Rural Carmarthenshire had always been an idylic, rustic paradise where time moves slowly, dictated by the seasons. Where autumn follows summer and spring, bringing new life to the fields, follows the dark months of winter. In the heart of Carmarthenshire, nestling in the Towy Valley, sits the small town of Llangadog. First appearances are of a sleepy hamlet, a place where motorists drive slowly around a labrador, sleeping in the road outside the Red Lion – where locals, with time to spare, stop to gossip in the post office and the butcher next door knows every customer by name. Casual visitors might be forgiven for thinking that not much of interest ever happens in such a quiet backwater as Llangadog and the surrounding villages. Nothing could be further from the truth.
William Powell of Glanaraeth Mansion was a particularly unsavoury character. As a youth, he was brought to trial for the murder of a servant girl who he was accused of pushing out of an upstairs window. The members of the jury acquitted him of the crime, allegedly, because he bribed them. A male servant later disappeared. Powell was suspected of killing him, dismembering the body and disposing of it but there was no proof.
After Powell married, he discovered that his wife was friendly with William Williams, a draper from Llandovery. The two men became bitter enemies. Despite being married, Powell entertained local women in a house he built in Llangadog, much to the annoyance of their husbands and brothers. In January 1768, several of the disgruntled men went, with William Williams, to Glanaraeth Mansion and murdered Powell. All the men, except Williams, were quickly apprehended because they had left a trail of footprints in the snow. Two were hanged for the crime while the others turned king’s evidence to escape the gallows. Williams escaped to France and died later in a boating accident.
Llangadog Fair was always a lively event. During the 1811 fair, Lewis Griffiths, a local lawyer, was set upon by three men from Llanddeusant. He died from his wounds. The three attackers were charged with manslaughter and two were convicted. The third, John Rees escaped and remained at large for 10 years until he was caught and stood trial for Griffith’s killing.
In 1816, 26 year old lay preacher, Rees Thomas Rees of Gelli Bant was courting Elizabeth Jones from a farm in the village of Gwynfe. The couple were in love but Elizabeth’s family objected to the match and refused to countenance a wedding. Unfortunately, as a result of their liaisons, Elizabeth became pregnant. Not wanting Elizabeth to have a child out of wedlock, Rees travelled to Brecon and purchased a bottle of medicine, which he was told would abort the baby and solve the problem. Elizabeth drank the contents and complained of a great pain. She died a short time later. The bottle had contained arsenic. Rees fled to Liverpool intending to escape to America but the distraught lover changed his mind and surrendered to the authorities, explaining that it had all been a terrible mistake. The authorities took a different view. Rees was tried for murder, convicted and hung on the gallows at Babel Hill in Carmarthen. There was considerable sympathy for the young man’s predicament and a crowd of 10,000 turned up to watch his public execution. After Rees was cut down, his body was sent for dissection. Elizabeth Jones and her unborn child were buried beside the old church in Gwynfe.
A stage coach, stopping at the Red Lion Llangadog in 1832, was being unloaded when the horses bolted. Three passengers were still in the coach. Two men managed to jump clear, leaving a frail old lady behind. The driverless coach careered along the main road at a full gallop until it was stopped in Llandeilo, nearly seven miles away, where the old lady emerged shaken but otherwise unhurt.
In 1832, the grave digger in Llandingat churchyard accidentally broke into an old coffin and discovered bones, later identified as having belonged to a lawyer named Morgan. Strange silver globules were revealed as bones were removed. Morgan’s death certificate identified the cause of his demise to be apoplexy but tests of the silver globules revealed he had been poisoned with mercury. The killer was never identified.
During the 19th Century Llangadog was a thriving meeting place for drovers starting their long walk to England. There were fourteen taverns in the town and fights were common. In March 1845, a brawl started in the Rose and Crown between Evan Evans and William Grey. The argument was over who should pay for the 16 quarts of ale they had consumed. During the fracas, Grey was bitten on the lip. The wound became infected and, after he died of tetanus, Evans was charged with murder. Evans was found guilt but, hearing of his previous good character, the judge sentenced him to just 14 days hard labour.
During World War II a Lancaster bomber was flying over Mynydd Ddu when the pilot lost control and the aircraft hurtled towards the mountain. Four crewmen baled out before the pilot regained control and managed to land at Swansea. Three of the jumping crewmen survived but the fourth, Sergeant Trevor Jones, was lost. His body was found weeks later. The unfortunate airman had crawled three miles over the mountain with a broken leg before expiring.
In 1879 Watkin Hezekiah Williams, whose bardic name was Watcyn Wyn, arrived in Llangadog to teach at the seminary on Back Way. His arrival was welcomed by the people. The seminary, which had no living accommodation, lodged its pupils in the town and the extra income from their rent was greatly appreciated by all. The good will was, however, short lived. Within a year, Watcyn Wyn had fallen out with the residents of Llangadog and moved the seminary to Ammanford, taking all the pupils with him. Incensed at losing the rent from their lodgers, the residents made a life sized effigy of Wyn and burned it in Queen’s Square.
