We all tend to take the place we live in for granted-in particular if it is a village. We know the people; we are familiar with the houses, roads, chapels, churches, the local school and so on. Then perhaps we pause and wonder and ask ourselves ;- which is the oldest house in the village? Why are some houses built in long rows? What was on the site of that building a hundred years ago? ;- Why has that road been given that particular name? Why is there a coal tip there? Where does this stream begin and end? and, a hundred and one other questions. If we care to find out we would be amazed at the interesting things to be found about our village.
We can remember that “History is around you”.
It is indeed a long story from the waste land and from the first isolated farmstead in a countryside with a few narrow, rutted lanes, dotted with small woods, common land and marsh to the busy, bustling place which we call Waunarlwydd. Nowadays, Waunarlwydd is too large and scattered to be called a village the closing down of old industries, the establishment of new industries, the building of new housing estates and the influx of new people have drastically changed the traditional character of the village- but again this is history.
Derivation of name
The name Waunarlwydd – What is its derivation? There are three possible explanations;-
(a) Waun-ar-Ilwvd (an old spelling);- in English ;- The meadow on the River Llwyd, (The Grey Stream).
A common Geographical term is established by combing the name of a river with a place or an adjacent physical feature;- viz Pont-ar-dulais; Glantawe;,Ammanford etc.
Some of the older village generations erroneously referred to the river which separates Waunarlwydd from Gowerton and also marks the 1918 Swansea Borough Boundary-as Nant Llwyd (The Grey Stream).
The correct name for this river is Gors Fawr (The long marsh) and not Nant Llwyd (It is clearly marked Gorsfawr on the Ordnance Survey Maps).
The mistake is understandable- as in those far off days the footpaths over Graig-y-Bwldan were frequently used in order to walk to Dunvant, Cockett and Hendrefoilan. The observant users of these tracks and paths could not but notice that what appeared to be the source of Gorsfawr was in the Cwmllwyd /Nant Llwyd and Hendrefoilan area. This small stream flows alongside the old Elms colliery to join the Gorsfawr in the Bishwell area. Actually the source of Gorsfawr is a moot point -as there is another feeder stream from Beddfexefach / Bishwell area and supplemented by the reddish coloured water from old colliery workings in the Dunvant area.
Thus without any historical evidence it was presumed that the village derived its name from Waun (meadow or marsh)-ar (on) Llwyd (the grey stone)- the meadow on the River Llwyd- thus Waun-ar-LIwd.
Again, unfortunately, this is totally wrong- as the authentic Nant Llwyd is the stream winding its way from CwmLlwyd (The grey wood or vale) under the CwmLlwyd housing estate, under the small bridge at the bottom of Roseland Road (Heol Felyn) on its way to join the larger river Llan.
Further historical proof of the identity of Gorsfawr can be gleaned from WH.Jones’s exellant book “The History of Swansea and the Lordship of Gower” when referring to Cromwell’s Survey of Gower and in particular to the vexed question of land encroachments… that parts of Crow Wood has been enclosed by Sir William Herbert some six ears be ore the date o the sure 1 which would indicate the year 1590.
All the encroachments referred to in this complaint were when the lord’s wastes including the Portmead and lord’s meadows (Waunarlwydd). Referring to the remarkable extent of the encroachments taking place he continues;- It is interesting to identify some of the places named in the complaint. For instance Gorsfawr is the marsh on the Bounds of Swansea and Loughor parishes adjoining Waunarlwydd
Thus, together with an earlier reference to Gorsfawr and Morfa Arlwydd (Lord’s Marsh) it should be adequate proof that the river which is the western boundary of Waunarlwydd justifies its official name of Gorse Fawr. So the name stems not from its Cwm Llwyd source but to the Gorsfawr of the Norman- “Lords meadow ” through which it to its confluence with the larger River Llan.
Translated into English this would indicate ;- The field or meadow of success. The word “Llwyd” derived from the Welsh word “Llwyddant” meaning success. This was obviously a reference to the growth and development of the village due to the exploitation of the rich coal deposites in and around our village from the early eighteenth century.
Again this is patently incorrect as reference to the name Waunarlwydd was recorded well before this time.
This is the acceptable spelling- originally Waun Arglwydd or Waun – Arlwydd; occasionally the Waun referred to as Gwaen, Gwain or Waun on some old maps. Thus it was slightly telescoped to its present form of Waunarlwydd, translated it means … The Lord’s Meadow.
Old documents support this version and we have sufficient historical proof that the site upon which the village now stands was once part of the Lordship of Gower with its “cabut” at the Noman castle in Swansea.
In a charter issued more than 800 years ago there is mention of the area of land (known today as Portmead estate) which was granted to the burgesses of Swansea by the Earl of Warwick During the 14th century the Portmead area was repossessed by the autocratic De Breos family and is referred to in the charter of William de Breos in 1305-06, A part of the Charter includes the following; that part of Portmead which at present we hold in demesnebeing reserved to us and our heirs”
In other words – the Lord’s meadow or Waun Arglwydd or Gwain Arglwydd.
“Demesne” was a manor house and the land adjacent to it these were kept in the lord’s own hands, as distinguished from lands granted to tenants.
The linkage of the name Waunarlwydd;- “the Lord’s meadow ” from the Norman De Breos. So the lawsuits concerning land encroachment in our immediate neighbourhood during the Tudor period- clearly justifies that Waunarlwydd has a long and sometimes mysterious past.
Thus we can confidently discard suggestions (a) and (b) – the evidence is too heavily weighted that the true derivation of our village’s name of Waunarlwydd is indeed traceable to a Norman Baron’s Greed for his own tract of land.
Incidentally, the pronunciation of a Welsh place name like Waunarlwydd proved phonetically bewildering to the American personnel at the Alcoa plant in the village,- so they Americanised it to ;- “one -eye-lid ” if this name should persist one shudders to think of a rather confused future local historian trying to unravel its derivation!
The perils and pitfalls of unravelling the meanings of place names were aptly summed up by Mr. G. Grant Francis;- ” The origin of the names of places is occasionally sunk in the obscurity of ages or has been so clouded by pretended derivations that the seeker after truth is too often hopelessly mystified”.
Generally, our knowledge of history came from written records. Unfortunately these were very few in number. Folklore and legend were handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another and as each generation tended to change and distort the version they received – they were not very reliable sources of history.
The period when there was no written records can be called “Prehistory” However despite the lack of written records we know a vast amount about the people of pre-historic time;- where they lived, the way they lived; the animals they hunted, the weapons they used and so on.
We know the facts through the development of Archaeology. The word archaeology comes from two Greek words meaning “old things” and “Knowledge” i fyou visit your local museum you will be able to appreciate the value of the archaeologist’s contribution to the understanding of “prehistory”.
You may ask;- what has all this to do with our village of Waunarlwydd? There certainly was no village of any form of settled human habitation.
If you look at a map you will see that Waunarlwydd is situated in the neck of the Gower Peninsular, Gower has proved a “treasure house” of prehistoric finds, so not many miles from the present village site there is ample evidence that Stone Age man existed bones, flints, stone tools etc which have been found in many Gower caves.
The finds in Paviland or Goat’s Hole cave (Near Fitton Green, Rhossili)and Cathole cave Parkmill were particularly important. The human skeleton discovered in Paviland-the famous “Red Lady “later proved to be a male skeleton- represents the very first people to inhabit our district.
Therefore, perhaps we can reasonably speculate that these ancient skin-clad hunters roamed over the district in which we now live-then a bitter harsh attic region- in search of such animals as woolly rhinocerous, the giant ox, the Irish elk, reindeer, wolf, fox, hyena, cave bear and perhaps the mammoth.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the modern method of radio-carbod dating indicates that the “Red Lady of Paviland”lived and died about 20,000 years ago.
Although no known prehistoric finds have been recorded within Waunarlwydd itself- isolated finds of leaf-shaped flint arrowheads have been discovered at Gowerton, Gorseinon and Dunvant.
Historians divide History into broad ages, we have already said a little about the Stone Age. Following this we have the Bronze Age (roughly 1800 Bc to 300Bc) and the Iron Age (300BC to 50 AD).
Before and during these ages there were dramatic changes in climate and land and sea masses changed their shape and these in turn governed the way men lived. These changes affected our district, it will be appreciated that it is virtually impossible to fix the precise duration of these Ages.
Probably before and during the Bronze Age a race of people, originally from the plains of central Europe came to Britain. They spread to South Wales and eventually inhabited our district.
This race of people was called “Beaker People” because they made curious drinking vessels called “Beakers” which were nearly always ornamented.
In a period known as the Late Bronze Age we know that these people must have been familiar with the area in and around our village. Probably they did not have a permanent settlement here because they were a nomadic people relying on cattle, pigs, sheep and wild animals for their food supply.
The Beaker People buried their dead in round barrows or mounds. Later they cremated their dead and the ashes were placed in a vessel called a cinerary urn and buried in these barrows.
If you look in a northerly direction from practically anywhere in Waunarlwydd you can easily pick out the buildings of Garn-Goch Hospital. Just to the right of the hospital a round barrow was excavated in 1885 by Sir John. T.D.Llewellyn of Penllegaer . Among the finds were two cinerary urns, a pygmy cup or “incense cup”, a crude knife made of flint and a roughly hewn spear-head.
Since this barrow, cam or cairn was within easy walking distance of the present location of Waunarlwydd, one can safely assume that our district was familiar ground to the “Beaker People”.
Incidentally, it was the “Beaker People” who introduced the first metal tools, made of Bronze which proved to be one of the most important inventions of mankind. It is an established historical fact that the Beaker People pioneered ridgeway tracks, as nomadic traders they discovered that ridgeways were easier, safer and unhampered by the Bogs and marshes (the Welsh tors) of the lower ground provided a quicker means of communication and travel.
Thus from their presence around Mynydd Garn Goch, could the inviting range of hills to their south, including Graig-Y-Bwldan, be one of their ridgeways? Who knows?
From the time of the “Paviland Man” – many wandering tribes arrived in our area and some of them settled here;- The dark complexioned short Iberian, the Beaker people; the tall blue eyed and blond Celt Around about 400 B.C. the Brythons came, they spoke a language which developed into Welsh. Then came the warlike Beige whose woad painted warriors resisted the Roman landings in 43A.D. In South Wales we had the tough Silures who strongly opposed the better armed Roman legionaries. Later on the coast and countryside within the vicinity of Waunarlwydd were raided by Irish pirates, Danish rovers and the redoubtable Normans, Therefore the district around Waunarlwydd was often a bloody battlefield.
The original natives of our village were proud to call themselves Welsh-but they were of a very mixed ancestry indeed One wonders if the typical short half-backs of many a local rugby team could trace their ancestors back o the Iberians?
Druidic Times and Graig-v-Bwldan
Many authoritative local historians quote names of adjacent places such as Sketty((Iscetti), Hendrefoelan, Cockett and our own Graig-y-Bwldan as indications that there was some form of primitive occupation during Druidic times and therefore of the Ancient Britons.
Graig-y-Bwldan is one of the small ranges of Pennant Sandstone hills which separates Waunarlwydd from the neighbouring villages of Dunvant and Killay. Today from its 600 feet high summit one can disapprovingly look down on its southern and northern slopes being slowly encroached by new housing estates.
Yesterday the Graig was unspoiled countryside – a promised green belt- but for how long? Many years ago it was the village playground – a paradise for the construction of lairs and dens and where many a schoolboy Robin Hood and Buffalo Bill with their henchmen fought and hunted.
The Graig itself was interspersed with well trodden “rights of way “leading to Dunvant, Hendrefoelan and Cockett. Today many of these have disappeared through disuse together with its aura of a mixture of legend and fact which surrounded it in past years.
The name “Graig-y-Bwldan” has a mysterious ring to it, Literally translated into English it means;- The Rock of the Fire Ball” or more simply “Beacon Hill” no written records are available to indicate the derivation of its name,-so we can only go front the known to the unknown to attempt to try and unravel its history and place a great reliance on village hearsay and folk -lore handed down from past generations of Waunarlwydd people.
The very name “Graig-y-Bwldan” invokes an echo of Druidic times, we know that the priestly Druids indulged in animal and even human sacrifices and that fire was an essential ingredient in these rituals. So was the Graig a silent witness to these ancient rites-who knows?
Again when we look at the hill in relation to the cairns and stone circles of Celli Brynin Gower and others on the hills to the north of Waunarlwydd in Eastern Gower or the “Gower of the hills”- was Graig-y-Bwldan a primitive signal station with fire being used as a means of communication?
Despite this we can safely say that, at this time, there is no evidence whatsoever of a village or even a small settlement in our particular area.
The best we can hope for is that a primitive homestead existed somewhere in the vicinity. Perhaps one would like to think that a wandering Ancient Briton once stood on the crest of Graig-y-Bwldan or Banc Mawr and watched the “Blue Stones” from the Prescelli Hills in Pembroke being transported between dug-out canoes or skin boats up the Bristol Channel on via the Bristol Avon to their final resting place at Stonehenge?
The Graig and its immediate environs were the sources of many village traditions – a catalogue of village folklore. One such time honoured belief concerned a large flat stone situated almost midway on the Graig path between the old Elms Colliery and Dunvant, This stone was known as the “cuckoo stone’: It was reputed to be the yearly platform from where the first cuckoo proclaimed the arrival of “Spring” to the village of Waunarlwydd.
If one travels eastwards from the “cuckoo stone” one would eventually arrive at Cockett – going westwards one would reach the Mount Pleasant area of Gowerton. It is interesting to note that the place name Cockett is said to be a corruption of the Welsh “Gog-Wig” (cuckoo wood) On the opposite side at the Gowerton end was an old coal pit called Pwll-y-Cwcw (cuckoo pit) – recalled today by the naming of a road in the Mount Pleasant area – Heol-y-Gog (cuckoo road) .
So was tradition linked with fact – the fact being that hundreds of years ago the terrain between Cockett and Gowerton, including the Graig, was heavily wooded, thus providing a natural attraction for generations of the predatory cuckoo?
Many, many years ago, an old Graig farmer was adamant that the track leading from Cwmllwyd (past the nature reserve) and turning right to eventually reach Hendrefoelan was called the Drovers Road. He also insisted that the correct name for Graig y Bwldan was Graig y Pwlldan the Rock or Hill of the Fire Pit This fire pit when lit became a guide to the local cattle drovers.
Was there any substance in this old farmers claim? We know that for centuries Welsh cattle drovers herded vast numbers of cattle, sheep, pigs and even geese from places such as Tregaron and Llandovery to Birmingham, London and even to the East coast to say the least, the story of the Drovers is one of the most remarkable records in Welsh History.
As far as we know there were no recognised Drovers Road in the Waunarlwydd area. We also know that clumps of trees, particularly Scot Pine, were planted as marker guides for the drovers – so substituting a beacon for a clump of trees was there a grain of truth in the old farmer’s conviction? So was the beacon on the Graig a guide for local drovers from the outlying farms in our district to be on their way to join the main Drover stream before converging on a central meeting place?
According to another long standing village tradition- this same stretch of track-way was known as the Roman Road However, no factual evidence can be found to justify this claim. Again, one can only resort to speculation. We acknowledge the fact that the Romans were supreme road builders. Within walking distance and indeed visible from Waunarlwydd was the Roman fort at Loughor (Leucarum) and three small practice camps at Garn-Loch- all connected with the via Juliana (A48). It follows that the Roman legionaries stationed at these places must have been familiar with our district.
The Romans built their roads without the aid of maps, or compasses or other sophisticated instruments- instead one of their navigational aids was the use of Beacons-so was Graig -y-Bwldan involved in the construction of the Via-Juliana? Maybe there was a grain of truth in this old Waunarlwydd tradition.
Among a collection of poems written in 1891 by John Rowlands, the respectable village headmaster at that time, is the following introduction to a poem called “Above Hendrefoelan” With some “poetic licence” he writes;-
This delectable summit is commonly called Graig-y-Bwldan; perhaps it should be written Graig-y-Voelan or Graig-y-Wylan.
The latter name, which means the rock or height of the sea-view, is quite applicable, pretty and poetical like most Welsh names – for often on this charming but unfrequented spot is heard the solitary cry of the wandering sea bird; might Hendrefoelan – mean Hendrewylan – the old home of the sea-mew.
The Roman Period
Among the best known dates in British history are 55BC when Julius Caesar made two invasions of southern Britain. In the year 43AD the Romans again came and this time stayed for nearly 400 years. It was about 30 years after the AD43 landing that the Romans turned their attention to Wales. One of the lasting signs of the Roman occupation is seen in our roads.
Not far from Waunarlwydd runs the road A48. Perhaps buried under the surface of this road may well be the stones of a Roman road-the Via-Maritima. This was a coastal road from Caerleon (Isca) to Loughor (Leucarum) then to Carmarthen (Maridunum) and the west.
As far as we know, no Roman finds have been recorded within the present day village boundary. This is surprisingly so – as the Via Julila and the Roman fort at Loughor would have visible from the village site. However, within a very short distance from Waunarlwydd, 30 Roman coins dating from 69AD to 158AD were unearthed during the building of the Gowerton County School (1938-39). Isolated Roman finds have also been recorded in neighbouring villages.
The Roman auxiliary fort at Leucarum (Loughor) was established within a short distance from the area which became known as Waunarlwydd. Since 1969, further archaeological excavations confirmed the importance and significance of previous finds in affirming the existence of a Romano-British settlement there.
After the initial military operation in subduing the warlike Silures was accomplished – it was highly probable that a “no fraternisation” policy was discarded. This led to friendlier relationships with the civilian population who had settled within the vicinity of the fort. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that anyone living in our village district would have come under the influence of the occupying Roman forces which numbered several hundreds.
Again, it was the custom of the Romans to place smaller military stations along their roads. Three such encampments are reputed to have been established on Mynyda Garn Goch, just a short distance from Waunarlwydd and easily visible. The existence of these minor military stations was confirmed by aerial photographs in 1951. Thus can we imagine that Roman legionaries of the Second Legion once explored the neighbourhood of Waunarlwydd and perhaps traded with an isolated group of people who happened to be in the area – maybe tendering a Roman coin for an item of food?
The Dark ages up to the Norman Conquest
Again, one can only generalise what the Waunarlwydd area was like during the pre- Norman period However, there is evidence that the local area consisted of a rather uninviting tract of countryside, fairly well wooded and small areas of rough pasture land together with a stretch of the course, morfa or the marshy terrain from the meeting of the rivers Llan and Lliw down to the Loughor estuary.
During this particular period, the woodlands were valuable factors in providing, food (game) fuel and building materials for any local inhabitants.
A few local place names give some indication of the social system prevalent during this period Place names such as “Maerdy” and the inclusion of the words “Hendre” and “Llys” and possibly “Tref” supply us with meagre but nevertheless positive evidence that there was a fairly well established form of tribal organisation existing in our immediate locality.
Very briefly – a survey of the pattern of settlements in this tribal society manifests the fact that it was structured as a social pyramid. The King, Tywysog (Prince), Arglwydd (Lord) or even a prominent freeman would occupy the pyramid’s high point. Then in descending “pecking order” of privileges were the overlord’s administrators and the “uchelwyr” (literally the “high people”) and the freemen. The pyramid’s broad base represented the poverty – stricken serfs or villein’s – the hard pressed villagers often existing in appalling straits.
The fundamental unit of Welsh society was the “Tref”. A “tref” could be as small as the homestead of a single family or a number of scattered homesteads. Numbers of such “trefs” were organised into a territorial unit known as a “Cantref” (100 trefs) and later with an extension of boundaries a larger territorial unit designated a “Commote” or a neighbourhood district.
The dominating power in the “Commote” was the King, tywysog or Arglwydd. Every “Commote” had its “llys” or court – where all manner of domestic disputes were discussed and adjudged the Lord’s stewards usually presided over these courts who frequently and ruthlessly enforced the whim of a capricious lord upon the unfortunate villagers. For example they had to pay rent in kind and their ewes, lambs, poultry, cheese, honey, barley, oats, rye, hay, timber and even their labour were vulnerable to the lord’s demands.
There was in existence a tract of land known as the lot’s demesne – his private province- where everybody and anything was subject to the mood of an autocratic lord.
The name of our village – ” Waun-Arglwydd” the “Lord’s meadow” would conform to this description – but more authentic evidence would place the derivation of our village’s name to the later Norman period.
There is a very long standing village tradition that a building adjacent to the now derelict Ystrad Isaf Farm was an ancient “llys”. A “tref” would be under the care of an official known as “tuner” or “reeve” and this particular “tref” was known as a “maerdref”. Again, village tradition-unfortunately with no historical evidence applied the name of “Maerdref Llewitha” to the Ystrad Farm area;- “The manor of Llewytha”.
During this period there were other greater and wider influences which must have affected the isolated homesteads in our area, and certainly impinged on future settlements.
One must take into account;- the influence of hill forts or community enclosures; the Christian legacy of the Romans; the flourishing age of the Christian Saints and the unifying laws of Hywel Dda and unfortunately a period of combat and strife. A reminder of the conflicts which took place in our area was unearthed in the village in 1905-; A medieval sword (now in Swansea Museum).
The finding of this medieval sword, confirms the fact that the area where Waunarlwydd is now established and the land to the north and west of it lay between two old strategic sites of Swansea and Loughor made it the scene of frequent violent and bloody battles.
The period of the Welsh princes from about the sixth century to the Norman conquest of Glamorgan was indeed an age of dark days in our region’s history. It was a story of recurring strife, when the Welsh Princes fought among themselves; when they battled against the marauding Irish, Saxons and Danes – so there was disorder within and attacks from without.
The few historical accounts we have of this period relate to bloodshed and conflict Some of the battles which took place in the immediate vicinity of Waunarlwydd are referred to in “Brat-y-Tywysogion” (The chronicles of the Princes) and in Hergest Brut.
Several place names in our locality have definite historical associations, for example;- Cadle (place of battle), Garn Goch, Gorseinon, to name a few are permanent reminders of the battles which took place between the Welsh and the Irish, Saxon, Danish and Norman invaders. The ground in and around Waunarlwydd must have been subjected to a great deal of devastation and bloodshed.
For example, the latter half of the tenth century proved a turbulent period in local history in 982AD – Einon ap owain ap Hywel Dda was killed in a battle at a place which was afterwards named after him;- Gorseinon of today.
Again in 991AD – another bloody battle was fought east of the river Llan- at the now appropriately named Cadle (y Gad-le);- the place of battle.
Edward Harris, a well known local historian maintained that;- “Along both sides of the River Llan which wends itself through the old Penllegaer Estate there were in ancient times a great number of entrenchments which had been erected there probably as means of defence against the Irish and Danish invaders and that later during the Norman invasions this river forms parts of its length divided off the territories of the Princes of South Wales from those intruding Lords of Gower.
These entrenchments were the outposts of the Welshmen and the head of such a camp is said to have been at Pen-ller-gaer (The head or top of the camp)
One can therefore conclude that these entrenchments played an important part in various battles”
One can only speculate that during this period the locality now named Waunarlwydd was inhabited by perhaps two or three rather primitive, self supporting homesteads- possibly with family associations. They would have been connected to each other by rough tracks through a rather wild tract of countryside.
Their tranquil rural existence would have been subjected to periodic upheavals by the sound of battles taking place within a very short distance away.
Waunarlwydd and Saint Cennydd
After the Roman occupation, Christianity spread in Wales through the teaching and preaching of the Saints.
Was the birthplace of one of those Saints on a site now occupied by a farmstead on the northern slope of Graig-y-Bwldan? Is there a connection between Caergynydd – probably Caergynwydd Fawr Farm – and the sixth century Saint Cenydd?
Saint Cenydd is regarded as the patron Saint of Gower. Tradition has it that a carved stone coffin lid in Llangenydd Church once marked his grave. His birth and upbringing were steeped in legend, but his life recorded in history.
The legend of his birth is interesting and an extraordinary story. Very briefly:- Cenydd was born the son of a prince of Brittany and his own daughter whilst attending the court of King Arthur to celebrate the feast of Christmas in Gower. Because of this great sin by his father poor Cenydd was born with one leg attached to his thigh. The Prince seeing this ordered a wicker-basket to be made in which like Moses – was placed and cast upon the waters of the River Lliw. The stream carried the basket down to the Loughor estuary and out to sea. As it drew nearer to the dangerous Henisweryn (worm’s head) a great number of Sea birds snatched the baby boy from the waves with their beaks and talons and placed him safely on a rock. They made him a bed of and kept off the wind, hail and snow with their wings,. On the ninth day an angel of God appeared and placed a breast shaped bell in the infant’s mouth from which he was miraculously fed.
Eventually he was saved from the sea by a peasant who lived near by. The narrative continues of how he grew up, was educated, how at the age of eighteen he received instruction in Scripture and the Articles of faith from an angel and later established a hospice and had his leg straightened by Saint David.
This story was recorded in Latin by Capgrave in his “Nova Legenda Angliae” in 1526. King Arthur is mentioned as residing near the banks of the River Lliw at Loughor and that Cenydd was born;- “tents, pitched about a mile from the palace of King Arthur”
In the authoritative book – “Lives of the British Saints” written by Baring-Gould and Fisher there is the following foot-note:- “A place called Cae’r Gynydd, possibly Caer Gynydd at Waunarlwydd, a few miles from Loughor, may preserve the name of the place Where the Saint was Traditionally born”
In view of the fact that Llangennith (the ordnance Survey spelling) is the English form of Llangenydd -the Church of Saint Cenydd- could Caer Gynydd mean the field of Cenydd?
So could a humble local site lay claim to the birthplace of a saint who became a friend of Saint David, the Patron Saint of Wales? And whose influence spread as far afield as Brittany? Some critics claim that the account of Cenydd’s life is too full of legendary matter to be of any use to the historian, on the other hand, others argue that known and ascertainable facts were involved
The Norman Period
The year 1066 was a momentous date in English history when William the Conqueror took possession of his new Kingdom. As one historian wrote;- “these powerful and efficient freebooters had just completed one of the most successful and quickest land grabs in history. Wales was next on the list However the Normans found Wales a difficult country to conquer. For about 50 years after the Battle of Hastings they would raid and sometimes settle over wide areas of Wales. Each skirmish and raid would be met by fierce Welsh resistance. This was particularly true of the Waunarlwydd locality during this turbulent period
Around about 1091 the Normans arrived here and in 1093 they devastated the Gower area to such an extent that it was compared to a desert Even so it was not until 1099 that Gower and district was overcome by Henry de Newburgh who proceeded to consolidate his conquests by the erection of four crudely built castles at “Abertawe” (Swansea); Aberllychwr (Loughor), Llanrhidian and Pen Rhys (Penrice). As time went on more castles were built and these gradually developed from the simple “mott and bailey” type (a mound surrounded by a wooden stockade and ditch) to the more sophisticated stone castles. Eventually South Wales became the most becastled region of the British Isles – stone monuments to relentless Welsh defiance – as these castles were the targets of repeated Welsh attacks.
One can gain an idea of the intense ferocity of these battles by reading a vivid account of a battle that took place between Swansea and Loughor in 1136, .The battle is generally accepted as Garn-Goch Common – a very short distance and easily visible from the Waunarlwydd area. Thus it must be obvious that proximity of this battlefield inevitably involved directly or indirectly any inhabitant of our area.
The account of this local battle is contained in Florence of Worcester’s “Gesta Stephani” (Book) The following are some brief extracts…
“the Welsh, who always sighed or deadly revenge against their masters threw off their yoke which had been imposed on them by treaties’ and issuing in bands from all parts of the country made hostile inroads in different quarters, laying waste the towns with robbery fire and sword, destroying houses and butchering the population.
The first object of their attack was the district Gower on the sea coast a fine and abundantly fruitful country and hemming in with their levies on foot, the knights and men-at-arms, who to the number of 516, were collected in one body, they put them all to the sword. After which, exulting in the success of their first undertaking, they, over-ran all the borders of Wales, bent on every sort of mischief, ready for any crime, neither sparing age nor respecting rank, and suffering neither place nor reason to be any protection from their violence.
Afterwards the Welsh made a desperate inroad, attended with destruction far and wide, of churches, vills (towns), corn and cattle, the burning of castles and other fortified places, and slaughter, dispersion and sale into captivity of countless numbers.”
Another version of the battle records the number killed as over 3,000 apart from those drowned and taken prisoner, Apparently, in years gone by;- a pile of stones was erected to commemorate the battle at Mynydd-Garn-Coch.
