The Great House

Firstly, we'll talk about Engine House which is the white building above, and the first in the row of three houses at the back of the Town Hall. Laugharne had no electricity until 1949 - 70 years after its invention - and the first generator was in this house. The Boathouse was the first home to benefit. Harry Raymond of the Coygan Quarry was the first to try and 'electrify' Laugharne in 1928, but his plans came to nothing.

The Williams brothers (Ebie and Billy) set up a 240 volt DC supply in this building driven by a single cylinder horizontal Ruston Hornsby engine. A second engine was added to satisfy demand but within a few years the operation was taken over by the National Grid.

That was good news for Laugharne as whenever Billy Williams became frustrated with singing revellers or squabbling neighbours he threw the switch sending the whole town into darkness. The Engine House later became a gallery and later the Silversmiths before it moved to King St.

Below is a pic from the top of Market Lane.

When Dylan died Billy Williams went to Southampton to collect Caitlin and the coffin with Dylan inside from the Queen Mary. On the way back Billy and Caitlin went on a pub crawl across several counties, the body of one of Wales and the UK's greatest literary figures remnained in the back of the van.

A few years later Billy Williams was one of a handful of Laugharnies who went to see Under Milk Wood on its premiere in London, in September 1955. He commented afterwards, 'Good God, I thought I was back in Laugharne'.

But before those three houses were built a large house stood here - The Great House (but not Great House!). Above is a view of Laugharne in 1834, and below is a close-up of the house. It's in the centre of the circle, with the Town Hall to the left, and Castle House to the right. Also visible is Raven House, The Globe and the Tabernacle.

The Great House was one of Laugharne's more impressive houses, its gardens and outbuildings and a stable block on the site of the present Portreeve's restaurant.

It had been the home of Zachary Bevan - the merchant trader who did much to help Laugharne's port to prominence. Arthur Bevan (1691-1743) inherited it and probably enhanced it ready for his marriage to Bridget Vaughan (1698-1779) or 'Madam Bevan' as she famously became to be known.

This painting is owned by Carmarthenshire County Council.

Madam Bevan was a philanthropist and a champion of Griffith Jones, Rector of Llandowror, who created the circulating schools where he educated teenage boys and then sent them out to teach in other parts of Wales. Madam Bevan did his accounts, sent appeals for funding, and arranged payment for equipment, books and teachers.

Griffith Jones actually moved into The Great House for the last six years of his life so the whole movement was then administered from here. On Jones' death (1761) Madame Bevan continued the administration of the Charity Schools until her own death in 1779, by which time the numbers of schools and students had more than doubled - reaching two thirds or more of the population of Wales.

Between 1736 and 1776, 6,321 schools were founded and 304,475 adult and child scholars were educated, giving Wales one of the highest literacy rates in Europe, which led to Catherine The Great of Russia ordering ministers to enquire about the scheme.

So why did this impressive house vanish?

Arthur Bevan (above - again a painting owned by Carmarthenshire County Council) died in 1743 aged 54, and Griffith Jones, also a widower moved in with her. Madam Bevan died in 1779 leaving an estate of £20,000, and her intention was that £10,000 would go the schools project. However, her niece and nephew disputed the will, and it took 28 years to resolve - with the money going for educational purposes.

In the 28 years the house deteriorated to a point of no return and it was pulled down in 1859. Between the two throughfares you can see some sturdy garden walls that seem to predate the current houses, maybe they were part of The Great House and surrounding gardens. Like the wall in Victoria St below.

A macabre footnote is that the house was judged to be the most fortified house in Wales, and a burglar called Higgins from Cheshire decided to try and break in, possibly to try and make a name for himself. He tried to open a trunk belonging to one of Madam Bevan's visitors, Lady Elizabeth Maude. The key broke and he was caught, tried, convicted and hanged in Carmarthen in November 1767.

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