The John’s Patent of 1908

At one time the town of Llanelli possessed a substantial industrial base where almost anything could be manufactured, anything from clock parts to huge iron and steel castings. Stretching from Loughor in the east to Burry Port in the west, the coastline was a long belt of factories, foundries, mills and kilns. The town was the workshop of West Wales as anyone picking up the book The Industrial History of Llanelli and Burry Port 1750-2000 will immediately discover from the wealth of information contained in it.

Llanelli was also a town of innovation, a place where ideas, suggestions, patents and inventions came to fruition. Some, like the Davies Brothers’ Stepney Spare Wheel patented in 1904, are well known, while others like Charles Le Caan’s Improved Drag for Wheels (1810) and Alexander Raby’s New wheel for rail or tram-roads (1811), are completely forgotten.

One practical invention born in the town may still linger in the memories of the older generation of Llanelli-ites, especially with those associated with the building trade.[1] John’s Patent ‘Wedge’ Pipe Support (1909), had its birth in a blacksmith shop in William Street, Llanelli.

James the Mews Llanelli 2020 ~ Long RowWilliam Street viewed from S.W. demolished 1960sWilliam Street viewed from S.W. demolished 1960sWilliam Street viewed from N.E. demolished 1960s

The John family were a generation of blacksmiths who appear to have had their roots in Lampeter. James John (b 1800) moved to Llanelli prior to 1830. It is recorded that he leased a plot of ground called Caefewch from William Chambers Jnr., of Llanelly House in 1842 [2]. By 1851, James was living at a house in Caefewch, which later became part of William Street.[3]. In 1857 he applied to the Llanelly Board of Health for permission to build a house near the Island House tavern[4]. Ten years later in 1861, James’ son, Richard John (b1834) is recorded to have been living next to the Island House in Island Street*. He had also learned the trade of his father and was listed as a Journeyman Blacksmith in 1861.

Richard John had two sons: Thomas John (b 1861) and Richard Arthur John (b1871). Both followed their father and grandfather into the ‘smithy’. A trade directory of 1906 advertises their business as Richard John & Sons, Blacksmiths of 44 William Street [5].

As well as general shoeing, the town’s smithies undertook the manufacture of edge tools, nails, domestic, mining and agricultural iron work, while some were employed in conjunction with local coach builders and wheelwrights. Both Island Street and William Street were ideally placed for a blacksmith shop, being sited at the eastern end of the main thoroughfare of Llanelli.

By 1901 Richard Arthur John had married and moved to 118 (later132) Swansea Road where he was living with his wife Ann and son Leslie Reece John (b1896) and Arthur Gwynne John (1906).

On the 29 April 1909 The Llanelly & County Guardian published the following headline and article …

Local Patent

Messers. R. A. and T. John, general smiths, William-street, have just had their patent pipe support protected. The patent is designed on a ring-and-wedge principal, and is intended for securing rain water and other pipes to walls, etc. It can be prepared in various patterns. For wood structures Messrs. John have devised a spike so arranged that it may be screwed into position. For some time past the need for an improvement in the method of fixing pipes clear of walls has been sorely felt, and Messers. John confidently assert that they have now solved the difficulty. The advantages claimed for this invention are, amongst others:- (a) Simplicity and expedition in fixing pipes; (b) The ring or band being practically self-tightening, no tools are required beyond a hammer; (c) Broken pipes can easily be removed and replaced without damage to walls and plastering; (d) Pipes can be secured free from walls, thus preventing dampness of the latter and rusting of the pipes. Architects and builders have already tested the invention, and are unanimously of the opinion that Messers. John have succeeded in producing an article which will offer a boon upon the building trade. Messers. John will be pleased to furnish any further details of their invention.

The main recital of the patent reads…

No 17544
Of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India: To all to whom these presents shall come greetings:
WHEREAS Richard Arthur John Blacksmith 118 Swansea Road Llanelly Carmarthenshire & Thomas John Blacksmith 44 William Street Llanelly Carmarthenshire have declared that they are in possession of an invention for the improvements in pipe-supports etc., etc. ___________
The patent was dated 21st August 1908

Pipe SupportsLike all good inventions it was effective and simple. Simple to make and simple to use. It consisted of an ‘L’ shaped iron spike and ring. The spike was hammered into the wall of the building and the ring was dropped over the downpipe that was to be installed and hooked on to the ‘L’ spike. This fixing method could be seen in use in Llanelli well into the early 1970s. It was a method that declined in use with the introduction of aluminium and PVC rainwater goods and the demise of cast-iron pipes. Even at the time of writing, 2020, the remains of the ‘John’s Patent’ can be seen here and there on older properties in the town.