The very name means, “The mountain of Red (blood stones)” A slightly different version and one backed by a long standing local tradition was that the slaughter and indiscriminate killing was so terrible that the horses engaged in the battle were wading in blood which covered their fetlocks.
Since “Carn” being the Welsh for “hoof” Mynydd-Garn-Goch became the “Mountain of the Red or Blood covered Hooves”, another local tradition was that the tumulus on Garn Goch were the mass graves of some of the victims of this battle.
There must have been a horror stricken witness of this terrible conflict standing on the high ground of Banc-Mawr or Graig-y-BwIdan. In 1983, a private individual, decided that a permanent memorial stone be erected on Garn Goch common as a monument recording this Battle of Gower in 1136.
The above stone has now been erected and is sited within a few hundred yards on the south side of the Garn Goch hospital, it is easily approached from the road and is well worth a visit.
The local community and in particular local historians are and will be indebted to the far sighted benefactor responsible for funding the erection of this ten feet high memorial stone.
The stone itself will have only the date “1136” on it – a tangible testament to a battle which took place there over eight centuries ago.
A nearby bronze plaque will bear the following bi-lingual message;-
“This stone commemorates the Battle of Gower, January 1st 1136. A force of Welshmen led by Hywel ap Meredudd of Breckonshire, battled to defeat an Anglo-Norman force, many perished with much bloodshed.”
This suggests the origin of the common’s name;- Garn Goch.
The 12th century and the early part of the 13th century were unsettled and turbulent periods in local history. The Norman castles of Gower were repeatedly and bitterly attacked by Welsh foes.
As the late local historian N.L. Thomas in a reference to Waunarlwydd puts it… “in bygone days, the county between Swansea and Loughor witnessed many bitter and fierce battles as Saxon and later Norman invaders struggled with the inhabitants for the supremacy of Gower and area.
No doubt, in the past, ground near and around Waunarlwydd has echoed to the clash of swords and defiant battle cries of fierce warriors. Early Norman invaders and their mercenaries were soon to discover that Welsh territories, unlike the lands of the defeated Saxons were not to be conquered by one or two main battles alone”.
Eventually Norman success was assured and Welsh opposition eroded – mainly due to the enormous advantages the Normans had firstly, their ability to build strong castles and secondly they were far better armoured than the Welsh.
The Norman occupation had a tremendous affect on our locality and permanently changed the way of life of its people.
One can only generalise what the Waunarlwydd neighbourhood was like during these far off days? Documentary evidence concerning our village district is extremely sparse. However we can reasonably speculate that there was no compact village or hamlet here-one can picture a few isolated and self-supporting homesteads scattered here and there and probably belonging to the same family group.
For example, not far from Waunarlwydd was, the now demolished, Penllegaer House, the mansion of the Llewellyn family. There seems to be firm documentary evidence that there was a thirteenth century building on the original site – so could there be similar buildings on old Waunarlwydd sites such as Ystrad Isaf or Caergynydd?
Gower became a Norman Lordship by the beginning of the twelfth century with Henry de Beaumont. Earl of Warwick as its first Norman lord. Swansea castle emerged as the principal castle or the “caput” of the lordship of Gower and became the military and administrative centre of the lordship.
The territory which it controlled would have included the Waunarlwydd area. Gower became a patchwork of English and Welsh manors all under the control and protection of the Norman earls- the protection sometimes far from benevolent The Lordship of Gower not only referred to the peninsula but included a large area of land bounded by the Rivers Loughor, Tawe, Amman and Twrch- the hill country of Blaena Gwyr.
The Normans quickly realised the value of the fertile, well drained limestone land of the southern and western parts of the Gower peninsular when compared to the colder hill and moorland further north. Moreover they appreciated the fact that these richer parts could be more easily controlled and administered. The Normans therefore divided the Lordship of Gower into two sharply differing parts called respectively;-
- Gower Anglicana – English Gower or the Englishry. This comprised most of peninsular Gower. The inhabitants were English speaking here the Norman feudal and English system was imposed
- Gower Wallicana -Welsh Gower or the Welshry. Here the land was not so hospitable and the Normans faced a hostile people with strange customs and speaking a strange tongue. Therefore the Norman Lords allowed them to carry on with their traditional Welsh usages and way of life.
It is an accepted historical fact that, in medieval times, the greater part of the terrain between Swansea and Loughor was heavily wooded, this broad wooded belt would have included the Waunarlwydd area. These woods were of extreme importance as they were instrumental in providing the basic amenities to the scattered homesteads in their vicinity.
This wooded area brought about the old Gower divisions of Iscoed and Uwchcoed -meaning below the wood and above the wood. Later these divisions became known as Subboscus and Supraboscus… “the lower and upper parts of the Welshry wood”
During the Norman exploitation of Gower, the manorial structure became rather complicated. The Waunarlwydd area seemed to be in a manorial limbo. However, it is obvious that, since over the centuries, the Waunarlwydd community from its earliest days, preserved the characteristic and distinctive customs and language of the Welshry – we can safely speculate that the village site was in Subbooscus or Welsh Gower.
Several charters were given to Swansea between 1158 and 1332. These gave the Burgesses certain privileges and rights. These limited rights and concessions were tempered by the imposition of certain obligations imposed by the ruling lord of the seigniory of Gower.
Probably, at his administrative headquarters at Swansea castle he would be pondering over the feudal dues, collected by his stewards, both in kind and in money, from his many manors and demesne lands. Any inhabitant of the Waunarlwydd area would have been on his revenue roll.
The marked differences between the Englishry and Welshry remained for centuries, despite the gradual erosion of social and physical barriers, for example, a typical. Gowerian and a native of Waunarlwydd.
The following extract provides an interesting angle on the differences which existed over a century ago;- ” The people of Gower have thin faces and narrow foreheads, flat cheek-bones, with a flat and rather sharp nose; hair for the most part light or brown, with blue or grey eyes.
On the other hand the Welsh have dark eyes dark hair high foreheads with prominent cheek-bones.
The dress of a female in Gower is a short jacket and petticoat, with a straw hat, and a piece of coarse red cloth, about two yards long and one wide, with a deep fringe on one side, thrown over the shoulders; hence called a Gower whittle (a cloak or shawl of coarse cloth)
Those of Welsh origin wear a long gown, a long blue cloak and a beaver hat. The language of the Gower people is English while if you enter into a Welsh village, though not three miles distant, the people will refuse to speak to you in English, even though they are able to do so. They seldom intermarry.
When a man of Gower is asked about the name of one in Llangyfelach (could well be applied to Waunarlwydd) a village on the Welsh side of the line, it is a common reply “I danna know, a (he) lives somewhere in the Welshry” But this is retaliated upon them by the Welsh, who never speak of the people of Gower without adding ‘thieves’ or ‘robbers’ So much for local racial harmony?
Perhaps, it would be appropriate at this point to consider the differences between a typical Gower village with our own village of Waunarlwydd. The Gower village with its centuries old agricultural background, its houses clustered around an ancient Norman church with its square battlemented tower, its village green, maybe a mill and its speech English.
The village of Waunarlwydd would present a sharply contrasting picture, where industry, in particular coal-mining provided the stimulus for our present villages growth and expansion. Here there would be no compact collection of houses but, and still existing, rows of miners cottages strung along Swansea road, once its only main thoroughfare, in a typical “ribbon type” industrial development. The Chapel was the traditional stronghold of religion and culture and where Welsh is still the medium of conversation among many of the older generation.
The history of the Lordship of Gower up to the fifteenth century is confusing .Again we can only generalise and speculate what our village area was like during this period Probably there would be in existence a few simple, crude, lonely and rather uncomfortable farmsteads. These would be scattered amidst a landscape of rough meadow, marsh, wasteland and woodland;- the latter beginning to show the affect of deforestation.
Each farmstead would have been self-supporting; all the basic necessities would have been provided by home skills and the produce of its lands. Communication between these isolated settlements would have been difficult as there were no roads. There may have been rough tracks or narrow bridle paths-since the horse was the only other means of transport other than on foot.
During this period the typical Welsh way of life seemed to reject the concept of a compact village community in favour of these scattered and isolated farmsteads.
One wonders if the old family farms in our village the Ystrads and Caergynydds – before becoming derelict or swallowed up by urban and industrial developments were the tangible links with these ancient homesteads.
During the Norman period these timber/clay built and thatched roofed small holdings would be grouped together. The powerful Norman baron of the lordship would have assumed, claimed and exercised the powers of an autocratic local monarch. He would confer certain privileges to his vassals but in return demand specific obligations. This state of affairs was typical during the Lordship of the despotic de Breos family. The charter issued in 1305-06 by William de Breos contains the following extract;- “To the burgesses of Sweinseye (Swansea) the possession of the meadows of Crow Wode and Portmeade except that pan of Portmeade which at present we hold in demesne being reserved to us and our heirs”
In other words “that part of Porte meade” was the Lord’s meadow – in Welsh Waun-Arglwydd – which slightly abridged to Waunarlwydd is the proud name of our village to this day.
A quaint facet of the restrictions imposed upon the occupants of the Lord’s demesne lands is illustrated by the following;- Before a tenant could take timber for fencing, building or fuel from the Lord’s woods – he had to notify his presence to the forester by three blasts on the horn or by striking a tall tree with his axe.
Incidentally travel was restricted to day-time and confined to certain limits. The Lord exacted his dues from his tenants from his manors and from his own “Waun-Arglwydd”, these sources of revenue were initially paid in kind or in traditional services, later these were gradually replaced by money payments.
Our own Waun-Arglwydd, in all probability would be the tract of land enclosed to the south by Graig-y-Bwldan, to the north by the River Llan, to the east by the old Hackede-way (Pentregethin / Carmarthen Road) and to the west by Gors-Fawr Brook. This area was let at an annual rent of one sparrow-hawk. Perhaps a tasty morsel for a Norman Barons feast in his castle would have been provided by a Waunarlwydd sparrow hawk?
An interesting endorsement of such a manner of payment is referred to in W.H.Jone’s “History of Swansea and the Lordship of Gower”. Here is an extract;- “Amongst the documents which connect John de Mowbra with the lordship may be cited a deed confirming in 1334, his grandfather’s (William de Breos) gifts and confirmations to Neath Abbey under his Gower charter in 1306, in which he saves to himself and his heirs a red sparrow-hawk, yearly at Michaelmass, for a tenement in Logherne called “Illonde”. “Illonde” was Trewyddfa – another tract of land-the Lord’s demesne meadows.
The selection of a sparrow-hawk as a payment in kind emphasises the important function of the falconer and forester among the Lord’s retainers.
There has been a long standing village tradition that the dwelling of the “Lord of the Manor” together with his court (probably a minor steward) was situated close to the now derelict Ystrad Isaf Farm, more of the Ystrad Isaf Farm later.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there were again periods of turbulence and strife. The violent and protracted Glyndwr Rebellion took place between the years 1400 to 1410. This period saw Swansea, its castle and neighbourhood seized and devastated by Glyndwr’s army. Any inhabitants of the Waunarlwydd area at this time would have been involved in the terrible events taking place virtually “on their doorstep”.
This particular period experienced a tremendous amount of encroaching of lord’s lands by their tenants. The practice was to take parts of a lord’s pasture land, fields, woodland or common waste land in the demesne manor and enclose it with a hedge or fence and thus lay claim to it (Something similar is happening on Dartmoor and Exmoor today).
It is recorded that from the waste of Mynydd Garn Goch, a man encroached and enclosed 120 acres of land-which apparently he turned to better use.
There were long bitter disputes over these encroachments and during the reigns of HenryVII and Queen Elizabeth I there were legal battles involving land in our immediate district. It was during this period that specific parcels of land known as “Wuan-Arglwydd” and Cer-gennith or possibly “Kregenyth” appear in written form.
From the regime of William de Breos in the early fourteenth century to the reign of Henry VII a time span of over 200 years, the “Portmead” estate was again involved in other than a local affair. The estate was the subject of a law suit concerning an enclosure by Jenkin Franklin, The Franklins (or Franklens) were a powerful and influential family – freeholders of the Englishry of Gower – and who played a prominent part in the history of Swansea.
As a result of this law-suit Portmead was divided and the Lord of the Seignioy of Gower retained a portion of land called “Waun-Arglwydd” – the Lord’s meadow. It was not a large area – it being farmed out in 1478 at a rent of 6/8 (38p) a year. This – the Lord’s own portion, his demesne, was waun arlwydd and the remainder Caergynydd.
It is interesting to note that another parcel of land – named “Cer-genith” with strong Waunarlwydd connections was mentioned in a later law-suit during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This particular law-suit again involved one called Jenkin Franklin who had enclosed one parcel of ground of the south side of the Lord’s meade by Cer-genith. This section of land was the land of the burgesses.
We can safely say that some of the earliest settlements of Waunarlwydd were connected with sites now occupied by existing farms or farms allowed to become derelict or farms swallowed up by industrial development or housing estates.
It is well to remember, before any more are demolished, that these old village farmsteads can be as valuable as written historical documents.
The contentious issue of “squatting” and “Squatters Rights” is not a social phenomena of recent times. Much publicity has been given to the outrage of absent house owners finding their empty properties occupied by “squatters” often persons with anti-social tendencies – but still capable of justifying their right to squat. Anger and frustration has occasionally resulted in the threat of vigilante action.
A fascinating insight into the manner of establishing “squatter’s rights” in the distant past and particularly in Wales up to the nineteenth century and probably for generations before that century is contained in the following account;- The main object of these old “squatters” was the enclosure and ultimate permanent occupation of small parcels of land. To achieve this a long standing traditional practice was to build a “Ty-un-nos”, literally – a “one night house”, In other words a small house or cottage could be built on an enclosed piece of land in one night – so that smoke issued from the chimney before sunrise- then the builder had established a legal right to the property and thus acquired the free-hold rights.
This procedure was patently illegal but that legality was ignored by over-riding tradition apparently such houses was the result of a co-operative effort by sympathetic neighbour. These neighbours were responsible for the construction of units in a “self assemble” DIY house kit The essential units of doors, windows, chimney, roof etc were extremely rough and ready, but capable of being put together to form a simple cottage or house in a matter of hours.
The essential procedure was to ensure that a fire could be lit in the hearth and that the smoke could be seen from the make-shift chimney before dawn-thus traditionally securing the property for its “squatter”.
Also the builder could establish the right to own such land as would be bounded by the throwing of an axe in all directions from the newly built “Ty-un-nos’. It is interesting to note – with the obvious connection between the tudor “Cer-genith” and the present Caergynydd Fawr Farm – did further enclosure take place – as one of the fields at Caergynydd was called – Cae-Bwell or axe field?
Incidentally the above practice of building a “Ty-un-nos” seemed to be fairly wide spread for example, in Radnorshire the houses erected in this fashion were aptly called “morning surprises’: There was evidence that the Forest of Dean proved something of a squatters paradise, as a matter of interest a replica of a “Ty-un-nos” can be seen in St Fagan’s museum.
The Village Farms
The background of Yesterday’s Waunarlwydd was almost purely rural. This is mirrored by the number of farms scattered around the village, each used to cover a considerable acreage of land. Unfortunately, the majority of theses farms are now derelict or have disappeared under an ever-advancing tide of urban or industrial development
Thus over the years the village gradually became a pastoral / industrial community; nowadays, the remaining rural features of village life are progressively disappearing.
Many of these old farms were farmed by generations of the same family and would have their roots firmly embedded in the remote past Such farms included;- Ystrad Isaf, Ysrad Uchaf, Caergynydd Fawr, Caergynydd Fach, Caergynydd Isaf (mill farm), Login, Login Fach, Graeg-y-Bwldan, Cwm Llwyd, Nant Llwyd, Tal-y-Ffrawe, Village Farm, Waunarlwydd Farm.
From a historical viewpoint the old Ystrad Isaf Farm (Lower Vale Farm) was the most interesting farm with Waunarlwydd connections, unfortunately, the farm buildings are now derelict and a distressing ruin of a mysterious past.
The writer is indebted to a remarkable lady Mrs E. Vickery (known to older generations of Waunarlwydd folk as “Esther Ystrad”) and to her sister Mrs Ivora Beynon for information regarding Ystrad Isaf. Both were members of the highly respected Davies family who farmed the Ystrad for generations.
There has been a long standing village tradition that the Ystrad and its immediate environment were associated with events which took place during the Norman period. As previously mentioned, there seems to be some evidence that during the time of the William de Breos regime, the Ystrad area was probably included in his demesne- his private tract of land – the Lord’s Meadow – in the native tongue Waun Arglwydd.
The Ystrad Isaf Farm, nowadays with its crumbling and decaying walls, still retains an aura of a mysterious past. There has been a long – standing village tradition that the dwelling of the Lord of the Manor – the Manor House – the “Plas” or “Ty-Mawr” was situated close to the old farm house.
There, to was an adjacent building where reputedly the “Court Leet” would have met once or twice a year, in order to discuss and sort out local, petty offences and settle disputes with the landlord. Mrs Vickery recalls that the Ystrad was at one time referred to as “The Manor of Llewytha”.
The original farm site certainly possessed the necessary elements for the establishment of a feudal manor. One of the most important being its situation virtually on the banks of the River Llan. In those far-off days water power was of prime importance in the construction of a grist mill. These old mills, besides producing flour were an important source of income for the Lord of the Manor – as all persons grinding there had to pay certain dues and on occasions a demand would be made on their labour.
Evidence that the Ystrad mill was operating at the beginning of this century is provided by Mrs Vickory, who remembers various farmers from the Graig y Bwldan area coming to the mill for their supply of wheat or flour.
Further, Mr Ron Williams, an octogenarian now living in Waunarlwydd, but a native of Ystrad Road, in an article to the press recalls a walk Accompanied by his father – before World-War 1; along Tram Road as far as the Cape Colliery drift mine.
This walk skirted the Ystrad farmland. He then states;- “Coming back home, we called at the Ystrad Isaf Farm, crossing a wooden bridge over the River Llan to get to the farm. We climbed a ladder into the loft, and for the first time I was able to watch wheat milled into flour”.
It is also interesting to note that within a very short distance from the Ystrad mill if one follows the River Llan in a westerly direction, is the larger and well -known mill at the Trafle, in Gowerton. This centuries old mill also relied on the River Llan for its operative power.
The interest in the rather veiled story of Ystrad Isaf was not confined to the time-honoured but limited local lore. On several occasions it was evident that the old farm buildings aroused a great deal of outside curiosity. For example the following newspaper references to Waunarlwydd and in particular to Ystrad Farm reflects this interest.
Here is an extract from an article from the “The Daily post” written in 1930 by a “special correspondent”. “It (Waunarlwydd) is but vaguely known. The modern village must have grown up casually near the adjacent collieries which have their debris littered about. But Waunarlwydd has a long and illustrious ancestry.
Its name reveals that once, possibly in the days of the De-Breos family, it was the “Lords Meadow”. Here was his “Home Farm” the training ground for his war horses, not entirely a comfortable spot perhaps, although it must have been remote enough from the medieval troubles of Swansea. It was not far off the route of the Welsh Raiders who occasionally fell upon the town and sacked it. Across the way, at Garn Goch, is the site of a fierce battle between Normans and natives.”
But in Waunarlwydd itself there are no signs of a long past. Whatever history it may have had in store has gone – except at one point.
Roseland Road turns off the main road near the Mason’s Arms and pass under the railway line to the flat lands below. A little common is crossed and a wicket-gate gives entrance to a lane which meanders pleasantly across country for a quarter of a mile or so until the farm of Ystrad is reached.
Ystrad bear’s signs of more pretentious days; but its formal entrance is choked with hedge-growth and part of the old house is unoccupied.
Across the road from the farm is a small building which I remember having been investigated very carefully by the Swansea Mabinogion Society some years ago. Today it is used for agricultural purposes; but there can be little doubt that there was a time when it served another purpose – perhaps as a court or hall.
The River Llan
Close by rushes the second in importance of the Swansea Rivers – The Llan- a
stream that in all probability has never been seen by the majority of Swansea people. Yesterday it was in flood and running noisily to its confluence with the Loughor Estuary. There is a pleasant walk in dry weather along the banks of the river to the main Llanelly Road, but past experience warned me not to attempt it after rain, I remember a painful half hour seeking to find a way through the morass.
“WAUNARL WYDD MYSTERY BUILDING”
This was the caption which appeared with a photograph in the local Swansea newspaper, “The Leader”, the photograph shows three men inspecting a building – the photograph itself was possibly taken well before the date of publication in June 1922. A reasonable deduction is that these three men were representatives of the Swansea Mabinogion Society which had shown a great interest in the Ystrad Farm. The accompanying note reads as follows;-
“Here is a photograph of one of the buildings attached to Ystrad Isa Farm near Waunarlwydd. According to the tradition of the, it was used in the long ago as a court house for the settlement of local differences and another view is that it was one of the ancient churches or chapels of the district. It is queerly arranged inside; there being an inner chamber with a stream running underneath which might very well have been used for the purpose of Baptism”.
The word “Baptism” evokes the fact – that within living memory the stretch of the River Llan running opposite the Ystrad Farm was used for Baptism – when complete immersion took place. There is also the possibility of a connection between this old building and the not to distant ruin of another ancient Baptist Chapel at Llodre Brith.
Another article which appeared in the “Daily Leader” dated 28th March 1952. under the following heading.
ACROSS A FOOTBRIDGE INTO A HALF – FORGOTTEN WORLD THE LORD’S MEADOW
Here is the article in full;- ” To cross Afon Llan by the narrow footpath and footbridge near the gipsy encampment below the Glassbrook line between Gowerton and Garn Goch is to step not only from Swansea “rural” into the Borough proper but into an old half forgotten world.
Facing one end of the meadow path is old Ystrad Isa Farm, its tall gabled house, though old in itself, lording it over the older, deserted homestead now falling into decay.
On the left of the rough track which winds to eastward of the derelict house is a much smaller, though solidly built structure, barn-like in appearance but with a bricked in circular window in its low gable, giving it a look of one-time importance, indeed local gossip claims it as a relic of some old meeting place. (This was the “Waunarlwydd mystery building” previously mentioned).
Alternating fertile farmland with rush grown swamp, this wide plain is a home of historic imagery for is it not the “Lord’s Meadow”? at last some scholars so translated the name Wuanarlwydd and in a newspaper notice of 1814 it is given as “Waun-Arglwdd”. That was when the Penclawdd Canal came almost to the farm gates of Ystrad Isaf to fall later into disuse and so removing for more than 100 years this threat to rural peace.
Now in another century the battle is being waged again and Ystrad Farm with the Lord’s Meadow is destined to lose in a fight which must be only half hearted.
No trace of the canal remains, at least here, but already the red brick and the white roads of a modern trading estate edge the fields and a racecourse stretches far into the meadows on the other side a huge metal works, bearing on its side the false cottages of war-time camouflage, provides livelihood for a growing town, and the builders hurry on with yet another factory.
Before it is too late the artist with brush or camera would do well to secure, for those who might otherwise forget, some pictures which will help us to recall the old farmstead in the Lord’s Meadow.
An indication of the Ystrad’s long past is a reference to it in Thomas Kitchen’s “Map of Glamorgan” in 1754. The contemporary spelling is “Uftraed”, Other local places mentioned are” Mynyth Forrest Vach;- Cadley;– Pont LIwythan;-Pen Llwyn Braen” and significantly for the future of Waunarlwydd a reference to “Coal pitts”
Incidentally the domestic water supply for the farm came from two wells.
The Caergynydd Farms
The word Caergynydd is common to three old Waunarlwydd farms; namely Caergynydd Fawr, (large), Caergynydd Fach (small) and Caergynydd Isha, (lower) the last mentioned often called the mill farm.
Before we examine the meaning of the word “Caergynydd” and indeed many other local place names we must consider the fact, that for many reasons, these place names undergo changes in the course of time, and different spellings are common place, for example there are over eighty ways of spelling the old form of Swansea and over seventy ways of spelling Rhossili in Gower.
On maps and documents one can see our village name spelt as Gwaun Arlwydd, Waun-Arlwydd, Waunarlwydd or Wain Arlwydd. We have Cer-genith, Caergynydd, Caergenydd (with one “n” or two “n’s”) . Fortunately, in most cases, the original meanings are still evident, but sometimes their true origins can be rather confusing.
This is true of the word “Caergynydd” connected with three local farms and nowadays in the name of a road.
According to Mr N.L. Thomas – a well known local historian – the word Caergynydd denotes that it is an abbreviation of Caer-yr-cynyddu, from the Welsh words “caer” – a camp or a fort and cynyddu – to grow, which literally translated means a “growing fort”. This is a moot explanation.
A long standing local version was that Caergynydd was simply Caer Gynydd – the camp or fort of Gynydd – indicating that in the dim and distant past, a Welsh lordling or a tribal chieftain had built his stronghold on Graig-y-Bwldan. Unfortunately there is no historical or factual clue who Gynydd was and no evidence of a camp or fort construction here; but in view of the numerous hill and hill-slope Iron Age forts in Gower who really knows?
Incidentally, there is another Welsh place which includes the word Gynydd – namely;-Ffynnon Gynydd – The Gynydd in this case is a reference to a Welsh Saint Gynidr or Cynidr. So, is there a stronger link between the present Caergynydd and the remote “Cer-genith – the field of Cenydd – than we think? Cenydd, the celtic saint – so often called the patron Saint of Gower is associated with many place names in the Swansea area and even further afield. One of the oldest names for Swansea was “Seinhenydd”, therefore can we be justified in hoping that the suggestion contained in Baring-Goned And Fisher’s Book that Caergynydd of Waunarlwydd corresponds to the birthplace of Saint Cenydd is correct?
It is interesting to note that the Caergynydd Fawr and Fach Farms were for generations connected with the Lewis family. To this day the Caergynydd Fawr farm buildings are still owned by the Lewis family.
The domestic water supply to the Caergynydd Fawr Farm came from a pump operated well adjacent to the farmhouse and one believes still in use – its water being exceptionally pure and cool. There was, many years ago, another well situated near St Barnabas Church with water of equally excellent quality.
Again who can forget the farm pond? This pond was situated on the left-hand side of the old farm track leading from the junction of Swansea and Victoria Road (George’s corner to the farm), alas, the last mentioned well and the pond were filled in and are now part of the Caergynydd housing estate.
Incidentally, the old pond track was part of a right of way, which proceeded directly through the farmyard and on to Graig-y-Bwldan.
THE YSTRAD MILL
The Ystrad mill was not water operated. In all probability the River Llan running adjacent to the farm buildings would be incapable of providing the necessary power. Also there is no evidence of a “leat” (a narrow, man made channel carrying water from the river to a millpond)
According to Mrs Esther Vickery – during her family’s occupation of the Ystrad Farm – the actual grinding was done by means of a primitive petrol engine. The “mill” did cater for local farmers who supplied the “grist” mainly oats, which was ground into animal feed. However some bread was made from oaten flour – the finished loaf called “Bars Cyrch” in Welsh Cyrch being the Welsh word for oats.
Perhaps, one should note that within a reasonable distance of Ystrad were more sophisticated Mills – such as Trafle and Melin Mynach.
Caergynydd Fawr Farm
A recent conversation with Ms Mabel Lewis, elicits the following interesting information regarding her home – Caergynydd Fawr Farm on Graig y-Bwldan, despite being 96 years of age is a truly remarkable lady – articulate, mobile and possessing an exceptional memory.
Ms Lewis still resides in the old farmhouse now modernised – sadly it is no longer a viable working farm – its old, extensive farmland, barns, stables, byres and outbuildings having been gradually merged over the years into ever-expanding housing estates.
Ms Lewis states, that according to family tradition, the original Caergynydd farm was situated lower down the hillside from the present location. This earlier building had a thatched roof and the unusual feature of a spiral staircase. Apparently there was also evidence that the construction of a previous building had incorporated a series of loopholes – which indicated a provision for its defence confirming that the past history of our area was indeed turbulent.
Another long standing family tradition handed down from generation to generation was that Graig-y-Bwldan’s northern slope overlooked Mynydd Garn-Goth and being a natural vantage point was actively involved in the great battle at Garn-Goch in 1136.
Apparently, during this battle the abundant bracken undergrowth on the Graig was on fire and therefore became known as Graig-y-Bwldan “The Hill of Fire”.
The Caergynydd Isaf Farm also known locally as the Mill Farm has also a long history. Mrs Miriam John (Bryn-close Gowerton) informed the writer that her grandparents occupied the farm over a century ago and that her father-Mr James Thomas was born there, while the mill was a thatched roofed building.
