Concise History of Llandeilo
by Eirwen Jones, 1984
The author, a native of the town, has successfully published a number of works of an historical and cultural nature. Her Folk Tales of Wales has established itself among readers of all ages.
Eirwen Jones published her little 61-page booklet in 1984 to provide the residents of Llandeilo with a concise history of their town. This booklet is no longer in print (and the author has sadly passed on) so we reproduce the complete text below to give her useful little publication a second life. Naturally, the booklet cannot anticipate any changes that have happened in Llandeilo since 1984.
Comments in square brackets [ ] have been added for this website and are not in the original.
Llandeilo is a town in Carmarthenshire, situated in a central position in the Vale of Towy, one of the most beautiful valleys in Wales. It is the administrative centre of Dinefwr. The population is approximately 2,000.
The town stands on the north bank of the River Towy and on the A40 road from Brecon to Carmarthen. It is situated 230 miles from London, 33 miles from Brecon, 60 miles north-west from Cardiff; it stands 15 miles from Carmarthen, 24 miles from Swansea, 23 miles from Neath and 92 miles from Bristol. The town is composed of a compact, central block of buildings and houses, and the main life of the town and neighbourhood is centred here. For centuries it enjoyed a high status as the county town of the old county of Carmarthenshire and also a high reputation as a market town.
Llandeilo has an historical existence of over seven hundred years and a legendary pedigree of some six hundred years more. In general, it can be assumed that a town has existed on the site for some 1300 years. There is written record of the town since the beginning of the 13th century. In its early stages it was dependent on the fortunes and misfortunes of the House of Dinefwr.
The town is named after St. Teilo and this is more apparent now that, by official decree, the name is spelt in its ancient form, Llandeilo (for centuries it was spelled Llandilo).
Teilo was a very popular saint of the 6th century - the Age of Saints. Indeed, he might have become the patron saint of Wales but for the fact that St. David, his kinsman, was a contemporary.
So popular was Teilo, that, when he died, three parties of men fought with each other for the possession of his body for the purpose of burial. So severe was the strife, that war would have followed, but one man, wiser than the others, suggested that they should all pray. He believed that the saint himself would give them a sign as to where he wished to be buried. The men agreed; and so they knelt in prayer. When they rose, they beheld before them, not one corpse, but three! Accepting this miracle, each section bore away a body; and so there are some who hold that St. Teilo is buried in Llandaff Cathedral; some believe that he was buried with his ancestors in Penally, near Tenby and there are those who maintain that he rests in Llandeilo.
There are, of course, many other legends associated with Teilo's name. He is said to have spent much time praying and meditating on the Carmarthenshire Vans. A well existed for centuries at Llandyfan, which was known as Teilo's Miraculous Healing Well. Pilgrims came from afar to drink of the water which had been poured into a skull, said to be the skull of St. Teilo, and they felt that they had regained their strength. The skull has long since disappeared and the waters of the well have been diverted into a reservoir which serves the town. A cult of St. Teilo was fostered after his death. Twenty-three churches in Wales were dedicated to him and one in Brittany. The ecclesiastical parish of the town in the Towy Valley was named Llandeilo-Fawr.
The present church building dates in the main from the 19th century when so many of the churches of the diocese of St. David were restored and renovated almost to a pattern. The architect of very many of these churches in West Wales, and also of the vast vicarages that went with them, was a Llandeilo man, David Jenkins of Abbot's Hill. He was assisted by his son, William Jenkins of the Morfa. The battlemented tower of the church remains, reminiscent of a time when the church was a fortress. The inhabitants of the town would hurry up an outside turret staircase seeking safety in times of war. In times of peace, farmers vied with each other, seeking to rent the tower for the winter months for it served as an excellent storehouse for grain. In the 19th century, the churchyard was a marketplace, the tombs serving as tables and the game of “fives”, a kind of tennis, was played against the church wall. Rough and ready justice was administered in the church porch - in the “Court of the Dusty Feet”. Disputes arose in the nearby marketplace, due largely to diversity in weights and clipping of the coinage. The church clock, fitted into two sides of the tower, was a gift to the town from David Pugh, the squire of Manoravon. The incipient rivalries of the landed gentry often rebounded to the benefit of the citizens of the town.
Originally there was only one churchyard; now there are two. To facilitate coach travel down inclines that were particularly steep, a road was constructed through the churchyard in the 1840s. There was considerable legal wrangling concerning the project. Bodies were exhumed and re-buried. Gradients in the road brought severe engineering problems. Furthermore, there were financial crises. The central government retracted from its commitment to help with the improvement of the roads, maintaining that its policy applied only to “English towns”. As a result of this, the local government had to face the cost and this with some considerable difficulty.
The churchyards and church square were in a central position and lent themselves for local government administration. Before the days of secret ballots, hustings were set up - two on the church square for public declaration of votes and one within the churchyard for the use of officials. The Great Election of 1802 has gone down in the history of the county. Election time was a period of great excitement. Anne Beale, an eye-witness, writing in 1846 calls up the general atmosphere in the town when the county representative was elected to Parliament:
An election however, collects great numbers of people and despite the cheerless aspect of the morning all orders in the neighbourhood flocked in to see the show.
The procession begins to wind through the park and very gay the lines of carriages and horses with flags and ribbons look under the oaks and along the green fields. But hark! fits of music come on the breeze and horns and fifes are distinctly heard. 'Tis the march of the Men of Harlech in enthusiastic vigour and now a full cheer hails the members from the townsfolk. From the schoolhouse to the market place are suspended garlands of evergreens and flowers, adorned with endless bows of red and orange ribbon. The members in a carriage and pair, attended by their friends and supporters, pass under the floral arch and bow until their necks must ache.
A short street brings them to the Town Hall where they are to be proposed and accepted as honourable members for the county.
What a sale of red ribbons Mr. Lewis the Shop must have enjoyed, for red bows of every variety and shape appear on all sides. Nothing but red is to be seen. Red gowns, red trimmings, red roses, red faces. The procession having made its way through all the streets of our large provincial town, the different individuals who compose it disperse. The gentlemen adjoin to the school houses where Conservatives of both sexes may eat and drink as much as they like.
The voters make their way to the different ale houses where they follow the good example of their superiors.
After allowing a sufficient time to elapse for digestion, dinner parties assemble at the different inns where meat and drink, those external rousers and calmers of John Bull's excitable feelings, are again the order of the day. Speeches are either made or spoilt in the making, healths drunk and jollity kept up. All are merry as a successful party and plenty of wine can make them. The members are praised and flattered and are consequently in good humour with them selves and those around them.
Considerable development took place in the mid-19th century. In 1858 Llandeilo was becoming a compact town. According to a survey there was a church, four chapels, 11 streets; 73 shops; 23 public houses and 290 houses. Religious fervour had swept through the town with the Welsh Religious Revival of the 18th century. Open-air meetings had been held outside the George Inn. The Calvinistic Methodists were declared unorthodox because they preached "without the church". A Calvinistic Methodist Chapel was built in a retreat where the Public Institute was set up later. It was first built in 1779 and re-built in 1851. In another retreat, and almost opposite, was a Wesleyan chapel. Built in 1809 it was re-built in 1849. A Baptist chapel had been built at the north end of Abbot's Terrace in 1829. Congregationalists had a stronghold in Abercennen, later called Ffairfach. A chapel, the Tabernacle, had been built in 1818. A British school was attached to it. There was activity at the parish church also. On the 21st of February, 1848, the first stone of the old church was taken down. On the 23rd of March the foundation stone was laid by Mr. Morgan, the builder of the bridge. The church now had a smaller tower. There were five bells in the belfry. The graves of the chief families of the neighbourhood were in the chancel. Among them was that of Archdeacon Beynon who had worked indefatigably to raise funds for the building.
Gwilym Teilo, the Llandeilo bard, recorded facts which are invaluable in tracing the development of the town. There was a Post Office kept by David Gwilliam in George Street. This had been established in 1750. A mail service had been pioneered for over thirty years before by Ralf Allen. “Jac y Post”, alias for John Morgan, carried the letter bags to Carmarthen for a period of sixty years. In 1858 he was aged 87. He was reputed to have “danced more horn- pipes, drunk more beer and fought more Irishmen than any man living”. The Post Office, then known as the “Letter Office”, was moved to Rhosmaen Street. Later it was in Abbot or Abbey Terrace. For a period it was kept by the mother of Anne Beale, the writer.
Water was supplied by way of thirty stand pipes set up in the streets. There were also numerous wells in the town. The streets were lit; but, for a period of fifteen years (1843 to 1848), the town was in total darkness. A dispute had arisen as to who was responsible for paying the lamp-lighter and the oil wicks and candles necessary. There were complaints that children had smashed the glasses of the lamps. Discussions followed concerning public lighting by gas.
The horse chestnut tree
A horse chestnut tree, planted in 1818 and growing in the churchyard and overlooking the square, was, an object of civic pride. It was the gift of a Mr. William Rees, a tradesman living near. He is reputed to have kept a musket under his counter which he was readily prepared to use if he saw any signs of vandalism. His vigilance extended over twenty years; the tree flourished and became an object of great beauty.
