1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carmarthenshire

CARMARTHENSHIRE. (Sîr Gaerfyrddin, colloquially known as Sîr Gâr), a county of South Wales bounded N. by Cardigan, E. by Brecon and Glamorgan, W. by Pembroke and S. by Carmarthen Bay of the Bristol Channel. The modern county has an area of 918 sq. m., and is therefore the largest in size of the South Welsh counties. Almost the whole of its surface is hilly and irregular, though the coast-line is fringed with extensive stretches of marsh or sandy burrows. Much of the scenery in the county, particularly in the upper valley of the Towy, is exceedingly beautiful and varied. On its eastern borders adjoining Breconshire rises the imposing range of the Black Mountains (Mynydd Dû), sometimes called the Carmarthenshire Beacons, where the Carmarthen Van attains an elevation of 2632 ft. Mynydd Mallaen in the wild districts of the north-east corner of the county is 1430 ft. in height, but otherwise few of the numberless rounded hills with which Carmarthenshire is thickly studded exceed 1000 ft. The principal river is the Towy (Tywi), which, with its chief tributaries, the Gwili, the Cothi and the Sawdde, drains the central part of the county and enters the Bay at Llanstephan, 9 m. below Carmarthen. Coracles are frequently to be observed on this river, as well as on the Teifi, which separates Carmarthenshire from Cardiganshire on the north. Other streams are the Tâf, which flows through the south-western portion of the county and reaches the sea at Laugharne; the Gwendraeth, with its mouth at Kidwelly; and the Loughor, or Llwchwr, which rises in the Black Mountains and forms for several miles the boundary between the counties of Carmarthen and Glamorgan until it falls into Carmarthen Bay at Loughor. All these rivers contain salmon, sewin (gleisiad) and trout in fair numbers, and are consequently frequented by anglers. With the exception of the Van Pool in the Black Mountains the lakes of the county are inconsiderable in size.

Geology.—The oldest rocks in Carmarthenshire come to the surface in the Vale of Towy at Llanarthney and near Carmarthen; they consist of black shales of Tremadoc (Cambrian) age, and are succeeded by conglomerates, sandstones and shales, with beds of volcanic ash and lava, of Arenig (Ordovician) age, which have been brought up along a belt of intense folding and faulting which follows the Towy from Llangadock to Carmarthen and extends westwards to the edge of the county at Whitland. The Llandeilo shales, flags and limestones and occasional volcanic ashes, which follow, are well developed at Llangadock and Llandeilo and near Carmarthen, and are famed for their trilobites, Asaphus tyrannus and Ogygia Buchi. Shales and mudstones and impersistent limestones of Bala age come next in order, and, bounding the Vale of Towy on the north, extend as a narrow belt north-westwards towards the Presley hills. Except for the foregoing deposits the great area between the Teifi and the Towy, of which little is known, is made up of a monotonous succession of greatly folded slates and shales with interbedded conglomerates and sandstones which give rise to scarps, ridges and moorlands; they appear to be of Llandovery age.

South of the Towy a narrow belt of steeply dipping and even inverted Silurian sandstones and mudstones (Upper Llandovery, Wenlock and Ludlow) extends south-westwards from Llandovery to Llanarthney, where they disappear under the Old Red Sandstone. This formation, which consists of red marls and sandstones with occasional thin impure limestones (cornstones), extends from near Llandovery to beyond Carmarthen Bay; its upper conglomeratic beds cap the escarpment of the Black Mountains (2460 ft.) on the south-eastern borders of the county. To the south the scarps and moorlands of the Carboniferous Limestone and Millstone Grit form the north-western rim of the South Wales coalfield. The rest of the county is occupied by the rich Coal-Measures of the Gwendraeth Valley and Llanelly districts. All the rocks in the county are affected by powerful folds and faults. Glacial deposits are plentiful in the valleys south of the Towy, striae abound on the Millstone Grit and show that the ice-sheet rose far up the slopes of the Black Mountains. Coal is the chief mineral, the iron-ore is no longer worked; the Carboniferous Limestone is burnt at Llandybie; fire-bricks are manufactured from the Millstone Grit, and a few lead-veins are found in the Ordovician rocks.

Industries.—The climate is mild, except in the upland regions, but the annual rainfall is very heavy. With the exception of its south-eastern portion, which forms part of the great South Welsh coalfield, Carmarthenshire may be considered wholly as an agricultural county. The attention of the farmers is devoted to stock-raising and dairy-farming rather than to the growth of cereals, whilst the large tracts of unenclosed hill-country form good pastures for sheep and ponies. The soil varies much, but in the lower valleys of the Towy and Tâf it is exceedingly fertile. Outside agriculture the gathering of cockles at the estuaries of the Towy and Tâf gives employment to a large number of persons, principally women; Ferryside and Laugharne being the chief centres of the cockling industry. The local textile factories at Pencader, Penboyr, Llangeler, and in the valley of the Loughor are of some importance. Gold has been found near Caio in the Cothi valley, but the yield is trifling. There are lead-mines in various places, but none of great value. The really important industries are restricted to the populous south-eastern district, where coal-mining, iron-founding and the smelting of tin and copper are carried on extensively at Llanelly, Pembrey, Tirydail, Garnant, Pontardulais, Ammanford and other centres.