Rhys Prichard the vicar of Llandingat was a habitual drunkard. One afternoon the inebriated cleric plied a goat with ale for some amusement. He did the same the following day but this time the goat refused the alcohol. The startled vicar, realising that the goat was more intelligent than himself, promptly signed the pledge and, according to legend, never drank again.
According to the Carmarthen Journal, an aircraft called the ‘Lady Peace’ landed unexpectedly in a field near Llangadog in 1936. The plane, travelling from New York to London, was lost and the pilot landed, thinking he was in Scotland. His passenger was Harry Reichman, an entertainer famous for the hit song ‘Putting on the Ritz.’ The two aviators stayed overnight in the Cawdor Arms, Llandeilo and the following morning a large crowd gathered to watch them take off. Before they departed, the intrepid pair signed autographs and, as the plane taxied before lifting into the air, the people sang hymns finishing with the Welsh National Anthem as the plane disappeared. What the audience did not know was that Reichman had been worried that the plane might come down in the sea and sink. To allay his concerns, the aircrafts wings had been filled with table tennis balls.
When a fire started in the kitchen of Glanrhyd Meilock, a Gwynfe farmhouse, the rooms quickly filled with smoke. Upstairs, Mr and Mrs Williams and their two children reacted by feeling their way down the narrow staircase to make their escape. Mrs Williams’ mother, a blind 80 year old invalid, was asleep in a downstairs room, beyond the kitchen. Opening the kitchen door, Mrs Williams was faced with an inferno. The fire had spread across much of the kitchen. She crawled across the floor and, despite being badly burned, managed to drag her mother from the house. Both women survived but Mrs Williams remained in hospital for some time with serious burns to her back. The farmhouse was completely destroyed by the fire. Learning that the family was homeless, villagers started a fund and money was collected to build a new home for them. Thanks to the generosity of surrounding communities, the new house was completed the following year. Elizabeth Eunice Williams’ bravery was recognised with a British Empire Medal and an account of her heroism was reported in the London Gazette on the 21st July 1953.
In 1971, the October 3rd edition of the Sunday Express reported a gangland killing in Gwynfe. Malcolm Heaysman, 46, had recently bought Godrewaun Cottage in the village. He was restoring the property when two strangers arrived looking for the cottage. They approached Godrewaun on foot across the fields and beat Heaysman to death. According to the paper, police were looking for Frederick Sewell and one other suspect whom they believed to be the killers. In August, Sewell had shot a police superintendent dead during a botched jewellery heist in Blackpool. Heaysman had moved from Islington and the murderers were said to be old London associates of the dead man, settling a grudge. Sewell was captured and convicted in 1972 of the policeman’s murder. The judge recommended he serve a minimum term of 30 years. Sewell has since been released and the retired gangster now lives near Gravesend, Kent.
When the Minister of Agriculture, Michael Jopling visited Llangadog’s dairy in 1984, 2000 angry farmers arrived with tractors to protest against a cut in milk quotas. Farm machinery blocked all the surrounding roads for four hours. Police officers were unable to stop slurry tankers releasing hundreds of gallons of milk into the road. Mr Jopling eventually escaped from the confrontation. The dairy closed in 2005 with the loss of 200 jobs. The closure was a bolt from the blue and a serious setback for the farming community. Many farmers gave up dairy farming and sold herds that had taken generations to develop.
In 1987, following a weekend of continuous rain, the railway bridge at Glanrhydsaeson, near Llangadog, collapsed as the early morning train crossed. The driver and three passengers drowned in the River Towy as a result of the accident.
Caroline Evans, who was 27 and six months pregnant, was a barmaid in the Red Lion in Llangadog in 2004. William Davies, a local farmer, was a regular drinker at the inn and became infatuated with Caroline. He was 59 and mentally unstable. According to witnesses, he would sit in the bar starring at her for hours. When Caroline refused his advances, Davies produced a shotgun in the public bar and told her she would not live to see her 28th birthday adding, ‘I’ll blow your brains out. We’ll go together.’
Charges of threatening to kill were dropped and Davies was convicted of a more minor offence by Ammanford Magistrates. Later Davies returned to the Red Lion and carried out the threat with a stolen shotgun, shooting Caroline Evans first then he turned the gun on himself. A barmaid found both bodies when she came to work.
Before the killing, psychiatrists’ reports stated that Davies need not be detained and, although he was suffering from depression, he was no danger to anyone else.
To the casual observer, Llangadog may appear to be quiet and sleepy but, beneath the rustic calm, life is never dull. Sadly, since writing, the old labrador sleeping in the road outside the Red Lion has passed away and, in case you are wondering, no, it wasn’t run over.