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Some Facets of Carmarthenshire History

by Eynon Lloyd Hughes, F.R.S.A.

Carmarthenshire is the largest county in Wales, with an area of 588,472 acres. The county is divided into 13 local authorities. There are four boroughs-Kidwelly, Carmarthen, Llandovery and Llanelly. The oldest borough is Kidwelly, and the "baby" of the family is Llanelly, which was made a borough in 1913. There are five urban districts: Ammanford, Burry Port, Cwmamman, Llandeilo and Newcastle Emlyn, and the four Rural Districts are Carmarthen, Llandeilo, Llanelly and Newcastle Emlyn. The county is further divided into 63 parishes, the largest of which is Llandeilo Fawr, with an area of a little over 26,000 acres, whilst the smallest is that of Whitland, with an area of a little over 900 acres. Strange as it may seem, there is a Parish within the County, containing well over 700 acres, but without a church, chapel, school, shop, Post Office, village, or even public house. This is Llandingat-Without, near Llandovery.

The distance round the county is 168 miles, just about the same distance as it is from Carmarthen to Sheffield. The Borough, Urban, District and Rural District Councils are mainly responsible for housing, collecting the rates, drainage, sewerage, water and public health, whilst the County Council looks after the roads, education, child welfare, etc., and spend some of the money that the Boroughs, Urban District and Rural District authorities collect in rates. The parish councils also have powers delegated to them in connection with burial grounds, rights of way, public footpaths and the lighting of streets in rural areas.

Carmarthen Borough possesses an interesting history. As seen from the map, Carmarthen Borough extends westwards nearly as far as the Grand Stand on the St. Clears road, Abergwili Bridge to the East, and nearly as far as Bronwydd Arms to the North, whilst the River Towy forms the southern boundary, as far as Pwntan Farm. The lowest part of the Borough is 15 feet above sea level, and the highest, Penlan Hill, which is 510 feet above sea level.

The Chief Citizen of the Borough is the Mayor, who is elected yearly. By a Charter granted by George II, he is Admiral of the Port of Carmarthen; he has another very great honour, which is also held by the Lord Mayor of London, and two other Mayors in the British Isles, namely that on ceremonial occasions, such as going to Church on Christmas Day, the Sword of State is carried before him, sheathed if the country is at peace and naked if at war.

One of the great men of Carmarthen was General Nott, the son of a one-time landlord of the Ivy Bush Inn in King Street, where now stands the Lyric Cinema. On his inn sign were these words: "Come in, eat, drink, be merry and pay Nott". After a very distinguished army career Nott settled down in Carmarthen to enjoy a substantial pension granted by the Government. He died in 1845 and is buried in St. Peter's Church.

Two other famous men who resided for a while in King Street were Sir Richard Steele and Stephen Hughes. Sir Richard married Prue Scurlock of Tygwyn, Llangunnor, who, after a rather hectic life, was buried in Westminster Abbey. Sir Richard Steele is buried in St. Peter's Church, where a brass tablet commemorates him. Stephen Hughes, "Apostol Sir Gaerfyrddin" was the son of a former Mayor of Carmarthen. He entered the Church, but was ejected from his living during the Restoration Period. He founded a number of Nonconformist Chapels in Carmarthenshire, one of which was Lammas Street Congregational Chapel, of which he was the first minister. A famous poet born in Carmarthen was Sir Lewis Morris, known as "The Knight of Penybryn". He was a great friend of Wordsworth and Tennyson, who visited Penybryn. On the wall opposite Woolworth's, in Hall Street, is a tablet to the memory of a famous musician born in that street, namely Brinley Richards, who composed "God Bless the Prince of Wales". A little higher up in Nott Square, at the foot of Nott's monument is a tablet to the memory of Bishop Ferrar, burnt at the stake on the 31st March, 1555 for refusing to renounce his Protestant beliefs during the famous Marian persecution.

In St. Peter's Street is a barber's shop, which was built by Nash, the Architect of Buckingham Palace and Regent Street, London. Nash's house in Carmarthen still stands, facing the school canteen of Pentrepoeth and known today as Green Gables. Some time ago it was scheduled as a house of historic interest.

David Charles, the great hymnologist, composer of "O Fryniau Caersalem" and many other well-known hymns, lived in Carmarthen where he kept the Ropeworks in Priory Street. One Saturday morning in March, 1821, the Ropeworks were burnt down. There was no insurance and he lost everything. The following Sunday he was preaching in Talley, and on the way there he composed the well-known hymn, "Rhagluniaeth Fawr y Nef mor rhyfedd yw".

The street names of Carmarthen are of great historical interest. Lammas Street derives its name from Loaf-Mass and Blue Street-formerly known as Golden Grove Street-and Red Street derive their names from the two political Parties which had their respective "kennels" in these streets. Barn Road is so called because a Tithe Barn stood there in the days when the vicar claimed the "Degwm." In St. Cathrine Street stood St. Cathrine's Chapel, a site now occupied by Jones and Davies' Garage. Pentrepoeth or Pentre'r Porth was one of the gates to the town. A well-known landmark is the Old Oak in Priory Street, with which is associated the famous saying, "When Merlin's Oak shall tumble down, so will then Carmarthen Town." However, this old oak, according to a well-known expert, had nothing to do with Merlin, but was planted by one of the Headmasters of the Grammar School to commemorate the accession of Charles II to the throne on May 19th, 1659.