The “iron road” or railway first reached Llandeilo in November 1856. It injected new life into the commercial and social activities of the town. Some saw the benefits for agriculture and for mineral industries. Others were prophets of doom. Railways were a menace to Wales; they said; Llandeilo would suffer: The railway would
annihilate the Welsh language that the hills and dales of Cambria have echoed for unknown centuries. Furthermore,
the people's manners and customs are to be almost at once and for ever forgotten. Others consoled themselves believing,
Manners may vary; but the Cymro will still be Cymro in passion, in feeling and in character.
The provisions market
The provision market was built [on Carmarthen Street in 1838] at the expense of A. J. Gulston Esq. of Derwydd. It served a wide area, particularly after railway development began. Previously, an open market had been held in Market Street. It extended to the back of Waterloo House. Butter and farm produce generally were sold there. Fish stalls were under the chestnut tree on the Church Square. Across the road were the shambles where cattle were slaughtered. Welsh flannel was sold at stalls in King Street. Corn and cheese were sold on the ground floor of the Shire Hall. The corn of the Towy Valley was renowned. Sir William Paxton, a shrewd financier, realised its worth. Early in the 19th century, he had plans for developing Milford Haven as a port. He intended to export from there to America, abundant supplies of corn from the Towy Valley.
The national schools
The history of Llandeilo, like that of ancient Egypt, is written in stone. Quarries of fine stone existed close at hand. Excellent craftsmen were nurtured in the area. The reputation of the stone masons spread afar. Men building the National Schools, opposite to the provision market, were cajoled to go to London by the contractors, Myers and Sons. They would be engaged in building a palatial house in St. James' Square for a Baron Rothschild. In a desire to see something of the world beyond their own parish, the men agreed. In the metropolis, however, the masons found themselves faced with a situation beyond their understanding. In modern terms they were faced with an industrial strike. The Llandeilo men were totally bewildered. At home, their work had been cemented with goodwill. Disillusioned, they put their tools into their kit-bags and set off for home. It took them twelve days to walk back to Llandeilo, resting a while on their journey at Gloucester They reached home safely, sadder but wiser men.
Development in the 19th century
The town’s cattle market was carved out of a quarry in 1905. Farmers in the district still refer to “Mart y cwar” [the quarry market] as distinct from the cattle market at Ffairfach. [Llandeilo’s cattle market is no more and the site is currently a housing development. The cattle mart just across Llandeilo bridge at Ffairfach is, however, still open for business]
The town in its modern form developed, in the main, at the close of the 19th century. Considerable sections of the land were sold at this period by the landed gentry to enterprising burgesses. Yeomen farmers in the neighbourhood became businessmen. They speculated in buildings. Commerce prospered.
When the century opened, Llandeilo was considerably smaller than it is now. A post fixed on what is now Central Square marked the end of the town. All below was rural.
Dwellings were clustered around the Church, in Church Street, King Street and Bridge Street. These were centres of commerce in the annual fairs. Cows were sold in Church Street and Bridge Street. Most of the houses in these streets had thatched roofs. Pigs were sold in King Street and Market Street. Horses were sold on the Carmarthen Road. Farm servants assembled on the Church Square and in front of the Bear (Cawdor) Inn, waiting to be hired on an annual basis by farmers and tradesmen. When a contract was agreed upon, the master gave the employee a shilling or half-a-crown. This was the “earn”, the outward visible sign of the agreement.
Visiting architects remark on the grace of the buildings in the town. Houses have been sited to follow the contours of the roads in their graceful curves. In general, the older houses are plain, dignified Georgian houses. This is particularly evident in the older streets. Neutral coloured messuages form a pleasing background to more pretentious buildings and to more spacious residences of warm and mellow Ruabon brick.
The names of the streets record in some measure the history of the town. Carmarthen Street, Bridge Street, Church Street are self-explanatory. At one time houses near the stone bridge carried the privilege whereby the householder could ply a coracle on the river. A great iron hook for hanging the coracle was fastened to the wall of the back-yard. This manifested special rights on the river. In 1885 salmon from the river Towy was hawked around the streets of Llandeilo at 4 pence a pound. Eggs were offered at 3 pence a dozen. Houses in the upper section of Bridge Street had spacious cellars. Householders had the right to brew and sell ale.
There were numerous wells in the town. The well in the grotto in Church Street was at one time called St. Teilo’s Baptistry. It was regarded as a healing well. It was used more generally for culinary purposes. As the water emanated from the churchyard wall, a local wag was inspired to write:
In puddings and pies and leek broth you'll find
The quintessence of mortals and swallow your kind
Carmarthen Street, leading from the provision market, was a busy thoroughfare. Moreover, the Shire Hall was situated in it, an important centre of administration. Manchester House (Smithfield) enjoyed a national reputation. It was renowned throughout Wales for the manufacture of the traditional tall Welsh beaver hat.
Rhosmaen Street serves as the main street. The name signifies “a moorland of stones”. For centuries a tall stone stood significantly at the top of the hill. The original plan was for a main street which was much wider. A tendency developed, however to build in a forward direction. This resulted in a main street much more narrow, flanked with wide arches and several intriguing cul-de-sacs.
Why is Rhosmaen Street like the River Thames? The riddle has been repeated by children of the town through the generations. The answer is obvious when one stands on the Church Square. There is a bank on each side.
The visit of the Hanoverian King George IV to the town is commemorated in the names King Street, George Hill and George Street. He rode through the town on a horse, dined at Dynevor Castle and then rode on to Carmarthen and Laugharne.
Landowners perpetuated their names when they sold land in the town. Stepney Road is linked with the Stepney Estate, Llanelli. Alan Road was named after Alan J. G. Gulston Esq. of Derwydd. Dirleton Terrace, once a section of Rhosmaen Street, carried the name of his estate in the English Midlands.
With the advance of bureaucracy the names of several terraces in the town have been obliterated. Much local colour has faded for the small terraces were designated after the families and homes of people who had invested in the building of the houses.
Talley Abbey in the neighbourhood was a Premonstratensian foundation. Monastic lands extended into the town; hence the name Abbey Terrace, and Ysgubor Abad - The Abbot's Granary, at one time a huge depository of corn and of produce, brought there by tenants to the Abbey authorities. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1533 the great bell of the Abbey had been taken away to Exeter Cathedral where, as “Great Tom”, it still rings curfew.
Quay Street is an anglicized misnomer; Heol-y-Cae led not to a quay but to a field [cae being the Welsh for field] and thence to a ford in the river, near the present railway bridge. It went by Dan-y-Graig, a foremost residence for many decades.
The south-eastern part of the town was developed as a residential area at the turn of the century. Houses were built on Cae’r Brodyr - the field of the Thomas Brothers. Many were built by the families of Messrs Williams, stone masons, and Jones Brothers, wheel wrights. The tradition of sound craftsmanship continued. A craftsman is a man who thinks with his hands. These men built in order to last. Cae’r Brodyr - and the name Y Cae still lingers. When the railway station was built, people who wished to travel by train avoided the long walk down past the town tannery and along the official Station Road. They went by a short “cut” along a footpath, from a point near the stone-cutter's yard in Rhosmaen Street through a field to the Railway Station. Hence the name Y Cae - the Field - for the area.
Latimer Road was named after a member of the Hughes family of Red House - Hugh Latimer Hughes. Its original name was Queen's Way, associated with the opening of the Drill Hall in Crescent Road to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Clarence Road was named after the monarch's eldest son, the Duke of Clarence. Clarendon Road bears the name of a 17th century statesman.
Blende Road is a reminder of the fact that a vein of pitch-blende passes through the town. Had this been an artery, the history of Llandeilo in the 20th century would have been very different. Mining operations were begun but the enterprise was short-lived. Houses for workmen were built on the nearby Slang - opposite the site of the County School. The term “slang” referred to marginal land, reserved by the squires to meet their debts at the gaming tables. In later years the site has been developed as a residential area.
New Road was true to its name in the second half of the 19th century. It developed from a lane leading to the upper part of the town. Heol Y Garreg Las, a recent housing estate, is a name which has a local geological meaning (Street of the blue rock). Diana Road bears the name of a member of the Dynevor family.
The policy of bilingualism has focussed attention on the original significance of the names of the streets.
In 1859 the 'town and village' of Llandeilo adopted the Local Government Act of 1858 under the Local Board. The first meeting of the Board was held on July 5 1859. Straightway the councillors undertook an enthusiastic policy in civic affairs. In 1862 negotiations began for the construction of a reservoir at Maesevan and the work of constructing and laying mains to the town was commenced. During the period 1874-78 practically the whole of the land owned by Alan Stepney-Gulston Esq. was sold and developed. In 1894 the Urban District Council was created under the Local Government Act of 1894. The first meeting of the Council was held on the 8 January 1895. This council too undertook an ambitious policy. In 1897 it obtained an additional water supply from the Baptistry at Llandyfan. In 1902 it set up its own electric power station and undertook to supply the town. In 1907-8 it purchased the cattle market. The first sales were held in 1908.
In 1974 there were widespread changes in local government. The region of Dyfed was founded and the town of Llandeilo was in incorporated in Dinefwr Borough Council. The Community Council is fully aware of its responsibilities.
[Note: in 1999 there was another reorganisation when Dinefwr Borough Council and Dyfed County Council were disbanded and the unitary authority of Carmarthenshire County Council created.]
