Our story begins at the turn of the century. Pontlliw was no more than a mere scattering of dwellings, one chapel, two public houses and one general store cum post office. A village of very few inhabitants and even fewer amenities, none of the necessities one takes for granted today, no gas, electricity, or running water, the latter having to be carried from the nearest well or stream, no made-up roads except of loose stone or cobbles, no public transport, not even its own school, the village children having to trek the two miles to Penllergaer for their education.
At this time Pontlliw could best be described as a mining village, as the major employer was the 'Graig Merthyr' colliery, or 'Cory' as it was known to the locals, after its owners, the Cory brothers. But Pontlliw did boast an industry of its own, that of the Lliw Forge, from where metal castings and machine parts were exported to all parts of the world, and which in its heyday employed some sixty men. The Lliw Forge was renowned for its workmanship, and an article and illustration published in the 'Daily Mail' on December 5th 1908 clearly shows that it was a respected member of the South Wales iron, steel and tinplate industry. There was also the Lliw Mill, originally a woolen mill but now a very busy flour mill.
The social life of the community revolved around the one Chapel, Carmel, and the two public houses, the Buck and the Castle, both primarily coaching inns serving the passing trade between Swansea and Carmarthen, although the Glamorgan Arms also fell within the boundaries of the village. As there was no public transport anyone wishing to travel outside the village would have to do so by their own means or make their way to the station at Grovesend and thence by rail to Swansea or Pontardulais.
Undoubtedly the high spot in every villager's social calendar was the Pontlliw Show, held annually in a field adjoining the Glamorgan Arms. A report in 'The South Wales Daily Post' on Tuesday, September 3rd 1901 reads, "The 11th Annual Pontlliw Agricultural Show was just as successful as previous shows", it goes on to say, "The Gorseinon Brass Band was in attendance at the show and discoursed sweet selections throughout the day. After the show in the evening a splendid dinner was partaken of at the Glamorgan Arms". Without doubt a day to remember.
No village would be complete without its 'big house' and Pontlliw was no exception. 'Friedrichsruh' as it was then known, was a new addition to the village, built around 1890 to the design and specification of an Austrian gentleman, F.W.Dahne, it was indeed an impressive dwelling with all the accoutrements of modern living including hot and cold running water supplied from a tank built into a tower overlooking the main courtyard which in turn was piped from a private reservoir near the top of Penllergaer hill.
This was the village of Pontlliw at the beginning of this century, but its roots go back much further, at least to 1740 when it can be proved that the Lliw Forge was in existence. Developed by a descendant of the Huguenots, the forge was situated to make use of the water discharged from the Mill wheel, so it must follow that the Lliw Mill was in operation even before this date. It was no accident that the Lliw Mill was situated next to one of the highest points of the village, but part of an ingenious plan. The man-made watercourse which feeds the mill was diverted from the River Lliw at a point known as Penfach and its level was maintained by a wier and sluice gate. The contour of the 'Mill Race' was kept as level as possible, not following the natural fall of the River Lliw, to the extent that at the point where it feeds the mill wheel its level is some 15 feet above that of the river.
Even after providing all the power needed to turn the mill wheel and its associated machinery the work of this little stream was not over, for just a hundred yards or so along was another set of sluice gates, these diverted the course yet again to feed the three ponds which stored the water to power the heavy jack-hammers and lathes of the Lliw Forge, which was itself built below the level of the ponds therefore reaping the maximum possible benefit from the power of the water. In today's energy conscious age this would be a credit indeed to its designers, but one must remember that this was all at least 250 years ago. The Lliw forge stood for the most advanced development of the iron industry of the old period, and showed how far this had developed before the coming of the newer inventions. It is very saddening to think that this major part of our local and indeed national heritage has been allowed to deteriorate beyond any hope of repair. Both the Mill and the Forge, with their long history, are deserving of several chapters in their own right but alas not at this time.
Pontlliw in the early 1900's was just as it had been for many years, but things were soon to change and it is with this change that our story really begins.
