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Local Administration in the Rural Areas

The Parish as an Administrative Unit.
A predominant feature of the development of the Hundred of Carnwyllion throughout the centuries was the economic and political distinction between the Borough of Llanelly and the rural parts of the Commote. These two territorial divisions, corresponding to the mediaeval Englishry and Welshry, remained unimpaired in the statutory legislation of the Act of Union, except that the Maenors were, with slight adjustments, reorganised into the Parishes of Llanelly, Llangennech, Llannon and Llanedy. Owing to the changing economic conditions, which gave rise to new problems, local government was recast on the basis of the Parish, an ecclesiastical unit with its boundaries defined by ecclesiastical administration. Thus, in accordance with the national pattern, the foregoing parishes in the 17th, 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries became administrative units, utilising such elements of their ecclesiastical organisation as the vestry and the parochial officers. The Vestry, attended by parishioners, was concerned with questions relating to parish government, and carried out the elections of the people’s churchwarden, overseers, and the parish clerk; also included in these functions were approval of the Observer's Accounts, administration of the Workhouse, and an assessment of the amount of rates necessary for the parish.

Officers of the Parish
The Overseer was an important officer with fairly widespread responsibilities, incorporating such vital issues as the operation of the Poor Law with its problems of Settlement and Apprenticeship. Although there is no local evidence available to illustrate his activities in this direction, some idea of the nature of his functions and interests in the welfare of his parish may be verified from the minutes of the Court Leet for Carnwyllion. According to one presentment,1 an old pump at Clwynog was stated “as being out of repair, and that the same ought to be repaired by the Hamlets of Hengoed, Glyn and Westfa within the space of one month or be amerced in the sum of 5£.” Notice of this was sent to Thomas Samuel, of Hengoed Fawr, Churchwarden, and to Samuel Stephens, of Gellyfawr, George Richards, of Ynishaffren, and to John Vaughan of Blaenant, Overseers. The second presentment1 refers to “a certain old pound in the Parish of Llanedy to be out of repair, and ought to be repaired by the Parish of Llanedy in the space of two months from this date, or be amerced in the sum of 5£." The officers responsible for effecting these repairs at Llanedy were David Pugh, Church- warden and William Pugh, Overseer. It is evident from the foregoing evidence that there was in the Parish of Llanelly, an Overseer for each Hamlet, while Llanedy and Llangennech had one Overseer for each Parish. The Hamlets were sub-units of the Parishes, two of which were divided as follows:

Llanelly Parish:— Berwick, Hengoed, Westfa and Glyn
Llannon Parish:— Ismorlais, (East Morlais), Blyney, Goitrey and Glyn.

There were also within the parochial organisation for civil affairs the two offices of Constable and Surveyor of the Highways. Although there are no local records available to indicate that elections for the office of Constable were effected at the Vestry, there is ample evidence during the 19th century that such nominations were carried out at the Court Leet for the Commote. According to records, two nominations were given for each Hamlet in the Parishes of Llanelly and Llannon, and two for each of the Parishes of Llanelly and Llangennech. This office which was unpaid like those of the Overseer and Surveyor of the highways, was also tenable for one year. With regard to the Surveyor of the Highways, each Hamlet in the Parish of Llanelly had its own officer, who was responsible for the maintenance of the Parish roads within his neighbourhood. The Surveyors kept their own Rate Books and Account Books. Again, according to evidence previously furnished, presentments were frequently made at the Court Leet on the condition of parish roads and sometimes at the Court of Quarter Sessions by the Justices of the Peace.

Each of the foregoing officers was subject to the control of the Justices of the Peace, so that the latter may be said to have directed the various activities connected with local government. All the Justices of the Peace for the County met four times a year or more often by adjournment in Quarter Sessions, and although this was at first a criminal Court of Law, administrative functions came to be discussed when presentments were made by the various officers or by the Justices themselves. Later, with the termination of judicial business, they adjourned into a private meeting for discussion of county business as the administrative work was called. Thus the Quarter Sessions became the local authority for the County, and so may be regarded as the precursor of the County Council.

Impact of the Industrial Revolution.
But the social changes arising from the Industrial Revolution called for a new outlook which involved the curtailment of the power of the Justices, and the application of democratic principles through the introduction of elected bodies authorised in the Reform Act of 1832. There had been no central administrative body in the 18th century, and the first definite creation of such authority coincided with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which brought into being the Local Board of Guardians in 1836. Again, sanitary problems, arising from the aggregation of immigrants in towns, had become pre-eminent in the new conditions and as public health was recognised as a necessary and important aspect of local government, the Board of Guardians became the authority for the implementation of the Acts of Parliament pertaining to the health of the community. Unquestionably the immediate cause was the frequently recurring outbreaks of cholera fever, particularly between 1831-1850, and even during later decades.

