THE ARCHAEOLOGY AND EARLY
HISTORY OF AMMANFORD
What follows is a brief summary of the archaeology of Llandybie, the Amman Valley, and Betws taken from the Amman Valley Heritage Audit prepared by Cambria Archeology in January 2003 (Report No: 2003/5), by Paul Sambrook and Jenny Hall)
The study area encompasses the modern parishes of Llandybie, Llanfiangel Aberbythych (Carmel), Cyngor Bro Dyffryn Cennen, Cwmamman, Llandadog and Quarter Bach (Cwmllynfell), Llanedi, Betws and Gwaun Cae Gurwen to the south.
The survey covers the period from the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) at approx 250,000 BC to 1900 AD.
AMMAN VALLEY HERITAGE AUDIT
The information included in this report has been prepared largely from the Regional Sites and Monuments Records (SMR) for Carmarthenshire and Glamorganshire. These are publicly accessible records held by Cambria Archaeology, Llandeilo and The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, Swansea, two of the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts.
The purpose of the report is to present the archaeological record for Amman Valley and immediately adjacent areas and to draw attention to the main historical themes that are suggested by the content of the Sites and Monuments Records. It is not intended to be a definitive history of the district. Hopefully, it could be a starting point for local groups to identify themes and places that may be suitable for interpretation in the future.
A key feature of the SMR is that all sites are given a unique record number, known as the Primary Reference Number (PRN). PRNs are quoted in the following text. PRNs that are suffixed with the letter "w" signify that the site is located in West Glamorgan. References beginning 'SN' are Ordnance Survey Grid References.This data base can be accessed online at www.acadat.com.
The Landscape Background
Amman Valley covers a large and varied geographical area. It includes the communities of Gwaun-cae-gurwen in Glamorganshire and Quarter Bach (Brynamman) Cwmaman, Ammanford, Llandybie, Betws and Llanedi in Carmarthenshire. The study area also includes portions of Bro Dyffryn Cennen and Llangadog to the north and Llanfihangel Aberbythych (Carmel) and Llanedi to the west.
Geologically, the area includes rocks of the Carboniferous Upper and Middle Coal Measures Series, which include rich seams of anthracite coals and some iron ore, the exploitation of which has contributed much to the history of the valley. Hard Carboniferous Millstone Grits outcrop along the northern boundary of the area, which have long been quarried for silica sand and building stone. Beyond the Millstone Grit is a band of Carboniferous Limestone, which has historically been as a source of stone and lime for agricultural fertiliser.
The Aman river valley cuts east-west through the middle of the area and during the last century has provided both the focus of settlement in the district and also a route for the main road and rail links. The former mining settlements of the valley are typical of many the former mining villages of the South Wales coalfield.
A fairly narrow band of enclosed farmland exists along the lower slopes of both sides of the valley, separating the villages from the moorlands of the upland blocks found both to the north and south of the valley floor. The land rises away from the river in both directions, gradually at first, but with the slope increasing with altitude. The western end of the Black Mountain range lies to the north, achieving an altitude of 480m on Tair Cam Uchaf, whilst to the south is Mynydd y Betws, which rises to a maximum altitude of 371m at the southern edge of the area at Penlle'r castell.
The Afon Aman is a tributary of the Llwchwr, which flows northsouth through a broad valley creating a relatively gentle landscape in Llandybie and Llanedi communities. At the western edge of the study area, the Millstone Grit and Limestone ridge, which are interrupted by the Llwchwr above Llandybie, once again gain altitude at Cilyrychen and form a noticeable physical barrier in the landscape west of Pentregwenlais.
The common land which forms the northern third of the area is part of the extensive moorland of the Black Mountain range which is now included in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
ARCHAEOLOGY BY PERIOD
Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) 250,000 BC 10,000 BC
It is possible that bones (PRN 815) found at the Pantyllyn or Craig-y-Derwyddon caves near Llandybie in the 19th century were a rare find of evidence for very early human activity in the area, during the last ice age. Unfortunately, many of the human bones found were destroyed at the time, and human skulls taken away and later lost. Animal bones found within the cave at the time included wild boar and elk. A hyena's tooth found in Dinas cave, Llandybie (PRN 7522) is also a reminder of how different the flora and fauna of the district must have been over 10,000 years ago.
Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) 10,000BC 4,000 BC
During Mesolithic times, it is possible that this remote and mountainous district was a periodic hunting area for communities based further to the south. The people of this time were hunter-gatherers, and moved from place to place rather than living in settled communities. As they didn't live in permanent settlements or bury their dead in graves we can easily identify they can be difficult to identify in the archaeological record. The clearest evidence of their presence is usually the flint tools they have left behind, or scatters of flint flakes at sites where those tools were fashioned. There are no current recorded find of Mesolithic artefacts.
