John Edwards was born c1835 in the small Carmarthenshire town of St Clears. He was the son of Thomas Edwards, a ‘Carrier’, living in Picton Ferry, a suburb to the north of that town that stood on the coach road from Carmarthen. [a] A contemporary directory described St Clears in 1830...

The town is situated at the confluence of the Guinning with the Taf, which discharge their united waters into the bay of Carmarthen, at the small town of Laugh-erne, a few miles to the south, and consists of one straggling street, nearly a mile in length, neither lighted nor paved, but well supplied with water, and containing many good dwelling-houses : several respectable shops are at present in progress of erection ; the old houses are undergoing renovation, and other improvements are being made. The surrounding district is highly productive of corn and butter, which are here shipped for Bristol, Cardiff, Bridgewater, Southampton, and other ports; this trade at present affording constant employment to two vessels of fifty-five tons' burden each: there are also eight small craft, each of about twenty-five tons' burden, engaged in the coal, culm, and limestone trades between this place and Milford Haven and there is a limited export trade in cheese and bark. During the year 1830, four thousand five hundred quarters of grain, and about one hundred tons of butter, were shipped from this small port, which is a creek within the limits of the port of Llanelly…[b]

Young John Edwards would have frequently witnessed the arrival of the Carmarthen to Haverfordwest Mail Coaches that called at the The Blue Boar Inn of St Clears, delivering the mail, changing horses, and perhaps taking time for a little ‘refreshment’? The hostelry was a well established posting house and commercial inn with stables receiving the Mail Coaches that had left The Ivy-Bush Inn, at Carmarthen earlier in the day. This, along with his father’s occupation as a ‘Carrier’, may have influenced John in enrolling as a Guard on the Mail Coach which ran on the Carmarthen-Haverfordwest route? [c]

A stagecoach Guard was a responsible job for a young lad at the age of 17, for as well as protecting the Royal Mail that was being carried on board he would have had to ensure the coach kept to a strict time table as laid down by the Post Office. This was achieved by means of a time-piece locked and regulated in London to keep pace with differences in local time. It is probable that he would have been armed with a brace of pistols and a blunderbuss. Nothing should stop or hinder the Royal Mail! This included other travellers and the toll-gate keepers. To warn them of the coach’s impending approach he would have carried and used a cornet or a bugle. [d] For many years the heraldic symbol of a cornet, or post horn appeared on the cap badge of a Royal Mail postman.

Being a Guard on a Mail Coach was also an arduous task as described by a contemporary author in 1848...

A Mail Coach Guard is an important personage in the state – appointed to a very responsible office through the interest of some powerful and influential gentleman. A Mail Coach Guard of ten years’ standing has had a vast amount of public and private property entrusted to his care from time to time, for which he was held responsible; his life has been endangered and was in jeopardy continually from upsetting and other accidents attending his avocation; he has been out weathering the raging fury of the storm at all times and at all seasons; he has been on the wing in nights pitchy dark; in the pouring torrents; in the pelting hailstones; in the howling wind; in the roaring tempests; in the overwhelming drifting snow; in the midst of the jarring thundering elements; the guard has been seen frequently above half frozen, with hanging icicles half a yard long, ringing the alarm of death in his ears... [e]

John was employed in this work for nearly four years until the advent of the new transport revolution which made huge changes to the country and the delivery of mail - the railways! Many mail coach operators resented this newfangled system because it ‘rang the death knell’ for their businesses. Some endeavoured to compete by advertising. Llanelli's Francis McKiernin, landlord of the Ty Melyn Inn and operator of the mail coach between Llanelli and Swansea, claimed that he was charging the same fare as the South Wales Railway, including the fact that travellers by railway would have the added cost of the hire of a carriage to and from both towns to their respective railway stations. Perhaps this competition put a strain on McKiernin, who’s death was reported shortly afterwards on 19th August 1853? [f]