In the past Llandeilo has been, in an economic sense, a market place for the surrounding rural district. Drastic changes in agriculture have resulted in the cancelling out of the sale of farm produce. Consequently the produce market, once so flourishing, has closed. A brisk trade exists in the two cattle markets, one centrally placed and accessible in the town and one in Ffairfach, the village beyond the bridge. Cattle sales are held at each on alternate Mondays and on specified dates throughout the year. [Note: the cattle market at Llandeilo is now closed.]
Unquestionably there are people deeply concerned with the commercial prosperity of the town, in the present and in the future. They see the need for enterprise within the town when the means of transit to larger markets at Carmarthen, Ammanford, Llanelli, Swansea and Haverfordwest are being rendered easy, rapid and comparatively cheap.
Civic leaders discuss the situation minutely. They realise the need to look forward. Progress is essential to thriving in these days of keen competition. Business in Llandeilo must not be stationary; it is essential to increase to its fullest extent the business capability of the locality, to make fullest use of the communications available
It is essential also to find profitable employment for the greatest number of people in the town. It would be a sound policy if these people were employed in the manufacture of every raw product sufficiently afforded by the locality and thereby they would supply wants which are at present imported from distant parts; technically speaking, efforts are essential to attain the maximum and minimum respectively in local exports and imports. Enterprise needs to be fostered. In the past there have been flourishing woollen mills and tanneries and a sound tradition in the malting trade. There are possibilities waiting exploration.
Employment is at the present time centred in shops, hotels and offices such as the Post Office and departments of the Local District Council. There is a local supply of people and there are commuters from the surrounding area. An engineering company has fortunately taken over the provision market and gives steady employment. [Unfortunately the former provision market is no longer occupied.]
The problems are many. The rural countryside is changing continually. An increasing population has brought with it, into a Welsh community, social, ethnological and cultural crises. Concomitant with these are problems of health, housing, transport, urban and rural reservoirs, lighting and recreational amenities - the demands are many. Policies have to co-ordinate with those of central government and expenditure has to be curtailed because of the economic recession. With the help of logical support and also in the face of adverse criticism, the democratic Dinefwr Borough Council is, with considerable skill, meeting the essential needs of Llandeilo and its neighbourhood.
The first reference to Llandeilo Fawr and Dinefwr is in Liber Landavensis, a compilation of deeds, documents, bills and letters concerning the diocese of Llandaff dating back to circa 1132. The boundaries of Llandeilo Fawr are given in Welsh, Old Welsh.
Geographically, Llandeilo Fawr was divided into seven commotes -- Manordeilo, Mabelfyw (district of Llanybydder); Pencader; Llanwrda to Cilycwm; Llanegwad-Llanfynydd-Llangathen; and Carmarthen-Abergwili-Nantgaredig and Conwil.
The Book of Llandaff gives a description of the parish of Llandeilo Fawr. There is a record of a dispute between the Bishops of Llandaff and of St. Davids for the possession of the parish church. A survey of the diocese compiled by the Chancellor of St. Davids in 1326 gives particulars of Llandeilo Fawr and of Llandyfeisant. The names of the jurors who gave information to Chancellor David Francis are recorded. The bishop had, at that time, the privilege of a fair to be held once a year on the feast of St. Barnabas the Apostle, that is, on June 11th. It lasted three days and the tolls and perquisites were worth twelve pence. A market was held every Saturday. The two institutions continued for centuries. The fair was known as “Ffair Gwyl Barna” [The Fair of the Festival of Barnabas]. It was held on June 11th; later, it was held on June 21st. The reason for the change of date was due to the loss of eleven days at the time of the reform of the calendar by Henry Pelham in 1752 when the Gregorian or continental calendar was substituted for the old Julian calendar.
The house of Dinefwr
The inhabitants of the town were the tenants of the Bishop and not of the lord of Dinefwr Castle. A distinction is recorded between the ville or villa of Llandeilo and the patria of Llandeilo, the country round about it.
Services to be rendered by the tenants to the bishop were varied. Among other dues they had to guard prisoners arrested in the area and escort them to Llangadog or to Llanegwad where they would be taken over by men dwelling in those places.
These services and dues were sacrosanct. Between the years 1218 and 1651 there was a long-standing and acrimonious dispute between Llandeilo and Dinefwr Castle concerning the supply of beer by the former to the latter.
Times were troublesome. In 1213 in the First Battle of Llandeilo, Rhys Ieuanc [Rhys the Younger] and his brother, Owen, gained possession of Dinefwr Castle from their uncle, Rhys Gryg [Rhys the Hoarse], who, in his retreat, burnt the town. Warfare was continuous. In 1257 there occurred the Second Battle of Llandeilo. A Norman army came from Carmarthen. It was defeated by the Welsh with the loss of 2,000 men. In 1295 Edward I during one of his campaigns in Wales camped at Cilsane. The area was in royal favour in 1363; the Black Prince granted a charter to Newtown (i.e. Y Dre Newydd) near Dynevor Castle. King Richard II confirmed this in 1394. In 1403 Owen Glyndwr passed through the town and burnt it to the ground. It was a particularly fierce campaign and it is recorded that the English Constables at Dynevor Castle and at Carreg Cennen Castle were very frightened. The feudal system prevailed and there was strong loyalty to the local barons. In 1485 the tenants of Sir Rhys ap Thomas joined him in the march to Bosworth.
The history of the House of Dynevor or Dinefwr is largely that of Welsh resistance to Norman power. There was also internecine war due to family feuds, intricacies of land tenure based on gavel-kind and traditional hatred to English, Flemish and Norman immigrants - “Y dynion dwad”.
The family of Dynevor traces its descent from Urien, the King of Reged, ruler over territory extending between the valleys of Neath and Tywi and including the cantrefs of Gower, Carnwallon and Kidwelly.
In 1072, Rhys ab Owen, grandson of Hywel Dda, successfully claimed the sovereignty of the House of Dinefwr. Internecine war was waged among the Welsh princes for decades. With the accession of Henry II in 1154 Lord Rhys returned to his domains. War broke out again and the succeeding years were records of battles, skirmishes, triumphs and raids of vengeance.
The Lord Rhys was a leading figure in Wales. Though most of his life was spent in warfare, he is honoured as a sound administrator and as a patron of Welsh culture. His name is associated with the establishing of the tradition of a National Eisteddfod and festival at Cardigan.
Sir Rhys ab Thomas
At the close of the 15th century, Sir Rhys ab Thomas of the House of Dinefwr led a powerful army from West Wales to Bosworth in Leicestershire. He rode his famous war-horse, Ceffyl Du Y Bacsey. In the battle King Richard III was defeated. Tradition maintains that he was slain by the hand of a Welsh nobleman. Then Time held its breath for many moments. Would the powerful baron, Sir Rhys, place the Crown (hidden conveniently in a nearby bush) - would he place it on his own head? Wisdom prevailed. Henry, Duke of Richmond, was proclaimed King Henry VII and the dynastic house of Tudor was established.
The monarch confirmed the possession of Dinefwr Castle to the loyal baron. King Henry VIII regained possession of the estate for the Crown. In later years it reverted to the family of Dynevor who have remained in possession to the present time. The present Lord Dynevor is a direct descendant of the ancient and illustrious family.
Dynevor Castle is situated on a rock above the river Towy. The modern castle is nearby. The old castle was built by the princes of Deheubarth as their principal residence. The keep, the towers, apartments and stairways remain. Plans are being made for the restoration of the old fortress.
Dynevor Park is an area of exceptional beauty. A herd of ancient white cattle grazed there. There was a tradition of sending one of the ravens of Dynevor to the Tower of London when one of the ravens there died. Scottish fir trees were planted on the park to commemorate the Jacobite rising of 1745 and oak trees were planted to commemorate marriages. The Rt. Hon. George Talbot Rice employed the eminent gardener, “Capability” Brown to improve the park. It is said that, after a fortnight, the gardener returned to the castle and said,
My lord, Nature has done so much for your park that it has left no room for improvement.
A section of the park was presented to the town to serve as an amenity this is known as Penlan Park, Newtown.
The Middle Ages
Marked changes occurred in the history of Llandeilo at this period. Time helps to give a clearer perspective of confused events. It becomes apparent that two towns existed. The Llan was sited much on the land of the present town; there was also the separate ‘new town’ - Newtown - near Dynevor Castle. The latter had the status of a bwrdeisdref or borough. In 1363 it was granted a charter by the Black Prince. Spasmodic rivalry arose between the two settlements. By the 16th century Newtown had lost much of its prestige and it was designated as merely a manor. Some remains are discernible near Dynevor Castle.
The feudal system and the accompanying economy characteristic of the Norman Conquest prevailed. Cognisant of its natural strategic position, the Normans made the town a centre of administrative and social life. When marcher lords took possession of wide districts, the royal sovereigns preserved Llandeilo in their own interest. There was never a move to make it a capital town for a marcher lord; it was assigned a higher status. It developed into a focal centre where in neighbouring lordships were administered in the interests of the Crown.
Dispute, aggression and warfare characterised the history of Dynevor Castle inflamed by family feuds and the Celtic tradition of division of land by the law of gavelkind [whereby each legitimate son inherited an equal portion]. There existed also the bitter rivalries between Normans, Flemings and English and there continued a deep-seated hatred of the native Welsh against the immigrants, ‘Y dynion dwad’. Medieval documents record the story. The records of the 13th century are more minute than those of the 12th. They reveal the growing and finally the permanent establishment of English influence. This turbulent period was replaced by a state of tranquillity in the reign of Edward I. The dominance of the old Welsh castles however remained. Edward gave this priority in his Welsh policy. Consequently Dynevor Castle was the principal administrative centre of West Wales during the 14th and 15th centuries.
