CONTENTS 1 The Park's Beginnings 2 The Memorial Gates 3 The Park in the 1890s
THE PARK'S BEGINNINGS
Ammanford park today stands on what was once a 10 acre field called 'Cae Drud' belonging to Tirydail farm (Cae = field and drud = precious, presumably because the field was large, flat, well drained and prime agricultural land). In the early 1900s the field was rented to the proprietor of the Cross Inn Hotel on Ammanford Square, Mr Oswald David Edwards, and the field was at that time known as Cross Inn Hotel Field (until 1880 Ammanford itself was called 'Cross Inn').
Mr Edwards was a keen sportsman and he gave support and encouragement to local sporting organisations, allowing the field to be used for a wide ranging variety of sports, such as cricket, rugby, hockey, tennis and horse racing. The ground was also rented out to traveling fairs, circuses and mobile cinemas in effect, it became a village green. As a result of these sporting activities, the land eventually acquired an alternative name, that of the cricket field.
Ammanford Park in the 1950s
At the beginning of the century the usual amenities associated with an urbanised area, such as parks, public open spaces and recreational facilities, were absent in Ammanford. With the exploitation of coal the town had grown rapidly, even explosively, in the second half of the nineteenth century and local political and administrative structures had not kept pace with this growth. Ammanford was still administered by Llandeilo Rural District Council, and its perceived lack of interest in Ammanford, now far more important economically than agricultural Llandeilo, became one of the causes of discontent with Llandeilo, which led finally to the formation of Ammanford Urban District Council in 1903. Ammanford and Llandeilo rivalry is strong, even today, but could be even more acrimonious in the past; perhaps the ancient town of Llandeilo saw Ammanford as an upstart newcomer, a late arrival on the scene, its brash industrialised ways clashing with genteel Llandeilo's established customs. From 1896 to 1914, for example, the governors of Llandeilo Intermediate School prevented a similar school being built in Ammanford (For a history of this dispute click on Amman Valley Grammar School to 1914).
The aspirations of the fledgling Urban District Council were soon tested as, with a limited financial budget, the new authority naturally concentrated its resources on the more meaningful and essential services needed in the town, such as water and sewerage.
A group of prominent residents, while appreciating the difficulties and circumstances the Council had inherited, became disillusioned by lack of progress in the recreational needs of the town. They set about solving the problem with the flotation in January 1914 of a Limited Company, the Ammanford Recreation Grounds Ltd., whose objectives were:
"To promote, provide for and carry on all or any of the following acts and things, namely: games, meetings of any description, racing, athletic and other sports, aviation, shows, brass band contests and competitions, esteddfodau and concerts, pleasure fairs and fetes, and all other forms of amusement and recreation ...
....To purchase, take on lease or in exchange, or otherwise acquire any real or personal property, patents, licences, rights or privileges, which the Company may think necessary or convenient for the purpose of its business."
The capital of the company was set at £3,000, divided into 3,000 shares at £l each, the principal subscribers being:-
Ernie Hewlett , Wernoleu'. Pontamman (Mining Engineer)
David Rees Price, 'The Laurels', Wind Street (Surgeon)
William Morris, Old Cross Inn, The Square (Licensed Victualler)
David Arthur Fox, Lloyds Bank (Bank Sub-Manager)
Oswald David Edwards, Cross Inn Hotel, The Square (Licensed Victualler)
Isaac Martin Davies 65, Wind Street (Ironmonger)
James Mort Darbyshire, 'Hafodneddyn' (Mining Engineer)
At the first General Meeting of the company, held on the 11th of March 1914, it was announced that practically all the shares had been subscribed and that a record entry had been received for the sports event organised for the following month. Within months however, the country was thrown into the turmoil of the First World War and little is known of the activities of the company, other than taking over the lease of the Cross Inn Hotel/Cricket Field.
War and the resultant conscription of able bodied men put an end to almost all sporting activities in Ammanford. All sporting teams were disbanded and the only games that took place were of schoolboys and other youths too young to be conscripted to the killing fields of Europe. By 1920, the Council had approached Lord Dynevor with a view of purchasing the freehold interest of the field, the land being for sale at market value. It was not as straightforward as had been anticipated however, as the Ministry of Health restricted the issue of the loan to £2,500.00, while the capital outlay needed was £3,081.00. Various meetings took place with Lord Dynevor's agent in an attempt to obtain a negotiated price within the budget set by the Ministry, but without success.