Mr Thomas a highly respected Waunarlwydd man was known to the villagers as ” Jim-y-Felin” or “Jim of the mill”. So it was obvious that there was a working mill there during the latter end of the last century – water-power was evidently supplied by the near-by Gors Fawr Brook. Another snippet of history connected with the farm, is its early association as a meeting place for the local non-conformist cause.
Another well known local farm is “The Login” (login – a polluted stream) farmed by generations of the Powell Family, and still farmed today. In the same vicinity was situated the old Cwm-Llwyd Farm, on Tyle-John Bevan and on the “Graig” – the aptly named Graig-y-Bwldan Farm.
From the Login Farm, across the fields in a roughly north-easterly direction we come across the Thomas’s Tal-y-Ffrawe, Farm. The meaning of “Tal-y-Ffrawe”, is somewhat obscure, Locals pronounce it as Tal-y-Ffrywe, So a possible explanation is that it could have been;- Tal-y-Rhyw – the head of the hill on Cwmbach Road would justify this name – again who knows?
The Village Farm for many years farmed by the late Mr D.W.Jones – who also farmed, at one time the Mill Farm – was bought and comparatively recently converted into the “Ashgrove” Nursing home.
There were two other farms within the confines of the village – both situated on Swansea Road. One of the farms was probably in existence during the early part of the nineteenth century and occupied the property now known as “Albion Stores” the present occupants are Mr and Mrs Charnock.
Previous owners were the highly respected Mr and Mrs William George J.P. and ex Mayor of Swansea and before them the Mitchell Family. Old deeds (1814) show that there was an entrance from the then farmhouse into the adjoining row of cottages which were the original farm outhouses etc.
The other village farm was on the site of No. 166 Swansea Road – now occupied by Mr and Mrs Roy Rowlands, Older villagers will remember when the Hughes family resided in the farm – a small herd of cows being driven along Swansea Road and down to the meadows at the bottom of Bridge Road – and back again to be milked. A tangible reminder of those far off days can be seen in the ivy covered remnants of the byre adjacent to No 166.
This old farmhouse was an integral part of village life, its original builder and owner was Mr James Morris who died in 1873 at the age of 83 – a remarkable age for that period, James Morris can be regarded as an influential village pioneer. He built several of the first cottages in Waunarlwydd and Gowerton and the row of houses opposite Stepney Road still bears his name – Morris Row.
The late Mrs Catherine Douglas, who reached the unique age of 108 and Miss Ada Douglas – happily still with us – are direct descendants of James Morris. Both the above mentioned farms were known as “Waunarlwydd Farm” but once again written evidence is rather thin on the ground – so it is difficult to categorically state which was the original “Waunarlwydd Farm”.
Another old farmstead situated almost within the village boundary was the “Login Fach Farm” sited at the lower end of Roseland Road, this farm inspired the name given to the bilingual and now the primary Welsh School ;- namely The Login Fach School.
Roughly to the north of the village is Mynydd Bach-y-Glo as the 1830 Ordnance Survey Map names it Mynydd-y-Glo. (The common with coal) as the name implies some of the rich coal veins under the area were exploited over a long period. For many years the debris of these early mines scarred the rural nature of this pleasant locality.
During the disastrous strikes of 1921 and 1926 – household coal was at a premium and this resulted in many of these being scoured for their “left-overs” by the coal-hungry villagers of Waunarlwydd. The odd pieces of coal gathered on these tips were locally known as “dipe”.
Before the advent of the car Mynydd-Bach-y-Glo, or abbreviated to “The Common”, seemed to be a detached appendage to the village. In those far off days its small number of residents were housed in neatly kept cottages such as “Tai Duon” (The Black Houses). Today, it is a different picture, with the renovation of the original cottages, new houses and the development of a small housing estate.
In day’s gone by – it could be an unpleasant journey during the winter or a spell of bad weather to attend the village school, chapel, church, shops or the village surgery housed in those days at No.223 Swansea Road and cared for by the Howells family.
However, the inhabitants of the Common certainly made their whole-hearted contribution to all aspects of village life.
Yesterday’s main approach to the Common was from Swansea Road (Mason’s Arms) and down Roseland Road – originally called Heol Felen (The Yellow Road). Again one can dispute this Welsh version – is it “Felen” (yellow) or “Felin” (mill) is it the Yellow Road or Mill Road? As previously stated, place names often present a problem as to their true meaning.
Spelling and pronunciation can be distorted over the years. The small stream at the bottom of Roseland Road could provide a clue. The discoloured stones – yellowed by the seepage of red oxide from the old mines gave the old road its name of Heol Felen. Years ago the older villagers supported this explanation.
The other assumption is that, in days gone by, local farmers – as far as Graig-y-Bwldan Farm used the road (probably a track in those days) as a route to the mill at Ystrad Isaf Farm or to other mills situated on the River Llan – hence Heol Feline – The Mill Road.
As far as can be ascertained the older spelling is Felen – thus the Yellow Road.
It is interesting to note that a similar difficulty was experienced when trying to unravel the old name for Gowerton – was it Ffos Felen or Ffos Felin the Yellow ditch or the Mill ditch?
The Coal Industry
A detailed history of Waunarlwydd and its coal mines would merit a book, but like the original miners we can only scratch the surface. Owing to the lack of documentary evidence we cannot put an accurate date when coal was first used as a fuel in our locality. There is some evidence of pits and coal workings in the thirteenth century- but the earliest record of coal mining in the Swansea area is contained in William de Breos’s charter to Swansea in 1305.
Among the privileges granted to the burgesses in this charter was the right to take pit coal. For the next 300 years there is hardly any recorded information on local coal mining. Later, more written evidence became available, for example, mention is made in 1639 of a “Coalworke” in Morfa Lliw, Loughor.
There are documents confirming coal mining in Clyne Valley in 1642 and 1764 and reference to Penclawdd in the 1720’s;- “several coalworks in the neighbourhood selling coal to sea at 21/- (shillings) per wey” Apparently, the rights for working of coal in the Penclawdd area can be traced back earlier to the year 1602. Again, there is Daniel Defoe’s the author of Robinson Crusoe, oft quoted description of “Swansey” as a very busy town “One sometime sees a hundred sail of ships at a time loading coal here”
This applied to the years 1724 to 1726. in the 1750’s Swansea’s importance as a coal -exporting port was firmly established and coal was exported across the Bristol Channel to Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and even to Ireland and France.
In 1697, Isaac Hamon, a very perceptive steward of a Gower estate, described the region between Swansea and Loughor, thus obviously including Waunarlwydd as follows;- in the northern part of the Swansea hundred’s characterised by -“corn ground, meadow and pasture, some part is woody with coal veins but no limestones”
Those “coal veins” proved to be a significant factor in transforming a few scattered holdings in Hamon’s day to the still expanding Waunarlwydd of today.
During the development of the five and a half acre Nature Reserve at Cwmllwyd wood (reached by the lane (Bank Lane) above Powell’s Login Farm) tangible evidence -in the remain’s of “Bell Pits”- discovered on the site confirmed the early exploitation of coal in our village.
In many coal fields the earliest types of workings were bell-Pits. These were shallow shafts dug near the outcrop of the seam and then the workings being made outwards in all directions from the bottom of the shaft.
There was no roof support above the working area, when it was judged to be unsafe to proceed the bell-pit was abandoned and similar pits would be dug further along the outcrop.
There was little geological or technical knowledge available, thus resulting in the ever present dangers of collapsed roofs, mine gases and in particular water from inadequate drainage, these were the main problems confronting the early miners.
Many historians state that coal mining activities were well established during the Tudor period. In and around Waunarlwydd, it is highly probable that the mining of coal was fairly common by the end of the eighteenth century. Unfortunately the conditions for men, women and even children as young as four or five, engaged in mining were absolutely appalling. Long hours worked in dark, damp, underground darkness with no adequate safety precautions for low wages.
Maybe, it is well worth reminding ourselves again of these dreadful conditions of early industrialisation and not only in the mining industry. The connotations with the word “underground” perhaps highlights the ever present threat of the dangers and hazards of digging for coal and its price in human misery and sacrifice.
In the early days the working conditions were grim-not only for the colliers but also for the abuse of child labour and the role of women working in the mines. Thankfully all this has now come to an end.
There is no evidence of Waunarlwydd women being employed in the local pits – but young Waunarlwydd boys were certainly familiar with long, dark hours opening and shutting ventilation doors in the numerous collieries in the vicinity of the village.
These local pits mirrored the national trends in the coal industry. The period between 1880 to 1920 proved to be a comparatively successful era despite a series of strikes and disputes. This period included The Great War of 1914 to 1918 and the hunger for coal was never satisfied and the continuing expansion of the industry after 1920 seemed to be guaranteed. Unfortunately after 1920 various factors resulted in grievous damage to the South Wales Coalfield and a gradual erosion was activated.
In 1921 there were 242,000 miners in the South Wales Coalfield – this figure dwindled to 187,000 in 1935 including 63,000 unemployed Accurate figures relating to the number of colliers living in Waunarlwydd are not available . However, since the last century – the decline in the coal-grimed, blue scarred faces seen in yesterday’s village – has been dramatic.
Since the closure of the last visible pit in Brynlliw in 1988 – not a single Waunarlwyddite is employed in a coal mine.
In 1764 Waunarlwydd is mentioned in a transaction involving Miss Ann Mackworth. This lady according to an old map of 1757 owned Cob’s Pill on the Loughor Estuary and Loughor Dock (Broadoak) . She also owned several plots of land in the district – among which were 8 acres at “Waun-Arlwydd”. Bishwell was also named among the holdings. She planned to extend the existing coal mining industry in this locality and for this privilege of working coal – royalties had to be paid to the Duke of Beaufort, it is significant to note that she was allowed to use any old workings or open new, which indicates that there were coal mines in the area prior to 1764.
In a letter written by Thomas Richards (sen), a well known mining engineer and surveyor, to a William Thomas in 1879 regarding a colliery at Mynydd-Bach-y-Glo is included this statement;- “I must say this place is full of valuable seams of coal besides what is proved in the Waunarlwydd Old Pit 60 years ago”.
So on this evidence there must have been a productive colliery in Waunarlwydd in 1809. Therefore we can safely assume that small viable mines were a feature of the hamlet in the eighteenth century.
Local farmers would see the village landscape scarred by the development of these coal mines – perhaps not an unwelcome sight, because the coal produced was used not only for domestic purposes but for lime-burning. To the farmers of this area lime was important to counteract the acid nature of the soil. Almost every farm had a small kiln built for the burning of lime – there certainly was one at the Ystrad Isaf Farm.
Conditions in these early mines were hard and dangerous, the original Waunarlwydd miner had not the experience or technique to combat the problems of drainage, lighting and transport, the too frequent collapse of the workings, the deadly menace of gas and the threat of flood were constant perils.
We learn that;- “In the 17th century coal mining was so unpopular an occupation that condemned prisoners were pardoned by the King on condition that the would apprentice themselves to Sir Humphrey Mackworth and work for five years in his mines at Neath”. Subsequently “an offer of captured pirates was also made to the mine owners-but this offer was declined”
From the latter half of the eighteenth century Waunarlwydd was slowly developing from a scattered hamlet into a village. Events were taking place which had a profound effect on the hamlet’s future.
The expanding copper, iron, steel, and tinplate industries were hungry for more coal; steam was being successfully harnessed. Communications were improving so the early decades of the nineteenth century had a significant impact on the Waunarlwydd community. These factors coupled with the demand for domestic coal to satisfy a growing population intensified the search for coal.
This coal was found in the rich veins in the village’s immediate vicinity and the Waunarlwydd of today was born.
The numerous coal tips around the village are silent monuments to generations of village colliers. In the latter half of the last century many of them had trudged from the farms of Carmarthen and even from further afield to make a new life in local pits.
These impoverished farm workers became the skilled colliers, steel workers and tinplate workers of the village. These immigrants were young and mostly Welsh speaking and their vitality enriched the growing community of Waunarlwydd.
Many of them after, after a long back breaking working day, often under conditions which would not be tolerated today and hampered by a lack of formal education would actively participate in the cultural and religious aspects of village life.
These were the “pioneers” – their names written on the old decaying tombstones of Sardis, Zion, Bethany and St Barnabas. Fortunately many of their direct descendants are still resident in our village and still carrying on the tradition of service.
The old Penclawdd -Waunarlwydd Canal
Around about 1800 adequate means of transporting coal from the developing local mines was becoming a problem. In and around Waunarlwydd, roads as we know them today, were non-existent . There were rough country lanes leading from the village eastwards towards Swansea and westwards towards the hamlet of Ffosfelen (Gowerton) and to Penclawdd.
Along these tracks, a combination of short, steep hills to the east and marshland to the west, presented loaded horse drawn transport with almost insurmountable difficulties.
To overcome this problem of transport – the construction of a canal was mooted by a small company of local property owners and a few industrialists. In 1811 a Private Act of Parliament authorised its construction – the canal to be known as, –“The Penclawdd Canal and Railway or Tramcar Company”
The company hoped that the canal would eventually provide an easier and a more convenient way of transporting coal from the collieries in the Rivers Lliw and Llan neighbourhood for shipment to Penclawdd. Roughly the course of the canal ran from Penclawdd via Pont-y-cob – across the site of the old Elba Steelworks (now a housing and sports complex) – then to Melin Tree Farm and thence in a comparatively straight line to within approximately 400 yards of Ystrad Isaf Farm.
Traces of the canal are still evident today. Apparently it never completely fulfilled its original purpose. A reference to Waunarlwydd appears in a notice which appeared in the Cambrian newspaper of 28th May 1814.
“To be sold; coals of superior excellence, possessing high bituminous and binding qualities and durable, calculated or culinary purposes, Smiths’ works etc and for the Irish and Foreign markets, will be ready for shipping on the 13th day of June next, in the New Dock, at the extremity of the Penclawdd Canal, from a New Colliery now opened by Lockwood, Morris and Leyson, at Waun Arglwydd, Known by the name of Poor Mans Coal.
The Dock is very commodious, situated at the side of the Burry river, near Penclawdd, Having sufficient depth of water for vessels of the largest burthen, Great improvements are in progress on the River and Bar, by active gentlemen appointed commissioners, by a late Act of Parliament.
The Harbour Dues will not exceed one halfpenny per ton. Price of coal-per wey
about 10 tons – £4-5-0 . Gratuity to Masters per wey – 5s. Payable £4.00 Apply to:- John Thurston, Ystrad cottage, at the head of the said canal”
The “New Colliery” was connected by a rail-road to the head of the canal, which was situated less than half a mile west of Ystrad Isaf Farm and just to the south of the River Llan. The rail or tram road ran across a slightly sloping open meadow to join the “coal works and shaft” at a place east of Heol Felen (Roseland Road) and on the edge of Mynydd-Bach-y-Glo, the trams would have been horse drawn.
The canal was in use for four years, the original intention of serving the collieries did not materialise and coal supply was limited to the output of the Waunarlwydd Colliery. When coal production ceased from this colliery the canal fell into disuse.
It is interesting to note that, though the primary function of the canal was the conveyance of coal it was also concerned with the limestone trade. Limestone was brought to Penclawdd by small ships or lighters from Oxwich and other parts of the Gower coast. From Penclawdd it was carried along the canal by barges to the farms with access to the canal in those days farmers burned their own lime to place on the fields. There were lime kilns at Berthlwd, Pont-y-Cob, Llwyn mawr and of particular interest to Waunarlwydd at Ystrad Isaf Farm.
References to ;-“Collateral Branches of Railways or Tramroads” mention the following local names (as spelt).. Mynydd Bach-y-Glo-a common or waste; Graig-y-Bwldan; Gwainarlwdd; Caerennydd Fawr.
An enduring reminder of the old canal is seen in the named “Canal Walks” on the new housing estate built on the site of the old Elba Steelworks.
At the beginning of this century many an old Waunarlwydd collier would have regaled you with harrowing tales of frightening darkness, rats, the eerie creaking’s of timber supports, of long work shifts and poor wages. These were not the exclusive experiences of an experienced adult collier, but of a boy 12 years of age or even younger.
During the World War (1) years there was an insatiable demand for coal Nearly 2,000 tons of coal per day was produced from the Garngoch pits, and during the next few years the output was an average of 14,500 tons per day.
In 1920 the Glassbrooks sold their interests to the Grovesend and Tinplate Groups for about half a million pounds. This group was headed by Mr Henry Folland, who was born in our village of Waunarlwydd.
From 1921 an ill wind blew over the coal mining industry. There was a diminishing demand for steam coal, therefore output fell, labour relations deteriorated;- these factors combined with post war problems culminated in the disastrous strikes of 1921 and 1926.
In those traumatic days – particularly during the long suicidal General strike of 1926 life in Waunarlwydd mirrored the bitter frustration experienced at any other South Wales mining community.
For the first time in the history of the village – a soup kitchen was housed in the vestry of St Barnabas Church for the children of the unemployed. To the proud and independent villager this was reluctantly accepted as a necessary indignity. The long hot summer of ‘1926 saw groups of the unemployed- the majority being colliers – gathering on Gypsy Cross or the Graig, talking, arguing, singing and gambling – for matches.
In the village itself – a favourite meeting place, particularly on a Sunday, was at the bottom of Stepney Road. One could easily pick out the collier members of the group – they were the ones squatting on their haunches in the characteristic miners fashion, known as “twti bach” throughout the South Wales Coalfield.
Life was grim and frustrating. Practically every collier’s garden possessed its own miniature mine among the potatoes and cabbages. Those who were not miners had to scrabble for long discarded lumps of coal on old abandoned coal tips to satisfy simple and essential domestic needs.
Philip Snowdon M.P. addressed a meeting held at Zion Chapel. Whole families left the village to seek and find work at places such as Southall, Birmingham and Coventry. This indeed was a soul destroying period in the story of our village.
Garngoch Colliery No.2 was closed and abandoned in 1921. Garngoch No.1 was closed by the National Coal Board in 1955 and finally No.3 Colliery closed on 11th February 1966, thus for almost a century the Garngoch trinity of pits had provided work for generations of Waunarlwydd colliers. It was an end of an era – symbolised by the fact that the gaunt winding gear of Garngoch No.l, is no longer a familiar silhouette to the north of the village. It has now completely disappeared with every other vestige of the old pit under a refreshing landscape.
Up to the late twenties colliers engaged in the various local pits had to walk to work those who worked at the Cape or Garngoch mines walked along Roseland Road (Heol Felen) across the common, to reach the River Llan near the Ystrad Isaf Farm, Men cross the river by a rather primitive bridge, along the old tramway to emerge near No.1 pit. In bad weather, especially during the winter months or even at night this was not a very pleasant route.
Colliers living at the lower end of the village took the shorter route to the various pits -crossing Swansea Road by Denton’s shop past the coke ovens to join Glassbrook tramway. Other miners employed at the Killan Colliery walked over the Graig. During the inquest on the ill fated Killan pit disaster of November 1924 – a part of the report implied the considerable physical strain which a long, arduous walk to and from local pits, made on a coal miner before and after a hard shift at the coal face.
Incidentally, we congratulate our neighbours at Gowerton in their successful fight in re-establishing, the old and now historical Glassbrook tramway as a public right-of-way.
In 1926 Messrs Brynley Lewis, and J.Myrddyn Thomas together with the Jones (Book) family initiated a “lorry service” to convey miners from the village to several local pits.
The Lewis/Thomas transport took colliers to the Mountain Colliery at Gorseinon and No.3 Garngoch pit. The distance by road to No.3 from the village was almost exactly a five mile walk for yesterday’s colliers – so we can appreciate the tremendous help this comparatively new form of transport gave to the miners.
This “lorry service” catered for the three shifts of 6am to 2pm; 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am- for a fare of 6p return to 3p single or on a weekly basis of 3/- (15p) payable on a Friday (payday).
Many weekly articles on the past history of Waunarlwydd appeared regularly in the “Herald of Wales”, expertly edited and vetted by Paul Beynon of Westwinds Close. Some of these articles prompted the recall of long – forgotten memories and experiences of several interested readers. Some of their observations include the following;- Relevant to the colliers “lorry service” was an article sent in by Mrs Elizabeth Griffiths of Three Crosses who wrote;-
“My grandmother Sarah Anne Jones of the Book family bought both the colliers “run” in the 1920’s and the village stores opposite the (old)Primary School in 1934,(the “stores” is now the V.G.Shop) run by D.O.Jones.
Most of the older villagers will remember the Jones family’s association with these. My uncle Ieuan was a local character who transported the miners to work for many years on the route that was known as the “Miners Run”.
He drove them to work in a large furniture van, inside the passengers would sit on benches clutching candles in the blackout years of the war.”
The Jones family – originally from the “The Common” made noteworthy contributions to the village community and still continue to do so. Mr Alan Jones is the present Headmaster of the village Primary School – a post previously held by another member of the family the late Miss Elma Jones.
The older male villagers can recall many happy hours spent, when Mr Evan Jones (the head of the clan) Bought the old Shepherds Hall (on the site of the old Meadow Club and later the derelict Country club and Squash Courts) and converted it into a Billiard Hall. It did not produce a Davis or a Hendrey, but it became not only a conventional Billiard Hall, but a warm and welcoming meeting place for the village lads.
Another, but anonymous writer, made the following contribution:-
“The date was February 12th 1927 when the two men Messrs D.J. Thomas and William Griffiths (Band leader and preceptor at Zion Chapel) set out to walk home from No.3 Colliery Garngoch, A new cutting had been opened so that each side of their path was piled high with debris. To further complicate matters, it had been snowing all day, a blizzard had developed and consequently the snow had settled on top of the debris to a height of some 12 feet.
With great difficulty they walked one behind another through the narrow pathway fearing at any moment that the walls of snow and debris would collapse and bury them. But worse was to follow for as they reached No.1 Colliery they were out in the teeth of the gale. They missed death by inches when two telegraph poles blew down like matchsticks and they were entangled by the trailing wires.
Eventually, however they reached Waunarlwydd where they were confronted with the damage caused by the storm. Roofs of houses blown down and trees snapped asunder. As they parted, William Griffiths reminded D.J. Thomas of the sermon which they had heard the previous Sunday preached by the Reverend James Jones. The subject was Daniel’s escape from the lions’ den. It certainly gave them food for thought as they thanked God for their safe arrival home.”
The above serves as a salutary reminder of one of the taxing and gruelling features of a Waunarlwydd colliers life.
Mr Trevor Long, of Victoria Road, recollects memories of that ill-omened – named pit-locally known as “The Klondyke”, this old colliery was situated at the top end of Brith wen Road. Here local colliers dug a pit and the coal was brought to the surface by a well-rope and bucket arrangement.
He continues by stating that men who worked at the Klondyke also worked at No.3 Colliery at Garngoch, if the larger colliery was idle they would be occupied at the Klondyke occasions would arise when on their way to No.3 Colliery -the hooter would sound – indicating that there was no work there for the remainder of that particular day.
The men could be half way across the fields (now the Alcoa complex) and the hooter would be an audible signal to return home. They would then go to the Klondyke and dig coal for their own use.
Many readers’ memories were rekindled by the articles on the horrendous strikes of 1921 and 1926 and their traumatic effect on our village, numerous references were made on the soup Kitchen; the sacrifice of the womenfolk and the sinking of shallow coal-seeking shafts in many a back garden – together illustrating the genuine hardship and austerity of that period.
A reference to the tragic flooding of the Killan Colliery in 1924 drew a response from Mrs Roberts from Fforestfach. The Roberts family lived in Three Crosses at the time of the pit tragedy and she recalls;-
“attending school on the Monday after the accident when the head teacher sorrowfully informed the class that some of the pupils had lost their fathers”.
Mrs Roberts family were directly involved in this disaster as her father, Mr Percy Eadan worked in the colliery as an electrician. She also remembers;-
“The miners returning home at 10 p.m. – about a dozen men walking home carrying lamps and singing hymns”
Her other fond memories include;-
“purchasing a daily pint of milk from Killan Farm and having the opportunity to feed the pit ponies (on a Friday) when they were allowed to take a well-earned break from their labours underground”.
To regress to the time when Waunarlwydd was developing and exploiting the rich coal seams in the village vicinity – it was inevitable that the colliers employed in the local pits were acutely aware of the momentous events taking place in the Rhondda coalfield.
These included the bitter Hauliers’ Strike of 1893 and the festering disputes between the miners and the coal owners; the growing militancy of union activity resulting in violent outbursts epitomised by the Tonypandy Riots of 1910 with the resultant social conflicts.
In October 1913 the general British public and in particular the coal mining communities were appalled at the news that 439 men and boys had been killed in an explosion at the Sengenydd Colliery in the Rhondda valley. This terrible and awesome catastrophe was a sober reminder of the cost of coal in human terms.
A one time Waunarlwydd miner, William Abrahams, better known as Mabon., was deeply involved in these events. As the Welsh saying sums it up;- “Gwaed ar y glo”- “Blood on the coal”.
Efforts had been made and were being made to reduce the ever present hazards of coal mining. For example in 1862 an act of Parliament was passed which stipulated that all mines were to have two shafts so as to facilitate escape. In 1911 regulations were issued regarding the use of safety lamps with particular reference to pits threatened with the menace of firedamp.
The stark reality of living in an early mining community such as Waunarlwydd can be illustrated by the following facts;- For example a colliers wage slip for a 6 day week in early 1901 showed that his daily rate of pay was 20 pence. From this amount was deducted 15 pence for the Doctor; checkweighman; lamp glasses and library leaving a wage of £1.05.
During the years 1910 to 1914, the mortality rate due to pit accidents was around 1,000 a year in the South Wales Coalfield. The terrible toll on the colliers’ health by the effect of “the dust” is to well known. Again, there was always the threat of developing astigmatism an eye disease caused by working excessive hours in flickering light.
These were just a few of the hazards an ordinary collier faced, of local interest is the following article from N.L. Thomas’s reference to Waunarlwydd in his excellent book “The Story of Swansea’s District and Villages” and in particular to the Elms Colliery previously named the Caergynydd colliery;- “The “price list” for winning the Hughes’ Seam at the Elms Colliery issued by the Western Miners’ district on the 5th August 1922, records a list of typical conditions of service worked out between management and workers. Among those who signed on behalf of the workmen were the late D.R. Grenfell M.P. then Miners’ Agent, David Price and George Lock, secretary of the Elms Lodge.
First class repairmen and roadmen earned per day 6/10 1/2d (less than 35p); Trimmers, riders and hauliers, 6/3d; hitchers on slant oartings, 5/71/2d; underground labourers, 5/3d; pumpsmen at main pumping stations, 6/-; leading banksmen, 5/6d; power-house attendants, 5/6d; blacksmiths, 6/4 1/2d; and carpenters 6/4 1/2d
Elms Colliery 1922
Relevant to the above – a brief history of the Caergynydd / Elms Colliery discloses that it was opened around 1840. In 1865 work began on a railway to the pit / level. In 1876-77 there was a sale of plant machinery. From 1877 to 1899 very little evidence of what happened. From 1899 to 1903 worked by the Caergynydd Colliery Company, in 1899 employed 43 men and in 1900 67 men. In 1903 paying coal was struck, unfortunately many difficulties were encountered particularly with water. No further references after 1903.
In 1918 – it was re-opened as the Elms Colliery – it survived until 1928 then it seems to have closed, the workforce during this period was 120 men underground and 20 men working on the surface.
Tragically there were occasions when the village was reminded of the grim cost of cutting coal in the bowels of the earth. To witness a solemn procession of black-faced miners, wending their way up Roseland Road bearing the roughly shrouded body of one of their comrades on a stretcher was an unforgettable sight.
In those days it was the unwritten law of the pits, to stop work if a fatality occurred, and if circumstances allowed to bring the body home. Over the years more than one Waunarlwydd family experienced this harrowing occurrence.
Thursday 24th November 1924 proved to be a tragic day for the mining communities of Dunvant and Waunarlwydd, when news seeped through of the flooding of the Killan Colliery in Dunvant. There were 65 men in the pit when the water rushed through the various slants. Eleven men were entombed and five killed. Grim courage, faith and resourcefulness kept the entombed men alive for just over two days and two nights until finally rescued.
There were incidents of great courage by the colliers and rescue teams, a fire which occurred at St Barnabas Church was almost coincidental with the Killan flooding and alerted many of the villagers of the disaster.
