. Mr. Reuben Cousins came with his horse and cart to take it to Pembroke station and from there it went to dealers in Swansea where it was made into laver bread and sold in the markets".
"The Hicks family were particularly well-known as laver gatherers and the last of the old time gatherers was Audrey Hicks who harvested the weed for 50 years. When she began work as a girl of 14 there were 20 gatherers huts, but eventually hers was the only one remaining".
"Mr Howard Howells, of Tudor House, Castlemartin: "Get a low tide at Freshwater West and they'd be there, he said. They were hardy people and they could rough it.
2. Western Telegraph Archive (dated 18th January 1989)
3. Western Telegraph Archive (dated 24th April 1980)