Five years after the skirmish at Llanelli the town was visited by a scourge more feared and more dreaded than the Civil War..... The plague. Scant information exists about the town during this period, but with a few clues and using knowledge about town life in other parts of the country we can paint a picture of Llanelli during this pestilence. As well as being a place of worship the Parish Church was the centre of town life, around its ancient walls stood the market place where farmers and traders brought their produce to be sold.
The market in its time extended up Thomas Street to Cae Ffair, which as the name suggests was the site of a cattle and horse fair. ‘Plague’ was not a new word to the people of Llanelli for it was already at Carmarthen in 1652, ‘the town and market had been forsaken of all commerce, and the inhabitants loathsome to their friends’, wrote John Hughes of the town. These words would equally apply to Llanelli, when a year later in 1653 the plague arrived, ‘sweeping away a great number of the population in a short time’.
Once the plague visited a member of the household, the whole house, including its inhabitants would be sealed up in the building for forty days quarantine. Outside a sentry called a ‘watchman’ stood guard ensuring no one entered or left. The door of the house was marked with a cross alongside the familiar and forbidding words ‘Lord have mercy upon us’. At night the bodies of the victims would be collected by the dead cart to be taken to a mass burial ground outside the town.
Trebeddod is said to be one possible site, as its name translated into English means ‘burial place’. A nearby field was once known as Cae’r Fynwent .
Today Trebeddod is the picturesque reservoir at Furnace .The people were exhorted ‘to avoid the occasion of all sins, especially swearing, Sabbath breaking, lying, drunkenness, lasciviousness, malice, envy, uncharitableness which is rife in children as in men’.
News of the plague quickly spread, so that very few farmers brought their goods to market, any that did, died. The whole town was in quarantine, watchmen were posted to guard the town’s entrances, preventing people entering or leaving. The entrance from Felinfoel was at Capel Newydd at a nearby field once appropriately called 'Cae Watch’. One method that the townspeople used to overcome their hardship was that the farmers would leave their goods near ‘Cae Watch’ and withdraw - the townspeople would then collect their goods and place their payment in stone bowls of water .The farmers would then collect their ‘dues’ from the bowls of water and so avoid contact with the disease. An old plan of Llanelli shows Capel Newydd to be built upon a field called ‘Cae'r Halen’, historians believe that this name was given to the field because salt water was used in these bowls.
To date we don’t know what effect the Civil War and the plague had upon on the town, but if we look at the churchwarden's presentments of 1684, they clearly indicate that the parish church had fallen into disrepair and ruin...... ‘The roof of the great steeple is out of repair, timber, stone and all other work being wanting and must be wholly taken down. The one side of the great porch is defective and must be stripped down. All the windows of the church are out of repair and must be made new with shooters bolts and hinges. The church door, hinges and locks are out of order. The bells are missing’........... And so the list continues, a clear indication the town had suffered a major catastrophe.
By Lyn John
Sketch by John Wynne Hopkins