Neolithic (New Stone Age) 4,000 BC 2,500 BC
Although the archaeological evidence for this period in the area is limited, a number of sites of possible Neolithic date are recorded and show it likely that some settlement had occurred by this time. The Neolithic was the age of the first farmers. For the first time in this country, settled communities tied to the land developed. Perhaps the most notable evidence of these societies are their religious monuments, such as stone circles and chambered-tombs. A former stone circle site is recorded at Llandybie (PRN 640) and a Neolithic flint axe (PRN 844) has been found at the school playing fields at Ammanford.
Bronze Age (2,500 BC 800 BC)
Most of the relatively large number of prehistoric monuments recorded within the study area are Bronze Age in date. A significant number of Bronze Age funerary cairns are found on the high ground at the northern and southern extremities of the area. They are typically sited just below the top of the hill so that they would appear prominent on the horizon to anyone looking upslope from the valley, such as at Tair Cam Uchaf and Tair Cam Isaf on the western flanks of Y Mynydd Du. The heaps of stones which form these cairns would have been placed over a cremation burial or burials and they may have been intended to serve as territorial markers as well as graves.
On Mynydd y Betws, there are several clusters of cairns, which may represent the cemeteries of long-lost communities, including the Henrhyd Cairns, which are Scheduled Ancient Monuments (PRNs 863-6; SAM Carm 178).
As well as cairns, there are examples of probable Bronze Age standing stones and a ring- barrow at Penycoed, on the western boundary of the study area (PRN5 4866, 11599 & 13260, around SN660154). Another standing stone, which is known locally by an unusual name is Llech yr Aberth (The Sacrificial Stone PRN 4879), is one of several found on Mynydd y Betws. Archaeological excavation has shown that Bronze Age standing stones are usually associated with cremation burials, which may be made in the vicinity of the stone.
A burnt-mound or hearth, a typically Bronze Age site type, is recorded at Cwmffrwd (PRN 7805; SN675 146). Burnt mounds consist of crescent-shaped heaps of burned stones and charcoal, obviously the product of heating large quantities of stone. They are usually found next to watercourses and it is generally thought that they result from heating water for some purpose. What that purpose was has never been satisfactorily explained, but suggestions range from cooking food to making sweat lodges.
A number of finds of Bronze Age artefacts have also been recorded in the area, including bronze axe heads from Pantyllyn (PRN 818) and Ferdre, Trapp (PRN 12193).
A major Cadw funded project is currently under way, which involves visiting and reassessing all recorded prehistoric funerary and ritual monuments. This will greatly enhance the SMR record and the information available to the public in relation to all these monuments in the near future.
Iron Age (800 BC 43 AD)
[Iron technology was first brought to the British Isles by the Celts who settled here from about 800 BC]
There are a number of sites in the Llandybie area that are of Iron Age date, or possible Iron Age date. A hillfort is known at Penygam (PRN64 1), another possible fort at Waunycastell, Llandeilo Fawr parish (PRN799) and a destroyed fort at Tireinon, Llandybie (PRN85 1).
One fascinating link with the traditions of the Iron Age Celts survives in the mention of Amanwy (Amman) in the ancient Welsh tale of the hunting of the Twrch Trwyth, by King Arthur and his men
Roman (43 AD 410 AD)
There are no known sites associated directly with Roman occupation in the area, such as forts or roads, but finds of Roman coins in the area show that Roman influence was felt. A Roman coin hoard was found in the late 18 century at Forge Llandyfan (PRN8 11). Several copper coins were found at Carreg Cennen castle in 1845 (PRN4002). During the early 20 century there was a find of a coin of the Emperor Maximianus (286-31 OAD) (PRN654) and during the late 20th century bronze and silver coins were reported from Maes Dewi, Llandybie (PRN 13183).
Dark Ages (410 AD 1092 AD)
It is probable that Dark Age communities existed in the Amman Valley and exploited the extensive mountain pastures of the district. We know that in pre-Norman times, that the maenor was an important unit of economic and political division. In the Lichfield Gospel Book, which dates to the 9th century AD and was originally kept at Llandeilo Fawr church, very important documentary evidence survives for the existence of a Maenor Meddynfrch in the area of the parish of Llandybie. The name of Maenor Betws was also known during later medieval times. It may well be therefore that some ecclesiastical parishes, such as Betws and Llanedi, are based on these old Welsh maenor units. Ecclesiastical sites are often the only identifiable link we have to this period, but some local communities, such as Cwmaman Community, are relatively new creations and have no ancient parish church.
