About the Area
Quarter Bach is one of the seventy-two community councils in Carmarthenshire. It is a rural community located on the western boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is about 3 miles north of the Swansea Valley and at the foot of the Black Mountain. Quarter Bach includes the villages of Upper Brynamman, which is the main settlement, Rhosaman, Cefnbrynbrain and Ystradowen. It has a combined population of 2,857, of whom 68.7% are Welsh speaking.
Although it is made up of small communities, there are many facilities and services in Quarter Bach. Until very recently there were three primary schools, but with falling birth rates and local government cuts there is now only the one primary school, located in Upper Brynamman. There is a Day Centre in Ystradowen, several recreation grounds and children’s play areas and a nature park “Ynys Dawela”. Upper Brynamman has a post office, newsagents, hardware store, a family-owned builders merchant, takeaway food outlets, chemist, taxi service, cinema, and garage workshop. There are many footpaths in the area that follow streams, pass through woodland and across open untouched moorland. The popular “Hunting the Boar” trail passes through the area. The trail celebrates the epic boar hunt in the Mabinogion story of “Culhwch and Olwen”, one of the great tales from medieval Wales.
Upper Brynamman is situated at the edge of the open common of the Black Mountain, which is part of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The remains of burials, settlements and industrial activity dating from the Bronze Age to modern times can be found on the hills that surround the village. Until the 19th century, Upper Brynamman was an agricultural community, with cottages and farms scattered in the valley and foothills.
The village owes its existence to the growth of coal mining and other industries during the 19th century. In 1819, John Jones, Brynbrain, built a new road over the mountain to Llangadog, which is now the A4069, and a stone bridge over the river Amman. He was involved in many industrial enterprises in the area and in 1838 he built Brynamman House. The village adopted the name of the house when the Swansea Vale railway station opened in 1864 and “Brynamman” was put on the station sign.
The railway opened the way for an expansion of coal mining in the area. Local collieries and other industries, such as the Amman Ironworks that opened in 1847 and the Amman tin plate works, which opened in 1872, drew large numbers of people into the district. Many of them came from rural areas of Wales and the community kept a strong Welsh character.
The poet Watcyn Wyn worked in local collieries as a boy. He went on to found the Gwynfryn Academy, Ammanford, and win praise for his poems and hymns. The musical traditions of Brynamman grew with local industries. A local poet Emlyn Aman (Emlyn Evans, 1892-1963), for example, praises the talents of the local silver band.
Upper Brynamman had no place of worship until 1841, when a Sunday School was started at Cwmgarw Ganol, the childhood home of the poet Watcyn Wyn (1844-1905). The first chapel, Gibea, was built in 1844, and St Catherine’s church was built in 1881.
Between 1860 and 1890, the village more than doubled in size. Rows of terraced houses were built by the industrial companies to house their workers. A wide range of shops and services flourished. In the 1920s, local miners paid for the building of Brynamman Public Hall and Cinema. It opened in 1926 with seating for 1,000 people, and included a lounge, library and billiard room.
Since the decline of its industries, Upper Brynamman has changed greatly, but the community spirit forged in its heyday remains strong. Brynamman Infants School, built in 1922, became the Black Mountain Community Centre in 2003, and provides an important focus for the village.
Cefnbrynbrain is a small former mining village that appeared during the industrial boom of the 19th and early 20th century, but there is evidence of much earlier human activity on the hills to the north of the village. For example there are cairns on the slopes of Twyn y Moc that are part of a cremation cemetery dating back over 3,000 years to the Bronze Age, a time when a warmer climate meant that early farming communities could settle in this area. On the mountain tops much larger Bronze Age cairns can be seen, perhaps the burial sites of ancient chieftains, set on the hilltops to watch over the communities in the valley below.
The rich archaeology of the mountain common includes the ruins of the huts and folds. Centuries ago, herdsmen used to spend the summer grazing season, which ran from May until October, watching their sheep and geese on the mountain pastures. Although the practice has long stopped, farming, the oldest industry of the area, is still important and animals graze the mountain pastures every summer.
Employment in local collieries brought miners and their families into the area and the village began to grow. Cefnbrynbrain once had its own railway station and a corrugated zinc Baptist chapel, both of which have now vanished, along with the railway line that once connected the district with Brynamman to the west and the Swansea valley to the east.
