The Good Old Days

Notes and jottings on
Llandybie, Llandeilo , Ffairfach
and the Amman Valley

Bryn Thomas 1973

If left to the historian history would concentrate only on the “big picture”, on battles, monarchs, emperors, sweeping legal reforms and the like. Left to the ordinary people, however, the smaller details of daily life more familiar to us soon emerge. Here are some snippets of life as lived in 19th century Llandeilo and Ffairfach, extracted from The Good Old Days by Llandeilo-born Bryn Thomas.

Llandeilo in the Nineteenth Century

Below are some of facts as given by Gwilym Teilo in Llandeilo Past and Present in 1858.

In 1750 the Tywi Bridge consisted of four narrow stone arches. These were swept away by tree trunks brought down by great floods and ice.

In 1858 Llandeilo was a little town of 290 houses; 11 streets; 73 shops; 23 public houses; 4 chapels; and a church.

The present bridge across the Tywi was built in 1848 at a cost of £22,000, by Mr. Morgan Morgan, of Cwmaman. The designer was Mr. Williams Williams, of Liandeilo. It is the biggest single span stone bridge in Wales.

The first chapels built were:

Calvinistic Methodists, Rhosmaen street (1779); Wesleyan, Rhosmaen street (1809); Baptist, at end of Abbot Terrace (1889); Tabernacle, Ffarfach(1818); The Church (Sixth century).

On February 21, 1848, the first stone of the old church was taken down, and on March 28, the foundation stone of the present church was laid by Mr. Morgan Morgan, the contractor of the bridge, and Mr. Thomas Thomas (Ffairfach) Master Mason on the bridge and the Church. (Mr. Thomas was the great grandfather of the writer.)

The town had its water supply from thirty hand pumps in 1858. The last of these pumps, in perfect working condition, can be seen at the entrance to the Gas Works in Ffairfach [ie in 1973].

There was one spring in the Churchyard, but many years later it was channelled to Church Street, where it remains today.

Llandeilo streets were in total darkness from 1843 to 1858, the people failing to agree who would pay the lamp lighter and foot the bill for the oil, wick and glasses.

During this time urchins had smashed the lamps, but they were working again in 1858 and there was strong talk that at some future time gas would be used to light the town. Incidentally, they did have gaslight some years later.

There was no school in Llandeilo in 1858 except two or three Dame Schools (infants). Ffairfach had the first school, the British School, built in 1858 near the Tabernacle.

All the houses in Bridge Street were thatched.

Letters were brought by carriers (horse back) from Carmarthen in the morning at 10.30 and leaving at 2.30 p.m., arriving at Carmarthen at 4.30 p.m.

Public houses open in Llandeilo between 1858 and 1970:

Quay Inn at top of Heol-y-Cae; Six Bells at Bridge Street; Red Cow at Bridge Street; Half-Moon at Bridge Street; King's Head at Bridge Street; Nags Head off Bridge Street; Black Horse off Bridge Street; Phoenix at Town Square; George and Dragon at Carmarthen Street; Gin Shop at Carmarthen Street; New Inn at Carmarthen Street; Boot and Shoe opposite Corner House, Carmarthen Street; Ship Inn at Carmarthen Street; Three Tuns at Market Street; White Lion at George Street; George Inn, three storey building where the old Vicarage is today; Victoria at New road; Salutation at New Road; White Hart at Carmarthen Road; Cawdor Arms at Rhos-maen Street; Angel at Rhos-maen Street; Rose and Crown at Rhos-maen Street (last thatched roof Inn in town); Castle Inn at Rhos-maen Street; Railway Inn at Rhos-maen Street; White Horse Inn at Rhos-maen Street; Farmers at Rhos-maen Street; Plough at Rhos-maen Street; G.W.R. Station Refreshment Room; Torbay at Ffairfach; Tregib at Ffairfach; Ivy Bush at Ffairfach; Bear Inn, where the Cawdor Arms is today; Golden Lion, site unknown.

The largest Inn was the George Inn in George Street.

Officers of the Dragoons were billeted here for nearly a year, during the Rebecca Riots.

Population: 1801 - 647; 1811 - 776, 1821 - 1,019; 1831 - 1,268; 1841 - 1,313.

Facts and figures

The Shire Hall was built in 1802. The Cornmarket was held there every Saturday morning (1853).

Twm o'r Nant, the celebrated Welsh poet and timber haulage contractor, hired the 'Walk Turnpike' for £108 a year, the bard receiving the tolls for the maintenance of his family, and paying his rent in carriage of timber. After that he lived in the Six Bells public house which he built (Gwilym Teilo),

John Morgan better known as "Jac y Post" carried the letter bags from the town to Carmarthen for 60 years; he is now in his 87th year. He has danced more hornpipes, drank more beer, and fought more Irishmen than any man living (1858).

