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The History of Waunarlwydd:
The Lord’s Meadow

Written by Daniel Gibbins

These pages were originally published on a local website maintained by the author in the late 1990s. They were printed, laminated and placed within St Barnabas’ Millennium Time Capsule in 2000 by The Reverend Andrew Merredith, as a record of the village’s history. These pages have been reproduced onto the St Barnabas church website in 2007and are available once again for visitors to access.

The village of Waunarlwydd is situated five miles from Swansea City centre, Wales’ second city, but continues to maintain a high level of independence from the main hub of city life. Translated into English, Waunarlwydd means ‘The Lord’s Meadow’. While the natural landscape of Waunarlwydd can indeed be considered as ‘heaven’s garden’, the ‘Lord’ in the village’s name refers to the ‘Land Lords’ who occupied this area of South Wales for over five centuries.

 A 500ft hill, stretching over two miles, blocks the village from the city, acting as a natural barrier against modern development. Waunarlwydd can be regarded as the first truly rural village past Swansea, taking the route towards the expansive Loughor Estuary and outwards onto the Gower peninsula.

Waunarlwydd boasts an impressive Nature Reserve and a hidden countryside which has so far been untouched by tourism. The Waunarlwydd Craig, meaning "moor land", pronounced "Graig", is a quiet, secluded and unknown area of the village. Situated at the rear of the village, the hill of Craig yr Bwldon is an ever present spot on the horizon. In a clear day, one could climb the highest of the hill and look out over the Swansea Bay and towards the Mumbles Pier and Lighthouse.

The Beginning

For millions of years, this small and untouched corner of the world was left to share the passage of time with the rest of the world, its future forever entwined with the changing of the seasons. This small pastoral paradise was once a tropical wilderness, sharing the natural development of God’s creation with the rest of the world. Land rose, sea levels fell, and for over several million years the ice-ages came and went with the relative frequency of summer moving into autumn. The mountains of Wales are amongst the oldest in the world, forged forward from the earth in a time that history has almost forgotten – this great heritage of being must never be diminished, never be forgotten and never be taken for granted.

The immovable witness to man’s development from the early Celt, who called this land home for several thousand years, to the current inhabitants of this semi-rural village are the hills, rivers, meadows and pastures that have evolved from seed of God’s creation. If the hills could talk they would tell stories of the nomadic Celtic tribes who hunted these lands for generations, millennia ago. They would speak of the great herds of wild animals that used this land to graze. They would sing the song of the native Welsh who made this fertile landscape their home. It would call witness to Viking invaders, Saxon insurgents and Norman overlords. It was from the period of Norman governorship that Waunarlwydd found its name.

The Lords of Swansea and Gower

In 1585 the name of the ‘village’, which at this time had only a small cluster of small holdings and tenant farmers, was Gweine Arlloid – translated into Middle English as The Lordes Meade (The Lord’s Meadow). The name of the village therefore contains two elements: Gwaun – meaning Mooreland or Heath, and Arlwydd, used in Glamorgan for Arglwydd, meaning Lord (Peer of the Realm). The Lord, or Arlgwydd, of this area of South Wales was the Lord of Swansea and Gower who held court at Swansea and Oystermouth Castles.

It was Henry de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Warwick, who claimed these lands of Gower and Swansea after taking it from the indigenous Welsh populace in a round of fierce battles in 1099. It was in 1106 that Henry was conferred as the first ‘Lord of Swansea and Gower’, and in so doing became the Arlgwydd of Norman occupied Waunarlwydd, the land of the marcher Lord of Gower (Gwaun Yr Arglwydd). Over several centuries, several noble families have held this lordship: the de Breoses, Mowbreys, Herberts, Somersets, Earls of Worcester and Dukes of Beaufort. The current Earl of Glamorgan, and therefore titular ‘Lord of Swansea of Gower’, is Robert Somerset (born 1989), grandson of the current and 11th Duke of Beaufort, the Lord David Robert Somerset (born 1928).

The Lords Stepney

The last notable ‘Arglwydd’ (or Lord’s of the Meadow) of Waunarlwydd, before its development boom at the beginning of the 20th century, was the Stepney family from Llanelli. Having married into the Vaughan’s of Golden Grove in 1690, descendants of Welsh Princes and kinsman of the Tudor family of Pembroke (the descendants of Henry Tudor, King Henry VII of England), the Stepney’s gained a great deal of land and status that had previously been held by the Vaughan family for several generations.

When King Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, the Stepney family had held considerable lands in the parish of Stepney, or Stepneth, on the banks of the River Thames near London. The Stepney ‘estate’ included the parishes of Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Shadwell, Poplar and Limehouse.

Loyalty to the monarch was often tested, which proved to be ruinous for several notable ‘Tudor’ families during the reign of Henry VIII. This destructive need to please the monarch led to the loss of the Stepney family lands in London. Ralph Stepney (born 1555) gave up his lands so that King Henry VIII could build a naval dock. Luckily for Ralph, the King’s gratitude was to reward him with considerable property in Hertfordshire.   

Between 1558 and 1900, the Lord’s Stepney occupied positions in government, representing numerous parts of England and South Wales as the land under their control grew over the years. They moved to Wales at the start of 1558, which was to see the family’s wealth and status expand beyond the dreams of Ralph Stepney.  The titular head of the Stepney family became High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen, giving them almost absolute control over the rule of law in South West Wales. 

