The theme for the annual Day School of Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society in its
centenary year was "Founding Fathers and Faithful Followers". Speakers, drawn mainly from
the ranks of the Society, were ably chaired by Andrew Green, Librarian of the National Library of
Wales, who has researched the history of county antiquarian societies.
The President, the Revd J. Towyn Jones, introduced the theme by noting that when
the Society was founded in 1905 The Welshman reported the proceedings in a column and a half on
page 5. In 1925 almost the whole of the front page was taken up and the Society has continued to
grow - it has "pioneered, persevered and achieved a great deal".
Five speakers, displaying a very varied approach, then explored the lives and achievements
of some of the founders. Muriel Bowen Evans, current editor of the Antiquary, the Society's Journal,
emphasised the role of the first editor and secretary, the Revd M H Jones, who clearly saw the need
for the formation of an Antiquarian Society. He came to Carmarthen from Abercynon as the minister
of Heol Dwr chapel and, aware that the ground had been prepared and some local history already researched,
he acted as the essential catalyst. A very busy, clear-headed scholar, he worked well with George
Eyre Evans. His first lecture was detailed and factual and The Welshman rose to his suggestion that
it should run a "Notes and Queries" column.
The Welshman's column was a great success and needed to be maintained and the obvious
way forward was to set up a society. Supporters were named, the nature of the society discussed
and people urged to show interest in field trips. All this happened in February: the first meeting
was held in the Guildhall, Carmarthen, in April 1905.
P.J. Wheldon, the manager of the National Provincial Bank, became the first chairman.
M.H. Jones, a tireless worker, was elected secretary. He edited 21 volumes of the Transactions,
the precursor of the Antiquary.
Laurie Manifold, a retired Fleet Street journalist and military historian, brought
to life General Sir James Hills-Johnes, a leading figure in the Society for 40 years and a substantial
donor to its collections.
Winning his V.C. in the defence of Delhi in the Indian Mutiny, he served in numerous
campaigns and was honoured by becoming an ADC to the Vice-Roy at the age of 24. Later he was adviser
to General Roberts in South Africa: "a good citizen but a fantastic hero".
His immense generosity to his tenants on the Dolaucothi estate and the wider area
made him very popular. He provided tea for every local school on their sports days and a blanket
for every parishioner in his large parish at Christmas. During WW1 every service man in the parish
home on leave was invited to the Hall for tea and given a tobacco box and £2 - a week's wages.
Small wonder that on one occasion 420 children with flags marched before him from Llanwrda station
and his funeral was huge, with several military bands.
Thomas Lloyd spoke on E. V. Collier, an architect who was involved with innumerable
organisations in Carmarthen, from the Infirmary to the welfare of the troops. His first building
was the chapel of St. David's Asylum. His interest was not in research but in art and collecting.
He was a good artist and served as curator of the museum from 1920 until his death in 1932.
G. G. Treherne Treherne was the first president, a member of the Inn and Out Club
(the first archaeological club, which held many meetings in the Green Bridge Inn near Amroth). Another
tireless worker for the Society, he carried out much research in the Laugharne and Eglwys Cymun
Dominic Conway started the second session with a paper on the second president,
Alan Stepney-Gulston, known as the collector president. He was a worthy curator of the furniture
and portraits amassed by his forbears but also added to them glass, small Egyptian figures and a
variety of small antiquities and curiosities. He bought the Cwpwrdd Triban, formerly belonging to
Vicar Prichard and now back in Llandovery.
He refurbished Derwydd, "both the house and its history". George Eyre
Evans regarded Derwydd as the home of archaeology.
Stepney-Gulston was also a talented artist and photographer and wrote poetry. In
1844 he published Aphrodite, part of which was read by Alexandra Trowbridge-Matthews.
Westminster from the Savoy, painted by Alan Stepney-Gulston
That most prolific of antiquarians, George Eyre Evans, was the subject of the paper
by Steve Dubé. Mr. Dubé emphasised our fantastic legacy which is the result of George
Eyre's labours but also presented a human view of the man. As an inspector for the Royal Commission
on Ancient and Historical Monuments he visited every church, chapel and antiquity site in S W Wales,
travelling by train and walking many miles. At the end of the day he would write up his notes and
make meticulous drawings, always in green ink. He wrote seven volumes of the Royal Commission Inventory.
He got on well with everybody. He was a friend of Allen Raine, the novelist and welcome in all the
gentry houses but always talked to the lengths-man he met on his travels. He was therefore able
to persuade gentry families to part with their treasures and antiquities. This collection formed
the basis for Carmarthenshire County Museum and many of these objects are now on view in a special
exhibition "Objects of Meaning" to celebrate the Society's centenary.
The last two speakers looked at different aspects of the early Society. Dylan Rees
presented the result of his sociological analysis of the early members. One of the interesting facts
to emerge was the preponderance of ministers of all denominations, another was the relatively large
number of single women who joined in the early years.
Society Chairman Arfon Rees closed the day school with an overview of field days
over the century. During the course of the century the mode of transport changed. In 1905 the train
was met by brakes; in 1922 ferry boats were used and brakes were not mentioned again. By 1934 a
convoy of petrol-driven cars visited St. David's. He drew attention to the fact that although the
Society has moved on in many ways it is still visiting the same interesting locations - but perhaps
without showing the stamina that early Antiquarians seemed to possess in abundance as they travelled
by brake and train.
An excellent exhibition had been put together by Molly Rees and Edna Dale-Jones.
As well as photographs and programmes ranging back over the century one section was devoted to the
very large number of books published by members.