Tales & Characters of Yesteryear
The Miller’s Tale
The story of Llwynhelyg Mill, Cil-y-cwm
by John Milner
Woollen mills in Wales were part of the landscape of many villages, essential to a fairly self-sufficient economy. Of the 276 recorded mills in Wales, Llwynhelyg Mill on the Gwenlais north of Cil-y-cwm is one of the oldest, built before 1720. Llwynhelyg is now the name of the house over the footbridge where the millers used to live. The name of the mill has varied, and was recently called Y Cribau (The Carders). Elegantly converted, first by Sally Ford and then by Thornton Timlick, it is now called Glan yr Afon. It was probably first used as a fulling mill, the water wheel turning a simple mechanism of paddles to degrease, soften and “full” out the cloth with soap and soda and possibly fuller’s earth.
Carding, spinning and weaving was still by hand and a cottage industry of many villagers. Machinery only became available after the 1820s, when a lot of mills were built.
The landlords of the mill were always of the big estates, and when properties changed hands, usually several holdings were sold together. At one time, the Pryce-Lloyds of Glansevin owned the mill and surrounding farms, and they were then sold to the Cawdor Estate. The family name of the Earls of Cawdor was Campbell. When William Davys Harries of Neuadd Fawr married Elizabeth Jane Campbell in 1847, about this time several adjoining farms and the mill came to the Campbell-Davys Estate.
In 1841, a Mr Thomas of Cil-y-cwm was recorded as being both a tailor and an employee at the mill. The Revd Henry Morgan recalled that in his childhood days in the 1850s many local women used to gather wool from the fields and hedgerows and spin the yarn which they took to the mill to be woven.
By 1902, the Evans family ran the mill and we have records of the wool bought from many farms in the area (1/2 or 6p a lb in 1915). The Evanses did not only weave but apparently also made felt. Miss Dorrie Theophilus still has a felt blanket which is far too heavy and solid for comfort except perhaps as an under blanket. Lastly came the Reynolds. From here on, book history changes to the gleaning of the memories of family and friends who are still around. The Reynolds family lived at Glandulais Mill at Pontarddulais, where they employed about ten people. This is where James and Parry were born and later learnt their trade in all branches of producing woollen goods. A lot of their production was sold at their stall in Swansea Market. In 1927 the mill was burnt down and was never re-opened. One way or another they kept their market stall going. Parry went off to London to study tailoring.
In 1929 the Evans family retired and the Cil-y-cwm factory was vacant. Jim and Parry took it over, with Mr Campbell-Davys as their landlord. It was a time of deep depression, and it took courage or desperation for these two young men to start up at that time. They did most of the work themselves, living over the footbridge at Llwynhelyg. Perhaps there were out-workers, but their only regular employee was their housekeeper, Miss Lottie Lewis, who was paid a very small wage but most of her expenses. For example, the Reynolds paid for her ticket to go to a funeral, her knickers cost 1/6 (7½p), her camisole 1/11 and her dress 5/-. Account books can be quite revealing.
From this book can be seen how the cash flowed in. First the Reynolds bought the wool clip from farmers a long way round, selected what they wanted and sold on the rest. They carded, spun and dyed the wool and sold some of the yarn for knitting. They wove most of the yarn into blankets or shawls, flannel and tweed. Some of the flannel was sold to a shirt maker in the village, but most was made into shirts and smocks and the tweed into suits.
Quite a few well-known farmers at the time have all their private measurements for made-to-measure suits recorded for posterity. Tywi Bowen, formerly of Pwllpriddog, now in his eighties, had his first suit made when he was in Llandovery College in 1929. A lot of blankets, shawls for carrying babies, and clothes were sold locally, but every week the Reynolds took a van-load of goods down to Swansea for Friday and Saturday markets, staying the night.
At the market, the next but one stall belonged to a pretty girl called Nans Evans. She sold farm produce, hams, butter and eggs and other good things in season from her father’s farm in Talley. She came in her van and was the first lady driver in Carmarthenshire. A friendly stall holder introduced Parry and Nans very formally and romance blossomed, leading to betrothal.
Meanwhile, brother Jim was courting Anne Roderick, one of the three sisters running the Neuadd Arms in Cil-y-cwm. The two brothers had only been in the village for about three years but had built up a great circle of friends and customers. Parry was known as a great story-teller, was popular in the pub and became chairman of the Guild, a social group for the young. Jim became secretary to the Parish Council. Sadly, Jim contracted a disease of the liver and died during the summer of 1932, leaving Anne broken-hearted. Parry felt it was impossible to carry on by himself. When he married Nans in 1933 it seemed good sense to sell up the business and join his wife in her enterprise, and they lived in the farm at Talley. When dabbling in the past, one sometimes meets a dilemma when the facts don’t seem to fit comfortably.