This may be confirmed from local evidence in the application of C. W. Nevill2, the Chairman of the Local Board of Guardians to the Medical Officer of the Privy Council on the 14th July, 1866, urging upon the Government to grant, through an Order in Council, powers to the local Board for the execution of the Diseases Prevention Act. The restrictive authority enjoyed by the Board was totally inadequate to cope with the disease, “which is spreading both in the number of cases, and in the area in which they occur, and the feeling in the neighbourhood is very strong that urgent measures are required.” A later communication revealed that, “the Union has been visited very severely with cholera, of which the first attack took place on the 7th July, 1866, and there was great difficulty in finding nurses to attend the sick.” Even previously it was stated that, “there have been many cases and several deaths under distressing circumstances,” and at this juncture, one of the Sisters from St. Margaret’s, East Grinstead, Sussex, rendered valuable assistance from the 13th August to the 7th September, 1866, in nursing the sick, and carrying out the directions of the medical men. 3

Public Health Act, 1875.
The Board of Guardians continued to be the local authority within the district for carrying out the Diseases Prevention Act until the Act of 1875, when public health became for the first time a service administered over the whole country. The Act authorised the division of the country into Rural Sanitary Districts and the rural parts of Unions were constituted into Rural Sanitary Districts administered by Boards of Guardians, acting as Rural Sanitary Authorities, to whom the sanitary powers of the Vestries had been transferred. Thus, the Local Board of Guardians which was acknowledged as the Llanelly Union Rural Sanitary Authority, became responsible in 1875 for public health administration throughout the whole of the Union with the exception of the Boroughs of Llanelly and Kidwelly. The neighbourhood of the Union extended beyond the boundaries of the Hundred of Carnwyllion, and for purposes of registration was divided into four districts.

(a) The first of these was known as Lianelly Sub-rural, which included the Hamlets of Westfa and Hengoed. Both districts were contiguous to the Borough of Llanelly on the land side, and extended to the boundaries of Berwick, Glyn and Pembrey. Most of its population was contained in Felinfoel, Halfway, part of Dafen, Furnace, Five Roads and Horeb, and the following account of these neighbourhoods, furnished in the Medical Officer’s Report for 1890,4 is very interesting:—

“Felinfoel” —the largest of these has about 1,650 inhabitants. Water supply. . . from a number of springs, some of which still require protection. Drainage, especially in some parts, is very defective. Many of the cottages in the older village especially in Pentrebypyr are dark, low, unhealthy buildings. Pigstye nuisances are common throughout the place.”

“Halfway” is a rapidly increasing place and has a population of 500. Most of the houses are of modern construction and are fairly well-built. Natural construction of the ground affords good surface drainage. It is well supplied with wholesome water supply from Llethry—this is made to deliver by means of a spout near Dafen stream.”

“Furnace” contains over 500 people. Most of the houses belong to the worst types of older cottages, being extremely deficient in sanitary arrangements. Pigstye nuisances are common and drainage defective. Water supply is fairly good—from wells which are made to deliver by spout.”

“Five Roads is the centre of a healthy district and situated on high ground. Near it is a group of old cottages deficient in sanitary arrangements. It is fairly well supplied with water, but at a distance from many of the houses.”

(b) The second division, known as the Llannon District comprised the parishes of Llannon and Llanedy with the Hamlet of Glyn of the Llanelly Parish. In this district are the villages of Llannon, Tumble, Pontyberem, Ponthenry, Pontyates, Tycroes, Hendy and part of Pontardulais. These villages were described in the Medical Officer’s Report for 1890 as follows:—

“Llannon —a small village situated on rising ground, about 600 ft. above sea level. Nearly half the houses are of the old fashioned thatched roof type without through ventilation. The village is supplied with plenty of wholesome water, which is carried in pipes from a well several hundred yards distant from the village and made to deliver by a spout. At this spot a fountain has recently been erected “to the memory of the late and respected Rees Goring Thomas, Esq., of Plas Llannon by his numerous friends.”

“Tumble —a rapidly growing place, and has a population of about 500. The houses are built almost entirely on either side of the main road. It is, however, extremely badly off for water, and has no drainage system, although fairly drained naturally.”

“Pontyberem, Ponthenry and Pontyeats are small villages situated on the south side of the Gwendraeth River within a short distance of each other. Some of the older thatched cottages are in a poor state. Drinking water is scarce and at a distance from many of the houses.”