In September 1923, after considerable deliberation, the Council's Seal was appended to the documents, securing a magnificent area of land located in the centre of the town to establish what is now known as Ammanford Park. As a result of this acquisition, the interest and capital balance repayments of the loan enforced a levy of four pence in the pound on the General Rate (equivalent to a 10% increase) and quite a burden to place upon the ratepayers. The financial outlay did not end with just the purchase of land however, as the Council now faced the problem of maintenance and improvement.
Immediate steps were taken to secure the boundaries; in January 1926 tenders were accepted for the erection of unclimbable railings along the whole of Tirydail Lane frontage and at the entrance leading in from Iscennen Road, a total of 220 yards and costing £275.00. (This structure was to remain in position for nearly 70 years, being replaced by new railings as part of the town's regeneration scheme, implemented in 1995).
In 1934, the Council embarked upon an ambitious course of improvements a bandstand, a miniature golf putting course, children's playground, the reconstruction of the bowling green and tennis courts, pathways and tree planting. To finance the projects, a public subscription fund was opened, receiving tremendous support in the form of individual donations, gifts, as well as special fund raising events. The list below of just a few of these fund raising activities gives an insight into the cultural richness and diversity of the town at that time:
Mr Ewart Davies arranged a special rugby match between the Glamorgan Police Team and a selected Valley Team. Mr Rhys Thomas organised an Orchestral Concert. A drama, directed by Mr D. J. Edwards. A Benefit Night organised by the Showman's Association. Performance of "The Outsider" by the League of Nations Dramatic Society. Mr Berstein arranged a dance at the Drill Hall, with Roy Desmond donating the services of his Band, without charge . A Benefit Concert at the Welfare Hall. The Ammanford Chamber of Trade organised a 'stop watch competition', a watch being hand wound and contestants to predict the time and day it would stop. A Benefit Night by the South Wales Stall Holders Association. Door-to- door street collections.
By the 3rd of July 1935, the subscription fund balance was recorded as £670. 16s. 11d., a large sum of money in those days.
In addition, generous financial contributions were given by the Ammanford District Welfare Miners Association towards the cost of the bowling green and tennis court improvements. The British Legion contributed towards the Memorial Gates at the Iscennen Road entrance and a donation of £250 was presented by Mrs. D. Hilary Jones and Mr. H. G. Evans towards the erection of the Bandstand (in memory of their father Mr Evan Evans, the Chemist).
With all the improvement works completed, Lord and Lady Dynevor were invited to perform the opening ceremony, held on the 14th of May 1936. Lord Dynevor conducted the official opening of the bowling green and bandstand; Lady Dynevor opening the miniature putting green and Mrs. D Hilary Jones and Mr. H.G. Evans unveiled a memorial tablet.
Ammanford Park in the 1950s. The little white building at the right was where you hired your golf equipment for the miniature putting green, just behind the hedge on the left of the photo.
Since this period, major improvements in the Park have continued in the form of a tennis pavilion (sadly, this has recently been demolished after becoming ruinously derelict), and substantial accommodation for both the bowling and cricket clubs.
Councilors who became involved in the management of Ammanford Park can look back in pride on such a tangible asset, to be treasured and protected as a public open space for the enjoyment of all the community.
As for that Limited Company, the Ammanford Recreation Grounds Ltd who implanted the first ideas of open spaces and recreational facilities, records show that in May 1928, at a County Court Hearing, there was insufficient assets to justify the levying of a distraint warrant for a debt, amounting to £83. 3s 6d so, no dividends for payment to the shareholders.
1 The Park's Beginnings 2 The Memorial Gates 3 The Park in the 1890s
2. THE MEMORIAL GATES
The entrance to Ammanford Park in Iscennen Road is through a set of Memorial Gates, erected in 1937 in honour of the fallen of the First World War, 1914-1918. With one of those ironies that only history can provide, within two years the gates would be forced to commemorate the fallen of a second world conflagration between 1939 and 1945. The Memorial Gates are Ammanford's 'Cenotaph', the scene of a wreath-laying ceremony on the anniversary of the Armistice on November 11th 1918 which signalled the end of World War I. Today, the right hand pillar of the gates lists all those from Ammanford who fell in the First World war (91 in all) and the left hand pillar lists the town's 42 dead from World War II. The gates cost £100 to erect in 1937, the year of the very first wreath laying ceremony which took place on Armistice Day, November 7th. The tree-lined avenue leading from the gates is called 'Memorial Avenue', though initially it was to be called 'Coronation Avenue', presumably after the coronation of George VI in 1937. On the recommendation of tree surgeons some of the trees were cut down in the 1990s but new saplings were planted in their place and are already beginning to blossom forth into sturdy trees for the benefit of future generations. The Memorial Gates are listed as Grade II by the Welsh Historic Monuments organisation, CADW.
