The Metropolitan ~ 1912 to 2012
This fine example of early twentieth century classical architecture stands on the site of an old Roman fortlet, commemorated in the name Pen-y-Castell or Castle Hill. In approximately 66 AD as many as one hundred soldiers drawn from every corner of the Roman Empire were posted here to guard the Lliedi crossing, or stopped to break the journey from Leucarum (Loughor) to Castra Moridunum (Carmarthen).
Past excavations show the playing-card shape typical of a Roman encampment of the period *, and five Roman coins have been found in the area.
Banking in Llanelly
The building was named the Metropolitan for the bankers who built, owned and occupied it under different names from 1912 to 2005. Their history in Llanelli began with the opening of the Swansea Bank on 30th March,1874 on a site now occupied by the Job Centre. In 1888 the Swansea Bank changed its name to the South Wales Union Bank, and in 1889 moved to larger premises in what is now the highly decorated redstone Halifax building** on the corner of Stepney and Cowell Streets.
In response to a local depression caused by the United States' imposition of heavy import duties on Welsh exports, the South Wales Union Bank sought a partner, the Metropolitan Bank, with whom they amalgamated in 1892 under the name of the Metropolitan Bank (of England and Wales). But business improved under the management of Mr. William Griffiths and by 1912 they were seeking larger premises.
A local architect, William Griffiths*** of Falcon Chambers, designed and oversaw the construction of the four storey building on Castle Hill at the corner of John Street and Salamanca Street (later Station Road) commissioned by the directors of the Metropolitan Bank. It opened for business on 25th July, 1912 to general and enthusiastic approval. The Llanelli Mercury said:
The outside has been admired by everybody, but the inside, which is all panelled in mahogany, is still more beautifulAt the beginning of the twentieth century the Metropolitan Bank had more than one hundred branches across the nation and £6 million in deposits, but this was an era of amalgamations and in 1914 the bank joined with the Midland Bank.
In 1992 HSBC (the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank) acquired full ownership of the Midland Bank which however retained its name until 1999, then becoming the HSBC Bank plc.
The Grade II listed building was put up for sale when HSBC moved to more modern premises in the town, and was bought by Mr. Paul Brookfield. The building's transformation into a great pub, bar and restaurant, popularly known as "The Met.", entailed careful alteration and specialist architectural advice. During the work more of the history was exposed – ornate ceilings which had been covered for forty years by ugly suspended ceiling, and the remains of a staircase. Although millions of pounds had been kept in the building in its long history, only one fifty pence coin was found, and is currently displayed on the wall! Paul said:
The building has survived two world wars and several recessions, and has had only two uses in 100 years, even though they could not be more different, I see myself as the caretaker of this building, and am honoured to look after this part of Llanelli's history, and with the support of other Llanelli people (my customers) I can continue to invest in the upkeep of the property.
* A display case at Parc Howard shows a scale model of the Roman fort.
** According to HSBC Archives this building "was either adapted or completely re-built under the orders of an architect names J. Beckley Wilson".
According to local sources ("Llanelli and District Heritage", compiled by Richard Thomas, 2000.) "The bank situated at the junction of Cowell and Stepney Streets was designed and built by the architect James Buckley Wilson in 1891."
*** Both the bank manager and the architect did have the same name.
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