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Historic administrative divisions

Pre-Norman administration of west Wales was based on small kingdoms or gwledydd, which had been established before the 8th century AD. One such gwlad was Ystrad Tywi (literally ‘Tywi Valley’), within which most of the study area lay; to the west of the Tywi estuary lay the gwlad of Dyfed and in the early 11th century both gwledydd became part of the kingdom of Deheubarth which occupied most of southwest Wales (Rees 1951, 19). Within each gwlad were smaller units of administration or estates known as maenorau, attested to have existed by the 9th century and which were composed of a number of ‘townships’ or trefi (Sambrook and Page 1995, 3).

By the 12th century two additional administrative tiers had been introduced - the cantref, literally a group of 100 trefi, each of which was subdivided into a number of cwmwdau into which the trefi were grouped. Each commote contained a maerdref, a special tref adjacent to the king’s court or llys where the bondsmen who farmed the demesne lands lived, near or amongst the numerous officials and servants who served the court. In conjunction the king or lord was also provided with an upland township which would meet the requirements of summer pasture (hafodydd) for his livestock (Sambrook 1995, 13-14). It is not possible to identify the llysoedd and maerdrefi of all the commotes within the study area.

The river Tywi was an important boundary of great antiquity, separating Cantref Mawr on the north bank from Cantref Bychan (specifically Cwmwd Iscennen) and Cantref Cydweli on the south bank (Rees, 1932). It follows that the area experienced a chequered history of tenure and was troubled by warfare until the end of the 13th century.

Cantref Mawr occupies an important position within the national consciousness as the last of the great south Welsh princedoms, enjoying a renaissance under Rhys ap Gruffydd, ‘The Lord Rhys’, from his llys at Dinefwr during the late 12th-century. It continued to be an independent lordship, retaining native customs and systems of tenure until 1284 when it was reorganised within the new County of Carmarthen. Cydweli had been in Anglo-Norman hands since c.1110 but Iscennen also remained nominally independent, unlike the rest of Cantref Bychan, until 1284 (Rees 1953, xv). Across the Tywi estuary, the Dyfed cantref, Gwarthaf , was subdivided into a number of Anglo-Norman lordships from c.1110 onwards.

Anglo-Norman territorial divisions, despite the introduction of changes in tenurial systems, almost invariably followed the existing divisions even if some cwmwdau were split from their original parent cantref. Whilst the Lordship of Kidwelly, for example, was coterminous with Cantref Cydweli, the Lordship of Carmarthen comprised cwmwdau from both Cantrefs Mawr and Gwarthaf (Rees 1951, 24-5; Richards 1969, 253). The Lordships of Llanstephan, St Clears and Laugharne represented former cwmwdau of Cantref Gwarthaf - the latter becoming one of the most heavily anglicised areas of southwest Wales for which the mock name ‘Laugharneshire’ was later coined. The system of parishes formalised during the 12th- and 13th-century, and the hundreds established in 1536 (Rees 1951, 55-6) appear also to have respected the pattern of cwmwdau.

The effect of these divisions upon the landscape has been profound, particularly with regard to settlement patterns. The pattern of field systems has also been dictated by the nature of tenure, as has the development, or otherwise, of Medieval towns, while the regional style of buildings - especially ecclesiastical buildings - could be influenced by their location in Anglo-Norman or Welsh-held communities.

Prehistoric settlement and burial sites

While there are many dozens of iron age enclosed settlements and hillforts, scores of bronze age standing stones and hundreds of bronze age burial mounds in the study area, the impact of ancient man on the historic landscape is relatively insignificant. It is only on unenclosed moorland that burial mounds form an important element of the landscape. Here summit cairns are prominent features and may represent the only obvious impact of prehistoric man on the landscape.

There is no evidence for any of the iron age settlements in the study area having field systems associated with them - they sit isolated in the modern landscape - and therefore their influence on the historic landscape is not great, though there is the possibility that territories may have been incorporated into later administrative units. This theme has not however been researched in southwest Wales. Some settlements such as Castell Cogan and Merlin’s Hill are prominent archaeological sites, but they exert no pressure on the surrounding landscape. Of all the iron age settlements, only the massive rubble rampart of Carn Goch hillfort is a strong landscape component, exerting an influence not just over the immediate area but also the surrounding landscape.

Roman settlement

The Roman period has had a significant impact on the landscape of the study area which exhibits a sequence of marching camps, at least two forts, one of only two Roman towns in Wales and the only identified gold mine in Britain.

It has been argued that the Roman conquest of southwest Wales was a relatively low-key affair and that the indigenous iron age tribe, the Demetae, were peaceful, since there is little evidence of military action in the region during the campaigns of the 40s and 50s AD. However, finds of pre-Flavian pottery (from before the 70s AD) at Llandovery suggested that the fort (Alabum) had possibly been established by the 50s AD as part of a forward campaign from the upper Usk valley (James 1982, 8). The main thrust of the Roman campaign appears to have been waged during the 70s AD when the two superimposed marching camps at Y Pigwn, and the larger one at Arosfa Garreg, were constructed. It was accompanied by an advance down the Tywi Valley to Carmarthen (Moridunum) and the establishment of the fort there, linked to Llandovery by a road. A further fort, so far undiscovered, probably lies somewhere between the two ie. near Llandeilo. The fort at Pumsaint (Louentium) was probably constructed during the same period (James 1992, 7).

Llandovery Roman fort forms a distinctive feature of the landscape still being represented by a raised rectangular area within which lies the church of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn. Pumsaint Roman fort, lying beneath the present village, was constructed in association with a nearby gold mine that is still represented by a complex of adits, leats and hushes at Dolaucothi. The network of Roman roads built to connect the forts has influenced landscape development at a fundamental level - many of their general courses have been followed by later or even modern roads.

The site of the Roman fort at Carmarthen has been recognised through excavation and several watching briefs, and lay in the area of the Medieval town, on a natural plateau defined by scarp slopes on two sides (James 1992, 8-9). It was associated with a quay on the Tywi estuary, and also a bridge which between them encouraged the growth of a civil settlement outside the east gate of the fort. It became a town - the civitas capital of the Demetae - and was enclosed within timber defences in the late 2nd-century, refortified in stone in the 3rd- and 4th-century, and featured an amphitheatre beyond its east gate (James 1992, 32-3). The defended circuit and street plan of the town have had a profound effect on subsequent development - the modern Priory Street more-or-less follows the line of the main east-west Roman street, at the west end of which lies St Peter’s parish church which may have been constructed over the Roman west gate. Present streets and built-up areas follow the line of the Roman defences leaving the centre of the area comparatively free of development. The amphitheatre similarly proved an obstacle around which subsequent streets were diverted.