Waunarlwydd miners were involved – the pit-head vigil of one family proved in vain. Mr and Mrs George John, who lived near the Mason’s Arms, were no strangers to coal mining tragedy – lost their youngest son – Wilfred John – not long out of school. The anguish of the John family was made more acute when it was said that Wilfred had been within a few yards of being rescued before being washed back by the force of the water. His body was eventually recovered on New Year’s Day 1925. To add to the poignancy it was said that Wilfred’s mother – Mrs Marged John – had a premonition of the disaster and that she even hid his working boots in a vain attempt to prevent him going to work on that fateful day.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Waunarlwydd colliers worked at many of the district’s pits including some like the Garngoch complex with a long productive record. Others similar to the “Klondyke” colliery where the promised “black gold” never materialised.
The number of pits reflected the fererish search for coal during this period, they included the following;-
Waunarlwydd Old Pit;
PwIl Bach; (Roseland Road);
The Elms (Old Caergynydd)
Garngoch – numbers 1, 2 and 3.
Today in 1994 – there is not a single pit left in the Waunarlwydd area, the last viable pit at Brynlliw, Gorseinon, closed in 1988, and at the time of writing, a solitary working mine Tower in the Rhondda is an isolated symbol of what the word “coal with its connotation meant to South Wales. At the beginning of this century there were 620 mines in the South Wales coalfield employing 232,000 men; in 1976 there were 42 mines and 30,000 miners, today 1994;- one mine and a handful of miners. The change to sophisticated mechanisation is perhaps starkly emphasised in the fact that in 1913 more than 17, 700 ponies were working underground. In 1974 there were just 144.
On 24th February 1994 – the last of Britain’s pit ponies were put out to grass at Ellington Colliery in Northumberland. The following article appeared in “The Daily Express” of the 25th February 1994;- “more than 300 years of tradition ended yesterday as the last of Britain’s pit ponies blinked in the sunshine. Four workhorses emerged from the bowels of a colliery to an emotional farewell and a greener future”
The colliery had closed the previous week. There were genuine tears shed among the miners who had worked with the ponies – one for 23 years. Ponies have been employed in the pits since the Seventeenth century They began to work underground after 1842 when women and children were banned from working in the mines;- when the ponies took over the task of pushing and pulling the coal trams.
The labyrinth of old underground workings still remains a hidden threat to many a village project, for example in 1978 an all-clear verdict from the national Coal Board had to be given before the Login Fach School could he built, coal had been worked underneath the surface but the stability of the site was not affected.
The following are some short memoirs of Yesterday’s Waunarlwydd;-
Not so long ago – the writer visited a long retired collier – his blue scarred forehead a vivid and visible testimony of over 50 years working underground. His cottage was scrupulously clean and neat with a comforting coal fire blazing in the grate.
On the mantelpiece was his lovingly polished miner’s safety lamp, an engraved tobacco box and a bulbous coal-dust proof brass watch – case, complete with watch (also retired!). they were brazen symbols of the old miner’s way of life – cherished momentoes of half a century of what he described as hard, hazardous toil made worthwhile by the unique camaraderie of his fellow colliers.
To the uninitiated, the above mentioned tobacco box may be an enigma, in view of the strict regulations prohibiting the taking of matches, cigarettes etc down the mines. The miner’s tobacco tin contained nothing lethal- usually it housed a wad or chew of tobacco (in those far off days – a drama known as Franklyn’s Shag – a very strong tobacco) or a plug of “twist” – a solid form of tobacco – as an alternative to smoking these were chewed – colliers who indulged in this must have had cast-iron stomachs.
Incidentally, like the fast disappearing pits much of the unique collier’s vocabulary will eventually vanish. Words such as the following;- “boset” – the miner’s tin flask usually filled with cold tea; “Snap” or “Jack” the tin box containing his sandwiches; and other words such as “dravers” the long flannel underpants taped at the knee; mandril, bradish, face, yorks, stalls and so on – words even nowadays becoming obsolete.
Thankfully some far-sighted enthusiasts have made attempts to preserve the heritage of the South Wales Coalfield, and thus ensuring that the contribution of the collier to his community is never forgotten.
Places such as Afon Argoed, with its Welsh Miner’s Museum, the Big Pit at Blaenavon and the Rhondda Heritage park at Lewis Merthyr Colliery are now well-known internationally industrial theatres.
The history of the growth of Waunarlwydd cannot be divorced from the industrial story of Gowerton, Gorseinon, Dunvant and Fforestfach. The decline of the old iron industry led to the establishment of comparatively new industries such as steel and its close relation – the tinplate industry in nearby villages. Many factors influenced the social and economic life of Waunarlwydd – improved transport facilities, particularly the local railway system, the influx of migrant workers with a domino effect on housing, health, education and religion.
Up to the early part of this century coal mining had played a predominant part in the industrial story of the village, gradually there had been a process of change and the coal industry was being overshadowed by the steel and tin-plate industries. This resulted in a wider choice of occupation for Waunarlwydd men and women.
What was once a small and predominately a farming and coal mining community became a larger village enriched by the added experience of its steelworkers and tin-platemen.
On the opening of the Afon Argoed Museum in 1976 – there appeared in the South Wales Evening Post an article written by John Bolan. It is well worth quoting as it accurately and expressively pictures a typical mining community such as yesterday’s Waunarlwydd:-
“The canvas would need to take in stories of great endeavour, grim courage in the face of the many hazards to be faced, tales of heroism, stoicism, humour and a faith that gave miner’s the heart to press on to win a reasonable way of life for their families.
Within that way of life there had to be room for an outlet that was completely divorced from the underground labyrinth which claimed their strength, their skill and sometimes their lives.
The coal mines have produced not only teak tough men who could fight with their hands or run with a rugby ball, but men who because of their way of life learned to be philosophical, men who became scholars and men big enough in the fullest sense of the word to become leaders. “
For instance – circa 1900, a Waunarlwydd boy – Joshua Gelly, the son of a local collier achieved the distinction of being among the first pupil of Gowerton County School to gain entrance to university. The award of a Drapers Scholarship enabled him to study at Cardiff University.
In Wales Rugby had its roots firmly embedded in the fertile breeding ground of the mining communities.
Years ago, a familiar scene in the village was the sight of several cart-loads of coal deposited outside collier’s houses. Each load weighed approximately a ton and represented a collier’s coal allowance or concessionary coal; it was no uncommon sight to see housewives and even children carrying the coal in a wheelbarrow or bucket to be housed in the coal-shed at the rear of their houses.
The more meticulous would carefully stack the coal according to the size of the “nubs” or in village Welsh “cnepin”. How things change – with the rather tragic demise of the coal industry in our area – not a single load of concessionary coal can be seen in a village once dominated by yesterday’s hob-nailed, mufflered, cloth-capped and black-faced collier.
Coal is still used, but is losing its appeal as a popular fuel in the energy market. One was rather emphatically reminded of this changing village scene – when taking an early morning walk during a spell of very cold, frosty weather. Coming to a vantage point overlooking the village one was forcibly reminded that out of hundreds of houses that one could see a mere five had smoke coming from their chimneys.
This triggered off memories of the village during the early part of this century in similar wintry conditions, in those far off days, on a nail-blowing frosty morning, a panoramic view of the village would highlight each Welsh slated cottage roof-tinselled and glistened-in the wintry sun and from each chimney a plume of comforting smoke would arise-black, or grey or white, it seemed that our staunch protestant community was in the process of electing a new Pope.
This living picturesque Christmas card will never be witnessed again.
Gas and oil central heating and smokeless fuel have almost eliminated the original use of the chimney and its original function as a symbol of a predominantly mining community where coal from the local pits was the basic fuel. What a stark contrast to today when chimneys are rapidly becoming miniature towers supporting satellite dishes.
Up to the early part of this century Coal-mining had played a predominant part in the industrial story of the village. Gradually, there had been a process of change and the coal industry was being overshadowed by the steel and tin-plate industries.
This resulted in a wider choice of occupation for the men (and women) of Waunarlwydd. What was once a small farming and coal-mining community became a larger village enriched by the added experience of its steel workers and tinplate men. Industries which employed Waunarlwydd men and women included the following ;-
Coke making was carried out at some of the local collieries. Gorwydd Colliery was opened in 1871 by Mr A.Sterry the main purpose being a feed to the Steelworks. This colliery was situated on the right hand side of Gorwydd Road from the direction of Waunarlwydd to Gowerton – just above and opposite The Gorwydd Lodge. Incidentally one can remember Gorwydd Lodge being occupied in the 1920’s by Police Superintendant Lt. Colonel F.W.Smith D.C.M.
The old ivy covered stack of the colliery is still visible. There were 30 coke ovens here -some situated where the Woodland Park mobile homes complex is presently locate &
during this period a siding crossed the road near Gorwydd Lodge – this came from the adjacent Bishwell colliery (now the Bishwell housing Estate), this pit was opened by a Mr Padley and was taken over by the Forest of Dean colliery Co. and finally sold to Messrs Wright Butler & Co (Steelworks). Here 20 Coke ovens were erected.
Briefly, the production of coke involved the use of small coal, this was used after being washed and small stones etc removed. It was then placed in ovens where it was burned for about three days. Water was then played on it until it was then ready for use in the blast furnaces.
The steel and tinplate industries were not strictly speaking within the “catchment” area of Waunarlwydd – as geographically they were situated at Gowerton and Gorsienon. However they had a profound effect on the employment of both men and women from the village.
Fortunately, a more comprehensive and well-researched information on these particular industries can be found in two recently published books by
- J.Hywel Rees’s ;-“Talking about Gowerton”
- “Gorsienon and its Environments”- both books invaluable contributions to preserving our local heritage.
The Steel Industry
The extension of the Great Western Railway in 1853 and later the London and North Western (The London Midland and Scottish) Railway and the establishment of their respective stations at Gowerton – then “Gower Road” – improved local transport facilities. This was a major factor in the growth of the steel and tinplate industries of the district
It is interesting to note that temporary accommodation was erected for the “imported” navvies employed on the railway construction on the old Waunarlwydd Road between Gowerton and Waunarlwydd. Many of them remained, for various reasons, many Waunarlwydd colliers left the mines and found employment in the expanding steel and tinplate industries.
The Elba Steelworks at Gowerton employed hundreds of Waunarlwydd men since its opening in 1872 by Messrs Sterry, Beck and Healy. After many years of difficulty and experiment a highly successful mild steel was produced by the then Wright, Butler and Company.
The works was gradually enlarged to accommodate additional mills and furnaces and thus absorbed more workers. Incidentally the old, disused Penclawdd / Ystrad Isaf Canal caused considerable construction difficulty when extending the building.
In 1905, a well – known and respected local figure returned to the steelworks – John Cecil Davies, whose father was Thomas Davies, a one time proprietor of the old Lamb and Flag public house in Waunarlwydd.
Influenced by the tremendous drive and experience of J.C.Davies, the success of the steelworks was assured for many years. He was later Knighted for his contribution to the steel industry and particularly for his efforts during the 1914-18 War when steel was of vital importance.
Except for closure during 1898/99 the steelworks provided employment for numerous Waunarlwydd men. Over the years many of them held responsible positions and several could lay claim to over 50 years service at the Elba.
Today the mills and furnaces have been completely demolished and the site was eventually cleared to accommodate the Dyffrin Lliw national Eisteddfod of Wales in 1980. At the present time it has become the location of a housing estate and Lliw Valley sports complex. The long disused Elba Offices were converted to a district Health Centre.
Many names associated with the Elba era of 1872 to 1967 are commemorated in the various street names in the housing estate.
This foundry was in existence from 1878 until trade depression forced it to close down in the early 30’s. During these years the ownership changed hands several times-but was still referred to as either Gowerton or Nevill’s Foundry. Many Waunarlwydd men played their part in producing the Foundrys products which had a well deserved reputation for its excellent quality.
The Tinplate Industry
Many Waunarlwydd men and women found employment in the tinplate works situated in the immediate vicinity of the village. During the nineteenth century the making of tinplate developed into a thriving industry. As the steel and tinplate industries are closely connected, improved steel production, resulting from the Bessemer and Siemens method of manufacture, was paralleled with the production of better quality tinplate.
In 1891 there were 51 tinplate works with a total of 277 mills in Glamorgan alone, the basic processes of tinplate manufacture despite great technical improvements still involved a great deal of manual labour and the skilled individual played an important pan in the various processes.
Among the Waunarlwydd men and women provided a fair quota of these skilled operators- the;- picklers, annealers, tinners, rollermen, examiners etc. a considerable number of Waunarlwydd women were also employed in various capacities such as the cold rolls and at the slitters bench. Some were employed stripping the tinplate sheets and others in dipping the sheets into the acid vats.
A recent T.V. series provided a fascinating picture of life in yester-year, the programme evoked many memories, including the role of women in the tinplate industry. A woman who worked as a young girl in a local tinworks recalls her job of dipping tinplate sheets into these acid vats. The bizarre effects of the acid fumes had a devastating result on the women employed in this particular capacity-they eventually lost their hair and teeth and when socialising had to cover their discoloured hands and feet with gloves and thick stockings.
Life in the old tinworks was in many respects as hazardous as working underground in a local colliery. As Paul Beynon states;- “I have never forgotten my first sight of the dark satanic mills, the scene was like something out of Dante’s inferno, with the glare of the furnaces, the clattering noise of the red-hot sheets as they slid over the metalled floor and the acrid stench of the pickling fumes”
The tinplate industry was intensely localised and a family tradition guaranteed that a son would follow his father into the industry. Waunarlwydd tinplate men usually walked to work- they were conspicuously dressed-inevitably cloth capped, sweat-towelled and white-aproned.
Even in those days, the world was shrinking, and a decision in far off America affected the lives of many a Waunarlwydd family and many others in the locality of Gowerton, Gorsienon and Loughor. In 1890 / 91 the Welsh tinplate industry suffered a severe set back when its best customer – the U.S.A. decided to produce its own tinplate. In 1891 the McKinley Tariff was imposed, which put the price of British imported tinplate up by 70%.
The Welsh tinplate industry was thought to be doomed ;- works were closed and many tinplate men became unemployed. Many Welsh families emigrated and found employment in the new works in America and elsewhere. Among them were a few families from the village, who responded to the attraction of high wages and better working conditions.
The success of many an American tinplate works was established by the expertise of these Welsh tinplate men. Fortunately the local industry survived and indeed prospered
Among the works employing Waunarlwydd personnel were;- the Fairwood tinplate works at Gowerton. Erected in 1889, a nephew of the original owner, Mr Ernest Gough, lived at “The Firs”, in the village. “The Firs”, demolished a few years ago was a large house a few hundred yards from Gypsy Cross, its site now part of a Council estate.
In years gone by the grounds of the “Firs” were the frequent venue for the village fetes and carnival’s, later it was the residence of the respected Watts’s family who still maintain their association with the village.
Other works which absorbed Waunarlwydd labour were the Bryngwyn, Maerdy and the Grovesend sheet Mills. Up to the World War 1 period of 1914-1918 there was only a limited choice of work available for the women and girls of Waunarlwydd. Many entered domestic service in the more affluent areas of the district; others became dressmakers, milliners, shop assistants or pupil teachers.
To many a Waunarlwydd girl an apprenticeship served at Jenkins Drapers Shop at Gowerton (now the V.G.Stores) was a stepping stone to employment at the large Swansea stores of that day, in particular – the Harrods of Swansea – “Ben Evans” and “Lewis Lewis”. Employees of these well known firms were often required to “sleep in”.
A few of the hardier girls were employed by Mr John Shaw at Gurnos, Gowerton, where he had a Landscaping and Nursery business. The girls employed there were rather derogatorily known as “Shows She Navvies”, however the opening of the Fairwood Tinplate Works in 1899 offered a limited opportunity for female employment and unfortunately for Mr Shaw many of his “She Navvies” availed themselves of this opportunity to obtain better pay. Thus deprived of his labour force the Gurnos Garden Centre was forced to close down.
For many years the ALCOA (The Aluminium Company of America) complex is situated almost within the village precinct, this vast industry has provided employment to many Waunarlwydd men and women.
The history of this international concern has been well documented, including numerous newspaper articles on its progress and on-going development. An excellent account of the former I.C.I. and IMPALCO concerns and their eventual amalgamation with ALCOA can be found in N.L. Thomas’s book on “The History of Swansea’s Districts and Villages”, with particular reference to our village. This account covers the period between 1941 and 1969.
Briefly – the reason why this “factory” was established in the village was a war-time expedient. For obvious strategic reasons many firms involved in the manufacture and production of vital war material were encouraged to establish “shadow” factories in the Swansea area. Thus Waunarlwydd became the “home” of one which was involved in the production of light alloys and aluminium for aircraft. After the end of the war in 1945 the products of some of these factories were now superfluous – however many including the former I.C.I. and IMPALCO were converted to more peaceful products.
A snippet from an article in The Evening Post of March 1952 regarding the encroachment of industry and its threat to the rural peace of in particular the Ystrad Farm and River Llan area. The article states;- “Now in another century the battle is being waged again and Ystrad Farm with the “Lords Meadow” is destined to lose in a fight which must be only half-hearted… but already the red brick and white roads of a modern trading estate edge the fields and racecourse stretches far into the meadows. On the other side a huge metal works bearing camouflage provides livelihood for a growing town and builders hurry on with yet another factory.
The way we were
The first three decades of this century proved to be a traumatic period in the history of our village. The horrific tragedy of the Great War of 1914-1918 affected every family in our village. All experienced acute shortages of the basic commodities – who can ever forget the “black bread”?
Some families suffered great personal loss – when the dreaded telegram arrived notifying the loss of a husband or son with the words;- “killed” or “missing”. The writer can vividly recall being photographed with a family friend – Tom Mitchell who before enlisting in the Army lived with his parents at Albion Stores – now 80 Swansea Road.
A memory perhaps inspired by the fact that I was given some sweets taken from his bandolier – a real war time rarity. Tom Mitchell volunteered in 1914 and was drafted into the 11th Hussars and was later transferred to the 2nd Worcesters. This particular leave over – he returned to the trenches in the Ypres Salient in early July 1915. Within a matter of days Tom Mitchell became a cruel victim of a German Sniper. He lies buried in the Belgian village of Voormezeele – with the stark headstone details;- ” Killed 26th July 1915 Aged 19″ Tom Mitchell’s name is also inscribed on the headstone of his parents’ grave – situated at the front of Bethany Chapel in Bryn Road.
Tragically other Waunarlwydd families endured similar experiences. The tragic drama of the Great War ended officially on November 11th 1918 – unfortunately the euphoria of victory gave way to a series of future crises. Incidentally, Waunarlwydd celebrated the Armistice with possibly the largest Carnival and Fete seen in the village – the final events held in the grounds of “The Firs”.
The insatiable demand for coal during the war no longer applied and Waunarlwydd as a predominantly mining community was deeply affected. Later the lock-out of 1921 and the General Strike of 1926 gave rise to disturbing references to “depressed” and “distressed” areas. It was said that 1926 was a year that a whole generation in South Wales would never forget;- “that summer of soups and speeches”.
The women folk of that era were a courageous and hardy breed. The woman in a mining community lived in a state of perpetual fear; the impending dangers of the colliers’ working life underground were never far from their thoughts.
This strengthened the feeling of belonging so characteristic of the village in that day and age. “Mam” was the linchpin and the dominant person in the home. It was an age of large families and inadequate accommodation. An age where the vacuum cleaner, fridge, washing machine, deep freeze, microwave, T. V. main drainage and domestic electricity were unknown. Women had few amenities to help them, wages could be unpredictable and often house-keeping was on the proverbial shoe-string. House cleaning was a hard physical chore, made more acute by the lack of facilities and inadequate space, it was said that a miner worked 7 hours but their women l7.
Many village homes housed more than three colliers and one can imagine the responsibility of the women preparing their baths – washing coal-dust ridden clothes, by hand or with the help of a “Dolly” (a special tub), preparing and cooking food, mending clothes and in an age of large families the added task of looking after the welfare of the younger children.
In the absence of pit-head baths and bathrooms – the essential undertaking of a collier on arriving home was to take a bath. Inevitably the bath was a large zinc bath-tub. Hot water would be available from containers placed on a fire in the large grate.
There was a certain ritual in a miner’s bathing – usually taking place in the Kitchen – he would bathe the top half of his body and then with the help of a strategically placed hand wash the bottom half. Women would often come in – but all seemed unconcerned.
Despite all these problems – the average household was kept scrupulously clean and “tidiness” was almost an obsession. A traditional village cottage of the period was a simple four roomed dwelling – “two up and two down”, and occasionally an additional building used as a scullery or pantry. The ground floor rooms were the Kitchen or “y-gegyn” the principal living room and the parlour. The parlour was always referred to as the “best room” – the place reserved for the best furniture and maybe a piano. A characteristic feature found in most parlours was the big, black, sometimes brass bound family Bible in which the dates of the births and deaths of the family were recorded
The kitchen with its sanded floor, with “free-stoned”, doorstep, the gleaming brass fender and stand, with equally well burnished brass candlesticks and lustre jugs on the mantelpiece would present a typical picture. One wall would be practically obscured by a Welsh dresser filled with rows of cups and jugs to a background of patterned plates, and interspersed with souvenirs from Llanwrtyd, Llandrindod or Tenby.
The furniture was strictly functional, there was no G-Plan comfort in those days, perhaps, there would be a horse-hair sofa – but the chairs were wooden and a Spartan challenge to any form of relaxation. The more ornate “gadair-fawr” – the big chair, was sacrosanct – reserved for the use of the man of the house. There would probably be a “skew” which served the dual purpose of providing a place to sit and a store place for clothes. Another wall would be taken up with a large open fireplace flanked by an equally large oven and boiler. In a colliers home the entitlement of concessionary coal and shift work more or less guaranteed that the fire was never out.
Today we live an age of convenience food, pre-packed this and that, we can Microwave a meal in a few minutes or dispense with all the chores and slip down to the local Chinese Take-away or Indian Tandoori.
No such labour saving amenities were available to the Waunarlwydd housewife of yesteryear, the huge oven or in Welsh “ffwrn” was an essential item in a self-sufficient community. Despite it being in constant use the oven doors and adjoining bars of the grate would invariably be a gleaming black from regular “black-leading”.
The “ffwrn” often taxed the women folk’s cooking ingenuity to provide a change from a rather restricted and monotonous diet. Welsh “cawl” (soup) was a well-known and nourishing meal and generally, despite being essentially basic, the home-made cooking of those days provided a fairly healthy and balanced diet.
The “ffwrn” itself was mainly used to bake home-made bread and the delicious smell of baking bread from a Waunarlwydd cottage is now a thing of the past. The majority of the village housewives made their own bread although there were village bakeries.
One was established by Mr Robert Evans (where Nos 271/3 Swansea Road now stands and the other aptly called “The Old Bakery” at No. 229 Swansea Road was run by the Bevan family).
Apart from bread-making, the oven was often used for airing and drying clothes, to the modern housewife this practice would seem strange and unhygienic but in the domestic context of that era – the oven became the Hotpoint/Hoover clothes dryer.
Mention of the oven brings back a delightful memory of a particular colliers cottage, there was the “Gaffer” sitting in his tilted “gadair fawr” with his feet, complete with thick woollen socks thrust into the still warm oven.
A half smoked pipe of Ffranklyn’s Shag Tobacco in his hand and the most cherubic smile on his blue scarred face. During the early decades of this century the airing of clothes became a health fetish-understandably so – as the ever present threat of contracting tuberculosis or commonly known as consumption was to often a dreaded reality.
One widely suspected reason for the prevalence of T.B. was believed to be the wearing of damp clothes, this reflected the housewife’s concern in making certain that her family’s clothes were adequately aired, even ordinary pocket handkerchiefs were meticulously aired and ironed.
One can recall “Shoni Mochyn” a well known village character – his real name John Griffiths – a collier who was more or less, regarded as the official slaughterer of the village pigs. He expertly caught the writhing and squealing doomed animal, held it firmly between his knees and despite the animals size and frantic struggles a razor sharp knife would be drawn across the pigs throat and the gory job would be completed, it was the custom of the village boys to wait eagerly for the pigs bladder which made an excellent substitute for a genuine football.
There were two highly respected butchers in the village, namely, Jack Thomas whose premises and slaughterhouse in what is now No 211 Swansea Road and Tom Morgan who occupied No 144 Swansea Road. This was the pre-humane killer period and the only method to kill the larger beasts, was to securely tether them and literally pole-axe them to death.
Skilful butchers would minimise the inevitable suffering – yesterdays cruel but accepted way of slaughtering, as curious schoolboys we would unflinchingly witness these rather brutal spectacles.
Incidentally, if memory proves correct, Messrs Thomas and Morgan were among the first car-owners in the village. Happily Ms Alma Thomas, Jack Thomas’s younger daughter still resides in the village – and as a car driver at a very young age must be one of the longest car-licence owners in the village.
Another facet of village life during the early part of this century was the Saturday morning trek of many Waunarlwydd women to the more industrialised and affluent districts of Manselton, Sketty and even to Swansea Market.
The purpose of this weekly trek was to sell home grown garden produce. In those far-off days, economic reasons demanded a far greater degree of self-sufficiency than today. It was the age of large gardens and practically every garden in the village was extensively cultivated and was well stocked with basic vegetables, fruit trees and often a colourful array of flowers.
Even today the older cottages bordering the north side of Swansea Road possess gardens which extend down to the old G. W.R. railway line. Many a village collier, steelworker or tinplate-man was a market gardener on a small scale, and the garden produce surplus to the family’s needs were sold to the less rural communities around Swansea. The selling devolved on the women folk; this resulted in a week-end of feverish activity. Friday evening was the time for the washing and the bundling of the vegetables and flowers and meticulously packing them into large straw baskets or “flasks” – usually the basket used to collect the family washing. This Friday evening preparation was essential – so an early start on Saturday morning could be guaranteed – often before 7a.m.
This was the traditional “col” or roughly translated;- “load”, the loaded basket was quite heavy and cumbersome, before the advent of a bus service, many a Waunarlwydd woman carried the heavy load expertly balanced on her head and walked considerable distances.
The coming of a regular bus service provided an unforgettable spectacle around 7-30 am on a Saturday morning, At each bus stop women jostled for a place for themselves and their unwieldy “col” until the floral and vegetable “jigsaw” was completed.
When the bus finally left the village it resembled a mobile horticultural show. If the bus happened to come from Penclawdd or Gowerton, loads of cockles, mussels and laverbread would be added to the general confusion and bedlam.
To ease the situation, Mr Harry Thomas owner of the Tivoli Cinema in Gowerton, ran a special service for the Waunarlwydd women, but unfortunately this very welcome effort did not last long. It was extremely hard work for the women who made this regular weekly trek – but to many it was a necessity to supplement the meagre and often fluctuating wages of that time.
This added burden to the already over-worked women, prompted the following comments;- that the medical profession could justifiably state that in many of these women, the cause of death would be a simple statement ;- “worn out”.
The Village Backcloth
Part of the village scene was the cry of “Sand Yellow”, when sand was sold from a donkey cart, the sand was used for the sanding of the Kitchen floors, then swept and so kept them scrupulously clean. Another familiar village cry was that of “Sane ne Wlan”;- the Welsh for “stockings or wool”. These were sold by a very austere looking gentleman, always wearing a “Homberg hat and a ram – rod straight back”.
If memory is right he was a Mr Reynolds and hailed from Fforestfach. Workingmen’s heavy woollen stockings and skeins of wool were suspended on a long pole which he balanced on his shoulders.
Then there were the weekly visit of the Penclawdd cockle-women with their cry of “cockles and Mussels” or “Cocs a Chregyn” (cockles in their shells). Again there were the travelling tinkers and the knife sharpener with his foot-operated treadle machine and grinding stone capable of putting a keen edge on anything from a pair of scissors to gardening tools.
Gypsies were common and welcome visitors – many of them with semi-permanent homes at the Ystrad and Gypsy Cross. Generally they sold wooden clothes pegs and artificial flowers.
When domestic lighting was dependent on paraffin – a familiar figure was known as “Jenkins the Oil” who for many years sold paraffin to Waunarlwydd and the surrounding villages.
Mr Jenkins was a highly respected gentleman who lived in Fforestfach. His heavily laden horse and cart was the first mobile hardware shop in the district. Now motorised the third generation of the Jenkins family is still in operation and involved in one of the largest furnishing business in the principality – where the respect, quality and integrity of the original business is still maintained.
To accommodate the fairly rapid increase in the village population during the last decades of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century several local shopping amenities were established. Among the largest and the oldest shops in the village were the following;- The “Old Post Office”, more familiarly known as “Janes Shop” run for generations by the Thomas family. It is now the Chinese Takeaway. The name – the Old Post Office – is rather confusing – because as far as can be ascertained the original village Post Office was on the identical site of the present Post Office.
