ORIGINS OF THE TOWN'S NAME
Until the Industrial Revolution of the 9th century brought a massive growth in industry and towns, Wales was overwhelmingly rural and sparsely populated. This is reflected in early maps where settlements usually had no name and were given instead the name of the local church. On Sexton's Map, published in 1578, the principle villages of any importance in our locality were Bettus and Lladebea. The churches of Llandybie and Betws are ancient indeed, both going back to Celtic times. Ammanford, or rather its forerunner Cross Inn, does not feature on this map.
Both Betws and Llandybie were parishes in their own right. Llandybie, being a much larger area, was initially divided for administration purposes into five hamlets or wards: Garn, Derwydd, Piodau, Ty'r Rosser, with the region immediately to the west of the River Amman (now enveloping the town area), and bounding the Parish of Betws, being known as Feremfawr. The translation of "ferem" is rather obscure; it can be mutated from the word "berem", which means "yeast" or "rising ", leading to a possible description as "the highest rising ground").
There were two routes available for travel between Carmarthen and Neath via Swansea or the shorter journey through the Amman Valley. Before 1831 (the date of the Loughor bridge construction), the highest crossing of the Estuary was at Pontardulais and many traveling between Carmarthen and Neath used the Amman Valley route. For the Amman Valley route, arrangements had to be made to feed and water the horses or, if need be, to harness a new team. Refreshments and rest for the traveller was also essential and all these provisions could be found at staging posts at local inns.
What we now know as Ammanford was sited on the convergence of two important communication routes a cross road and the inn at this location became known as the Cross Inn, a name which was subsequently given to the hamlet. In the vicinity of what is now Ammanford Square, were four Inns or hostelries catering for the needs of the traveller the Cross Inn, Old Cross Inn, New inn and the Castle Inn. Only one of these hotels survives today, the Old Cross Inn (for the subsequent fate of these inns, see the note at the end of this page).
Throughout the nineteenth century a once quiet rural settlement changed as a result of rapid industrial growth and a large migration of workers were attracted by job opportunities in both mining and tinplate manufacture. The population increased explosively with many of these migrants and their families coming from English speaking areas of Wales as well as from England, Scotland and Ireland.
This rapid growth appeared to have been the reason for changing the name of the village, as there was already another village in Carmarthenshire called Cross Inn. It is said that this was the prime factor that influenced prominent citizens to convene a public meeting, with a view of changing the name. There was overwhelming support for the proposal, especially amongst the strong representation of church and chapel members who perhaps resented the hamlet bearing the name of a public house. Another consideration appears to be that the largest chapel in the village was then known as Cross Inn Chapel, a conflict of ideals, to say the least. There is still an engraved stone in the grounds of the Chapel, now called Christian Temple, bearing the original name.
On the 1st of October 1880, the following article appeared in the local newspaper:
"It has been proposed to call CROSS INN, which is in the parish of Llandybie, in the County of Carmarthen, from this time forth, after the Right Hon. Baron, who owns the place, Dynevor.
By adopting a new name, it is hoped to get rid of all previous annoyances, and also, that the other Cross Inn may benefit by the change."
Notice that giveaway use of the word 'owns', more appropriate to 1280 and serfdom than 1880 surely, but revealing nonetheless. The proposal to rename Cross Inn to Dynevorville had come from one Lewis Bishop, Estate Manager to Lord Dynevor at the time, so hardly a disinterested party. Fortunately this somewhat vainglorious suggestion was rejected. From later press reports, it seems that there was by no means unanimity in the selection of the new name. Several public meetings followed and eventually it was decided to refer the choice of a new name to a group of prominent local dignitaries.
On Friday evening, the 20th of November 1880, the nominated Committee met at the Ivorites Hall (on Hall Street, which took its name from this building). After a long discussion it was proposed by Mr. A. A. Morris of Wernoleu, and seconded by Mr. W Jones of the Cross Inn Hotel, that from this time forth, the village should he known as Ammanford. The proposal was accepted unanimously there being no other name before the Meeting. After the vote was taken, the Chairman of the meeting, Watcyn Wyn, could not resist announcing that 'Cross Inn' had finally been 'crossed out'.
The name selected was at least an appropriate description, as it related to the fact that a ford had existed for many years as a crossing point of the River Amman located at what is now known as Betws Bridge. The ford once had a rickety wooden footbridge to carry people but this was replaced by a steel girder bridge in 1890 and a little poem remembered by Betws born MP and Cabinet Minister Jim Griffiths in his later years gives an idea how insubstantial the original wooden structure was by modern standards:
Pont y Betws ma's o'r byd,
Bach ei lled a mawr ei hyd,
A dwy ganllaw i'r ddwy law,
I'n helpu i fynd i'r ochor draw.