No formal villa site has been firmly identified although possible candidates have been proposed at Abercyfor, southeast of Carmarthen (James 1980, 16) and Llys Brychan, near Llangadog (Jarrett 1962). Romano-British farmsteads, and the continued occupation of small defended settlements, have been recognised outside the study area. In addition, a field system at Trefenty near St Clears may also have its origins in the Roman period.

 Medieval castles       

The majority of dateable castles within the area are a product of the initial phase of the Anglo-Norman conquest of southwest Wales. However, there are a small number of undated earthwork castles, while Carmarthenshire is notable for its group of well preserved Welsh castles. Together they comprise some of Britain’s finest Medieval sites.

The castle was the fundamental tool in Norman subjugation of their newly-acquired territories. Their establishment within Carmarthenshire begins in 1093 when William FitzBaldwin erected an earthwork castle, now gone, at Rhydygors near Carmarthen ( James 1980, 34-5). Abandoned 6 years later it was the precursor of Henry I’s more permanent Carmarthen Castle, which had been built as a motte-and-bailey by 1109. The area was rapidly carved up between a number of individuals, each of whom erected a castle at the head of his lordship or sublordship. The important masonry castles at Kidwelly, Laugharne and Llansteffan in the Tywi and Taf estuaries were established, as the caputs of newly-created Marcher lords, in the first quarter of the 12th century (Avent 1991, 167-8); all three were ringworks. The motte-and-bailey at St Clears, just outside the study area at the head of the Taf estuary, may be contemporary. Essential to the their long-term survival, and indeed the success of the Anglo-Norman conquest as a whole, was the facility for maritime supply and the coastal location of these early castles was a deliberate choice. Nevertheless the evidence suggests that the castle in southwest Wales was always primarily a centre of regional government and, for this reason, they were predominantly sited at, or near, existing administrative centres - strategic considerations in the narrow, military sense appear always to have been secondary.

At the same time, an independent Anglo-Norman incursion was being made into the upper Tywi Valley from the east, during which Llandovery Castle was established by 1116 ( Soulsby 1983, 162). Castell Meurig motte-and-bailey, near Llangadog, may represent part of the same campaign.

However, the heartland of the area, the old Cantref Mawr and Cwmwd Iscennen south of the Tywi, remained in Welsh hands until the later 13th century. Two earthwork castles in the Tywi Valley may represent campaign castles erected during Anglo-Norman attempts, in the mid 12th-century, to gain control of the area; the motte-and-bailey at Allt-y-ferin marks its boundary with the Lordship of Carmarthen and may be the ‘Dinweilir’ mentioned as the site of a muster in 1159 (Jones 1953, 61) , and abandoned soon afterwards while the small motte at Llanegwad may be the castle burnt by the Welsh in 1203 (Jones 1952, 82) - a borough was afterwards established, possibly under the patronage of the native princes.

The princes established castles themselves. Dinefwr Castle , the caput of Cantref Mawr, was in existence by the 1190s and Dryslwyn, lower down the valley, is broadly contemporary (Webster 1987, 89-104); both have cylindrical keeps that may have been erected under Welsh tenure. Carreg Cennen, at the head of Welsh Cantref Bychan was also a castle of the Princes of Deheubarth but all three were heavily rebuilt after their capture in the later 13th century.

Equivocal evidence for earlier fortifications lies beneath Dryslwyn Castle (Webster 1987). Both Llansteffan and Allt-y-ferin, however, were demonstratively adapted from Iron Age promontory forts.

Castles are a dominant feature of the landscapes within which they lie, not only for their purely visual impact - often recognised in later ‘Romantic’ estate design eg. at Dinefwr - but also representing a primary element in a number of landscapes influencing all subsequent boundaries, routeways and development.

Medieval castle-boroughs

One of the most, if not the most, enduring physical legacies of the Anglo-Norman conquest of south Wales are towns. An essential strategy of the conquering lords was the construction of castles outside which were established settlements of immigrants who would eventually gain economic control of the region. At some locations topographic evidence indicates that the provision of a defended civil settlement was integral to the foundation of a castle. Such a site is Kidwelly, where outer enclosures designed to accommodate a settlement might have been laid out at the same time as the castle (Murphy 1997, 151-53). Outside other castles houses may initially have been located in the outer ward of the castle, but usually settlements were allowed to develop outside the castle gates. Laugharne is a good example of this. Here a small cluster of houses seems to have been provided with defences at an early period. Later documentation makes it clear that by the end of  the Medieval period the settlement had expanded outside the defensive circuit (Murphy 1987). The formalisation of settlements into boroughs by granting a charter often happened several centuries after the settlement’s foundation. For instance at Llandovery burgesses are first mentioned in 1185 (Arber-Cooke 1975, Vol 1, 82), but a charter was not granted until 1485 (Soulsby 1983, 163). It is in the coastal zone of the Tywi, Taf and Gwendraeth valleys that the concept of towns and boroughs was most readily accepted, and where consequently towns flourished. Here to the towns of Carmarthen, Kidwelly, Laugharne, Abergwili and St Clears can be added Llansteffan, which though never granted a charter had many of the functions of a small borough. Concomitant with the founding of these town was the introduction of alien tenurial systems and farming methods. Such developments as open three field farming systems were introduced. In the heavily Anglicised coastal zone the effects of this introduction are still readily apparent in the historic landscape and are discussed below.

Outside the coastal zone up the Tywi valley from Carmarthen and Abergwili, the lengthy wars between the Welsh princes and Anglo-Norman lords ensured a difficult start for the Anglo-Norman planted boroughs. Eventually such towns as Llangadog and Llandovery developed into boroughs, but they have remained small. The effect of these boroughs on the surrounding historic landscape has been less marked than those of the coastal zone. Nevertheless, open field systems were employed, the evidence for which is shown on manuscript maps and recorded in documents, but is not now obvious in the historic landscape.

In response, and in imitation of the Anglo-Norman boroughs, the Welsh princes founded towns. Dryslwyn was established on the hill adjacent to a castle. Following Edward I’s conquest of Wales the town passed into English hands, but it never seems to have been particularly extensive or successful and eventually drops out of history in the 15th century (Soulsby 1983, 133-34). The site of the town is represented by massive earthworks. Like Dryslwyn, Dinefwr developed outside the gates of a castle. A small town under Welsh patronage, it was divided into a Welsh and English borough by the English. The English borough was established several hundred metres away from the castle, and became the more successful of the two. Both were unable to compete with the growing influence of Llandeilo, and had fallen into decay by the late 15th century (Griffiths 1991, 205-26). The territory of the boroughs came to form the demesne of the Dinefwr estate which in turn was transformed into a landscaped park in the 18th- and 19th-century.