In the January of 1854 the South Wales railway had opened up as far as Haverford West, linking it with Carmarthen. It would be safe to assume that John Edwards, Mail Coach Guard would have been made redundant. About this time the town of Llanelli was experiencing industrial growth and no doubt this news would have reached the town of St Clears and the ears of the redundant guard. At the age of 21 years, John found work in the fast-expanding town of Llanelli, where one of the biggest employers was Nevill, Druce & Co. It was here John found work, initially as a ‘copper smelter’ and later as a ‘lead smelter’ in the Llanelly Lead Works. He remained in that employment for over thirty years, living initially at Pottery Place and later at Ty Mawr in Tunnel Road. His ability to play the bugle or cornet as a Mail Coach guard may have been the reason that he joined the company’s brass band. He was also a worshipper at the nearby chapel of Capel Als where he taught for many years as a Sunday school teacher. [g]

About the year of 1861 the Llanelly Copperworks completed the erection of its Stac Fawr or Great Stack, a giant chimney reaching to the dizzy height of 320 feet, the second tallest of its kind in Great Britain. This was needed to allow the smoke and fumes of the copper works to clear Bigyn Hill. [h] A request was made for a bugler or cornet player from the lead works band to play at its top. This was probably part of the customary ‘topping out ceremony’ usually performed by masons on the completion of a large edifice when laying the last coping stone. John Edwards was selected and agreed to complete the task and in his own words he described his precarious ascent...

I must say though I was very nervous climbing up the scaffold inside the stack. They had to carry the cornet up for me as I had enough to do to keep myself from falling. I did reach the top, however and I have never forgotten the glorious sight which I got from there. On the cornet I played three or four tunes, among them ‘Cheer boys, cheer’ commemorating the victory at Waterloo.

This he did to the delight of the people congregated at the foot of the stack. [I]

By 1901 John Edwards had retired from the lead works and was working as a coal merchant. In the sunset of his life he moved to Moelgrove, which was his daughter Mary’s house on College Hill. Reminiscing on his early life he stated...

I claim that I am the only coach bugler at present living in South Wales. When I came here the town consisted only of Market Street, Water Street, Thomas Street and Hall Street; that was about al . Wonderful changes have taken place since.

Despite working in the lead manufacturing industry for so many years, John Edwards passed away on Wednesday 28th June 1916 at the ripe old age of 81. His obituary appeared in The Llanelly Mercury of Thursday 29th June 1916.

Mr. John Edwards, College Hill.
We regret to announce the death of Mr. John Edwards , coal merchant , College Hill, which took place on Wednesday afternoon. The deceased was on of the oldest deacons at Capel Als, and was a highly respected citizen of the town . Many years ago Mr Edwards was the conductor of the old Copperworks Band , and claimed the distinction of having played the cornet at the top of the “Stack Fawr” on its completion. He was also the only remaining person who acted as bugler on the mail coach between Carmarthen and Haverfordwest : We are asked to state that the funeral will take place on Sunday at 3.30. (for men only).

John was interred in the Llanelli & District Cemetery, “The Box” where his family grave can be seen today.

Notes and Citations

[a] Census returns for St Clears 1841.
[b] A Topographical Dictionary of Wales. 1834  Samuel Lewis Vol 1 St Clears.
[c] The Welshman. August 30th  August 1844 Advert.
[d] Carrying British Mails. By Jean Farrugia and Tony Gammons.
[e] The Welshman.  The Great Post office Reformer 16 June 1848.
[f] The Welshman. Coach Verses Railway  31December 1852.
[g] The Welshman. Family Notices 19 Aug 1853.
[h] Llanelly Star 14th January 1928. Page 1
The Welshman 7th September 1860 Page 5 c3 “Llanelly Copper Works”
The Environmental Impact of Industrialisation in South Wales in the Nineteenth Century: 'Copper Smoke' and the Llanelli Copper Company. Newell and Watts 1996.
[I] Llanelly Star 10 August 1912, and 23 March 1935.

Family images provided by Gary Davies and Karen McMaster

Royal Mail Coach (York London), with a pole, main bar and pair of lead-swingle-trees, plus a pair of swingle-trees; and two front located, small, side-mounted candle lights; and two large, side-mounted candle lights, two cushions, a leather strap and boot lock key, by Waude and Co., London, England, 1815-1830. This image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence