The following story, whilst not by any means a definitive one, is one that finally gives recognition to a man long since forgotten in Carmarthen – until now. A man it can be said without doubt has brought joy and happiness to countless individuals young and old for 120 years. Never has such a facility been more appreciated by the people of Carmarthen than “the park”. Carmarthen Park and cycle track was officially opened on Easter Monday 1900 (April 16th) and was acknowledged as being the finest cement cycle track in the United Kingdom. Designed and constructed in the supervision of the Borough Surveyor Mr Fred J Finglah.
The Thomas & Elizabeth Mayhook Charity is therefore delighted to have been able to completely rebuild and restore the last resting place of Frederick James Finglah from a forgotten, dilapidated, overgrown grave in St David’s cemetery to what is now a fitting tribute to one of Carmarthen’s true heroes of history. Fourteen Carmarthen Freemasons – members of the Mackworth Club came to the cemetery on what was one of the wettest day’s ever in November to restore the grave of one of their forebears and the end result was a remarkable transformation – now visible for the first time for all to see.
This story starts off with a brief outline of his birth, followed by his marriage, and then newspaper reports of the opening of the cycle track and park in 1900, and him becoming Master of the St Peter’s Lodge of Freemasons in 1907, an amusing and interesting account of a legal case regarding a portrait photograph followed by his obituary in 1919. Most of the information has been extracted from newspaper reports at the time together with other reference material. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Frederick James Finglah was one of seven children,-three brothers and four sisters. His father was a shoemaker from Barnsley. During the time of his employment as Borough Surveyor he lived at number 7 Church Street, just opposite St Peters Church with his wife, one year old daughter Dorothy Letitia, and his widowed mother in law and sister in law. His daughter Dorothy died unmarried in Shrewsbury in 1987 aged 88.
Fashionable Marriage at Carmarthen. 28th October 1898 Carmarthen. Report by the Weekly Reporter.
The marriage was celebrated at St David’s Church, Carmarthen, on Tuesday, at 10.30 a.m., between Mr Fred J. Finglah, C.E., borough surveyor, Carmarthen, and Miss Letitia Jane Mary Grey Hughes, elder daughter of the late Rev W. Hughes, vicar of Newchurch, Carmarthenshire, and Mrs L. Hughes, Carmarthen. The bride, who looked charming, was attired in a dress of cream silk, trimmed with Swiss lace, orange blossoms, and pearls, and also wore a large tulle veil, wreathed with orange blossoms. She carried in her hands a beautiful bouquet, the gift of the bridegroom. The bridesmaids were Miss Katie Hughes, sister of the bride, and Miss Gladys Thomas, Guildhall-square, Carmarthen. The former was attired in a dress of pink silk, trimmed with white chiffon sash, and a hat of cream velvet, trimmed with cream tips and ribbon. The latter wore a white-figured muslin dress, trimmed with white sash, and a white fancy straw hat, trimmed with white tips and ribbon. Both carried large handsome bouquets, the gifts of the bridegroom. The bridegroom was accompanied by Mr C. E. E. Fisher, civil engineer, of Aston, Birmingham, as best man. The marriage ceremony was performed by the Vicar of St David’s (Rev T. R. Walters), assisted by the Rev H. Hughes, Vicar of Myddfai, Carmarthenshire (uncle of the bride), who was given away by Dr Bowen-Jones, The Friary, Carmarthen. Miss B. M. Cooke, L.A.R.M., presided at the organ, and played the “Wedding March “(Mendelssohn), Handel’s Grand March in Scipio,” and the War March of the Priests,” from” Athalic.” The choir sang the hymn “The voice that breathed o’er Eden,” and chanted the 128th Psalm. The church was crowded, and a considerable display of bunting was made by friends and neighbours of the bride, three garlands of flags stretching across the main street near the church. On one of these was expressed a wish for “long life and prosperity,” and on the others “health and happiness.” The Corporation steam-roller was decked with flags and evergreens by the workmen, and was instrumental in the discharge of numerous detonators. The peal of bells in St Peter’s Church tower was also rung. After the ceremony the bridal party, upon whom confetti, rice, and flowers were plentifully showered, returned to The Cedars,” Union-street, where a large company of friends, among whom was Mr C. Burton, Birmingham, uncle of the bridegroom, sat down to the wedding breakfast, and where, at a later period of the day, Mrs Hughes, the bride’s mother, held a reception. The happy couple left by the 1.20 p.m. train for London, where the honeymoon is to be spent. The travelling dress of the bride was of royal blue cloth, “faced with white, and she wore a large picture hat to match. The bridal couple were the recipients of presents to the number of 160.