The first fact was that on 1 November 1933 Parry Reynolds sold all stock and machinery for the sum of £84.9s.0d. to I.G. Williams, £25 down and the balance to be paid on 1 May 1934. The business was closed.
Second fact. Dai Jones had his 14th birthday in December 1934. Waiting in the yard was a new bicycle. This did not mean the fun and freedom wheels usually given to a young man. It meant time for work! He was apprenticed to his father, the mason at Neuadd Fawr. A short time after, there was a flood and the mill dam was breached. Mr Campbell-Davys came to see the mason. He said, “We must have the mill working for Monday. I want you to mend the dam on Sunday and I’ll send the men along to help you.”
Mr Jones replied, “We don’t work on the Sabbath, but if really urgent we’ll do it, but no money.”
They put it right and got the leat flowing again, but no wool was spun. There was no one there. No wages were paid, but perhaps bread was cast on the waters as Dai got a rise from 2 shillings (10p) a week to 3 shillings. There was another flood too soon for the concrete to set hard. The dam was breached again and stayed that way. All that remains is a massive piece of concrete which funnelled the water into the millstream. The course of the leat can be seen at the bank edge, running along the contour for about 400 metres, now filled with silt and leaf mould. The old mill was left ripe for redevelopment, but had to wait quietly for many years.
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Characters of the Area
William Augustus (Wil Awst)
William Augustus was a colourful and lively person who was a forecaster of weather before the scientific time and also a translator who lived in Cil-y-cwm near the end of the 18th century. His book ‘Husband’s Perpetual Prognostication’ an interesting collection of information and folklore about the weather, published by John Ross, of Carmarthen, mostly in Welsh, but parts were in English. Not much is known about him except for the good word he had in this area and for his excellent forecasting of the weather, his ability to tell within an hour, the coming of frost, rain, storms, wind and thunder.
His book was very popular and it was published four times. It was full of interesting information. It’s quite possible, for example, if you hear thunder on a Sunday a magistrate, solicitor or educational men would die, and that, in only a small amount of time. If you’ll hear thunder on a Monday, the death of women or a girl would occur. The weather for the whole year depends on the weather of the first day of the year. The book is available at the Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, and also in the reference section of Carmarthen Library. It is not known if any local person still has a copy.
Daniel the Harper of Cil-y-cwm (1750-1811)
Mr. Dafydd Rhys Williams collected much old information about the harpists of Carmarthenshire and published a history book about them in Welsh called ‘Trafodion Cymdeithas Efrydu Hynafiaeth a Natur Sir Gaerfyrddin’. According to history, many of the harpists were either blind or were suffering from an illness of some sort. One of the harpists that were recorded was ‘Rhen Daniel Delynor’ as he was called. He was born in 1750 and lived in Cil-y-cwm all his life until he died in 1811. He was a skilful harpist and played well and he was popular and highly respected man. He loved to play and sing music to make the people of the village dance happily and join in with the fun and sing old song’s including ‘Ar Hyd y Nos’.
Gwilym Myrddin (William Jones) 1863-1946
William Jones was born in the farm Llwyndinawed on April 3rd, 1863. He only had a small amount of education as his father died early in life and the responsibility of looking after the farm fell on his shoulders. His home and the Sunday school that he attended in Cwm Rhaeadr, which was a branch of Tynewydd, were the two main influences in his early life.
He lived in Cil-y-cwm up till 1898 when he and his family moved to a village called Betws, near Ammanford. For a while he and his family farmed on Betws Mountain, and later he used to work in the Coal Mines in Pantyffynnon before moving on to have a job making sure the lamps in the Mines worked properly. He did this work for 16 years before retiring in 1924 because of an illness.
He was an exceptional poet and two of his winning eisteddfod chairs can be seen in Tynewydd Chapel. He had the 2nd prize in The National Eisteddfod when it was held in Pen y Bont ar Ogwr, after the war, for his collection of poetry.
Private William Williams from Cil-y-cwm was a 21-year-old Labourer who served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at the battle of Waterloo, 1815 and was awarded the Waterloo medal. He served between 1812-1816. To date little else is known of him.
