Whilst searching through the archives of the reference department of Llanelli Public Library for information on our town's history during the Civil War, I came across various references to legends concerning Oliver Cromwell and his visits to our district.
There is a lengthy list of claims stating that he visited Park Farm (Llangennech), Court Farm and Draenog Farm (Pembrey), Dan y Graig Cottage (Achddu), Marchogllwyn Farm and the Star Inn (Pontyberem) and Trimsaran. There is even a claim that he crossed the river Loughor at Penclawdd en route from Oystermouth to Kidwelly.
In my research of the town's history I have often found that most legends have an element of truth, and so I made enquires about Cromwell's movements to Dr Peter Gaunt of the Cromwell Society.
According to Dr Gaunt, Oliver Cromwell passed along the South Wales coastal plain on two occasions. Firstly, in the summer of 1648 he campaigned in South Wales to help quell the royalist rebellion and then went on to the siege of Pembroke. Secondly, in the summer of 1649, he moved through South Wales to Milford Haven in order to embark with his troops for Ireland.
On the journey to Pembroke in May 1648 Cromwell reached the town of Swansea on the 19th of May and may have halted there briefly, finally arriving before the town of Pembroke on the 24th of May. He would certainly have travelled through the area between Swansea and Carmarthen at this time and may have visited or halted at various points en route, spending part of the time travelling between Swansea and Tenby during the 28th July and 2nd August.
His journey to Milford Haven, in the summer of 1649 is perhaps, the most likely occasion upon which Cromwell might have visited / slept at various villages between Swansea and Carmarthen because we know that Cromwell was in Bristol on 21st July and by 28th July he was at Tenby, suggesting speed and urgency. But because the expedition to Ireland was not ready to sail, Cromwell then spent over a fortnight in the area
In concluding, Dr Gaunt stated that although,
He was not aware of any clear, contemporary evidence to confirm or provide dates for Cromwell's reputed visits to Pontyberem, Llangennech, Pembrey, or Burry Port, he did pass through the area several times and may therefore have visited these places.
To add weight to the legend about Cromwell’s visit to Pontyberem there are a number of photographs, taken early in the 20th Century, showing The ‘Star Inn’ and the hawthorn tree to which Cromwell is reputed to have tethered his horse. Even in those days its importance was recognised as the tree can be seen protected by a stone plinth. In common with many sites of antiquity and heritage in the Llanelli district, the tree has long gone. It was removed for ''road improvements''.
In his book The Mumbles - Past and Present (N.L. Thomas) notes,
It is said that Oliver Cromwell marched part of his army from Oystermouth across the isthmus, in a line to Penclawdd, where he forded the river, on his way to Kidwelly Castle.
This would have put him opposite an ancient fording at Machynys. Legend has it that it was on this journey to demolish Kidwelly Castle that he stopped at Dan y Graig cottage, Achddu and asked the way to Kidwelly, and at Draenog Farm to have ascertained the time of day from a grandfather clock there.
On his journey to Pembroke he is said to have stopped at Trimsaran and there caused cannonballs to be made. Even more interesting, a claim that he slept over night at Court Farm, the building being old enough, as it was considered old in 1687. Court Farm is yet another example of a site of heritage and antiquity in the Llanelli area that has been neglected.
But perhaps a more substantial link connecting Oliver Cromwell with the town of Llanelli is the early Baptist minister John Miles. Miles is listed as being a Lecturer at Llanelly previous to July 31st 1656. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, personally granted him forty pounds as minister of Ilston in lieu of Llanelly on the 25th of September 1657. At this time the early Baptists of Llanelli met at Lower Mill, which used to stand at the bottom of Prospect Place.
To date, no concrete evidence has been uncovered confirming the visit of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell to our district, but further research at Glamorganshire or Carmarthenshire Records offices may well uncover more evidence.
Photographs reproduced with permission of Llanelli Library.