Towns and villages

The pattern of rural settlement is a distinctive feature of the Carmarthenshire landscape, primarily characterised by dispersed farms; nucleations are few while villages are primarily Post-Medieval, and often linear in form. This is typical within areas held under native forms of tenure.

Where nucleated settlements do occur it is primarily within areas subject to Anglo-Norman administration and tenure, being particularly concentrated in the Tywi estuary within the former Lordships of Laugharne, Llansteffan and Kidwelly. Settlement began in earnest after the establishment of the castle-boroughs of Carmarthen and Kidwelly in 1100-1110 (Soulsby 1983, 102, 152). The native economy and tenurial systems were reorganised along manorial lines and accompanied by the establishment of centrally planned settlements. Some of these settlements may have been planted around de novo churches; Llanybri and Llansaint churches, for example, are chapelries within the parishes of churches with possible pre-Norman origins, and have Latin dedications. The two churches occupy distinctive, central positions from which roads and tracks radiate, and the villages lie within well-defined former open field strips. The Anglo-Norman Lordship of Carmarthen is not characterised by nucleated settlements though settlement at the demesne manor of the borough of Carmarthen, at Llanllwch (James 1980, 41-44), is clustered around the. Abergwili, meanwhile, was established as a small borough by the Bishop of St Davids in the 1280s (James 1980b, 19) and comprised two planned rows either side of the existing Carmarthen-Llandovery Roman Road.

  The majority of the Tywi valley remained under Welsh tenure until the mid 13th-century (Rees 1951, 40-41). However, the traditional view of pre-Norman Welsh society, that the inhabitants of the country lived in scattered homesteads and had a natural aversion to urban life, is deceptive. Although people did commonly inhabit scattered tyddynod on hereditary lands, there were also conditions under which some settlements could become nucleations. For instance, late Medieval law texts may reflect earlier conditions when they refer to small hamlets or trefgordd which were specifically required to comprise nine houses, and some maerdrefi may have become developed settlements (Sambrook 1995, 13).

So while early nucleations in the Tywi Valley are few, some may have their origins in such settlements. Both Llanegwad and Llangadog were, like Abergwili, established under the bishops in the later 13th-century (Sambrook 1995); Llanegwad was eventually constituted as a small borough, and may in fact have earlier origins. Llandeilo certainly has earlier origins having been regarded as a town by 1213 when it was ‘destroyed’ (Soulsby 1983, 160) and so may have been established under the native princes. At the political centre of the commote of Iscennen was the Ferdre (maerdref) estate at Carreg Cennen where a small estate was worked by 13 bond tenants who were in the charge of a reeve and subject to its own legal court (Rees, 1924, 200). Felindre Sawdde, near Llangadog, was granted an annual fair in 1383 and may have been a maerdref (Sambrook 1995, 14); its unusual rectangular morphology and the accompanying strip fields are unique within the upper Tywi valley, and may be relatively modern, but an earlier Welsh origin has been recently argued (ibid.).

Not all of these settlements prospered. Llanegwad and Llandeilo, for example, were situated on or close to the Roman road and both had market rights, but Llanegwad did not expand; perhaps Llandeilo, with its ecclesiastical tradition, had come to be regarded as the regional capital of the middle Tywi Valley from an early period. The castle-boroughs eg. Carmarthen, Kidwelly, Llandovery and Laugharne mostly flourished until overtaken by the industrial towns of the 19th century, and Carmarthen was the largest town in Wales until the mid 19th-century (James 1980, 52). The two native boroughs of Dryslwyn and Dinefwr however failed, the latter partly due to competition from the more accessible Llandeilo. St Clears never developed beyond a mere village, and its centre shifted northwards when the A40 was turnpiked in the late 18th century. There is little evidence for deserted formal nucleations but at Marros near Laugharne, present development around the church is all from the 19th century, possibly on the site of an earlier settlement.

Map evidence suggests that most villages within and on the fringes of the Tywi Valley are Post-Medieval, having been established during the 18th- and earlier 19th-century as informal clusters of cottages around a focal point which was normally a church (Llanarthne, Llansadwrn, Cilycwm, and Myddfai), but could also be a chapel (Penieland Carmel), mill (Felindre), or railway station (Ferryside and Nantgaredig). Not all are nucleations; Capel Dewi for example is a linear development either side of a road whilst Ferryside occupies two parallel streets. Ashfield Row, near Llangadog is a planted row of the mid 19th century.

Only a small part of the overall area lies within the 19th century industrial belt, but includes Burry Port harbour which was established in the first half of the 19th century as a coal port serving the Gwendraeth Valley collieries (Ludlow 1999). Industry was quick to take advantage of the port facilities and the company owners had, by the 1860s, begun construction of worker housing; Burry Port is, next to Carmarthen, now the second largest settlement within the area.

Suburban and modern development

Parts of the Carmarthenshire landscape are distinguished by high-visibility housing development of the 20th century, which has occurred in both town and country. Linear development both within and between Pembrey and Burry Port has doubled the built-up area within the 20th century. Carmarthen has undergone considerable development, characterised by social housing, on its east side, whilst 20th century building at Johnstown on the west side practically constitutes an entire new settlement.

Council housing is also a feature within the countryside and represents the major part of the pre-existing villages at Carmel, Llanfihangel Aberbythych and Llanarthne. Extensive construction of private housing has led to the development of ‘new’ linear villages in rural areas near Carmarthen like Cwmffrwd and Llangynwr, and Peniel, and also Rhosmaen and Ffairfach near Llandeilo while Nantgaredig, Llangain, Broadway and Llanwrda have doubled in size with similar housing.

It is the piecemeal development of such private housing during the late 20th-century that is so characteristic of lowland Carmarthenshire. It is particularly concentrated along route corridors such as the A40(T) and the A48, and close to urban centres such as Llandovery . Its dispersed character contributes much to the present-day appearance of the countryside. Such housing is largely absent from upland areas which, in the east of the study area, largely lie within the Brecon Beacons National Park.


Land-use in the study area is primarily agricultural. However, the south Wales coalfield extends into the far southern end of the area to dominate its Post-Medieval landscape.

Industry has left physical evidence from a very early period, predominantly associated with waterpower. The Roman gold mines at Dolaucothi are represented by a complex of adits, leats, spoil-heaps and hushes which are still prominent features of the landscape. Most Medieval settlements were served by a water-powered grist mill, which often persisted into the recent Post-Medieval period and are frequently represented by working, or still-traceable leats. The woollen industry was never a characteristic of the study area but was practised on a small scale from the Medieval period through to the 19th century. Towns each featured a fulling mill while a concentration of mills on the lower Gwendraeth Fach included two fulling mills and an 18th century tucking mill. Cloth production within the study area during the 18th- and 19th-century was almost exclusively a cottage industry but factories were erected at Llanswawel and Tregyb near Llandeilo. Windmills were never a prominent feature of the Carmarthenshire landscape.

