A ticket to wealth and prosperity

The arrival of the railway brought unprecedented wealth to Cwmaman.

The arrival of the railway brought unprecedented wealth to Cwmaman.

The railway arrived in Cwmaman on April 10, 1840.

The Llanelly Railway and Dock Company line linking Pontarddulais to Cwmaman via Ammanford opened the valley to the world for the first time, and the world was happy to take advantage.

The railway provided the small-scale mining operations with a direct link to the tin-works of Llanelli and the docks of Swansea and beyond, and its arrival signalled the coming boom in industry, people and wealth.

Passengers and goods arrived while coal – valuable Cwmaman anthracite – began to leave in quantities far in excess of what had gone before, and the economics of industry began to feed a ravenous hunger for the rich minerals locked beneath the valley.

The line was extended south-east to Gwaun cae Gurwen just 13 months later and by the summer of 1842, the station at Cwmaman – initially little more than a platform in what was to become the village of Garnant – became a key junction, thanks to the opening of a secondary branch line north-east to Brynaman.

The growth of the valley economy required bigger and better service, and a new, improved station was soon required. In a short time, the station at Garnant was expanded, and a second station was built just a mile or so to the west.

The Cross Keys station, named after the public house nearby, was soon renamed Glanaman, and at a stroke, a disparate agrarian valley community gave birth to two thriving industrial villages.

The introduction of the railway presented the opportunity for the modernisation and industrialisation of the Amman Valley at a rate previously unimaginable. What were once only minor pits providing work to just a handful of men were, within the space of a few years, transformed through the advances mining technologies.

Where previously coal had been dug from exposed seams, now shafts were sunk and full-sized collieries opened – Garnant Colliery at the eastern end of the valley had been in operation to some degree since the middle of the 1830s, but transportation links made it far more productive – and more profitable – and with every extra pound earned the colliery expanded.

By the mid 1840s, other mines were being sunk, and, in 1854, Raven Colliery – taking its named from the family emblem of the Dynevor family, who owned the land of Cwmaman – was opened.

Raven was a massive undertaking which would, at its peak, go on to employ almost 500 men.

Mining – even with modern techniques – remained a dangerous, back-breaking toil, but men began to swell the valley population with the promise of work and wages.

The first dedicated passenger service was opened on May 1, 1850, and by 1869 the Llanelly Railway and Dock Company was running a twice-daily service into Garnant.

The company was taken over by The Great Western Railway on January 1, 1873, but the 30 years since its opening had seen the population of the valley double from 500 or 600 to 1,100.

Those residents who found themselves concerned by the sudden transformation of a rural community into industrial heartland had however seen nothing yet.

While coal provided the foundation of both Garnant and Glanaman, tinplate would see population and purchasing-power rocket even further.

Processed iron created steel, but this metal of the future proved vulnerable to the elements, exposure to the air caused it to corrode and rust, and so it required coating – or plating – with something less susceptible to moisture and atmospheric conditions.

The problem of protecting steel gave birth to an industry of its own – tinplating.

By the middle of the 19th century, Llanelli was already well on its way to becoming the tinplate capital of the world and the availability of the raw materials required to produce tinplate meant that Cwmaman was equally well-suited to the industry.

The Amman Tinworks was built at Garnant on the southern banks of the River Amman in 1882 following the laying of a foundation stone by the vicar of Christchurch in May of that year. Operations at the works began in earnest in 1883.

Another new colliery – Gelliceidrim – was opened between Garnant and Glanaman in 1891. It would – in time – become the largest, most productive mine in the valley.

The expansion of the operations and the opening of the tinworks catapulted Cwmaman into a thriving hub of industry and each passing decade saw only further expansion – of industry and people.

By 1901, the combined population of Garnant and Glanaman had risen to more than 2,400 as word spread that work was available in the rural west. Men flocked from London, the Midlands, the north of England, Scotland and beyond in search of a wage.

By 1910, Garnant Station was receiving seven passenger trains a day from Monday to Saturday, and two more on Sundays, as the population doubled to 4,777.

In 1903, the station had issued 32,735 passenger tickets. In 1913 the figure has risen to 76,491 – almost 1,500 each week as the valley residents took advantage of the money in their pocket and the opportunities to spread their wings, on day trips to Carmarthen, Swansea, Llanelli and beyond.

Meanwhile, the train’s role of delivering mail to the swelling numbers of incomers rocketed from 4,257 parcels handled in 1903 to more than 9,000 a decade later.

And while the railway provided the oxygen in which Garnant thrived, it was coal that continued to be the fuel that fed the economy.

In 1903, 5,867 tonnes of coal passed through Garnant. Ten years later, the figure has risen to 13,470.

When Nicholls and Canning stepped onto Garnant station platform on February 15, 1921, the population of Cwmaman was at an all-time high of 5,302.

The five-mile valley as a whole – from Ammanford to Gwaun cae Gurwen – was home to almost 21,000 souls, and at its heart, the twin villages of Garnant and Glanaman were heaving, throbbing centres of industry and commerce which men like Morgan Jeffreys were able to exploit.

With thousands of working men boasting wages in their pockets, a host of opportunities sprang out of the soil to help relieve them of the weight of the burden in their pockets.

By 1920, there were at least 70 separate businesses registered in Garnant. Glanaman offered another 54.

From confectioners to cabinet-makers, shoe shops to sheet-music sellers, Garnant and Glanaman were alive with trade, services and the exchange of money.

Garnant was host to six greengrocers and four fruiterers; there were seven drapers, three tailors and four bootmakers.

The village was home to a hairdresser, six general stores, four ironmongers, a chemist and a dedicated china-ware shop.

There were two butchers, a miller, a saddler and a blacksmith.

There was also a Post Office, two stationary outlets and two newsagents.

The village had its own architects, lawyers and a doctor.

Garnant had branches of four of the major British banks, a Co-operative store and six public houses.

Within a 15-minute walk, Glanaman boasted an equally diverse and vibrant economy.

When the two Scotland Yard policemen arrived in west Wales, they stepped off the train into a bustling, heaving community as active and vibrant as any of the London boroughs they had left behind.

Men and women from across the nation worked, earned, lived, loved and fought in numbers beyond the imaginings of those who had been born in Cwmaman just a generation or two previously.

The Amman Valley would never see such life – or such wealth – again.


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