Leaving Carmarthen we proceed towards Abergwili and in the distance we see the spire of Abergwili Church, the stone which caps it being the stone to which Bishop Ferrar was tied at the stake in Carmarthen in 1555. Another Bishop of St. Davids who lived in Abergwili was Bishop Laud, who became Archbishop Laud, and was beheaded on Tower Hill during the reign of Charles I. He remembered the poor of Abergwili in his will.

Richard Davies, Bishop of St. Davids, who translated parts of the New Testament at Abergwili, was buried in the Chancel of the Church. Abergwili was famous for its school, which was moved to Brecon, where it still flourishes, during the reign of Henry VIII.

After passing Abergwili we come to Merlin's Hill, where tradition states he still sleeps. Part of the rock is hewn out in the form of a chair and it was said that it was from here that he uttered his phophecies. There is also a "Wishing Well" on the side of the hill. It was the custom, about 50 years ago for the children of Abergwili Parish to visit Merlin's Hill on Easter Monday to play games, etc. It was called, "Y Gamp".

Further on, at White Mill, during the latter part of the last century, there lived here a well-known character called "Annellyn" or Bardd y Felin Wen. A book was published of his works, but only a few copies have survived. A specimen of his muse runs as follows-"Dau beth sydd bert, Wheel Whilber a Prince Albert". He was a weaver by trade and his book is called "Y Bellen Fraith". Across the river Towy stands the cottage of Waundewi, near Capel Dewi, where Dafydd Sior Jones was born, composer of "Bydd Myrdd o Rhyfeddudau". He was buried in Llanarthney Churchyard where his tomb can be seen. After passing White Mill, the next landmark of any note is Paxton's Tower, also known as Nelson's Tower or Paxton's Folly, for it has been suggested that it was built as a "spite" so that he could look down on the people of Carmarthen with "scorn" after he lost the great "Eat and Swill Election" of 1802. In this election he fought James Williams of Edwinsford and it cost him 15,690. The voting lasted 11 days and polling took place at Llandeilo Churchyard. Despite the fact, that he lost, the election cost him over 15 per vote. Here is an extract of the actual expenses incurred:-

11,070 Breakfasts, 36,901 dinners, 25,275 gallons of beer, 11,068 bottles of Whiskey, 8,879 bottles of Port, 460 bottles of Sherry; 509 Bottles of Cider; 786 9s Od for ribbons.

On the other side of Paxton's Tower stands the ruins of Dryslwyn Castle, and here, during a siege, part of the castle wall fell on the invaders and a number of soldiers were buried alive by the fall. At Broad Oak a battle took place between the Normans and the Welsh, and despite the fact that the Welsh won, there were heavy losses on both sides. On the Ordnance Sheet the names of some of the fields where the fighting took place, such as Cae'r Dial, Cae'r Gwaed, Cae'r Tranc, Cae'r Wylofen etc., can be seen. From Broad Oak we can reach Llanfynydd, birthplace of Morgan Rhys, one of Carmarthenahire's greatest hymnologists, composer of "Beth sydd i mi yn y Byd". Across the river is Golden Grove, taken over recently by the Carmarthenshire County Council as a farm institute. It was here that Jeremy Taylor fled during the Civil War, and wrote the immortal books, "Holy Living", and "Holy Dying". Before we cross the bridge we pass Aberglasney, birthplace of John Dyer, the poet, who sang the fame of Grongar Hill. Not, far from Llandeilo we pass within easy reach of Nantrhibo... the Bewitched Brook, which has its source in a well in Dynevor Park. This well rises and falls twice every twenty four hours. Near Nantrhibo stands the modern castle of Dynevor, the old castle being a mile to the south of the new one. The castle was the seat of the former Princes of South Wales, Llandeilo's ancient church, dedicated to St. Teilo, has its contents scheduled as Ancient Monuments. Quite near the church stood the Six Bells, a former public house, but now a garage where Twm o'r Nant (Thomas Edwards) lived when he kept the toll gate at Ffairfach. Across the bridge, which is one of the largest single-span bridges in Britain, can be seen two rivers flowing in the same field, but in opposite directions, the Towy and Cennen. High up above the bridge stands Penlan Park, presented to the people of Llandeilo by a farmer, Lord Dynevor. Charles Wesley entered the following comment in his diary, "July 12th, 1777, dined at Llandeilo; took a walk in the park of Mr. Rhys, the most beautiful park I have ever seen".

Limitations of space make it impossible to include the other numerous historical associations that distinguish Carmarthenshire. In this brief article, an effort has been made to indicate the extent and variety of the historic treasures that lie around us.
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