The activities of one Celtic saint, St Illtyd, are recalled in the designation of one of the footpaths across Mynydd y Betws into Glamorganshire as St Illtyd's Way.
[For a fuller account of Myddynfych Maenor see 'Myddynfych Farm, the oldest building in Ammanford' ' in the 'History' section of this web site].
Medieval (1092 AD 1540 AD)
During the Medieval period, the area was on the southern border of the commote of Iscennen, within the territory of the princes of Dinefwr. To the south of Mynydd y Betws lay the Norman lordship of Gwyr (Gower). Llanedi lay within the medieval commote of Carnwyllion, an ancient unit that became a division of the Hundred of Kidwelly during Norman times.
There is little physical evidence of medieval settlement in the area today, but some local placenames give hints of where that settlement might have been. To the south of the Aman, placenames such as Hafod and Hendy hint at the use of Mynydd y Betws from early times, probably as an area of upland pasture or hafod. [A 'hafod', was an upland farm used in the summer. When winter closed in, the family would bring their livestock down to the 'hendre', or lowland farm for the winter].
By medieval times, it is likely that the land along the Amman valley was well established farmland. It is likely that the general settlement pattern was one of dispersed farms and small hamlets the earliest villages may have been found around the parish churches of Betws, Llandybie and Llanedi,
The hills either side of the valley would have had much more open mountain pasture than at present. These hills are dotted with the remains of the huts and houses of medieval and later shepherds and cowherds, who would spend the summer months with their families and animals on the hill. These are the hafodydd of medieval times. Records exist (see note 1) which show that in the 14th century the traditional summer pastures of Ferdre Fawr (near Trapp), the farm of Castell Carreg Cennen, were in the wastes of Cwm Pedol. This arrangement was doubtlessly repeated across the whole district, with lowland communities enjoying rights of common grazing on the adjacent hills.
North of the Amman, a host of interesting names provide echoes of former times. Tir Syr Walter [Sir Walter's land] and Tir Powell Ddu tell us something of the identity of early landowners in the district. Hendre Fawr may be the site of an early farmstead or hendre. Cynghordy (the House of Council) is a name found elsewhere in the county and which has distinct medieval overtones. It may have associations with an early manorial court of some kind and a local tale that nearby Trecynllaeth farm was the site of a gallows where felons were put to death may be significant. Neuadd still exists as a farm name, but this was a hunting lodge of the princes of Deheubarth during medieval times.
A number of castles in the area remind us of less settled times in the past. On the Glamorganshire side of the county boundary on Mynydd y Betws, is the medieval castle of Penlle'r Castell. Two other medieval castles in the area are the little known motte castle at Tirydail, Ammanford, and the dramatic hilltop fortress of Carreg Cennen.
During later medieval times, however, the need for large military castles faded and the rise of the landed gentry saw the development of large private estates, with their mansion at the heart, rather than the castle. The great estates of eastern Carmarthenshire included that of Derwydd, Llandybie, which had historic associations with the family of Dinefwr, at one time the royal family of the Kingdom of Deuheubarth. Another Llandybie house of historical interest is that of Glynhir, which was owned by the DuBuisson family during the 19th century, who had a profitable knife factory close by.
Post Medieval: Industry (1540 AD 1900 AD)
[1540 was the date of the 'union' of England and Wales under Henry the Eighth. From this date on Wales lost her independence and was subject to English law.]
Limestone was quarried for many centuries on the Mynydd Du and burned in kilns on the mountain to produce lime to fertilise the land. Lime from the area was bought by farmers from as far away as Ceredigion when the industry was in its heyday. Llandybie was one of the main centres of production by the l9th century but lime was produced along the whole length of the limestone belt that runs across the northern margin of the area.
Lime was also an important material in the iron smelting process and was also quarried for that purpose. This was true also of the millstone grit and silica sandstones that lie between the coal measures and the limestone and were extensively quarried and crushed in Carmarthenshire.
Most coal mined in the Amman valley before the Industrial Revolution was probably extracted by local people for their own use either as domestic fuel or for lime burning. Early coal workings were simple affairs, the parish history of Betws records that even in the early 19th century it was common for gunpowder to be used to blast the coal, ignited by shovelfuls of hot coals thrown down into the workings from the surface.
The nature of the coal seams and the topography in the Carmarthenshire anthracite areas is suited to driving 'drifts', locally known as 'slants' into the hillside, following the dip of the coal seam. This was particularly true of the earlier and smaller collieries, which usually went after easily accessible coal.
