AMMANFORD and the AMMAN VALLEY
An architectural tour
INTRODUCTION TO THE AMMAN VALLEY
The River Aman, or Amman, runs west from the Black Mountains through high moorland at Rhosamman, down between the colliery settlements of Brynamman, Garnant, and Glanamman, to a broad plain at Ammanford where the Amman and Loughor rivers join forces. The area developed industrially in the late 19th century, when fine anthracite seams were found at Ammanford, Betws and along the valley, extending on into Glamorgan at Gwauncaegurwen. Although some small-scale coal extraction began in the earlier 19th century, the development of the area is overwhelmingly of c1880–1920. In the 1860s the site of Ammanford was a small cluster of houses called Cross Inn; its population in 1851 was just 286 people living in 59 dwellings. Cwmamman was the name given to the church in the upper valley, but the ribbon of settlements had barely begun. The railway infrastructure came early: a tramway from Llanelli in 1835 to Pantyffynnon (the Brunel-type station just south of Ammanford); a branch up the Amman valley 1840; and to the present Ammanford station 1841.
The post-industrial tidying has disguised the extent of coal workings, and it takes a moment to appreciate which hills are genuine and which are landscaped spoil heaps. The industry that came with the coal has even more completely gone, except for one big ruinous tinplate works near Ammanford station [formally Tirydail station]. Tinplate was the principal metal-working industry.
Start at the Great Western Hotel by Ammanford Station, formerly known as Tirydail station. The station is on the north-west edge of the town in the Tirydail area, but was near the Aberlash tinplate works (built 1888–9) to the north and the Dyffryn Colliery (to the west). A hundred houses were built near the tinplate works in the area in 1888-90 for the workforce. [These are named Harold Street, Norman Road and Florence Road, after the children of the tinplate works' owner, Colonel W. N. Jones.]
Travel next down College Street and turn left into Margaret Street at the site of the now-demolished police station. [The street takes its name from Lady Margaret Childe-Villiers, the wife of the 7th Lord Dynevor, Walter FitzUryan Rice.] There is parking in the supermarket car park, first right.
THE ARCADE. 1899 by Henry Herbert of Ammanford. A modest and charming small arcade of shops brings us out to the centre of the town. Cross Inn, the original settlement, had two inns: the Cross Inn and the thatched New Inn on the north-west and south-west corners. [The hamlet was originally named Cross Inn, but after a vote in 1880 was changed to Ammanford.]
The Arcade was built on the site of the Cross Inn stables for Evan Evans, Chemist, who returned to his native area from Tunbridge Wells and developed the first truly urban parade of shops and offices, still the focal point of the town. Henry Herbert was the most prominent local architect and surveyor and his design for the shops is an ornate mix of brick and terracotta with dormer gables (the gables are lost from Numbers 1–7, the lower range). Evans also added a cinema, now gone, in 1914.
Across the road is THE BARD, the charmless 1964 replacement of the CROSS INN, and on the corner of Wind St and Quay St, LLOYDS BANK, the other key element of the centre, 1908-9 by R.L. Roberts, an architect unknown to me, in Edwardian baroque style with corner dome clasped by gables. Red brick and Bath stone. Lloyds Bank moved in 2004 but the building is still in use.
In Quay Street, one brick and terracotta three-storey building and the POST OFFICE, 1925, in the elegant free Georgian style of the Office of Works (of the Post Offices in Lampeter and Haverfordwest), the quality showing in the detailing of the ground floor.
Down Hall St to GELLIMANWYD INDEPENDENT CHAPEL. [Hall Street takes its name from the Ivorites Hall, demolished in the 1960s. The Philanthropic Order of True Ivorites, founded in 1836 and disbanded in 1959, were one of many 19th century self-help groups.] Gellimanwydd Chapel is the successor of Ammanford's first chapel, Cross Inn Chapel of 1782 (but founded in a barn in 1748), and was rebuilt in 1836 and again in 1865 for the Rev John Davies ‘the Silver Trumpet of Cwmaman'. This is the core of the present chapel. Davies renamed the chapel ‘Christian Temple' in an expectation that the area would soon lose its Welsh language. He was wrong. In 1910 it was altered again, possibly by Henry Herbert, to whose Capel y Gwynfryn, College Rd, the Gothic window and interior are similar.
Back down Hall Street, over Quay Street to Lloyd Street. [Lloyd Street was named after a local doctor; the origins of Quay Street are unknown, but there has never been a quay in Ammanford. Perhaps it is an anglicised corruption of the Welsh ‘cae', or field, and a Field Street did once join Quay Street.] On Lloyd Street is EBENEZER BAPTIST CHAPEL, first built 1849–50, rebuilt 1877, plain stone front, the windows and interior remodelled 1924 for £1,600 by J.O. Parry of Ammanford. Parry, 1880–1965, was the leading local architect between the wars, returning to Ammanford in 1913 having been City engineer of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He designed much for the Miners Welfare, the Co-operative Society and local authorities. Past the Gothic ENGLISH WESLEYAN CHAPEL, the home of Ammanford Evangelical Church since 2003, to Wind Street, 1875, and along to see the imposing facade of BETHANY CALVINISTIC METHODIST CHAPEL, 1928–9, by J.O. Parry, remodelling a plain stone building of 1880-1. Classical front with Venetian.