Most of the above has been adapted from W T H Locksmith's excellent 'Ammanford, Origin of Street names and Notable Historical Records', published by Carmarthenshire County Council in 2000 as part of their Millennium celebrations.
1 The Park's Beginnings 2 The Memorial Gates 3 The Park in the 1890s
3. AMMANFORD PARK IN THE 1890S
A wonderful picture of the field that would one day become Ammanford Park was given in 1933 by the town's local newspaper, the Amman Valley Chronicle. The paper, renamed the South Wales Guardian in 1959, published the memories of a local man, Owen Madden, of the time forty years earlier when the field was used for an annual horse show, thus taking us all the way back to 1890s. So long ago that, as Owen Madden tells us, cigarettes hadn't yet made their appearence. His article is rather long (and has been shortened for this website) but we make no apology for reproducing the vivid picture it paints of the days before the motor car and cigarettes cast a sinister spell over the world. (The author of this website neither drives nor smokes so perhaps he may be forgiven an occasional grumble about these twin plagues of the modern world.)
The editor of the Amman Valley Chronicle justified a reprint of Owen Madden's recollections in 1939 as follows:
In 1933, Mr. Owen Madden wrote an article in which he visualised the scenes in those days, and among other incidents he recorded a graphic description of the old horse shows. He also gave us occasional glimpses of old time humour, and referred to the noted characters in the town. Now at the request of many of our older readers, we have pleasure in reproducing that article, and with the knowledge that even since then another generation has grown up in Ammanford, members of which cannot be conversant with the activities, enterprise and progressiveness of the elders of those far off days, we feel justified in giving space to Mr. Madden's happy recollections.
Well, a few more generations have grown up in Ammanford since 1939 and the justification for giving space to Mr. Madden's happy recollections is just as valid now as it was then.
AMMANFORD A HUNDRED YEARS AGO
By OWEN MADDEN (originally written in 1933, reprinted in 1939)
I looked back at the Council Houses, with Iscennen Road running across the lane and forming a square. Further away, I saw Manor Road, with the British Legion Club and the Girl Guides Hall.
....As I beheld this scene, my memory played one of her tricks and rolled away the years the houses, swings, children, and players faded away.
....All was as it used to be in the days of Long Ago. I saw Tirydail Lane with hawthorn hedges on either side, except where gates stood, ready to admit anyone going into the fields behind.
....Here and there is a gap where lovers stop to talk; the grass is high and ready for the scythe.
....Fields, fields, fields. No houses all the way until one comes to Tirydail, except the Bothy on the one side and Tirydail House on the other side. No Talbot Road; no Iscennen Road; no Y.M.C.A nothing but fields.
....Then, as the mood changed, I pictured once more the old field through which I was passing with the people of days gone by, when with excitement in the air one could hear the sound of the "pick," the crowbar and the mallets. The old familiar scene of the week before the Horse Show came back vividly to my mind, when with a will, the heavy posts were put down, and the thick wire was pulled taut and fastened, making ready the great ring inside which different classes would parade on the day of the Horse Show.
....There again were the hurdles, the imitation wall, and the water jumps, all ready for the events for which they would be needed.
....At the far end, near the entrance gates, was the huge marquee where refreshments would be served.
....I saw again the preparations being made in the village for the "big day" flags and bunting waving from windows and across the main streets, and gaily-painted signs pointed long fingers towards the field. No stranger would be unable to find his way here.
....The day itself has arrived, and what a day! All is excitement; people from the surrounding district, and there have been entries for various classes from still further away Cardiff; Newport; Gloucester, and Bristol. These have sent in their best to endeavour to carry away the prizes.
What a Sight!
I recall the thrill of standing in the "Cross," as it was then called, watching the different classes of horses come in. And what a sight! The heavier class horses, with their manes plaited with straw, intermingled with variously coloured ribbons, were first led in by the boys who accompanied them.
....Then the lighter classes ridden by well groomed men dressed in breeches and leggings. There was a merry jingle bells, and a flash of dazzling harness polished so brightly that the sun's reflection shone back with almost equal brilliance. High-stepping horses drawing smart rubber-tyred traps, gigs and phaetons. There is a thrill of pleasure in beholding the way in which the reins are handled as, with a crack of the whip, they drove smartly away.
....Then the tandems with their well matched ponies as they trotted by in fine style. It was a pleasant neigh which smote one's ears as the horses passed along, all making for the one direction which was to the show field. There is keen excitement at our local tradesmen's turnouts as they vie with each other in friendly rivalry.