The first Post Office was established in a house in George Street circa 1750, and in 1858 it was in Abbot Terrace (Abbey Terrace).

It was stated in 1858 of William Williams, designer of the Llandeilo bridge, that he was a modest unassuming man, possessing a mind of enormous calibre, and though his grave is smooth and bare, the bridge in its stateliness and grandeur is a lasting monument to his genius.

What they said in Llandeilo when the railway reached the town:

There were many predictions held out as to the future effects of the introduction of the railways to Wales ...

They were to "annihilate the Welsh language that the hills and dales of Cambria have echoed for unknown centuries."

"The people's manners and customs are to be almost at once and for ever forgotten."

Others said that fashions and the outward appearance of things were for ever changing - "Manners may vary; but the Cymro will still be Cymro in passion, in feeling, and in character."

A writer of an earlier period stated "A language is not formed in a day, nor will it die in a day."

"When it pleases providence to doom the Welsh language to annihilation, it will die a natural death, but let man, vain conceited man, stay his presumptuous hand when he assumes a power which belongs to Heaven alone. The Welsh language that has outlived the sweeping tides of war, and of civil wars, the Revolutions of ages, the powerful intermixture of the Roman and English language."

Llandeilo in 1908

Jan 30: Annual banquet of the Llandeilo and District Licensed Victulars Association, at the Cawdor Arms Hotel, Llandeilo. Alderman R. Hughes (first Lord Mayor of Cardiff) presided.

June 10: Opening of Penlan Park, Llandeilo, the gift of Lord Dynevor.

June 17: Appointment of Mr Picton Phillips as chief constable of Carmarthenshire at a salary of £400 per annum, with travelling allowance of £40, to commence on July 1st.

Sept 19: Annual rifle shooting competition of H. Co. Territorials on the Dynevor range, Llandeilo. Over 30 attended from Ammanford in charge of Colour Sergt. Instructor I. Jones.

1899: Llandeilo United Choral Society won the chief choral at the Pontardulais Annual Eisteddfod under the direction Mr. Robert Thomas, L.T.S.C. Seven choirs compete.

The origin of the choir was the Ffairfach Tabernacle choir and after they became the Llandeilo United, they continued to hold their practices at the Tabernacle Chapel, Ffairfach. Mr. Robert Thomas later resided at Llandybie.

1920: Llandeilo R.F.C. play Llandybie at Cae William. Llandybie-6 points; Llandeilo -6 points.

Nov 12: The M.M.T. bus which runs the service between Ammanford and Llandeilo, crashes through a parapet of the Llandeilo bridge, the bus which was full of passengers going to Llandeilo Fair hung precariously over the side.

1858 - Freemasons Lodge

The St. Teilo Lodge no. 996, held at The Cawdor Arms commenced 11 Feb. 1857; Oddfellows, at the Castle Inn Oct. 1838. The Ivorites held at the Red Cow in Bridge Street, Sept. 1840, its finances very healthy, being £400.

The Horse Chestnut Tree

The majestic horse chestnut tree which adds to the beauty and adornment of the place, was planted in the year 1818. We are indebted for this graceful ornament to Mr. William Rees, a respectful tradesman who lived at the centre of the town, and who took the greatest interest in its growth; for upwards of twenty years he bestowed the greatest of care in its preservation.

Llandeilo Zinc Mine - 1857

Some time ago a good deal of expectation was raised by the discovery of what seemed a very promising lode of Zinc, near the town (the sulphuret of that metal, commonly called Jack), and a company was formed under the provisions of the "Limited Liability Act" to work it. Capital £3,000 to be raised in £10 shares. When the company commenced their operations an adit level of 221 feet had been driven and a large bulk of the ore got out. The mine was for sometime worked by the company in a similar manner as it had been by the original adventurer, but it was found advisable to sink a "Winze" in the shaft so as to cross the lode, & so prove it.

This being accomplished at about five fathoms depth, the "Winze" was further sunk to ten fathoms depth, at which point a cross cut was made to lode again. The operations extended over seven or eight months. About this time, orders were issued for a steam engine and estimates obtained for crushers and another shaft independently of the adit level was commenced.

At Crug, a little north of the town, a limestone of a kind is found. At present, the production of lime here is very limited but there are indications in the mysterious proceedings of the owners, of an intention to have recourse to more extensive operations.