"Hushing" may also have been used by early miners, namely the technique of letting dammed water flow downhill to wash away the topsoil and expose seams which outcropped close to the surface. The "Gwter Fawr" at Brynaman may have been created by such a process over 150 years ago.
Deeper reserves were eventually worked by deep mining methods, but no deep mines now work in the anthracite coalfield.
The expansion of the industry can be traced on the three editions of the Ordnance Survey 1:10560 map series published in 1891, 1901 and 1907.
Great consideration went into the development of some early collieries in the Amman valley, probably the most important of which was a boat level opened at Brynlloi, Glanaman. This mine operated during the 1750's and consisted of a level driven into the hill, which was then made into a subterranean canal, connected to pillar and stall workings at the coalface.
It was Carmarthenshire anthracite that would establish Welsh coal as an internationally acclaimed fuel and would lead to a new impetus for expansion within the industry. Much of the credit for this goes to a Yorkshireman named Edward Cleeves, owner of the Cross Hands Colliery Company and known as "the father of the anthracite industry." His Gwaun-cae-gurwen Colliery became the first colliery to introduce the mechanical breaking, sizing and washing of coal. Cleeves travelled widely advertising his product, which won acclaim at European Trade Exhibitions at Amsterdam (1883), Antwerp (1885), Barcelona (1888) and Paris (1889). One of the new markets opened up during this period was the market gardening industry of the Netherlands, anthracite coal proving ideal to heat its hothouses, whilst the invention of an anthracite burning stove in Scandinavia in 1880 as well as new developments in central heating added to the overseas domestic fuel market, particularly in France, Germany and Italy. Anthracite was seen as a fuel suited best to the closed ovens or fires of new central heating systems, rather than for burning on an open hearth. It was rarely used as a household coal outside the anthracite coalfield. The new markets meant that the period 1887-1902 saw almost a 300% increase in the output of the South Wales anthracite collieries, half of the coal going for export.
The dangers of working underground were ever present and many lives were lost in the Amman Valley collieries. However, the anthracite collieries were less troubled by gas explosions that those working the bituminous coals of the Glamorganshire valleys. The worst recorded single accident in the district occurred at the Garnant Pit in 1884, when 10 men lost their lives.
Iron & Tinplate
Iron ore present in the coal measures was used until the 18 century to produce iron locally and elsewhere in the county.
The skilled industrial workforce of the Amman Valley, the railway and the proximity of large coal reserves encouraged associated industries to set up in the valley. By the late 19 th century the Amman Valley Ironworks was operating near Brynaman.
During the peak of the industrial period, the tinplate industry boomed in Carmarthenshire, particularly the Llanelli area. The Amman valley saw several tinplate works develop during the later 19th century. By the opening of the 20th century, both the Raven Sheet Steel Works and the Gamant Tinplate Works had been built within Glanaman; handily located alongside the railway line.
Fireclays were often found associated with the coal seams of the district and these were exploited by many collieries during the 19th and 20th centuries in order to manufacture bricks. Often these bricks are stamped with the name of the colliery that produced them, such as "Ammanford Colliery."
Post Medieval: Non-Industrial (1540 AD 1900 AD)
There is no doubt that the lands along the Amman Valley floor and the lower slopes of the valley sides have been farmed for many centuries, possibly even thousands of years. The farmed land has also extended up the tributary valleys of the River Amman that flow from the high ground either side of the valley.
Despite the growth and retreat of industry during the past 150 years, much of the Amman Valley has never lost its rural atmosphere and outside the narrow strip of urban development along the valley floor, the land continues to be farmed. Indeed, a striking aspect of the history of the area is the close links between the industrial population and the land; before the industrial boom of the late 19th century many amongst the rural population spent at least part of their working lives engaged in coal mining and, when the industries of the valley were in full production, many of their workers kept in touch with the land, by keeping a small plot of land on which they could keep a cow or a few pigs as an insurance against hardship. The fact that a great number of the immigrants into the valley came from rural Wales, and were very familiar with country ways, made this all the easier.
The biography of David Williams, Cwmgarw, Brynaman describes perfectly an example of the collier-farmer in the pre-industrial Amman Valley;
"He was at the roots of everything it was he who cut the coal near Blaenwaun, he would raise it, he would put it on the back of the little horse, he would take it to Blaentwrch to burn the lime, he would bring back the lime, he would spread it over the land... so it was he who made things grow on the barren land of Cwmgarw. (see note 2 below)
Many of the early coal mines on Mynydd y Betws were small workings opened by local landowners and farmers. It was common for farmers in the valley to send their sons to work underground when work was slack on the land, but there remained times of year when all hands were required at home, particularly around the harvest period. At such times coal mining would slacken, and temporary employment would be sought on the land.