Lead ore deposits in the Tywi Valley near Carmarthen were worked from the 18th- and mid 19th-century from which a number of pits, and an engine house, survive (James 1980, 56), while the abundant supply of running water led to the establishment of a number of early ironworks. Copper ore deposits north of Kidwelly were also worked from an early date, the processing of which was undertaken at a waterpowered stamping works erectedin c.1721 (Ludlow 1991, 85). However, tinplate represented the main industry of the Llanelli district which in fact came to be known as ‘Tinopolis’ and in 1737 the stamping works at Kidwelly was converted/rebuilt as a tinplate works (ibid) - only the second in Great Britain. Another early works was established at Carmarthen in 1748 (James 1976, 31). Both these works had a profound effect upon subsequent development leading to the construction of worker housing during the 19th century (James 1991, 56). Several brickworks were established within the Kidwelly - Burry Port area in the 19th century to exploit the local silica clays. However, the two towns never fully industrialised which is one reason for their lack of growth relative to the new towns of the 19th century. Industries within Carmarthen, for example, were products of agricultural services eg. woollen mills, tanneries and sawmills (ibid.) and to this day the urban areas are not primarily characterised by their industrial heritage.

The greatest industrial development, moreover, took place outside the historic towns, where there is a history of early coal mining activity. According to Leland coal pits were being dug in the lower Gwendraeth Valley in the mid 16th-century (Ludlow 1999, 24) and coal production intensified during the 18th century, extending from its centre around Trimsaran into the Pembrey/Burry Port area. Closure of these collieries had begun during the late 19th-century and intensified after the First World War when the remaining local collieries were amalgamated under single ownership (ibid.). It was completed after the Second World War.

A harbour was established between 1819 and 1836 at Burry Port to serve the coal industry, but its facilities soon encouraged the development of other industries which by the later 19th century included a copperworks, tinplate works, white lead works, lead and silver works, and a foundry (Ludlow 1999, 30-31); the power station which formed such a dominant feature of the Burry Port landscape during the later 20th century was finally demolished in the 1990s. The remote marshlands of Pembrey Burrows to the west attracted more antisocial industries such as munitions, which were manufactured during the early 20th century (Page 1996, 15).

The Carboniferous Limestone belt runs between the valleys of the Gwendraeth Fach and Gwendraeth Fawr, up to the Black Mountain in the east. A number of 18th century lime kilns are situated in the coastal regions of the study area, and just beyond the northeast end are the extensive 19th century quarries of the Llandybie region, the limeworker settlement of Carmel. However, the main limestone workings lie on the Black Mountain. Here the pits, kilns and spoil heaps of the 18th- and 19th-century limestone quarrying and lime-burning industry form the main element of the historic landscape.

Apart from major modern quarries such as Coygan, which has had a massive impact on the historic landscape, stone quarrrying in the study area, though ubiquitous, has been small-scale and usually sufficient to provide local building materials. Outside the coastal plains and valley floors, virtually every character area has evidence for past stone extraction.

The study area has, during the later 20th-century, suffered the industrial decline typical of much of Great Britain. Modern industries are products of agriculture and are maily represented by food and milk-product processing, exemplified by the creamery at Llangadog. Most towns have industrial estates on their fringes, but the modern industry with the greatest impact on the landscape is tourism and leisure, with the development of caravan parks at St Ishmaels and Pendine.


Carmarthenshire, like much of southwest Wales, is primarily a landscape of dispersed farms and small, linear villages the buildings of which are predominantly 19th century. The characteristic farmstead comprises a range of farm-buildings around a house that dates from the 19th century, identical with the domestic housing of the same period being two-storeyed, gabled and featuring four downstairs rooms around a central through-passage, end chimneys on both gables, segmental or square-headed openings in each bay, a slated roof and a rendered/pebble dashed exterior; when un-rendered brick quoins and surrounds are often used. Two distinct but nevertheless similar styles can be recognised in the farmhouses of the study area. The first belongs in the vernacular tradition. In these cases houses have an asymmetrical plan, with one bay of rooms substantially larger than the other and containing a substantial fireplace which is evidenced from the exterior by a massive chimney. Windows are small and placed asymmetrically, reflecting the room plan. Structures are sometimes one-and-a-half storey, rather than two. Because of the poor quality stone and mortar used, buildings in the vernacular tradition are usually rendered to prevent damp penetration. The second class of buildings belong in the ‘polite’ Georgian tradition. These structures were often built by or on behalf of an estate. They tend to be larger than houses in the vernacular tradition, with symmetrically-placed rooms and windows. Windows are larger, and externally there is a harmonious whole to the design. Because of the use of better quality stone, exteriors might be left un-rendered.

This domestic house-style is characteristic across most of Wales, but represents a re-building rather than initial settlement. Such extensive rebuilding has erased a rich regional style. Carmarthenshire was formerly noted for its farmhouses in the longhouse tradition, which formed a distinct regional group concentrated within, but by no means confined to the more upland areas of the county, and by the earlier 19th century constituted the ‘typical’ Carmarthenshire farmhouse  (Peate 1946, 51-84). These houses were of rubble masonry or, in lower regions, cob walling, with an internal division into the house and byre, and thatched queen-strut roofs with stone or wicker chimneys. Such houses have now all but gone and none survive in their original form (RCAHMW 1917, fig. 11).

Masonry and cob appears always to have been the main building material within the area. No Medieval house survives unaltered but a property opposite Carmarthen Castle retains the core of a ?15th century jettied house (Dyfed Archaeological Trust 1986, 34), next to the remains of a possible 16th century cellared house (Carmarthen Museum Record), while two thatched, Medieval masonry houses with corbelled chimneys survived until recently in Kidwelly.

Substantial masonry houses with corbelled chimneys still form the core of a number of rural properties, the homes of the uchelwyr or minor gentry of the 16th- and 17th-century. The houses are usually in the sub-Medieval tradition being asymmetrical, often single-pile, with an outshot, and sometimes built around a chimney which backs onto the entry (Smith 1988, 447-8); some are long-houses featuring a byre. They tend to be concentrated in the upper Tywi Valley and the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, but this may reflect survival rather than the original pattern.

