The 100th AGM of the Society was held in the Guildhall, Carmarthen, on April 16th,
almost a hundred years to the day from when the inaugural meeting was held there in 1905. The Mayor
of Carmarthen, Cllr June Williams, marked the historic occasion by welcoming the 80 members present
and announcing that the County Council is buying the listed building to save it from inappropriate
development, an announcement met with great relief.
Members stood in a silent tribute to the deaths during the year of David Rees,
the Publications Secretary, Vice-President Sir Glanmor Williams and past Vice-President John Nicholson.
Lord Dynevor and Heather James were appointed Vice-Presidents. The officers were re-elected with
the addition of Heward Rees as Publications Secretary. John Saunders and Tom Hopkinson were elected
President the Revd J. Towyn Jones set the scene for the second part of the meeting
by reminding members that only 450 years ago Bishop Ferrar had been burned alive a few yards away.
Until comparatively recently punishment for transgressors, many tried in this room, was harsh and
primitive. Today we would hear some of the history of this historic place.
Thomas Lloyd then outlined the many changes which this architecturally very important
building, of national significance, had undergone since its design in the 1760s, when Carmarthen
was prosperous. The town gained a new charter in 1764 (resulting in much celebration) and needed
a Guildhall from which to operate it. Robert Taylor, the London architect, was designing the Bank
of England and his plans for the Guildhall were identical for part of the Bank, presumably designed
as a trial run in a remote part of the country. The key feature was the three great Palladian windows,
still looking down the length of the square. Those in the Bank were replaced by Soane in the 19th
century. The entrance was from a very narrow alley, now built over, at the back and, as usual, there
was an open corn market below the hall. Local builder Thomas Evans started construction in 1767
but the money raised to meet the estimated cost was totally inadequate and it took ten years to
complete the building.
By 1780 the staircase was replaced and a record room, the provision of which had
been neglected by Taylor, was added by Thomas Humphreys, an excellent local architect and builder.
The alley was still not an acceptable means of access and in 1811 a curved double staircase was
added to the front. Care was taken not to take space from the market but, with the entrance now
through the windows, their effect was spoilt. After the opening of the new market the space below
became offices and the lane behind was filled in. In the 1860s an interior staircase was made, later
replaced by the present one. The court room was refurbished in 1910 in typically Edwardian style.
The coats of arms which hang behind the Judge's chair are probably the work of
Thomas Attwood, Carmarthen's first professional painter. Life-size portraits of General Sir Thomas
Picton and Sir William Nott hang opposite each other at either end of the court room. High quality
portraits of David Morris, John Jones and Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, all M.P.'s, were painted by Thomas
Brigstocke, a greatly under-appreciated Carmarthen artist. Mr. Lloyd gave a detailed appreciation
of the military and political work of all five men.
Vice-chairman Roy Davies spoke on the series of trials held at the Guildhall after
the miners' strike of 1925. 167 colliers came before a jury composed of landowners and military
men on a variety of charges largely on the evidence of colliery officials. The anthracite collieries
of the Amman Valley were in turmoil that summer. Picketing at Pantyffynnon Colliery was followed
by a 1000-strong march up the valley to where miners were still working. The Ammanford riot of August
5th merited headlines in The Times and led to the charges of riotous assembly, sedition and assault
on the Deputy Chief Constable. Busloads of supporters travelled from the Amman Valley, brass bands
played outside the court room and hymns and the Red Flag were sung. 58 miners received prison sentences,
some of up to 12 months, and were taken from Guildhall Square to the station en route for Swansea
Gaol handcuffed to iron bars. The outrage felt by the community ran deep.
Mr. Davies outlined the course of the strike, emphasising how the smuggling in
of an engineer into Ammanford No. 1 (later Betws) Colliery after the safety men had been pulled
out led to the riot which lasted for most of the night. Troops of police were brought in and the
Deputy Chief Constable was hit on the head with a plank of wood. There was much violence on both
sides. In a masterly summary of the economic background he showed how until 1923 the Ammanford coalfield
had been very Welsh, with the mines being owned by about 60 small companies. These were bought out
at inflated prices, holding companies sold on the shares, were over-capitalised and could not make
a profit without cutting wages. Meanwhile the labour force was changing and becoming more militant.
A fracture was opening up between rural and industrial, gentrified and working class Wales.
The last talk was by Luke Millar, an acknowledged expert on regional furniture,
who pointed out that the fine oak chairs and table made by David Morley were the few things left
from the early days of the Guildhall. 20 side chairs, 6 armchairs and 12 hall chairs, as well as
the four-panelled six metre long table with lion's paw feet on four pedestals, are still in use.
They were made to furnish the Jury Room which was built on to the Guildhall in 1826. Morley was
paid £214 for them in 1830.
Morley is the best-known of several good cabinet makers in Carmarthen at that
time. His "cabinet-manufactory, upholstery and looking-glass warehouse" was in Lammas Street in
the area of present day Mansel Street. Mr. Millar stressed that the furniture produced in the town
at this time was of very good quality and followed the latest fashions, being based on pattern books
from designers such as Sheraton and his later followers. Carmarthen was prosperous: town tradesmen,
larger farmers and the occupiers of the gentry houses were buying the best goods available. A detailed
account of Morley and his contemporaries by Millar can be found in The Antiquary for 2000, available
in the Record Office in Carmarthen.