In all probability the insertion of the old red type letter box in the outside wall of the shop would account for its name. Then there was Mr Thomas Davies well stocked shop at Granville Villa – now the V.G.Stores – with its pleasant Victorian atmosphere. Later on this business was taken over with an addition of a bake house by Mr D.O.Jones and his brothers.
Still on Swansea Road – we had a shop called “Roads” run by Mr John Jones- it is now Powes. At the junction of Swansea Road and Victoria Road there was Albion Stores, kept by the Mitchell family. This business was later run by Mr and Mrs William George, who later became Mayor and Mayoress of Swansea.
The lower end of the village was extremely well catered for by Denton’s General Store. The community here was served by members of the Denton family for an estimated one and a half centuries. As the late Hewitt Denton remarked his forebears sold an imposing range of goods ranging from ironmongery to millinery product, later it became a greengrocery and confectionary business.
Incidentally Hewitt and David were village milkmen for decades. The village paper shop – now 160 Swansea Road was run by Mrs Rees, the papers were collected from the Gowerton LMS Station at a very early hour and it was a case of walking to Gowerton and back in all weathers.
Next door to the paper shop was a small haberdashery shop owned by an aristocratic looking lady named Miss Hartland, whose family originated in the Forest of Dean. A tailor’s “Emporium” existed where Options Hairdressing Salon is now located. The village tailor Mr David Jones – was an excellent craftsman – and many a male villager was proud of his Jones’s made to measure suit.
Later we had “Ambrose’s hut” – on the road side site of the demolished Laurel Club, Ambrose’s later on became a homely business venture run by Miss Alma Thomas and later by Meg and Dyson Lewis.
On Victoria Road (Heol Newydd) opposite the road leading to St Barnabas Church was the “Royal Stores” originally kept by a lady known as Mari-Lem. Later this business was taken over by a well known village character- ldris Jones – who previously owned a small wooden built shop opposite Ty Victoria, “Id’s Shop”. Was the rendezvous of the village lads where topics from religion to horse-racing were hotly and sometimes intelligently debated. After Id’s death – the Royal Stores continued to be run by his sister Mabel.
There were several “parlour shops” in the village – selling a variety of wares from old-type football boot studs to Carters Seeds – a notable feature was the weekly contribution towards the “Christmas club”;- when the small amounts accumulating over a long period enabled the contributor to a Christmas Bonanza. One can recall some of these front-room shops;- George’s, Barrys’ Bevans’, a shop in Colliers Row.
The village could boast of being provided with three excellent chip shops;- Hannahs; Bevans and Ogwens the first two situated in Swansea Road and Ogwens in Victoria Road, opposite the old Welfare Hall.
In those far-off days an indispensable craftsman to the village community was the boot-repairer, Boots – rarely shoes were made to last Leather was real, genuine leather and no ersatz material was available. Unsurfaced roads and hard, rough usage took their toll on male foot ware in particular.
The use of steel-tips, hob nails and “protectors” (small steel studs of various shapes) prolonged the useful life of one’s boots. However, repairs beyond the skill of the ordinary villager ended up in the workshop of the village boot repairer – Mr David Harris – known locally as “Dai Harris y Crydd”, an expert craftsman he served the village for decades. His son Glyndwr and family still live in the original premises at No 79 Swansea Road.
It was a fascinating experience to watch a craftsman of Mr Harris’s calibre dispensing a mouthful of sprigs – unerringly transferring them one at a time from mouth to last and hammering it into the sole or heel with a machine-gun precision.
A far-sighted tradesman – he early appreciated the value of advertising by having a visual invitation placed on the screen at the old Tivoli Cinema in Gowerton. The invitation was to a well-known cartoon character of those days – namely Felix the Cat – the cat who kept on walking – to call at David Harris’s Waunarlwydd workshop for any repairs.
Later another, boot and shoe repairing business was opened by the late Danny Jones at the premise’s now occupied by the now empty Powes Shop in Swansea Road. Mention has already been made of the two butchers’ shops in the village, to supplement their meat supply, practically every collier, steel and tinplate worker had adequate garden space to build a pig-sty and a hen-coop, many of the older village cottages still retain evidence of these old sties in their gardens. (Twlc-Moch)
Domestic refrigeration was non-existent in those days and the only known method to preserve meat for later use was to heavily salt it. This process was especially applicable to sides of bacon, the unfortunate occupants of the village pig-sties were fattened up and duly slaughtered (shades of Shoni mochyn). One or two sides of bacon were retained.
A side of bacon was then adequately salted (Womens work) and then hung from two heavy butchers’ hooks embedded in the kitchen ceiling. These hooks are still visible in a few village cottages, slices of bacon were cut when required and often formed the basis of a satisfying meal made with home-grown vegetables.
One can recollect the bacon slices being extremely salty, streaky with plenty offal content – what would today’s dieticians think? Were there any vegetarians in those days?
Most villagers also kept a variety of poultry, a welcome source of fresh meat and eggs throughout the year, besides ceaseless pecking away in the back garden, a favourite poultry feed was a type of maize called “Indian corn”.
Yesterday’s village scene was enriched by the presence of unforgettable characters. Among them was a heavily be-whiskered character known to all the villagers as “Rum Dafi ” he was the village supplier of paraffin- what the connection between ” Rum ” and paraffin was a local mystery we’ve already mentioned ” Jenkins the Oil” as a supplier of paraffin – but “Rum Dafi” was a more “static” and available source of supply in cases of emergency.
One must appreciate that in those days, before the advent of electricity or gas to the village, the ubiquitous method of domestic lighting was by paraffin lamp or by the much maligned candle. The paraffin lamp consisted of a china or brass, body stemmed down to a base; a long glass funnel, a glass shade and a wick whose length was regulated by a small, cogged wheel. Incidentally some of the more ornate ones are now collectors’ items.
So our “Rum Dafi” provided a useful service to the community, he had a tank, which held several gallons of paraffin, installed in a lean-to adjacent to his back door. His seat of custom was a wooden chair placed outside or inside his backdoor depending on the weather, it was the village story that from the time he occupied the chair in the morning until he had served his last customer – that he would twiddle his thumbs in a clockwise direction until precisely mid-day and then change to an anti-clockwise direction for the rest of the day-the only interruption being a customer.
Several “Waun” people can affectionately recall the Hudson family of Bakers from Fforestfach, they catered for several neighbouring villages including our own for many, many years. In complete contrast to the calm craft of bread making the male Hudson members were well known motor-cycle enthusiasts – in the Brough-Superior and Harley-Davison category.
Householders requiring milk usually walked to the adjacent farms for their supply, there was one small village farm situated at now No161 Swansea Road, this was originally farmed by one of Waunarlwydd’s pioneers – James Morris – and then by John and Ann Huw;- it supplied a limited quantity to the local community.
Larger local farms such as the three Caergynydds-Fawr, Fach and Isaf;- (the Mill Farm),Login and the Village Farm (now the Ashgrove Nursing Home) were the main suppliers. Eventually the farmers – the Lewis’s, Powells, Hosgoods and D.W.Jones began long standing and reliable household deliveries.
One can also remember the cheerful character from the Mill Farm – “Will Dick” who invariably delivered his ‘pint’ with a line or two of his self-composed poems.
The farm milk was contained in churns placed on the horse-drawn float and the village housewife provided her own receptacle. It is interesting to note that relics of the bygone rustic nature of our village can be seen in the ivy-covered wall of the old byre at 161 Swansea Road and the stone-built outhouse fronting the Ashgrove nursing home, a visible reminder of D. W.Jones’ Village Farm.
A barbers’ shop existed in a largish, wooden hut-situated on the frontage of the now demolished Laurels Club, it was run by an excellent barber and hairdresser and a much respected gentleman – Mr E.B.Davies.
In those days, the village colliers, steel and tin workers were frequent customers-if only for a shave. This was in all probability due to the hazards of shaving at home with a cut-throat razor, in a typical cottage of those days space was limited and a boisterous brood of children was a real threat to a delicately used cut-throat razor in a rough workman’s hands, it often resulted in “Dad” ending up with numerous bits of paper stuck on his face to stem the blood from involuntary cuts.
At the barbers there was an accepted ritual for shaving;- the customers face was subjected to a prolonged “Wobble” – that is a vigorous massage of the face with lather in order to soften the beard, occasionally young boys were employed as “wobblers”, sometimes hot face towels would be applied to the face.
The customer was then expertly and bloodlessly shaved with an open-bladed razor, it was said that a shave by Ernie Davies was good enough to last a week A fascinating sight was to see the barber “stropping” (sharpening) his razor on a leather “strop”. One of the coveted razors of those days was the German-made “Kropp” razor.
Unfortunately for the barbers, the introduction and growing popularity of the “Safety Razor” blunted the necessity of going to the barber shop for a shave.
Many years ago a smithy was an integral cog in the communal machine, thanks to the marvellous memory of the late Mrs Elizabeth Holborow, who wrote many articles about late Victorian Waunarlwydd.
We learn that there was a smithy situated at what is now 143 Swansea Road (The Old Road), The busy village blacksmith was a character referred to in Welsh as “John Roberts-y-Gof ” (Smith).
Many years later, Mr Frank Thomas opened a forge near the old Lamb and Flag public house now Kenwood House – mainly for horse-shoeing, unfortunately the car was superseding the horse and with the rapid rise of mechanisation the traditional craft of the village blacksmith was no longer viable and the smithy became a victim of progress
In the period covering the first two decades of this century – there was a strong village belief in the efficacy of herbs to cure certain illnesses, sometimes frowned upon by the medical profession, nowadays, it seems to be gaining a renewed respectability under the name of alternative medicine.
There was a village herbalist-a Mr Williams, who lived in Heal Felyn (Roseland Road). There was also a Fforestfach gentleman known locally as “Dan Ship” and many people had complete faith in his home produced remedies. These were serious herbalists. On the other hand, a certain local gentleman, who shall be nameless, sold his mysterious concoction to local girls. He called it “come to Me Oil” with a guarantee to any female customer that a boy friend would materialise in a very short time.
As far as can be ascertained – the Gorwydd cottage mentioned in this old advertisement – was a small, rather isolated cottage situated in a field – now occupied by bungalows on the Derwen Close estate at the bottom end of Waunarlwydd.
Many of the older village women were experts at producing home-made wine, individual recipes were closely guarded secrets, and were claimed to have curative qualities, as boys we were often paid a few coppers to collect nettles, dandelion leaves, elder flowers- these being the most popular ingredients for home-made wine making.
Phrenology was another popular belief during this era. Many sons and daughters were taken to see “Williams the Phrenologist” who had a “surgery” in the Old Arcade in Swansea. Here the “bumps” on rather unwilling heads were examined and hopefully Mr William’s diagnosis and predictions of future success would be fulfilled
During the latter half of the last century there were five public houses in the village, the majority of their customers were local colliers who quenched their thirst and eased their parched and dust laden throats with the strong ale of that period
All the public houses were situated along Swansea Road – the Old Road or Hen Heol, at the Gowerton end of the village was the Colliers Arms (now 363 Swansea Road), it like the Masons Arms was strategically sited in order to accommodate the colliers employed at nearby pits.
Not far from the “Colliers” were the working pits of the Bishwell and Gorwydd . This public house was closed down many years ago.
The Farmers Arms is still thriving in the village, a larger and more hostelry than the original public house. The “Farmers”, in days gone by, like many other inns provided facilities for the local work people to pay their sick fund contributions to various Friendly Societies.
The Bird in Hand – is now a privately occupied house at No 184 Swansea road, the name plate still retains the pubs name and is a reminder of its previous use. Interestingly at the junction of Swansea and Stepney Roads was a “Mission Hall” at No 193 and 195. Swansea Road The late highly respected Ms Louise Hollingdale remembers as a child attending services here.
The Masons Arms’ – still flourishing after bring extended, renovated and refurbished, today’s façade is in stark contrast to the old public house with its pillared porch, its public bar and smoke room etched in front windows and its clientele mostly colliers.
Situated at the junction of Swansea Road and Roseland Road (yr Hen Heol a Heol Felyn) it was ideally and conveniently sited for colliers working at the old pits on Heol Felyn and Mynydd Bach-y-Glo and later for those working at the Garn Goch collieries.
One can remember the land-lady; Mrs Moehe Jones – ruling the Masons’ with a rod of iron – she could have given Bet Lynch of the Rovers Return in “Coronation Street” a few tips. No woman was allowed to enter the pub, the only excepted occasion being when a tot of brandy, for strictly medicinal purposes was requested. The Masons’ being centrally situated, was the venue for many village activities, its upstairs “Long Room” was for many years the rehearsal room for the old Waunarlwydd Brass Band under its conductor, Mr William Griffiths. For at least three generations the Griffiths family have made a unique contribution to the musical and choral life of Waunarlwydd Today in (1994). The Griffiths family tradition is successfully continued by Mrs Davida Lewis.
The Masons’ was also the place where the early village rugby teams changed, before the present rugby field became available. During the twenties, the matting used by the village cricket team was stored at the Masons.
The Masons acquired an erroneous reputation as a Coaching Inn. Possibly, this arose because during the time when horse-drawn brakes were used to convey trippers to such a place as Swansea Bay, it was the custom for passengers to alight at the Masons with the dual purpose of quenching their thirst and thus emptying the brake so that the horses could more easily negotiate the steep hill in front of them. Normally two horses would be used when it came to the steeper hill at “Tyle John Bevan”, just above Login Farm.
It was a case of all hands on deck and passengers had to get out of the brake to help the horses by pushing the brake up the hill. One can remember a well-known village character connected with this early mode of transport and, naturally, was known as “Ben the Brake”.
The yard at the side of the Masons was the venue for one or two small fairs and occasionally a “Cheap Jack” with their persuasive spiel who sold crockery to the village housewife.
The Lamb and Flag
The lamb and Flag, now “the Kenwood Home” was the last inn on the eastern boundary of the village before Cwmbach Road was constructed. It was conveniently situated at the corner of the lane leading to Banc Mawr, Cockett, Tycoch and eventually to Swansea. Today its rural character has been drastically eroded by encroaching housing estates.
Nowadays, the growing population is catered for by a comparatively new public house called The Domino, within a short distance from the old Lamb and Flag. One of the distinguished licensees of the Lamb and Flag, in 1875 was Thomas Davies, the father of Sir John Davies of “The Mount” in Gowerton, Sir John became an influential figure in the establishing of the steel industry in South Wales, his name will always be associated with the development of the Elba Steelworks at Gowerton.
The village public house was often the custodian of old village customs, for example, on Christmas morning villagers used to congregate outside the public houses to witness or partake in an old traditional event called;- “Aunt Sally” or “Aunt Polly”. Sally or Polly was a roughly made female scare-crow with a rather bizarre replica of a face carved out of wood with a clay pipe stuck in an apology for a mouth. The body was covered by a long cape, and sometimes a witches’ hat was placed on her head.
Pieces of wood were thrown by the contestants at the protruding pipe, and the first person to shatter the pipe was declared the winner, the prize being the seasonable one of a duck or a goose
Quoits was a popular pastime during the latter end of the last century and continued to be played into the early decades of the present century. There were two well used quoit pitches at the Mason’s Arms and at the Lamb and Flag.
It was mooted that the game was introduced into our neighbourhood by English migrant workers, but there is some evidence that quoits was played by the farmhands of Carmarthen and Cardiganshire. Since a substantial number of these farmhands left their impoverished farms to work in the local coal pits, they could have been responsible for the introduction of the sport into our district.
Roughly, the game consisted of two clay beds about twenty yards or so apart, an iron peg was securely embedded in the centre of each bed. The quoits themselves were bevelled steel rings around eight to ten inches in diameter and the weight varied from two to twelve pounds according to the preference of the thrower, the obvious object was to ring the peg.
There was keen rivalry between the village team and the teams from the neighbouring villages. The village team won several trophies.
Hywel Rees in his well researched book;- “Talking about Gowerton” states that a member of an early Gowerton team was a Jimmy McGibbon who was a World Quoits Champion. His prowess was apparently uncanny as he was reputed to have “ringed” a gold watch placed at the far end of the pitch.
No such an illustrious individual graced our village team; nevertheless they proved a formidable body of men, outstandingly led by members of the redoubtable Bowditch family.
The game of quoits was an ancient Olympic sport, its introduction to Britain is shrouded in mystery – but for some reason the game became more popular in Wales and Scotland than England. The previous reference to the fact that quoits was an early pastime of the farmhands in west Wales is vindicated by the point that the appeal of the sport is still maintained in this area, it is significant that the 1994 Quoits Grand Prix is being held at Pumpsaint Carmarthen.
Prior to the building of the Welfare Hall in 1925/26 village amenities for entertainment were limited. Excluding the chapels and church the village public houses became the meeting places for many of the male population.
Friday and Saturday nights were special occasions for the hard working and hard drinking coal, steel and tinplate workers. A combination of pay-day and a week-end thirst was the recipe for many a bout of fisticuffs, after “stop tap”, disputes and disagreements were often settled in the accepted manner – with one’s fists.
Amazingly, with few exceptions – the Friday or Saturday nights bloodied enemies were firm “butties” on their way to work on Monday morning.
The Welfare Hall
The Miners’ Welfare Hall was erected during the 1925/26 period, as previously noted this particular time was one of the most distressing and soul-destroying eras in modern history. As a predominantly mining community Waunarlwydd felt the full impact of the effects of unemployment-and we were a village almost bereft of hope.
Throughout the South Wales Coalfield many Miners’ Welfare Halls were built in an effort to provide venues for cultural events and to cater for various sports. Waunarlwydd was fortunate to acquire one of these Halls. A variety of indoor games; chess, draughts etc and a full sized billiard table, together with sets of boxing gloves, weight-lifting apparatus etc provided some relief to the general boredom of the unemployed.
Eisteddfodau, concerts, dramas and during local elections some very partisan and enthusiastic political meetings took place at the Hall.
Dances were frequently held there – it was the age of the “Charleston” and they attracted many people from neighbouring villages. One can remember one of the “top of the pops” at that time was a tune called “Valencia” which was more than enthusiastically thumped out by a local band.
Unfortunately there became a time when the dances became a contentious village issue -but thankfully this was soon resolved. A short reference to the village hall appeared in a 1930’s edition of the “Daily Post”;- “Waunarlwydd has its little park and Welfare Institute, the latter an imposing and roomy building which must a adequately the needs of the villagers, it is kept in constant use.
The “pictures” have not yet invaded the village which finds its relaxation in eisteddfodau and preaching festivals. It is a great home of singers and bards, in all likelihood there is not a house which does not shelter a poet or two. “
A few years ago the old Welfare Hall was completely demolished and with it over half a century of village nostalgia was buried in the rubble. On the same site the present Community Centre and Library was built, it increasingly became obvious that the Centre was inadequate to cope with the various demands of a growing population. To alleviate the situation the Swansea City Leisure Services committee offered an interest free, ten year loan to the Community Centre for the construction of a Sports Hall. The offer was accepted and at the time of writing (August 1994) the Sports hall is well on its way to completion.
It will adjoin the present Centre, it is hoped that besides offering a varied catalogue of indoor sporting activities it will also provide extra amenities available to all age groups.
It is a sad thought (as far as it is known) that the marble plaques embedded in the frontage of he old Welfare Hall were not preserved for future records, each plaque was inscribed with the name of the person who participated at the opening ceremony
Mention of the ‘sport’ to the villagers six or seven decades ago would have evoked one answer;- rugby. Since those far off days the village rugby scene has remarkably changed. The development and success of any club is inevitably linked to the dedication of people-whether in an individual capacity or acting as a group. Tributes to these stalwarts of the Waunarlwydd Rugby Club were paid in the well researched booklet in 1975, when the club celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary.
The club’s centenary is fast approaching and doubtless many more names will be added to the list of administrators and players. Leaving out personalities, perhaps we can illustrate the development and progress of the club by reference to its playing pitches?
It is indeed a far cry from the make-shift field at Cae Mari Hicks, in the Bishwell; the cramped pitch on the Common; the temporary playing field opposite the old Lamb and Flag, and the patchy quagmires of the present field, in the twenties and thirties to the well drained and excellent playing surface of today’s field. Together with a small grandstand and the backing of excellent clubhouse facilities, the future of village rugby is assured.
Since this is “Yesterday’s Waunarlwydd” perhaps two names should be mentioned -namely the Hollingdale Brothers, Bert and Tom. For brothers to represent one’s country at international level is a unique occurrence in itself. Bert, who played for Swansea was capped against South Africa and England in the 1912-13 season. Tom served in the Neath Borough Police from 1924 to 1933. He played for Neath and was capped six times, he gained his first cap against the New South Wales “Waratahs” in 1927 and his last against England in 1930.
Tom made a remarkable career switch in 1933 when he left the police force to become a Church of England Parson he eventually became vicar of Colchester and later Chelmsford, where he became President of Chelmsford R. F.C. members of a well respected rugby playing family, they both graduated from the village team.
Compared to rugby, cricket, soccer and hockey were regarded as minor sports and looked upon with a tinge of contempt. However, during the hot summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s cricket proved to be a welcome antidote to the boredom so prevalent in the depressing economic climate of that period. Unlike its close neighbour – Gowerton – cricket in Waunarlwydd never developed into a major village sport.
Evidence of a Waunarlwydd cricket side is extremely sparse, hearsay at the beginning of this century provided some evidence that a cricket team existed at the end of the last century and that it probably shared a pitch with an early rugby side at Cae Mari Hicks in the Bishwell.
During the mid-twenties, when the male population of the village was plagued with strikes and the resultant unemployment – a few of the writer’s contemporaries met together and decided to form a cricket team. Time was ample but money was scarce, but with the generous help of people such as Evan Jones (Treorchy), Tom Morgan (Masons); Glyn Thomas, Tom Crocombe and others and also of some village shopkeepers, we were able to purchase some basic equipment, later help was received from the Welfare Hall.
The original pitch was rather primitive, a far from level patch of short tufted grass on the Common just to the left and below Gypsy Cross. As finances improved the team was able to purchase a roll of matting. This was kept in a shed by kind permission of Mr Jones, who lived just above Gypsy Cross.
On match days it was the shared responsibility, on a rota basis, of the players to carry the heavy matting to the selected patch of grass and then carefully lay and peg it.
Later a pitch was obtained at the old football field at Roseland Road, the matting was then housed at the Mason’s Arms. Who can forget how many cricket balls were fished out and even lost in the deep iron-oxide coloured ditch on the south boundary of the field?
There was an abundance of local talent, matches were played against some reputable local sides including;- Highbury, Armine (Forest fach), Dunvant, Penllegaer, Forward Movement (St Thomas) Manordilo, and teams from Gower etc. Transport was a problem when playing away, as we took our own bats, pads etc with us. If local matches were within reasonable distances we walked or cycled. On rare occasions we hired Mr Ieuan Jones’s coach always at a reduced fare.
One or two memories stand out – one of walking all the way to Kilvey Hill, playing a match on a concrete pitch and walking home again. Another, of having the experience and the luxury of playing on a “real wicket” adjoining the old Penllegaer House. Sir John Llewellyn was a cricket enthusiast and we were told that the pitch had been prepared and laid by the redoubtable Swansea cricket professional and grounds man – Harry Creber.
In strong contrast were many local pitches sited in fields or parks, some far from level, bumpy and notoriously dangerous. Many a fast bowler emanating Larwood, but sacrificing accuracy and length for speed, was the cause of many a batsman’s black eye and bruised ribs. Looking at today’s batsmen – helmeted, visored, boxed and padded one wonders how one survived when occasionally we even shared one pair of pads or batting gloves.
Players names that come to mind include the following;- Chris and Sid Phillips, D.Morgan Williams, Jack Hepworth, John and Garfield Griffiths, T.M. Walters, Ior Jones, J.Ivor Jones, E.J. Williams, Alf Lloyd, Cyril Day, Idwal Gravelle, Tom Williams (North) for many years the secretary was Arwyn Jones (Masons) Alas the only survivor of that era is the writer – now in his 85th year.
Many villagers are surprised to learn that Waunarlwydd once boasted a mixed hockey team – an alien sport in those far off days. However, there was a flourishing side in the late twenties and early thirties known as the “Victoria Hockey Club”.
The founders were Dr Tom Walters (Victoria Road) who became an internationally known scientist, J.Ivor Jones (Brithwen) who became Headmaster of Narbeth Grammar School. Meetings were held at St Barnabas Church schoolroom under the chairmanship and presidency of the Rev. J.P.Martin.
The playing pitch was in a field where the “Domino” public house now stands. Playing members whose names come to mind – alas the majority have passed away – were Tom Walters, J.Ivor Jones, Grill Jones, Evan J. Williams, (who captained Swansea University R.F.C.), Eddie Bevan, David Evans (Westfield), Phil Thomas, Luther Thomas, Idwal and Sid Gravelle, A Parsons and the writer.
Representing the ladies were Richenda and Alma Thomas, Liz Bowditch and Dulcie Clark, Two of the surviving members still live in the village – Miss Alma Thomas and the writer.
Village Games of Yesteryear
Before the present era of ready made sophisticated entertainment – the age of T. V.; Video, Computer, Nintendo and Fruit Machines – village children had to depend on their own resources and ingenuity in order in order to provide amusements and games, it is generally conceded that these self-reliant characteristics are sadly lacking in these days of passive “push-button” entertainment.
Children of that early generation spent a considerable amount of their leisure time on various outdoor activities. Frequently the village roads were their accepted playing areas, motor traffic was minimal and therefore there was almost complete safety. The only danger was the occasional cuff from an irate housekeeper- the most serious misdemeanour being a broken window pane-thankfully double glazing was unknown and the majority of the window panes were small.
Besides the major sport of rugby and the minor games of cricket, soccer and hockey – there were far less important games and amusements, for the village boys the most popular games included the following;-
“Cat and Dog” – This was played with two pieces of wood – usually taken from a broken brush or tool handle, the “Cat” was the smaller piece about six inches long and sharpened at both ends. The “Dog” was roughly three feet in length was used to sharply hit one of the tapered ends of the “Cat” and as it arose into the air one attempted to strike it as hard as possible and as far as possible. Naturally, the player who achieved the greatest distance was declared the winner.
If there was anything bordering on a tie – one boy would be chosen to measure the distance from a base line. The number of carefully measured steps (called in Welsh “Cams”) would decide the winner, a suspicion of cheating in any game was greeted by a lovely Welsh sounding word “Cafflo” together with the saying “Cafflo comes to provings”.
“Whip and Top” – Another long forgotten village game played on the roads was “Whip and Top”, the original tops were squat and round, often they were coloured with chalk or crayon or bits of coloured paper to produce attractive patterns when spun and whipped . After spinning the top by hand or by the use of the string on the whip – the idea was to keep the top spinning as long as possible by whipping it.
“Monkey top” – Then came the introduction of the “Monkey top” – a long stemmed mushroom shaped top, it was spun with a deft twist of the fingers and thumb and then whipped. With an acquired skill the top could be whipped up to twenty or thirty yards and would continue to spin when grounded An unskilled whipper would sometimes see his monkey-top making an unscheduled entrance via a front window into an adjoining cottage parlour.
Householders curiously, took a philosophical view of the destruction – though occasionally retribution was short, sharp and painful – and we never complained. Inexplicably and from rather a mysterious past, several games had well defined seasons; with no tangible prompting one pastime would stop and another begin.
The game of marbles being one, there were many variations of the game – each governed by strictly recognised rules and taboos. The marbles themselves were of prime importance, the “King pin” as it were, was the “taw” or “alley”. This particular glass marble larger than the others, was often inlaid with coloured stripes and this type was known as “alley bent” (literally pretty marble). Quite often the “taw” was the glass marble inserted into the pinched neck of the then `pop’ or mineral bottle-now collector’s items.
As the striking marble the ‘taw’ was held between the fore finger and thumb and then propelled with as much force and accuracy towards the other marbles, these were usually inside a ring. This holding was known as a “Cymmal” (our everyday language was Welsh) and prolonged play often resulted in skinned and sore fingers and painful finger joints.
An awkward “cymmal” was referred to as “cymmal smwt” Needless to say the village had its acknowledged marble champions.
Another boy’s pastime, again seasonal, was the trundling along village roads of iron hoops by means of a hooked iron rod. Sometimes the hooked rod was attached to the wheel. This pastime was called in Welsh “Wheel a bachynn” (Wheel and hook) Girls used lighter wooden hoops of various sizes, the larger ones were often used for skipping.
How many survivors of that generation now regret not keeping the sets of cigarette cards so assiduously collected in those far off days? These sets are now sought after collector’s items and worth a considerable amount of money.
