Anyone travelling down Marine Street, Llanelli, cannot fail to notice an unusual building. Standing alone is an island at the junction with Glanmor Road. This building is probably all that remains of the Llanelli Copperworks, a works that dominated the industrial world of Llanelli for over two centuries (c1805-2008). Sometimes known as Scale Cottage, Weighbridge House or Scale House, the building was the home of William Owen and his wife for over forty years.
William was born on 29th July, 1839 in Long Row, Llanelli. At the age of twenty we find him employed by the copperworks as a Machine Weigher, living in Caedubach. His work as a Machine Weigher meant that he operated a weighbridge that calculated the weight of the coal, fuel or minerals needed for the works on the incoming wagons and the copper products being despatched to the company’s customers.
The increasing industrial activity of the copperworks in the mid nineteenth century along with the expansion of the railway network to its coal mines, docks etc., necessitated the construction of a railway weighbridge enabling the rolling stock to be weighed whilst on the railway line at all times of the day. Built of dressed stone, including an attached house, Scale House incorporated an office where William Owen would have spent most of his working day weighing the trucks and recording the laden weight and the tare weight of each truck on the weighbridge. A contemporary writer from Seaside recollected the activities at Scale House in the 1930s...
Scale House, or as it is known locally “Ty’r Ddafol.” Built about sixty years ago, here reigned for many years Mr and Mrs William Owen, the parents of Mrs Powell Rees and Mrs Hopkins, Great Western Terrace, Mr John Owen (Llanelly Harbour Trust), Mr Llewellyn Owen, Mr Wm. Henry Owen, and Mr Martin Owen. Mr William Owen was engaged as weigher for Messrs. Nevill, and every day, and late in the evenings, too, he was kept very busy weighing some hundreds, or even thousands of tons of material per week. We youngsters used to get a “peep in” during shunting operations at the Scale House, and the smart way in which Mr. Owen dealt with the weighing of the loaded wagons showed us Lanymor boys that he knew his business from A to Z. He passed by each wagon with clockwork precision. And this stone-built house appears as if it were only erected yesterday. Mr Owen, before he came to Scale House, resided at Upper Inkerman Street, but he was as dear to us boys as any bred and born Seasider. [a]
In 1912 William Owen and his wife Mary Ann, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and on that occasion he related his life in Llanelli as recorded in the Llanelli Star giving us an insight into the town in the middle of the nineteenth century...
Nothing is more interesting to me than to recall the occurrences of my youth. It is really wonderful to think of the vast changes that have taken place in Llanelly. How well I remember when the centre of the town was one of the most beautiful of parks - Chambers’ Park. Before the Parish Church was the market place, where each succeeding Thursday all was bustle and excitement. No not all either, for beside the Church gate were the stocks where many an unhappy wight was placed to repent of his sins. There he had to face the playful and malignant gibes of his fellow men, and even we, children, joined in the joke and unwittingly added to his torment.
Often did I hear the bugle blast which gave notice of the approach of the mail or stage coach which travelled from Swansea to Carmarthen via the town. Another coach there was too, that which did the journey back and forth to Merthyr, then the centre of Welsh trade and commerce, once a week. On one occasion I made the journey to visit some relations in the busiest of towns as Merthyr then was, and, dear me, how much I thought and talked of the long journey – two whole days on the road!
Those were my schooldays which I partly spent at a National School on the Wern known as ‘Yr Ysgol Rhydd’ because Church of England children got their education free where as we Nonconformists had to pay one penny per week for our schooling. At Prospect Place school too I received some of my tuition. One interesting fact in connection with this school was that the Master’s wife used on Thursday to make some home made sweets and every effort we scholars would make to get our half pence for speculation on that day. One thing I noticed is that we as children used to be more afraid of our superiors than the children now. We daren’t go helterskeltering along the streets then as boys and girls do now. No although there was only one constable in the town then, yet it was the most peaceable of places . We were mortally afraid of the ‘p’l’ies and the mere sight of Vicar Morris or Rev Dafydd Rees, Capel Als , would send us scurrying to any nook or corner.
The toll gates I remember, at least three of them, and then the opening of the Great Western Railway to the town I recollect quite vividly. In connection with this, some humorous incidents occurred. On one occasion an old lady was induced to make the journey to Loughor, the nearest station, and was at the station waiting the return train. The sight of the fiery monster ‘spitting fire and smoke ’ however imbued her with such fear and awe that she fled incontinently from the platform, and would on no account make the return journey by train. [b]
William was a trusted and valued servant of Messrs. Nevill, Druce and Co, having been in their employ for upwards of sixty years. He was a pioneer at Bethel Chapel for many years, and one of the oldest deacons. In 1917 he had a family of seven children, five sons and two daughters. [c] He was the also the Secretary of Dewrion Prydain (The Heroes of Britain), a local branch of the Ivorites, a friendly society that met in The Cardigan Arms, once a public house across the road in Marine Street . [d] William died on Thursday 3rd September 1917, and was interred in the Box Cemetery, Llanelli.
In 1979 the land associated with Scale House was purchased from Bachelor Robinson Metals and Chemicals Ltd by the Llanelli Borough Council who were carrying out landscaping and roadworks in the area when calls were made by local councillors for its demolition. However, Mr Ron Mowbray the Borough Architect commented...
In my opinion this is an old house with some character, it's the old house associated with the weighbridge. With sensitive conversion it could be an added feature to the area.
He was supported by Councillor Edgar Thomas and hence the building was saved from the wrecking ball. It still stands today, forming a triangle with the much older edifices of Bethel and Siloah Chapels, an industrial landmark from Llanelli’s great industrial past. [e]
Notes and Citations
Scale House 1974 Courtesy of Llanelli Library ILL1352
[a] Llanelly Mercury 11th January 1934
[b] Llanelly Star 28th September 1912
[c] Llanelly Mercury 6th Sept 1917
[d] Birth of a Town by William and Benita Rees (2002)
[e] Llanelli Star 29th September 1979