Ffairfach in the Nineteenth Century

Ffairfach in the early nineteenth century was quite a big village. It contained about three dozen houses, a relatively large number for the time.

Apart from Tywi Terrace there were houses near the square, including the turnpike toll gate house. Also there was a little street of houses behind the Torbay called Pentre-fewn-Torbay; the little lane that led to them was visible a year ago, it ran along the edge of the Torbay garden.

These houses were demolished when the gas works were erected about 1860.

There were quite a number of little cottages in and around Ffairfach at that time, The houses at Pontargoediwyn, near the Union Buildings, known as the Abercennen Old Peoples' Home today, were very old.

The village of Ffairfach was unique in that it could boast two railway stations within 300 yards of each other, and a third station at Llandeilo was only a mile or so away. There was hardly a village in Carmarthenshire that had a similar advantage. Passengers from the Amman Valley and Carmarthen usually alighted at the Ffairfach stations, as they would save 1 ½ pence on the return fare, which meant a great deal in those days. Also the distance from Llandeilo station to the church square was almost as far as it would be if they walked from Ffairfach.

Three-quarters of the commerce of the town of Llandeilo at this time came from the south of the Tywi bridge; consequently Ffairfach became important, for rail and road passengers made use of the village as the first stopping place en route for Llandeilo.

The first railway through Ffairfach was built by the Llanelli Dock Railway (Llanelli to Llandovery) in 1856.

The second was built by the London North Western in 1865 Carmarthen to Llandeilo) through the beautiful vale of the Tywi. The name of the station was Llandeilo Bridge.

In addition to the three dozen houses the villagers were well provided with the necessary things that everyday life at that period demanded.

Foremost was their chapel, built in 1818, and attached to it was the burial ground.

Ffairfach also had its corn mill and, in common with others, its village inn. The Torbay Inn was a great centre of attraction with the village folk. They would go there to get iron tips from the inn smithy. The smith, who was also the landlord of the Torbay, even extracted teeth for the whole community before the days of dentists.

Near the Torbay was the British School, which was established in 1858. The school is there today and I believe is used by Tabernacle chapel.

The first schoolmaster was Mr. David Morgan, author of The Story of Carmarthenshire (1908).

The present council school was built about 1899. I was a pupil in the years 1908-1909 and Mr. Morgan was still the schoolmaster.

No village was complete without its fairs, and Ffairfach was no exception. Fairs were held annually, two in all, one on May 5, and a cattle fair on November 22.

The Union Poor House was built about 1839 for vagrants and the needy, and the poor travellers of that time always made for this place.

Last, but not least, the most essential need of the village, was the village pump. This has remained at Ffairfach for centuries to remind us of its past glories and the service it has rendered to its people. It was around this pump that the women of Ffairfach had their daily bits of news. It was a meeting place for "y chwiorydd." Today we have our W.V.S. and W.I., but not so in the days of old. This was the women folk's only recreation - a visit to the village pump for water. Incidentally water is available from that old pump today, some people go there for a jug-full of pure crystal-clear water with which their ancestors quenched their thirsts.

The original name for Ffairfach was "Abercennen," after that it became Ffairvach, and finally it was spelt Ffairfach.

The gas works has been there over 100 years. This was the last of the modern changes that came to the little village which had witnessed revolutionary changes in the coming of the railroad.

Old houses in the vicinity of Ffairfach and which had some historical importance at some time over the ages were "Talardd", "Caeglas" and "Cefncethin."

According to a writer of 1858, at Talardd there were some archways supposed to be of considerable antiquity also "principal beams and other timber of rich perpendicular roof."

According to an old report of earlier days "survivors of a brigade of 2,000 men had retreated from a battle in the vicinity of a place called Cae-Du," extending as far as the foot of "Cefen Cethin Hill."

Above Maerdy, at Caeglas, there is a well called "Ffynnon-fil-feibion [spring of a thousand sons], near which, tradition states, 1,000 men fell slain or disabled. The stones surrounding it were stained with blood and it continued visible for succeeding centuries."

When they built the Tywi Bridge, special stone had to be used for the buttresses. The only place they could get this stone, according to the architect, was a quarry about 50 yards from the signal box at the side of the railway and immediately below Rock Villa.

After rigid tests for quality, large blocks of this stone were taken to commence the bridge, and after nearly 130 years these but tresses are as solid as the day they were put there.

A nursery garden primarily for the growing of trees was at the back of the British School. It was run by the Cawdor Estate. This nursery, the building of the Tywi Bridge, the re-building of Llandeilo Church, and the new railroad, all brought prosperity to the people of Ffairfach.