Some Captured History of Glanamman and Garnant

Garnant Reading Room and Library

Garnant Library Feb 1994

In the 1800's Cwmamman had no purely social venues other than drinking establishments and the need for such a venue was recognised by a group of local individuals. After several meetings were held, it came about that Stepney Hall which was built in the 1880's as a sunday school for New Bethel Chapel, was rented by the founders of the Reading Room, who opened the venue to the public in March 1890.

Stepney Hall 1994

The goal of the founders was to provide a cultural centre where young men could gather together to chat, acquire general knowledge and play games such as draughts and dominoes. It was also a place where local people could go to read newspapers, which were scarce and purchased by very few householders in the village at that time.

A brief history of the institution was written by Joe Bevan in 1960. Joe had held the position of librarian there for 48 years and had also been secretary for 7 years by the time that his publication was completed.

Joe wrote that the Reading Room was the meeting place every evening for the workers after their day's work. They would read the daily and weekly papers and they met in groups to discuss local and national issues. They argued hotly at election times, discussed trade union matters and also held their penny readings there. In Joe's words, the Reading Room was essentially a "folk cultural institution."

Joe Bevan had in his possession a manuscript sheet written in copper plate style by the first secretary John Morgan James. On it were the names of the officers appointed for the year ended March 1891:

Rev. J. Towyn Jones, Brookland Villa
Vice Presidents:
Dr Howell Rees, J.P. , CC, Tyrbach
Mr David Morgan, Neuadd Mill
Mr James Rees, Manchester House
Mr Evan M. Williams, Gwalia Villas
Mr Thomas Thomas, Post Office
Mr Rees Davies, Ironmonger
Mr John Thomas, Stepney House
Mr Evan M. Williams, Chairman
Mr John Morgan Jones, Secretary
Mr David Morgan, Treasurer
Mr Morgan Richards, Assistant Secretary
Mr T. Mitchell, Tutor
John Richards succeeded Professor John Morgan Jones as Secretary
1893-1911 (for 18 years)

The original committee were made up of a good cross section of the community, consisting of: 12 tinplate workers, 8 miners, 3 shopkeepers, a carpenter, a miller, a colliery manager, 2 students, a preacher and a doctor.

Members of the Committee:
Evan Davies
Davey Edwards
Rees Jones
John Hendre
Henry Morgan
Lemuel Price
W. J. Thomas
Jacob Jones
Henry Jones
Thomas Michael
Thomas Morgan
Jacob Rees
Richard Williams
Thomas Davies
H. Jeremiah
Jonathan Jones

John Morris
Evan Powell
John Richards (2nd Secretary), Springfield Terrace (last to survive; died 1948)
Thomas Williams

Davey Edwards Jonathan Jones John Morris Jacob Rees Lemuel Price Thomas Morgan Henry Jones William J Thomas Richard Williams Thomas Michael Evan Davies Evan M. Williams James Rees Rev. Josiah Towyn Jones Rees Davies David Morgan Evan Powell Tom Thomas T. Mitchell Tom Williams Morgan Richards John Richards John Morgan Jones Henry Morgan

Garnant Reading Room Founders circa 1890. Please move the cursor over the faces to see their names.

Membership of the Reading Room cost a penny a week. Non members would pay a penny for entry and place the money into a collection box inside the entrance. The box showed the words "VISITORS PENCE".

On winter evenings, small competitive concerts were held at Stepney Hall and these proved very popular, drawing in visitors and competitors from other villages. The hall would be crowded during these events and the winners would take home substantial prizes. These small concerts were commonly known as Penny Readings. The charge for admission to the penny readings was: threepence for an adult and a penny for children.

Stepney Hall housed the Reading Room for 47 years, after which time, the venue was changed to a new place known as "Garnant Library and Institute" which was once a taylor's shop built by the owner of Garnant House sometime between 1918 and 1923. In 1938, the building was purchased by the local Miners' Federation who converted it into a library downstairs and a billiard hall upstairs.

As the years passed, the villages of Garnant and Glanamman grew and new entertainment venues opened to the public. A social club, cinema and a dance hall were avaiable to entertain the people of Cwmamman. Technology such as Radio and eventually Televisions became well loved pastimes and more and more people purchased newspapers of their own. These factors had an impact on the usage of the Reading Room in that it's importance to the community became diminished.

By 1953, partly due to the closing of local collieries affecting the income of local families, the Reading Room faced a financial crisis. Weekly contributions to the establishment had dwindled badly and it was necessary to lay off both the caretaker and cleaner. Three old age pensioners volunteered to look after the institution free of charge in order to stop it closing down One of these was Joe Bevan who took up the role of caretaker.

However, the Reading Room and Library survived the financial storm and by 1960, the facility was once again thriving, helped by its close link to the Carmarthenshire County Circulating Library. This link was initiated by Librarian Joe Bevan and the result was that Garnant's Reading Room received valuable financial and material support. In 1960, there were a progressively increasing number of book borrowers visiting the Reading Room, most of whom required fictional works.

It was, however, recognised that the future of the Reading Room was uncertain as its maintenance costs were much higher than its regular and assured income and the deficit was made up by donations and gifts. It was envisaged that at some point in the future it may become necessary to appeal to the County Council to take over the institution, which would result in the nature and constitution changing. It was believed that if the council took over, then the building may become a community centre..

The construction of a new primary school at Folland Road meant that a community centre and library space was incorporated into the new building. Garnant Library, under the control of the county council relocated from 77 Cwmamman Road to Ysgol y Bedol School in 2005. It currently opens for only a short time, three days a week.

Information for this page was taken mainly from "The History of Garnant Reading Room and Library 1890 - 1960" by Joe Bevan. Thanks to Huw Bevan and family for permission to use information and images from Joe Bevan's book in the construction of this webpage.

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