The Wars of the Roses
During the Wars of the Roses, Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, mustered an army of fourteen thousand Welshmen in West Wales. When he reached Llandeilo-fawr, a special service was held in the parish church. The earl made his will on the altar, thus ensuring its validity. He reserved four hundred marks for himself in order to meet his expenses. Prayers were said and then the great Earl led the way to Banbury. Lord Strafford, at the head of eight hundred bowmen, joined him. A dispute arose between the leaders concerning lodgings and the fiery Welshman hazarded a battle. On the next day, at Danesmore, while fighting bravely with a pole-axe, the Earl of Pembroke was beheaded. Many of the men of the Towy Valley who had worshipped with him in Llandeilo church also perished in the battle.
Tudor and Stuart times
Information concerning the life of the town during the Tudor period and during the early years of the Stuart dynasty is obtainable from the writings of the Welsh bards.
The wool staple
Carmarthen was the wool staple for Wales. Llandeilo, situated only fifteen miles away, in the centre of a rich agricultural valley, enjoyed a measure of reflected glory. Lewis Glyn Cothi wrote ecstatically of the floods in the Vale of Towy. He gloried in their splendour. There were but few fords across the river. One of marked importance existed at Llandeilo. The coracle was a vessel much in use. Lewis Glyn Cothi was troubled about its frailty. He ends one of his poems with an earnest prayer that a bridge be built over the River Towy “in his own life-time.”
Agriculture was the main means of subsistence. Fluctuations in crops caused distress. Plagues were common, following on famine. The grain crop was all-important. Carmarthen was a prosperous grain port.
George Owen records that in 1602 there were seven inland market towns in the shire of Carmarthen. In his Brief Account of Wales, he says that the seven authorized markets were at Llandeilo, Carmarthen, Llandovery, Llangadog, Llanelli, Kidwelly and Laugharne. In these there was a total of thirty-nine annual fairs.
Commercial and social life
Commercial and social life centred around these fairs. At Llandeilo, as elsewhere, turmoil arose readily and there were many problems concerning the maintenance of public order. Magistrates had to deal with piracy which affected inland as well as coastal towns. Privateers from the Bristol Channel travelled far inland. Farmers in the Towy Valley complained bitterly about the loss of sheep. The writings of Ieuan Derlwyn, William Egwad and Vicar Prichard as well as those of Lewis Glyn Cothi give information concerning the social conditions pertaining at the time. Much of Vicar Prichard's work belongs to post-Tudor times but it can be assumed that changes came but slowly to the Towy Valley. The cleric's writings are suffused with local colour. A margin - possibly a wide one - must be allowed for his denunciation of contemporary evils and allowance made for his reforming zeal.
He wrote in simple Welsh in order to be understood. The vernacular Bible had appeared in 1588 but copies were rare and costly. Moreover, the populace, in general, was illiterate. The reforming vicar maintained that the daughters of an English tinker were better educated than the daughters of a Welsh squire.
He denounced fiercely non-observance of the Sabbath day, the laxity of the clergy and popish doctrines.
The guild system
At this time there were rigid stratas of society. Members of the artisan class were controlled by the rules of the guild system. This had a stronghold in the borough town of Carmarthen. The rules and regulations obtaining there reached out to contemporary life in Llandeilo.
The guild system contributed much to civic life, ensuring public order and harmonious living. Traffic problems of the time came under its scrutiny. In order to prevent undue crowding in narrow streets,
All persons resorting to the market-place with horses laden with any kinde of victuals, corne, grayne, coales, truffles or any other manner of lading … must after the discharging thereof, avoid the streets and not stand and pester about.
Bailiffs exacted tolls which were fixed definitively. There were additional fines for non-compliance.
Magistrates sorted out troubles caused by the diversity of weights in use. Direct breaches of the law were treated with considerable severity.
Preserving the peace was a foremost priority. It is significant that the early type of watchman, the forerunner of the policeman, was called a “heddgeidwad” - the keeper of the peace.
Excitement and passion rose at election time. Public voting at hustings in the church square drew great crowds. Careful measures were taken beforehand to maintain the peace. Ale houses in the town - and there were many - were under strict watch. Several rules were made for election day.
No citizen or any other person shall make any clamorous disturbance or turmoil or lifting up of any person on his or their shoulders or backs.
All burgesses were -
to yield their voices in quiet, honest and decent sorte whensoever they wished.
Sabbatarianism was creeping in. There were complaints that during divine service there was too much walking about in the churchyard. There were further complaints that innkeepers in the town were allowing people
to sit tippling within the same during divine service.
Fines were imposed for such “lewd conduct”.Authority was given to the church wardens to “have very good regard to the imposition of these fines” otherwise they would be fined themselves.
The Civil War - 17th century
During the period of civil war in Stuart times, the neighbour hood in general was royalist in sympathy. William Nicholson, a vicar at Llandeilo, received his reward with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. He was made Bishop of Gloucester.
To the peace and tranquillity of Golden Grove came Jeremy Taylor after a period of imprisonment in Cardigan Castle. It was there that he wrote his book, destined to become a classic, Holy Living and Holy Dying.
Many distinguished people visited the town in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some recorded their impressions of Llandeilo and their observations are of value as historical sources.
In 1684 Thomas Dineley accompanied the Duke of Beaufort through the Towy Valley. He wrote of the town but in some measure he confuses it with Llandovery.
From Brecknock to Golden Grove is 28 miles or thereabouts, whereof from Penypont to the market town of LLANDIVOUREY or LLANDILOAWRE in Carmarthenshire makes 14 miles more, where his Grace was treated at dinner. In which town and the avenue to it (from the top of the hill wee came down) for about an English mile, the roads and streets were strewn with rushes.
Hence it is about eleven miles to Golden Grove, within a mile and a half of which in your approach to the left hand top of an hill are seen the RUINES of a CASTELL and seat of a Prince of Wales.
In the church at LLANDEILOAWRE is seen a gravestone carrying the rimes following:
VNDER this thing
LYES John for the King
Who in TRVETH and Verement
Did Hate the Parliament
But for the KING
He is as TREW as a SUN DYALL
In the next century, Sir Thomas Gray Cullum visited Llandeilo. In 1775 he wrote:
The mud houses of the people of these parts are of the most wretched construction. The walls do not consist of mud and plaster but are entirely of earth, and that not of straw wrought up with it, but with sometimes a layer of stones.
John Wesley noted in his diary, July 12, 1777:
We dined at Llandeilo. After dinner, we walked in Mr. Rees’ park, one of the pleasantest I ever saw; it was as finely watered by the winding river, running through it and round the gently rising hills. Near one side of it, on the top of a high eminence is the old castle, a venerable pile, at least as old as William the Conqueror and majestic though in ruins
Mrs. Morgan of Ely wrote of Llandeilo in 1791 in her Tour of Milford Haven.
The inn at Llandoverey is a bad one but the people are very civil. The road from hence hither (to Llandeilo) is good and very beautiful. I begin now to be somewhat familiarized with mountains.
I thought the town of Llandovery a miserable one but this of Llandeilo much worse. I never saw a place which had a more deplorable appearance. The streets, if so they may be called, are narrow and dirty and half-paved with stones, the sharp ends upwards.
The houses are built from a kind of stone; but it is of so crumbling nature that they appear to be falling into a decay.
The inhabitants are very decent in their manners and in their outward semblance; they do not seem fit tenants for such wretched dwellings.
Twenty-eight years later Captain Jenkin Jones of the Royal Navy passed through the neighbourhood and recorded his impressions.
Sunday May 16 1819
Went into Lord Dynevor's grounds at Llandeilo with which I think I was better pleased than even with Sir J. Hamlyn's at Clovelly.
Nature has most lavishly spread about it her most diversified beauties and the owner has displayed great taste in the arrangement of the walks. The old castle is a most beautiful object on top of a hill decorated with the finest trees from oaks as old as the river itself to young birch, beech etc. of perhaps thirteen years' growth.
Thomas Jenkins' Diary
Thomas Jenkins, Llandeilo Fawr, Carmarthenshire died there on the 1st October 1871 aged 58 years. He kept a diary from the year 1826 to the close of his life. He was a great walker and his observations on life in Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire are of considerable historical value. Of particular interest are his annotations on people and events in Llandeilo.
[Eirwen Jones includes several entries from the diary of Thomas Jenkins. A larger selection can be found elsewhere in this website, so we have omitted her choice of entries.]
Coaches and routes
Llandeilo, on the coach road from Brecon to West Wales and also to South Wales, drew many travellers in the 18th and early 19th century.
Before 1815 the two mainline coaches were:
- from London via Gloucester, Brecon and Llandeilo to Carmarthen.
- from London to Bristol, Swansea and Pontardulais to Carmarthen.
There were of course lesser routes. The main coaches were The Royal Mail and The Picton.