At the other end of the social scale are the buildings of informal upland settlement, be it temporary or permanent. Characteristic of the high moorland of the upper Tywi Valley are crude, rectangular dry-stone structures, often with sunken floors, given the generic name ‘long-hut’ and a date broadly within the earlier Post-Medieval period (Sambrook 1999). None survives complete. They appear to have been primarily associated with transhumance pastoralism, representing ‘hafodydd’ or summer homesteads. In this they are distinct from the similar houses associated with 18th- and 19th-century squatter settlement on the fringes of common land, the ruins of which are a prominent visual features of these landscapes.

Urban buildings of the period could often be of similar poor quality. Llandeilo’s main street was described in 1800 as comprising ‘straw-thatched houses of the poorest description’  (Soulsby 1983, 162) while the large village of Llansawel was described in similar terms, with ‘no stone bridges over the two rivers, only wooden footbridges; and nearly all the houses were straw-thatched, many being hardly better than huts’ (Sambrook and Page 1995, 23).

Assemblages of buildings with a distinctive architectural signature are not common in the study area. The best example is undoubtedly the buildings of the Dolaucothi estate which were built in a pattern-book style in the 1850s. Buildings in or close to the former demesne of Golden Grove/Gelli Aur also possess a distinctive, or rather several distinctive styles. Other estates do not seem to have imposed any one architectural style, though the major rebuilding of farms belonging to the Broadway estate, near Laugharne, in the 1820s lend a coherence to the historic landscape.

Farm-buildings are in many character areas one of the most dominant historic landscape elements. Across the whole of Carmarthenshire, 19th century rebuilding of farm-buildings was broadly contemporaneous with the rebuilding of farmhouses. Almost all pre 20th century farm-buildings are stone-built with slate roofs. Size, arrangement and location of buildings was dictated by wealth and status. Small farms on upland fringes or on poor quality land usually have just a single small range of farm-buildings, which on the poorest of farms may be attached and parallel  to the house. The most common type is for one-two-or-three ranges of buildings - barn, cow shed, stable, pig-sty - arranged around a yard close to the house. In estate planned farms the farm-buildings may be positioned semi-formally around a yard. The larger the holding, the larger the size and types of farm-building and the more likely they are to be positioned a distance from the house. At the upper end of the social and economic scale, Newton House, Dinefwr has a magnificent courtyard containing stables and coach-houses close to the mansion, with a home farm located a kilometre away. Corrugated iron buildings of 1930-50 are found at most farms, as are modern steel and concrete agricultural buildings.

Late 20th-century housing in a variety of styles and materials, either as individual units or in small estates, is a common element of the study area, and in some character areas are one of the dominant landscape elements.

Churches and chapels   

The Anglo-Norman conquest of Carmarthenshire was accompanied by the re-organisation of its churches along Latin lines with a greater emphasis on administration. However, there is little evidence that churches were either re-dedicated or re-sited. A large number of them are therefore rural churches, often inaccessible and far from historic centres of habitation, with circular churchyards enclosing wells or springs. In addition, those that were subsequently associated with castles and boroughs often stand some distance away, in a pattern quite distinct from the church-castle association normally seen in planted settlements.

Carmarthenshire’s rural historic churches have often therefore had little influence on subsequent settlement. However, they are still a primary feature of many landscapes, respected by the subsequent development of boundaries and routeways; they are often a distinctive visual feature, many of them being landmarks visible for many miles while some of the coastal churches have become navigation aids. They are, in the main, rather simple structures. There is no ‘typical’ plan-form but they generally consist of a nave and chancel, often with a porch and are almost entirely unvaulted (Ludlow 1998); those churches with towers, however, form regular groups within which exist similarities eg. Llanddowror, Marros, and Llanllwch. The churches of the upper Tywi Valley, reflect an entirely different tradition; predominantly rebuilt in the late 15th- and 16th-century as large, unvaulted double-naved churches, in the ‘hall-church’ tradition and usually with west towers. There is a good survival of Medieval timber roofs in the region, eg. the wagon-roofs at Llandingat and Myddfai; at the latter a rood-loft stair recess, of possible Jacobean date and Laudian inspiration, projects from the nave south wall.

Simple churches comprising just a chancel, and a nave with a bellcote, occur in all areas (ibid.). Size is variable, however, and its correlation with status, and parish size, is usually as might be expected. Urban churches tend to be large eg. Carmarthen, Kidwelly and Laugharne. In contrast, many upland parish churches are small, their parishes having been served by numerous former chapels-of-ease. There appears to be no real correlation between church size and type with function or ownership; monastic cells are often small and there is no real example of great episcopal investment in collegiate churches - Llangadog (Carmarthenshire) is really no more than a typical church for its area.

Characteristic of the area is the lack of original dressed stone, due to both the cost of importing suitable limestone and rebuilding, though some original work does survive (ibid.). However, much surviving church fabric may be of later rather than earlier date, for example few remaining towers are any earlier than the later 15th-century. This late date renders meaningless the recent attempts to map their distribution  relative to Anglicised and non-Anglicised areas; indeed, several towers with Jacobean openings, for example Llandeilo Fawr, are probably from c.1600. Some correlation does however exist between tenurial patterns and ostentation - for example the Decorated, cruciform former priory church at Kidwelly whose tower and a spire from c.1400 form a distinctive visual feature of the region, lies within an Anglicised lordship, whilst Laugharne and Llandawke churches within the Anglo-Norman Lordship of Laugharne exhibit good Decorated and/or Perpendicular mouldings.

Kidwelly is the only survivor of four monastic churches within the study area. Llandovery Priory was short-lived, being suppressed in 1185. Carmarthen’s priory and friary were both destroyed after the Dissolution but their enclosures continued to dictate subsequent settlement, while the pattern of monastic holdings and land use, including those of Talley Abbey just beyond the study area, influenced field systems and continued to affect landscape development in the Post-Medieval period when they were acquired as great private estates and parks.

Extensive church rebuilding was undertaken during the 18th- and early 19th-century, most of it associated with the contemporary gentry estates (ibid.). Very little good-quality neo-Classical material survives, however, and such churches as were constructed in this style were rebuilt later in the 19th century. An exception survives at Capel Gwynfe, where the church - now the church hall - is crude neo-Classical, from 1812-18. Many churches were in fact rebuilt, or at least refitted, to non-Conformist principles.

The earliest Welsh non-Conformist chapels date to the 17th century but within the study area none are earlier than the 18th century, and it was after the schism with the established church in 1811 that building began in earnest. Few of Carmarthenshire’s larger settlements lack a chapel, usually Independent, Calvinist-Methodist or Welsh Baptist, and dating from the 19th century. The best - and the earliest - are in the towns, for instance Carmarthen which features Heol Awst built in 1726 (James 1980, 54) and the English Baptist Chapel, designed in neo-Classical style by George Morgan in 1872 (Hilling 1975, 167) . The establishment of a chapel in a rural area could lead to new nucleation, eg. Capel Dewi, Carmel and Peniel, or polyfocal settlement at existing villages eg. Pendine and Pumsaint.


