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A History of Carmarthenshire

Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., Cardiff, London Carmarthenshire Society (1935, 1939).

With the kind permission of the publishers sundry snippets from this book have been extracted by Gareth Hicks onto some parish pages, these below are in random order.

Here is a list of the book's contents and contributors.

See the county page for a general introduction to The Early Iron and Coal Industry

See also the county page for a general introduction and Llanelly related  material on;

The Llanelly Ironworks

"It was not until the last decade of the 18th century that iron-working commenced in the Llanelly district. The scattered ironworks in the other parts of the county had been in operation for over half a century, producing high-grade material, using local iron-ore and also importing some from other parts of South Wales. Until the end of the 18th century the Llanelly district was primarily occupied with the mining of coal, and the export of this commodity brought a thriving trade to the 'small village'.

Very small ironworks were started there in 1784 by Kymer, and an English iron master called Yalden. These were erected at the Wern, but soon afterwards Kymer died, and the works were carried on for a few years by Yalden himself. In 1791, another English company, Messrs Givers & Ingman, started a furnace in Llanelly, working on a very small scale. No records for this furnace are available, and in 1796 it passed into the hands of another English iron master, Alexander Raby.

In 1802, an Englishman from Berwick-on-Tweed came to Llanelly and erected a foundry near the dock area. Later the works were moved to the Wern, 'the foundry district of Llanelly'. Raby was a wealthy London merchant who had a large estate at Cobham Park, Surrey. In 1795, Raby sold his estate and came to Llanelly with a quarter of a million pounds. He was an authority on some branches of the iron trade, and Dr Smiles describes him as ' one of the best authorities of the iron trade of the eighteenth century'. Soon after coming to Llanelly, he leased certain lands from the Stradey Estate, and started mining for coal at two small pits at Caemain and Caebad. Not far from these pits were his furnaces, and in the town itself  he erected a forge.

Later, the ironworks were extended, and the iron-ore was brought from the Great Mountain fourteen miles to the north of Llanelly by means of small wagons drawn by horses on wooden rails. They made the journey from and to this place in one day. Iron-ore was also imported from Amlwch (Anglesey) and Lancashire, and was taken to the furnace by tramroad. Before the forge was built the pig-iron was exported to be converted into bar-iron. The Llanelly furnace was situated about half a mile to the north of the town, on the main highway to Carmarthen; the forge stood near the banks of the Lliedi river, on marshy ground to the west of the town. Both were built on low-lying ground, and the Carmarthenshire and Great Mountain 'railway' (really a tramroad) connected them to the Railway or Squire's Dock.

The tramroad went inland to the Great Mountain, and brought back the iron-ore and limestone to the furnaces. Charcoal and coal was used to smelt the iron-ore, and after 1802, when the forge was erected, the pig-iron was sent here to be converted into bar-iron. This was exported from the Railway Dock.

Raby lived at Furnace House, also called the 'Dell', near his furnace. A number of houses were built nearby, and the district is still known as The Furnace.  The manufactured pig-iron was sent to the forge from here. This was a new departure, for previously, Messrs Givers & Ingman sent away the pig-iron to be made into bar-iron. Then it was re-imported and made into the finished products at the Wern foundries.

In 1800, the number of furnaces at Llanelly had increased to four, and after 1802 there were two forges in the town. In 1804, the furnaces were working day and night for the Government ordnance, and this went on until 1805, to provide ammunition for the Napoleonic struggle.

For a time, Raby used charcoal for the manufacture of pig-iron, and he also made coke from the 'small coal' and used it very successfully in his smelting operations. He acquired other extensive collieries in Llanelly, and in addition to iron-smelting, did a great trade in the export of coal. To Raby is also due the method by which an amalgam of iron and copper fused together could again be separated. After the peace of Amiens, he bought a large quantity of guns, which were successfully treated, and at the end of the war with France a great bulk of the cannon came into his hands.

After 1805 a period of depression set in, and the iron trade suffered as a result. Raby was overwhelmed by the prevelant depression, and during the next few years lost a great deal of money in his industrial concerns. He then became interested in copper-smelting with Nevill in Llanelly, and later on, in 1817, transferred his interests to coal mining, particularly in the anthracite region in the Gwendraeth valley.

Raby undoubtedly did a great deal for the foundation of industry in Llanelly, and may be termed the pioneer of the metallurgical industries in south-east Carmarthenshire.  He brought capital into the district, and lost over £175,000 in his industrial efforts. He started coal mining on a large scale, introduced the steam engine, improved the port, and built the Railway Dock (called locally the 'Squire's Dock), as also the early tramroad from the Llanelly Flats to the Great Mountain. He used the steam engine for raising coal, pumping water from the mines, and blowing the bellows in the furnaces. When Raby began operations in Llanelly, the population was 700; in 1801 it was over 2,000.

Thus, for a short time, iron was 'king' in Llanelly. In 1804, a new industry came into the town, brought from Swansea by English and Cornish metallurgists, the Nevills, the Daniels, and the Savills. For the next half-century the non-ferrous metals and coal were to be dominant in Llanelly. "

See the county page for a general introduction to The Early Iron and Coal Industry

The Llanelly Coalfield, 1700-1800

"Coal mining was the initial stage in the industrialisation of the Llanelly district. Coal mining was carried on to a certain extent in Llanelly about 1500, and there is a reference to a pit opened in the early 16th century at Caecotton Isaf. After a few years, this was abandoned in consequence of the flooding of the workings. Leland, about 1536, describes the inhabitants of Llanelly as digging 'coles, elles scant in Kidwelly land'. In 1757, 637 tons of coal were exported and this rose to greater proportions between 1790 and 1800.

During the last half of the 17th century , the ports of South Wales between Cardiff and Milford carried on an important trade in coal and culm; large quantities were beginning to be shipped to Ireland. Llanelly was beginning to assume some importance, primarily because of its coal, and it was in 1684 that the creeks of North and South Burry ( which were merged for customs purposes in that year under the name of Llanelly) began to be very active.

It is 1705 that the next reference occurs to coal mining in Llanelly. Walter Vaughan of Llanelly House drew up a deed of partition, dividing his lands in Llanelly among his four sisters, but the coal mines were to be held in common, Stepney Cawdor and Pemberton now sharing the royalties.

In 1709, a Mr John Rees, classed as a mining adventurer, paid Sir Thomas Stepney £11.11s.6d for royalties on coals worked under his lands. In 1707, over 300 ships left Llanelly with coal. Another writer noted that in 1724 ' Llanelly drove a pretty good trade in coals'. Samuel Rohde, another industrialist, recognised the merits of the Llanelly coal, and was one of the pioneers of coal mining in the district.*

(*Note; The following important veins of coal were worked at this time; a) The 'Rosy' Vein [2 feet thick]; b)The 'Fiery' [3 feet thick]; c) The 'Golden' or 'Cilfig' Vein [2 feet thick]; d) The 'Bushy' Vein [2 feet thick] )

In 1747, Robert Morgan, the Carmarthen iron master, leased some lands in Llanelly from Sir Thomas Stepney at Llwyngyfarthwch, and started working the coal, which was sent by road to Carmarthen. About the same time, some of the earliest collieries in Llanelly were opened by Thomas Bowen and Hector Rees at Penyfan. In 1750, Mansel of Stradey opened collieries at Cwmddyche and Caemain. At this time these were the only coal mines in the vicinity. The small coal produced was carried in sacks on the backs of horses and mules to the small rafts on the Llanelly Flats (the Sandy beach). The colliery at Penyfan was soon discontinued, owing to an accident which happened to the water engine employed to drain the shaft, and the colliery was never reopened.

One of the most important pioneers of coal mining in Llanelly was Sir Thomas Stepney, who himself was engaged in colliery operations, and this is confirmed in an account of the sales of a cargo of coals shipped by him to Lisbon, bringing back a cargo of salt in 1753.

It was the period 1750-1800 that witnessed the great development of the 'Llanelly Coalfield'. During these fifty years, English capitalists came into the district, and leased lands from Sir E V Mansel of Stradey and Sir Thomas Stepney. The Stepney family had started connections with Llanelly at the end of the 17th century, and Sir Thomas, the seventh baronet, can be designated the pioneer of its early activities in coal mining. He opened up the mineral wealth that lay beneath his lands, and was in touch with important importers of coal in London. In 1750, Thomas Cole wrote thus to Sir Thomas Stepney from London;

'Mr Gibson and Capt. Biggin...........are coming to see your coal-works. If Capt Biggin likes your coals he will undertake to vend you 50 or 60 thousand chaldrons a year. At the same time he very much likes the last account you sent of your harbour.'

There were two or three places on the Llanelly Flats where coal could be shipped, but this is the first reference to a harbour, as such, in Llanelly. It could not have been of much importance, for Raby, the iron master, had to build the Carmarthenshire or 'Railway 'Dock in 1799.

In 1750, many new collieries were started. Charles Gwyn opened a pit at Llwynhendy, and raised coal by means of a water-wheel. The first reference to a fire engine employed at a coal mine in the area is at Cwmfelin colliery in 1750. The coal mined here was taken to Spitty Bank (the west side of the Burry Estuary) by means of a wooden railroad with small wooden wagons.

David Shewen, a relative of Mansel, was another important industrialist in Llanelly at this time. In 1758, Mansel let the coal under certain parts of his lands to Shewen for a term of sixty years, and in 1759 he received a lease of all the coal under Penygaer, Bryngwyn, and the Park-y-crydd, or Cilfig vein. Shewen had extensive coal works at Penygaer and Bryngwyn.

From 1762 onwards there appeared numerous steam engines on the Llanelly coalfield, which were set up to work great amounts of coal. The English capitalists brought them into the area.  In 1753, Sir Thomas Stepney had leased all the coal under his lands in Borough and Westfa Hamlets to Chauncey Townsend, an alderman of the City of London, and in 1762, he also took all the unleased coal under the Stradey Estate from Mansel for 99 years. Townsend set up a powerful engine at Genwen, and sunk down to the great vein, nine feet in thickness. In 1767 he constructed a small canal from Cwmfelin to Spitty Bank, and large quantities of coal were shipped from there to London. In 1768, Edward Rees of Towyn worked the seams under the sea at Pwll, between Pembrey and Llanelly.

Chancey Townsend died in 1770, and the collieries were carried on by his sons and his son-in-law John Smith. In 1785, Smith started to work the coal at Half-way.

(the book has a sketch plan of 'Site of Llanelly Forge and Collieries, 1810' and also of 'The Llanelly Coalfield, 1850')

There is very little material available for the period from 1750 to 1800 with which to write a detailed account of the collieries on the 'Llanelly Coalfield', but the maps in the Stepney Estate book are valuable in so far as it is possible to draw distribution maps of the various collieries from 1761 onwards.

Other collieries opened in Llanelly before 1790 were;

  • in 1754, John Allen opened pits at Wern, Caeau Gleision, and Caecotton
  • Waunhallt and St George were opened in 1766
  • and in 1775, Carnarvon and Caenewydd pits, owned by Colonel Cameron
  • in 1791, Lady Mansel had collieries at Penyfinglawdd, Sandy, Morfa Bach, Caeperson, Caerhalen, Waunelly, and Cifig
  • in 1794, Sir John Stepney leased certain lands to Roderick and Bowen, who opened pits at Llannerch, Talsarnau, and the Wern
  • They also opened the Bres pit, and reopened Allen's old collieries at Caeau Gleision and Caecotton
  • Other pits opened at this time were Pwll Cae Pulpud, Pwll Cornel, Pwll Merchant, Pwll Melyn, and Pwll Uchaf y Wern

In 1796, Gwyn leased land from Sir E Sewin Mansel, with all the coal from Stradey to Loughor, but Gwyn's enterprise did not prosper, and in 1797 Lady Mansel leased part of  the land to Alexander Raby, while Gwyn continued to work at the Box colliery. Finally, in 1798, Raby secured most of the area and opened pits at Caemain, Caebad, Cille, Cae'r Elms, and Cilfig. Raby set to work to produce great amounts of coal. He brought into the area one of Trevethick's steam engines, and set it to work at the Caebad colliery.

The next important owner of collieries in and around Llanelly was General warde. Between 1800 and 1810 he owned and worked the following;

  • Box colliery (which had been started by Raby)
  • Halfway (bought from Charles and Henry Smith, sons of John Smith)
  • Cwmfelin
  • Genwen
  • Bynea
  • Pencoed
  • Ffosfach
  • Bryn
  • and in 1810 he started the Erw Fawr pit and loaded 51 vessels with Old Castle coal
  • in 1813 he restarted the Box colliery, cutting the great Box Vein at 32 fathoms, and a four-foot vein at 70 fathoms
  • in 1829, all the General's collieries were purchased by R J Nevill & Co, the copper and lead smelters of Llanelly

There are various interesting references to Warde's collieries. In 1806, Warde installed a Boulton and Watt engine at Genwen colliery, with a 52 inch cylinder to drain the pit. On April 13, 1804, the 'Bryn Colliery is in full work. Vessels may load at all times of tide at Spitty Bank, opposite Loughor, at 36/- per small Wey of Winchester bushels'. On March 22 the same year, 'General Warde was called immediately to India, but previous to the General's departure he gave orders for the immediate opening of his extensive collieries on the Burry river upon a large scale.' In 1807 further progress was made, and many other collieries begun by Townsend were reopened.

Reference has already been made to the colliery activities of Roderick and Bowen, who commenced operations in 1794. This company still carried on extensive collieries in the district, and in June, 1804, the following announcement was made;  'Llanelly Fiery Vein Coal; Messrs Roderick and Bowen beg leave to acquaint their friends and masters of vessels in general, they are enabled from the extension of their works this year, to lower the price of their coal.' There is also reference to the fact that there is ' a great dock now forming on the Llanelly flats'

The Pembertons were also pioneers of the coal trade in Llanelly, and in 1804 acquired some of Roderick and Bowen's collieries. They owned the Bres colliery, and also sank the St George's pit, which was managed by Webb. They constructed a huge tunnel under the Marble Hall district, whence the name of the modern Tunnel Road.

With the coming of the non-ferrous metal works to Llanelly after 1804, the collieries of the district were purchased by Messrs Daniel, Nevill & Co, who worked the collieries for over half a century, using the coal in their works, and also exporting huge quantities after the construction of docks in the first half of the 19th century. These collieries will be discussed in conjunction with the non-ferrous metal industries.

A few years before 1790, Thomas Kymer, the Kidwelly coal owner, had started mining for coal at the Great Forest colliery just outside Kidwelly. He built a three mile canal to carry the coal from the colliery to the canal quay, where it was sold. The coal was sent to Carmarthen, Llanstephan, Ferryside, Cardigan, and St Clears. This is the only reference in the period 1700-1800 to stone or anthracite coal.

It is well known that the secret of successful deep mining and consequently the progress of the coal mining industry depended on the use of the steam engine for the pumps. The Carmarthenshire coalfield played an important part in this development, and a few references to the progress in this respect is a fitting close to this section. On February 4, 1804, 'Mr Trevethick's engine was set to work on the colliery of Alexander Raby Esq. The simplicity of this new system of working by steam seems to possess considerable advantages over any other before witnessed. On March 9 of the same year, an 'experiment tried last week at Llanelly by Mr Henry Vivian, engineer to Mr Trevethick's patent engine, by working the same with stone coal, which predicts an acquisition to the proprietors of those works hitherto unexpected'. On May 11, ' the ingenious Mr Griffiths, the principal engineer at Llanelly, has added some considerable improvements in the mode of working Mr Trevethick's patent engine'. In 1808, January 15, ' On Saturday last, a double power steam engine of 45 ins diameter was put in motion on the extensive veins of coal belonging to Ralph Pemberton Esq, at Llanelly in Carmarthenshire' "

(the book has notes of the several sources used in compiling the above chapter)

Gareth Hicks