The last of the Stepney ‘land owners’ of Waunarlwydd was Lady Catherine Meriel Stepney (1846-1952), who inherited her father’s estate when he died in 1909. Lady Stepney, affectionately known by the locals as ‘Lady Bountiful’, was a great supporter of social, religious and political affairs throughout Llanelli and the surrounding area. She was heavily involved with the general welfare of the communities, so much so that she gave land to St Barnabas parochial church council for the building of a parsonage in 1920.

 Waunarlwydd’s Coal Mining Heritage

Before 1750 all the men of the village worked on the land or had occupations closely connected with the land, including farmers, farm labourers, blacksmiths, millers and weavers. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution more and more collieries were opened to meet the increasing demand for coal to work the steam power in works and factories. Waunarlwydd soon grew to meet this new demand, with new coal mines springing up across the area. Those mines are no longer open today, of course. The last mine to be closed in the village was over sixty years ago. Where there was once coal slag heaps as high as a mountain, there lay lush green fields and grazing cattle. The scars of heavy industry, however, have not left its mark on this beautiful countryside. The Craig was home to a few mines, but the scars of which are no longer visible, yet there are ruins remaining from the old chimneys and coal shacks.

Tucked away amongst the thick clustered trees and bramble of the Craig stand the ruins of industrialisation, a jumble of bricks and mortar are all that remain of a Waunarlwydd’s coal mining age. Hidden within the dense forestation, inches from the beaten track, a crumbling chimney stack stands like an alien in this beautiful natural landscape.  Pits and gouges in the landscape, covered in fern and foliage, are all that remain of the bell pits that were once scared from the hillside to snatch away the precious coal.

Coal mining started around the rim of the south Wales coalfield where the seams came close to the surface and the coal could be dug straight from the ground. Known as ‘outcropping’ or ‘patching’, this method had the advantage of cheapness – underground mining needed greater amounts of money to be spent before the coal could be reached. Evidence of ‘patching’ is still visible in the Craig at Waunarlwydd.

Later, ‘drift’ mines were driven into the hillsides to reach the coal, or less usually, ‘bell pits’ or shallow shafts were sunk. These were usually short lived and small scale, using simple technology. It was for drift and bell pit mining that Waunarlwydd was perfectly suited.

Where coal was found, so too were reminders of the natural heritage of this area of Europe. Coal is, after all, compressed remains of plants that grew in this area about 300 million years ago. At that time Wales was close to the equator and the climate was hot and humid. Thick forests grew on swampy plains and river banks. On the forest floor, dead and rotting plans formed thick layers of dust. It was upon this dust that Waunarlwydd’s mining history is seeded – a land that leaves little in the way of physical reminders of Wales’ industrial past. Coal mining was harsh, conditions were hazardous and pay for those who risked their lives to farm the land of its precious mineral was meagre indeed. “The Devil made the coal, made it black like himself and hid it in the deepest recesses of the earth so that he might drive man mad in the finding of it” – Nineteenth-century coal miner.

Waunarlwydd at War

Waunarlwydd suffered her own losses during the Second World War, suffering many bombing attacks, with the newly developed munitions plant (later to become the Alcoa works) in the village being the target. Cunningly, the rooftops of the munitions plant were camouflaged, and miraculously, not one bomb hit the works. Yet, many of those bombs did hit targets, often killing innocent villagers along with it. The attacks continued and calls for counter-measures were raised –  Swansea and Waunarlwydd especially turned to creating  its own "Home Guard" regiment, consisting of all those men who could not fight in the war - whether it be because they were too old, too young, or occupied jobs in key industries and services, such as coal mining, health, farming etc.

Waunarlwydd's claim to fame is not one of movie stars and sports personalities, although the Waunarlwydd Rugby Team stormed the divisions over the years coming on top as the best team in Wales, but that is another matter. In the years before the National Health Service in Britain, pre-1950, there was no way for the working family to pay for their medical fees. To combat this, one Evan Jones set about collecting not only money for the Doctor each week, but for war pensions and sickness allowances. Soon, he had created what this country enjoys today in the way of guaranteed health, sickness payment and war-widow-pensions. Unknowingly, he set the ball rolling for the idea of the National Health Service long before it was conceived by the government. So, in Wales, it fell to the community to pull together and create their own health services. 

Waunarlwydd Nature Reserve - A place of tranquillity.

The Waunarlwydd Nature Reserve is but one part of Waunarlwydd Craig, encapsulating the woodland and fields in the middle of the Bwldon Valley, which lies between ‘Waun Mount’ and Login Hill. In the centre of these two hills one may experience tranquillity, serenity and beauty beyond expression. The two hills create a natural sound barrier, blocking out any sounds from the village and sometimes harsh winds. One can quite easily spend several uninterrupted hours of peace and quiet, sitting in the fields, at the side of the streams, and listening to the beauty of the valley. If you ever walk down between the valley, be sure to have a pocket full of sugar cubes and carrots - the horses will spot you out and come running to you very quickly for food and a bit of fussing.

The beauty does not stop at the nature reserve. Indeed, it continues around to other villages, but none have such accessibility, richness and vastness as the Waunarlwydd Craig. The best time to walk through the Nature Reserve is at the start of summer when the blue bells are out and the scent of summer is definitely in the air with the mass of wild flowers which adorn the paths and banks. You are never away from the sound of trickling water as there are three streams running through the nature reserve and adds to the tranquil setting the surroundings create.

Just one of the hidden paths winding its way through the hectares of fertile land and wooded parkland.

Waunarlwydd has seen many changes over the past few hundred years, but it still maintains the old traditions, the open friendliness the Welsh are renowned for. I hope you have found something of interest and have enjoyed this tour of Waunarlwydd’s past.

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