The cards themselves were an excellent source of knowledge, covering a wide variety of topics – from famous people, footballers, cricketers, coins, birds, eggs to incidents in the Napoleonic Wars.
One avidly collected the cards from the village cigarette smokers – and it seemed the entire adult male population of the village smoked. The usual way of obtaining a card was to approach an obvious smoker with a polite “photo please”. Practically every village lad owned a comprehensive collection of cards, deficiencies in a set was remedied by a series of “swaps”.
The games played with the cards were called “Ons” and “Spans” the cards were expertly flicked with the fingers in an attempt to cover an opponents card or to come within a hand span of it, Boys with large hands usually fared well with the game of “spans”.
Home made kites of various shapes and sizes, all stabilised with tied on tufts of rags or newspaper were flown when the weather permitted, many interesting and pleasant hours were spent in kite construction – thin wooden slats, paper and paste were the main components and many a village lad regarded himself as an aerodynamic expert.
Naturally “conkers” (chestnuts) was another seasonal game, the conker was securely holed and tied to the end of a piece of string – likewise an opponents conker, Two played the game – one player would hold his ‘conker’ as steady as possible while the striker would do his utmost to demolish it with his ‘conker’.
Alternate strikes were allowed and the intact conker at the end of the game was awarded a “life”, in order to prolong their “lives” the chestnuts were baked, boiled in brine and underwent any other secret hardening process, Conkers certainly demanded a considerable degree of skill.
Other Games and Pastimes
This was an age… “a time when a generation was growing up which had never known regular employment” True of Waunarlwydd at this particular time. Thus children’s pocket money, as such was a meaningless term. Money was scarce and to the majority of Waunarlwydd villagers life was a tough economic struggle, subsequently children developed a capacity for making their own playthings.
Boys made stilts out of odd bits of wood and even ‘walked’ on two tins – punctured with two holes in each tin and threaded by hand held string, catapults or slings were made from suitably sized forked branches, the propellant was ordinary elastic, easily obtainable in those days. A more formidable weapon was made, if a few coppers were available by purchasing a length of strong, tensile “baby tubing” from Morris the Chemist in Gowerton. Thankfully the targets, with the exception of a few crows, were inanimate.
Home made bows and arrows were also popular especially when the Graig became Sherwood Forest, other outdoor games were;- Release, Cap-in-Ring, Ball-in-Cap, Hide and Seek. Touch, Rounders, High Backs – gentle sounding names but often becoming quite physical and an excellent training for future Rugby players.
Another, but rather sadistic and robust pastime played by the older boys was called “Strong Horses and Weak Donkeys” this game consisted of two teams of about six a side, one tossed for sides, the loser became the Weak Donkeys, side which would form a caterpillar of stooping backs with the first boy supported by a wall or a tree, a lamppost or anything strong and immoveable.
The other side – the Strong Horses would individually take a running leap to land on the backs of the Donkeys;- One can imagine the effect of the sudden impact of six hefty bodies on unfortunate backs and necks. If the Donkeys could survive a count of ten – it was a triumph – if there was a collapse – there was the disgrace of being labelled “Weak Donkeys”, however, revenge was sweet when the teams changed places.
The girls of that period must not be forgotten; they had their own particular games, among the most popular being a complicated pattern of hop-scotch, skipping with, long or short ropes, either individually or as a group often accompanied by long forgotten rhyming jingles.
Girls were also adept at juggling with two or three tennis balls, in the air or against a wall again to the tune of an appropriate ditty.
Another popular indoor or outdoor game was “fives” or “dandies”. Five small, smooth stones were used basically, a stone was balanced on the back of a hand, thrown into the air and an attempt was made to catch it after snatching and retaining one or more of the remaining stones.
Impromptu games of rugby or cricket necessitated impromptu improvisation, thus goal posts or wickets were simply a pile of clothing, bats were odd bits of wood and cricket balls were made of tightly wound strips of rag or twine around a small piece of wood.
The rugby ball was more often than not a discarded tin – conjuring up memories of those two notorious village teams;- “The chip Shop Stars” and “The Salmon Tin Dribblers”. There must be many older villagers who can recall other childhood games, besides the village roads our playgrounds were the Graig, the Afon Llan near Ystrad isaf Farm and the two Commons – Mynydd-Bach-y-Glo, and the Top Common near Gypsy Cross.
Lloyd George said that ;-“The Chapels of Wales were the colleges of the common people” This was an apt description of the chapels contribution to the educational and cultural progress of a community during the latter half of the last century and the early decades of the present century.
In an era when entertainment was of the D.I. Y. variety – focal point was the chapel vestry – where the Band of hope and the Penny readings flourished. These activities proved to be an excellent nursery for cultivating the talents of reading, speaking and singing.
Sardis chapel Vestry, due to its central position in the village, was a popular venue; the Penny Readings were somewhat similar to the T.V. programme “Opportunity Knocks”, but tempered with an overtone of Nonconformist reverence.
One can remember an occasion when this atmosphere was rather disturbed by the contribution of a well known village character. Having survived the Great War and obviously having left all his inhibitions behind with his war experience – he returned to the fold, possessing a pleasant Baritone voice, he did not endear himself to some of the more intolerant chapel faithful by a boisterous rendering of “McNamara’s Band” followed by an encore of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” anyway we children enjoyed it and were soon singing, the songs and the Penny Readings never seemed the same afterwards.
Before the opening of the Welfare Hall in 1926, the more serious forms of entertainment, such as the village eisteddfodau, annual concerts, choral music, children’s choir’s and dramatics were held in the chapels, improvised staging was constructed over the “set fawr” at Sardis and Zion chapels.
The musical tradition of the village was enhanced by such local talent as Maggie Lewis (Linos Arlwydd – the Waunarlwydd Nightingale) ; choral conductors such as David Llewelyn John, George John, William Griffiths, David Jones (Alawfryn), Griff Hughes, D.J. Gravelle, D.J.Howells, Alfred Richards and pianist Eddie John and Professor Joseph George.
Today that tradition is maintained by Waunarlwydd natives such as Arwyn Jones (Brithwen) Cardiff, Meirion Bowen (London) and the village’s own Davida Lewis. For many years choral music in the village was in a state of limbo, the success of the children’s choir at the Mountain Ash national Eisteddfod in 1905 was nostalgically regarded as the epitome of the village’s musical achievement.
Thankfully, in 1956, a resurgence of interest in choral music took place, this was due, almost entirely to the enthusiasm and dedication of Davida Lewis (nee Griffiths), who founded “Cor Plant” and later “Cor Waunarlwydd”. The echoes of the 1905 National achievement became fainter as the comparatively new choirs accumulated successes at National and Miners Eisteddfodau.
The growing reputation of the Waunarlwydd choirs appearances and requests to appear on concert platforms at home and abroad. A deserved tribute to the choir’s conductor (conductress) must include the remarkable fact that she inherited her families musical talent and the ability to use that talent to enrich the musical life of our village.
It is a privilege to record the unique contribution of the Griffiths family to the cultural activities of Waunarlwydd Davida’s grandfather William Griffiths was a noted bandleader and the precentor at Zion chapel, Davida’s father Giraldus Griffiths was also a precentor at Zion and today the third generation- Davida – is vigorously and successfully continuing the family’s long and rewarding musical tradition.
The Gvmanfa Ganu and Eisteddfod
The village “Gymynfa” (singing festival), Sunday School Treats and the Eisteddfodau were major events in Waunarlwydd’s social calendar, Two village eisteddfodau were held annually on the Good Friday and Easter Saturday at Sardis and Zion chapels respectively.
If a young villager possessed any musical talent or showed promise as an elocutionist – this was encouraged and inevitably he or she would become a competitor at the village and neighbouring eisteddfodau.
They were assiduously “trained” and the cultivation of a suitable stage manner and presentation was impressed on each, success ranged from prize winners at local eisteddfodau to the notable win of the Children’s Choir at the National Eisteddfod at Mountain Ash in 1905.
The choir was conducted by David.J.Jones (Alawfwyn) who was for many years precentor at Sardis Chapel and the accompanist was the talented musician Joseph George. To be a winner at the local eisteddfod meant a small cash award which was placed in a small silken bag. The bag was hung around the winner’s neck with the solemnity of an Olympic Gold medal.
These bags were beautifully and lovingly made and were creative works of art in their own right. Many a skilled Waunarlwydd needlewoman spent hours designing and making them as a labour of love. Many a Waunarlwydd parlour had a wall festooned with these colourful bags – symbols of a successfully delivered song, recitation or a piano piece.
One can recall such consistent winners as the Gravelle, Jones and Meredith families among others; an outstanding elocutionist of that era was Mrs Gertrude Bowditch (nee Lewis).
Another facet of those far off days was a passion for collecting various objects and the keeping of pets, all kinds of curious things were accumulated – from birds eggs, coins, stamps to coloured buttons. Keeping pigeons, (Homers and Tumblers), rabbits, canaries and even ferrets were popular hobbies.
How many villagers can remember walking to the old L.M.S. Station at Gowerton, at an unearthly hour laden with a crate of homing pigeons? These were put on the Swansea to Shrewsbury train with firm instructions that the pigeons would be released at Craven Arms and hopefully return to their lofts at Waunarlwydd.
Inclement weather or dark winter nights introduced children of all ages to the familiar indoor games of Draughts, Ludo, Snakes and L adders, Tiddly-Winks,Chess, Board and Rings. Playing Cards were frowned upon and were called Devil Cards, this was probably due to their association with gambling and the influence of the Chapel in those days.
Hindsight makes the survivors of that generation thankful that there was no distraction from T. V., Videos, Computers, Nintendos etc, etc. The “Box” was unknown and the alternative was a book. Despite the fact that domestic radio-wireless – was making its appearance, it was still in the elementary cat’s whisker and crystal stage with one uncomfortable and cumbersome pair of headphones shared among a large family and the time taken to locate a sensitive spot on the crystal before the magical announcement of “This is 2L0 calling” and followed by the music of Henry Hall. Proved only a minor diversion – so the majority of children became avid readers.
We read everything, The Boy’s most popular reading, besides books, were such periodicals as, The Magnet, Boy’s Own Paper, The Gem, Boy’s Friend, The Popular, The Scout, Boy’s Cinema, Buffalo Bill and Sexton Blake.
There was also an excellent non-fiction paper, edited by Arthur Mee, called The
Children’s Newspaper. Then there were comic favourites such as Comic Cuts,
Chips and Rainbow. The girls, too, were well catered for. Money was scarce and so
a well organised swap system was developed, until the various copies became too
dog-eared to read.
One of the most memorable occasions of the writer’s life – now well past his “sell-by” date the time when he was old enough to join the village library, the library was housed in the middle room of Mr A .Gravelle’s house, now No 56 Victoria Road, and the librarian was Miss Phillips (Teacher) Her family (Mrs Peggy Feeny) still live in the village.
A new world was opened up to us and to this day the writer can still remember the title of the first book he ever borrowed, it was called;- “The Boys of St Elmo”. On a lighter note – the library’s front room was the Reading Room and about six daily papers were available.
The most popular was the Daily Herald, the mouthpiece of Socialism. It also had a
noted racing correspondent called “Templegate”. The well thumbed racing page indicated the villager’s sporting fraternity’s faith in “Templegates’ Double”, which appeared in each issue.
In those far off days, street betting was illegal, However, almost every village had its “Bookie” or runner. Bets were made on “slips” usually signed with a pseudonym and collected by the runner. Over the years the village had some well known runners, on a furtive round of the village, they played a cat and mouse game with the village policeman.
Apparently when caught they were fined – the first offence warranting a £10.00 fine, one could easily identify the runner – his long overcoat with an inside “poachers pocket” weighed down with a large amount of “coppers” compelled him to walk with a decided list.
During the early decades of this century many factors contributed to the widening of the horizons of our closely knit community. One such factor was the advent of the Cinema Screen with its “Golden Silents”, commonly known as “The Pictures”.
To many villagers of all ages, one of the highlights of the week was a Friday or Saturday visit to the Tivoli Cinema in Gowerton. It was owned by a far – sighted gentleman – Mr Harry Thomas – affectionately known as “Harry Tiv”.
The very word ‘Tivoli’ certainly revives nostalgic memories; before trekking up the lane leading to the picture house, we would – pocket money permitting – buy some sweets at Mr Thomas’s shop. The older lads – emulating their elders would purchase cigarettes – often this would be just one cigarette – a favourite brand was an oval shaped cigarette called “Passing Cloud”. In that day and age perhaps this was pardonable as every male person seemed to smoke.
We paid our two pence (old pence) and entered a new world. Despite the jostling for a place on the hard, uncomfortable wooden benches in a dark, cold, smoke – laden noisy atmosphere coupled with the frequent breakdown of the film we soon became completely absorbed in the captioned screen. Above all we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Mr Thomas had a passion for Western films – real Cowboy and Indian adventures – a passion shared by the audience. A popular attraction of the cinema of that period was a seemingly everlasting serial featuring the film – star Pearl White.
Every weekly episode ended with Pearl being left in a terrifying situation, a favourite was seeing Pearl tied securely to a railway track with one of those huge Trans-Pacific engines, complete with Cow-Catcher, thundering towards hapless and helpless Pearl.
A horrible fate seemed inevitable – but within inches of certain death – there appeared on the screen;-To be continued next week”, We just could not wait and were lured back to see what happened to Pearl – needless to say she survived.
The films being silent, the screen captions were augmented by the ‘sound effects’ supplied by the Tivoli’s resident pianists. There was always a vociferous audience participation – the “goodies”, were cheered and loudly warned of any impending danger – whilst the “baddies” were hissed and booed. In 1931 the “Silents” gave way to the “Talkies” – in many ways it was a revolutionary but a sad change.
The silent screen made a terrific impact on our outdoor games – Cowboys and Indians became top in our repertoire of outdoor activities and the Graig became our happy hunting ground. A well remembered incident concerned a boy who was so obsessed with the “Injun” chief Sitting Bull, that he decided to copy the chief’s feathered head-dress.
The only available and suitable plumage was on his father’s prize and appropriately named Indian game Cockerel, one plucked feather provoked a vicious reaction from this fighting breed, needless to say his father shared the cockerel’s resentment with the application of something heavier than a feather on a tender part of ‘Sitting Bull’.
Christmas and the New Year
In spite of the prevalent austerity Christmas and the New Year were enjoyable occasions mainly because they were close family celebrations naturally the children came first. Only a minority could afford expensive Christmas presents – but this did not detract from the enjoyment of the majority.
Children hopefully hung their stockings on the bottom bed-rail on Christmas Eve and awoke to find a longed for gift together with the ubiquitous apple, orange, nuts and if lucky a box of figs or dates. In order to buy Christmas Presents, parents would make long term weekly contributions of small amounts of money to the several Christmas Clubs organised by most of the village shops.
This thrift arrangement would guarantee that sufficient funds would be available for an acceptable Christmas gift to each child Christmas dinner was a memorable family occasion, the ordinary housewife’s culinary skills and ingenuity would be taxed to the utmost. The Christmas pudding would be prepared and then made at least a month before Christmas and each housewife had her own secret recipe and special method of preserving it.
The actual dinner was dominated by a well cooked goose – rarely a turkey – and our “Champagne” drink was ginger wine. In those days the essence of Christmas was the emphasis that it was a family occasion.
The chapels and the Church provided seasonal services, carol concerts and other appropriate entertainment. The pubs had their “Aunt Sallys” Curiously there was no house to house carol singing by the village children during the Christmas period Tradition dictated that this singing would take place on New Years morning. However children approached adults with the following ditty;-
“I wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New year
A pocket full of money
And a cellar full of beer”
Naturally hoping for a copper or two, as stated, the traditional time for singing around the village was New Year’s morning. As boys – no girls – it was a case of early rising, around 6.a.m. and then calling at as many households as possible.
Not to difficult a task in those days – as the village comprised of a comparatively small area covering Swansea Road (The old Road) ;-Victoria road (New Road), Roseland Road (Heol Felyn), Bryn Road (Incline), Stepney Road and Bridge Road Thankfully most families were early risers. The usual greetings were more or less Bi-lingual requests – in Welsh it was the following;-
“Blwyddyn newydd dda I chwi
A phawb drwy’r ty
Codwch yn fore, cynnwch y tan
Ewch I’r fynon I nol dwr glan”
This was sang or recited to the householder, roughly translated – it wished all members of a family a Happy new Year and exhorted them to get up early – light the fire and go to the well to get some clean water. In English we all knew the following jingle;-
“Get up on New Years morning,
The cocks are all a ‘crowing
And if you think you’re awake to soon,
Why get up and look at the stars and moon,
But get up on New Years morning”.
“Fairs”- Llangyfelach and Gowerton
During the last century fairs played an important part in the life of the Welsh people, many villages organised their own small fairs, One of the largest and most important of Welsh fairs was “Ffair Fawr Fawrth Llangyfelach”,- the Great march Fair of Llangyfelach”. It was an eagerly awaited event in the life of Swansea and its surrounding district and indeed of South West Wales.
People attended the fair from nearby towns and even as far as the counties of Pembroke, Carmarthen and Cardigan. It is an interesting fact that an entry in the old Waunarlwydd School Log book deplored the unusual level of absenteeism because children were attending Llangyfelach Fair.
This entailed a rather tortuous trek on foot along country tracks and over fields, the more fortunate ones made the journey by pony and trap, the fair was originally held in the churchyard but was later moved into an adjacent field.
The fair lasted for three days, the first day was the hiring fair, when scenes reminiscent of the African Slave Trade occurred. Men and Women who wished to serve the farming community were lined up against the churchyard wall while the farmers and their wives would parade up and down the line, solemnly deliberating each individual’s merits before making their final choice.
Apparently the original purpose of the fair was to sell wool… “fair wlan”- when farmers and weavers from Carmarthenshire and the neighbouring counties came to sell wool and woollen goods.
Thus the second day was devoted to serious business; stalls were set up and a wide variety of articles were bought and sold. There were rolls of cloth, flannel, shawls, blankets, ready-made flannel shirts and home-spun material representing months of hard work at the cottages and farmsteads of South-West Wales.
There would be a wood carver with his display of all kinds of farm and domestic wooden implements, together with items of the saddler’s craft and the products of a variety of cottage industries, there was also a sale of horses.
The third day was a pleasure fair with its noise and excitement and attractions ranging from boxing booths to the merry-go-round.
During February in the year 1875 four local people got together and decided to promote a fair at “Gower Road” (The original name of Gowerton was Ffos Felen – the Yellow Ditch);- then it became known as Gower Road. In 1885 the name was changed to Gowerton to avoid confusion with the Gower Road between Sketty and Killay, these were Richard Morris (Gelleithrim), Howell john (Trafle) David Morris was a Waunarlwydd man with long standing family connections with the village.
A great debt is owed to these four enterprising and far-seeing gentlemen, as the fair was established and became an important event in the business and social programme of the South West Wales community.
As the “Cambrian”, newspaper stated in February 1876 :- Altogether the new fair, as an experiment, was a success and several habitue’s of fairs gave it as their opinion that a fair at Gower Road could hardly be otherwise”
Gower Road was an ideal venue for such a venture as the village contained two railway stations – the G. W.R. (Great Western Railway) and L.N.W.R. (the then London and North Western Railway), thus providing transport facilities for the wool and flannel traders of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire.
Eventually a special train was run to accommodate people from the Newcastle Emlyn area, reasonable road routes also converged at Gower Road, from the neighbouring villages. This coupled with the fact industry was attracting more people into the immediate area, assured the success of the fair. Thus for well over half a century the fair was a lively meeting place of farmers, traders and pleasure seekers.
The original site of the cattle and pleasure fair was a field adjacent to the Commercial Hotel. The fair was run on similar lines to the older Llangyfelach Fair, combining both business and pleasure.
The cattle fair was later transferred to a field near the “Gower Inn”, now “The Welcome to Gower”, Fair days were held on the first Monday in February and September, the latter becoming the more important. Both fairs were eagerly anticipated by adults and children alike Local schools would be given a whole or a half day’s holiday to give the children an opportunity to spend their precious pennies.
As one can imagine the cattle fair presented an animated scene, haggling farmers and buyers, raucous drovers and horse dealers would be mixed up with bellowing cattle and squealing pigs. The cattle sales commenced in the morning when cattle, calves, pigs and a number of horses were submitted for inspection.
After some shrewd bargaining, a price would be agreed and the purchase completed, often the bond of contract was simply saying;- “Your hand” followed by the “hand clap” and more often than not further confirmed over a welcome measure of ale at the nearby hostelry.
The flannel fair was held in the field now occupied by the present weekly cattle mart. Weavers from Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire would erect their portable stalls. Rolls of good Welsh flannel would be attractively displayed. In those far-off days the flannel air was a boon to the hard working and thrifty housewives of the locality, who purchased sufficient rolls of flannel for the family use until the next fair came around.
A great debt is owed to these four enterprising and far-seeing gentlemen, as the fair was established and became an important event in the business and social programme of the South West Wales community.
Or Shoni Wnwns (Mari or Shoni Onions) a seasonal visitor to our village was the short, swarthy faced Breton onion seller, he would trundle along the village roads pushing a heavily laden bicycle festooned with strings of onions. The members of the same family returned to the village each year – hence the female counterpart of Shoni namely Mari Onions.
Being of the same Celtic ancestry as the Welsh speaking members of our village community it was always assumed that there was a mutual understanding of each other’s language – Welsh and the Breton dialect. In reality this was difficult to believe – as the Breton “patois” was rather unique. Nevertheless, this linguistic barrier was compensated by the quality of the onions Shoni Onions sold.
Religion – The Beginning.
At the close of the eighteenth century Waunarlwydd was still a predominantly rural community despite the rather primitive efforts to exploit the rich coal seams in and around the village. It had remained an isolated area of scattered farmsteads and remote cottages, contact with the outside world was limited and life was generally harsh and monotonous.
During the following century coal was being worked on a larger scale using more sophisticated methods. Then followed the establishment of the other basic industries of steel and tinplate in the district. The growth of these industries attracted workmen from the neighbouring counties of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, and even further afield from Somerset, Devon and even Ireland Thus Waunarlwydd, in common with other South Wales industrial areas, was transformed by this marked increase in population and the old established rural way of life was permanently disrupted.
As far as religion was concerned, this industrialisation of sparsely populated areas created many sided problems. The influx of English speaking workmen posed a language problem to the chapels and churches. Again this was a period when existing parishes covered extensive areas and the established Church was slow to appreciate the new situation and conditions which accompanied this industrialisation.
On the other hand Nonconformity flourished in Waunarlwydd and the surrounding district, the mushrooming of the gaunt, grey chapels with strange Hebrew names such as Sardis, Zion, Bethany, Bethel, Bethlehem etc became familiar, features of the local landscape.
The roots of local Nonconformity can be traced back to the early 1640’s – to the meetings at Tirdokin Farm, near Llangyfelach, to Ilston Cwm, near Parkmill and to Wernllath in the parish of Bishopston and then to the establishment of the chapels at Mynyddbach and Crwys (Three Crosses).
The overall history of Welsh Nonconformist Worship, with its saga of oppression and restriction, of fines and imprisonment, of migration and of secret meetings, held by courageous people, in isolated farmhouses and cottages and secluded valleys – was mirrored locally.
The first Baptist Church in Wales was founded in Ilston Valley by John Myles in 1649. Somewhat later Waunarlwydd had its counterpart at Llodr Brith with its old Baptismal well and reputed chapel. Llodr Brith was situated on a footpath between Cwmbach Road and Login Farm (Powells) on the old Waunarlwydd Road.
Meetings were held at local farmsteads and cottages – such as Caergynydd Isaf (Mill Farm), many of the villages original inhabitants walked long distances along tortuous paths to other farm and cottage meetings.
Of interest is the fact the ruins of an ancient chapel site was discovered in a field near Cefn Gorwydd Mawr Farm (on the way to Caemansel). This particular field is still known as Cae’r Capel (The field of the Chapel). In all probability it was erected in the Baptist cause. A direct link with our village was the evidence of a rough path connecting Cefn Gorwydd Fawr Farm with Waunarlwydd – perhaps a rather tenuous indication that our forebears took part in these early services
As previously mentioned there exists the possibility of a small chapel with a baptismal well at Ystrad Isaf Farm. One can safely speculate that news of the great religious upheavals experienced during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries must have infiltrated into the quiet backyards of our hamlet.
Events such as the Methodist Revival of 1731 – the impact of John Wesley and earlier of John Myles – the Circulating Schools of Griffith Jones of Llandowror (Many were set up in Gower) – the Sunday School movement instigated by Thomas Charles of Bala – the emotional oratory of the great Welsh religious reformers and preachers.
Characters such as Howell Harris (he preached at Llangyfelach, Gorsieinon, Waungron, Loughor and Crwys) – it was said his pulpit was his horse. Daniel Rowlands; William Williams y Wern; Christmas Evans and John Elias and the hymns of William Williams, Pantycelyn and Ann Griffiths of Dolanog – must have gradually reached the lonely farmsteads and cottages in the Waunarlwydd area and contributed to the spiritual awakening of its inhabitants.
The nineteenth century witnessed the greater availability of the Welsh Bible to the ordinary folk, this coupled with an increasing output of religious literature printed in Welsh greatly helped the Nonconformist cause.
Therefore at the end of the nineteenth century the Nonconformist chapel became the focus of the people’s religious activities. The coal-mining areas proved to be particularly fertile ground for the seeds of dissent, as there seems to be a strange affinity between the hazardous but monotonous occupation of the collier and the emotional, evangelical appeal of Nonconformity by 1880 approximately 80% of the population of Wales was Nonconformist.
During this era, education and religion were so closely connected as to be almost inseparable, the state of education in Wales was deplorable and totally inadequate, initially, the attitude of the local farmer and collier towards the education of their children was, to say the least, lethargic and complacent.
In the context of the time this attitude was, perhaps, understandable – when one can appreciate the fact that they knew that their children would inevitably inherit their own kind of narrow existence on the land or down the mine.
Thus to educate children condemned to such an existence, was in their reasoning -pointless. Despite this negative attitude and during a period of great and far-reaching social upheavals in the industrial and rural areas and bitter squabbling over education – the Nonconformist chapels played a dominant part in the reform and development of education, this was true of our own village of Waunarlwydd.
The Chapel and the Sunday School
It is extremely difficult for the present generation to appreciate the tremendous impact that the village’s Chapels and Church made on our community a few decades ago. This is, perhaps, accentuated by the present day religious climate, clouded by dwindling congregations in Church and chapel and eventually leading to the closure of many. Sunday is no longer sacrosanct and has become just another highly commercialised and secular weekday.
The sad spectacle of the pulpit of an old Chapel, once the platform for a preacher’s torrent of Welsh “hwyl” has now become the microphoned preserve of an impersonal, monotonous and metallic voice of a bingo caller.
Whatever one’s opinion, it cannot be denied that the religious, social and cultural contribution made by Sardis, Zion, Bethany and St Barnabas with their Sunday Schools were responsible in establishing a markedly honest and close-knit village community of yesteryear.
Even a great man like Lloyd George recognised this contribution when he stated;-“That the Chapels were the colleges of the common people” in our village they certainly created a situation of opportunity for many an ordinary villager towards a better life.
Therefore the Chapels and the Church became the focal points of Waunarlwydd’s religious, intellectual, social, and political life. The grim, forbidding looking Chapel and its vestry embraced not only religious activities but became a place where lectures were given; where concerts, dramas, eisteddfodau, organ recitals were held.
Where the village choir presented its oratorios and operas; where the singing festival – The Gymynfa Ganu – took place; Where Bible classes and the local literary, and debating societies found a home; where “Penny Readings” and the “Band of Hope” catered for the children.
Thus the gloom of the chapel buildings was dispersed by these activities, the medium of communication was predominantly Welsh and therefore the Chapel and Sunday School became the guarantors of the ancient Welsh language, because in them it was a living tongue.
The Welsh Sunday School is unique because it catered (and still does) for adults as well as children, in the old days age and youth attended its classes where they were taught to read in their native tongue. Again to the local farmer and cottager living in comparative isolation – human contact was an essential factor in breaking the monotony of their lives and meeting other people was an eagerly looked for event. The Chapel, Church and Sunday school provided the means of satisfying this yearning for contact with one’s neighbours.
Present and future generations should pay a humble tribute to the men and women who devoted their spare time in organising and conducting the various cultural events in the village.
It must be said that many of the men took part after being involved in a hard days manual toil underground or in the steel and tinplate mills. As a village community we owe them a great debt.