....As we stand on the "Cross," looking down Quay Street, we see on the corner (where the Bank building now stands) a thatch-roofed inn which was called the New Inn, with its garden stretching along Quay Street, a low wall separating it from the road.
....Further down the street was a row of small houses, while on the opposite side, where the Post Office now stands were the stables where Buckley's Brewery kept their horses.
....Then back we go to the "Cross," and up to "Banc yr Inn " on the way to College Street. On the right hand side are the modern premises of Mr. Evan Evans, the chemist.
....Then a blank space; no Arcade, no Palace Theatre; just fields. Further along come the School and two houses; then fields. No Police Station. The Vicarage, then called Greenlands, had been newly built, and Dr. Hughes lived there. No Co-op., no Margaret Street nothing but fields until one came to Tirydail Square.
....Let us look down Wind Street, which was much the same as it is today; but the roads branching off to Pantyffynnon and Penybank show a great change.
....There were no houses excepting a few new houses where the road branched off until one came to Parcyrhun, where Mr. and Mrs. J Philips lived, whose glorious contralto voice thrilled us with its exquisite beauty. Many of the young singers of those days, who have now grown older, can still remember her with gratitude for the help that she was always willing to give.
The Great Day
But I am wandering away from my subject. We are back on the "Cross" again, and it is the day of the Horse Show.
....Hullo! Here comes the band. In the distance we hear the sound of drums, and with a short bang! bang! they begin to play. The strains of one of the old familiar marches greet the ear. Around the corner here they come playing lustily, and if they lack in harmony, the loss is made up in enthusiasm as they briskly march along.
...."Here, what do you think of this turn-out?" and a trap beautifully varnished and tastefully lined comes down the street. The horse is a pleasure to look at full of mettle as it picks up its feet in fine style under a well-curbed rein, for the horse is young and has a "spice of devilment" in it which can easily be seen by the way in which it is held in by the driver.
....The band comes from the opposite direction; the conductor, walking behind, is chatting with one of his friends; he cannot see the oncoming horse and trap when he gives a signal to the drummer.
....The band again starts up. Bang! bang! goes the drum, and up start the instrumentalists.
Suddenly there is a gleam of bright steel, and up into the air rears the young horse, almost throwing the driver out of the trap, who immediately recovers his balance and with great presence of mind tightens the reins.
....The crowd stand by and watch breathlessly. The horse, plunging and rearing, endeavours to "run wild," while with growing excitement we watch the battle for control between horse and driver. The man handles the reins swiftly, and gradually shows his mastery, when suddenly we gasp! The reins are broken and away goes the horse madly down the road, scattering the people in all directions.
....Look! There is an old man on the "Cross." The horse, now completely out of control, careers along, when quickly, like a shot from a gun, a lithe figure, clad in breeches and gaiters, jumps high at the horse's head and clings on for grim life. As we see him dragged along, we hold our breath and wonder how he is able to swing clear of the flashing hoofs.
....But he is young and strong. Slowly the horse's head begins to droop, and it is brought to a standstill. The man "out of breath," with collar disarranged, holds the horse's head, and gently coaxes the frightened animal, which is quivering like an aspen leaf. All is over.
Straw Boaters and Waxed Moustaches
Well, away to the Show! There again, I see faces. Some have grown cider, and now walk with slower step; but in fancy again. I see them young, strong and vigorous as in days of yore dressed up for the Show, with fancy vests, straw boaters, and waxed moustaches. Of course, there were the usual pipes, cigars and cheroots. Wild Woodbines and Cinderellas, the first cigarettes, had not then made their appearance.
....I think we'd better buy a catalogue. Here boy! How much are they? Thanks. Now we shall be able to see what's on. As the events followed each other, the people flocked into the field, and the great ring outside was filled with hundreds of spectators. Men and women, dressed in their best it was a wonderful scene; the blue sky and green fields making a fitting background for the picturesque and multi-coloured frocks of the women-folk, who carried gaily-coloured parasols. The pleasant neighing of horsed and the cries of the grooms added to the gaiety and excitement.
....There comes the tradesmen's turnouts, and there is a clapping of hands for the favourite, and a shout as the tickets denoting the order of the prizes are pinned on. The afternoon is whiled away pleasantly. Then as we wait patiently, out of the paddock flash the tandems with their beautifully matched ponies, dazzling harness and tinkling bells. A crack of the whip, and away they go, with a merry jingle. Their drivers show their skill as they trot around the ring, while we speculate on the order in which the prizes will be given.