Over the next decade or so the village was to undergo a dramatic transformation. In 1908 work commenced following the announcement by The Great Western Railway Company of its plans to construct a railway line through the village, thereby literally cutting the village in two, this latter task it achieved admirably because even to this day there are two distinct halves to the village, separated not only physically by the railway line itself, but in other ways also. Each side of this man made boundary being on different telephone exchanges, to the north on the Pontardulais exchange and to the south on the Gorseinon exchange, and until very recently the railway line also marked the boundary of the different parishes which served the village, Landeilo Talybont and Llangyfelach, and also the different electoral wards.
With the construction of the railway the population of the village began to grow and on completion some of the workers settled in the village and their descendants remain to this day. It is probably true to say that without the advent of the railway this document would not have been written, yours truly being a descendent of one such family, the family of Henry Alison, a native of Oxfordshire and an engine driver, who had the honour of driving the first locomotive on the new line.
In this short time, as well as the railway, a new chapel was built, Peniel, in 1909, and a mission hall was erected to serve the religious needs of the contruction workers on the railway, most of whom were English and therefore could not participate in the Welsh Chapel services, this is now St. Anne's Church, and although changed in denomination to 'Church in Wales', outwardly its appearance is much the same as when it was built. The Grove Colliery shaft was sunk, signs of which can still be seen, a hundred yards or so off the Swansea road. An extension was also built onto the Castle Inn, at least someone was pleased to see the newcomers!
The school at Penllergaer could no longer cope with the growing population of children from the expanding village of Pontlliw, therefore the authorities decided that it was high time that the village had its own centre of learning. At long last Pontlliw was to have its own school! All this change in such a short space of time must have been very bewildering for the inhabitants of this hitherto peaceful country village.
The first Pontlliw School, 'Pontlliw Mixed and Infants', was of corrugated steel sheet construction, lined with timber, and stood on the grassy patch behind the present school building. Although new to Pontlliw it had already served some time as a school at Gorseinon from where it was dismantled and brought to the village. It was an impressive building for its time, large windows providing ample light as there was no electricity in those days, and with four spacious classrooms, each with its own huge cast iron stove for heating.
Officially opened on Wednesday September 3rd 1913 by Alderman Rees Harries, it did not accept its first pupils until the following Monday, September 8th. It is a measure of the need for a school in the village that 133 children were registered on the first day, and at the end of the first week this figure had risen to 147. Although opened on the Monday, the school was still lacking in some of the most fundamental items and it was not until the following day that work could really begin, when a cupboard and three blackboards and easels were borrowed from Penllergaer school. The school catered for the educational needs of all ages from four to fifteen and the Headmaster on opening day who incidentally was still headmaster 40 years later in the nineteen fifties was a Mr Lewis John Clee, a man who we'll be hearing a lot more of later.
Plans were well under way for a more permanent school building when these had to be shelved rather hurriedly due to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, although it must be noted that a large section of the school grounds were turned over to growing vegetables as part of the war effort, some of the older pupils even being coerced into helping with the digging.
Following the end of the war in 1918 things once again started to settle down, the Lliw Forge had by now closed down but the Mill was still as busy as ever, an advertisement which appeared in 'The Spot', a local newspaper published in Pontardulais, pointed out that 'H.A. Noakes, at their Steam Bakery, baked Brown Bread made from wheat ground on stones at Pontlliw'. As well as grinding corn the energy from the water wheel was by this time also providing electricity for the mill itself and the adjoining owner's house, many years before there was an electricity supply to the village.
Up to this time the only entertainment available to the villagers was the occasional concert held at Carmel Chapel, but now, as well as the railway, Pontlliw had another link with the outside world, a bus service, operated by the Lewis Omnibus Service, offering a bus to Pontardulais or Swansea every two hours. This service was indispensable for those who wished to venture further afield, for shopping at Swansea market or an evening out at the 'Haggar's Picturedrome' in Pontardulais.
Pontlliw was quite definitely no longer the quiet isolated village of a few years before, it now had the most basic of amenities, a school, a railway station and a bus service, but within its growing community were a small band of men, a band of men who wanted something more for the village, a band of men who had the vision of providing the village with its very own social centre and who undeniably laid the foundation stones for the long hard struggle that was to follow.