Betws bridge beyond the world,
Small its width and great its length,
And two rails for the two hands,
To help you go to the other side.
(James Griffiths and his Times, edited J Beverley Smith, 1981, page 66)
Jim Griffiths was born in 1890 and the wooden bridge was replaced in 1891 so he obviously had this poem from adults remembering the bridge some time before its demolition. The wooden bridge carried only foot traffic, and horses and carts (there were no cars then) would have crossed the river Aman over the ford.
The religious connection of the word 'Amman' to the Bible (although not spelt quite the same way), might also have influenced members of the churches. However, it was an easy word to pronounce, especially to the many English migrants who had now settled in the area. The change of name soon became accepted, as seen in the letter of local professional gentlemen, dated the 2nd of October 1882, in which he advised his correspondent that "the name of Cross Inn has been changed to Ammanford, so please address my letters to the latter place".
How the name Amman itself originated, is not clear except that it had been in existence for many years and is recorded on the earliest maps produced in 1578 as the name of the river flowing into the River Loughor. According to Sir John Rhys, the name Amman was initially spelt Amanw and derived from the Irish word "banbh" '(translated, meaning a young boar), with the Welsh word for "banbh" taking the form of "banw". The word then changes to "Ymmanw" or "Ammanw" by the placement of the definite article, 'Y'. Amanw has the same meaning as the native Welsh word 'twrch' (boar).
The Rev E. Amman Jones B.A, in his study of place names in the Amman Valley, concludes that the name Amanw was originally introduced, not to identify just the river but to embrace an area containing "mountain and valley'. He refers to the fact that the first written records of the name Amanw appears in the Mabinogion as contained in "Llyfr Coch Hergest" (the "Red Book of Hergest). This is a series of important Welsh manuscripts of the Middle Ages, dated between 1382 and 1410 A.D.
The conjecture is supported in references found in old Welsh Legends, handed down by word of mouth, a thousand or so years ago, by story tellers who recited or entertained an audience at functions held in the banqueting halls of the local prince or lord. Many of these tales invoked magic, fairies, giants and frightening beasts. One of these stories Twrch Trwyth relates to the tale of King Arthur's episode in the hunting of a strange wild boar called "Twrch Trwyth". The venture starts in Ireland, crossing over the Irish Sea to St David's and onto Cornwall. In the travels through Wales, various place names are mentioned, such as Afon Twrch in the Swansea Valley (the modern Cwmtwrch); the Gwys, Hafod-y-Grugyn (near Brechfa) and Dyffryn Amanw where the piglets Banw and Ben wig are killed.
It is a known that after the Roman occupation, the Irish established a settlement in the area. "Tir-y-dail", one of the oldest recorded dwellings, is said to have been associated with this part of our history the word translated can be described as 'the house of the Dail' the 'Dail' being Eireann for an assembly or parliament'. The modern Irish parliament is in fact also called the Dail (pronounced the Doyle). But beware other derivations of Tirydail exist. Dail is also Welsh for leaves, and Tir Is both Welsh and Irish for land, from the Latin Terra, so Tir y Dail can also mean Land of the Leaves. Or it could also be Ty yr dail, or house of leaves Ty being the Welsh for house.
The presence of an Irish word 'banbh' in Carmarthenshire is corroborated by the fact that the language in the Loughor Valley, in very early days, was 'Goidelic', a group of Celtic languages comprising Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. This gradually changed to 'Brythonic', a branch of Celtic languages comprising Welsh, Breton and Cornish.
