Manor Road, Ammanford
The British Legion Club in Manor Road was the first workingmen's club to be built in Ammanford, opening its doors to the town's ex-servicemen on 31st January 1931. Ammanford Miners' Welfare Institute wouldn't appear on Wind Street until 1936, though the Miners Welfare Hall (a theatre and cinema) was formally opened on October 1st 1932. The Miners' Welfare Institute, however, didn't sell alcohol until 1965, serving as an educational, intellectual, cultural, social and political centre for the first thirty years of its existence. 1936 also saw the opening of Ammanford Social Club (the Pick and Shovel), also on Wind Street, which served alcohol from the outset
The British Legion building in Ammanford had an unusual beginning. Initially £667 had been collected through the United Services Fund to endow beds for ex-servicemen at a cottage hospital which had been proposed for Ammanford. The scheme however came to nothing and the money was redirected instead towards an alternative scheme: the building of a workingmen's club for Ammanford's ex-servicemen. Initially there was considerable opposition shown towards redirecting money in this way but eventually the determination of would-be drinkers proved stronger than their opponents, and the plan proceeded. Having a place for Ammanford's ex-servicemen to drink was deemed more important than a hospital for them. The cost of building, equipping, staffing and running a hospital may have been a factor in this decision. A workingmen's club, after all, costs far less to build and run than a hospital, and all the initial investment and future development could quickly be recuperated from profits.
The original club was a bungalow-type structure with three small rooms erected at a cost of £731. There were also additional expenses necessitating the Committee borrowing a further £200 - the building's contractor loaning them £100 and ex-Sergeant 'Taff' Jones loaning the other £100.
Lord Dynevor, the Honourable Charles Uryan Rhys MC, an ex-serviceman himself and holder of the Military Cross for distinguished gallantry from the First World War (then known as the Great War) opened the club on January 31st 1931.
Lord Dynevor also owned the land on which the club was built and had made the plot available at a nominal charge, stating that 'the site and building thereon would specifically be for the use of ex-servicemen'.
The founding membership was 189 ex-servicemen and a profit of £2. 8s. 5d. was made on the first year's trading. Sales and profits steadily grew through the years, all of which was re-invested in various extensions and improvements to the building. By 1956 membership was well in excess of 1,000. But these were still the days of compulsory military service (known as National Service), with British troops still fighting in various wars in what was then still called the British Empire. A million men still in uniform, and millions more demobilised from two World wars, meant millions of ex-servicemen at home, and British Legion clubs all over the land thrived. Ammanford's Legion grew into a substantial building, the largest workingmen's club in the town. By the 1960s it accommodated a large concert room, snooker room and steward's living quarters upstairs, with reading and television rooms, modern equipped lounge and bars and a games room downstairs. The area of land surrounding the building would eventually evolve into a car park.
But December 31st 1960 saw the formal ending of National Service in Britain which, combined with the shrinking of the British Empire, resulted in a slow but relentless contraction of servicemen throughout the land and therefore, in time, also of British Legion membership. The increasing availability of television and cars from the 1960s meant people were looking for other alternatives to workingmen's clubs and from the 1970s membership started to decline. Ammanford was not unique in this trend however and its fate was shared with all of the country's British Legion clubs.
Ammanford Legion eventually ceased to be run under the auspices of the British Legion when their licence to operate under that name was revoked in 2005. In a South Wales Guardian report on the closure (Thursday 29th March 2007), British Legion officer Denis Williams was quoted as saying: "The license was revoked because the club was not operating by Legion rules."
The club next changed its name to the Manor Road Social Club after having lost this affiliation to the Royal British Legion.
By the new millennium most of the generation of ex-servicemen who had served in the twentieth century's wars and national service had died off and today's younger breed of servicemen look for rather more than a game of dominoes or bingo during an evening spent comparing each other's cardigans. With cheap supermarket drinks and increasingly competitive forms of entertainment hitting all pubs and clubs, Ammanford's British Legion, aka Manor Road Social Club, closed its doors for good on Thursday 15th March 2007 when the club was repossessed by the Lancashire Building Society, who are now selling the premises. Debts of £125,000 had made the position of the club untenable. The first workingmen's club to open in Ammanford would also be the first to close. Although it had been in terminal decline for some time, and no-one who knew the club can claim to be surprised, it still came as a shock when the end was suddenly announced and windows were boarded up on the Friday morning following the previous night's closure.
Even the club's steward had a shock when the club was re-possessed by the Lancashire Building Society: "We knew things weren't going well but, even so, the actual closure of the place came completely out of the blue." (Club Steward Gerald Jones, South Wales Guardian, 29th March 2007.)
The Legion had served the town as a community centre for several decades before it succumbed to the inevitable march of time. It was used for dances, concerts, and children's tea parties. Birthdays, engagements, weddings, funerals, christenings, anniversaries, presentations, and all of those occasions, large and small, that mark out our lives, have been celebrated within its walls down the years. The annual summer outing, or charabanc trip, saw as many as eight coaches lined up in Bryn Teg Terrace to take the Legion's members, their wives and children, to the seaside for the day.
In common with similar trips organised by other working men's clubs and chapels in the town, the annual trip to the seaside for members and their children was the only holiday working people had until the post-war years brought greater prosperity and the overseas package holiday.
The club was where the local branch of the British Legion met to help and advised ex-servicemen, so it wasn't just a drinking club, at least not to start with. Before the club was built in 1931 a Mr Prout had started a branch of the British Legion Association at his home in Talbot Road after World War One. Its purpose then had been to help wounded ex-servicemen and widows of those killed in the 'war to end all wars', as the killing fields of France had once, idealistically, been called.
Ammanford British Legion the day it was repossessed and boarded up on March 15th 2007..
For a year after closure the old building stood forlorn and empty, its plight not helped by burglary and vandalism, and its fate as uncertain as anything can be in our rapidly changing world. The building and its large car park were on land prime for development, and in May 2008 the inevitable happened when bulldozers swept away thousands of memories, reducing the building to rubble. A housing development is the future of this site from now on, and even more executive homes, which no-one from the town can afford, will soon rise in its place.
A swathe is being cut through our countryside today, thanks to the County Council's short-sighted planning policies, and hundreds of expensive but characterless houses on executive-style estates are turning Ammanford into a soulless dormitory town for the M4 corridor. The once-pretty town, with its distinctive square and individual shops, has long been homogenised into a place indistinguishable from anywhere else. Out-of-town shopping venues and stores that are part of nationwide chains are resulting in locally-owned shops and businesses closing down and the once-rural villages of the area are now strung between new housing developments like shiny beads on a string.
When the mayor of the Merseyside town of Wallasey visited Ammanford in 1929, he had this to say of our little town:
We made a tour of the town the next day, and we found that it was a particularly fine town, situated in a beautiful valley. There was nothing mean or squalid about the dwellings or buildings such as one usually associates with mining districts. (The Wallasey News, 5th January 1929.)
It's doubtful if anyone would be so complimentary about the town today. An article on the closure of Ammanford British Legion Club can be found on the South Wales Guardian's website HERE.
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010