SOME EARLY MOTORING FACTS
For the curious, or the collector of useless information, here are some of the early landmarks in the ownership of motor vehicles in Ammanford, as the town embraced the new and exciting world of the internal combustion engine from 1900 onwards. A brief flirtation with the more ponderous steam-driven car proved short-lived, and the petrol-driven version soon had free run of our roads.
Year Event January 1900 The dawn of the century saw the first car to be owned by a resident of the town, Dr David Rees Price of 'The Laurels', Wind Street. It was an American manufactured vehicle known as a 'White Steam Surrey', controlled by a tiller steering with a two-cylinder steam engine located under the floor. It was very economical on water, covering 100 miles on a full tank. It was a four seater, registration number BX 88. It is said that a trip in this vehicle was a frightful experience, from noise, dust and smell, notwithstanding the problem of stoking the boiler at regular intervals. It also caused considerable discomfort to owners of horse-driven carriages, stampeding the animals. 1905 The first speed limit (10 m.p.h.) was imposed by the Ammanford Urban District Council on all roads in the Town; how it was enforced is not known, as the police at that time only had pedal cycles. May 1907 Mr Ernie Hewlett of Wernoleu, Managing Director of the Ammanford Colliery Co Ltd., owned the first petrol driven car in the locality a 16.20 h.p. Clement Talbot side-entrance car, painted carmine, registration number BX 74. September 1912 The first public transport conveyance vehicle registered by John James, 'The Mews', College Street, a 20 h.p. Ford, registration number BX 234, designed to carry 20 passengers. January 1914 Mr Owen Phillips, 'The Royal Stores', Quay Street, registered a 14/16 h.p. Darracq commercial van painted green, black, and white registration BX 355, for delivery of bread February 1914 A two seater, 9.45 h.p. 'Stellite' cycle car, registration BX 360, was registered by Mr. Henry Lewis of 'The Great Western Hotel', Station Road. 1921 This was reputedly the date of the first lady to hold a driving license in the town Miss Nancy Davies, daughter of John Davies, Commerce House, Quay Street. She had expert tuition from Jack, of David Jones & Sons, the first garage in Ammanford, who was to become her husband. 1930 The first automatic electric traffic control system to be installed in the county 'robot lights' was erected on Ammanford square in 1930. The installation was carried out (as an experiment), on a recommendation of the Chief Constable, Mr W. Picton Phillips. The electricity cost to operate the equipment was suggested as being in the region of £20.00 per annum, but the Ammanford Urban District Council (who at that time administered the electricity supply) disputed the calculations and charged £30.00 per annum.
.....The town would certainly have needed traffic lights by then. Records show that in 1930 there were 17 separate omnibus companies operating in the Ammanford area, plus car traffic, so the situation must have been particularly desperate. In a traffic census carried out at this period, it was stated that: "About 800 times a day, a motor omnibus passes over the square", so crossing the square before the lights were installed must have been quite a hazardous undertaking, and driving through the square must have been positively foolhardy.
How are the Mighty Fallen by D Brin Daniel
Brin Daniel (1912 1994) was a Saron miner who has left us an amusing story of how the motor car first arrived in Ammanford, and the not-so-amusing tale of how one man missed a golden opportunity to make his fortune from this new mode of transport, descending into a downward spiral of poverty, alcoholism and bankruptcy as a result. Brin Daniel was also a lifelong communist, which contributes to the somewhat preachy tone of his story.
'During my forty-five years working in the anthracite coal industry I had the good fortune to meet some of the most interesting people employed within the industry in the Amman Valley. Interesting by the fact that these men, owing to their ages, were among the grass roots of the organizing of the South Wales Miners Federation in the valley. For during the nineteen thirties most of these people were almost in their seventies, some well over, as this was the period when a man was expected to work until he dropped or face the inequity of Parish Relief at the end of his days. Here then we have the true salt of our earth, the people who laid the foundations for the Anthracite District communities and the deep loyalty and community consciousness that prevails to this day within our mining communities.
...... This short history is of but one person, a master craftsman in his time, brought down to the level of a colliery surface worker by the changes in the mode of production and transport which he could not understand or accept.
...... Fred Evans, Fred y Sâr (the Carpenter) to his work mates, was in his time without doubt a master craftsman coachbuilder, wheelwright, painter and varnisher. Along with this were his other trade of carpenter, builder of farm implements such as carts, gambos and other public demands on his trade during the pre-motor car era.
...... Fred Evans was among the most prosperous businessmen in the Amman Valley with his workshop and stores on a section of land behind where the Beynon Garages now stand at the junction of Florence Road and Llandybie Road, at Tirydail, Ammanford. Here at his workshop he employed as many as thirty workmen, craftsmen and labourers as the work demanded. A big employer for such a town as Ammanford during this period.
...... Notwithstanding this prosperity Fred Evans ended his days as a slag picker on Park Screens, a coal preparation plant for the Park and Saron Collieries.
...... How could such a tragedy happen to such a man? The following episode is a factual account of the story Fred Evans related to me when he confided to me the reasons for his downfall.
...... During, the 1930 - 40s, I was working on Park Screens along with Fred Evans and some thirty others. Some changes in the method of coal cleaning was being introduced by the Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries Ltd., to which the workmen objected, as this new method could mean a rundown in the labour force. A matter much discussed and argued over by the workforce, mostly elderly and disabled workmen.
...... During one such discussion, which was rather heated, over the question of changes in the method of production and their relationship to the security of the workers, I had stated that changes in the mode of production were inevitable and not always a danger to job security. In fact, by failing to accept the principle of progress we could be creating the conditions for our own future insecurity. The argument continued for some time until we went back to our work.
...... A short time later Fred Evans came along to me and stated; "Your argument is quite right about this changes business; we could all be losers." As Fred was not politically or otherwise an involved person this statement surprised me, so I asked Fred where he got the idea from. He replied from his own experience, and went on to relate his personal experiences as a businessman.
...... During the late 1800s and early 1900s Fred Evans was building up his business. In a short time he was well established at his Yard at Florence Road. The business had prospered to one of the largest within the Amman Valley with a reputation for good work among his customers, from the local farmers to the middle, and upper classes whose carriages, traps and other implements he built, and kept in repair.
...... One morning a stranger called at the Yard Office asking to see Fred. This person introduced himself as a representative of Ford Motor Cars, and that he had been advised to seek Fred's views on the possibility of Fred becoming the local agent for the Ford Company. During the discussion the Ford representative stated that with the introduction of the motor car on the road, horse transport was on the way out and short lived. This Fred could not accept as in his view horses had served man throughout the ages and would continue to do so for ages to come. So Fred refused this glorious offer.
...... About half a mile from Fred Evans' workshop, on Tirydail Square, another person named David Jones had a similar business on a much smaller scale, in fact almost a one-man establishment. The Ford agent, after his failure to convince Fred on the future of the motor car and the effects on road transport, left Fred Evans and visited David Jones, making him the offer of an agency which David Jones accepted.
...... Within a few years the motor car trade increased and the demand for Fred Evans' product diminished. This situation with the falling in his trade caused Fred quite a problem and worry which eventually led to alcoholism and a decline in his business, and finally bankruptcy.
...... Fred now entered the ranks of the wage labourer when the Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries Ltd employed him at Park and Saron Colliery as a carpenter. Fred, however, considered himself one of the elite among workmen, a tradesman.
...... However with the closure of Park Colliery during 1932, Fred's standard was again lowered to the status of a sawyer whose work consisted of the rough sawing of timber for use at the colliery. The final move for Fred was when the Colliery Company stopped this process at Saron Colliery moving all this work to Pantyffynnon Colliery. Fred, owing to his age and lack of call for his trade at the colliery, was now demoted to a slag picker on Park Screens where he ended his working days.
...... His last words to me on this subject were; "If only I had met a person with your views on problems such as changes I would not be where I am today." I replied: "I am sorry Fred; such people with my ideas were to be had even at that time. That is where I got them from, by listening to their views. Unfortunately you would not listen then. And only forced by the circumstances of lowly slag picker to realize that in the eyes of the Amalgamated Anthracite Company, all men are of equal use to the Company. Which is the general rule of our Society.'