This article has been extracted by Gareth Hicks (July 2004) with the permission of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society from original material provided by Deric John.
The History of the Agricultural Cooperative Movement in Carmarthenshire
By H Jones-Davies C.B.E., J.P.
It is one of the functions of an archaeological society not only to create an interest in the past but also to preserve existing knowledge for the benefit of the future. With this object in view I should like to recall from my own memory the beginnings of agricultural cooperation in Carmarthenshire.
Early in 1902 I had commenced a series of articles in the Carmarthen Weekly Reporter on the Land Question, under the nom de plume of "Jeremiah Jenkins," when the Editor informed me that he had received a communication from Mr. Augustus Brigstocke, purporting to have conceived a scheme by which both landlord and tenant might work harmoniously to their mutual benefit. We agreed that he should unfold his plan.
Augustus was the son of W. A. Brigstocke of Blaenpant, Cardigan, the first chairman of the Carmarthenshire County Council. The Brigstocke family owned considerable property in the parish of Llandefeilog, and were regarded as benevolent landlords. The son also took an interest in local government and was an alderman of the county council. He was the pioneer of the Agricultural Cooperative Movement in Wales, and often referred to as the Plunkett of Wales. Mr. Brigstocke was much impressed by the accomplishments of Sir Horace Plunkett in so short a time in Ireland, and the success whereby he had allied the various warring elements in that hapless and factious country. It was realised that the size of the holdings, the climate and temperament of the people bore much in common with his countrymen. He was a great enthusiast in whatever he took in hand --- at times almost exceeding discretion --- and thus inspired started to work by forming small societies, having as supply bases the coastal villages of Cardigan Bay and importing cargoes of superphosphate by coasters. This project failed and fizzled out, with Brigstocke mulcted in a substantial loss. Having unbounded faith in the principles of cooperation properly applied, he tried again by founding a society at Cardigan, embracing these small societies. It straightway prospered, with sufficient turnover to pay an efficient staff. Flushed with this success Brigstocke approached the County Councils of Carmarthen, Cardigan and Pembroke, to send a delegation to study the working of the Agricultural Cooperative Movement in Ireland, The three counties consented and appointed their delegates. The landlords from this county were as follows: J. W. Gwynne Hughes, Tregeyb, afterwards: Lord Lieutenant of the County; Dr. Howell Rees, Garnant, Chairman of the Technical Instruction Committee; Col. Lewes, Llysnewydd, Henllan. Farmers: John Lloyd, Penybank, Abergwili; H. J. Thomas, Penrhos, Llanfynydd ; H. Jones-Davies, Glyneiddan, Nantgaredig; Ben Evans, Brithdir, Gwernogle; J. Lloyd Thomas, Tanlan, Ferryside; John Scourfield, Blaenwernddu, Whitland. The latter were paid £10 each to cover the expenses of the tour. The consent of the Local Government Board had to be obtained for this, and was sanctioned with the aid of the local members of Parliament. A souvenir of the tour was drafted by Mr. J. Nugent Harris, secretary of the Agricultural Organisation Society (A.O.S.).
