The Geography of the area
The River Amman drains an area of upland which lies between ten and twenty miles inland from Swansea. The river rises in the centre of the Black Mountain on the Carmarthenshire-Breconshire border and flows west to join the River Llwchwr just south of Ammanford. The Llwchwr rises further to the west, on the edge of the Black Mountain and flows south through Llandybie, Amrnanford and Pontardulais to enter the sea in an estuary between Swansea and Llanelli. The valleys thus formed cut across the north crop of the South Wales coalfield syncline; in them, outcrops of the lower and middle coal measures, which here are of an anthracitic type, are found. It is these coal measures that give the area its history and character.

The coal outcrops which are found on many of the hillsides in various parts of the valley were probably worked by local farmers in a minor way before 1700, and it is said that traces of early workings can be found on the northern slope of Betws Mountain overlooking Cwmamman. Probably such workings were confined to a surface scouring from the various outcrops of the different seams found on the mountain. It is known that a deep mine, presumably a drift, was working in the Brynlloi area of Glanamman as early as 1757 (James, 1966), although its output was limited and was used principally for domestic consumption within the cwm itself. Mining activity expanded only gradually in the first half of the nineteenth century, largely as a result of the lack of an adequate transport system; most of the output of the mines served local needs for hop drying, lime burning, small scale iron smelting or domestic consumption (Griffiths, 1959).

A railway line was opened in 1840 linking Brynamman with Ammanford and ultimately with Llanelli. One of the main purposes of this line was to open up the coalfield in the upper part of the valley, in response to the increasing demand for anthracite which, as a relatively smokeless fuel, is particularly suited to a number of domestic applications. However, geological problems resulting from the folded and faulted nature of the seams, and competition from other more strongly developed parts of the coalfield, meant that the main boom in mining did not take place here until the late 1880s. Davies (1971) quotes figures for mining employment in the upper Amman Valley (the Gwaun Cae Gurwen – Brynamman area) as 559 in 1888, 1,470 in 1901 and 2,500 in 1913.

Similarly, in the Ammanford area, most of the major pits which figured prominently in the early twentieth century industrial structure were only developed after 1890. Most of the mines developed in this era were drifts, where a roadway followed the dip of a particular coal seam from where it outcropped down to the area of workings; only the Gwaun Cae Gurwen collieries – Steer Pit, East Pit and Maerdy Pit – used shafts as the main form of access to the level of working. This pattern of development partly reflects the geology of the area, but partly it reflects the pattern of capital investment which was generally small-scale. Although there were twelve working collieries in the area in 1890, rising to at least twenty by 1920, it is probable that the average labour force of each colliery pre-1914 comprised no more than two hundred men. Colliery ownership was similarly small-scale, with few companies or individuals owning more than two or three collieries.

Parallel in time to the growth of the mining industry in the area was the development of a local tinplate industry. There were some small-scale iron workings in both Glanamman and Brynamman in the late eighteenth century, possibly using local ores. However, as elsewhere in South Wales, the impetus for growth followed from the development in 1836 of the hot-blast process which required the use of anthracite coal in the blast furnaces. The Amman ironworks in Garnant dates from this era; it is perhaps significant that apart from local coal, early iron smelting could also draw on abundant supplies of cheap local lime from the Black Mountain above Brynamman. The main development in local tinplate manufacture did not, however, come about until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The Brynamman tinworks dates from 1872. The Raven works in Glanamman (which was later converted to the production of galvanized sheets) dates from 1880, the Dynevor (Pantyffynnon) works in Ammanford from the same year, and the Aberlash (Tir-y-dail) works from 1889; the Amman works at Garnant switched to tinplate work in this era also. Together these tinworks employed between 1,000 and 1,200 workers.

Major population growth in the area followed from these developments after about 1880. Whereas previously the area had a predominantly agricultural economy, supporting its population principally by small farms, the weight of productive activity moved slowly towards mining and metal manufacture. The new job opportunities were filled partly by local people, who would previously have worked the land, partly by migrants from rural Wales, and partly by a drift of skilled miners from the established mining areas further east which had developed several decades earlier.

Unlike the eastern valleys, however, there appears to have been relatively little large-scale migration from outside South Wales; many older people who can trace their ancestry back to the latter part of the nineteenth century find that their links are with Llandovery, Newcastle Emlyn, or Sennybridge – agricultural districts twenty or thirty miles north of the Ammanford area. Strong links with agriculture persisted well into the twentieth century in that a man might both own a smallholding, and work in the colliery for part of the year; the cycles of production for the two types of enterprise encouraged this. In the 1930s, the afternoon shift at Great Mountain Colliery, Tumble, was known as the 'Cardi' (i.e. Cardiganshire) shift, since a significant number of its workforce were small farmers who traveled in from Cardiganshire for the working week, leaving their family to tend the holding, and returned to their homes only at weekends. It was only recently that the tradition of running a smallholding as well as doing an industrial or mining job has died out.

The pattern of house building that took place before 1914 similarly reflects the gradual and unplanned expansion of the area. In the eastern and central mining valleys, as in coalfields in other parts of Britain, the long rows of nineteenth century terrace houses which dominate the landscape resulted from the need of colliery management to provide adequate accommodation for an immigrant workforce. Partly because of the small scale of local development, and the concomitant lack of capital, but also because of the gradual and temporary accumulation of a workforce from within a relatively small and well populated area, such company housing is largely absent from the Ammanford and Amman valley. A few colliery houses exist here and there, but almost the entire stock of housing built before 1914 was built for private ownership; some house building was speculative, some were built to order, and some were apparently built by the miners themselves. One consequence of this pattern of development is that home ownership has always been common for ordinary working class families in the area, as is reflected in the pattern of housing tenure (Table 1).

Table 1
Pattern of Housing Tenure

1971 Census
Owner Occupied %
Rented from local authorities %
Other including private rented %
Total number of households
Ammanford UD
Cwmamman UD
Whole Area
England & Wales

Most of the private housing in the valley appears to date from before 1930, and to judge from style and local memory, the majority of this goes back to before 1919. In the areas for which rating list data were available (Ammanford U.D., Cwmamman U.D., Betws, Llandybie and Quarter Bach parishes) only 392 new dwellings were built between 1951 and 1970, as part of the stock of 4,450 private dwellings recorded in the 1971 Census. Thus the main settlement pattern was established at an early date. Since council housing has generally been built around the older private housing, the factors which dictated the location of housing at the turn of the century, such as proximity to a colliery then working, are the prime factors that have dictated the contemporary distribution of population.

Population Growth
The largest settlement was, and is, the town of Ammanford. Before the start of large-scale mining in tile 1880s Ammanford was simply a settlement of a few houses and farms near tile confluence of the Amman and Llwchwr rivers; it was known as Cross Inn. Because of its focal position in local communications, it grew rapidly during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and by 1903 was able to petition successfully for independent administrative status as an Urban District. The rate of population growth that took place in this period is illustrated in Table 2. which shows the intercensal population changes between 1851 and 1911 for the Betws and Llandybie parishes; it was out of these that the new Urban District was formed.

Table 2
Population Change in Betws and Llandybie Civil Parishes, 1851-1911

. Betws Civil Parish Llandybie Civil Parish
Census Year
Change %
Change %

*Because Ammanford U.D. was recorded as a separate district in 1911, the figures, particularly for Llandybie, under-represent the true rate of growth.

Twentieth century population growth is illustrated in Table 3 in which figures are given from 1901 onwards on the basis of 1971 administrative boundaries.

Table 3
Population Change in Various Parts of the Area, 1901-1971

. Ammanford
Urban District
Urban District
Parish *
Parish *
Quarter Bach Parish
Year population growth
population growth
population growth
population growth
population growth

*The figures for Betws and Llandybie parishes are computed on the basis of 1911 boundaries, and hence differ from the figures in Table 2. Betws parish lost population to Cwmamman in 1912.

(Note: Quarter Bach is the Cwmllynfell/Ystradowen area of the Amman Valley)

From the above two tables we can see a rapid growth in population from 1981 to 1951 followed by a steady decline in population from the year 1951 onwards.

This growth is most spectacular between the years 1901 and 1911 when a huge growth in demand for the high-grade anthracite coal in the area drew in a massive influx of workers seeking employment in our mines and related industries. It is probable that the growth between 1921 and 1931 can be accounted for by the natural increase of an established population rather than by immigration which was a major factor in earlier population growth. Thereafter the growth decreased before finally reversing.

The Census data suggest that the major growth in the valley's population took place before 1921, and this accords well with local memories of the valley's fortunes – the place was a 'boom town', or 'a regular little 'Klondike' before 1914. It was in this period that the major local voluntary associations of the area were founded; the various Miners' Institute buildings were erected in this period, as were numerous chapels (the result of a religious revival in 1904) and several schools. The bands and choirs which formed one of the bases of the flourishing cultural life of that era also date from the first decade of the twentieth century. In a different sphere it appears that almost all the major collieries of the area were first developed between 1890 and 1910; no new collieries were developed in the area from 1914 until after the industry was nationalised. Expansion of output after the First World War was based on the development of existing collieries.

Figures after 1974 cannot be compared as there was a major local government reorganisation which saw the scrapping of Ammanford and Cwmamman Urban District Councils and the merger of all local councils to create the new Dinefwr Borough Council. Carmarthenshire County Council itself disappeared, as did Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire County Councils, when all three were merged to create the "super" County of Dyfed.

Dinefwr Borough Council and Dyfed County Council themselves disappeared in 1996 when all District and Borough Councils in Carmarthenshire were merged to form the resurrected Carmarthenshire County Council. Pemrokeshire and Cardiganshire also reappeared, with Cardiganshire given its old Welsh name of Ceredigion.

Many details taken from "After the Mines" by Stephen W Town
Published by University of Wales Board of Celtic Studies
Social Science Monographs, Cardiff 1978

Date this page last updated: September 28, 2010