The most immediate feature of any landscape is its pattern of fields and boundaries. Characteristic of most lowland areas of Carmarthenshire is a pattern of small irregular fields with earth banks topped with hedges. How and when this landscape developed is still a matter of debate.

The boundaries exhibit a remarkable degree of coherence right across the study area. There are pockets where dry-stone walls, mortared walls and rubble banks are found, but from the Taf and Tywi estuaries up to the finges of the Black Mountain at over 250m earth banks topped with hedges are ubiquitous. Many of these hedges contain distinctive trees which lend a wooded aspect to much of the landscape.

In general, the Carmarthenshire landscape had evolved into its present form by the time of the first widespread detailed mapping, ie. the tithe surveys of the 1830s and 1840s. Estate maps, where they survive, are generally from the late 18th-century and similarly show a landscape much as today. Earlier sources are considerably more equivocal. Early 17th-century surveys of the lower Tywi Valley and its environs contain a number of descriptions of contemporary, private enclosure of land that had previously been unenclosed common (Rees 1953), with fields of fairly large and regular form. Surrounding a number of these areas eg. Alltycunedda and ‘Mynydd Kyvorth’ are smaller irregular fields which, it must be assumed, predate these enclosures. However, these small irregular fields are typical of the pattern of enclosures that occurs throughout much of lowland Carmarthenshire and are particularly characteristic of valley sides in fairly poorly drained areas - a substantial percentage of the area. Such a comparison suggests that these landscapes are, at the latest, all late Medieval in origin.

However, some enclosed landscapes may be earlier. The date of the unique system of square, regular fields north of Trefenty is a matter of dispute, but the area enclosed by the fields - 700 metres square - may be significant in that the rigid Roman land division of ‘centuriation’ was laid out to a grid whose sides each measured 20 actus ie. 710 metres (Potter 1987, 101). Though centuriation was usually (but not exclusively) practised in the vicinity of coloniae, and no evidence has come to light that it was practised elsewhere in Britain (Rivet 1964, 101), the Trefenty system may confirm the survival of very early boundaries and the potential for a prehistoric origin for other field systems.

The survival, furthermore, of open field strips in the present system of boundaries has an interesting distribution, and is a characteristic of Anglo-Norman settlement; good examples exists around Laugharne, Llanybri and Kidwelly/Llansaint. There is strong coastal and/or lower Tywi- and Taf-valley emphasis in the distribution of former open fields, though examples also exist on the fringes of the Medieval boroughs of Llangadog and Llandovery. In fact, so characteristic are strip fields that where they do not survive, they may never have been employed, and there is little evidence that strips in any area have been replaced by different field patterns, for example the ‘typical’ pattern of small irregular fields.

At Laugharne, three unique, related open field systems survive: The Hugden, Whitehill Down and The Lees. In these three areas, owned by Laugharne Corporation and granted to the burgesses of Laugharne by Sir Guy de Brian in the 13th century, open field cultivation is still practiced. Strips in the fields are divided by low baulks or defined by ridge and furrow and held by different farmers, though the strips are no longer shared out on an annual basis and they are all now under pasture rather than arable cultivation.

Contemporary writers such as George Owen of Henllys suggest that the late 16th-century landscape of southwest Wales was generally unenclosed (Owen 1892), and may define a period when much further enclosure had begun. A pattern of larger, more regular fields is distinctive of other areas of Carmarthenshire and can be seen, for instance, in a broad belt north of Laugharne, south of Llansteffan and in many areas of the Tywi valley. These fields are very similar to those known to be former common land, and may similarly represent 16th- and early 17th-century enclosure of hitherto open land.

Physical evidence for ridge-and-furrow ploughing, and lynchets, is widespread but dispersed, and forms no definable pattern. It is by no means confined to Anglicised areas or those practising open field agriculture and can occur in small irregular fields of relatively poor quality, located within the heartland of the Welshry eg. near Cwrt-y-cadno. In Carmarthenshire it appears to have been a means of draining of heavy soils in a variety of areas. Some of it may, however, be the result of steam-ploughing. By far the best tract of ridge and furrow in Carmarthenshire lies on Laugharne Marsh. This however is rather specialised ridge and furrow, perhaps a better term for it would be ridge and drain, or ridge and vurrow. It was not formed until after the draining of Laugharne Marsh in 1660.

In summary, considerably more research needs to be undertaken on the development of pre-1750 field systems within southwest Wales before any definitive statements can be made.

Sea Walls, drains and marsh reclamation

The Carmarthenshire coastline is by no means static and has been subject to considerable change within the historic period.  In particular, the Taf and Tywi estuaries have been subject to much change and reclamation.

From the later prehistoric period down to Medieval times, the coastline west of Laugharne probably comprised salt marsh with fresh and brackish-water lagoons. It formed part of the demesne of the Medieval Lordship of Laugharne (National Library of Wales 10118E Vol 1). In 1595, the first record of dwellings occurs, either on the fringes of the marsh or on islands of higher ground, as it is likely that the marsh was subjected to flooding and tidal inundation in the winter months. It was not until 1660 when Sir Sackville Crow came into possession of the marsh that a scheme of drainage was initiated with the construction of sea walls (Murphy, forthcoming) allowing the establishment of new farms, and by the late 18th-century Laugharne Marsh comprised the best farmland in the county. A further, large sea-wall was however constructed at the east end of the marsh in 1800-10 (James 1991, 150). A Ministry of Defence research establishment now occupies most of the marsh.

Pembrey Burrows, to the east of the Tywi estuary, is a system of sand dunes of comparatively recent origin. They have been forming at the mouth of the River Gwendraeth Fawr since before the 17th century but probably no earlier than the Medieval period (James 1991, 159). Alongside their development have been a series of reclamations, around an initial nucleus formed by a tongue of dry land at the foot of Mynydd Penbre which was represented in the manor of Caldicot, first mentioned in the 13th century (Page 1996, 13). It was extended as the result of reclamation in c.1629 with the construction of a sea-defence called ‘The Bulwarke’ but the northern half of the area was still subject to regular inundation until a further sea-wall, Banc-y-Lord, was constructed in 1817-18 (James 1991, 156). This reclamation was accompanied by the formation of marsh and dune-slacks to the east of the dry land. The coastline had extended almost to its present line by the early 19th-century and most of the seaward part was already occupied by sand hills, called ‘Great Outlet’ on the Pembrey tithe map of 1841 and represented as common land. However, the area was not finally won from the sea until the 1850s when the embankments beneath the present Llanelli-Carmarthen road and the Great Western Railway main south Wales line were constructed (Ludlow 1991, 84), and an extensive Enclosure Award was granted (CRO AE3), but it remains very wet and marginal. The area was later occupied by an airfield, a stop line and munitions factory. It is now largely beneath planted coniferous forest.

