Bryntirion and the Union Workhouse
Before the advent of the Workhouse in Llanelli, the poor and destitute were given sanctuary and refuge in alms houses. These were situated at The 'Wern', a district of Llanelli that lies below the slopes of Bigyn Hill. Life in these cottages was described in the closing years of the Victorian era, as being 'infinitely more humane than that of the Union Workhouse by which they were succeeded'. The present day 'Cwrt Elusendy', off Wern Road stands in their place.
The establishment of a Workhouse in Llanelli appears to have begun with a meeting of the Board of Guardians in 1836, when it was decided to erect a Workhouse for the reception of the town's poor and destitute at a cost of £2,500. By 1839 the building was complete and under the control of the Master and Matron, John and Elizabeth Rees. As with all Workhouses at the time, the regime was harsh. Some of the duties of the new Master and Matron included:
Admitting paupers and having them examined by a medical officer; to cleanse, clothe, and place them in proper wards; to enforce industry, order and punctuality; to provide for and enforce the employment of able-bodied adult paupers and to keep partially-disabled occupied to the extent of their ability.
The Workhouse had been operating for only four years, when it played an important part in The Rebecca Riots. The Llanelly Poor Law Institution officially ceased to exist on July 5th 1948 following the birth of the National Health Service, and the establishment of Bryntirion Hospital. By then most of the 'inmates', now termed 'patients', were elderly people. Mr. T.J. King, who had been master since 1938, became the hospital secretary, whilst his wife Mrs Olga King of the infirmary, became the matron of the hospital. Bryntirion closed its doors in September 2004 when its patients were transferred to new facilities at Prince Phillip Hospital. The closure brought to an end 165 years of service to the Llanelli district, first as a Workhouse to provide Poor Law relief for the destitute, then for most of the past one hundred years as a hospital. The administration block and rotunda are now saved for posterity by the efforts of members of Llanelli Community Heritage, Carmarthenshire County Council and Charles Church (Wales).
The Rebecca Riots
The riots were predominantly aimed at the destruction of tollgates erected by the 'Trusts' that charged excessive tolls for the use of their roads. The mainly peaceable town of Llanelli did not escape this turmoil for, in the summer of 1843, the Sandy, Furnace and Tirfran gates were either destroyed or damaged by Rebecca. The house of the town's harbour master was also attacked. As a result of these disturbances, the government sent Metropolitan Police and troops to the district to keep order. These troops consisted of detachments from the 75th and the 76th Regiments of Foot, backed up by a flying squadron of cavalry in the form of the 4th Light Dragoons. Accommodating and billeting these soldiers was a problem for the town so it was decided to billet them at the Workhouse in Llanelly, which became their base during operations to apprehend the Rebecca Rioters.
Following the attack on the Pontardulais tollgate in September 1843, some of the Rebeccas were captured by the 76th Regiment of Foot and taken to the Llanelly Workhouse to be interrogated by the magistrates, Nevill, Rees and Chambers. The prisoners, still attired in women's clothes were described as William Hugh, a lad of 15 years and son of a respectable farmer of Talyclun; Thomas Williams, a servant to a farmer at Llangennech; Henry Rogers, a farm servant of Penllwyngwyn and Lewis Davies, a respectable farmer of Ysgubor Uchaf near Pontardulais. All were examined and remanded. Later that month, the Metropolitan Police captured the famous Rebecca leader David Davies, alias Dai'r Cantwr. He was placed in the custody of the military at the Workhouse until his removal to Carmarthen Jail. The captured Rebeccas would almost certainly have been held initially in the Workhouse's single holding cell. This cell was in the main administration block and was used for many years as the hospitals stationery cupboard.