Communications.—The Great Western railway traverses the lower part of the county, whilst a branch of the London & North-Western enters it at its extreme north-eastern point by a tunnel under the Sugar Loaf Mountain, and has its terminal station at Carmarthen. A branch line of the Great Western connects Llanelly with Llandilo by way of Ammanford, and another branch of the same railway runs northward from Carmarthen to Newcastle-Emlyn on the Teifi, joining the Aberystwyth branch, formerly the Manchester & Milford line, at Pencader.

Population and Administration.—The area of the county is 587,816 acres, and the population in 1891 was 130,566 and in 1901 it was 135,325. The municipal boroughs are Carmarthen (pop. 9935), Kidwelly (2285) and Llandovery (1809). Urban districts are Ammanford, Llanelly, Burry Port, Llandilo and Newcastle-Emlyn. The principal towns are Carmarthen, Llanelly (25,617), Llandilo or Llandeilo Fawr (1934), Llangadock (1578), Llandovery, Kidwelly, Pembrey (7513) and Laugharne (1439). The county is in the South Wales circuit, and assizes are held at Carmarthen. The borough of Carmarthen has a commission of the peace and separate quarter sessions. The county is divided into two parliamentary divisions, the eastern and western, and it also includes the united boroughs of Carmarthen and Llanelly, thus returning three members in all to parliament. The ancient county, which contains 75 parishes and part of another, is wholly in the diocese of St David’s.

History.—Carmarthenshire originally formed part of the lands of the Dimetae conquered by the Romans, who constructed military roads and built on the Via Julia the important station of Maridunum upon or near the site of the present county town. After the retirement of the Roman forces this fortified town became known in course of time as Caerfyrddin, anglicized into Carmarthen, which subsequently gave its name to the county. During the 5th and 6th centuries Carmarthenshire, or Ystrad Tywi, was the scene of the labours of many Celtic missionaries, notably of St David and St Teilo, who brought the arts of civilization as well as the doctrines of Christianity to its rude inhabitants. In the 9th century the whole of Ystrad Tywi was annexed to the kingdom of Roderick the Great (Rhodri Mawr), who at his death in 877 bequeathed the principality of South Wales to his son, Cadell. The royal residence of the South Welsh princes was now fixed at Dynevor (Dinefawr) on the Towy near Llandilo. Cadell’s son, Howell the Good (Hywel Dda), was the first to codify the ancient laws of Wales at his palace of Ty Gwyn Ar Dâf, the White Lodge on the banks of the Tâf, near the modern Whitland. In 1080, during the troubled reign of Rhys ap Tudor, the Normans first appeared on the shores of Carmarthen Bay, and before the end of King Henry I.’s reign had constructed the great castles of Kidwelly, Carmarthen, Laugharne and Llanstephan near the coast. From this period until the death of Prince Llewelyn (1282) the history of Carmarthenshire is national rather than local. By the Statutes of Rhuddlan (1284) Edward I. formed the counties of Cardigan and Carmarthen out of the districts of Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi, the ancient possessions of the house of Dinefawr, which were now formally annexed to the English crown. Nearly a third of the present county, however, still remained under the jurisdiction of the Lords Marchers, and it was not until the Act 27 Henry VIII. that these districts, including the commots of Kidwelly, Iscennen and Carnwillion, were added to Edward I.’s original shire. The prosperity of the new county increased considerably under Edward III., who named Carmarthen the chief staple-town in Wales for the wool trade. The revolt of Owen Glendower had the effect of disturbing the peace of the county for a time, and the French army, landed at Milford on his behalf, was warmly received by the people of Carmarthenshire. In the summer of 1485 Sir Rhys ap Thomas, of Abermarlais and Dinefawr, marched through the county collecting recruits for Henry of Richmond, for which service he was created a knight of the Garter and made governor of all Wales. At the Reformation the removal of the episcopal residence from distant St David’s to Abergwili, a village barely two miles from Carmarthen, brought the county into close touch with the chief Welsh diocese, and the new palace at Abergwili will always be associated with the first Welsh translations of the New Testament and the Prayer Book, made by Bishop Richard Davies (1500–1581) and his friend William Salesbury, of Llanrwst (16th century). In the early part of the 17th century the county witnessed the first religious revival recorded in Welsh annals, that led by Rhys Prichard (d. 1644), the Puritan vicar of Llandovery, whose poetical works, the Canwyll y Cymry (“the Welshman’s Candle”) are still studied in the principality. At the time of the Civil Wars, Richard Vaughan, earl of Carbery, the patron of Jeremy Taylor, was in command of the royal fortresses and troops, but made a very feeble and half-hearted resistance against the parliamentarian forces. During the following century the great Welsh spiritual and educational movement, which later spread over all Wales, had its origin in the quiet and remote parish of Llanddowror, near Laugharne, where the vicar, the celebrated and pious Griffith Jones (1684–1761), had become the founder of the Welsh circulating charity schools. Other prominent members of this important Methodist revival, likewise natives of Carmarthenshire, were William Williams of Pantycelyn, the well-known hymn-writer (1716–1791), and Peter Williams, the Welsh Bible commentator (1722–1796). The county was deeply implicated in the Rebecca Riots of 1842–1843.

