The battle to save a community from a watery grave

The battle to save a community from a watery grave

Fifty years have passed since a small agricultural community in Carmarthenshire won an epic battle to save their land from becoming a reservoir to supply water for Swansea.

The S4C documentary Brwydr Llangyndeyrn (The Llangyndeyrn Battle) on Sunday, 20 October tells the story of how Cwm Gwendraeth Fach was saved in 1963 by meeting the families of the people who were at the heart of the battle.

Award-winning actress Sharon Morgan grew up in Llandyfaelog a few miles from the agricultural area between Llangyndeyrn and Porthyrhyd which the Swansea Water Corporation planned to acquire under compulsory purchase in order to build a reservoir to supply water to the Swansea Town Council area.

Sharon presents the programme about the community’s battle for survival and feels that their story is in danger of being forgotten. She says, “This is the story about a small community that challenges the powers of the state. It fills me with confidence about what our communities can achieve. I hope people will now come to know about their battle for survival and understand its profoundly important message – that we can stand up against seemingly invincible forces and that nothing is impossible.”

On her emotional journey, Sharon Morgan meets families of some of the leading campaigners, including the family of the late Councillor William Thomas, who became Chairman of the campaigners’ Defence Committee and the family of the late Committee secretary, the Rev. WM Rees.

She visits Pant-teg Farm to meet one of the original campaigners, Huw Williams, speaks to Arwyn Richards from Llandre farm and taps into a wealth of film and documentary archive. We hear from RJ Lillicrap, who was a member of the Swansea Water Corporation, and broadcaster Sulwyn Thomas, who was a rookie reporter with the local paper South Wales Evening Post at the time.

Language activist Emyr Llewelyn, who was prominent in the failed campaign to save Cwm Celyn near Bala and stop the building of the infamous Llyn Tryweryn reservoir, describes the Llangyndeyrn campaign as “more important than Tryweryn… because it succeeded and stemmed from the community”.

We’ll see why when we hear how the locals foxed Swansea Council officers time and again preventing them from entering their land for assessment and surveying.

Facets of the tale read more like an adventure novel. Campaigners had a mole on Swansea council committees who could tip them off about council officers’ visits. We’ll hear how Jack Smith, a bell ringer at the local parish church rang the bells to warn the farmers that the officers were on their way.

The campaign was so effective that the council decided to look for a more suitable site in a much more sparsely populated area near Llandovery in the north of the county and eventually built Llyn Brianne reservoir.

Campaigner Huw Williams of Panteg farm says, “I would have lost my livelihood – I had nothing to lose by taking part in the campaign. Personally, I would have lost fifty years of happiness and the pleasure of passing the farm on to the next generation.”

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