The communal effort to gather the harvest was undoubtedly an ancient and important tradition. The whole community would join together to cut and bind a field as quickly as possible. The harvest would be followed by a 'reaping festival' of song, games and beer, for although the harvest meant a great deal of physical effort, but also an excellent opportunity for socialising and enjoyment. Although as many as 15-20 young boys and girls would be seen reaping a field, great pride was taken amongst the more experienced reapers, determined to cut the crop evenly and as close to the ground as possible. In the mid- 19 century, David Harries of Cwm Nant Gamant was considered to be the area's champion reaper (see note 3 below).
Settlement has pushed onto the old commons of the Black Mountain and Mynydd y Betws during recent centuries. The mountain fringes are characterised by small cottages and farms carved out of the mountain wastes. The later settlements are often given away by the rectangular shape of their fields, best seen on Mynydd y Betws at Plas y Coed and Gelli Fawr, above Cwmgors. However, Lluest, on the study area boundary north of Brynaman is a name that suggests a fairly early enclosure of mountain ground. The term lluest is a medieval one, referring to a temporary encampment, but between the 16th and 19th centuries, lluestau were either dairying or shepherding stations on upland commons, characterised by a small cottage and a parcel of land enclosed from the mountain and improved.
Over many centuries, shepherds and cowherds have turned their flocks and herds out onto the Black Mountain commons, and before the 19th century, would usually stay on the commons with the animals. The foundations of the huts and enclosures they used can still be seen dotted across the commons, particularly in the shelter of small stream valleys. A similar picture is seen on Mynydd y Betws also.
Shepherds have always had to bring their flocks down from the commons at the end of the summer grazing season and return them to their rightful owners. To this end, the whole of the Black Mountain commons are ringed by sheepfold complexes, some of which remain in use, usually located near the 'mountain gate' or the point where old parish roads run onto the common. An example can be seen just north of Abernantglas, Twynmynydd.
Although the main focus of coal mining during the first quarter of the 19th century was around Llanelli, the potential of the northern anthracite coalfield was widely appreciated. The development of the coal resources of the area, as well as general trade, was however impeded by the poor communications routes into the valley.
The old trackways across the mountains to the north and south were not ideal trading routes, although before the 19th century, local produce was carried as far as Llandeilo, Swansea and Neath to be sold at fairs and markets (it must be remembered that Ammanford did not exists as a town until after the mid- 19th century). "Ffordd Castell Nedd" (Neath Road) and "Ffordd Abertawe" (Swansea Road) were the names given to two of the tracks which crossed the old ford at Henrhyd on Mynydd y Betws.
The first improvement in communications came with the building of the Turnpike Road, from the west, into the upper Amman Valley in 1817. The Turnpike roads of West Wales were to become despised by the common people by the 1830's, although it must be noted that they were often the first decent roads to be built in some areas. This arose due to the fact that toll-gates were set up to collect tolls to finance their building and provide profit for the companies which were responsible for their construction,. The tollgates were the focus of the Rebecca Riots during the period
1839-43. In 1819, a road was built between Brynaman and Llangadog, improving access into the eastern part of the upper Amman Valley.
A great impetus to develop the Amman valley coal reserves was provided in 1835, when anthracite was successfully used as a fuel in the open-hearth iron smelting process. This resulted in an increase in both the demand for anthracite and iron smelting in Carmarthenshire.
It was not long before the Amman Valley gained its first rail link, when the Llanelli Railway reached Ammanford, via Pontarddulais, and by 1840 its Garnant Branch had extended the network eastwards along the Amman Valley as far as Brynaman, giving this hitherto underdeveloped sector of the anthracite coalfield direct access to the Carmarthen Bay ports. In 1864, the Swansea Vale Railway opened to Brynaman, providing a direct link between the Amman Valley collieries and the port of Swansea. It is said that the Amman Valley line was the busiest single line railway in the world when the local collieries were in full production during the early 20th century. In the later 19 th century, the favoured location for developing new collieries was as close as possible to a railway, but even collieries relatively distant from the main lines were often provided with tram links. In the Amman Valley, for example, the Cawdor No.1 pit (later Blaengrenig Mine PRN 30622), located high up on Mynydd-y-Betws, was provided with a 2km long tramway link to the Garnant branch of the Great Western (formerly Llanelli) Railway. [For a fuller account of the rail network see 'Railway Stations' in the 'Photographs, section of this web site].