First-class travellers journeyed in some form of comfort within the coach; second-class travellers rode on top of the coach and were obliged to descend and walk up the hills. Third class travellers were poised in a basket contrivance at the back of the coach. They had to push the conveyance up the hills. Fares averaged six pence per mile.
The town of Llandeilo had many inns, providing accommodation for travellers and stabling for horses. At the Six Bells in Bridge Street, the renowned interlude writer, Twm o’r Nant resided. Dialogue plays were very popular in the 18th century.
Other inns in the town were the Boot and Shoe, the White Lion and the Red. The George Inn, later to become a Vicarage, had a wide straw-thatched roof. The Petty Sessions were held there and dances were held there on all fair nights.
The Bear Inn
The present day Cawdor Arms stands on the site of the old Bear Inn. The long room over the stables was a social centre. Election banquets were held there. “Strolling vagabonds” enacted plays. Famous actors performed. They included Mathews and Kean and the renowned Sarah Siddons from the Leg 0' Mutton, Brecon. “Mine host”, Bostock of the Bear, was himself an outstanding character, likened to John Bull in speech and appearance.
It was in the Bear Inn that the Wesleyan cause was first started in Llandeilo. Between the years 1763 and 1765 John Wesley paid several visits to Carmarthenshire. He and his brother Charles made frequent preaching tours in Wales. Romance hastened Charles' footsteps. Later he married Miss Mary Gwynne of Garth, a member of the Glanbran family. In 1806 the efforts of the Wesleyans were blessed. On a plot of ground near the Bear Inn, they set up a chapel. As membership grew, they built a chapel in Latimer Road, near the site of a stone quarry. Stones from this quarry were then used to build fine houses in the immediate neighbourhood.
The Baptist cause in the town was, by tradition, started in an inn in Bridge Street, the Half Moon. The leaders of organised religion in those days saw nothing incongruous in preaching the gospel under the roof-tree of an inn.
The coach roads served as an artery of communication for leaders of Methodism. An Association of Calvinistic Methodism was held in Llandeilo in 1811. This led to the establishment of a new denomination. Eleven preachers were ordained in the presence of leading personalities, including Thomas Charles and David Charles and also William Williams, Pantycelyn.
The inns contributed much to the commercial and civic life of the town. “Mine host” was very concerned about the comfort of the travellers. He took pride in providing good meals and comfortable beds. Good stabling was also a perquisite.
When the coach clattered into the inn yard, there was a stir and a clatter inside the inn as well as outside it. The dangers of the journey were forgotten. The weary traveller was welcomed into a comfortable room and - if it was winter - to a blazing fire.
The food in the dining room was good. Here was condensed the fat of the land, the best that the Towy Valley could yield. None of your dieting here - but steaming joints of meat, poultry, a brace of pheasants and a whole ham. Plum pudding followed and through out the meal, the traveller was expected to take second and even third helpings as expressions of goodwill to the host. Fruit from the inn garden came next - and the total bill? According to an old account book of 1891 it was one shilling and ninepence. A florin was handed to the charming dark-eyed maid and she was told to keep the change. The food left over in the dining room was taken to the vast kitchens at the back of the inn and kept warm in great ovens. To the back door of the inn would come later many of the inhabitants of the town to buy the surplus food cheaply. Peddlers and tramps would also come and also, perhaps, a gang of “navvies”. These were employed in building a railway embankment. This was ironic for the coming of the railway was to seal the doom of the roadside inn.
The Rebecca riots
During the stirring days of the 1840s, when the Rebecca Riots enlivened West Wales, a troop of Queen Victoria's Light Dragoons was stationed at Llandeilo. They were billeted, in the main, in the Bear Inn, the George Inn and at The White Hart. For almost two years they brought glamour and colour to the district as they rode around on their white horses, dressed in scarlet uniforms and with plumed helmets. They brought excitement to the rural scene even if they failed to give efficient military protection.
The drovers made the inns their headquarters. Avoiding the coach roads, they travelled cross-country. Driving their great herds, they marked their routes, not by maps, but by conspicuous clumps of trees growing on heights such as that at the summit of Penlan Park , Grongar Hill and other landmarks in the Towy Valley.
Some kind of banking system, such as we know it today, became established in Wales in the 18th century. The bank notes displaying the Black Ox of David Jones' Bank of Llandeilo and of Llandovery circulated afar; Inns bearing the name of the Black Ox existed in each town.
The sign of the Black Ox was symbolic of the drovers. In the 18th century, the drovers were “the financial ships of the economic sea”. They were foremost personalities in the annual fairs. They served as essential links between trading towns. Cattle were driven from West Wales to London, to the south-eastern counties and also to the English Midlands. There were appointed forges on the routes where the cattle were shod. These forges and the fields where the cattle rested were endowed with grandiose names, such as Glan Thames [Thameside] and Llundain Fach [Little London] - names which have clung tenaciously to homesteads to the present day.
Early banking systems
Cattle-droving was responsible work. The cattle represented a considerable part of a farmer’s investments. He entrusted them to the drover with but little apparent security. The cattle were allowed to graze and fatten for a few days after their long journey and before they were delivered. The drover had thus concomitant expenses and responsibilities. Trustworthiness was an essential characteristic of a good drover. A dishonest man could fabricate an account of a robbery or an accident on the highway and the farmer would be obliged to accept his tale.
Each drover was licensed annually by the state, according to an Act of Queen Elizabeth. The licence had to be applied for at the Great Sessions of the county in which the drover had resided for three years. To qualify for such a licence, he had to be a married man, above the age of thirty, and he had to be a householder.
The social value of the drovers was considerable. They had news to relate, new ideas to express, new fashions to describe. They had new songs to sing; many of the popular folk songs made their way into Wales by way of the drover's whistle and the song of the road.
Merchants saw in the drovers a convenient way of handing over their money to creditors in different places. A rough and ready system was evolved whereby the drover left at home the cash he received and paid the creditors out of the money he received for the cattle when he delivered them. In this way losses due to accidents and robberies were reduced. Drovers handling large sums of money did not bury their talents of gold but used them to bring forth increase. They established private banks; they invested in land in Llandeilo and in its neighbourhood; they built fine residences and contributed towards the growing civic life of the town.
The history of the banks in Carmarthenshire shows them to have been remarkably prosperous. Those of David Jones of Llandovery and of Morris of Carmarthen started as family enterprises. Descendants of the families established banks also at Lampeter and at Llandeilo. In 1909 Lloyds Bank bought the goodwill of these private banks and the privately-owned banks of West Wales terminated.
19th century - the gentry
The existence of good roads contributed in the late 19th century to make Llandeilo a social as well as an agricultural and social centre. Many a squire in the district kept a town house. Among them were Hill House, Prospect House, Bryn Amlwg and residential houses of substance in King Street, Upper Church Street and Dirleton Terrace. Like Bath and Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells, Llandeilo had in the winter months its “little season”. The squirearchy found a happy escape in the town, away from the drab isolation of life in the country. It would require the pen of Jane Austen and the pencil of a Hogarth to describe the social scene adequately in all its many nuances.
A high proportion of the squires were Englishmen who had married Welsh wives of good estate. The squirearchy formed a class apart from the Welsh nation. They lived in manor houses which were isolated. These had been developed from substantial farmhouses and improved, according to the taste of the time, with Victorian encrustations. Though alien in culture and in speech, the squires lived at peace with their neighbours and with their tenants. Many had had a formal training in the law and they devoted much time to the management of their estates. There existed between master and man a close, family bond which served the age in which it was forged and which compares favourably with subsequent systems which have been evolved.
Ann Beale and Llandeilo
19th Century eye-witness
Anne Beale, writer and governess, resided in the town in the mid 19th century. In Traits and Stories of the Welsh peasantry (Published Routledge, Soho, London 1849) and in her novels such as Seven Years for Rachel she wrote her observations of the people, places and things she saw around her.
When I came hither, I was struck by the loveliness of the country as well as by the character, manners and language of its primitive inhabitants.
I enter at once upon Wales. Certainly it is a lovely country, I thought as we passed through every diversity of home scenery. In the green vallies, rich in pasture, the native black cattle and the far-famed Welsh sheep were feeding while they dotted the countryside also with black and white.
I had not expected to be so much “at home” as I felt myself when I reached my journey's end nor had I anticipated the warmth and friendliness of manner that characterises the Welsh who are neither distant nor cold but easily approachable - the cordiality of the Welsh, like their mountain streams, gushes forth at once and you are delighted with its freshness. They are very hospitable moreover and welcome you by deeds as well as words to their friends.
There is humour as well as shrewd observation in her description of the Llandeilo of her day.
Our town, though of considerable importance in this part of the world might at first glance be taken by many an assuming person as a village. A town however it is, containing several streets, dignified by different names such as Carmarthen Street, High Street and the like. As there is not the slightest danger of your losing your way, amongst their mazes, you at first rather wonder, why these streets are named at all.
You enter at one end of the town drive straight through and go out at the other end. On your right you see one little street branching off and on your left another of larger dimension, whilst houses surround the church, both upon the hill and at its base. There are one or two more detached streets or lanes but “as everybody knows everybody”, why should they all be named?
Let us look at the shop doors and we shall see.
Surnames - There we see John James, William James and a host of Jones's Lewis Lewis, Daniel Lewis and twenty other Lewis-es; Griffey Gruffiths, Thomas Griffiths and an incalculable number of Griffiths-es. There are Thomas-es, Williams-es, Davies-es and Shenkins without end. Two or three families of the same name live next door to each other, one selling haberdashery, another meat and a third gingerbread. Half-a-dozen Jones-es may dwell in the same house and as many Evans-es may dine at the same table, yet all be totally unconnected with each other. Without names to the streets therefore, the post master would find considerable difficulty in knowing to which of the one hundred Jones-es, Jenkins or Evans-es he must send the different letters and a stranger in discovering the particular Mr, Mrs or Miss Rees he came to visit. Imagine a billet-doux addressed to a fair young lady opened by an old maid, or a secret back-biting correspondence falling into the hands of the object of it. The consequence might be anything but agreeable to the parties concerned…
Nothing is more amusing than to hear the place of residence, profession or trade, added not only to his own name but to that of his wife and daughters. Not infrequently, a nickname is used to distinguish a person, which becoming habitual has an equally strange effect.
Well, Betty!says Mary Patch,where are you going with that note?
Oh!replies Betty, all importance,I've got to carry it to Mrs. Thomas, the Captain, from Mrs. James, the doctor.Betty confidently insinuates that there's a party going to be for Mr and Mrs. Jones, the lawyer who are staying at Mr. James the doctor’s and notes have been sent to Miss Price, the clergyman, Mrs Rotherch, the curate, Mr, Mrs and Miss Lewis Davies, Llansannan and she didn't know who besides.
Llandeilo town was to Anne Beale’s eyes compact and firm. It was a town of clustering houses. A lush green countryside extended generously beyond it in all directions. Interest centred on the church which gave the town its name. Its square tower stood firmly facing the four winds, surmounted by a shining brass weathercock. The church was massive, of dressed stone, standing in a churchyard peculiar in itself in that a busy road dissected it. The grave-yards were as yet verdant. Grassy mounds marked the graves. The greensward was interspersed with imposing stone memorials. By-paths between wicket gates intersected both the upper and lower churchyard. In the midst of life we are in death, must have been an ever-constant thought.
Anne Beale wrote of what she saw before her. The details of her observations are valuable to the later historian:
Country folk - We will follow this troop of Welsh women fresh from market. How well they ride! They sit their horses so squarely and comfort ably, as if they were in an easy chair. No wonder the French were alarmed into a retreat from the Welsh coast at the sudden approach of a phalanx of Welsh women in their red cloaks and shawls.
The steady old horse looks well-laden and certainly is well covered. Poor beast! The tips of his ears and his tail with a portion of his legs and his feet are alone visible on one side.
In front sits a jolly farmer's wife, with a round face and a broad hat. Each cheek is armed with a very stiff cap, the border of which meet under the chin. A scarlet cloak falls from her shoulders and almost covers part of her steed; beneath the cloak a striped petticoat of coarse woollen material reaches nearly to her shoes which are very substantial and if they do not shape, at least protect the feet they contain. One hand indifferently holds the bridle, the other grasps with care a huge basket, evidently loaded with the marketings. The dame disdains a whip or the horse requires none, as he jogs on at a steady, untiring pace.
Behind, on the same horse, sits a well-looking girl about eighteen, the age at which Welshwomen mature into prettiness. There is no more attention to appearance observable in her costume. Her rounded figure is shrouded by no cloak but a neat crimson handkerchief is pinned tightly over her shoulder and as the loose outer skirt of her gown falls back, it reveals a petticoat of fine material, striped with red.
Open your eyes, O ye beauties of Hyde Park! and behold this respectable damsel sitting composedly beside her mother, on a horse whose paces I should fancy, are none of the easiest, without even that ancient English accommodation, for riding double, a pillion.
Anne Beale’s writings, her sketches and stories, made Wales, and in particular, the Towy Valley, known to a wider public and this at a time when Wales had a strong tourist appeal, especially to travellers on horse-back. The coast of the Principality was generally known but the rural hinterland was undiscovered country. Unknown to her she did much good by recording Welsh scenes and customs.
Details of population are difficult to certify owing to different interpretations of the area known as Llandeilo.
1801 population: 647
1831 population: 1,269 (greater than Cardiff).
Census of 1891 Llandeilo Fawr
- Infants under 2 years
- People speaking English only
- 926 (4.7%)
- People speaking Welsh only
- 13,327 (68.6%)
- People speaking both Welsh and English
- 5,151 (26.5%)
- People speaking other languages
- 1984 Borough of Dinefwr
Llandeilo has enjoyed a high status as an administrative centre since the early Middle Ages.
An important event of the 19th century was Y Lecsiwn Fawr - the Great Election - held in 1802. It lasted eleven days.
The candidates were Sir William Paxton of Middleton Hall and Sir James Hamlyn Williams of Edwinsford.
There were six polling booths erected in the upper churchyard and one for the sheriff. The result of the poll was
- Sir J. H. Williams
- Sir W. Paxton
Several people from Llandeilo were summoned to London on a “scrutiny” of the votes but the result was in favour of Williams. The Election and the scrutiny proved expensive.
There was much native sympathy for Williams, a member of the local gentry and a representative of the “establishment”.
Sir William Paxton was a more colourful and ambitious personality. He was a London financier who had made a fortune in India. He lived in Middleton Hall near Llanarthney and had a town house, Belle Vue, in Llandeilo. He is said to have entertained the poet Wordsworth here.
His supporters created a riot when the result of the election was announced and Sir William appealed - unsuccessfully - against the result. He had promised, when electioneering, to build a bridge over the Towy if he were returned to Parliament. In later years he built Paxton's Tower, a well-known landmark, to commemorate the victory of Nelson at Trafalgar. The official name of the building is Nelson's Tower but it is generally known as Paxton's Tower.
The cost of the election to Sir William Paxton amounted to £15,690 4s 2d. Details of expenses incurred include:
- No of Breakfasts to voters etc
- No of Dinners
- No of Suppers
- Gallons of Ale
- Bottles of Spirits
- Bottles of Sherry
- Bottles of Cider
- Cost of Milk Punch
- Bottles of Porter
- Bottles of Sherry
- Bottles of Cider
- Cost of horses employed
- Cost of ribbons
Besides, other smaller items.
[The pound was worth £40.04 in 1802 compared to its value today (Bank of England figure). Paxton would have to pay out £628,236 to voters if the election were held now.]
There was much general dissatisfaction following on the election result. More riots followed and it is recorded that the rope bells in the church tower were cut.
An election held on the 12th day of June 1857 was conducted with a greater show of law and order. David Pugh Esquire of Manorfabon, Llandeilo was elected without opposition.
Influence of the feudal system
The town has always owed much of its existence to the fact that it was on a site of the River Towy where it could be forded. The townspeople were dependent in the main on agriculture in its many manifestations. Feudalism in a weakened form prevailed long after its strength had waned in the country generally. The townspeople were of Welsh descent but in an economic sense they were dependent on the landed squires. Many of these were Welsh by birth but they were alien in tongue, in culture and in general sympathy. They regarded the native Welsh as ignorant peasantry to be kept in subjection. They had a policy of appointing Scottish and English people to administrative posts and granting them the better houses and lodges on their estates. The Welsh people, freeborn, refused to be come a subdued peasant class and consequently an unsympathetic element arose. Civility but not servility was preferred to the squire class. Two world wars swept away stratas of class distinction.
Craftsmanship of various kinds flourished in the town. Craftsmen by nature and occupation formed a valuable and independent element. In the closing decades of the 19th century there existed a flourishing boot and shoe industry. There was a ready market for the products especially among the miners of the Rhondda Valley. Thomas & Sons manufactured shoes in Rhosmaen Street - opposite the Cawdor Arms. The works extended into Abbey Terrace. About forty men and women were employed. In later years the firm was known as “The Sons”. The works closed towards the middle of War I but many of the skilled shoe-makers remained in the town as shoe-repairers.
A contemporary industry was, very appropriately, a stocking factory. This was at the top of New Road. In later years the building was a cinema. It was, in effect, an early feminist enterprise. A woman managing director employed about thirty-six women from South Wales, Lancashire and Scotland. They made stockings for men and for women. The products found a ready sale in fairs. The factory closed down in 1911.
A brewery gave employment to a number of men in a fine stone building with double-sashed windows in Rhosmaen Street. A section of this had a remarkable “crotch” roof. The building became an agriculture store of some repute but this fine landmark has since been demolished. The water of Llandeilo was declared by experts to be superior to that of Burton-on-Trent for purposes of brewing.
An enterprising milk factory at Ffairfach gave employment to men and women in the second and third decades of the 20 th century. At the close of World War II this was removed to Llangadog [which itself closed in 2005].
The Celt is by nature not commercially minded. The citizens of Llandeilo have from time to time averted their eyes from enterprise. The town has not responded to approaches for commercial development. A considerable percentage of the citizens are retired people. Contentment, lethargy and a measure of affluence have militated against commercial development in the past.
Industries listed in 1894
Copper and lead blende near Station Road. Capt. Griffiths, an early manager, came from North Wales. He lived in a house where the Principality building is in Rhosmaen Street. He lost money on the enterprise and left the town and went to live in Machynlleth. He came back and settled all his debts. The ore was trucked to copper and lead refineries.
Stocking Factory. This was kept by David Williams in New Road. About a hundred women were employed. The owner emigrated to Canada.
