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THE COMMERCIAL GROWTH OF LLANELLY The following is an article taken from the Weekly Mail dated 7th May 1887 JUBILEE SKETCHES, ARTICLE XIL. THE COMMERCIAL GROWTH OF LLANELLY. By Our Special Commissioner. Less than a century ago Captain John Wedge - possibly to check the too exuberant fancy  of some  local patriot—made a bet, and, what is more, won it, that 500 people did not live  within the parish boundaries of Llanelly. Since that interesting event the population has  increased fortyfold; the old town has passed away, save a few vestiges, which serve as  landmarks to remind us of the old-time Llanelly. The configuration of the coast line has  even changed, the receding farther from the shore, and the pursuits which erstwhile  maintained the community have, in the silent lapse of years, been pushed backward more  and more into insignificance. Concurrently with the abandonment of these expansion  came from another direction. Industries gradually acquiring magnitude transformed the  little wayside village that "stood upon a creek" into a busy centre of manufactures, where  ponderous engines never cease to throb and wide-mouthed furnaces eternally thrust fort  fiery tongues.   Thus there has been progression, not, perhaps, so gigantic in its strides as in one or two  other places of the Principality; but, nevertheless, sufficiently steady and continuous. The  hardy race who reaped their harvests in the waters fringing the coast, and who diversified  the monotony of their legitimate calling with occasional spells of wrecking and smuggling,  have had to go; the pioneers of the coalfields, who with ill-directed efforts scraped the face  of the earth for the mineral have been succeeded by a generation familiar with well-  arranged systems, who delve many scores of fathoms deep for the black diamonds,  assisted by powerful machinery.   Manifold other changes have there been. Architecturally, the old order of things has  passed away. The residences that were wont to stand out in bold relief, "all very large and  fine," amid straw-thatched cots, look humble now surrounded by jaunty modern rivals.  "The best houses of fifty years ago are the worse in town," was the recent observation of a  respected gentleman whose memory goes back to the second decade of the century.   “Llanelly” is a compound word, “Llan” being Celtic for Church or sacred enclosure, “elly”  the corruptive form of the name "Ellyw," said to have been that of the saintly daughter of  Brychain Brecheinog, a famous Welsh chieftain, who lived in the fifth century. While the  existence of the town as a place of commerce is of comparatively recent origin, there is  well authenticated evidence to support its pretensions otherwise to considerable antiquity.  For ages it appears to have held a position of some importance in the estimation of the  early Catholic Church. A splendid monastery was built by St. Piero, 513 A.D. at Machynis,  now forming part of the main land but which formerly was an island, as the name  suggests—" Monach Ynis," or Monk's Island. At one time the town, it is said, possessed a  charter and there is extant a plausible romance concerning its mysterious disappearance.  The Parliamentary Boundary Commissioner in 1832 described the town as a “borough by  prescription," and said that there was a document in the Tower of the reign of Edward II.,  in which Llanelly is often spoken as “the borough town." It is specifically alluded to as a  town in a grant of Charles I. to Earl Cawdor.   The Parish Church is old, and, anterior to alterations made early in this century, was  remarkable in that it had two steeples—one terminating in a spire, the other in an  embattled tower. An important British fortification in pre-historic times, Llanelly was the  scene of a conflict between the Royalists and the Roundheads during the great rebellion,  and until quite recently a lineal descendant of the Royalist leader, General Laugharne,  occupied Vuuxhall House, the name of which is richly reminiscent of that stormy period.   At the outset of its commercial career the fortunes of the community were inseparably  linked with those of two great families - the Stepney* and the Mansels—and not to this day  has the connection been severed so far as the former is concerned. En passant, we may  observe that the third Sir John Stepney married Justina, daughter of Vandyck, the famous  painter, whose portrait of himself-that of the "Inverted Hand" - remains an heirloom in the  family. The mother of Justina was Mary, daughter of Patrick Ruthven, son of the first Earl  of Gowrie, the originator or victim of the historical conspiracy.   