Growth of villages
With the exception of Llanedi, Betws and Llandybie, where parish churches may have been the foci of small villages, none of the settlements along the length of the Amman valley can be shown to have existed before the 19th century. Even the town of Ammanford was no more than a very small collection of cottages, known as Cross Inn, as recently as the 1 840s.
The rise in population after 1850 was quite dramatic, and purely the result of improved communications and rapid industrial development. Nevertheless, these industrial settlements developed as fully fledged, self-supporting towns and villages, offering a full range of commercial and cultural opportunities to their inhabitants. Even after years of decline, evidence of former glory is to be seen everywhere, in the public, religious and commercial buildings of the valley the built heritage of the district.
With most of the industrial population coming from other Welsh-speaking districts, the industrial period was marked by a flourishing of cultural activity that included traditional expressions such as poetry, eisteddfodau, y cwrw bach and a lively nonconformist heritage. The cultural wealth of the valley created many literate and eloquent figures that rose to prominence as poets, preachers and politicians.
In the pre-industrial communities of the valley, there were means and ways of receiving services and favours without resorting to the use of money. Payment for agricultural labour was often made in kind and not infrequently in home-brewed beer. This gave rise to the tradition of the cwrw bach (literally 'small beer'). Home brewed beer or porter could be used to pay for services at the cobbler's or tailor's shop, or as a repayment for the favours of neighbours. But just as importantly, as testified to by the renowned Amman Valley poet Watcyn Wyn, the cwrw bach (sometimes known as y meth) was also an institution that helped to make life more bearable and neighbourly in a community that was generally poor in terms of worldly goods. The weak beer brewed was a fairly innocuous drink, but brought neighbours together to relax and discourse. The cwrw bach became an important preparatory school for those with a talent for performing; storytelling; poetic competitions and sing-songs could all arise out of one of these gatherings. Sometimes medd (mead) was brewed; a more respectable brew, but also somewhat stronger that the usual fare (see note 4 below).
In relation to the industrial community of the Amman Valley, comment must be passed on the importance of the bond formed between industrial workers in the face of their daily hardship, a bond that was carried into their loyalty to their trades union. Industrial disputes in the 19th and 20th century would almost invariably lead to the workers withdrawing their labour and going on strike. Many walkouts were quickly resolved, but strikes could carry on for weeks or months, as happened in the General Strike of 1926 and the Miners Strike in the mid-l980s. The comradeship of the colliers and their families meant that strikers were prepared to face great hardship to win their case, and community would invariably rally around to support the strikers.
The poetical and literary tradition of the Amman Valley ranks amongst the most notable in Wales. The industrial development of the area brought in fresh blood and ideas and, fortunately, most of the immigrants were from other parts of Wales which meant that industrialisation enhanced and strengthened the existing traditions of the valley, making the Amman Valley a stronghold of Welsh culture. The noted 19th and 20 th century bards Watcyn Wyn, Gwydderig, Amanwy, Gwili and Nantlais all lived and worked in the area, and all contributed greatly to its cultural life. Many of their works refer to people or places in the valley.
Perhaps the most striking fact is that these renowned poets and academics all came from humble beginnings, worked as colliers and were largely self-educated, honing their poetic skills in the workplace or in each other's company.
Before the industrial age local people would worship either at Betws parish church or elsewhere in the parish of Llandeilo Fawr. Nonconformist causes began appearing in the district during the 18 century, with famous names associated with early Nonconformism and the Methodist revival associated with some developments. Stephen Hughes, the famous Puritan known as "The Apostle of Carmarthen", often preached in the Llanedi area during the period of suppression of Nonconformism during the late 17th century. The early Methodists Peter Williams and Howell Harries also preached locally during the mid- 18 century.
By the end of the 18th century, the Baptists and Independents were well established across the whole district. Small causes that began in farms and barns flourished and built their own chapels, but the rising population of the l9 th century demanded larger and more numerous chapels. Many of the fine chapels built during the industrial period still stand in the valley as reminders of a very different society to that of today.
In a society such as that of the Amman Valley during the 19th century, where industrial and agricultural societies were so close, and traditional Welsh culture so dynamic, the outpouring of cultural activity in all forms was remarkable; in terms of literature, poetry, song, music and theatre, the valley was alive.
Chapels and Miners Halls were ready stages for organised events, with local eisteddfodau commonly held, but the homes and inns of the district were also important platforms for such skills to be honed.
