Llandovery has played a key role in Welsh history and has been a meeting point for visitors for thousands of years. Initially for the Romans who camped on Llanfair Hill on the edge of today's town, right through to being a welcoming spot for the hardy drovers on their way to market in London.
The town has been home to a host of heroic and iconic historical characters including the executed Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan (a statue of whom stands gleaming next to the hill-top ruins of Llandovery Castle), Welsh hymn writer William Williams of Pantycelyn and the famous “Old Vicar” Reverend Rees Prichard. The town was also home to the Tonn Press, a prestigious Welsh literary printing office, and to the Black Ox Bank, a famous early Welsh bank. The wider area is linked to the legendary Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai and to famous outlaw Twm Siôn Cati.
The “church enclosure amid the waters”
The name of the town comes from the Welsh “Llan ymlith y dyfroedd”, meaning "church enclosure amid the waters". This refers to the town’s location on the head of land between the river Towy and the smaller Afon Brân just upstream of their confluence. A third watercourse, the Bawddwr, runs through and under the town giving name to Water Street just off the main square. (Text credit: Wikipedia).
The ‘Black Ox Bank’ (‘Banc yr Eidion Ddu’) - The Drovers Bank at Llandovery
The private bank of David Jones & Co. was founded in Llandovery in 1799 in what is now the Kings Head pub. The area was renowned for its black cattle and, indeed, it was these animals that brought about the formation of the bank. Llandovery was a central meeting point for the Carmarthenshire drovers – the men who herded the animals, on foot, along the long and dusty roads from Wales, into England and on to London, where the cattle were eventually sold. The drovers also acted as financiers for the farmers, paying their creditors with the proceeds of the sales in London.
The job of the drover was a difficult and hazardous one, as their well-worn routes attracted highwaymen. With risks such as these, they carried as little cash as possible. As a result, droving banks were established along the way, including that of David Jones & Co.
The bank was locally known as the ‘Black Ox Bank’ (‘Banc yr Eidon’ ) because of the banknotes having been embellished with an engraving on the left-hand side of a Welsh black ox. The ox became such a strong symbol of trust and integrity that, even into the 19th century, Bank of England notes were treated with great suspicion in much of West Wales.
Cheque issued by David Jones & Co.'s Llandovery branch, c.1900
The Tonn Press
The Tonn Press was renowned for Welsh literary scholarship and was largely the work of William Rees (1808–1873), a prominent figure in the town. Llandovery was one of the important printing centres in Wales and Tonn Press publications are today sought by book collectors far and wide and are notable for their design, quality printing and the variety of their titles. (Text credit: Aled Betts)
The Tonn Press equipment is now kept at St Fagans National Museum of History near Cardiff but the original site in Llandovery, now a cafe and shop, is still called The Old Printing Office.
Photo by Bettsy1970, Flickr.
Dyfed Family History Society
Cymdeithas Hanes Teuluol Dyfed
The DYFED FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY
exists to serve anyone interested in genealogy, heraldry, family history or local history in the three Welsh counties of Cardiganshire (Ceredigion), Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin) and Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro).