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Before It's Forgotten

The Garn-lwyd Owenite Community
ImageIt has long been known that, between 1847 and 1855, a co-operative settlement existed at Garn-lwyd, somewhere in Carmarthenshire. The Bibliography of Robert Owen the Socialist, 1771-1858 (National Library of Wales, 1925) refers to a book, Co-operative Production (Oxford, 1894) by Benjamin Jones, containing a short account of the community based on contemporary newspaper accounts. Professor J. F. C. Harrison's Social Reform in Victorian Leeds (Thoresby Society, 1954) similarly draws on the socialist newspapers of the period in his short account of the Garn-lwyd experiment.

The settlement was established by the Leeds Redemptionist Society founded by David Green, a bookseller, who was convinced that 'associative efforts' through 'a community of interests and of property was the only effectual remedy for the varied evils under which society now labours'. The communitarian ideas of Robert Owen appear to have been the main inspiration and basis of the Leeds Redemptionists.

The settlers, who are stated to have numbered fourteen in May 1851, were mainly engaged in farming, but they also made boots and shoes which were sold to members of the Redemptionist Society in Leeds. Another product was blackberry jam made from the fruit sold to them by 'labourers' children'. When the community was disbanded in 1855 all the debts had been paid leaving some funds for distribution between certain institutions in Leeds.

References to the venture in a Robert Owen bi-centenary lecture in 1971 led to speculation about the location of Garn-lwyd. Enquiries revealed that there was a place of this name in each of six parishes in Carmarthenshire; and the search for the right one was mis-directed for a time as a result of an unfortunate transposition of the distances between Garn-lwyd and Carmarthen and between Gann-lwyd and Swansea, in an account deriving from The National Instructor of 28 December 1850. The distances as given in an article in the latter, and particularly the references to 'Porth Rhead, about a mile and a half from the communal farm' and to 'another farm called Gorse' show that the settlement was at the 87-acre farm of Garn-lwyd which lies about a mile-and-a-half (about two miles by road) east-north-east of Porth-y-rhyd, and on the north side of the Gwendraeth Fach (map reference: SN 541164). Information in the Enumerator's Return of the Population Census of 1851 for Llanddarog parish confirms that this was the location.

Establishing the location of the communitarian settlement has itself been a co-operative venture. I am sure that those who so kindly participated including those who burned midnight oil following his enquiries will readily agree that special mention must be made of Mr. John S. Davies, Pontarddulais, whose zeal and generosity were unflagging in seeking scraps of information from various sources, near and far.

R. O. ROBERTS,
Department of Economics,
University College of Swansea.
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