On Monday, the 4th of August, 1902, the three counties' delegation --- twenty-four in number --- assembled at New Milford and embarked that evening, bound for Waterford. On landing we received telegrams of " caed mille faith " from the Irish societies which were reciprocated with " hawddamor." On the fifth Carrigeen Cooperative Creamery, the Iverk Agricultural Society and the Gaultier Cooperative Dairy Society were inspected, with their members and officials interrogated. Mr. J. F. Boyle, the secretary o(f ?) Waterford County Committee, was interviewed at the Court House with reference to the working of the Live Stock Scheme, which has since done so much to improve Irish Live Stock. The following day was spent at the Cork Exhibition inspecting the exhibits of the Irish Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (D.A.T.I.) --- Plunkett's creation --- and the Irish Agricultural Organisation's (I.A.O.S.) exhibits. We were joined at Cork by Mr. J. Nugent Harris, to whom the delegation was so much indebted for the excellent arrangements made, contributing largely to its success. Early the following morning we left Cork for Limerick Junction and inspected the well-known Solohead Creamery and met Mr. P. P. Molony, one of the most prominent men in the Irish movement. Solohead Creamery has won many prizes at the London Dairy Show. We moved on to the Irish Cooperative Agency at Limerick, and also Gibson's Blending and Shaw's bacon factories. Our next destination was Tuam for the night; en route we had a very happy and pleasant surprise at Ennis, being entertained to tea and presented with an address in glowing terms of our racial affinities by the Urban Council. We proceeded to Castlebar to study the working of the Credit Banks in wild and barren Connemara, then to Athlone, to the Cooperative Poultry Federation. On the morrow some of the party, after a strenuous time, travelled direct to Dublin, while others went to Enniscorthy to inspect the Society, where we met Capt. Loftus Bryan, a real live-wire. Sunday morning (tell it not in Gath !) was spent at the Glasnevin Model Farm. In the evening most of the company attended Divine Service at the Welsh Presbyterian Chapel, Talbot Street. Monday, Sir Horace Plunkett; T. P. Gill, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction; R. A. Anderson, Secretary of the I.A.O.S., and Father Mechan, M.A., of Dromohair, Co Leitrim, were entertained at luncheon by the delegates. The officers of the I.A.O. S. and the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society (I .A. W. S.) were visited and this ended the tour. Little did we think at the time that it was the forerunner of such huge developments and benefits to Welsh farmers. Some years later I had the privilege as Development Commissioner of representing the Treasury on the Committee of the I.A.O.S., and thus came in personal touch with the foremost members of the movement, men whom I regard as sincere friends, with affection and admiration of their sterling worth and character.
On returning home the delegates immediately got down to work, and after a few meetings drafted their report, comprising eleven recommendations as a basis towards more vigorous and progressive farming. It is pleasing that by to-day they have all been implemented, except the one all-important Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Wales, which it is to be hoped will also materialise in the plan of post-war reconstruction. The issue of the report gave the real hwb to the movement; other delegations from Wales toured Ireland for the same purpose. Thousands of copies were printed in English and Welsh and distributed through the parish councils, some even in Sunday Schools ! It was translated into the vernacular by the late Sir D. Lleufor Thomas, Ll.D., a pioneer of cooperation and every other movement for the betterment of the countryside. Incidentally, the report emphasised:
1. " Whether or not there may exist a difference of opinion respecting the adaptability of cooperative creameries for the Welsh Counties."
2. " The advantages attending the establishment of agricultural societies cannot fail to strike the most re-actionary farmer."
3. " The delegates cannot too strongly urge the importance of establishing agricultural societies in the Welsh counties upon the line here laid down."
Subsequently, a conference was held at Aberystwyth under the auspices of the University College of Wales to promote agricultural cooperation, addressed by the Rt. Hon. R. W. Hanbury, M. P., President of the Board of Agriculture, and P. J. Hannon, Assistant Secretary, I.A.O.S., now Sir Patrick Hannon, M.P. Public meetings of farmers were held at Carmarthen, the speakers being, Messrs. R. A. Yerburgh, M.P., President of the A.D.S.; T. A. Brassey, M.P.; J. Nugent Harris, Secretary of the A.D.S.; Sir D. Lleufer Thomas, etc.
By 1905 the heather was ablaze, with societies subsequently formed at Clynderwen, Llangadock, Pumpsaint, Whitland, Llanelly, Ammanford, Llanybyther, Llandovery and Pontardulais. Newcastle Emlyn and Llandyssul were earlier societies set up by Brigstocke in 1902.
Education --- the forerunner of every intelligent movement --- played a conspicuous part. By the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 the Treasury released money for the teaching of technical subjects and agricultural science. A committee was appointed by the County Council for the purpose. Besides the peripatetic dairy schools operating in the seven counties affiliated to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in this county alone thirty-six scholarships were for many years awarded annually to young men and women, intending to follow the pursuits of agriculture, to attend courses of instruction at the College. They were eagerly applied for, and the six weeks course in dairying, though short, proved of inestimable value to them, subsequently in their homes, and to others as a prelude to more advanced training. The tuition, practice and social contact with other students broadened their outlook and awakened interest and ambition to cultivate a new and better industry.
The seed sown fell on good ground previously lain fallow, and yielded a rich harvest for the cooperative societies; young farmers enthusiastically joined the movement and became its most ardent supporters. Messrs. T. H. Middleton, now Sir Thomas Middleton, who afterwards became Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Vice-Chairman of the Development Commission, and Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council, and D. D. Williams, were on the Staff of the agricultural department. Mr. Williams is with us as a member of the W.A.O.S. Executive Committee and takes an active part in the movement. This narrative would not be complete without reference to Walter Williams of Bronygaer, Llansadwrn, Welsh Organiser of the A.O.S., and Hopkins Jones, Danyrallt, Llanarthney, Agricultural Organiser for Flint and. Denbigh; both received their training at Aberystwyth and did much spade work in the early days.
Appended is a list of the societies established in the county with a few notes on their various lines of business :
CARMARTHEN FARMERS COOPERATIVE SOCIETY was established in 1903 and opened in the ramshackle stores at Danybank, Carmarthen. Its first secretary was H. Jones-Davies, Glyneiddan, and John Lloyd, Penybank, chairman. The turnover at the end of 1904, i.e. after fifteen months trading was £5,910 19s. 0d., having a nett profit of £116 5s. 5d., with a membership of 251, ample evidence of confidence in the new venture. According to the last year of trading, the 3lst of December, 1941, the sales reached £305,822 10s. 6d., nett profits £16,712 13s. 4d., and a membership of 4,150. The main buildings, enlarged and renovated, are at the Quay and Parade Stores, with branch depots at St. Clears, Llandilo, Llandilo Bridge, Kidwelly, Nantgaredig, Llanpumpsaint, Cwmmawr and Whitland. The details of the career of the Society are recorded in the " Souvenir of its Coming-of-age, 1903-1924," and the " History of the Carmarthen Farmers Cooperative Society, 1924--1941."
CLYNDERWEN AND DISTRICT FARMERS' ASSOCIATION, founded in 1905, secretary, Benjamin John, Plasybedw; J. M. Evans, Bletherston, chairman. Like most societies it commenced in a small way, but the rapid increase demanded repeated extensions of the premises. Branch depots have been set up at Letterston, Clarbeston Road and Narberth. This Society has always been in the van of progress, having a productive as well as a distributive side, ac felly yn cyrchu at y nôd. In 1907 they established a butter collecting depot, the cream churned at the farms, the butter brought into the factory, and blended at the rate of five tons per week, packed in one cwt. barrels and 1-lb. pats, under the trade mark of " Celtic Cross Brand, Pure Welsh Butter," which had a wide reputation in South Wales and the Colne Valley. In 1930 there was a change-over to the creamery system as practised in Cornwall, the cream being separated at the farm and churned at the central creamery under modern conditions. This method was adopted after a visit of inspection to Helston and other places; the result was so satisfactory that the demand proved more than the supply. An egg-collecting depot was opened on the 25th of August, 1929, under the National Mark Scheme, receiving a State grant of £250 a year, which served as a demonstration centre for Wales, and training for candlers in West Wales. The eggs are graded for quality and weight, and the producer paid by results. This policy has fully justified itself by higher prices and increasing supplies. 4,000,000 eggs are handled per year. The credit system was formerly in vogue in this district, the custom being for the fertilisers purchased in the spring to be paid for after the corn had been thrashed and sold. The advent of cooperative trading superseded this practice; it has introduced prompt payments and more business-like methods. The Society was founded through the initiative of Benjamin John, a lovable personality and a true cooperator. It is a fitting memorial to his progressive ideals. The membership on 31st December, 1941, was 1,346, of whom 200 are in Carmarthenshire, and the turnover was £100,930 12s. 6d.
PUMPSAINT AND DISTRICT AGRICULTURAL CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY, known as the P. & D., was formed in 1908, with a membership of eight. The first secretary was Ivor Evans, Tanlan, Llansawel, and Isaac Williams, Llandre, chairman. Upon Ivor Evans leaving the district in 1909, Isaac Williams was appointed secretary, and has acted as such up to the present time. He has been a tower of strength to the cause, a man of few words, far-seeing and sound judgement. The Society commenced business around the village of Pumpsaint, by renting small sheds convenient for dumping down supplies to early co-operators in the area. These were contributed for and adapted for use at the cost of those from whom the supplies were drawn, the ownership of which is still partly shared by the Society and the contributors. Before many years had elapsed a branch was opened near Llanwrda Station, and carried on its business by hiring farmers and hauliers to transport goods to a distance of eight to 14 miles, covering the areas around Pumpsaint, Farmers, Crugybar and Cwrtycadno, the localities that gave it birth, in the hinterlands of north-east Carmarthenshire. Years rolled on, management changed, and by the end of the last war the Society found itself with considerably increased activities. A forward step was taken by opening a depot at Lampeter, a number of its members hailing from the upper part of Llanycrwys, who naturally drifted to that town on business. To start with a coal business at the station yard was acquired in the year 1919, for which £1,000 was paid. This was one of the boldest steps taken hitherto. During subsequent years the Society evinced considerable initiative and daring, despite being founded in a remote and hilly locality inhabited by small farmers and cottagers. It struck out and attracted sundry customers and finally opened grocery shops and stores at Pumpsaint and Llansawel; and later, grocery, boots and shoes, and ironmongery at Lampeter, adding to this establishment in 1932 a National Mark egg grading station; thus taking the initial step on the productive side. It further organized an intensive propaganda to secure a Milk Factory at Lampeter, but the powers that be decided against, and placed the factory at Pont Llanio, which was considered a far inferior locus. The Society may well be proud of its record, having succeeded by dint of very hard work and faith in the cause of co-operation, to become the second largest society in Wales. Such an achievement has been reached by continuous and intensive cultivation of the cooperative spirit, and a desire to keep abreast of the times to provide for the alternating needs of its members. At the end of thirty-four years activities it caters for a wide and expansive area, ranging from the Black Mountains to the Cardiganshire coast, For transport there exists a fleet of 30 lorries and vans. It undertakes the haulage of 4,000 gallons of milk daily. The membership at the end of 1941 was 1,363, of whom 978 reside in Carmarthenshire, and the sales £132,474 15s. Od.
EMLYN AGRICULTURAL CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY formed in 1902, was one of Augustus Brigstocke's earlier societies. The first secretary was E. Rees, Pencelly, This Society is mainly distributive, but of late years has been dealing in members' stocks of potatoes. There is a branch store at Henllan. Membership, 3lst December, 1941, was 809, distributed as follows: ---Carmarthenshire, 359; Cardiganshire, 400; and Pembrokeshire, 50. The turnover was £50,078.
LLANDYSSUL AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVE SOCIETY. Founded in 1902 by Augustus Brigstocke. The first secretary and manager was G. Owens, and the chairman D. Thomas, Cwmhyar. In 1926 a new addition was made to the old stores, when drapery, grocery and ironmongery were added to the business. In 1931 the C.W.S. discontinued taking butter from the Society, consequently in conjunction with the Emlyn and Llanybyther Societies the W.A.O.S. was approached for assistance, the outcome being the erection of Tivyside Creameries Ltd. at Capeldewi with the three societies mentioned taking shares. In 1933 they started selling coal. Up to the year 1934 most of the haulage was done by horse and cart and lorry when available, which did not meet with the demands of the day so a lorry was purchased which gives more satisfaction and increased mobility in transport. During this year the Society was appointed buyers under the Pigs Scheme, when about 500 pigs were despatched during the year. There is a branch store at Pencader which has become too small; it is proposed, as soon as hostilities are over, to provide more accommodation. Membership December 31st, 1941, 674; Carmarthenshire, 360, and Cardiganshire 314. Turnover £27,912.
LLANYBYTHER AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVE SOCIETY. Established in 1903 with nine members. The first secretary David Evans, Dolau-uchaf, chairman D. H. James, Baileybedw. It deals in domestic as well as agricultural commodities. Membership 31st December, 1941, 391. Carmarthenshire, 210, and Cardiganshire 181; the turnover £l6,985.
