THIS year is a big year for I.B.Williams & Son Ltd in Llanbrynmair who could be the oldest company in Wales that produce headstones as they celebrate a century of memorial craftmanship.

The business which currently employs five people was established in 1918 by T.R.Jones from Pennal.

In 1938, T.R.Jones was planning to retire and wanted to sell his business in Llanbrynmair.

Hedd Bleddyn explained how his father Idris Baldwyn Williams a talented stonemason, bought the business:“ Dad wanted to buy it, T.R.Jones wanted £150 but my parents could only afford £100.

"He took the £100 as a deposit and allowed them to pay the additional £50 when they could afford it.

"They took over in March 1938 and I was born in the November, so I was actually there from day one!”

In 1954 at the age of 15, Hedd left school and joined his Father in the business.

As well as being at the top of the game in terms of machinery, Hedd went on to buy seven other memorial manufacturing businesses. I.B.Williams & Son was now operating beyond its local market in Llanbrynmair and Machynlleth, with customers approaching them from Barmouth to Aberystwyth.

As a result, the new building and its current premises was built in Llanbrynmair. It had a showroom customers could visit, which allowed them the opportunity to choose from a variety of stones and designs that were on display.

Hedd’s son, Rhys Bleddyn, was an actor who had worked in the theatre and also on S4C’s Pobl y Cwm.

In 2000, following the birth of his first two children, Lleu and Rhun, he decided he needed a stable career to support his family, and got involved in the family business.

Rhys, said: “By the end of my first week I knew this was where I wanted to be. "Dad had done the hard work and built up the business, so I’ve been able to focus on providing a far more personal service for the customers.

"Our customers now work with us every step of the way and play an important role in the process of producing their desired headstones.”

“Unlike any other business, marketing head stones is very different as it’s a sensitive subject and a service that customers will only use once or twice."

The company employ five members of staff, which Rhys acknowledges as a vital and important part of the business’ success.

Rhys continued“The industry has developed a lot since I’ve taken over.

"We need professional accreditation now, which is a positive development to ensure the best standard of service across the industry. Customers today require a more personalised service and we’re pleased to offer a wide choice of products and designs.

"Unlike my granddad’s experience of buying stones from the local quarries, most of our stones come from abroad now, because good quality Welsh slate is both rare and expensive.”

Another major development is the fact that Rhys has created a partnership with the majority of local funeral directors, which has allowed I.B.Williams & Son to have a shop window in Machynlleth and Barmouth for 10 years and more recently in Dolgellau.

“Unlike any other business, marketing head stones is very different as it’s a sensitive subject and a service that customers will only need to use once or twice in their lifetime."