A Potted History of Pontarddulais by Ivor Griffiths

A question asked by many children blessed with an enquiring mind is "What was Bont and Hendy Iike in the old days?" or "How did the two villages develop?" This question can only be answered by the scrutiny of old documents - parish records, quarter session minutes, etc. From these old writings and visits to various places in the area, a picture can be built up of the two parishes of Llanedi and Llandeilo Talybont as they were in the early part of the last century.

When Iolo Morganwg walked through Pontardulais in 1796, it does not appear that anything in particular impressed him. He saw signs of early morning stirrings in the cottages along the highway; heard the sounds of milling on the Dulais River bank, and in the early evening the gathering of coracle men preparing to catch fish. Fair play to him, he gave a kind word to the place, especially the inns. He did not name any particular one, but the most prominent one on the map published in 1813 was the 'Whistling Inn' (The Whit). Iolo also had a good word for the village of Fforest which he described as being 'very neat'. At that time there was no village of Hendy.

In the early 1800s the cluster of buildings including the 'Black Horse Inn' and the 'Red Lion Inn' was marked on the parish map of 1840 as 'Pontardulais'. From this Black Horse Square' along the road to Llanelli the few dwellings were 'Neuadd Fach' occupied by Dr. Gwynne who later moved to London. A few hundred yards further on the left was 'Ystomenlle Farm' which was farmed by Richard Davies and his wife Bessie who would later become the great grandparents of the well known author and broadcaster the late Wynford Vaughan Thomas. A few hundred yards further on the right was 'Hendy Farm' worked by the widow Jane Jones and her son William. This farm would later give its name to the village. And finally, over Gwili Bridge to the fork in the road, one road leading to Llanelli and the other to Llannon. At this fork stood 'Maesdref Gwili' the cottage of John Thomas the carpenter and his wife Margaret. Today the spot is occupied by a telephone box and bus shelter on the Hendy Village green. Across the road on the right was the tollgate house where Sarah Williams the tollgate-keeper would be shot and killed during the Rebecca Riots of 1843.

At that time, Pontardulais was a busy and prosperous place with two mills and two factories powered by the river Dulais as well as numerous hostelries, because the river Loughor was famous for its fishing, the boast of the local fishermen being that 'their fish was better than anything that the Towy and Teifi could produce', and anglers from all parts would converge on Pontardulais at weekends, staying at the various inns along the main road. There was the 'Wheatsheaf Inn' run by Griffith Thomas and his wife Mary; 'The Farmers Arms' run by John Morgan and his wife Anne; then there was the 'Queen's Head' with Henry Jones as 'mine host', with the 'King's Head' run by Daniel Gregory and his wife Margaret only a few yards away.

Further along the road towards Swansea was the 'New Inn' owned by John Davies the tailor and the 'Whistling Inn' run by William Mathews, while across the road was the 'Royal Oak' with Mary Jones as Landlady. Finally the 'Fountain Inn' run by Edward Williams and his wife Mary. This couple had ten children, and the big extension added later to the old building may have been built to house the children or make room for the customers. Although there were about 35 dwellings along the road between Loughor Bridge and the 'Fountain Inn' in 1840, the main concentration seems to have been between Loughor Bridge and the Dulais Bridge. Here there were two shops, the tollgate and the Post Office.

The old Post Office with William Harris as postmaster stood where the hoardings stand in front of the Bont Surgery today. When the Post Office was moved to new premises opposite the present day war memorial, the old building became 'The Prince of Wales' public house under the landlordship of William Griffiths until 1872, when the retiring headmaster of the National School, Mr. Isaac White took over the tenancy. The LNWR railway from Swansea needed sidings and cattlepens, so the 'Prince of Wales' was demolished to make room for them, and the 'Gwyn Hotel' was built across the road with Mr. Isaac White as landlord. It was named the 'Gwyn Hotel' in reference to the owner of the land on which it stood, Mr. Howell Gwynne of Baglan Hall.

The Pontardulais Shop which stood where Walter's garage is today was run by Mr. Henry Lewis, while on the opposite side of the road alongside the tollgate house, Martha Philpot had her 'Gate Shop'. Martha Philpot was a very enterprising woman. As well as the 'Gate Shop', she was also the landlady of 'The Black Horse' across the river, and in 1851 she was also Postmistress with her son David as Post Messenger. At the Fountain end of the village there were two shops to serve the people living around Bolgoed and the Goppa. Elizabeth Jones kept a grocery shop on the 'Whit' , and Mr. David George had his 'Bolgoed Shop' opposite the 'Fountain Inn' near the Bolgoed Tollgate.

Weaving and spinning was carried on in many of the dwellings, in fact, the cottage alongside the Goppa Chapel where Daniel Lewis and his father had looms was called 'Ffactri Fach'. But there were two factories in the Bont. The Lewis factory stood by the bridge carrying the road from Alltiago to Glynhir. The other factory was on the corner of Dulais Road and Caecerrig Road where the old Labour Exchange stands today. Dulais Road was originally called Factory Road. There were two Mills powered by the River Dulais. Upper Mill with the Phillips family living in the attached house and the Lower Mill standing on the bank of the Dulais near the bridge and opposite where St. Michael's Church stands today.

