A Short History Of Bethlehem
75-125 AD Gold Mining: There had been mining for gold at Dolaucothi for thousands of years before the Romans built a fort and developed the mine at Pumsaint, 14 miles from Bethlehem. At the time, it was the only gold mine in the northern Roman empire.
384-1087 Royal Palace: After the Romans left Britain in 383, the superior Roman villa in Dyffryn Ceidrich was taken over by King Brechan of Brycheiniog (Breconshire), and renamed Llys Brychan (llys meaning palace). According to the C12 historian Giraldus Cambrensis, he had 24 daughters! St Cadog was a grandson of Brychan, and Brychan's great grandson was St David himself.
450 Llan-Cadog: St Cadog founded a monastic cell on the banks of the Bran, which gradually grew into Llangadog.
1281 Church Ownership & Markets: the Bishops of St Davids acquired most of the land in the area under feudal jurisdiction, and granted a market and annual fair for Llangadog
1349 Black Death: the Black Death ravaged Wales. Starting among port officials in Carmarthen, it spread inland like wildfire with one Cardiganshire landlord having his tenants reduced from 104 to 7. By the end of the century, the population of Wales had reduced from 300,000 to 200,000 (today it is 3.1m), and it is said that the last outbreak of plague in Britain was in Llangadog.
1770 Six Hanged for Llangadog Murder: William Williams, a Llandovery mercer, wanted to marry William Powell of Llangadog's wife, so he hired 12 men, broke into his house, cut off his nose adn stabbed him 20 times. 6 of them were hanged, but William Williams was not among them.
1779 Turnpike Roads: The Llandovery and Llangadog Turnpike Trust improved roads so lime from Black Mountain quarries could be taken to farms, but 36 toll-gates, with a dozen within a mile of Queen Square Llangadog, meant farmers couldn't afford the tolls.
1798 Last Village Circumambulation ('Wassail'): it started with beer and elderflower cordial at Morgan's pub on Bethlehem hill. The hay crop at Cefn Crewil was good, but Garnwen had not had a good year because of ticks on Garn Goch. The children were quiet crossing Garn Goch because they'd been told ghosts would come if they made a noise. There was singing at Gernos where a new waterwheel has just been installed, and, finally, as it got dark, there was a 'fine supper' at Capel Tydist.
1800 Bethlehem: 5,000 years ago, the Canaanites built a temple to their god of fertility, Lehem. Beth Lehem means House/Temple of Lehem, and our area is undoubtedly fertile. In Arabic, Bayta Laham means House of Meat, and in Hebrew Bet Lehem means House of Bread. An interesting coincidence is that King David (of Goliath fame) was born there, and our St David may have been born at Llys Brechan. See 384.
1830 Llangadog's Admiral, Bishop, Pubs & Shops: Admiral Sir Thomas Foley lived at Abermarlais park, and a bishop (John Rice) lived near Llangadog, which had 15 inns (and still had 12 in the 1950s), and 28 'shopkeepers and traders' including a watchmaker, shoemaker, wheelwright, two tailors, two saddlers, three stone masons and two dress makers.
1839 The First Map: the first Ordnance Survey map shows Bethlehem as a cluster of cottages, a smithy, 2 mills, and an inn, all largely on the hillside.
1840 Post Times: decades before the railways, the post arrived precisely 'at a quarter before two, and are despatched every morning at thirteen minutes past ten'.
1843 Rebecca Riots: tolls to transport enough lime for a 100 acre farm were £56.5s - an amazing £7,162 at today's prices! - and this was said to be the cheapest in Wales. Such high and unfair tolls, combined with failed harvests, resulted in 'secret meetings in the hills around Llangadog', and 300 mounted Rebeccaites (men often dressed as women) destroying 3 toll gates in one night. 1,200 farmers attended a meeting in Llangadog on 10 September to petition the government, and on 29 September notice was given of a bill to exclude all lime-carrying carts from paying tolls.
1854 George Borrows: in Wild Wales, Burrows describes Llandovery as 'the pleasantest little town in which I have halted', but in Llangadog meets a woman publican in 'an ancient-looking hostelry' who 'was a bitter Methodist, as bitter as her beer.' After the Sawdde Gorge, he meets a man who has never met anyone from North Wales, but says 'what can one expect from the north but nonsense?' He then asks 'now tell me, do you of the north eat and drink like other people?'
1858 Murder & A Memorial: at Allt-y-saeson close to Bethlehem village, a young man was murdered, and nobody was charged as the murderer was suspected to be a wealthy landowner's son, but a 5' high stone was erected: ‘Monday the 26 of April 1858 he cometh up and is cut down like a flower. He fleeth as it were a shadow and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death. Of whom may we seek for succour but of thee O Lord? Be ye also ready thou knowest not what a day may bring forth’.
1858 Railways: the Llanelly Dock And Railway Company opened the line to the mines of Ammanford in 1841, and extended it via Ffairfach to Llandilo in 1857. The Vale Of Towy Railway linking Llandilo to Llandovery via Talley Road, Lampeter Road (later renamed Llanwrda), Llangadog and Glanrhyd, opened in 1858. This led to a large stockyard being built at Llangadog station providing convenient UK-wide sales and distribution for local farmers, especially of sheep - and the end of droving.
1882 School: Bethlehem's first purpose built school opened (previously lessons had been held in the chapel vestry) with Thomas Dolgoy as the first (and only) teacher. In the 1880s, it had 76 pupils, but only 6 when it closed in 2000.
1912 Gwynfor Evans: one of the three greatest Welshmen of the C20 (the others being Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan), was born in Barry, but his family came from near Bethlehem, and he lived here most of his life, often preaching at the chapel. He became the first Plaid Cymru MP, went on hunger strike to defend the future of the Welsh language, and died in 2005. One of his sons still lives in the village.
1930s Ceidrych Corn Mill: the last miller was also a carpenter, and, having delivered corn to Ffairfach station, would return slumped over his horse having visited several inns on the way back. There was once a millpond and waterwheel.
1937 Our Deserted Village: the rise of mechanisation meant fewer men on the land (one new mower reportedly scythed a hay field that the previous year had taken 18 men). 8 families lived in Pentre Bach at the turn of the century, but just 37 years later the last resident, Mrs Aggett of Ty Pink, the wife of a steam roller driver, left.
1969 Prince of Wales Investiture Celebration: featured a carnival, sports, dancing on the green, and a poem written for the occasion by David Davies of Cwmsawdde Cottage.
1970s Harry Secombe & Blue Peter: Songs of Praise hosted by Sir Harry Secombe and Blue Peter were presented from the village.
1974 Natural Record: over 60 birds were recorded in the area including widgeon, hen harriers, curlews, plovers, barn owls, jays, green woodpeckers, fieldfare, skylark, nut hatch, corn bunting, and spotted flycatcher. 36 wild flowers included yellow archangel, marsh orchid, ladies bedstraw, sheepsbit, and speedwell. Among 30 animals and insects were badgers, otters, salmon, sewin, glow worms, false scorpions, grasshoppers, peacock and painted ladies butterflies.
1998 Guardian Feature: Jon Ronson interviewed the post office licensee, Gwylym Richards, who says our Bethlehem is a better place to 'pray and meditate' than the other Bethlehem - and we've got more sheep. He says he's stamped Christmas cards addressed to the Pope, Tommy Steele, John Major and Bill Clinton, and charges 20p per stamp.
2003-2011 Christmas Fairs: these were the legendary years of the Bethlehem Christmas Fairs, organised by Kate Glanville, when upto 1,000 people would come from as far away as Germany and Holland.
2009 Bethlehem Community Hall: the community association was formed in 2000, bought the old school, and refurbished it with a big Lottery Grant. In normal years, this is where Christmas cards are stamped.
2009 Christmas Eve On TV: the late Keith Chegwin presented a TVAM (ITV) live Christmas Eve broadcast from Bethlehem with a nativity play involving many village children.
2018 Tour Of Britain: the first King of the Mountain section of the men's cycling Tour of Britain included Bethlehem hill. An estimated 200 people (Trump estimate: 85,000) watched the race come through the village. In 2019, the women's tour followed the same itinerary.