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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 extracts from this book have been extracted by Gareth Hicks.

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




Minor Industries, Railways, Docks, and Shipping

By L W Evans

One of the outstanding features of the industrial era is the complex interdependence of industries upon each other. This feature is well illustrated in south-eastern Carmarthenshire. One of the main branches of the copper-smelting industry at Llanelly was yellow metal and brass manufacture. These were carried on by Messrs Nevill, Druce & Co. Yellow metal was extensively used for sheathing wooden ships, and to a great extent replaced copper sheathing after 1840. The same firm had a very important shipbuilding yard near their Cambrian leadworks. The shipbuilding became important after 1830, when the importation of foreign ores demanded the construction of larger vessels for longer journeys, especially to South America for the Chilean ores. In 1840 we hear of Garrett being an important builder of wooden ships; vessels were also put together at Jobbing's Wharf, which was also an important repairing yard. It is situated where the Patent Slip is today.

In 1863, the Llanelly Iron Shipping Company was formed and was managed by W H Nevill, of the copperworks. Iron was now used for shipping, and the various local ironworks supplied the iron plates. Associated with the building of ships were the side-industries of anchor, rope, and sail-making, and all were found in close proximity to the above wharfs.

Another branch of copper-smelting grew into an important chemical industry, the existence of which in this region in the mid-century added yet another attraction for the new steel and tinplate works. After 1850, there were four chemical works in Llanelly, manufacturing vitriol mainly for the local tinplate works. It has been already noted that after 1840, with the introduction and increasing utilisation of Spanish copper-ores, high in sulphur content, there was a great deal of wastage of gases in the smelting operations. These valuable by-products were subsequently utilised , and formed the basis of the local chemical industry.

One important chemical works was started in New Dock, Llanelly, by John Bevan, and another very extensive chemical manufactory was built after 1860 by Messrs Samuel Bevan & Son near the Dolau. Arsenic was also a very valuable by-product, and this was produced by Robert Dunkin in his works near the New Dock. With the rapid development of the tinplate industry after 1890, and the introduction of new processes, various acids were procured from areas further afield, and the local manufactories died out.

If we leave out of consideration purely rural industries, such as woollen manufacture, an important industry in Llanelly in the middle of the 19th century was the manufacture of pottery. In 1840, William Chambers opened the South Wales Pottery, and in 1855 , Messrs Coombs and Holland carried on the business. Subsequently, the concern was worked out by Messrs Holland and Guest; after a stoppage of some years it was restarted by Messrs Guest and Dewsberry in 1878. After 1900, very little work was carried on, and the industry gradually died away.

Mention could be made of further subsidiary industries, such as salt-making, soap-making (carried on at the Wern by W H Nevill), glass-making at Bynea, brick-making at Kidwelly and Llanelly, and brewing.

Just as the minor industries are linked with the major ones described in previous sections, no account of industrial activity is complete without mention of the enormous developments in transport which made possible the comings and goings of man and materials associated with the new life which we have described.

The supreme importance of railway transport in the new age is made abundantly clear, when we realise that in twenty years after railway construction made a serious beginning in Carmarthenshire in 1840, it had almost completely displaced all other methods of transport in the county. In 1835, an Act of Parliament was passed authorising the construction of a railway from Llanelly to Llandilo, with branches to Cwmamman and Brynamman. This was called the Llanelly Railway, opened in 1841; it followed the Loughor river for the greater part of its length. Nine years later, the South Wales Railway was opened, bitterly opposed by the Llanelly residents, with the result that the railway was built on the outskirts of the town. In 1853, the South Wales railway was carried on from Gloucester, through Cardiff, Swansea, and Llanelly to Haverfordwest. After 1850, therefore, Llanelly had connections with more distant centres of population, in addition to the railway which ran to Llandilo and the north of the county. In August, 1863, the GWR absorbed the South Wales Railway Co, and in 1872, the old broad gauge was altered to the ordinary narrow gauge now used in Britain.

The Llanelly Railway and Dock Co was operated by the GWR from 1873, and absorbed in 1889. The railway from Llanelly to Tumble was opened on January 1, 1883, that from Burry Port to Cwmmawr in 1869, the Kidwelly branch in 1873. These railways connected the anthracite area with the ports.

The development of railways from 1840 onwards not only superseded the old canals and tramroads, but also accelerated the development of the anthracite coalfield. The opening of the Swansea Vale railway in 1860-2 robbed the Carmarthenshire ports of much of their activities, for from this time onwards much of the anthracite coal of the upper Tawe and Amman Valleys was shipped from Swansea. After 1888, however, with the greater development of the Gwendraeth Valley collieries, the small railways serving the ports of Llanelly and Burry Port kept a vigorous export trade in coal. In the pre-industrial period, there were no docks in Carmarthenshire, and the shipping of cargoes was done at small quays or banks in the estuaries of the Towy, Gwendraeth, Taf, Burry and Loughor rivers. The vessels engaged in trade at that period were always small and could enter the shallow estuaries without much difficulty. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Llanelly, Kidwelly, and Carmarthen shipped quantities of coal to London, Bideford, and the Channel Islands, and in 1792, Carmarthen was a more important port than Cardiff;

  • Carmarthen; vessels=57; tonnage=2,293
  • Cardiff; vessels=22; tonnage=789

Reference has already been made to the development of the collieries around Llanelly from 1750 onwards. In that year, Sir Thomas Stepney devised some form of harbour on the Llanelly flats for the shipment of coal to London. In 1794, Roderick and Bowen constructed a poor harbour, for in 1799 Raby had to build the Carmarthenshire 'Dock'. With the development of the non-ferrous metal industries in 1804, large vessels bringing freights of ore from Cornwall had to be accommodated, with the result that the Copperworks Dock was opened for shipping in that year; it was improved in 1809 and 1814. In 1805, the first chart of the Burry Inlet was drawn up by Captain John Wedge, and in 1813 an Act of Parliament was passed 'For the improvement of the Navigation of the Rivers Burry, Loughor, and Lliedi in the Counties of Carmarthen and Glamorgan.' The western ballast bank was now built, forming the harbour.

The development of iron and coal industries around Pembrey and Burry Port demanded the construction of additional harbours in the first quarter of the 19th century. Pembrey Harbour was built in 1810, and Burry Port Harbour was opened in 1820.

With the opening of the collieries in the Llangennech and St David's area, the St David's tramroad was built in 1828, and the New Dock or Llangennech Dock was opened in 1836 which was later taken over by the GWR. Further Acts for the improvement of the Burry and Loughor rivers were passed in 1840, 1843, 1850, and 1863, for Llanelly had become the centre of a prosperous non-ferrous metal industry, and large quantities of coal were exported from the local collieries. After 1875, with the opening of the anthracite area and the localisation of the steel and tinplate industries on the seaboard, large amounts of foreign ore were imported, and there were corresponding large exports of coal, especially after 1880.

By the Llanelly Harbour Act of 1896 the Llanelly Harbour Trust was formed, taking over the duties of the old Harbour Commissioners. The North Dock was built in 1896 and opened in December, 1903. This dock was built to facilitate the handling of larger vessels, which were now able to load or discharge their cargoes whilst lying afloat. This dock also exports coal from the collieries of the interior and thus reduces the railway carriage paid for shipping the coal at other more distant ports. A more recent feature has been the ownership of private wharfs by companies, e.g Richard, Thomas & Co (South Wales Steel Works).

(in the book are extensive notes of sources for this chapter)



Gareth Hicks  

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