“Tycroes is a small scattered village on high ground. Most of the houses are of the modern type.”

“Hendy and the part of Pontardulais in the County of Carmarthen form a large growing place with a population of about 1,400. Most of the houses are new and fairly well built. There is no drainage system and on many occasions during the year, nuisances arising from the want of and defective drains, were complained of. The water supply, with the exception of Forest Road, is fairly good. The water is obtained from pumps and springs. Some of the latter are open to surface pollution.”

(c) The third division was the Loughor District, which consisted of the Borough and Parish of Loughor in Glamorgan, and the Parish of Llangennech with the hamlet of Berwick. The principal places were Loughor and Gowerton in Glamorgan and Llangennech, Llwynhendy, Cwmfelin and Dafen within the Hundred of Carnwyllion and the County of Carmarthen. In the Report of 1890, the Medical Officer gives the following account of the latter villages:—

“Liangennech is situated chiefly in a low lying marshy district. There are about 1,500 inhabitants. Water supply is obtained from pumps, springs and wells. Much was done during the year to improve the water supply at this place. Drainage is bad, and there are numerous nuisances. At Allt most of the cottages are badly constructed, built in excavated ground, and many without through ventilation.”

“Llwynhendy is a growing place. Houses are scattered over a considerable area on both sides of the main road from Halfway to Cwmfelin. Many of the older houses are defective in their sanitary arrangements. Water supply is fair and derived chiefly from wells.”

“Cwmfelin is situated on low, marshy ground. There is no proper drainage. Good supply of water is conveyed from Penderry to the village. It has a population of about 600.”

“Dafen —a part of this village is in the Llanelly sub-rural District. It has a population of about 800. The water supply is excellent. There is no drainage system and most of the houses are fairly good. Pigstye nuisances are common.”

(d) In the fourth division were the parishes of Pembrey and Kidwelly, both of which were outside the boundary of the Commote of Carnwyllion. Again it should be stated that the above four divisions did not correspond exactly with the Parish boundaries.

It is evident from the foregoing descriptions that the Rural Sanitary Authority had encountered serious difficulties in the provision of adequate supplies of water, which was a fundamental sanitary necessity. The whole District was so scattered and thinly populated that a central supply was deemed out of the question at this period, and consequently the Authority was compelled to proceed piecemeal with its schemes. Even in 1888 much attention was given to improving the Lliedi and Trebeddod watersheds, and nearly all the wells, as sources of supply, were covered in and made to deliver by spout. Although valuable work had been carried out with supplies from the various wells, houses were often too far removed from these sources. Again neighbourhoods such as Llangennech, Felinfoel, Pontyberem and Cwmfelin had a fair claim to be better furnished with a constant supply of drinking water, and for this purpose several schemes were promoted for the provision of these facilities in 1891. At Pontyberem, a line of pipes was laid to convey water from a reservoir to several parts of the district. In Tumble nearly 200 houses were provided with water, while in Felinfoel tanks were constructed with pipes leading from them to convey the water. At the Forest Road, a new tank had been erected in connection with a good well. In the following year several wells were built and protected, and additional supplies were contemplated. It was also proposed to carry out a scheme to supply Pemberton, Cefncaeau, Llwynhendy, Cwmfelin and Bynea but Llangennech and Hendy were still dependent on wells and springs and there was great scarcity in both places. Owing to an exceptionally dry summer in 1894, the water supply of Felinfoel was augmented by conveying from Tanlan through pipes to the village.

The above summary is indicative of the slow progress in the provision of water for the various parishes of the Hundred by the Rural Sanitary Authority who in 1891 initiated a system of scavenging in the larger villages, where it had been productive of much good. Administration by the Rural Sanitary Authority continued in operation until 1894, when changes of a far reaching character were introduced through the important Local Government Act of that year. This second stage in the history of Local Government Administration terminated when the Llanelly Rural Sanitary Authority held its last monthly meeting on the 8th November, 1894.

Statute of 1894—Formation of Parish Councils.
By virtue of this Statute of 1894, the Guardians ceased to be Sanitary Authorities, and separate Rural District Councils became the general local authorities for rural districts; for this purpose a General Order was issued to County Councils Rural Parishes and Boards of Guardians in October, setting forth the rules as to nomination and election of Parish and District Councillors. With regard to Parish Councils, the Act provided that there should be a Parish Council for every rural parish with a population of 300 and upwards, while every parish in a Rural Sanitary District was to be a rural parish for the purposes of the Act. The Parish Council for the Rural parish was to be elected from among the parochial electors of the parish, or persons who had for the whole of the twelve months preceding the election resided in the parish or within three miles of it. The number of Councillors for each parish was to be fixed by the County Council, and was to be not less than five, and not more than fifteen.