Thomas & Sons, Boot factory in Rhosmaen Street. Situated opposite the Cawdor Arms.
Woollen Factory at Drefach, Trapp.
Glove Factory in Church Street at Pyllau, opposite the well and below the Gwndwn.
Flour Mills at Court Henri, Cilsan, Llandyfan, Gurrey, Rhosmaen, Tregib and Love Lodge.
Malt Houses at Canton House, the Walk House, Penybanc and in an old building near Bank House and Rhosmaen Street.
Wheat Market in the Shire Hall.
Meat Market. Market Street and Carmarthen Street.
Brick Works at Golden Grove, Gurrey Manor and Glan Thames.
Tan Yards at Rhosmaen village; Station Road (burnt down 1923) Cilsan; near Bridge Farm and stone bridge.
The earliest reference to a school in Llandeilo is in a document dated 1316. The inhabitants of the town objected to a demand by the constable of Dynevor Castle for beer at the rate of 8 gallons for 6 pence. In this document there is a reference to Trefscoleygon, the “township of the scholars”. The scholars' quarters were usually associated with the parish church, the vicar serving as headmaster.
In the 17th century a school was kept at Newtown, in the neighbourhood of the present mansion. Young men were prepared for the universities by one Thomas Wyatt, William Nicholson, vicar of Llandeilo and Jeremy Taylor, the royalist, seeking refuge in Golden Grove, and author of Holy Living and Holy Dying.
In the 18th century, many schools were held in private houses. These were arranged by the celebrated vicar of Llanddowror, the Rev. Griffith Jones. These were the ‘Circulating Schools’. Among those recorded are:
- 55 (1748-9)
- 80 (1756-7)
- 55 (1748-9)
- 64 (1764-5)
- 63 (1764-65)
- Night School
- 12 (1765-6)
- Heol y Bont, Llandeilo
- 41 (1772-3)
- Night School, Llandeilo
- 55 (1772-3)
The Report of the Commissioners of Enquiry 1886 into the state of education in Wales recorded that Llandeilo was a large parish with six schools “for the poor” and that there were five schools for “a class somewhat above the reach of the poor”. In the environs of the town there was a school at Penybanc supported chiefly by the Rev. Herbert Williams of Llwynhelig, another at Taliaris supported by the Misses Peel and one at Cwmifor held in the Baptist Chapel.
Lord Dynevor’s School, according to the report was
scrupulously neat and clean …and kept by a mistress who understood Welsh imperfectly.
Mr. Roger's School received condemnation. It was kept at the back of a draper's shop.
Mr. R. had no control on the children and is plainly unfit to keep a school.
The Dame School in Church Street. This was held upstairs in a dwelling house.
The teacher is a helpless old woman with ten young children, most of them at ½d a week. They were all present at the inspection. They could not answer any questions. Signed William Morris Nov. 6 1886.
Mr. Jones' School. This was a private school of a higher standard than usual. The master had been at Carmarthen Grammar School and later at Lampeter and Cambridge but never taken a degree.
Tabernacle Sunday School.
Everything in Welsh. Those classes which can read with tolerable fluency are in the habit of beginning at the 1st chapter of Genesis and reading straight through the Bible to the last chapter of Revelations.
There were a number of schools providing education for girls in the last quarter of the 19th century. A school was kept by the Misses Fisher in Market Street. Miss Anne Beale who had been a governess in Llwynhelig decided to open a school in Abbey Terrace. She advertised for pupils; she was prepared to instruct young ladies but they had to be above the tradesmen's class. No response came. After waiting several weeks, she lowered her flag. She opened her school on a more democratic basis and contributed effectively to the general education of young women in the town.
Belle Vue and Bank House School. Belle Vue near the Post Office is a house in the characteristic Georgian architecture. It has many interesting associations. Vaughan Wilkins, the historical novelist, has written of the family associations of the people who lived there with the Peels of Taliaris, a branch of the family of Sir Robert Peel. In the book And So Victoria, the novelist has given an illuminating account of Llandeilo in the 19th century, describing the town, the roads and the workhouse. There is some historical evidence that Sir Thomas Paxton was associated with Belle Vue and that the poets Wordsworth and Shelley stayed there.
In the late 19th century the Misses Lewis kept a school in Belle Vue and at Bank House. Their father owned the prosperous brewery in Rhosmaen Street. On his death, they turned to other spiritual inspiration and gave religious instruction and offered a wide curriculum, including the three R’s, music, drawing and embroidery to the daughters of the town and its vicinity. Some of their pupils had already received some instruction in the National School at the top of the town or in one of the dame schools. The school of Miss Evans the Lamb was in a cottage at the back of the present-day post office. The Lamb referred to the dame's residence, not to her nature, as her pupils were ever ready to testify. Another dame school was kept by Miss Morgan-the-Kiss who lived in a lane above Bridge Street. The “Kiss” referred to a sweet or confection given as a reward to a good child.
Abbey House School. When Bank House School closed, many of the pupils were transferred to Abbey House School in Abbey Terrace. The principals were the Misses Mary and Rosa McArthur. Boarders were accommodated. The curriculum and conditions were in the best traditions of Bank House. The school flourished for two busy decades with a considerable measure of success. Equipment, methods and general conditions of school life have changed much and rapidly in subsequent years but it is fair to say that, according to its time, Abbey House achieved much. A premium was placed on grace and gentleness, the worth of which is enhanced in times which knows their lack. A past pupil, old and rich in wide experience of life evaluating the education given there said much in little, “Like Niagra Falls, it was not to be despised.”
Private education gave way to the state schools. Interest in formal education was already strong. It had been an adjunct of the religious revival in Wales dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Several private “academies” flourished in the town. There were two in New Road and one in Bank Terrace. Many of the students attending these specialised in theology. From these preparatory schools they went to colleges in Carmarthen and elsewhere.
Thomas Jenkins in his diary relates the interest shown in adult education and the interest taken in science and engineering. A Mechanics Institution was opened in 1843.
The County School
The County School Education Act resulted in the establishment of the County School. There was very considerable debate forming a prelude to its coming. The landed gentry were bitterly averse to the education of the children of the middle classes, fearing that they would be “educating their masters”. The project was discussed in a fierce debate in the Shire Hall. The opposition maintained that the ordinary townsfolk would not be able to finance and maintain such a venturous scheme. Liberal and advanced thought had a leader in the Rev. Thomas Davies of the Walk. Leading tradesmen in the town including the Messrs Williams Stonecutters; Messrs Stephens, Drapers and Morris, Decorators; had, with enthusiasm, taken up the challenge. With a dramatic gesture Mr. Jenkin Jones, a foremost tradesman and a tanner, placed on the table, on behalf of the citizens, a cheque which more than covered the cost of the site of the school. The County School was built in Rhosmaen Street. The building was damaged by fire on Feb 3 1914 but it was rebuilt. It continued as a County School and later as a Grammar School until the opening of the Comprehensive School at Tregib in 1969. The Board or Council School was built on an adjacent site to the County School in Rhosmaen Street. This has continued to serve as a primary school. There has been a development in the form of the establishment of a Welsh-medium school, Ysgol Teilo Sant, which within a short period of time, has succeeded in achieving an enviable reputation.
The Opening of the County School Llandilo
Hydref 2 ail 1896
A fyddwch chwi mor garedig a chyhoeddu y S2bbath nesaf y bydd Agoriad Yr Ysgol Ganoiraddol yn cymryd lle yn Llandilo, dydd Iau nesaf, Hydref 8ed. Y gweithrediadau yn dechreu am 12 o'r gloch.
Hefyd, dymunir i'r holl fechgyn sydd wedi bod, neu yn bod, yn ysgoiheigion ynddi fod yn bresennol yn yr orymdaith ac i dê yn y prynhawn.
William Thomas, Clerk.
Schools in the Town in the late 19th century
- National School. Headmistress Miss Lockyer.
- School kept behind Smithfield House, Carmarthen Road under the patronage of Lord Dynevor and known locally at The Lord's School. Girls in the top floor, boys on ground floor. Head master John Evans.
- Tabernacle Ffairfach. School room kept by the minister, the Rev. Thomas Davies. Other masters were Mr. Hewlett and Mr. John Pugh. It was considered a better school than the others in town. Pugh later kept a school behind the site of Crown Stores in New Road. He was followed there by Mr. Jeremy - Ysgol Jeremy. He was a local preacher with the Methodists. His assistant was Morgan Davies. When the Intermediate School was opened in 1895 Jeremy's School was closed and Morgan Davies was appointed on the staff.
- Grammar School in Brynhyfryd House, Crescent Road (near the Dinefwr Council Offices). Mr. McFarlane was the first headmaster. He was followed by Mr. Sweet. It was considered a high class school.
- Miss McArthur's School for girls in Abbey Terrace.
- Ysgol Miss Evans Lamb where the Westminster Bank is now situated. This was a dame school.
- Miss Morgan-the-Kiss a dame school in a lane leading from Bank Terrace.
- Miss Padmore's School for Girls in upper New Road near Towy Press.
- Bank House kept by the Misses Lewis.
The stone bridge
The fine one-arched bridge over the River Towy was built in 1848. It was regarded as one of the Wonders of Wales. Planned by a local stone-mason-architect, it was built of local stone by local craftsmen.