Foremost amongst the county families of Carmarthenshire is Rhys, or Rice, of Dynevor Castle, near Llandilo, a modern castellated house standing in a beautiful park which contains the historic ruin of the old Dinefawr fortress. The present Lord Dynevor, the direct lineal descendant of the princes of South Wales, is the head of this family. Almost opposite Dynevor Castle (formerly known as Newtown), on the left bank of the Towy, stands Golden Grove (Gelli Aur), once the seat of the Vaughans, earls of Carbery, whose senior line and titles became extinct early in the 18th century. The famous old mansion has been replaced by a modern Gothic structure, and is now the property of Earl Cawdor. Golden Grove contains the “Hirlas Horn,” the gift of King Henry VII. to Dafydd ap Evan of Llwyndafydd, Cardiganshire, perhaps the most celebrated of Welsh historical relics. Other families of importance, extinct or existing, are Johnes, formerly of Abermarlais and now of Dolaucothi; Williams (now Drummond) of Edwinsford; Lloyd of Forest; Lloyd of Glansevin; Stepney of Llanelly and Gwynne of Taliaris.

Antiquities.—Carmarthenshire contains few memorials of the Roman occupation, but it possesses various camps and tumuli of the British period, and also a small but perfect cromlech near Llanglydwen on the banks of the Tâf. Of its many medieval castles the most important still in existence are: Kidwelly; Laugharne; Llanstephan, a fine pile of the 12th century on a hill at the mouth of the Towy; Carreg Cennen, an imposing Norman fortress crowning a cliff not far from Llandilo; and Dynevor Castle, the ancient seat of Welsh royalty, situated on a bold wooded height above the Towy. The remains of the castles at Carmarthen, Drysllwyn, Llandovery and Newcastle-Emlyn are inconsiderable. Of the monastic houses Talley Abbey (Tal-y-Llychau, a name drawn from the two small lakes in the neighbourhood of its site) was founded by Rhys ap Griffith, prince of South Wales, towards the close of the 12th century for Benedictine monks; Whitland, or Albalanda, also a Benedictine house, was probably founded by Bishop Bernard of St David’s early in the 12th century, on a site long associated with Welsh monastic life; and the celebrated Augustinian Priory of St John at Carmarthen was likewise established in the 12th century. Very slight traces of these three important religious houses now exist. The parish churches of Carmarthenshire are for the most part small and of no special architectural value. Of the more noteworthy mention may be made of St Peter’s at Carmarthen, and of the parish churches at Laugharne, Kidwelly, Llangadock, Abergwili and Llangathen, the last named of which contains a fine monument to Bishop Anthony Rudd (d. 1615). Many of these churches are distinguished by tall massive western towers, usually of the 12th or 13th centuries. Besides Golden Grove and Dynevor the county contains some fine historic houses, prominent amongst which are Abergwili Palace, the official residence of the bishops of St David’s since the Reformation, burnt down in 1902, but rebuilt on the old lines; Aberglasney, a mansion near Llangathen, erected by Bishop Rudd and once inhabited by the poet John Dyer (1700–1758); Court Henry, an ancient seat of the Herbert family; and Abermarlais, once the property of Sir Rhys ap Thomas.

Customs, &c.—The old Welsh costume, folklore and customs have survived longer in Carmarthenshire than perhaps in any other county of Wales. The steeple-crowned beaver hat, now practically extinct, was often to be seen in the neighbourhood of Carmarthen as late as 1890, and the older women often affect the pais-a-gŵn bâch, the frilled mob-cap and the small plaid shawl of a previous generation. Curious instances of old Welsh superstitions are to be found amongst the peasantry of the more remote districts, particularly in the lovely country in the valleys of the Towy and Teifi, where belief in fairies, fairy-rings, goblins and “corpse-candles” still lingers. The curious mumming, known as “Mari Lwyd” (Blessed Mary), in which one of the performers wears a horse’s skull decked with coloured ribbands, was prevalent round Carmarthen as late as 1885. At many parish churches the ancient service of the “Pylgain” (a name said to be a corruption of the Latin pulli cantus) is held at daybreak or cock-crow on Christmas morning. A species of general catechism, known as pwnc, is also common in the churches and Nonconformist chapels. The old custom of receiving New Year’s gifts of bread and cheese, or meal and money (calenig), still flourishes in the rural parishes. The “bidding” before marriage (as in Cardiganshire) was formerly universal and is not yet altogether discontinued, and bidding papers were printed at Llandilo as late as 1900. The horse weddings (priodas ceffylau) were indulged in by the farmer class in the neighbourhood of Abergwili as late as 1880.

Authorities.—T. Nicholas, Annals and Antiquities of the Counties of Wales (London, 1872); W. Spurrell, Carmarthen and its Neighbourhood (Carmarthen, 1879); J. B. D. Tyssen and Alcwyn C. Evans, Royal Charters, &c., relating to the Town and County of Carmarthen (Carmarthen, 1878).