Powers for enforcing the Statute locally were vested in the Carmarthensh County Council, which issued a General Order in November, 1894, to the Guardians of the Llanelly Poor Law Union, and to the Overseers of each of the four parishes of Llanelly, Llannon, Llangennech and Llanedy, together with those of Pembrey Parish fixing the number of Parish Councillors and Rural District Councillors for each rural parish. The allocation for the various Parishes were as follows:—


Parish Parish Councillors District Councillors
1. Llanedy 5 1
2. Llanelly Rural Berwick 5 1
  Hengoed 5 1
  Westfa 3 1
  Glyn 2 1
Llanelly Rural total 15 4
3. Llangennech 15 2
4. Llannon 15 2
5. Pembrey Ward 1 3 1
  Ward 2 6 2
  Ward 3 2 1
  Ward 4 4 1
Pembrey Total 15 5

With regard to the allocation of 15 Parish Councillors for the Llanelly Rural Parish, a meeting of the Parish was held on the 30th October 1894, to decide on the number for each Division. This was decided on the numerical basis of the electorate, and the result of the meeting was as follows:-

Division Electors Population No. of Members
1. Berwick 551 2873 5
2. Hengoed 510 2395 5
3. Westfa 391 1157 3
4. Glyn 215 992 2

Although Westfa was smaller than Berwick, it had quite as much variety of interests to be represented. The upper part consisted of farmers and in the lower part was a straggling population; it was stated on the 23rd August, 1859, that Felinfoel had from 700 to 800 people, nearly all colliers. In the Berwick ward there was a densely populated part between Llwynhendy and Bynea, while Llangennech had an increasing population of colliers. On the other hand Llanedy with only five representatives on its Parish Council was very thinly populated.

The elections of representatives for the Parish Councils, and for the Rural District Councils, for which the Clerk to the Board of Guardians was responsible, were held on Monday, the 17th December, 1894, and the Rural District Council held its first meeting at the Union Workhouse on Thursday morning, the 3rd January, 1895. Those present included Messrs. T. Seymour (Chairman), 0. Bonville, D. L. Rees, W. Llewellyn, J. L. Thomas, John Davies, Daniel Davies, W. Y. Nevill, Samuel Thomas, the Revs. Henry Evans, D. Davies, and W. Glasnant Jones, together with D. C. Edwards (Clerk), J. H. Blake (Deputy Clerk), and Dr. Evans. It was agreed that the Council should meet once a month, and that the first business meeting should take place on the 17th January, 1895. It should be noted that the Rural District Councillors were also to act as Guardians, that is, as representatives of the constituent Parishes of Llanelly, Llangennech, Llanedy, Llannon, Burry Port and Pembrey, on the Board of Guardians’ Union.

Functions of R.D.C.
The newly elected Rural District Council was confronted with the old problem of providing adequate water supplies, and for a few years adhered to the perfunctionary policy of their predecessors. But a more rational conception for a partial solution of this urgent necessity was displayed in 1898 when arrangements were made with the Llanelly Urban District Council to supply Halfway, Cefncaeau, Llwynhendy, Cwmfelin and Bynea with water from the Lliedi Reservoir for drinking and domestic purposes. Apparently, there followed an improvement in conditions since in 1902, “it was claimed that the whole district was supplied with wholesome water,” except for two places including Llangennech, where supplies were obtained by means of Abyssinian pumps placed along the main road and the lower part of the village, and from shallow wells in the immediate neighbourhood. But with the industrial development of the villages which were increasing at a rapid rate, the need for greater supplies was felt more urgently each year; in fact during dry weather, supplies from wells became diminished, and owing to pollution, some inhabitants were compelled to use ditch water for drinking purposes. Under these depressing conditions, parliamentary powers were sought in 1907 to supply the whole neighbourhood with water from Llyn y Van but, owing to the opposition of the Carmarthenshire County Council who had promised to proceed with a larger scheme for this and adjacent districts, sanction was refused. However, the County Council decided, by a small majority not to proceed with these schemes. Consequently, it was manifest that a large and comprehensive scheme was absolutely necessary, and parliamentary powers were granted in the Water Supply Acts of 1912 to construct at Llyn y Van Fach in the Parish of Llanddeusant, a reservoir which yielded an almost unlimited supply to the rural districts except Felinfoel, Dafen and Llwynhendy, still supplied by the Llanelly Corporation.

