Llanelli in 1820 – A Milestone in the Town's History
It was certainly a 'Red Letter Day' for the town of Llanelli when the Tide Table Book of 1820 was published. The book was not only a prediction of the times of the tides and their heights for that entire year, but it also stated the times that the ford at Loughor was open. The booklet advertised the benefits to be gained by sailing into its harbours and docks. It was promoting the place with all its conveniences as an expanding industrial town with good transport communications to the outside world.

This paragraph, transcribed from the original book held in the town's library, sums up Llanelli in the early quarter of the 19th Century.

Llanelly is situated in the county of Carmarthen, is a borough town, having a Portreeve and an unlimited number of Burgesses, to whom valuable estates belong; the produce of which is directed by an Act of Parliament to be applied in improving the town and port. It has two markets weekly; that on Thursdays is plentifully supplied with corn, all sorts of butcher's meat, poultry, butter, &c.; and on Saturday principally butchers meat. It is about 14 miles east of Carmarthen, four miles west of Spitty and Loughor, and 6 miles from Pondardulais, through where the London mail-coach passes morning and evening. The post arrives daily with letters, &c. about eight o'clock in the morning, and leaves the same day at half an hour after three o'clock in the afternoon.
The Port of Llanelly has long been known as a place of trade, particularly for the excellent quality of its binding coal. The trade of late years has greatly increased, and furnishes continual intercourse with London, Bristol, Liverpool, Cornwall Devonshire, Ireland, France, &c; and from the immense quantities of binding coal, stone coal, culm, and fire clay, in the neighbourhood, and the manufactories of copper iron, lead, having been erected, and having also the accommodation of wet and dry docks, graving places, and three shipping docks; there is every appearance of its still rapidly increasing, as it appears from there having been vessels entered and cleared out at the Custom-house, from Christmas, 1818, to Christmas, 1819; and trade no doubt will greatly increase when various improvements now in progress are completed.
But there was one long-standing problem; the main method of communicating at this time was by letter post. Letters were carried by the London Mail Coach which as the above paragraph states, travelled via Pontardulais. This was because Llanelli was not on the main highway. Before the building and opening of Loughor Bridge in 1833, the only dependable and consistent way to travel from Carmarthen to Swansea was via Pontardulais. Although a ferry and a fording had existed at Loughor for centuries, it appears that these were not reliable enough for the operation of a mail coach. One traveller, writing just before the bridging of the Loughor, stated that it was only possible to ford the river for 4 hours in any tide [1]

It was a problem that was highlighted early in the 19 Century by W.M. Mansell, the then resident of Iscoed, Llanelli. Writing to The Cambrian newspaper in Jan 1808, the person complains that...
There can be one just reason why the mail coach should not run through Llanelly, a place of increasing trade, very much inconveniencing that trade by the delay of twenty four hours in the transmission and arrival of their mail – letters, together with an unnecessary extra expense incurred by the occasion of a bye-post. Having failed by frequent private complaints, I now publicly give notice to the above parishes, that it is my determination to attempt to remove that only just reason, by presenting at the next Michaelmas Quarter Sessions, (in scandalous condition) the road between Llanelly and Pont-ar-Dulais, and the road from Straddy Hill to the bottom of Penbrey Mountain, unless put into thorough repair prior to the period I have herein mentioned: Further, if the Bridge of the much-neglected town of Llanelly (by its inhabitants), also a small bridge between the Falcon-inn and Turnpike Gate,[2] have not immediately proper safeguards put to them, I shall present them at the next Easter Quarter-Sessions.
In this wish of bringing the Mail through Llanelly and Kidwelly, I beg to be understood if opposed by measurement, which was before determined in favour of the Llanon Road, that the chain, then employed on the occasion being made of thwarty iron, as very much shrinking on a wet day between Pont-ar-Dulais and Llanelly, will be deemed as serviceable and unfit for a similar trial. [3]
The choice of this route through Pontardulais to Swansea as opposed to the much shorter route via Loughor, can be attributed to the insistence of Sir Thomas Stepney of Llanelly House, who invested in the Turnpike Trust that managed this road in the previous Century. [4] By 1811 the town of Llanelli had established its first Post Office which was located at the rear of Llanelly House. Letters were sent from an office here by the postmistress Jane Griffiths and carried by post horse or pony through Halfway and along Gelli Road in Llanelli to the Red Lion Inn at Pontardulais Bridge, where the mail was sorted and awaited the Swansea – Carmarthen Mail Coach. [5]

Finally, one relic marking this ancient highway and postal route can be seen today on the old Gelli Road which leads out of Llanelli to Llangennech and then on to Pontardulais. Standing stubbornly outside the aptly named 'Milestone House', weather beaten and worn by time, is an old milestone marking this old highway and informing the ancient traveller in letters that are almost obscured...


These stone milestones were replaced by the mid 19th Century triangular cast iron type that can be seen here and there on the side of some main roads.


Notes & Citations
We acknowledge the Staff at the Llanelli Reference Library for their assistance and for their permission to use photographs from the Local Collection.
[1] Lewis Topographical Dictionary of Wales, Volume 2, 1833 under 'Loughor'
[2] Note: This is probably The Falcon Bridge which spanned the River Lliedi on the east side of the Llanelli Parish Church. This was on the route to the Island Place Toll Gate, the site of which was marked by the recently demolished Island House.
[3] The Cambrian, Swansea 9th January1808.
[4] The Carmarthenshire Antiquary Volume XXIV 'Forgotten roads of Carmathenshire', Michael C.S. Evans page 69 (1988).
[5] The Carmarthenshire Antiquary Volume XII 'The Postal History of Llanelli' by Brian Cripps page 56 (1976).