LLANDOVERY AND DISTRICT AGRICULTURAL CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY. Commenced trading in 1909 with 91 members. James Peters, Penlan, secretary, and Rev. D. Davies, Cilycwm, chairman. The number of members on 31st December, 1914, 282. Carmarthenshire, 278, and 4 in Breconshire. Turnover, £14,546.
LLANELLY AND DISTRICT FARMERS SOCIETY. The first meeting was held in October, 1908, D. L. Bowen secretary and Thomas Jones, Stepney Estate Agent, chairman. Started trading the November following. Branch stores have been opened at Hendy, 1912; Felinfoel, 1922, and at Pontyates and Burry Port, 1924. In 1923 new buildings were erected at Llanelly. The number of members on 31st December, 1941, 714. Carmarthenshire, 574; Glamorgan, 140; the turnover £49,228. Alderman Thomas Thomas, J.P., Caeffair, has been chairman of the Society since its inception, save for a short period. Mr. Thomas is a prominent figure in agricultural circles, to whom Cooperation owes a debt of gratitude for his guidance and leadership.
FARMERS LIMITED, AMMANFORD. Commenced trading in 1917. Secretary, G. V. Davies, Parcwern, and chairman, John Thomas, Ynysdawelog. There were 207 members at the end of 1941, 150 of whom live in the County of Carmarthen, with 57 in Glamorgan. Turnover, 1941, £9.099.
LLANGADOCK AND DISTRICT AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVE SOCIETY. Commenced business In 1906, with Mr. H. Williams as secretary and still acting. His services to the Society have been of great value; the chairman was W. Griffiths, Dolbant. There are branch stores at Gwynfe, Llanddeusant and Glanyrafondu. The membership roll in 1941, 387; the turnover for that year £34,000.
PONTARDULAIS AND DISTRICT FARMERS ASSOCIATION was formed in 1915 with D. Roberts, Institute Street, as secretary, and Thomas Williams, Castelldu, as chairman. There are branch stores at Five Roads and Penllergaer. The number of members at the end of 1941 was 782. 500 being in Carmarthenshire and 282 in Glamorgan, with a turnover of £22,408.
KIDWELLY AGRICULTURAL MACHINERY SOCIETY formed in 1919, its first and present secretary and treasurer being T. Ll. Griffiths, Tanlan, to whom its formation and success are mainly due. The first chairman was R. B. Elliott, Portiscliff. They acquired a Marshall of Gainsborough 7-H.P. Tractor Engine and a 4-ft. Thrashing Machine with a self-feeder, and a Trusser costing £l,150, which was soon cleared off. Threshing is done for non-members as well, a great boon to small farmers who are in the majority. Membership in 1941, 17; and the turnover £200.
KIDWELLY AND DISTRICT FARMERS MART was established in 1921 with S. H. Anthony, Penlan, as secretary. to whose energy the success of the Society is largely due, and Dl. Beynon, Penybedd, chairman. The first mart was held on a plot leased to the Society and afterwards a new site was purchased for £350. The members enrolled at the end of 1941 were 350, and the turnover £697 13s. 10d.
MYRDDIN SEED GROWERS SOCIETY formed in 1942; secretary, Thos. Williams, Mount Pleasant, and chairman, T. H. David, Pentrehowell. Its activities at present are confined to the south-eastern portion of the county. It is proposed to grow pedigree corn and grass seeds to meet the increased demand that must occur after the war is over. It is further equally important that seeds of the best quality should be sown in order to improve our pastures both temporary and permanent, of which there was too large an area of moderate herbage. Similar societies are being formed in almost every county in Wales, with a federation so that overlapping and duplication may be avoided. The Carmarthen Farmers Society has agreed to act as selling agents, and is setting up the necessary cleaning plant at St. Clears depot. There are already 12 members enrolled.
There are 8,573 members of the several societies who reside in this county, some of whom are members of more than one society. In this figure is included a number of rural craftsmen with little or no land. According to the last published returns for the county there are 8,217 holdings of one acre and above, so it can safely be said that more than two-thirds of our farmers are members of a cooperative society, with a turnover for the past year that can hardly be short of £650,000. Such is the achievement of a movement introduced in 1902, amongst an independent and intensely individualistic class of people.