The Germ of the Idea
The idea of building a public hall for Llansawel Parish first surfaced just after the war. On October 28 1946 Rev Thomas Glenville Rees chaired a public meeting in the school which 40 people attended. Mr Rees didn’t have a secretary for that meeting but made brief notes himself and wrote them up afterward in a short minute which outlines all the main precepts which the hall committee later followed in creating and running the Trust.
In 1946, the country was recovering from six years of terrible conflict and money was too scarce for a building scheme and so the meeting agreed to look at finding half an acre of land and renting a surplus army hut (at £15 per annum) as a temporary hall. This idea persisted for several years but was eventually overtaken by events, and was never put into practice.
Formation of the Trust
The Llansawel Recreation Field and Hall Trust was formally established at a public meeting on May 11 1949. The first officers were Chairman Mr John Griffiths, Hon Treasurer – Rev T. Glenville Rees BA and Secretary Mr William Jones, Glanmarlais.
The new committee immediately set about accumulating money to begin the project. They tirelessly staged entertainments and made house-to-house calls, promoting the cause. The first balance sheet for October 31st 1951, shows £300 collected house to house from the generous residents of Llansawel parish and the rest raised from entertainments. Please note the single item under Payments – £250 to buy the field.
Acquiring the Land
The field in question was the Old Mart Field situated beside the small River Marlais and known in the village as Penybont land, although it was sold to Evans Bros auctioneers of Llanybyther in 1925 and bought from them in 1947 by D T Williams, former manager of the Farmers’ Co-op Shop in Llansawel and an old friend of the Hall Committee, who had by then moved to Llangadog. He seems to have bought it with the intention of establishing a garage, but his plans had come to nothing. At any rate it is his name that appears on the Conveyance of January 1952 as vendor.
The Old Mart Field had long been used as a circus and fair venue and, most venerably, livestock market. The King’s Licence, granted to Sir Rice Williams in 1688 to hold a livestock market in Llansawel can be found in Carmarthenshire County Archives. A galvanised iron shed, on the site of the present hall, was dismantled and sold in the run-up to the building of the Hall in 1956. It now stands, still in good condition, on the plot owned by Kenyon Jones beside Castle Green.
The immediate worry in regard to the Old Mart Field was the River Marlais which often “made inroads” into the field, and occasionally into the village. The bank was fortified and enlarged with stone from Dinas Quarry on the hilltop toward Edwinsford. The stone was provided by the ever-generous Mr D Idris Davies, the quarry owner.
Year by year, the balance sheets show the Committee’s determined progress.
- 1952: £395
- 1953: £500
- 1954: £1010
- 1955: £1186
- 1956: £1484.
Tackling the New Hall
Finally they felt ready to take the big step. The financial climate had eased a little, although this was still a period of austerity, and there was a growing realisation that the country had been permanently harmed by the war effort and was having difficulty adjusting to a bleak-looking post-Empire future. But grants were now sometimes available for community building and the Secretary was successful in obtaining one worth one-third of the total cost of the project – curiously, it came from the Ministry of Education. Together with the funds gathered and the encouraging response to a local appeal for 2-year interest-free loans, it was felt to be enough.
Mr John Simon of Llandovery was engaged as architect and his knowledge and initiative were to prove vital to the success of the project in unexpected ways.
Plans were drawn up and sent to a number of builders. Of four quotations received, the lowest was from J & W T Lewis of Llandovery, at £4,285.0.0. This was accepted and a start date of 7 May 1956 requested for the work. Messrs Lewis agreed to this but immediately (1st May 1956) sent another letter admitting an error in their quote and requesting an additional £450.0.0 for electrical work. They also asked for the completion date to be changed to 31 March 1957. The Committee accepted the new cost and the Contract was signed on 7 May 1956 for £4,735.0.0, but with a rather optimistic completion date of Christmas 1956.
A Christmas grand opening would have brightened the winter of 1956 wonderfully and it’s easy to see why the Committee wanted this. Messrs Lewis caused another twist in the tale just two weeks later on Saturday 19 May 1956, when they withdrew from the Contract without explanation. The Committee decided not to try to force them but immediately started the search for another Contractor. They wanted Mr D Idris Davies Dinas Quarries to use his influence to obtain the services of Mr D Jones of Caio. For once Mr Davies was too busy to do anything although he did allow them to tell Mr Jones that he could use any of Dinas Quarry’s equipment that might be useful to him in the building work. On June 6 1956 the secretary had to report that Mr Jones was also unable to help, but in the meantime Mr Simon the architect had been talking to Messrs Lewis, who it appeared had withdrawn from the Contract because of a second error in their cost calculations. The parties met again on June 8 1956 where Messrs Lewis were allowed to raise the Contract price to £5070, an additional £290. In spite of the two increases, the Contract price was still £700 below the next nearest quote and £2000 below the highest. The discussions were lengthy however and although no details were noted, it is probable that they centred on the need for this adjustment to be the last one, and for the building work to proceed without further obstacles.
And to be fair, Messrs Lewis then weighed into the job with energy and competence. They didn’t meet the Committee’s Christmas date. They didn’t meet their own March 31st date either but they had the job finished only two months or so later. It was a fine performance. No-one who was around at the time has memories of the hall half-built: it appears to have gone from drawing board to completion quickly and smoothly.
Throughout the building time, the Committee was mainly concerned with ensuring that cash was available to pay the builder – collecting grant payments, keeping the paperwork flowing, organising fund-raising events and arranging those all-important interest-free loans from supportive local residents. Through the first half of 1957, there were also the more enjoyable tasks of choosing equipment and paint colour schemes for the hall. The chairs were very carefully chosen (300 of them at £2.3/6 each less substantial discounts.) The other major item was curtains for the hall stage which were purchased from Tarr of Ammanford. (Those were not the present curtains, which were procured by Secretary Tom Jones circa 2000 when they old ones were condemned by the council as a fire hazard.)
The Hall opened with an afternoon of speeches and an Grand Gala Evening Concert, on June 1 1957 and from then on slipped easily into a habit of concerts, dramas, variety shows and sporting events, as well as providing a home for community groups. You cannot help but feel the satisfaction of the Committee from that point onward, arranging their own events and lending the hall to local organisations. Like the rest of the parish, they were proud of their Hall and of their combined achievement in bringing it into existence.
Many people, in and out of the Committee, contributed to the project, financially and by providing labour and skills. The Chair was rotated annually and also the post of Treasurer but the same basic team stuck to the task until the opening of the Hall on June 30 1957. Here they are in alphabetical order.
Mr Daniel David Davies, Farmer of Maesllan
Mr Thomas Saunders Davies, Forestry Worker, Eryl
Mr Thomas Islwyn Davies, Farmer of Llygadyrych
Mr John Griffiths, Farmer of Pantydderwen,
Mr David John James, Motor Mechanic, Pantysgawen
Mr Evan Lewis Jones, Bootmaker of Gwalia Shop
Mr David Glyn Jones (son of E.L.), Gwalia Shop
Rev Thomas Glenville Rees, Congregational Minister, Tegfan & Manse
Mr David Idris Williams, Retired County Council Roadman, Glynawel
Mr David Jenkin Williams, Co-operative Stores Manager of Hwanfa
John Henry Williams, Farmer of Frondeg
In all this exemplary community effort, special mention has to be made of the father-son team of Evan Lewis Jones and David Glyn Jones. The father performed feats of industry and ingenuity in carrying the building project through. The son joined the Committee on 19 January 1956 as Assistant Secretary and then on his father’s death in 1963 went on to serve as Secretary for thirty-four years until his own death in 1997. There can’t be many better examples of loyal service to a community.