At the Crack of the Pistol
What's next? The trotting match, and we look towards the paddock out of which walk a number of clean limbed, well-trained horses, and as they line up impatiently waiting to be off, we hear again the sound of the bell and Mr. Ivor Morris, of Pontamman House (whom all the older folks remember too well), whose genial personality, brightened the atmosphere of every gathering which he attended and in which he took an interest, announces in a loud voice the next event.
....Look! There's Mr. Wyrewood Rees, the Colliers' Arms, and Mr. Evan J. Evans, Glynmoch. They can ride anything with four legs. I have never seen a horse, mule, or donkey that could unseat them.
....At the crack of the pistol they start off, and away they go, trotting smartly around the inner side of the ring, while bets are exchanged, each putting a shilling on his fancy; and as they come along, we draw back instinctively in fear least they may not keep to the course.
....Lap after lap is covered, until finally they come to the last lap and the riders go "all out," some plying their whips perhaps a little too harshly in their endeavour to be first at the winning post; and as they move towards the tape we hear the shout, "Silk Twist wins." Then laughingly the friendly bets are paid.
The Lady Rider
Hullo! What's on now? The water jump. Oh! We must see this. How many entries? Five.
....Excitement is growing. This is a good show. Look! There they go over the hurdles. That's a good one. The next oh! He's touched the bushes. Now for the wall. There, he's knocked over a few bricks. Now, watch the water jump. There he goes, right into the water; the water splashes over him. The next is better, but he, again, fails to clear the water. Oh! I say, look at this one. He is a jumper clean over the hurdles, and the next. Now for the water jump. He's cleared it. Well done! Well done!
....Who is the lady? Is she in this class? Yes; look! She's going for the first hurdle. Oh! Fine. What a good clearance, and the next. Now the wall. Better than the last rider. Why! She's cleared the water. Oh! Champion. The judges are discussing it. The lady and the last rider are to try again. Over they go, but the man misjudges the distance to the water jump. Oh! He's missed it; hard luck! The lady has done it, though, in fine style, and cries arise all over the field, "The lady wins. The lady wins."
And now comes the event for which we have waited so patiently. Here they are in the paddock the cream of the entries. Look at the workmanship on the traps, gigs, and four-wheelers; the coachbuilders have surely put all their skill into them, them and can be justly proud of their labour. No mass production here; all individual labour.
....See the horses, beautiful creatures, well groomed and trained to perfection, each according to its trainer's idea, full of life and so graceful, eager to be off.
....They are coaxed by a stroke of the hand, and some come for the lump of sugar which they love so well.
....At last, the big man with the bell shouts in a loud voice which "carries" all over the field, and announces proudly: "The best turn-out in the show."
....Here they come, and with a flick of the whip, as each groom "lets go," out they trot, one by one; then in fine array taps, gigs, phaetons, and other carriages. Around the ring they go, each showing his skill in handling and driving the horses, who respond to each little touch or pressure of the rein.
....The judges after careful consideration, motion the unsuccessful to retire, until at last there are only two left. Two ladies are seated in one, while a gentleman drives the other alone. The ladies are dressed in perfectly fitting riding habits, but the gentlemen, too, is faultlessly attired.
....The contrast stimulates the interest of the crowd as these two vie with each other in skill, employing all their arts in an attempt to cart off the prize. The judges find it hard to decide, until at last they stop the competition and pin on the cards.
....Again the cry goes up, "The ladies win!" Again a clapping of hands hails the victor as proudly she drives around the ring, while the other holds aloft the coveted trophy towards the admiring spectators.
....This is the end of the Show, and there is nothing more to see; so away with us back to the "Cross."
....In a short while the stars begin to twinkle; in the gaps of the hedges one sees the flicker of a match and hears a tinkle of laughter.
....Out in the yard of the Cross Inn, men are busy lighting candles to put in the lamps ready for their homeward journey.
....There are no glaring electric lights or signs, no sound of engines, no grinding of brakes and hooting of horns, for the only sound to be heard is that of voices saying "Good night," and the wheels on the stones, as we take our leave and wend our way home. Soon this, too, is ended, and all is quiet and dark but back in the days of Long Ago.
Researched by Derek Norman. Derek Norman, a retired firefighter from Ammanford, has his own website on the history of Ammanford Fire Brigade which can be found by clicking on: www.ammanfordfirestation.org.uk.
1 The Park's Beginnings 2 The Memorial Gates 3 The Park in 1899
Date this page last updated: August 24, 2010