The Early Years
The first mention of Pontardulais Brass Band comes in August 1873 in the ‘South Wales Daily News’: “Pontardulais Brass Band led a parade of the Llanelly District, Merthyr Unity ’Philanthropic Order’.” Present were three divisions of this order, which were led by three separate bands; Pontardulais (who led the lodges of Bee of Carmarthen, Central Llanelli, Loyal Merlin, Rose of Glandafen and Bee of Lliedi), Morriston Brass Band and Llangennech Brass Band. It was a big affair by all accounts and the paper reports a “grand turnout”, with the processionists alone numbering around 700 strong. After marching around the streets, the parade culminated at the park (likely to be People’s Park, Llanelli, although the newspaper doesn’t say), where addresses were given by local Reverends and Vicars, with the bands playing tunes in between.
The brass band movement was also alive and well in the neighbouring village of Hendy. Hendy Tinplate works opened in 1866 and by 1873 they had established the ‘Hendy Tinplate Works Brass Band’. Newspapers of the time report that the band participated in concerts, parades and even provided the music at the wedding of the Manager of the Hendy Tinplate Works – leading a parade of between 600 and 700 tin works employees and local school children from Hendy Reading Room through the village. The band were presented with a silver cornet for their contribution to the day, on behalf of Mr Letcher, the Bridegroom, which elicited “great cheers” from the crowd.
The Hendy Band also participated in at least two parades during 1873, both starting at Hendy and making their way through the neighbouring village of Pontardulais – indeed on Whit Monday 1873 two bands marched through Pontardulais – Hendy and Pontyberem brass bands. The Welshman newspaper writes that after the parade “in the evening both bands met together on the square opposite the Black Horse and regaled the inhabitants with music, such has not been heard here for a long time”. Why may you ask are you being given you the history of Hendy Brass Band when this is a history of the Pontardulais Town Band? Well read on… there may have been a case of mistaken identity! Given that brass bands of the time were marching on Pontardulais turf, and there is no other mention of Pontardulais Brass Band until some 12 years later, it seems likely that the band who took part in the Llanelly parade was actually the Hendy Brass Band, and not Pontardulais. Alas, it seems our old rivals pipped us to the post and had a brass band a good 12 years before the Pontardulais Brass Band was born.
The first documented concert in which Pontardulais Brass Band participated took place at the Public Hall, Pontardulais in August 1885. It was a benefit concert for the Pontardulais United Choir, to raise funds for them to go and compete in the chief choral competition at the Llandeilo Eisteddfod in September of that year. Also “rendering selections” at the concert were Pontardulais Drum & Fife Band, of course the United Choir and also the Hope Chapel choir. The South Wales Daily News on 14th September, 1885 reports: “The rendering of ‘Bendigedig’ by the Hope Chapel Choir (Hugh Evans, leader), and of ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ by the United choirs (Mr Jeffreys conductor), reacted great credit on their trainers. The Pontardulais brass and fife bands, under the leadership respectively of Messrs Morris and Jones, rendered selections remarkably well”. The audience was reported to have been large and enthusiastic.
Mr David Morris, (“Dewi Hefin”) was the ‘leader’ of the Brass Band at this time. He was a Welsh speaker and lived in Prospect Place and/or Forest Road. He was 31 years of age in 1885 and was employed as a Rollerman at the Cambria Tinplate Works in Pontardulais (opened in 1876). Mr Morris was said to have been an accomplished musician, a successful ‘Cymanfa’ conductor and a well known eisteddfodic adjudicator. He was also a Baptist Lay Minister and very well known in South Wales cricket circles.
Who the band members were at this time and where (and if!) the band rehearsed is not known – it is not too big a leap to wonder if, similar to Hendy Band, that Pontardulais Band was made up of employees from the numerous Tinplate Works in Pontardulais at that time. Perhaps Mr Morris found a suitable venue at the works for the band to practice? (Hendy Brass Band had already acquired a Band Room at, or close to their Tin Works!). Looking at a map of the sites of the old tin-plate works in Pontardulais it looks like that the old Cambria Works stood close to, or on the site where Tesco is today – a mere hop, skip and a jump from the current Pontardulais Town Bandroom, which stands on the site of the old Clayton Tin Works off Station Road. It’s funny to think that when Pontardulais Town Band do their Christmas Caroling stints at Tesco, they could be playing at the very spot the band started 132 years earlier!