Additional evidence of an Irish occupation, in the form of inscriptions in the ancient Irish script called Ogham, have been found in Dyfed. Ogham (or Ogam) flourished in Ireland from the third to sixth centuries AD and it was the only script developed by any of the Celtic tribes themselves. A leading historian describes Ogham thus: "It takes its name from its legendary inventor Ogma, God of Eloquence and whose tasks included conveying souls to the 'Otherworld'. It was used for funerary monuments, for marker stones and for divination but very definitely not for literary texts. It was most common in Munster, especially Kerry though examples have been found in Britain, notably in Dyfed. It used a system of notches that could easily be cut into wood or stone." ("The Isles", Norman Davies, Macmillan 1999, p124). The same author comments on the presence of the Irish in our area: "In Dyfed, though the Irish dynasty of the Desi is thought to have lasted until the tenth century, bilingualism seems to have died out much earlier and the population thoroughly abosorbed into the emergent Welsh identiry of the region." ("The Isles", Norman Davies, Macmillan 1999, p182)
Early records show that with an abundance of wild boar the Valley was a favourite hunting ground. This is reflected in the Town's armorial Coat of Arms, and also perpetuated in the name of one of the very old farmsteads within the District "Glynmoch" (translated, 'Glyn' means a 'glen' or valley' and 'moch' is a swine or pig', hence 'a valley of wild boar'). The Valley, with its large forestation, produced an abundance of acorns, a valuable natural pasturage for pigs. In the 1300's, Lord Iscennen rented out these lands to local farmers for "pannage and honey of the woodland bee" a lucrative source of income.
The Romans occupied Britain from 45 AD to 410 AD, so the etymology of some of our present-day place names may possibly be traced back to Latin, the language of the Romans. The origin of the word for the River Loughor, for example, may be derived from the name given to the Roman fort Leucarum sited on the estuary of the Loughor. Leucarum means the bright, or white place, from the Greek leucos = white. However, the Reverend E. Amman Jones gives another origin for Loughor or rather its Welsh form of Llwchwr in a series of articles written for the journal of the Carmarthenshire Aniquarians in 19101911. Here he says it dervies from 'Llwch' (an older word for lake, or pool) and 'dwr' (water), meaning then 'water from the lake'. This is at least possible as the river Llwchwr rushes out from an underground lake at its source near Carreg Cennen Castle known to this day as 'Llygad Llwchwr' the Eye of the Loughor.
Both interpretations of the word Amman are conjectural as there is no conclusive evidence in the form of written records to sustain either interpretation. However, some conjectures are more plausible than others, especially if they are accompanied by solid scholarship to back them up, and we shall leave the last word on this matter with Dr Huw Walters of the National Library of Wales, Aberyswtwyth. This is his reply to a request for the correct spelling of the Welsh version of the town's name, Rhydaman, :
"As you probably know, this is not the first time: that 'Rhydaman' has been under discussion. I well remember that the subject arose in 1970 when the National Eisteddfod visited the area, and new 'welcome' signs were erected near Bonllwyn Bridge, in the Pontaman area and in Pen-y-Banc. I can appreciate why some people have problems with the place-name, and I hope that the following explanation will settle the matter once and for all.
...... In Welsh, initial consonants undergo certain regular changes when words are formed into sentences. There are in all, nine mutable consonants, p,t,c,b,d,g,m,ll,rh. Most of these consonants have three possible mutations, but m,ll, and rh have only one. Therefore when we say in Welsh that we are travelling to Maesteg or Llandeilo, we say:
...... mynd i Faesteg
...... mynd i Landeilo
...... similarly: mynd i Rydaman.
...... The radical, or the unchanged form of the consonant 'rh', frequently causes problems to Welsh speakers, and especially so in Glamorganshire and east Carmarthenshire. This is because we, who are natives of this area, frequently drop our h's in speech. Consequently we find it difficult to differentiate between the radical form 'rh', and the soft mutation 'r'. I can confirm that the name 'Rhydaman', as it stands on its own, is correct, and RHYDAMAN should be the form used on all direction signs. However, the initial consonant 'rh' may mutate once it appears as part of a sentence such as "I RYDAMAN" (to Ammanford) , or "CROESO I RYDAMAN" (Welcome to Ammanford).
...... In fact it can be argued that it is the English form 'Ammanford', which is incorrect. The name contains two elements, namely Aman + ford. Aman, the name of the river, is derived from the Irish 'banbh'. The Welsh form of banbh is 'banw', and by placing the definite article before it we have 'Ymanw' or 'Amanw'. (The 'w' was never pronounced in Middle Welsh).
...... The form 'Amanw' was first recorded in the Red Book of Hergest, one of the most important Welsh manuscripts of the Middle Ages, dating from around 13821410, which is now kept in the Library of Jesus College, Oxford. It is mentioned in connection with the hunting of the Twrch Trwyth, as related in the earliest of all the Arthurian legends Culhwch ac Olwen. It is evident that the object of the story was to account for certain place-names, and the following place-names in the area, also occur in the manuscript, namely Gwys [an obsolete word for 'pig'], Glyn-moch, Llwch (a farm on Betws Mountain) and Ynysdawelog (a farm near the confluence of the rivers Aman and Llwchwr at Pantyffynnon). Of course, Twrch Trwyth is represented on the town's coat of arms, and the inhabitants of the area should feel proud of the fact that the valley has such a close connection with the legend.
...... Consequently as the form' Aman' is obviously Welsh, to spell the name with two m's, as in Ammanford, Amman, Brynamman, and Rhosamman, is incorrect. The only letters which double in Welsh are 'n' and 'r'. Amanford (with one 'm') is therefore the correct form. Ammantord (with two 'm's) is, strictly speaking incorrect.
...... The name Ammanford was first recorded in November 1880 when the inhabitants of the village of Cross Inn (as it was then known) attended a public meeting at the Ivorites Hall to discuss the possibility of changing the name of the village. Cross Inn, at the time, was rapidly developing as an important trading and shopping centre in the anthracite coalfield, and as so many villages in Cardiganshire and north Carmarthenshire were called Cross Inn, a number of tradesmen and shopkeepers found that letters and parcels addressed to the village took several days before delivery. A change of name was therefore advocated. Many suggestions were made including 'Dynevorville' and 'Gellimanwydd'. Lewis Bishop, Lord Dynevor's land agent advocated 'Dynevorville', but his suggestion, thankfully, was rejected. 'Gellimanwyd'd was the original name of a small-holding, near the Congregationalist chapel, the Christian Temple.
...... It is said that Watcyn Wyn chose the name 'Ammanford'. He opened his well known academy Ysgol y Gwynfryn in the village in 1880, and he claimed that as Oxford was famous for its colleges, so. Ammanford would also become famous for Its college. At least, the academy gave its name to College Street.
...... The form Ammanford (with two m's) was probably adopted to avoid confusion with another area in Glamorganshire. The forms Cwmaman, Aberaman etc occur in the Aberdare area. The present villages of Garnant and Glanaman were originally called Cwmaman, but with the development of the coal industry in the 1880's, the population of both villages rose sharply. As in Ammanford, the inhabitants of Cwmaman demanded a change, and the place-names Garnant and Glanaman were adopted in September 1888. According to a report published in the columns of The South Wales Press, 18 October, 1888, the names were chosen mainly because the place-name, Cwmaman, was regarded as a 'stumbling block to progress, owing to its likeness to Cwmaman in Aberdare, which causes confusion'.
...... By the way, the Welsh form 'Rhydaman', for Ammanford did not appear until the early 1890s, and its interesting to note that Ammanford belongs to a small group of place-names which have been created by committees. Llandarcy is another. And as you well know, committees seldom get anything right!
...... 'Rhyd' is the Welsh for ford, a shallow place in a stream or river that can be crossed by wading through the water. The same element is seen in Rhydychen (Oxford). The choice of Ammanford or Rhydaman as a place-name for the village of Cross Inn in 1880 was, as it happens, totality inappropriate, especially when we remember that there were adequate bridges across the river Aman at that time. We know that William Edwards, the Congregationalist minister and bridge-builder of Groes-wen near Caerffili designed and supervised the building of the original bridge at Pontaman in the late eighteenth century. (Edwards incidentally, also designed and erected the famous bridge at Pont-y-pridd.) We also know that there was another bridge crossing the river from Cross Inn to Betws in the early nineteenth century. The present bridge, at the bottom end of Quay Street was rebuilt and opened, in 1892. It would appear therefore that both versions Ammanford and Rhydaman, are fanciful rather than descriptive. Amanwy, the brother of the Rt Hon. James Griffiths, frequently lamented the fact that Gellimanwydd was rejected as a suitable place-name in 1880. I tend to agree."
Dr Huw Walters
National Library of Wales, Aberyswtwyth
14th August 1987
(reprinted with the kind permission of Dr Walters)
Note on Ammanford's original Inns:
The Old Cross Inn was rebuilt around the late 1800s and again in 1998 after a fire. The New Inn was demolished in 1909 and Lloyd's Bank was built on the site. This itself was abandoned in 1999 after Lloyd's merged with the TSB and for a couple of years it stood empty and forlorn-looking until converted into an adult education centre in 2003. The Castle Inn was rebuilt in the early part of the twentieth century, renamed the Castle Hotel and demolished in 1986 when the land was redeveloped as a sheltered housing complex, known as Ger-y-Manwydd. The Cross Inn was pulled down in 1964 and replaced by shops and a new public house called The Bard. In 2010 the Bard was renamed and is now known as The Square, at least for now.
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010