The estuaries of both the Tywi and the Gwendraeth beyond the sea-walls are occupied by saltmarsh. This marsh extends up the Tywi to Carmarthen, where it has been subject to differing degrees of reclamation and is now a multi-period landscape, most of it - in its present form - of relatively recent origin. However, the present course of the river in the northern half of the area appears to have remained fairly constant since at least the Medieval period when several areas of saltmarsh, held directly from the crown as common, seasonal grazing land, are mentioned in contemporary accounts (James 1980, 42-44). An area of common land also lay to the south of the area at Morfa Uchaf, near Ferryside.

Moorland and common land

Legally it is important to distinguish between common land, and land that used to be termed ‘waste’ or ‘mountain’. ‘Common’ was defined as land in which burgesses, freemen of a manor, lordship, sub-lordship or township exercised certain rights, such as grazing or the cutting of peat. ‘Waste’ may have formed part of the demesne of a lord, or in the Post-Medieval period owned by an estate or considered to have been Crown land. With a rising population from the late Medieval period, both forms of unenclosed land came under considerable stress and were subjected to enclosure. Once enclosed it is virtually impossible to detect the difference between former common or former waste.

There can be little doubt that the extent of common and unenclosed land in the lowlands of Carmarthenshire was formerly much more extensive than that which survived to be recorded in the first large-scale mapping of the late 18th- and early 19th-century. In 1278-82, Sir Guy be Brian granted free common to the burgesses of Laugharne from land to the north of the town almost to St Clears (Williams, n.d.; Davies, 1955). This was clearly a considerable tract of land, but by the early 19th-century it had been reduced to a very small tract of low-lying wet ground. It is now no longer common (Rural Surveys Research Unit 1988). A similar situation probably pertained in all other parishes of lowland Carmarthenshire. For instance immediately to the north of Abergwili village a small extent of common recorded on the tithe map has now been encroached upon and divided into two, and close to Llangadog, Carreg Sawdde Common was encroached upon in the 19th century. It seems clear that in the Medieval period cultivated and settled land was bordered by extensive tracts of common and waste, which was gradually encroached upon. Even with considerable research it would probably been impossible to establish the former extents of this common.

In upland Carmarthenshire the sizes and extents of commons and/or unenclosed moorland have probably remained relatively static over several centuries. This is mainly due to relief and altitude. For instance, Mynydd Mallaen is a high plateau flanked by steep slopes with enclosed farmland on the surrounding valley floors. Clearly in this type of situation there is little or no scope for piecemeal encroachment onto common land. The Black Mountain is by far the largest block of unenclosed common in the study area. The northern limit of this common presents a remarkable distinct and static boundary with enclosed farmland. For much of its length this boundary is defined by a (collapsed) dry-stone wall and rubble bank. This boundary stands in sharp contrast with other zones of change between enclosed and unenclosed land in Wales where the normal pattern of successive episodes of encroachment and retreat is represented by relict fields and abandoned settlements. On the less steep and lower-lying western- and southern-side of the Black Mountain this pattern of abandonment is evident.

Forestry and woodland

Estates considered timber an important resource and went to considerable lengths to conserve trees and ensure new planting was undertaken. As today, most woodland lay on steep valley sides - land that had very little other economic use - and was and is of some antiquity. Correctly managed woodland could provide timber for building and ship-building, bark for tanning and dyeing, and coppice for fuel and charcoal, as well as providing ornamental features in the parks and gardens. The legacy of this management is still evident in the landscape as the most heavily wooded areas of Carmarthenshire lie in or close to the centres of the great estates of the 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century. The value of timber can be judged from documents consulted by Francis Jones (1962, 264) in his study of the Golden Grove estate. In 1757, John Vaughan of Golden Grove advertised the sale of 6,620 trees on the estate dispersed across three parishes. Richard Chitty of Sussex was the highest bidder for the trees with a sum of £10,300. It is clear from the documentation that the trees were confined to the demense and just a few of the many dozens of farms which comprised the estate, and that their felling would by no means denude woodland. Farm leases in the Golden Grove archive state exactly how management of timber was undertaken. For instance in the 1680 lease of Carreg Gwenlais farm the lord retained the right to ‘cutt down Timber trees and wood’ (Murphy and James 1992, 9), and at Carreg Gwenlais in 1768 the estate retained ‘all timber trees and trees likely to become timber and all coppices of wood and underwood’. The tenant was not allowed to ‘fell, cut down, lop, top or uproot and timber or other trees’ and was obliged to plant ten saplings of oak and ten of ash and ‘sufficiently fence them so that they may become timber’.

Unlike many other Welsh counties the impact of 20th century afforestation on the landscape has been muted, mainly due to the limited amount of unenclosed or poor quality land available for planting. However, on particular types of landscape, such as steep valley sides and open moorland in the northeast of the county, no other single process has had such a dramatic effect upon the historic landscape than afforestation. The ethos, methods and techniques behind this afforestation is set out in a Forestry Commission book of 1959 (Edlin). Early inter-war afforestation concentrated on relatively lower-lying ground and steep valley sides, and often involved replanting of old estate woodlands and filling in the gaps between old established deciduous woods. The steep valley sides of the upper Tywi and upper Cothi, and the hilly ridges of Myddfai parish are examples of such planting. Later planting, in the 1950s, 1960s  and 1970s, concentrated on high unenclosed moorland. Here very large blocks of conifers blanked vast tracts of former open moorland. At Pembrey the blanket planting of conifers over sand dunes has created a modern lowland forest.

Estates, parks and gardens

One of the events most immediately recognisable in the Carmarthenshire historic landscape has been the creation of the great gentry estates, parklands and gardens during the 17th-, 18th- and early 19th-century. The history of the gentry families, from which the development of this parkland landscape can partly be charted, has been chronicled by the late Major Francis Jones (Jones 1987). Six of the historic parks and gardens within the study area are entered in the Cadw/ICOMOS Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales, as PGW (Dy) - (CAM).  

