• Graham Watkins

Death by Drowning - The Battle of Llangyndeyrn

Battle of Llangyndeyrn
Cofiwch Dryweryn

As the world’s population grows, water is becoming an increasingly valuable resource. Conurbations like Birmingham and Liverpool solve the problem by building huge dams and piping the water miles across country to quench the thirsts of their inhabitants. Welsh towns face the same issue; how to satisfy an ever increasing demand for water. Since the Second World War Swansea has grown at a tremendous rate. Industries that use large quantities of water added to the demand and by the 1960s West Glamorgan was facing the prospect of an acute water shortage.

On March 16th 1960 the Western Mail carried an article with the headline ‘A Welsh Valley Faces Death by Drowning.’ The plan being discussed by the South Wales Water Board had, according to the paper, two options. The first was to build a dam across the River Cothi at Brechfa to create a reservoir flooding the villages of Nantyffin, Abergorlech and Llansawell. The second proposal was to flood thousands of acres of the Gwendraeth Valley obliterating the communities of Llantharog, Porthyrhyd and Llangyndeyrn. Objections were raised for both schemes and the decision as to which scheme would go ahead was deferred for a month to allow further representations to be made.

Battle of Llangyndeyrn
Llangyndeyrn villages march in Carmarthem

No one in Llangyndeyrn wanted to have their land flooded by a new reservoir or be forced to move from homes owned by the same families for several generations. The villagers held a meeting and decided to fight. A defence committee was formed on March 26th and began a campaign to defend their valley from destruction. They wrote to Carmarthen Rural District Council asking for help, to the South Wales Water Board asking them to reconsider and to the local authorities in West Glamorgan asking them to look elsewhere for the water they needed. Why destroy valuable farming land, argued the defence committee, when there were viable alternatives which could not be farmed so productively. Other communities threatened by the planned reservoirs reacted in a similar way. When the South Wales Water Board reconvened, it reviewed all the submissions and came up with an alternative proposal. The reservoir would still be in the Gwendraeth Valley but would be sited three miles further west, saving Porthyrhyd from being submerged. Satisfied that this was the best solution, the plans were approved. The news was a bombshell for the small community at Llangyndeyrn. The revised plan placed the new dam in their village and the proposed reservoir would submerge a thousand acres of prime agricultural land as well as eight houses. Arwyn Richards’ farm would lose nearly all its land and his house would be less than 400 yards (360m) from the dam wall. The fight to save the village continued. On the 1st January 1963, Lady Megan Lloyd George, MP for Carmarthen, visited the village and offered her support. A petition was sent to the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. A picture of Huw Williams of Panteg farm and his father, appeared in the press. The photograph showed them in the farmyard studying a map and the editorial outlined the villager’s case. Other articles began to appear in the newspapers.

On the 9th April Mr Jones from the South Wales Water Board, arrived in Llangyndeyrn to discuss the situation and arrange for site surveys to be made for the new dam. The villagers called him ‘Little Jones the Water’ because of his diminutive size and gave the unfortunate man a hard time. When he asked for permission for surveyors to examine the farmland, the answer was an unambiguous no. The little man was told that anyone on private land would be trespassing and dealt with accordingly. Mr. Jones returned to his office to seek further instruction.

Battle of Llangyndeyrn
Battle of Llangyndeyrn

The South Wales Water Board engineers arrived to carry out a survey. After some unpleasant words they withdrew. The water board was becoming increasingly frustrated and threatened to enter the farms using force if necessary. On the 5th May, the defence committee issued a press release decrying the bullying tactics being used by the authorities. By now the David and Goliath story of how the villagers of Llangyndeyrn were standing up to autocrats who were trying to seize their homes had become a cause celebre. Letters of support and donations to help the campaign began to arrive. On May 24th there was a protest march. Hundreds came to support the village. School children carried banners saying ‘Hands off Llangyndeyrn’. Housewives pushed prams and old men hobbled along with walking sticks. The stand off continued until the 17th September 1963 when Swansea Borough Council issued a Notice of Intended Entry. The fight to save Llangyndeyrn was about to turn nasty. The Llangyndeyrn defence committee had been warned and organized themselves for the arrival of the bailiffs. Reverent Rees arranged a lookout on the church tower to warn of approaching stranger by ringing the church bell. Having prepared, the village waited.

On the morning of the 21st October 1963 an official wearing a trilby hat and a sports jacket arrived. The alarm had been given and everyone was ready. The official met William Thomas, Chairman of the defence committee in the road and served him with a warrant. The farmer refused it. Lorry loads of men arrived from Swansea and a crowd began to gather. Cars lined the roads as word went around that the council men had come. Executives in smart suits and shinny shoes watched and workmen approached the villagers waiting in the gateway. They tried to push their way thought but the gate had been locked with heavy chains and barricaded with farm machinery. A scuffle began and was becoming very unpleasant when policemen, who had accompanied the officials, intervened. They pleaded with the farmer to unlock the gate. He refused. Neither side was prepared to back down.

Battle of Llangyndeyrn

On the road, lines of trucks loaded with equipment waited to drive through the gate. Realising it was futile trying to get past the locked gate officials moved on to other farms but were met with the same resolve. Locked gates, barricades and angry farmers barred the way. Eventually, after consulting with senior police officers who warned that someone might get seriously hurt, the bailiffs and trucks loaded with contractors withdrew. The villagers had won the day.

The 21st October was the final throw for the councils of West Glamorgan. They had been arguing with Llangyndeyrn’s defence committee for over two years and being thwarted by a few farmers was embarrassing, particularly when the defenders had such an effective publicity machine. The plans to build a reservoir in the Gwendraeth Valley were abandoned. Swansea and Port Talbot’s water would have to come from somewhere else. The Battle of Llangyndeyrn was over and the village was secure.