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The Carmarthenshire Historian


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In a moment of simple faith, editorial decision decreed with arrogant ease that the cover of the present volume of The Carmarthenshire Historian should bear an illustration of a typical Carmarthenshire tollhouse. This, it was felt, could be quickly achieved and would also be appropriate to the contribution by Mr. Anthony Lewis concerning turnpike trusts. Choice of the best of all those quaint octagonal houses of unmistakable purpose but vaguely remembered location would be an easy task and an artist's talent would soon turn desire into fulfilment.

Came the sad realisation. All those familiar tollhouses, or most of them, were not there any more. A first list of three convenient possibilities turned out to be disappointingly unfruitful; the first site was completely barren, all trace of its tollhouse having vanished; the second was a charming country cottage, the octagonal design of which could never have been determined by the need to collect turn-pike tolls; and the third, though quaint, lacked the typical shape and its authenticity was therefore suspect.

There may be more than a few surviving tollhouses, but not very many are identifiable without prior knowledge. The typical and unmistakable examples must be surprisingly small in number. One of them is the Cwmduad tollhouse, delighfully pictured on the cover through the ready co-operation of Mrs. E. M. Lodwick, whose artistic enthusiasm has preserved an impression of a disappearing species in the county's architecture.

But vanishing tollhouses are a tiny wrinkle in the changing faces, physical and social, of Carmarthenshire. Though the faces are still recognisable, almost no feature is quite what it was. Some of the changes in one man's lifetime are recounted by Canon D. Parry-Jones, who writes about a time he knew in Newcastle Emlyn which long ago made its last curtsy before taking leave and stepping back into history into anonymous oblivion, had he not given his memories durable form.

In a century's turning, the rural railways have come and gone, their stations closed and replaced by roadside bus shelters. Once, the women of Llanpumpsaint, so Canon Parry-Jones tells us, were lured with free tickets into using the railway; now the country bus is forsaken by the private motorist of an affluent society. How long will it be before some future historian scours the county in search of the last surviving bus shelter, quaint and typical?

Most of Carmarthenshire's many mansions have long been deserted and, with few exceptions, those that have not been razed are ruinous. An early victim was Middleton Hall, amongst the finest of them all, which Miss P. K. Crimmin describes in her contribution concerning the work of S. P. Cockerell.

Such are some of the physical marks of more recent history which are passing from our gaze, some of the social habits of our nearer forebears which are disappearing from our experience. These and more are brought to our notice by contributors to the present volume and it is hoped that, as a result, readers will be encouraged to take part in the fascinating work of recording the fading marks of passing history. If you cannot draw, take out your camera and make a collection of all the surviving tollhouses, or smithys, or what you will. If you cannot write with ease, physically or imaginatively, no matter; scribble the facts on paper one contributor has valiantly done that, despite a handicap left by recent illness and others will do the rest. Thus shall we help to ensure for local posterity some flesh and breath to go with the bones of history and spare future historians some of the disappointment of Mr. Michael Evans, who, during his researches, has failed to find any trace of at least one of the county's early iron forges.
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