Up Wind Street, ST MICHAEL'S CHURCH, 1884–5, by David Jenkins of Llandeilo, entertaining for the crazy-paving of the outside walls using all the local stones. The local paper called the masonry ‘snailwork style'. The interior is plain. Facing over the graveyard is the MINERS WELFARE HALL, c1935, by J.O. Parry, imposing with columned front in artificial stone and long blank side wall, well-articulated in panels. The interior with giant pilasters and end gallery became much battered after closure and abandonment in the 1980s but has recently been rescued. Major grant-aided renovations have taken place since 1997 and the building has been converted into a multi-functional community arts centre. The interior has been completely remodelled; the upper floor has been converted into the Ammanford Miners' Theatre by extending the floor of the former balcony forward to meet the original proscenium, the upper half of which is the only part now visible. The rear half of the original balcony has been retained and provides fixed raked seating. The space is now mainly used as a theatre but in 2001 a projector and portable screen were purchased so that it is now possible for occasional film shows to be put on, though the hall's seating capacity has been reduced from 760 to 222.
Across Wind Street is the CHURCH HALL, c1890, by David Jenkins. [The origins of Wind Street (pronounced ‘Wine' Street) are also unknown.]
Cross Ammanford PARK, laid out 1935 by J.O. Parry, the bandstand a memorial to Evan Evans, the Chemist. In Iscennen Road, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONAL CHAPEL, 1913 by Henry Herbert and APOSTOLIC CHURCH, of similar date, flanking the park entry. Opposite these two chapels is the YMCA, 1909, by David Thomas of Ammanford, and the TOWN HALL, 1964, by the Urban District Council architect, W.T.H. Lock-Smith. [Iscennen was the name of the medieval commote which encompassed all the land between the Towy and Amman rivers.] In College Street is the VICARAGE, a villa of the 1860s type, built in 1875. Also in College Street was the POLICE STATION, 1903, by David Jenkins, brick with Jacobean gables. It cost £2,200. It was disgracefully demolished without warning in 2004, the company who had bought it then going bankrupt in 2008 leaving a gaping and unsightly space. A new ‘bunker-style' police station replaced it, hidden out of sight on Foundry Road. The COURT HOUSE behind the police station was added in 1910 by W.L. Jenkins for £1,855. Across the road is the brick and terracotta CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY building, 1906, by David Jenkins, built for £830. [College Street takes its name from Gwynfryn College, 1880–1915, a college to prepare adults for the non-conformist churches.]
Drive down Margaret Street to join the A 474 road going east along the Amman valley. Up Amman valley, half a mile from Ammanford, PONTAMMAN had a large coal-washery on the south side of the bridge, and a big c1900 red-brick house, TYCOCH, survives, very mutilated, next door. WERNOLEU was also a colliery manager's house, and was the residence of the colliery company's agent, the man responsible for overseeing the running of the several collieries in the area. Wernoleu is an Italianate stucco villa of the 1870s, the house of the manager of United Anthracite Collieries, N. Waplington, in 1926.
Then open country for three miles to GLANAMMAN; turn 1eft and stop by chapel.
BRYNSEION Independent CHAPEL (exterior), 1910, by Henry Herbert, grand Gothic work, an inflated version of Gwynfryn at Ammanford and Capel Newydd at Llandeilo. It cost £4,784, the front in ‘shoddywork', the dressings Forest of Dean. Behind is the former INSTITUTE, and a landscaped spoil-head abruptly terminates the street. Just west, BETHANIA Calvinistic Methodist, Brynhloi Road, 1906–7 by a Williams of Swansea, either D or W, in quite elaborate Renaissance style.
Continue up the valley, past, on 1eft, BETHESDA BAPTIST CHAPEL, opened 1843, rebuilt 1882, stucco two-storey front, into GARNANT, the next colliery village. On the 1eft is NEW BETHEL Independent CHAPEL, 1880, large rock-faced facade. Cwmamman WORKINGMENS HALL, 1927 by G.H. Davies, hard red-brick. Turn right some 300 metres further up, down into the still-rural valley where the first church for the area was built.
CWMAMMAN CHURCH. Christ Church, Cwmamman, is a typical example of the minimally Gothic churches built in the English industrial heartland in the 1830s, but unusual in this part of Wales. It was built 1838–42 by Robert Ebbels of Wolverhampton who built such churches extensively in the Midlands and South East of England (Shirley Warws 1832; Wolverhampton, St Paul, 1834; Ettingshail, Staffs 1835; Guildford, St Nicholas, 1836; Reading, St John, 1836; Ventnor, 1837; Ewhurst, 1837; Tipton, Staffs, 1838; Handsworth, 1838,;Sunningdale, 1839; West Bromwich, 1839; Coventry, St Peter, 1840). Many of his works were subsequently remodelled or rebuilt, not finding favour as Gothic taste changed. Cwmamman was designed by Ebbels because the Rev Pugh of Llandeilo had previously been vicar of Ettingshall. Though plain it is quite charming in roughcast with Pembrokeshire grey stone dressings. The front projects as if for a tower, and the chancel is barely there. There were alterations in 1878 and 1892. Broad interior with big trusses to the roof. Stained glass south side, one of 1970, one of c1937. North side, one of 1910 by Jones & Willis. The east window 1888, by Taylor of London, was scrubbed of all detail in an unfortunate work-opportunity scheme. Additional churches were built at Brynamman (see below) and Glanamman (1933, by A.F. Webb).
The VICARAGE, 1842, is probably also by Ebbels, and a school was built at the same time.
Take the main road through Garnant into the wooded Cwm Garnant, crossing into Glamorgan at Gwauncaegurwen, turn 1eft onto the A4069, for Brynamman.
The Glamorgan part of Brynamman has a vast landscaped spoil tip on the right and two large chapels before we cross the Amman river back into Carmarthenshire.
EBENEZER INDEPENDENT CHAPEL, 1897–8, is large and rock-faced with the facade gathered under a central arch and SILOAM BAPTIST is of 1871, altered 1898. Over the river, BRYNAMAN climbs attractively to the stucco GIBEA INDEPENDENT CHAPEL (1842, 1856, altered 1889). Turn right for Brynamman Church.
ST CATHERINE, BRYNAMMAN. 1880–1 by E.H. Lingen Barker, a neat Decorated Gothic work with lean-to west porch, bellcote and plate-traceried west window. The interior is notable for the extensive set of glass by Celtic Studios of Swansea, 1980, and 1990s, east window, 1924. By the approach, VESTRY BALL, 1897 by J. Hay of Swansea.
Return to Ammanford, turning right into Union Street/Margaret Street, then right opposite car park entrance into Church Street. [Union Street takes its name from the union in marriage of Walter FitzUryan Rice and Lady Margaret Childe-Villers, already mentioned. Church Street is named for the rather prosaic reason that the church stands here.] On the right is the impressive stone facade of the AMMAN VALLEY INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL, 1924-5, by W.V. Morgan. The school was renamed Amman Valley Grammar School in 1945; Amman Valley Comprehensive School in 1970; and plain Amman Valley School in 2001.
ALL SAINTS CHURCH. Ammanford church is an exceptionally ambitious work. Proposed in 1906, it was decided to use a local architect, and M.D. Jenkins, son of David Jenkins of Llandeilo, was chosen in 1908. The first tenders were for £9,500; the design was simplified in 1910, reducing the cost to £5,500, and are in fact near identical to Jenkins' plans for Gorseinon church near Swansea (1911). Problems with the contractors delayed completion and it was opened in 1915, complete save for the top of the tower. This was added 1924–6 by C. Mercer of Swansea to the original plans; Jenkins had apparently disappeared. Comparison with Gorseinon suggests that the clock-stage (above the bell-lights) is an addition by Mercer as a war memorial. Forest of Dean ‘shoddies', Box Ground dressings and Westmorland slate were used. The style is late Gothic, the Perpendicular style of the end of the Gothic Revival (compare the churches of Bruce Vaughan, Halliday and others). Generously scaled interior with Bath stone arcades and Art Nouveau carved heads to the chancel arch. Hammerbeam roof trusses. The fittings were made by Haughton of Worcester to Jenkins designs. There is a total immersion font under the nave floor.
Travel down Church St, right into Margaret Street, right into College Street, past GWYNFRYN INDEPENDENT CHAPEL, 1903, by Henry Herbert, already mentioned. [Henry Herbert was a prominent member and deacon of Gwynfryn Independent Chapel and he built several Independent chapels in the area. He was the brother-in-law of Evan Evans, Chemist, already mentioned, who built Ammanford Sqaure.]
[Adapted from original notes by Julian Orbach, with information from Tom Lloyd and J.W. Parry. On 12th August 1995 architectural historian Julian Orbch took the members of the South Wales Group of the Victorian Society on a guided tour of Ammanford and the Amman valley. These notes were written to accompany the tour, though they have been updated for this website. There have been some changes along this itinerary since 1995, most notably the complete demolition of Ammanford police station in 2004, though destruction might be a better word to describe this act of wanton vandalism to a charming building of 1903. Origins of the street names mentioned have also been added, as street names can often be a part of a town's history. The various buildings are capitalised to highlight them.]
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010