Like unto that of most towns of Wales, the prosperity of Llanelly is, in the main, attributable  to its mineral wealth, and in a lesser degree to its position on the estuary of the Burry River  and consequent close proximity to the sea. Mr. Thos. Mainwaring - whose scholarly  researches have placed all local historians under deep obligation- has supplied facts  which place beyond cavil the fact that coal was worked in the district early in the fourteenth  century. Leland, in his "Itinerary," published 300 years ago, speaks of “Llanelthi, a village  of Kidwelli lordship," the inhabitants of which "dig coles els scant in Kidwelli land." Mining  seems to have been pursued in a primitive way until early in the eighteenth century, from  which period the operations grew more systematic and extensive. Kymer, in 1752, made a  canal—the first in Wales—to convey coal from Pwllyllygod to Kidwelly. Towards the close  of the century quite a legion of enterprising men devoted themselves and their capital to  the production of coal—among them Sir Thomas Stepney, who exported much to Spain,  taking wine, &c., in exchange, but it would seem were not rewarded with the measure of  success they deserved, for the Committee of the House of Commons, in 1809, were  assured there was not even a single shipping Colliery In South Wales or Monmouthshire  which had reaped the cost of its establishment, with the legal interest of five per cent.  Judged by the amount of duty paid to the Government on coal exported, Llanelly in the  first years of the present century took the lead of the Welsh ports. In 1818 it paid £406 3s.  11d., as against £236 Is. 10d. by the rival port of Swansea.  Two names stand out prominently among those connected with the progress of Llanelly -  those of Mr. Alexander Raby and Mr. Richard Janion Nevill. The former gave the first great  impetus to the development of the resources of the district; the latter continued and guided  its subsequent progression. When Mr. Raby, who is described by Smiles, in his "Iron and  Iron Workers," as the greatest authority on iron in the last century came to Llanelly in 1795  - the year of the celebrated bet - he immediately proceeded, with characteristic energy, to  make his presence felt. He had much wealth, much skill, and much enterprise. Taking over  Messrs. Givers and Ingman’s furnace at Cwmddeche, he commenced operation' on a  scale never hitherto attempted. Within a comparatively short period six steam engines had  been placed in position, three or four pits sunk, and to meet the requirements consequent  upon this industrial revolution, scores of cottages were erected to accommodate the  workmen. During the Napoleonic wars he cast many cannon and shot for the British  Government. But the pace killed. Trade depression and the keen competition of Merthyr  and Dowlais rivals caused the financial downfall of this remarkable man, who was  compelled to discontinue operations after spending more than £100,000.   Still the town grew. Early in 1805 the copper works were opened by Messrs. Daniell,  Guest, Saville, and Nevill, the last named the ancestor of the estimable Nevill family, who  from that day to this have been closely identified with the commercial interests of the town.  The output of copper for many years was comparatively small and eight years after the  start it did not exceed hundred tons a week. The management was entrusted to Mr. R.  Janion Nevill in 1810, and retained it until his death, fifty years later, guiding the expansion  of the undertaking to immense proportions, and witnessing the growth of the town from  infancy to a robust manhood. For many years the copper works and its various offshoots  formed the chief support of the town—a fact vaguely expressed in the homely phrase  which has long obtained currency, "The copper works' stack is the mother of all the little  ones.” This stack (320ft. high), we may add, is the finest in the kingdom, and, together with  another less imposing, cost nearly £ 5.000. The Wern Foundry commenced working in  1816, and continues to this day, having long since passed into the hands of another scion  of the Nevill family, Mr. Richard Nevill, of Felinfoel House. The effect produced by these  industries is reflected the rapid growth of the population. The fewer than 500 in 1795 had  by 1801 become 2,972 ; by 1811, 3,691. For the next twenty years the increase was less  rapid. When admitted to a share of the Parliamentary representation under the Reform Bill  the borough had a population of 4,173' and, under the £10 franchise 132 Voters, many of  them however, were faggot-voters.  (Weekly Mail 7th May 1887)