Y Parch Thomas Elias (Bardd Coch 1792-1855)
He was born in Brynteg, Cil-y-cwm, the youngest of six children which were five sons and one daughter to Dafydd Elias, his father, who was also originally from Cil-y-cwm and his mother, Mary from Llansadwrn. His father was born in a public house but had a conversion in the early stages of his life. In his house in Brynteg the Sunday school started in 1787. Later in Thomas’s life he mentioned a lot about the Sunday school in the house parlour.
Thomas Elias lost his father very young when he was only 8 years old, and his mother died soon after that. When he was 10 he became an apprentice to a Tailor from Llanwrtyd and after that went to live in Merthyr Tudful. In 1822 he started to preach and ordained in 1831. He spent his last few years in Sennybridge. He also wrote a famous Welsh folk song namely ‘Dacw’nghariad i lawr yn y berllan’.
Morgan Rhys (1716-1779)
Morgan Rhys was born in Efail Fach, Cil-y-cwm, on 1 April 1716, one of six or seven children of Rhys and Ann Lewis. Very little is known of his early life before he became a teacher in the circulating schools of Griffith Jones, Llanddowror, and Madam Bevan – at Cil-y-cwm from 1772-73 – and earning the praise of vicars throughout Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire.
He composed many hymns and published several books. He died comparatively young in 1779 and was buried in Llanfynydd churchyard. Only a month separated his death and that of his father who was buried in Cil-y-cwm churchyard.
In his will, he left money to the Methodist Fathers – especially 3 guineas to his friend William Williams, Pantycelyn. He also bequeathed his horse, bridle and saddle to a character known as Evan Ty Clai.
It is said that when the last family moved out of Efail Fach, the condition of the building was so bad that one of the walls was largely supported by an old oak dresser.
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Sitting on the gravestones
Yr oedd yn hen arferiad gan lawer o’r plwyfolion a fynychent yr Eglwys i eistedd ar y cerrig beddau yn y fynwent tra byddid yn mynd trwy’r gwasanaeth, ac ar ganiad yr emyn o flaen y bregeth, tyrrent i mewn i’w heisteddleoedd.
[It was the custom among several parishioners who attended Church to sit on the gravestones during the service and, as the hymn before the sermon was being sung, they would flock to their seats.]
Revd Henry Morgan in Yr Haul, 1904
Payment of church debt
Special services was held at the Congregationalist Chapel, Cil-y-cwm, on 9 February 1865 to celebrate the clearance of the chapel’s debt., only five years after the chapel was built.
The following preached during the services: the Revs. W.R. Davies, Bethlehem; J. Griffiths, Llanwrtyd; W. Thomas, Gwynfe; D. Jones, Hermon; and T. Davies, Llandeilo.
A brief history of the chapel was delivered by the Rev. E. Jones, Crug-y-bar. The minister, the Rev. J. Griffiths, thanked all who had contributed towards clearing the debt and to the ladies who had provided refreshments for the visitors. Excellent services were had.
Trans., Y Diwygiwr, March 1865
Drowning in the Towy
Persons drowned in the River Towy (1764 – 1799)
No fewer than nine people drowned in the upper reachers of the River Tywi over a period of 35 years in the 18th century. Their names were listed as follows in the Cil-y-cwm Parish Register in 1801 by the local curate, the Revd W. Williams, Glangwenlais. “Let this serve as a warning for others,” he said.
- Thomas Edward (infant) Buried 16 September 1764
- William Rees, Glanrhydymoch Buried 5 April 1769
- William Morgan Buried 23 August 1777
- Jane David Buried 30 August 1777, aged 20
- Elinor Evan Buried 14 July 1783
- Isaac John Buried 15 February 1790
- Richard Allen Buried 7 October 1793
- William Rowley Buried 1797
- David Thomas Buried 17 June 1799
All but one (William Rowley) were buried at Cil-y-cwm.
Ten people buried at Cil-y-cwm in April 1769.
On 23 May 1783, three neighbours, namely, Anne, wife of Thomas Morgan William; Anne, infant of William Evan (grandchild of the above woman) and John Rees William, were carried together and buried at the same time in Cil-y-cwm.
The Importance of funerals
“A funeral was an occasion of great importance throughout the parish of Cil-y-cwm, and nearly every household in the parish was represented in the procession. As the cortege set out from the house of the departed, the mourners would burst into song, and the singing continued as the procession passed through the village, until the bier was set down at the churchyard gates and the tolling of the bell ceased.”
Revd Henry Morgan in Yr Haul, 1902 (translated)