Once again it is a matter of regret that only a few detailed written records of these activities exist. Unfortunately many were lost, some thoughtlessly destroyed, old photographs cast aside – all with a story of yesterdays Waunarlwydd. Personal reminiscences of the older villagers go unrecorded – perhaps in the future historians should remember the old saying;-“The death of an old person is a library destroyed”.
Fortunately a few accounts survive to illustrate the voluntary efforts of the village Chapels and Church to provide opportunities for their members and the general community. For example following the pioneering effort of the Rev John Bevan in a wide cultural field – his successor at Sardis Chapel – the Rev D.M.Davies (1908 to 1918) continued with a weekly programme of religious and cultural activities in Sardis Vestry.
The following is a time table of events which took place during his ministry; Classes were held from 6 o’clock until 7 o’clock and from 7 o’clock to 8 o’clock on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays together with the two preaching services and the Sunday School on Sunday.
These classes covered a variety of topics together, with a Prayer Meeting, a Discussion Group, Choral work and a Band of Hope for the children.
The voluntary tutors were named as the Rev D.M.Davies, Miss E Roberts, Messrs M.J.Davies, W.J. Thomas, John Rowlands F.R.S.L. and David George.
The music groups were under the guidance of Messrs D.J.Jones (Alawfwyn), John Griffiths, David Bowen, William Walters and the Children’s Choir was under the leadership of D.J.Gravelle. Some written evidence, hearsay and old photographs indicate that all these activities were well attended.
A yardstick of change and progress is frequently the use of contemporary words what would be the present day reaction if words such as “carbide” or paraffin were mentioned? One presumes very little at the beginning of this century they would have evoked a prompt response;- Light. Simply because, before the introduction of gas and electricity domestic lighting depended on paraffin.
An interesting reference to the cost of carbide and paraffin is made in the early minutes of Sardis Chapel for the purpose of filling the paraffin lamps. Apparently these old lamps were otherwise used by a preacher with a sense of theatre. This powerful voiced reverend punctuated his sermon with the highly emotional periods of Welsh “hwyl”.
His torrent of words would be accompanied by rehearsed gestures producing awe inspiring shadows cast by the strategically placed oil lamps;- thus driving home his message to the spell-bound congregation.
Again progress can be gauged when the humble harmonium in Sardis Chapel was replaced by a prestigious pipe organ. Of interest is a record of the opening ;- “of the Grand New Organ on December 4th 1909” ;- The organist was Caradog Roberts Esq, Mus. Bac. F.R.C.O, A.R.C.M., L.R.A.M.
Assisted by the following eminent artists;- Miss Maggie Lewis (Llinos Arlwydd) Waunarlwydd. And Mr Glynne Walters, Gowerton, Tenor. and The Sardis Choral Society, Conductor; D.E. Williams esq. M.A., County School, Gowerton. This proved to be a long remembered occasion in the village’s history.
From 1860 to 1909 the chapel organists were ;- Ean Davies; Llewelyn Davies; William Jones; and Miss Emily Davies. Since the installation of the pipe organ the organists were;-Miss Emily Davies (Granville Villa); Griffith John Hughes F.R.C.O.; Mrs M.A. Thomas; Miss Annie Hughes; Arwyn Jones; Archie Lewis; Meirion Bowen; John bowen; Ms Jennifer Jones; Paul Davies; Mrs Ann Solloway; John Lewis; . The present post of organist is in the competent hands of Alun Jones.
Initially the pipe organ required to be manually pumped before the introduction of the “Electric Blower”. A cramped tubby hole on the right hand side of the organ was the organ blower’s castle. There were occasions when a hymn was sung without the expected organ accompaniment. A combination of a confined space, a long hot summer’s evening and perhaps an equally long sermon, was not conducive to the organ-blower keeping awake.
One can remember some of these characters, among them Tommy Jones (Brithwen), Idris Lloyd; David Roberts. The other chapels, Zion, Bethany and the Church St Barnabas also played a significant part in pioneering and providing both religious and secular education in the village.
For example an account relating to Zion Baptist Chapel has a record of a flourishing Sunday School Choir in 1912 – presumably under the conductorship of William Griffiths. Other events included Cantata’s entitled;-
“John Bull and his Trades”;- conductor B.J.Clarke
“The King of Zion” conducted by Glyn Griffiths
“Day and Night” conducted by D.Llew John.
A Dramatic Group was formed by Mr D.W.Lewis and one effort of the Group was performed on the 13th and 18`h March 1920. It was titled; – in Welsh “Y Pwllgor” (The Committee) . The cast included the following ; – William Griffiths ; W.T.Howells ; D. W.Lewis; Maggie May Williams and Edgar Griffiths. The producer being D.J.Howells.
These events coupled with a series of lectures which included the following ; –
“Robert Owen the Welsh Socialist”
“A Journey Through Belgium, Holland and Germany”
This brief reference identifies the role the chapels played in the life of the village not only for their religious beliefs but also for their contribution to the cultural and educational needs of the village.
There existed an element of good natured competitiveness and rivalry, especially between Sardis and Zion with their respective Eisteddfodau and their “Gymynfa Ganu” As a village we can be proud and grateful of the rich cultural heritage yesterday’s community gave us – more so – as these old records confirm that the leadership and support came from within the village community – it was local talent, voluntary work and a labour of love.
On Sunday, November 11th 1989 a significant event took place in the village – appropriately on Remembrance Day. Prior to the above date the frontage of Sardis Chapel and the Chapel itself had undergone a transformation. The area in front of the chapel – a familiar sight to generations of villager’s had been completely reconstructed. The old grey headstones and vaulted tombs with their crumbling and decaying lettering had now completely disappeared after enduring over 130 years of Waunarlwydd weather they had been replaced by an attractive Garden of Remembrance.
On Sunday November 11th 1989 a service of dedication and commemoration was held at the Garden and now that a number of plaques had been installed. As a village we can be grateful for the efforts of the Rev.
Pryce Jones, his dedicated band of worker’s and to the Chapel’s Sunday School for bringing this project to fruition.
The central commemorative plaque on the wall bears the names of the original members of Sardis Chapel, who were interred in the plot from 1857 – 132 years ago. Many of these names can be identified as the founder families of our village. In our comparatively affluent society it is difficult for us to envisage the harsh social climate of those days. Yet it was under those conditions that the conviction, faith, enthusiasm and often self denial of these ordinary village folk harnessed to such outstanding characters as the Rev. John Bevan provided the “seed bed” from which our village flowered.
At the present time (1994) the well kept Commemorative Garden is a much admired floral oasis and sanctuary – a fitting shrine to the memory of each recorded name on the commemoration plaques.
One feels that a tribute must be paid to the dedicated and voluntary workers from Sardis who are involved in the upkeep of the Garden. Further and more detailed histories of the Church and Chapels are contained in the following well researched booklets ;-
“Hanes Eglwys Sardis, Waunarlwydd, 1860 —1960” by Tom Harris.
“St Barnabas Church “by Mrs Ruby Rowlands. ( nee Gronow )
“History of Bethany English Baptist Church 1875 —1975” by Miss A.F.Edwards.
more details can be found in Mr N.L. Thomas’s excellent book ;- “The story of Swansea’s Districts and Villages” with particular reference to the section under “Waunarlwydd”.
Zion Baptist Church (Seion)
The history of Zion Welsh Baptist Church is no less interesting. Tradition has it that the Baptist cause in the village began when a number of people were baptised in the baptismal well at Llodre Brith. (Now an unrecognisable ruin – situated between Cwmbach Road and the Powell’s Farm @ Login).
Factual evidence is rather sparse – but again tradition also suggests that Waunarlwydd worshipers made the arduous journey along a primitive track to an early church at Cae Capel (near Cefn Gorwydd Fawr Farm )
There is also some scant indication that a building adjacent to the old Ystrad Isaf Farm was used for Baptisms.
As the Baptist Cause gained momentum, it was deemed necessary to establish a permanent Baptist Chapel in the village. The inspiration for this move came from Siloam, Killay, thus becoming the mother Church of Zion (Seion) Waunarlwydd Siloam’s contribution to the Baptist cause can be traced back to 1829.
The first Zion Chapel record of 1858 states that the Cause in the village began by Prayer Meetings and the Sunday School being held in private houses and local farmhouses. It also stated that in many cases worshippers came from as far as Caersalem Newydd (Treboeth), Penuel (Loughor) and from Siloam (Killay) to attend to these meetings.
In 1857 the erection of the chapel building was commenced on land “belonging” to Mr Henry Thomas (Siop). The land was owned by Mr Henry Griffiths of Bryndafydd, who sold it for the sum of £12.00. The chapel building was completed in March 1860 at a cost of £450.00.
In 1861 a call was given to Mr William Davies, a student from Milford Haven, he was inducted into the Ministry at Siloam Chapel, Killay on September the 4th and 5th in 1861.
In 1872 a rebuilding of Zion Chapel took place at a cost of £700.00, it was re-opened for services on the 4th, 5th and 6th of May 1873. An interesting and unusual event that the chapel records note that an Indian Chief – Nar Kar Wa took part.
The Rev. William Davies
The Rev. William Davies was Zion’s first minister (1861 – 1893). He was a highly respected minister whose influence was not confined to Zion and Waunarlwydd, his energy and pioneering zeal radiated beyond the village boundaries. Besides being deeply involved in his own chapel at Zion he was concerned in encouraging the Baptist cause elsewhere.
He was the prime mover in the establishment of a Sunday School and the building of a manse in “Gower Road” (Gowerton) in 1867, culminating in the opening of Bethania Chapel on 11th march 1877.
He also made a valuable contribution towards the building of the English Baptist Chapel in the village in 1875. This was after Bethany’s worshippers had been temporarily accommodated in the old local school – then called”Ysgol Britanaida” (The British School) from April 1872. These were just two examples of his qualities as an outstanding figure serving the general community of that period.
After 32 years of dedicated and selfless service to Zion, the Baptist Cause and to the Waunarlwydd community – he died a comparatively young man at the age of 58 in 1893 – whilst still in harness.
He was laid to rest in the front of his beloved Chapel. A grey obelisk marks his burial place – hopefully it will serve as a reminder of the great debt we owe him and to many of his contemporaries. Zion and the village were fortunate that the Rev. William Davies was followed by a succession of dedicated ministers. His immediate successor was the Rev. T.J. Davies who came from Salem, Briton Ferry in 1895, after seven years at Zion he left in 1907.
The Reverend John Bevan (1830 – 1916)
The first Minister of Sardis Independent Chapel. It is with a great degree of satisfaction to be able to place on record the contribution made to our village by men whose influence, example and often self-sacrifice shaped our community.
One of these men was the Reverend John Bevan – the first minister of Sardis chapel Waunarlwydd. Sometimes it is an intriguing and quite often a frustrating exercise in trying to trace facts about village personalities or events who lived or occurred over a century ago.
Information can be meagre – records are often mislaid or lost or even thoughtlessly destroyed – old photographs of great historical interest are discarded and so on. Fortunately a comprehensive account of the Rev. John Bevan’s ministry has been preserved in the late Thomas Harris’s excellent Booklet on “The History of Sardis Chaper- 1860-1960. The Welsh title :-“Hanes Eglws Sardis, Waunarlwydd” 1860 – 1960. The booklet was published during the Chapel’s centenary year in 1960.
There are also several references to the Rev. John Bevan and his pioneering work in the wider fields of religion and education, for example the Rev. Phillip Jenkins in his history of the Gospel Temple, Gowerton pays the following tribute to the Rev. John Bevan – “As a man of faith and compassion” and continues;- The love and compassion of the Rev. John Bevan and the vision of his Church, helped break the ground and sow the spiritual seed, others tended and watered the thriving fellowship until it grew into the Church we know and love.
John Bevan was a multi-talented man. For over half a century he was not only the spiritual and pastoral leader of the village – he was also deeply involved in the field of education and in the pioneering and campaigning of providing essential amenities to Waunarlwydd.
The following information elicited from Thomas Harris’s Booklet and other sources provide an insight into the character of this remarkable man. John Bevan was born in Llanelli, Breconshire in 1830, as a young man he became intensely interested in divinity and thus it was a natural progression to an active involvement in the Chapel and Sunday School, he was a talented musician, a gift he put to good use as a minister.
After Sardis was opned for public worship in 1861, a call was given to Mr John Bevan from Siloh, Nantyfyllon, he accepted and was inducted at Sardis on the 20th and 21th of May 1861.
For the next 46 years of his ministry he faithfully served the Chapel and the wider neighbourhood. Perhaps a tangible measure of his appeal as a preacher, was the fact that during his ministry he received over 900 members into his chapel – a tremendous achievement when relating to the village population of those days.
Again, as the prime mover in establishing a Bi-lingual Sunday School at Sardis a phenomenal tribute to the Rev. John Bevan and his members was the fact that in 1876 around 300 men, women and children attended these classes. The adults used the Chapel whilst the Chapel Vestry catered for the children.
After retiring from the ministry in 1906, he became a deacon at Sardis and continued to serve the village until his death on December 14th 1916 at 86 years of age, he lies buried in the chapels burial ground.
To more mundane matters, Waunarlwydd owes a tremendous debt to the progressive and far – sighted efforts of John Bevan. It was through his personal endeavour and vigorous campaigning that he succeeded in establishing the Post Office and Day School in the village.
A side-light on his character was the fact that he brooked no red tape, he acutely felt that Waunarlwydd deserved a postal service – so he wrote to Sir Rowland Hill – the founder of the modern postal services and one of the great thinkers of the nineteenth century. As a result of this request an official was despatched to the district and Waunarlwydd was awarded with a sparse two deliveries a week from Swansea.
In view of the fact that the village population was growing and that the rural way of life was fast disappearing, John Bevan pressed for further concessions and was, successful in obtaining a daily delivery. Later he succeeded in establishing a Post Office in the village (Still opposite Sardis Chapel) and even looked after it for a number of years.
Although there is no tangible proof or written evidence regarding any form of organised education in the village prior to 1863 – there was a strong feeling among the older generation of Waunarlwydd people that some form of voluntary classes were held in Sardis Vestry – obviously under the direction and guidance of the Rev. John Bevan.
There is no inkling of the range of ages or subjects taught, but one can assume that the essential ability to read in Welsh and English was fostered. Sometime later, governed by the influx of English speaking workmen into the village and its immediate neighbourhood – the successful Sunday School was firmly established at Sardis, on a bi-lingual basis.
Again John Bevan’s direct and persuasive approach to the then Department of Education for a Day School to be established in the village was made in 1863. The school was eventually built (on the site opposite Ty Waunarlwydd) and gave a sound education to the village children for over a hundred years.
John Bevan’s interest in education was not confined to the village – for instance he became one of the founder governors of the Gowerton County Intermediate School, his reputation for pioneering and promoting education facilities for the ordinary person was well known.
During his ministry momentous changes were taking place, Waunarlwydd and its neighbour Gowerton experienced a substantial inflow of English speaking workmen. They were attracted to the district by the work provide_d by the rapidly expanding coal, steel and tinplate industries and by the building of the old LNW Railway at Gowerton.
This influx of workmen from such diverse backgrounds as Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Staffordshire and even Ireland created several acute problems of medical services, health, education, housing food supplies etc.
From a religious point of view, the main problems were of language and accommodation. Today in an anglicised Waunarlwydd, it would be difficult to appreciate the impact made by these “foreigners” upon a community predominantly rural and self supporting and almost totally Welsh speaking.
Again, one must admit that there existed a mild undercurrent of suspicion and resentment towards these intruders. They were colloquially known as “Dynon dywod” literally “people who came” or simply “Saeson” (English). Thankfully many of their descendents were totally integrated into the village community.
The Rev. John Bevan quickly realised that something had to be done to satisfy the religious needs of this new English speaking influx. To him intolerance and bigotry were not Christian virtues and he clearly saw the need for an English Cause. This need was partially fulfilled when he initiated English classes and services in Sardis Schoolroom, later meetings were held at a house opposite Denton’s and also at Ty Gwyn in Gowerton.
The English Cause prospered and the membership increased, eventually John Bevan with the able support of other local ministers succeeded in erecting a more permanent chapel in Gowerton. The first building in 1883 was known as “Cwrdd Haiarn” – the iron Chapel, then in 1899 it was replaced by a stone building – unfortunately this was burned down in 1912- but from the ashes a new chapel arose in 1913 – the present Gospel Temple in Gowerton .
One of the crumbling foundation stones still visible on the frontage of the Gospel Temple bears the names of the Rev. and Mrs John Bevan, today age-worn and hardly decipherable it remains a testimony to this extraordinary man.
These are but a few facets of a remarkable character – a man of faith, conviction and vision, we in Waunarlwydd are particularly still in his debt. What better epitaph than that inscribed on his plaque on the wall of the Memorial Garden in front of his beloved chapel of Sardis ;-
“Christion, Bonheddwr, Pregethwr”.
“Christian, Gentleman, Preacher”.
John Rowlands. F.R.S.L.
Today many of the village residents would not remember the original village school which was demolished shortly after celebrating its centenary in 1963. A row of houses and a bungalow now occupy the site of the old school directly opposite the Sheltered Home Complex on Swansea Road.
To many of the older generation mention of the “old school” would bring back a flood of memories of a school benevolently yet strictly dominated for 42 years by its Headmaster – Mr John Rowlands – the epitome of a village schoolmaster. Still, affectionately remembered by many as the respected headmaster to at least two generations of village folk – John Rowlands was a “character”.
John Rowlands was a Rhondda man from Tonyrefail. Before qualifying as a teacher he received a serious injury while playing rugby at Bangor College. Eventually, this necessitated the amputation of a leg – a truly traumatic surgical experience in those far-off days.
To his great credit and spirit and probably his Rhondda background one never heard him complain about his severe physical disability. To the villagers of those days – tough, hard miners, steel and tin workers John Rowlands’s “cork leg” became a symbol of the man’s courage over adversity.
One can gauge the respect in which he was held by reference to a rather unique event in the village’s history. John Rowlands lived in a house almost at the junction of Victoria Road and Bryn Road (Known in those days as The Incline). Therefore to get to school he had to walk down Bryn Road to “Dentons” and then turn right along Swansea Road for about 500 yards before reaching the old school.
This proved a formidable walk for a man with his severe disability the villagers were aware of this and as a token of their regard and respect a few householders gave portions of their land so that a lane could be constructed connecting Victoria Road and Swansea Road. This when completed, considerably shortened John Rowlands journey from home to school.
This lane is still in existence and still extensively used, it is now publicly maintained and follows its original route. Joining Swansea Road by the Post Office and almost opposite Sardis Chapel, although a few householders dispute this, there has always been a very strong village tradition that the lane was established as a symbol of concern for John Rowland’s affliction.
John Rowlands was a highly articulate and cultured gentleman equally fluent in Welsh and English. He was well worthy of the letters FRSL which he was entitled to put after his name – a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature to him literature was life and Shakespeare was literature.
His vast knowledge of Shakespeare was so thorough that there was hardly an occasion that he could not match with an appropriate quotation from the Bard’s works. One can recall a boy reporting for the cane – John Rowlands would produce an apt quote from Shakespeare to fit the punishment and the crime.
John Rowlands’s amputated leg had been replaced by an artificial limb known to his schoolboys as John Rowland’s “cork leg”. Thus to the boys of that era it was the epitome of courage and daring to stick a pin into the unfeeling limb and quickly withdraw before John Rowlands would notice.
On one memorable occasion as the Headmaster ambled between the rows of desks – a certain boy – not in the Mensa class and unable to distinguish right from left stuck a small sharp nail into the wrong leg. The dire consequences can be imagined, old fashioned punishment was swiftly meted out and the Rowlands discipline was soon restored.
A tribute to Mr Rowlands by a special correspondent appeared in the “Evening post” in the 1930’s it informed its readers that ;-” Mr Rowlands’s pen has never been idle, letters to the Editor, special articles, in poems long and short he has given of the riches of an alert and well stored mind.
Chief of the clan, Mr John Rowlands lives where he can look out over the village which he has trained in the way it should go, Mr Rowlands in School – mastered Waunarlwydd for many years and even in his retirement he keeps a fatherly eye upon its doings.
A remarkable man – this village schoolmaster, once showed me an immense manuscript of a novel of Welsh life, in which he has embodied the native customs of the people, their virtues and their weaknesses. If ever it is published, it will certainly beat the prevailing English novel in its length, long winded though the Priestley’s and the Walpole’s are.
If Waunarlwydd has preserved the best characteristics of the Welsh people and I am told that it has – it owes much to its old schoolmaster and where Wales – the Wales which cares for the best and noblest things in life – we are heavily in his debt.
This tribute exemplifies the popular image of a village schoolmaster in those days and John Rowlands lived up to this image.
Like his contemporary, the Rev. John Bevan, he took an active part not only in village affairs but in the wider neighbourhood; a personal memory of him – is as a deacon in Sardis and occupying a prominent place in the “set fawr”. Those were the days when chapel attendance was almost compulsory.
The sermons were long and frequently punctuated by devout “Amens” from the “set fawr”. On occasions the minister would ask if any member of the diaconate would like to say a few words. It was with some degree of trepidation that the younger element in the congregation would watch John Rowlands arise to make his contribution.
He would stroke his beard – begin speaking in fluent Welsh and then inevitably lapse into a Shakespearean “hwle “- much to the annoyance of the impatient youth sitting in the gallery with more secular things on their minds.
The Sabbath of John Rowlands’s era was a sombre day, any kind of work or play was frowned upon, the traditional Sunday lunch was prepared on a Saturday. It was the day when “Sunday Best” was worn and black or another sombre colour was the order of the day.
One can remember John Rowlands’s appearance in chapel – his short, stocky figure immaculately clothed in Puritan black, a Churchillian hat, spats complete with the inevitable but necessary walking stick – befitting his status in the village, enhanced perhaps by an appealing sense of a slight eccentricity.
His literary talent resulted in frequent demands on his services as an adjudicator at “eisteddfodau” and schools. As previously stated he was a prolific author and poet in Welsh and English. Among his published works was a book titled, “Shakespeare Still enthroned”, a long poem of four cantos and a prayer called “God is Love” and a play couched in Shakespearian language and style named “Ellen Done” or “The Bride of the Banks of the Dee” together with numerous poems, “songs” and a variety of topics.
Perhaps an extract from “Ellen Done” will acquaint the reader with his style of writing with its distinct Shakespearean flavour.
The Scene… “On the Green before Ulkington palace, where ladies and knights are assembled to celebrate Ellen’s Birthday …Moonlight”.
In this scene one of the characters David speaks;-“Who would not live for ever in this scene,
Where heaven and earth, this tranquil night appear in mystic grandeur fair !
No other land-No other clime upon this beauteous earth,
Could lend a charm so exquisitely sweet
As now is ours…
The fabric of many of his poems contained the thread of his love of the locality, such as “Mumbles”, “Swansea Bay” and “Above Hendrevoelan” to name a few. One of his oft repeated fantasies was to possess the magical power of Merlin – so that he could remove Graeg y Bwldan hill, which he regarded as an obstacle between his beloved village and the beauty of Swansea Bay. Perhaps if he could have accomplished this he would not have written the following poem – a geography lesson in verse;-
On Hendrevoelan’s summit fair I stand,
A pleasant league from Swansea’s mansions gay;
And as I now survey the opening land,
Six counties meet my vision far away;
Plains, woodlands, towns and mountains stern I see,
And rolling oceans dark immensity.
Before mine eyes, where glows the mid-day sun,
Roll the blue waves of Swansea’s peerless bay!
And, on its breast, the joyous vessels run
To seek the shores of nations far away;
And, grandly, with its lighthouse in the sea,
Rises aloft the Mumbles promont’ry
Beyond the Bristol Channel’s surging tide,
The sunny shores of England now appear;
And, in pellucid air, the cornfields wide,
Of Somerset and Devon seem quite near,
And, outward, like a monster of the deep,
Stands Lundy Ilse – a channel watch to keep.
Far to the west, beyond the Gower sands,
The cliffs of Pembroke lift their massive form,
And, intervening, glisten many strands
That oft reveal the ruins of the storm;
And, smoking darkly, stands Llanelly nigh,
Whose lofty turrets pierce the azure sky.
Carmarthen, too displays her ridges wide,
Whose tops in glory leave the setting sun-
Her whitewashed farms- old Cambria’s greatest pride-
Her thousand fields that o’er her mountains run-
Her hamlets fair, mid dells and woodland gay,
Where peace sits smiling, Through the ling’ring day,
Then to North,extending sharply clear,
The sable range of Brecknock swells on high,
And, to the East, Glamorgan hills appear,
Where smoky heights becloud the summer sky;
And, downward, from the mountains serried bands,
I view – to Pyle, and Sker’s bright shining sands.
Such is the range that opens to my view,
This summer day, that lingers fair and clear;
And, as I turn and bid the scene adieu,
My heart would fain remain and linger here;
For, all around what varied life I see,
What grandeur mantling forth, what majesty.
(written circa 1890)
Shortly after celebrating its centenary in 1963 the old school building was demolished, reduced to a pile of broken stones, A village landmark disappeared, but fortunately the same fate cannot be applied to the contribution John Rowlands and many of his successors made within those walls enclosing the old school.
Today, the only dumb witnesses to that era are the old boundary walls, long ago they embraced the Infants School and the “Big School”.
The old familiar classrooms, shelters, playgrounds, outside primitive toilets, open coal fires, frozen taps, frozen inkwells, the cloying smell of damp clothes, the long trek from Mynydd-Bach-y-Glo and earlier from Gorwydd in Gowerton was far from pleasant. The School Bell, often the village timepiece are all gone now, mere memories.
Other memories, of course, are of pupils who attended the school in those dim, distant days. The boy whose finger became well and truly stuck in a Brasso tin, another who caused panic by completely blocking his nostrils with two pieces of chalk, an application of a strong pinch of pepper made the matter worse.
One remembers the clay lessons where a mild mannered angelic faced boy was obsessed with modelling small pigs and slaughtered each with a clay knife, each killing was accompanied by a blood curdling yell. (Shades of Shoni Mochyn). One also recollects the classic remark made to a very prim lady teacher by a boy about his rather incontinent desk neighbour.. “Miss e’ave done it”. The “e” and “it” had better remain nameless.
Some time ago, a sprightly octogenarian, a dyed in the wool Waunarlwyddite, was standing on the pavement opposite the old school and looking directly across at the old site muttered one name “John Rowlands” Did I remember him? I certainly did the site now a row of houses and a bungalow flanked by the remaining vestiges of the old school – the stone built boundary walls. The sight of them must have activated long forgotten memories.
With his walking stick he pointed to the east boundary wall – where once stood the entrance to the Infants Department and suddenly asked if I remembered the rocking horse?
Anyone who attended the infant’s school in those days will never forget the rocking horse. It was a dappled wooden combination of Red Rum, Arkle, Trigger, Pegasus and remained “Horse of the Year “for decades. A ride on it as a reward for good behaviour or work was the pinnacle of infant ambition, where is it now? Hopefully at peace in a wood wormed equine heaven and still rocking.
Other long forgotten occasions were recalled – the time during the First World War when John Rowlands lined the schools pupils along the railings fronting the school to witness – an aeroplane flying over the village, an unforgettable sight in those far off days.
A Waunarlwydd lady, now well in her ninety’s can remember John Rowland’s talk to the assembled school during those dark days. To this day she can remember a phrase from John Rowlands’s patriotic “hwyI”;- “That every wave in the English channel was a British Soldier.”
A few years ago an excellent and caring home for the elderly was erected directly opposite the site of the old school and actually on its playing field. It was allocated the name “Ty Waunarlwydd”.
Many of the older villagers maintained that a more specific and appropriate name would have been “Ty John Rowlands”. In view of its location and in honour of the man who was head teacher of the local school for 42 years.
The authorities have not been insensitive in recognising the contribution Waunarlwydd men have made in their community. We have Heol Will George and Bevan’s Way and deservedly so. With the able support of Mr Paul Beynon, of West Winds Close, as Press correspondent for village affaires, a determined effort was made to re-name “Ty Waunarlwydd” to “Ty John Rowlands” unfortunately the effort failed.
However to those who knew John Rowlands one can imagine him standing by the school railings, a short, stocky figure, dressed in a sombre suit, a Churchillian hat, walking stick – stroking his Falstaffian beard and approving the use to which his old school field has been put.
School Log Books
Old school log books are valued not only as school records but as important social and economic documents of their times. Their importance as such, is reflected that a great majority of them are now deposited for reference and safe keeping in archive offices.