When the first maps were made of the area in the early 19th century, this was a remote and thinly-populated area. 200 years ago there were only a handful of scattered farms and cottages here such as Llwyn y Moch, Ddolgam and Brynbrain. The village takes its name from the last of these, having developed close to the farm.
This was the birthplace of the local 19th century industrialist, John Jones, Brynbrain, who was an important figure in the history of the upper Amman valley. He opened collieries and ironstone mines and built the first decent roads to connect the valley to the outside world, opening up the district to industrial development.
The village sits on the very edge of the anthracite coalfield. To the north is the open common of the Black Mountain, which lies outside the coalfield. To the south is the common of Gwaun Cae Gurwen, which has been greatly changed by decades of coal mining. Part of it has been the site of a large opencast mine for many years.
The earliest evidence for human activity in the area is found on the Black Mountain, where Bronze Age burial cairns can be seen on many hilltops. The ruined huts of medieval farmers remain in sheltered spots on the lower slopes of the common, as well as impressive dry-stone sheepfolds around the edge of the common that have been used by more recent shepherds for their flocks.
Industrial activity was the spark that gave rise to the village of Rhosaman. Before the early 19th century the area was open moorland, crossed by a few rough tracks running between the Amman and Upper Swansea valleys. Only a handful of hill farms existed, such as Rhosaman, Tir Hen and Gors-helyg. This began to change with the growth of coal and ironstone mines. Local entrepreneur John Jones, Brynbrain, was foremost in developing these industries and by the 1830s his mines in Cwmllynfell and Brynamman were served by a new road he had built to connect them.
By the late 19th century, a cluster of smallholdings and cottages had formed around the point where John Jones’s road crossed the River Amman. On the opposite side of the road was the Rhosaman Colliery. A string of other collieries developed south of the road from the late 19th century onwards, such as the Blaen Cae Gurwen and Cwmteg pits. These were all served by the railway line that connected Brynamman with the Swansea Valley.
Rhosaman became notable for its tiny miners cottages, strung out along the roadside between the bleak moorland and large spoil tips. There are few signs of this industry left today, but it is still possible to pick out traces of the old mine, the railway and the occasional little cottage.
In 1924, The Rhosaman Colliery was the scene of one of the Amman Valley’s worst mining accident, when 7 men died in a surface explosion. A plaque on the site commemorates the event.
The Rev Rhys Pryse (1807-1869) lived near Rhosaman at Gorsto. He was a son in law of John Jones, Brynbrain, and minister of the Cwmllynfell Independent and Gibea, Brynamman. He was a respected preacher, known throughout the area, and he often composed his sermons whilst riding on horseback on the commons around Rhosaman. He was also a poet, astronomer, clock-maker, bone-setter and herbalist. His herbal book “Y Llysieulyfr Teuluaidd” (The Family Herbal) of 1849 was used in most homes in the district for many years.
The village takes its name from its position in a valley, ystrad in Welsh, close to the site of a large mound which has been known as Tomen Owen for many centuries. The mound is probably a natural feature, left by glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age.
According to legend, King Arthur and his men once fought the monstrous Twrch Trwyth near Ystradowen.
Like its neighbouring villages, Ystradowen owes its existence to the anthracite coal mining industry that flourished in the district from the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th century.
Situated in the Twrch Valley at the extreme eastern boundary of Carmarthenshire, Ystradowen developed when collieries such as Henllys Vale, Bryn Henllys, Hendreforgan and Cwmllynfell were opened. There was a drift mine in Ystradowen itself, the brick arch of which can still be seen.
As the mining population grew, St Margaret’s church (1900), Bryn Seion Chapel (1897) and the village school (1915) were built. Within living memory there were many shops in the village, which included sweet shops, grocers and butchers shops as well as a tailor and a cobblers shop. In the late 19th century there was also a woollen mill at Felin Fach, which would have made flannel from the wool of local sheep.
The mining community was at its peak by the 1920s, and the collieries continued to provide employment for most local men well into the second half of the 20th century. The last pits were closed during the early 1960s.
Although the collieries have long closed and disappeared, there is still much important industrial archaeology surviving in the area. The old chimney stack of Henllys Vale Colliery still stands further up the picturesque Twrch valley, alongside a bank of huge limekilns built there in the late 19th century. The limekilns burnt limestone transported by tram from quarries high up on the mountain above.