Begelly and Kilgetty
Begelly and Kilgetty are part of the modern Community Council area of Kilgetty Begelly. Begelly is an ancient parish. The name may derive from the Welsh word for “shepherd”: BUGAIL. If so, Begelly would mean something like “the territory or estate of Bugail”. Thomas Chapel derives from St Thomas Chapel, a chapel of ease under Begelly. The original Kilgetty (a gentry house) was in the ancient parish of St Issells. Dr B G Charles says that the name is formed from the Welsh Cil “a nook” and a personal name “Cetti”.
Stones removed in 1977 from a field known as Blackhook (formerly Chronicle Park), are thought to have been the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber. Names such as Bignin Moor and Bickning Lane may refer to a beacon site; such sites were often a re-use of Bronze Age burial mounds.
In an area now incorporated into the extended burial ground of the church, there was a motte and bailey castle. Before its removal (in 1921) the mound was about 5 to 8 feet above the surrounding levels (Commander W R Morgan). The castle would have dated from the time soon after the Normans arrived at Pembroke (1093) and probably was associated with the struggle for territory. Later, Begelly and “Carne” formed two knights fees, in the Earldom of Pembroke.
Much of the local land belonged to the Kilgetty Estate, which was acquired by the Philipps family (Picton Castle) who also had the right to choose the Rector of Begelly (with East Williamston). They and other landowners were interested in making profit from the anthracite coal underlying their estates as entrepreneurs or lessors.
Childs of Begelly
Captain James Mark Child, his widow Sarah and James Mark Child (1825 – 77) of Begelly House, the only resident gentry in the 19th century, were industrial pioneers.
In 1581 there were so many workings in Begelly parish near the highway from Tenby to Haverfordwest, that no one dared to pass over it in a carriage or cart because of the danger of subsidence. A notice to this effect was served on the landowners by the burgesses of Tenby calling for improvement.
There was one enterprise – if not two – called Begelly Colliery in the late 18th century. Other important works of that time were the Old Engine Pit (Kingsmoor) 1775 and the first pits of the Thomas Chapel Colliery 1784. In 1851 the Thomas Chapel Pits were acquired by the Pembrokeshire Iron and Coal Company.
Amongst spots on the outskirts of Begelly village where coal was mined, were Blackhook and Coal pits Back, and there were others within the village area. By 1834 the Tenby and Begelly Coal Company, in which J M Child “almost certainly had a sizeable share holding” (M R C Price) was in existence.
While some of the coal produced was sold locally, a wider market was sought. The product of the Philipps’ mines at Kilgetty, and coal from further afield was shipped from Wiseman’s Bridge, but since this was feasible only in the late spring and summer, the miners were unable to work for part of the year. Amongst attempted improvements was a canal from the Kilgetty Great Pit to Wiseman’s Bridge. A tramroad from Begelly Collieries to Saundersfoot was mooted by Mrs Child. Eventually the Saundersfoot Railway and Harbour Act was passed in 1829, and this included provision for a line from Saundersfoot to Thomas Chapel (via Bonville’s Court). The line (a 4′ gauge) was opened officially in March 1834. Horse power was used at first but later “Bulldog” engines were introduced. The trucks were the type used in the collieries. The Tenby and Begelly Coal Company had two small vessels, the Peggy and the Mary Anne and by 1836 there was a Begelly Wharf at Saundersfoot.
Begelly was on an important old route between Tavernspite and beyond and Tenby (turnpiked in the 18th century), but far more traffic crossed the plain below Begelly church and village with the building of a virtually new turnpike road from St Clears to Pembroke (completed by 1839). Begelly Cross Roads, so well known over the years to coach and motor travellers, came into being. The coach traffic on both roads was serviced at the Begelly Arms.
Commander W R Morgan records that there were post horse stables and a blacksmith’s shop on the New Road below the inn. The cross roads was later the site of one of the earliest petrol pumps in the area. Subsequent road improvements have altered the appearance of the original cross roads and produced a new roundabout (Kilgetty by-pass 1984).
Steam Train Railway
A generation after the St Clears – Hobbs Point Turnpike Road was built, the countryside was carved up once more for the linking of the Pembroke and Tenby Railway with Whitland – (first passenger train, 4th September 1866), and Kilgetty had a station, in the long term, a nucleus for development.
A new station was built on the opposite side of the track with room for a siding and cattle pens, and in due course a fortnightly mart was held nearby. Amongst commodities transported in the 20th century were sugar beet and rabbits. The CWS Co-operative was established in 1921-2 (new site 1936). and the Post Office transferred there from Begelly in 1923.
The Later Years of Mining
Work at Begelly ended in the 1860s. However, mining continued an important occupation for Kilgetty and it had many of the experiences of bigger industrial villages: strikes, soup kitchens, extra police – and a dole office (at the Free Gardeners Hall). The Miners Federation had a part in setting up the Co-op, and the Miners Welfare in establishing a recreation ground. Branches of 2 Friendly Societies were formed: the Free Gardeners and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. Another amenity was the Reading Room (now the W.I. Hall).
Lower Level (closed 1900 or soon after) was the last working pit in the area. The last coal marketed was removed from the site of the new school at Kilgetty in 1990: 7,000 tons sold to industry.
Viewing the Industrial Past
The Miners Arms, Begelly is now a private house. In St Issell’s Church, Saundersfoot, there are wall tablets to some of the Child family. Follow the walk outlined in the SPARC leaflet “The Miners Walk” to discover where the tramway and some of the pits were.
Post World War II: A Further Turnaround
Kilgetty saw about 20 years of prosperity because of work associated with the South Wales Electricity Board. But the cattle mart came to an end and the role of the railway was curtailed. It is however, still a commercial centre, while Begelly is residential.
Kilgetty Mission Church
Built for the benefit of parishioners of St Issell’s, it was licensed for Divine Service on 24th May 1893, and served the community until 1986. Most of the contents were incorporated into St Mary’s.
Kingsmoor Methodist Chapel
Hill Chapel, built in 1837, was originally Primitive Methodist. It was closed in 1984.
Begelly Board School
This was opened on 8th May 1876 and closed in 1961 when there were only 23 pupils on the register.
World War II
Just off the old tramway beyond Begelly towards Thomas Chapel are the remains of a brick building which housed a generator, part of a bombing decoy system. Beneath was an air raid shelter.
Walks & Wildlife
There are several possibilities for walks starting from Begelly or Kilgetty. The “Miners Walk”, for which a leaflet is available, passes through both villages. From Kilgetty, a path passes through coniferous woodland and farmland to Fords Lake Valley, an unspoilt area of scrub and woodland, where nuthatches and greater spotted woodpeckers may be seen or heard, and foxgloves and red campion adorn the hedgerows. The route also makes use of the old “dramway”, the former railway line between Thomas Chapel and Begelly, which once carried coal from mines at Broom and Thomas Chapel to Saundersfoot. The hedgebanks abound with plant and bird life, and the ditches alongside the line are alive with frogspawn in the early spring.
Kingsmoor common is an important wildlife habitat, being a good example of wet, acid, heathland and scrub, with some areas of open water. Because much of the common is no longer grazed, gorse, heather and bramble have spread over large areas, while willow, ash and alder trees are spreading over other parts. Birds such as snipe (in winter), sedge warbler and corn-bunting are found here, while barn owls, kestrels and buzzards may occasionally be seen hunting over the common. Where some grazing occurs, plants such as Perforate St John’s Wort, Knapweed and Fleabane occur, while in the wetter areas, the Bogbean with its beautiful fringed white flowers, and Bog Asphodel with its spike of yellow flowers, may be found.