The early school log books of the old Waunarlwydd School prove no exception – they paint a Dickensian picture of poverty, hardship and ill-health during the first decade – 1866-76 of that era. Reading these old Log books – one becomes starkly conscious of the immeasurable change which has taken place in our educational system.
The early entries from 1866 make fascinating reading. Basic facilities at the old school were at a minimum – for example water was not laid on and toilet facilities were to say the least, primitive – being a simple arrangement of bucket lavatories situated at the top of the playground.
Despite an adequate supply of coal – the heating arrangements was confined to one coal fire in each classroom. In cold weather the unfortunate pupils occupying the rear desks and at a distance from the coal fire would be freezing. There were occasions when the ink froze in the desk ink wells.
Life was harsh and grim and children were frequently employed in picking small lumps of coal from the numerous waste tips in the vicinity of the village. Coming to school they were sent to wash their hands in the gutter outside the front of the school. This gutter was an open drain which ran the whole length of Swansea Road and one can recall even in the early twenties, that after heavy rain, one of the attractions of this gutter was that one could indulge in matchsticks or paper boat races from the Masons Arms down to the school gates.
Education was not free and pupils parents had to pay two pence a week per pupil for the privilege of attending classes, today two pence is an insignificant sum of money, but in those days it could cause financial embarrassment to many families living on a stringent budget.
It is recorded that some children could not attend school because the mother could not pay as the father had sustained an accident in the colliery – a too common occurrence in local pits. However, the Headmaster was humane enough to notify the parents that the payment would not be enforced and the children could attend.
Other reasons for absenteeism included the village trek to the well known Llangyfelach Fair on the 1st, 2nd and 5th March and on the 6th and 7th of November each year. The Fair was a major event in the local calendar and Waunarlwydd children accompanied by their parents trudged across fields and rough tracks to Llangyfelach.
Schoolchildren were also kept at home as domestic help, particularly in cases of large families. They also missed school in order to supplement the meagre family income. Waunarlwydd gardens were generally large and well cultivated and the surplus produce was sold to the more affluent neighbours.
This entailed the children in helping to prepare the produce for sale and even sharing the mother’s heavily laden basket as they made their way over the Graig to places like Sketty. Blackberry picking was another source of income involving children being kept away from school.
Again many school days were missed, when for some peculiar reason, children, especially daughters were required to carry their father’s food boxes to the local mines, tin and steelworks.
Without the medical facilities available to the present generation of schoolchildren, illness was inevitably the main reason for absenteeism in those far off days. Small pox, Scarlet Fever, Measles, Rheumatic Fever and Brain Fever (probably meningitis) were among the serious health problems which took their toll.
The Log books from 1866 to 1875 records the following;-
March 1866… 40 children ill with fever
December 1871… a bad outbreak of small pox
October 1873… Scarlet fever epidemic
February 13th 1874… a pupils death is recorded
February 20th 1874… every child in school with scarlet fever or measles.
October 31′ 1874 … a full attendance of 85 children
April 1875… Brain fever.
In many ways this horrendous catalogue of illnesses suffered by yesterday’s pupils was due to a large extent through primitive and inadequate hygiene facilities.
The pioneering effort of the Rev. John Bevan in establishing a school in the village served as an incentive for neighbouring villages to agitate for similar schools in their communities. There is an interesting reference to this when in 1860 a “school procession” came to Waunarlwydd from Gowerton and Three Crosses “wanting schools”.
In those early days there was no confining catchment area and Log Book entries confirm that pupils came from a wide area – hailing from Tycoch, Gowerton and Cae Mansel. It is presumed that pupils walked from these places until schools were established in their own neighbourhood, such as Gowerton or Gower Road in those days in 1875.
At the present time TRUANCY is an unacceptable statistic in our Education System, the dictionary definition of truancy contains the words “dodging” and “malingering”. One can say – some form of truancy has always been a feature connected with schools.
In the story of our village school – the word “truancy” was an unfamiliar word – it was commonly referred to as “mitching”, to “mitch” was to deliberately miss school.
Thankfully incidents of “mitching” were rare, the threat of corporal punishment was an effective deterrent, in addition to a visit by the “Boardman” or “Whipper-in”, known today as a more sedate “Attendance Officer”. One can remember a well known, respected and feared “boardman” in Mr Thomas Andrews from Fforestfach. A visit from him to one’s parents was an ordeal to be avoided unless the excuse for absence was absolutely genuine.
In the early decades of this century absenteeism was rife, and the causes of absence were genuine. For example, a father severely injured in the mine, steel or tinworks would often require the presence of a daughter at home to help the mother to cope with a heavy domestic and often intolerable load. Boys, too were similarly affected. However the greatest cause of absence was the prevalence of sickness as the old School log Books indicate.
William Abraham. LL.D. M.P. (1842-1922)
Waunarlwydd can claim that it housed and employed one of the best known Miner’s Member of Parliament and the first President of the South Wales Miner’s Federation, namely William Abraham – perhaps better known as “Mabon” – his bardic name.
“Mabon” was born at Cwmavon in 1842, unfortunately his father died at an early age and “Mabon” was obliged to seek work as a colliery door boy, at the age of ten years, by the time he was sixteen he had become an active member of Tabernacle Calvinistic Methodist Chapel at Port Talbot, he became well known as the young conductor of the choir and leader of the Band of Hope.
In 1870 he came to live in Waunarlwydd and according to village folklore resided in a cottage near the Masons Arms – now No 100 Swansea Road – He was employed originally at one of the smaller village pits but eventually worked at the Caergyndd Pit.
A religious man he attended Sunday School meetings held in a barn at Fferm Isaf –
(Caergynydd Isaf or Mill Farm) conducted by the farmer, William Eynon a native of Llangendeirne, Carmarthen, who had bought the farm in 1869.
Later, William Abraham became a member of Zion Baptist Chapel, Waunarlwydd Around 1873 he moved to Gower Road (Gowerton) and became a member and precentor of the newly opened Bethel M.C. chapel.
His other great interest was the eisteddfod which at this time attracted large audiences, “Mabons” burly appearance and charismatic figure with, as one writer observed, a “respectable beard and gold watch chain a guardian of moderation”.
His appearance coupled with a powerful voice ideally equipped him as a popular conductor of eisteddfodau. Again as another writer commented;- He was “an incomparable orator in both Welsh and English, he exercised great influence over his followers and was equally prominent in the activities of Welsh Nonconformity, as well as in the eisteddfod and in Welsh cultural life”.
He was a successful conductor of a United Choir composed of local Choristers, he would often sing to audiences with a good tenor voice. He left Gower Road (Gowerton) in 1877 for the Rhondda where he was elected Member of Parliament for that constituency from 1885 to 1920, and became a crucial figure in the Labour Movement.
He fought hard and long for better conditions in the mines and a better standard of living for the colliers. He became the first President of the South Wales Miner’s Federation- “The Fed”. The “Fed” was born in 1898, when seven existing unions amalgamated to become the South Wales Miner’s Federation. In 1945 this became the National Union of Mineworkers – the N. U.M.
From 1892 to 1898 miners did not work on the first Monday of the month and this day became known as “Mabons Day”. From 1875 to 1902 a system known as the “Sliding Scale” was operating in the South Wales Coalfield. Basically it was a device by which wages were regulated according to prices in the coal industry. Mabon was deeply involved in the smooth running of this scheme.
The growing militancy of the miners and a more aggressive socialism were in conflict with Mabon’s belief that argument was better than confrontation and that the interests of employers and workmen could be resolved by peaceful negotiation.
After a lifetime of dedication to the miners’ cause, the eisteddfod and his chapel he died in 1922.
Henry Folland (1877 – 1923)
Waunarlwydd can be proud to be able to claim to be the birthplace of a remarkable man – an industrialist and philanthropist – Mr Henry Folland. He was born in the village in 1877 of working class parents, according to local tradition his birthplace was Gorwydd Cottages, at the age of 14 he began work at a local colliery.
Walking home from work one evening along the old Great Western Railway line he was struck by a passing train. This accident resulted in the amputation of his left arm. This traumatic experience would have discouraged many young men of his age – but such was the courage and determination of Henry Folland, that this tragic accident became a turning point in his life.
Manual labour was out of the question – so he set himself to learn shorthand and typing. These qualifications resulted in employment at the offices of the Cambrian Daily Leader newspaper at Swansea.
From Swansea he moved to a firm of tinplate manufacturers in Neath and thus began a remarkable career in industry. This career eventually exercised a tremendous impact on local industry. One writer wrote of him as follows;-“Although he had little technical skill, he was a brilliant mathematician, with shrewdness, insight and an amazing capacity for organising people and events”.
His meteoric rise in the tinplate industry eventually led to the control of “The Folland Group”, with works at Gorseinon, Pontarddulais, Grovesend, Hendy, Morriston, Britton Ferry, Glanamman, and Pantyffynon and also an interest in the Ebbw Vale Strip Mill.
The Folland family was a very generous one. Their wealth was frequently channelled into many well deserving local causes, for example they gifted their Glanamman home “Brondeg” to become a fully equipped 12 bed hospital. To mark his contribution to the old Swansea hospital in St Helens’ Road – a ward “The Folland Ward” was named after him.
Later the beautifully sited home in Blackpill, Swansea called “Llwyderw” became a caring convalescent home. Such was the man that some of the fortune which he accrued from his tinplate “Empire” was returned to the workpeople employed in that “empire” and also for the benefit of the general public.
His wider interests included politics – he was a staunch Liberal – and education, his services were recognised when he was appointed High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire. The World War One Prime Minister David Lloyd George, was a frequent guest at Llwyderw.
The courage and determination of Henry Folland is enhanced by the fact that for a long time he was dogged by ill-health, His complaint necessitated spending as much time as possible in a drier climate than his native Wales.
Therefore he spent the greater part of each winter in Egypt – where he was reputed to lead a simple Bedouin existence. Unfortunately, this was of no avail as he died in Egypt in March 1926 a comparatively young man aged 49.
During his residency at Llwynderw he was frequently seen horse riding accompanied by his Arab groom.
For a comparatively small village Waunarlwydd can justly claim a unique record in the number of civic dignitaries it has produced, as far back as 1908, a Waunarlwydd man – Mr David Williams, who was involved in the coal mining industry, became Chairman of the Swansea District Rural Council.
Mr Henry Johns was another Waunarlwydd man who had a remarkable career, leaving school at 13 years of age; he followed the traditional pattern of village life and began working underground as a pit-boy. After working in the mine for 7 years he decided to switch from coal mining to a career in Insurance.
His advancement was meteoric and he held important appointments in Merthyr, Brecon and Pontypridd before being elected as Lord Mayor of Cardiff (circa) 1939 – 1940.
ALDERMAN WILLIAM GEORGE J.P.
Mr William George became Mayor of Swansea in 1959, despite a constant battle against ill-health and the added trauma of a car crash on New Year’s Day in 1960, in which he and the, Mayoress suffered from shock, they insisted on continuing their Mayoral duties with a quiet courage and dignity.
In spite of a heavy programme of events and some issues which were controversial, he successfully and with unobtrusive efficiency completed his year of office. This gave him and the Mayoress the great satisfaction of achieving the distinction of being the first Waunarlwydd couple to occupy the Mansion House as the Mayor and Mayoress of Swansea.
Councillor D.F.Bevan, C.B.E.
Mr Frank Bevan must be a member of an elite and exclusive band of people with the unique distinction of serving the community as a Council member for over 50 years. Among a multitude of important civic events he maintains an active interest in village affairs.
The outstanding event in five decades of public service must have occurred during the years 1969 – 1970. In 1969 Mr Frank Bevan was elected Mayor of Swansea, that particular year witnessed an epoch-making event in Swansea’s long history.
In July 1969 the Prince of Wales paid his investiture visit to Swansea and declared that Her Majesty the Queen had granted to Swansea – City Status, and in December he again visited Swansea to present the Royal Charter. As the current Mayor, Mr Frank Bevan was deeply involved in these impressive and memorable events.
In July the Mayor and Mayoress were guests at the historic occasion of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. Another satisfying event to the people of Swansea and in particular to the villagers of Waunarlwydd, was that the Mayor had been honoured in the new years Honours List with the award of C.B.E.
A brief resume of his other interests must include his life-long interest and active participation in promoting matters concerning Health. He became The National Chairman of the Port Authorities Association of the British Isles. Locally, he officiated at the opening of two Health Clinics – namely at Fforestfach and at Orchard Street in Swansea. In 1992/93 at an age when the normal male has past his “sell-buy” date, Frank Bevan undertook another years onerous duties when honoured with the Chairmanship of West Glamorgan County Council.
The inaugural religious service took place at Sardis Chapel, where Mr Bevan had been a member since boyhood. His appointed chaplain was the minister Rev. Pryce Jones B.A. this was an occasion which gave the village community a great deal of pride and satisfaction. One must also pay tribute to Mrs Muriel Bevan who ably supported her husband throughout his long and continuing public career.
Councillor Roy Edge
In 1990, a Tenby business man was installed as Mayor of Tenby, Dyfed – Mr Roy Edge. Councillor Edge has been a member of Tenby Town Council for 4 years a native of Waunarlwydd he was brought up at Login Cottages, where his parents still live.
Mr Gordon Dennis. B.A.
The present Mayor of Lliw Valley (1994) is former Headmaster – Mr Gordan Dennis, although born and bred in Loughor he has a strong family bond with Waunarlwydd. His mother (Ruth Phillips) was a member of one of the oldest village families and so he retains an affectionate interest in Waunarlwydd affairs. Over a number of year’s he has frequently occupied the pulpit at Sardis Chapel and in many ways Waunarlwydd is his second home.
As previously noted Waunarlwydd became part of the Swansea Borough in 1918. Local men who represented the ward were James Jenkin Thomas (Labour) 1918 – 1926 and David George (Independent) 1929 – 1936 and they were followed by William George and Frank Bevan (mentioned above).
David George, as an Independent candidate, was a notable and surprising victory in a predominantly Labour stronghold.
Back in the 1920’s and 1930’s a local election was a major event. Meetings in the old Welfare Hall were often a bubbling cauldron of partisan feeling.
Mari Hicks (Higgs)
Some time ago an article appeared in the local newspaper – “The Evening Post” regarding some of Swansea’s “characters” of yesteryear, in particular of the so-called weaker sex.
This proved that eccentricity was not a male dominated province, one name mentioned was the redoubtable “Sally Sawdust” – a small woman, always wearing a man’s cap and a man’s overcoat, who trundled her sacks of sawdust to the town’s pubs and Butcher shops. This reference to Sally and her mode of dress evoked memories of a colourful village character named Mari Hicks.
Most villages, and for some particular reason Welsh villages, seem to produce their fair quota of unconventional individuals who merited being called a “character”. Some achieved this local fame or notoriety because they deliberately refused to conform to the accepted and well – established way of village life.
Possibly, in a small tightly-knit community, this behaviour was frowned upon by the staid members of the village. Waunarlwydd was no exception and one such eccentric character who was a familiar figure on the village scene during the latter part of the last century and the early part of the present century was a character known as Mari Hicks.
To say the least, Mari was a combination of a Meg Merrillies and a hard working, but convention defying “hippy”. She was a tenaciously independent lady – a social rebel living in the less tolerant atmosphere of those far-off days. She was nevertheless regarded with some degree of affection and sympathy by the villagers.
Mari lived in a ramshackle stone built house, an apology for a home on a sloping field between the existing old railway bridge in the Bishwell and the old Mill or Ystrad Isaf Farm. It is doubtful if any villager knew anything of Mari’s background – where she came from, whether she was single, married or widowed or what the circumstances were which brought her to live the life of a recluse.
One explanation, given by one of the oldest inhabitants of the village, who knew Mari well, that Mari’s chosen way of life, was the direct result of that age – old problem of unrequited love.
Many older villagers can still remember her trudging through the lower part of the village, dressed in rather “unsavoury”, sombre clothes, always with a working man’s cloth cap and a well-worn pair of what seemed to be collier’s boots – the only piece of feminine attire being a timeworn shawl worn over her shoulders.
Mari literally scratched a meagre living from her small holding. Her home was situated in a high hedged, slightly sloping field in which grew a few apple and pear trees. Unfortunately these fruit trees often provided an attractive target for the more adventurous village lads.
However “scrumping” could prove rather dangerous as Mari had an efficient deterrent in the form of a couple of vicious dogs of indeterminate breed, she also kept a goat – probably her source of milk, some poultry and some claim that she also had a pig.
One can conjecture that her water supply came from the old village well – Ffynon Job (Who was Job?) which was within a short distance from Mari’s home. Some villagers can still remember her labouring along Brithwen Road and the cottages in the lower part of the village, then leaving weighed down with two heavy containers of what villagers thought was pig swill – no mean physical feat – but Mari was recognised as being tough, strong and hardy.
Living not too far from the old Bishwell Colliery – it was said that the kind – hearted loco – drivers on their way down to the Bishwell siding used to throw lumps of coal to the waiting figure of Mari – thus implementing her meagre stock of fuel. This snippet of information would indicate that Mari lived in the village as early as the 1880’s as the Bishwell Colliery was effectively abandoned in 1887.
One can also recall that a minority of rather unthinking village parents endowed Mari with some witch – like qualities and a child who misbehaved would be under the threat of being sent to live with Mari. This attitude was totally unjustified as Mari was regarded by the majority of the villagers with a great degree of affectionate tolerance and sympathy. A rebel – maybe – but she never harmed anyone – but was simply an eccentric, honest and hard working character.
Another version was that Mari was married and that she and her husband lived in a ramshackle building in the Bishwell Field. Unfortunately, the house was destroyed by fire and shortly afterwards Mari’s husband died. Mari refused to move but occupied an outhouse which she occupied for many years. Again it was believed that soap and water were alien ingredients in Mari’s life and that there were occasions when she was forcibly cleansed.
In a booklet recently published (August 1999) Written by Mrs Elizabeth Griffiths (nee Jones) called “Looking Back… Waunarlwydd as I knew it” there is the following reference, to Mari Higgs (Hicks) Incidentally Mrs Griffiths is now 96 years old and still possesses a remarkable memory.
“When I was a child, (living in Brithwen Road) – there lived at the far end of the Bishwell an old lady who was very eccentric, and feared by small children. Her name was Mari Higgs. She and her husband had lived in a small house, in the garden of which were many apple trees. Her husband died, her small house was destroyed by fire, but she refused to leave the site and continued to live in a hut on the same spot.
In those days, the LNE Railway passed within a few yards of the garden, but high above the hollow in which she lived. The drivers and firemen knew her and, as the engines slowed down to negotiate the steep gradient. they threw down lumps of coal for her fire, she lived largely on the kindness of the villages who would never refuse her food.
She would come through the fields on her way to the village, and our house was the first house she came to, she would come to the back door, knowing that my mother would give her something, but at the same time would be very wary of letting her into the house because she was usually so dirty.
The village boys would plague her in the autumn by making raids on her small orchard. She would shout and scream so loudly that the men in the area would go to her aid, only to find that the lads had vanished without a trace, and without having done much damage, occasionally the Gowerton Police would intervene.”
Evan Roberts and the Revival (Y Diwygiad) of 1904-05.
Not so many years ago an old Waunarlwydd collier was asked “what were his most vivid memories before the First World War?”. Without a moments hesitation he answered;- “The year 1905 when I saw Dr Teddy Morgan score that try against the famous All Blacks and when I attended one of Evan Roberts’s meetings”. Thus he touched on the two topics of intense Welsh national interest namely rugby and religion.
Dr Teddy Morgan’s disputed try at Cardiff on that day in 1905 excited the rugby fraternity of the village and provoked an argument which literally became world wide.
On the other hand, the impact of Evan Roberts the Evangelist was fairly widespread but locally it became an intense crusade. Waunarlwydd and its predominantly Welsh speaking neighbours experienced an almost fanatical feeling of religious fervour. It was a phenomena akin to that experienced at a Billy Graham Crusade – but far more intense in its zeal and an explosion of Welsh “hwyl” and a torrent of hymn singing.
Evan Roberts was born in Loughor in 1878, when only eleven years of age he began work as a “door boy” at the Mountain Colliery at Gorseinon. After working at Blaengarw and the Broadoak Colliery, Loughor he was apprenticed as a blacksmith to an uncle at Pontarddulais. However, he found the burning urge to preach too strong and returned to Loughor
He spent long hours in prayer and meditation lasting until the early hours of the morning. In 1904 he prophesied a great religious revival, his first meeting at Moriah Chapel, Loughor attracted a mere 16 persons. Very soon his services were attended by hundreds of people.
The chapels of Loughor and the surrounding district were packed to capacity and frequently many hundreds were denied admission to these highly emotional services. In an overwhelming atmosphere of Welsh “hwyl “punctuated with fervent cries of “Diolch Iddo” and “Amens” as hymn after hymn would be sung and often repeated.
Tough colliers and teak-hard steel and tinplate men would openly and unashamedly weep – among outbursts of spontaneous praise from individuals in the congregation. There would be no time limit on the services – many continuing for long hours, this was a typical scene witnessed at many a local chapel.
Curiously there are no written records of Evan Roberts preaching at any of the chapels of Waunarlwydd or Gowerton. Perhaps it is understandable why Gowerton which was predominantly English became a “revival bypass”, but why was Welsh Waunarlwydd missed?
However, an article which appeared on 28th January 1905 in the “Western Mail” gave the following information;-“
Conversions Number over 70,000
Gowerton and Waunarlwydd… 141
Fforestfach and Cockett… 286
Llanelly,Loughor and Felinfoel… 1,317
Some years ago, speaking to some of the revival survivors they vouched that the great religious experience occurred in the highly charged and emotional atmosphere of several local chapels.
For almost two years (1904 -05) the effect of the Revival on our locality was dramatic. The village drunk, wife beater, gambler and the general ne’er-do-well would publicly pray for forgiveness. Prayers were often said in the streets and pleasure was condemned with a Puritan zeal. Local dances and dramas were no longer patronised, the public houses emptied, sporting fixtures were cancelled and the crime rate fell, bad debts were paid, stolen goods returned and the work load in the pits, steel and tinplate industries increased. It was said that pit-ponies did not respond to the strange and gentler language of the hauliers.
The selection committee of the local rugby team would meet at the usual pub on a Friday night to choose a team for Saturdays match. Players names would be called – ut burly, cauli-flowered forwards, Dai Jones, Will Evans and Twm Thomas together with the inside-half, one centre and the full-back with the answer “not available” or “converted”, and there would be no match.
Many people sneered at Evan Roberts and his followers – to them it was a typical example of mass hysteria – but it undeniably changed the lives of numerous people. To many it proved a transient experience but to many others it proved a crucial turning point in their lives.
There were authentic cases in Waunarlwydd where a family’s life was changed into a better and happier life as a direct result of Evan Roberts’s Revival.
Waunarlwydd and the 1881 Census.
Briefly, a census has been taken in Britain Since 1801 and with the exception of the Second World War Year of 1941, has continued to be taken every ten years. The 1801 Census was a fairly basic attempt to enumerate the number of people, houses and families in a parish or small town. Since 1851 more specific details were required, each householder was given a form a few days before “Census Night”, which required the householder to provide the names, addresses, exact age, relation to the head of the household, sex, occupation and the parish or county of birth of everyone who spent “census night” in his or her house.
The completed forms were then collected by an enumerator, help was given to any heads of households who were illiterate – in order to complete the form as accurately as possible. The over-all results were then copied into a book. These old enumerator’s books have proved to be rich and copious sources of information on our nineteenth century communities.
The country was divided into Enumerator Districts;- Waunarlwydd.
Our village was in 1881 in Enumerator District 14 in the Township of Swansea and in the parish of Cockett.
The following information gleaned from the Enumerator schedules for the 1881 Census – is confined to a part of the village, namely the section of Swansea Road (referred to as the Old Road) approximately from the Mason’s Arms to the junction of Swansea Road and Stepney Roads and, Roseland Road or Heal Felyn referred to in the schedule as Heol Velen
The handwritten details are occasionally difficult to decipher as in all probability the Enumerator was English and not totally conversant with Welsh place names, coupled with the rather hurried and short time available to complete the forms. Nevertheless they provide a fascinating and fairly accurate account of our village community in 1881.
An analysis of the two road sections elicited the following information;-
Number of households involved… 56 and Zion Chapel
Number of occupants and sex ;-
(a) Adult Male and children… 147
(b) Adult Female and children… 151
(a) Swansea Higher – Glamorganshire… 210 villagers
N.B. (under Swansea Higher – the following place names were included ;- Loughor, Penclawdd, Llanrhidian, Ilston, Bishopston, Oystermouth, Dunvant, Llangyfelach, Pontarddulais, Ystalyfera, Glynneath, Neath Town, Hirwaen, Aberdare and Llandilo-fach)
(b) Pembroke… 16
(c) Cardigan… 5
(d) Monmouth… 2
(e) Cornwall… 1
(f) Somerset… 2
(g) Scotland… 1
(h) Bristol… 1
(k) and significantly from Carmarthenshire… 143
(a) Coal miners including a 13 year old doorboy… 46
(b) General labourers (coal) … 8
(c) Blacksmith… 1
(d) A total of 55 employed in the coal industry
Farm Labourer… 1
Engine Driver… 1
Railway Signalman… 1
Mineral surveyor… 1
Cart man… 1
Dress Makers… 2
Laundry maid… 1
Domestic Service… 2
At home/housekeepers… 6
This incomplete analysis would undoubtedly mirror the general picture of the whole village community in 1881.
An obvious indication was that from an occupational aspect Waunarlwydd was heavily weighted towards the coal industry, it clearly shows that the burgeoning coal industry proved an attractive alternative to the poorly paid farm labourers of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire.
This influx of predominantly Welsh speaking workforce guaranteed the Welshness of the village. The migrant English speaking element was soon absorbed into the village way of life. As an example – the well known Bowditch family came originally from Somerset and family members are still active in the village community.
The village Post Office
A communication system is an essential service to any community. Even primitive African tribes developed a mode of communication based on recognised drum beats and American Indians were capable of sending messages through smoke signals over long distances.
One can safely speculate that in the distant past the Waunarlwydd district had no need to resort to such extraordinary methods of communication. Being a small, scattered, family related community – personal contact was the only means of reporting events.
The period roughly from 1840 to 1920 saw Waunarlwydd rapidly emerging from a quiet rural hamlet to an expanding and flourishing coal dominated village. To cater for the indigenous influx of immigrant workers – certain amenities became acutely necessary; among these was the need for a Postal Service in the village.
As previously noted – the establishment of a Post Office in the village was due to the persistent effort of the Rev. John Bevan, the Minister for Sardis chapel – circa 1863-64. This essential service became an important and integral means of communication in a rapidly growing village community.
During the early part of this century the village post office was run by the Harris sister’s – Sophia and Emily. From 1943 to 1961 the post mistress was Miss Emily Richards, besides running the post Office she was responsible for delivering the mail – on foot – even to the outlying farms.
This particular duty was an arduous undertaking in inclement weather with the added hazards of aggressive dogs and even geese. In 1961 Miss Richards was succeeded by her niece Mrs Kathleen Dunne. The present Post Mistress is Mrs Jacqueline Jones who took over the increasing burden of a modern Post Office in 1976.
It is a far cry from the early years when the Post Office catered for a comparatively small and compact village to a Waunarlwydd which has now outgrown the right to be called a village.
Fortunately, the increasing and multifarious tasks involved in administering a present day Post office are in the efficient and courteous hands of Mrs Jones and her staff. Incidentally, the writer can remember two well known village postmen – a Mr Howard from Gowerton, who one believes was a South African war veteran and Mr Roland Barry, an ex-regular soldier of the K.S.L.I. Mr Barry served many years in India. Apparently he never forgot his army training as he delivered the mail at the fast Light Infantry pace and that pace prevailed into his eighties.
The Rev. James Jones
In 1909 the Rev James Jones came from Troedyrhiw to begin a long and faithful ministry at Zion. A conscientious preacher and pastor he gained the undiminished respect of the whole village community for a period of over 40 years.
His ministry experienced the trauma of two World Wars and the intervening period of depression in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In those times of need and hardship in the village his help was readily available to anyone. He will always be remembered as man of total integrity and a true Christian gentleman.
When he celebrated 40 years of service at Zion in 1949, it can he truly said that in many respects it marked the end of an era. Thankfully a unique family tradition is being maintained by the Rev James Jones’s daughter Ms Aelwen Jones – who for many years has continued to take an active part in Zion Chapel’s affaires.