The functions of the Rural District Council, which had been gradually increasing with the passing years were confined to two categories; the first of these, which were obligatory, included Public Health, viz. Nuisances, Sewerage, Infectious Diseases, Dairies, Water, Housing and Roads. while the second comprised permissive functions, e.g. Removal of House Refuse. Collaterally, each Parish Council exercised administrative control within its area through its own officials, and possessed powers of expenditure, but its rate-levying powers were strictly limited. Through this dual control, there followed considerable overlapping and complication between the Rural District Council, and each Parish Council, and in consequence, the provision of proper sanitary facilities and improvement in the general amenities of the District had been greatly retarded. The expenses of the Rural Council were met out of a General Rate chargeable on all the Parishes, together with a special expenses Rate on separate parishes for any particular services rendered.

Changes in Administration.
Changes have been carried out in the territorial composition of the Rural District since the inception of the Rural District Council in 1894. The first change occurred with the granting of powers of urbanisation to Burry Port in 1903, and the second in 1918 with the formation of Pontyberem Parish and its inclusion within the administrative scope of the Council. This Parish was constituted by the amalgamation of Pontyberem and a portion of Llangendeirne Parish, since Pontyberem was partly in Llanelly Parish, and partly in Llangendeirne. Under this arrangement the area of each component Parish was: Llanelly Rural, 15,060 acres; Llangennech, 2,386 acres; Llanedy, 5,680 acres; Llannon, 10,612 acres; Pembrey, 14,778 acres; and Pontyberem, 2,851 acres, making a total of 51,367 acres.

As almost the whole of the area of the District was on the Coal Measures, the impact of the industrial development of the 19th century was reflected in the growth of some of the villages (previously described) into townships which were situated in groups along the boundaries of the Hundred. One group situated in the south-east included the townships of Llwynhendy, Bynea and Bryn; the second located on the eastern boundary and to the north of the last group comprised Llangennech and Hendy; the third found to the north included Tumble and Crosshands; and the fourth group developed along the western boundary in the townships of Pontyberem and Pontyates. It is very significant that the highways through each of these townships converge at Llanelly. Railway services were provided by the Great Western Main and Branch lines, and the eastern boundary was served by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, although this was outside the limits of the Hundred. Since its inception, the Rural District Council has endeavoured to carry out the requirements of its constantly increasing population and has provided the neighbourhood with the essential public health and other necessary services.

In assuming local government over the rural communities of the Hundred, which comprised the major portion of its jurisdiction area, the Rural District Council was maintaining the traditional significance of this historic unit. But the powers of the Council were strictly limited in the face of the rapid development exhibited in the growing urban and industrial character of the district; this weakness in its authority was especially marked in such circumstances, as interests common to all parishes, where the services needed that co-ordination which could only be achieved by vesting power in a central authority. Through the acquisition of greater powers, the cost of special services could be more equitably distributed over the whole district, and with a view of securing this economy in administration, the Council decided to seek wider powers. The Act of 1894 authorised Parish Councils to apply for Urban powers by a petition to the County Council, but these powers were not forthcoming until 1931, when the Rural District became the Rural Urban District Council.

Thus the whole area of the Commote of Carnwyllion has become subject to the jurisdiction of two local authorities, the Llanelly Corporation and the Llanelly Rural Urban District Council, and the dual character of this government stands out as a lucid reflection of the mediaeval Englishry and Welshry. Although the roots of the present system are deeply embedded in the dim past, development within the areas of both authorities has caused an intriguing situation. Since the acreage of Llanelly is diminutive in comparison with that of the Rural Urban District Council, the Borough has reached the peak of its growth, and further expansion within its present limits is entirely precluded. Again, the development of the townships, contiguous to the Borough, has eliminated completely the line of demarcation between them, so that the provisions of further services for the Borough inhabitants, such as housing, has been rendered possible only within the rural area and through the co-operation of the Rural Authority. It is evident that this condition will become aggravated still further with the passage of time, particularly with future industrial expansion, so that the present position has become anomalous and untenable, and a revision in the existing Borough boundaries through extension is apparently the sole solution to this extremely difficult problem.

Population Returns for the Rural Communities of the Hundred of Carnwyllion.

Area 1881 1891 1901 1911
1. Llanelly Sub-Rural Dust. 8019 8097 8954 11,673
  (a) Westfa & Hengoed 4173 4232 4509 5,790
  (b) Berwick 2878 2873 3044 4,080
  (c) Glyn 968 992 1311 1,803
2. Llannon Sub-District 5936 6795 7746 11,207
  (a) Llannon 1648 2104 2633 4,687
  (b) Llanedy 2317 2576 2889 3,901
  (c) Llangennech 1971 2115 2224 2,619

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