A bridge had existed near the site before. This was a wooden one standing lower down towards the Moreb. One record states that the Towy Bridge had four narrow stone arches. These were swept away in 1750 by tree trunks brought down river by floods and by ice.
Before 1797 a ferry boat plied across the river at a charge of ½d per crossing. A dispute concerning the charges for workmen living in Ffairfach hastened forward plans for building the stone bridge.
- Pont o drigain troedfedd o uchelder, a chant a phump a deugain o led, a phob carreg ynddi wedi ei chymwys gydgysyiltu.
- A Bridge of sixty feet high and a hundred and forty five feet wide and every stone intricately interwoven with each other.
The bridge built in 1848 was 365 feet in length with a central span over the river of 145 feet. It cost £22,000 to build. The work was carried out by Morgan Morgan of Cwmamman to the design of William Williams of Llandeilo who established a stone-mason's business in the town. He is described as a
man modest and unassuming, yet possessing a mind of enormous calibre. The bridge in its stateliness and grandeur is a lasting monument to his genius.
There are sad stories concerning the old bridge and some amusing stories concerning the new one. One Sunday morning, in early summer, a daring young lady, returning from church, decided to walk the parapet of the bridge. With the aid of her parasol, she balanced herself with marked agility. When she reached the middle of the bridge however, she lost her nerve and fell into the river. Fortunately, her full Victorian cotton skirt opened out and served as a parachute. She fell gently into the river and was rescued.
There was an old saying that the gold came into Llandeilo from over the bridge. People came from the prosperous industrial valleys, such as the nearby Amman Valley, to buy in the provision market. They came over the stone bridge and also by rail for there was an important railway junction in the town. The King's Bridge, a smaller bridge, a suspension bridge, spans the river near the town railway station.
Llandeilo “down under”
A township, Llandeilo, exists in New South Wales, Australia. A document in the N.S.W. Department of Lands states that “this parcel of land is about 30 miles from Sydney”. It was originally granted to Samuel Terry (950 acres) and John Hutchinson (300 acres). This was in January 1818. The area was subdivided under the name of Llandilo between 1884 and 1887.
The Llandilo sub-division consisted of 2,000 acres, the remainder of the area being taken up from adjoining properties owned by Butchers, Guest, Duckett, Crawley, Cuddy, Freebody and - a Celtic man - J. B. Williams. There is nothing in the Australian records to show whether any of the men had a Welsh connection.
There is a small well-documented account of Sam Terry. Transported at the very beginning of the last century, he completed his sentence, elected to stay there, and was given a grant of land.
His modest holding, within a very few years and apparently with a little sleight of hand, grew to many thousands of well-stocked acres. His Botany Bay Convict to Cattle King saga ended in 1837 when he died “leaving a princely fortune of nearly one million sterling.”
Llandeilo in Dinefwr, Dyfed
In 1974, in the general reorganisation of local government, the old county of Carmarthen ceased to exist. Time-honoured Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire were merged. There was much controversy for it meant the uniting of a Welsh and an Anglo-Welsh area. Cardiganshire was joined and the region was given the ancient name of Dyfed. It is administered by Dyfed County Council. Llandeilo is in the administrative Borough of Dinefwr. By our democratic system, the councillors are elected by the people. From time to time members are co-opted on to committees; a careful watch is kept at all times on procedure in the interest of democracy.
Full and detailed reports of discussions, policies and decisions made by Dyfed County Council and its many sub-divisions are published. The public has ready access to these reports, again in accordance with our democratic system.
Dates of importance in the 19th Century
- There were three chapels in the town.
- Calvinistic Methodist on the east side of Rhosmaen Street (near the Old Library and Institute). It was built about 1779 and re-built in 1851.
- Wesleyan Chapel on the west side of Rhosmaen Street. Later a store-room. Built about 1809; re-built 1849.
- Baptist Chapel built in 1829.
- The Shire Hall was built. Legislative affairs were conducted on the upper floor. A corn and cheese market was held on the ground floor.
- The provision market was built by Joseph Gulston of Derwydd. A fair was held there on the first Tuesday of each month.
- Oddfellows. A lodge was opened on the 1st October 1838 at the Castle Inn. There were 80 members.
- A Mechanics' Institution was first held in the town. In 1858 there were thirty students. They met in the Long Room of the George Inn (the Old Vicarage).
- The Workhouse was erected. Master - Mr. Morgan Pendry. Clerk - Mr. George Williams.
- Ivorites established. The Welsh language and Welsh literature were fostered. Meetings were in the Red Cow in Bridge Street.
- There were two banks in the town:
- David Jones & Co. opened a bank on 15th April 1842. The Manager was John Prytherch.
- A Savings Bank was established about 1818. President; Lord Dynevor; Treasurer J. Jones, Blaen-Nos, Llandovery. Actuary, Thomas Parry.
- The stone bridge over the River Towy was built at a cost of £22,000. It was designed by Mr. Wm. Williams, Llandeilo and built by Mr. Morgan Morgan, Cwm Amman.
- The Railway came to Carmarthen.
- Freemasons. The St. Teilo Lodge No. 996. Meetings were held at the Cawdor Arms.
- The railway opened with great ceremony. Llandeilo and Llanelli were proclaimed as united in “railway matrimony”.
- Post Office. This was in George Street.
- The town and village of Llandeilo adopted the Local Government Act 1858 under the Local Board. The first meeting of the Board was held on July 15, 1859.
- The town was supplied with water through pumps from a number of springs. Negotiations began for the construction of a reservoir at Maesevan. The work of construction and laying of mains to the town was commenced.
- Practically the whole of the town owned by Alan Stepney Gulston was sold during this period. The remainder of the then ownership is perpetuated in the names of streets. Alan Road and Stepney Road and adjoining areas were developed consequent on the sale of land.
- The Urban District Council was created under the Local Government Act of 1894. The first meeting of the Council was held on the 8th January, 1895.
- The Urban District Council obtained an additional water supply from the Baptistry at Llandyfan.
- The Urban District Council set up its own electric Power Station, undertaking to supply the town.
- The Urban District Council purchased the site of the Cattle Market, The first sales were held in 1908.
The earliest reference is contained in a document of 1316 in which the inhabitants of the town object to the Constable of Dynevor Castle (at this time in the hands of the King of England) demanding beer from the townspeople at a rate of 8 gallons for 6 pence. This document refers to a part of the town as “trefsoleygon” the township of scholars. It is natural to associate this with the parish church, the vicar of the time being the headmaster. All education in the Middle Ages was linked with the Church.
There was a school at Newton, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the present mansion, kept by Jeremy Taylor and the Vicar of the town William Nicholson and one Thomas Wyett. They prepared young men for the universities. Jeremy Taylor became Vicar of Golden Grove and William Nicholson, Bishop of Gloucester.
Report of the Commissioners of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales, 1886
Evidence of the Rev. J. Pugh, Vicar of Llandeilo Fawr
The state of morals among the labouring classes is bad; habitual lying and low cunning are very commonly met with and unchastity is so prevalent that great numbers of young women are in the family way previous to marriage; and their sin, I fear is very lightly regarded. There is also a great deal of drunkenness where poverty does not prevent it. In this respect nothing can be more pernicious than the number of beer businesses with which this rough neighbour hood is infested. Many of these houses are kept by the worst characters. The facility of obtaining licences is an evil for which some remedy is imperatively demanded.
In their habits the labouring classes are particularly dirty. This arises in great measure, no doubt from their poverty and the low rate of wages, which until lately they have been in the habit of receiving so that it was quite impossible for them to have convenient houses. Pigs and poultry are frequently allowed to come inside. The flooring is generally bare earth, not even prepared with lime. There are rarely any privies. There are not usually more than two rooms. Cupboard beds are those most commonly used which are shut up as soon as the occupants quit them and never opened again until night. The use of lime until lately either by day or night was not known. It is now, however, coming more into fashion with the young people.
Llandilo Lead, Zinc and Copper Mining and Smelting Co. Limited
Llandilo April 15 1858
In pursuance of a resolution passed at a Meeting of the Directors of the above named Company on the 7th day of April 1858, I beg to give you notice that an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Share holders of the said Company will be held on Tuesday, the 11th day of May next, at the Company's Office, at 2 o'clock p.m. for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of confirming a special resolution passed at an adjournment meeting of the Shareholders of the said Company, duly held on the 7th day of April 1858, of which special resolution the following is a copy
“That the Llandilo, Lead, Zinc and Copper Mining Company Limited be wound up Voluntarily” and for confirming the said resolution if approved by the Meeting. I am, sir,
Your obedient Servant, William Davies, Secretary.
- Beale, Anne. Traits and Stories of the Welsh Peasantry: Routledge, 1849.
- Beynon T. Golud a Mawl Dyffryn Tywi Caernarfon: Argraffdy'r Methodistiaid Calfinaidd, 1936.
- Davies, William (Gwilym Teilo) Llandeilo Vawr and its Neighbourhood.
- D. W. end W. G. Jones. Llandilo 1858
- Jenkins, D. C. (edit.) Diary of Thomas Jenkins, 1826-1871.
- Lockyer. Lovely Liandeilo, 1905.
- Samuel, W. Liandilo Past and Present. Carmarthen: Morgan and Davies 1865.
- Saunders Roy. Queen of the River.
- Welch, Ronald. The Gauntlet.