The business carried on through the First World War during which time the founder of the smithy, Richard John senior, passed away at 44 William Street. He was buried in the Parish of Llanelly by E. Thomas, Curate on 6th October 1914 aged 77.

Bernice Walters, related a family story told to her by her father, Leslie Reece John, about a horse called Nell...

During the 1914-18 War, thousands of horses were requisitioned by the government. Prior to this, in Llanelli was a business known as James The Mews. Horses and Coaches were hired from them, by the general public. My grandfather Richard Arthur John was a Master Farrier, and at that time the Blacksmiths shop was in William Street, Llanelli, and the horses from the mews would be brought to the farriers to be shod. In addition to my grandfather there were two additional farriers, one was named Evan Jones, and the other Albert Frost. All three were familiar with these horses, and no doubt would have missed them when they were commissioned for Active Service. Sometime after the war ended, a young gypsy boy brought a horse in to be shod. Evan Jones thought he recognised the horse, and alerted my grandfather, to whom he said, I am sure this is old Nell from the Mews. The horse seemingly recognised her former name, and to the delight of the men, she neighed and was nodding her head. It must have given them much joy to see one of their old customers returning to a place she was familiar with.

Jackett's Yard, Zion Row. c1976

The blacksmith business was continued by Richard Arthur John along with Albert Frost and Evan Jones adjacent to Jackett’s Yard, which was located at the top of Zion Row. Jackett & Son were a firm of coach builders and wheelwrights. Having a blacksmith shop nearby would have been a useful adjunct to the coach builders as both trades were complementary to each other especially in the field of repairing and the fitting of iron tyres on waggon wheels.

Arthur John Invoice HeadingJackett and Son InvoiceJohns Patent Wedge Pipe SupportThe ending of the First World War signalled the demise of horse drawn vehicles and the growth of motorised transport. There was now less work for blacksmiths and this may have been the reason why Leslie Reece John, the last remaining descendant of the family of blacksmiths, decided to take up the more modern trade of electrician in the Tregonning Steel & Tinplate Works.

Although motorised vehicles replaced horse-drawn vehicles some wagons and carts continued to be used into the 20th century, particularly by the Romany gipsy community. These could occasionally be seen scattered around the town and district of Llanelli. Bernice remembered one as a child, in particular that of Mrs Lovering...

In the 1940s my mother would take me to visit a lady who lived in a Romany Caravan. This was situated in an area which I believe was named St. George, and not too distant from the Llanelli Girls Grammar School **. The proposed visits were greeted with much excitement, as it was such a novelty for a child to enter a person's home having to climb up the steps to gain entry. I am unaware of the connection between my mother and this lady, I think her name was Mrs Lovering, she may have been middle aged, but a child's perception was that she was very ancient! I had often seen these Caravans in the process of being built in Jackett’s Yard, which was adjacent to the Blacksmiths Shop, which my grandfather owned. Prior to the visit to Mrs Lovering, my mother would make Welsh Cakes, which presumably she was unable to make in a caravan, and were most likely a very acceptable gift. These pleasant memories continue, almost eighty years later…

Bernice Walters (née John) SRN, SCM, is a retired nurse whom we have to thank for all the information about her family and some of the images published in this article.

Hover mouse over image to zoom.

Notes and Citations
William Street images - Richard Thomas
* Later, Island Place.
** St George was an area near the 19th century coal mine of that name located near the present day New Dock Stars Rugby Club field.
The smithy was later occupied by the Llanelly and District Farmers' Direct Milk Supply Co., Ltd, William St.

[1] Patent Office No 3311 Charles Le Caan 26 April 1810
The Cambrian 20 July 1811 Improved Wheel, Alexander Raby.
[2] SE1524 Stepney Estate Records
[3] SE245 Stepney Estate Records
[4] The Welshman 27 March 1857
[5] Kelly’s Directory 1906 p 494

Jackett's Yard, Zion Row. Courtesy Viv Gammon