Across the Amman Valley, through the Sunday School and the Band of Hope (Gobeithlu) the chapels made their contribution to the cultural wealth of the district, giving excellent grounding in the choral tradition, greatly helped by the teaching of Sol-fa music. Collieries and other industrial works often developed choirs and brass bands from amongst the workforce, which were supported with great fervour and pride by their colleagues and local communities and which often travelled widely to perform and compete in eisteddfodau. The Cwmaman Silver Band drew a following from across the district. The brass bands were called upon to provide musical accompaniment for Sunday School marchs and Trade Union rallies alike. There were also a number of amateur dramatic societies, such as the Calfaria Chapel society and the Cawdor society, both of Garnant.
The 20th century also brought attractions such as Glanaman's first cinema, held in the Palace Cinema, a corrugated iron building. The Miners Hall between Glanaman and Gamant and the Gamant Constitutional Club were both typical symbols of the social side of life in a South Wales mining community.
Sport also flourished in the growing industrial communities of the valley, with rugby, football, cricket and boxing being followed by the growing population, helping to forge a community identity amongst families which had come to the Amman Valley from many parts of Wales, and beyond.
The earliest knowledge we have of schooling in the district is associated with the educational efforts of local Methodists. During thel 1750s and 1760s, Gruffudd Jones' Circulating Schools were held for a time at Cwmpedol and Tir dan yr heol (see note 5 below). Sunday schools were also periodically held at local farms.
By the end of the 19th century, both Glanaman and Gamant had their own county schools and several purpose built denominational Sunday Schools were located in Glanaman village.
[There are eight essays on Education elsewhere in the 'History' section of this web site.]
(1) Rees, W, 1924, South Wales and the March 1284 1415, Oxford University Press
(2) Rees, E, 1883, Hanes Brynamman (A History of Brynamman). English translation by Ivor Rees, p13
(3) Thomas, D T, 1894, Hen Gymeriadau Plwyf y Betws (Old Characters of the Parish of Betws)
(4) Gwili, 1907, Adgofion Watcyn Wyn (Memories of Watcyn Wyn). Gwasg Y Dywysogaeth, Merthyr Tudful.
(5) Roberts, GM, 1938, Methodistiaeth fy Mro, p.79-80.
A section is included in the gazetteer of Modem sites and buildings. This serves as a reminder that archaeologists are interested in all evidence of the past, including very recent developments, including housing, communications, leisure and industry. Recording and understanding the physical manifestations of such recent human activity is of great interest in itself, but also helps us interpret the landscape more effectively
SIGNIFICANT HERITAGE SITES
Pantyllyn Bone Cave
Although destroyed by quarrying, the site can still be interpreted in association with the historic woodlands of Carmel, due to the importance of the discovery and the associated legend of Owain Law Goch.
Bronze Age Monuments
There are many in the area, but a fine cairn that is accessible is to be found at Penrhiwddu on y Mynydd Ddu. This and all the Tair Carn Uchaf cairns can be appreciated from viewpoints at lower altitude and do not necessarily have to be accessed.
This little known motte castle near Ammanford has recently been resurrected and is worthy of interpretation and promotion. (for a fuller account see 'Ammanford Castle' in the 'History' section of this web site].
Penile 'r CastelI
This hilltop medieval castle is an earthwork site. It is on the St Illtyd Way and at a fine viewpoint at the junction of the Morriston and Pontardawe roads on the Betws Mountain above Betws).
Carreg Cennen Castle
Probably one of the finest castles in Wales in terms of its location. Already a major attraction. [For a fuller account see 'Carreg Cennen Castle' in the 'Places to Visit' section of this web site].
An 18 th century iron-working complex that has become overgrown. Restoration and interpretation could turn the site into an interesting attraction.
Cilyrychen quarry has a fine bank of 19th century limekilns, which are the most impressive in the county. The preservation and interpretation of these kilns in future is essential.
The remaining structures at the colliery site include fragmentary colliery buildings, a limekiln and a large chimney stack. It is connected to limestone quarries on the mountainside by a long tramway bed. The relative rarity of surviving colliery features in the Carmarthenshire coal field makes this site an important historic asset.
This is a working colliery that includes a number of redbrick buildings at its northern end, which date to the late 19th century and once formed the nucleus of the Ammanford Colliery. These may well be the only complete 19th century colliery buildings standing in the district and are of major historical importance. [For a fuller account see 'Ammanford Collieries and Betws New Mine' in the 'History' section of this web site].
The possibility of using disused tram and railway lines as footpaths or cycleway in future should be borne in mind. [For a fuller account see 'Railway Stations' in the 'Photographs, section of this web site].
MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Examples of significant myths and legends within the district include;
The Mabinogi legend of the Hunting of the Twrch Trwyth
Although this Arthurian legend may have roots in Iron Age or early Dark Age tradition, the story is preserved in the collection of medieval tales known as the Mabinogi. One location in the Aman valley that may be linked with this ancient tale is the spot known as Carreg Arthur (which is probably a natural landform) on Mynydd y Betws (PRN 856).
Pantyllyn (also called Pant Llyn)
Carmel Woods are located on a prominent carboniferous limestone ridge. Typical of a
limestone area, there is a system of caves in the ridge. Quarry workers entered one of
these caves near Pantyllyn (Ogof Craig Derwyddon or Druid's Crag Cave) in 1813.
The discovery of the skeletons was reported in the Cambrian newspaper of August
"The skulls are of a very great size and thickness and all the bones are of a larger calibre than those of present day men."
From an authenticated report there were twelve skeletons all laying with their faces turned upwards and their heads brought slightly forward on their breasts. The same source reported that two skeletons, lying separately from the rest, were of great size.
The discovery of the skeletons at Pantyllyn became inextricably caught up in a local legend about Owain Lawgoch. Owain ap Tomos or Owain Lawgoch was a 14th century Welsh prince, great nephew to Llywelyn II, the last true Prince of Wales. Lawgoch however, was born in England, of English parents, and was taken to France as a very young child. He was raised in exile in France, where he was known as Yeuain de Galles, and fought with the French against the English. Such a figure was mentioned in a number of early prophetic verses as the man who would save Wales from the Saxons.
Owain did indeed prepare several times to lead an army into Wales to claim his lands. This alarmed the English court and an English spy eventually murdered Owain Lawgoch, in 1378. Lawgoch however never visited Wales, and even if he had, his ancestors were from North Wales so it is a mystery as to how later legends associate him with Llandybie.
Local legend has it that Owain Lawgoch and his men lie resting in the cave at Pantyllyn, awaiting the call (sometimes a trumpet blast, sometimes a bell) to rise up and save Wales from dire peril.
Amman Valley Heritage Audit (Report No: 2003/5). Paul Sambrook and Jenny Hall, published by Cambria Archaeology, January 2003.
Davies, W 1858 Llandeilo-Vawr and its Neighbourhood; Past and Present. Llandeilo. Reprinted by Dyfed County Council in 1993.
Evans, D. A. & Walters, H 1987 Amman Valley 'Slawer Dydd (Amman Valley in Former Days). Photographs. Gwasg Gomer
Evans M C 1982 "Brynamman 1889", Amman V alley History Society Journal, No 2. Privately published.
Jones G R 1989 "The Dark Ages". Settlement and Society in Wales. Ed. D Huw Owen. University of Wales Press. Cardiff.
Lewis, Brian 1996 The Amman Valley: A Photographic Portrait.
Lloyd, Sir John E (Ed.). 1939 A History ofCarmarthenshire (2 vols.), Cardiff, London, Carmarthenshire Society
I Murphy, C & Dixon, C 2000 Betws Mas o'r Byd. Betws History Group.
RCAHM (Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments) 1917 'An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Carmarthenshire', Vol V, county of Carmarthen. HMSO. London.
Rees E 1898 Hanes Brynaman a'r Cylchoedd (2nd edition). Reprinted by Dyfed County Council Cultural Services Department.
Rees W 1932 Map of South Wales and the Borders in the 14th century.
Roberts G M 1938 Methodistiaeth Fy Mro. Treforus.
Roberts G M 1939 Hanes Plwf Llandybie.(History of the Parish of Llandybie), 1939
Roberts V P 1981 St. Catherines Church Brynamman: a Brief History to Commemorate the Centenary of the Construction and Dedication of the Church. Privately published booklet.
Salter M 1994 The Old Parish Churches of South-West Wales. Folly Publications. Malvem.
Stepney-Gulston A 1893 "Pantyllyn Bone Caves". Archaeologica Cambrensis, Vol.X 5th series, 163.
Thomas, B 1973 The Good Old Days: Notes and Jottings on Llandybie, Llandeilo, Ffairfach
and the Amman Valley. Privately published.
Thomas, B 1975 Days of Old: Llandybie Notes and Memories. Privately published.
Thomas D T 1894 Hen Gymeriadau Plwf y Betws (Old Characters of the Parish of Betws). Ystalyfera.
Wood-Griffiths J H 1950 Golden Grove and Jeremy Taylor (1613 -1667). Privately published.
Jones R S 2002 Ffordd y Glowr, Cwmtwrch: Archaeological Desk-top Assessment and Field Survey. Cambrian Archaeological Projects, Llanidloes.
Sambrook, P 1995 Dinefwr Historic Settlements Report. Dyfed Archaeological Trust.
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010