  The Tywi Valley/Myddfai landscape area, in particular, is significant principally for its unique group of planned parks and gardens and for its historic associations with the Picturesque movement. As a result there is a widespread popular sense of the area as a ‘cherished’ landscape. Many of these estates are now neglected, derelict and often difficult to differentiate from the surrounding landscape; many more however survive sufficiently to give a strong parkland aspect throughout the landscape area. The most important of these great estates include, with their parks, those of the Vaughans at Golden Grove (PGW (Dy) 10), the Rices (Rhys) at Dinefwr (PGW (Dy) 12), the Dyers at Aberglasne (PGW (Dy) 5) and the Jones at Abermarlais. The first three estates have retained their houses, now 19th century in form but retaining significant earlier elements at Aberglasne and Dinefwr, both of which have been restored and are open to the public. Elements such as icehouses, stables and carthouses, home farms and the assemblage of service buildings associated with great houses of the period, also survive. In addition, significant artificial landscape elements survive in the form of walled and terraced gardens, planted trees and groves, and ha-has etc, the establishment of  which involved the wholesale alteration of historic boundaries, often completely obscuring underlying landscapes. Within the immediate Tywi hinterland lies Middleton Hall emparked under the Paxton and Abadam families, and Cilgwyn under the Gwynne-Holfords; both have lost their houses and most buildings but the former is the site of the new National Botanical Garden of Wales.

Most of these estates were accumulated during the 18th century - when the houses were generally rebuilt and most of the parks and gardens were laid out - but many have earlier origins. Abermarlais, for example, was a manorial centre during the Medieval period, with its own fair and possibly a nucleation  (Sambrook and Page 1995,  22) which was swept away under subsequent parkland development. Aberglasne is associated with an early walled, arcaded garden. Most of the early estates, moreover, developed around gentry houses first mentioned in the late 16th- and early 17th-century when the new uchelwyr were becoming firmly established as the county squirearchy. Many of these families retained occupancy until the 20th century but an equal number claimed early origins via ambiguous pedigrees. However, in a parallel trend, new houses and parks - often established by cadet branches of the same gentry families - were sited to take advantage of the scenic views of the Tywi Valley and other areas within the region in an aesthetic trend that received impetus from the Picturesque movement.

The Dolaucothi landscape area is dominated by three great estates. Edwinsford (PGW (Dy) -) and Aberannell , unlike the Tywi Valley estates but like so many others in Britain, evolved from former monastic granges during the late 16th-century - in this case, both belonging to the Premonstratensian Talley Abbey. Edwinsford has had a significant impact both in terms of landscape and built heritage, as has the third, Dolaucothi (PGW (Dy) 7), with the distinctive architectural signature applied to tenant farms and cottages.

The impact of gentry parks and landscapes becomes less evident towards the south and west of the study area, particularly in the Taf/Tywi Estuary landscape area; however, the garden at Llanmiloe (PGW (Dy) 1) retains significant historic elements.


The rivers Taf, Tywi and Gwendraeth form a plexus of historic routeways, both maritime as represented by their estuaries and natural harbours, and on land as their valleys lie between the coast and the higher ground of the central Wales massif. All east-west routes must still pass through Carmarthen.

The Tywi Valley has therefore, since the Roman period at least, been one of the great route corridors through south Wales, known as ‘The High Road’ in the early 19th-century and now represented by the A40(T). It connected the fort at Llandovery (Alabum) with the town at Carmarthen (Moridunum) along the interface between the Tywi floodplain and the rising ground to the north. It represents the natural path for human traffic and may perpetuate a much earlier route. A second Roman road ran southeast to northwest between Moridunum and the fort at Loughor (Leucarum), crossing the valleys of the Gwendraeths Fach and Fawr and followed by the present B4306. A third ran from Moridunum to the fort at Llanio (Bremia) near Llanddewi Brefi on the approximate line of the present A485; the course of the road between Llandovery and Llanio, and the fort at Pumsaint (Louentium) has recently been established by aerial photography.

The upper section of the Tywi Valley road had probably become disused by the Medieval period and, until the 18th century, the course chosen for the main Llandeilo to Llandovery section of the ‘High Road’ followed the line of what is now an unclassified road along the ridge between the Tywi and the Afon Dulais (John Ogilby’s late 17th-century map book). The broad course of the Roman road was reverted to for the earlier 18th-century mail route (CRO, Cawdor Map 106) and by 1771 had been enacted as a turnpike along its entire route (Lewis, 1971, 43). The road was enhanced in c.1824 under Thomas Telford when stretches near Llanegwad and Llangathen, and Manordeilo were straightened.

The Roman town of Carmarthen was also a flourishing port (James 1992, 32-33), while the siting of the castles at Carmarthen and Kidwelly, and their early towns, was chosen for their situation along navigable stretches of the Tywi and Gwendraeth Fach estuaries respectively. Both developed into important ports which, in the Medieval period traded as far afield as Gascony (Lodwick and Lodwick 1972, 121-123). The quay at St Clears  never developed anything more than a local traffic while the ferries between Ferryside and Llansteffan and across the Taf estuary had little affect on subsequent settlement. Despite competition from rail, commercial traffic between Carmarthen and Ireland and the West Country continued until the end of the 19th century. The quay at Kidwelly, however, had begun to silt during the 18th century, just as the exploitation of coal seams was beginning within its hinterland, and in 1766 Thomas Kymer began a canal between his Gwendraeth Valley collieries and a new quay downstream of the old (Ludlow 1999, 24).

Kymer’s Canal ushered in a new age of overland and maritime communications. Two more canals connecting the coalfield to new Kidwelly wharves were cut, and in 1819 construction began on an entirely new harbour in the sand-dunes of Pembrey. The harbour had silted up by 1830 and a new one was established at Burry Port and was more-or-less complete by 1836, as a result of which Burry Port developed as an entirely new town. The harbour reached a peak of activity in the second half of the 19th century but began to decline after the First World War and largely ceased operations after the Second World War, most of the harbour fittings being removed during the early 1980s (Ludlow 1999, 3).

The harbour was served by a number of canals, the most important of which - the Kidwelly and Llanelly Canal - was converted into a railway line from 1866, 14 years after the GWR had constructed their main south Wales line through Kidwelly and Carmarthen across the marshes of Pembrey Burrows and the Tywi estuary (Ludlow 1999, 28-30). The former is disused but the latter is still the main Great Western line.

The nature of rail transport and the advanced engineering of the 19th century had made it possible to break free of the higher ground to exploit not only the coastal marshes but also the Tywi Valley floor. The line from Carmarthen to Llandovery was opened by the Llanelly Railway and Dock Company in 1858 (Gabb, 1977, 76) and, in 1871, was acquired by the London and North Western Railway; it is still operational as the ‘Heart of Wales’ line. The railways influenced the settlement pattern with the development of new villages around stations at, for example, Nantgaredig and Ferryside, and their embankments, even when disused, form prominent features within the landscape.

Project contact: Ken Murphy




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