Although the Bont was on the main turnpike road, in the early part of the last century it was a peaceful humdrum almost isolated existence. The main excitement would be the local coracle races when the fishermen would display their skill with these awkward crafts. The patter of hooves as a string of donkeys laden with panniers of iron from Llandybie trotted through the village on their way to the Lliw Forge would bring people to their doors. But the main excitement would be the arrival and departure of the Mail Coach heading for Carmarthen or Swansea. It was from the passengers on these coaches that the inhabitants would obtain news of the outside world, as newspapers were few and far between and mainly for the gentry. In any case, few of the inhabitants could read or write. Educational facilities were practically non-existent. A British school was built on the Goppa in 1827 by the Nonconformists. The building is now a private dwelling. A Charity school was opened in Llanedi in 1834 with Mr. D.P.Llewellyn of Penllergaer as patron. But the majority of the population were illiterate, so most of the happenings in the outside world came by word of mouth.

The importance of the Mail Service was made clear when the Post Office demanded an improvement to the road to Carmarthen because the steep road alongside the Black Horse and across what is now Squirrel's Walk was a constant problem to the Mail Coach especially in bad weather. On "Telford the engineer's" recommendation, a new road was cut forming the present Fforest and Carmarthen road to Crosshands. This work was carried out in 1835 and the present 'Black Horse' was built in front of the old one. The old 'Black Horse' later became Mathias's Butcher Shop.

This almost idyllic environment in the area changed dramatically with the arrival of the tinplate works. In 1866, Mr. Octavious Williams built the Hendy Iron and Tinplate Works for Messrs. Boughton & Smith of Birmingham, and this caused a massive influx of people from all parts of the country seeking employment in this new industry. Houses were being hurriedly built along the Hendy road to house the workmen and their families. In 1872, Mr. Williams built a one mill works in Tynybone called the 'Glamorgan Works' for Webb Shakespeare & Williams. Two mills were added in 1893.

The heat of the tin mills demanded constant liquid refreshment, and the 'Red lion' and 'Black Horse' were too far to provide it, so some of the new houses along Hendy road became public houses to cater for this need . There was the 'Gwili Inn' run by David Jones, a blacksmith from Llannon and his wife Elizabeth. The 'Salutation Inn' was run by John Morgan from Llandybie and his wife Sarah. The 'Red Cow Inn' was kept by Lewis Thomas, a farmer, and his wife Anne. Finally, the 'Green Dragon Inn' was held by Mr. John Parry, a carpenter and his wife Margaret. In all cases, the men carried on their normal trade during the day with their wives looking after the public houses. John Parry of the 'Green Dragon' built a wooden partition in his bar because of the draught created by the wind when the front door was opened. Having great faith in the preservative quality of red lead paint, he painted the partition with red lead paint, and to complete the' decor' , he hung red curtains on the windows. Since then, the 'Green Dragon' has always been known as 'Ty-coch'. Of the four public houses, only the 'Red Cow Inn' had a spirit license. The other three were just beer houses.

In Pontardulais, the Cambrian Tinplate Works was opened in 1874, and in 1875, Mr. Josiah Griffiths of Morriston, in company with Mr. William Bright, Samuel Williams and Stephen Jenkins formed the Pontardulais Tinplate Company and opened the Ffoesyrefail Works near the railway station. The first enterprise failed and the works closed in 1882. In 1880, Mr. William Bright had joined with Mr. Rees Harries (Bolgoed) and Thomas Williams, the father of Sir Evan Williams, along with Dr. David Griffiths and Mr. Evan Isaac to build Teilo Works. In 1883, the Clayton Tinplate Company was formed when Mr. Edward Jenkins bought the Ffoesyrefail Works and opened it under its new name... Clayton. In 1885, Mr. John Williams came from Abertillery to successfully manage Clayton Works.

Although other industries and enterprises contributed to the growth and development of the Bont and Hendy, such as the railways and collieries, tinplate was the main factor. By 1910, Mr. William Jones of Llanelli and Mr. Samuel Williams of Foesyrefail had opened the Dulais Tinplate Works, and about the same time, Mr. Morgan Michael built Glynhir Tinplate Works. 

Women in Clayton Works

Tinplate had brought men from all parts of the kingdom to Pontardulais and Hendy where they married and raised families that were as Welsh as any of the natives. For instance, Mr. James Cottle came to Hendy towards the end of the last century. He was born in Lydney in Gloucestershire, and his wife Olive was born in Hay, Herefordshire. Their son Archibald was born in Gloucester, and their other two children Cyrus and Grace were born in Cinderford, Gloucestershire.

John Hiddlestone, who raised one of the most well known families in Hendy came from Scotland. He married a young widow, Mrs. Miriam Grant, and their youngest son David became a Welsh Rugby International. I am not sure where Mr. Croft of Bryngwili came from, but his outstanding achievement was his successful determination to speak Welsh. He eventually became a highly respected Deacon with the Welsh Independents in Capel Newydd, Hendy, and one of his descendents has gained international fame in the cricket world.

To cover every facet of the development of the Bont and Hendy would take several thick volumes. I have not touched on education or religion, or the unstinting efforts of the many public spirited people in the field of culture and music. In this brief article I have tried to give a rough picture of the Bont and Hendy as they used to be...you can use your own eyes and ears to picture them as they are today.