Opening remarks by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Carmarthenshire Sir James William Drummond CB, regarding the official opening of the Carmarthen Park & Cycle Track on Monday 16th April 1900 and his praise of James Finglah.
“For the laying out of the ground Carmarthen was indebted to their Borough Surveyor Mr Frederick James Finglah (applause). He has been responsible for the planning and the carrying out of the whole work, including the construction of the cycle track, which was unsurpassed by anything in the Kingdom (applause). The ground represented a considerable expenditure of money, which was money well spent by the Carmarthen Sports and Recreation Committee. It is a gratifying circumstance that there is an increasing demand for land suitable for building purposes in Carmarthen. I am not at all surprised that people should be desirous of coming to live in this beautiful neighbourhood. Land suitable for the purpose of a recreation ground has been getting scarcer every year and the price inevitably increasing. I am satisfied that the verdict of the public would be unquestionably that the Corporation of Carmarthen had done the correct thing, and that the present and future generations of Carmarthen would be justly proud, thanks to the ingenuity, foresight, dedication and ability of Mr Finglah” (loud applause)
Carmarthen Weekly Reporter 20th April 1900. The opening cycle race… Oh dear!! .. this could only happen in Carmarthen !
The unfortunate fiasco which happened in the mile professional scratch race has been the means of creating a lot of ill-feeling as regards the winner of the final heat. One of the official judges -Mr Mitson of London, unfortunately, had the bell rung for the last lap when it proved to be only the third and not fourth lap and Tom James going strong for the finish after the bell rung thought he had won but there being another lap to go W Rees got home first in the fourth lap. Tom James has laid an objection to the result.
Mr Britten, treasurer of the National Cyclists Union in proposing success to the Cycle Track, said he understood that their surveyor, Mr Finglah, had had a free hand in the construction and design of the track. He congratulated Mr Finglah upon his success, and the only thing which he could suggest for its improvement would be to slightly rough it. He was glad to hear of a track in a town of the size of Carmarthen, and stated that he knew of no other in the whole kingdom like it. It was a track of which Carmarthen could be proud. As treasure of the N.C.U., he was pleased to find the South Wales Centre creeping up and up, and he hoped the results of Carmarthen Sports Committee would creep up and up. He coupled with the toast the name of Mr Finglah. Mr Finglah, in responding, said he had not, expected to be asked to make a speech. He said it was very satisfactory to hear such a good opinion of the Carmarthen track and sports management. With regard to the track he said that were it “roughed” it would only be at the expense of speed.
On the 20th December 1907 the Carmarthen Weekly Reporter reported on the local Freemasons installation ceremony.
“On Tuesday night the installing ceremony in connection with the St. Peter’s Lodge of Freemasons No. 476, was held at the Masonic Lodge, Spilman street, Carmarthen. Bro. F. J. Finglah was installed Worshipful Master for the ensuing year, and the following officers were invested:—I.P.M., W.Bro. B. A. Lewis; S.W., Bro. Thomas Davies; J.W., Bro. Chas. E. Davies; chaplain, W.Bro Rev J. Marsden, P.M., P.P.S.G.W. treasurer, W.Bro. James John, P.M., P.P.S.G.W secretary, Bro. Harry Reeves; director of ceremonies, W.Bro. Thomas Walters, P.M., P.S.W. S.D., Bro. Lewis Giles; J.D., Bro. C. H. Mounsey; T.G., Bro. E. G. Tuck; organist, Bro. J. Howard Morgan; steward, Bro. D. Roberts; steward, Bro. W. O. Minister; and tyler, Bro. John Thomas. After the installation a banquet was held at the Ivy Bush Royal Hotel”
The story of the unwanted Portrait. Carmarthen Weekly Reporter June 1914
The Crown Court case and His Honour Judge Lloyd Morgan’s verdict.
A Swansea photographer brought a claim against Mr F. J. Finglah, Borough Surveyor, Carmarthen. Mr J. F. Morris appeared for the defendant. Plaintiff stated that he had a, studio at Walters Road, Swansea. He had lived formerly at Pontypridd. He had carried on business in South Wales for six or seven years. He called on Mrs Finglah and she agreed to have a water colour enlargement of her husband’s photo, the price to be two guineas. He had only had 15s. Mr J. F. Morris asked if the plaintiff had not promised Mrs Finglah that the portrait would be a special new process of which he was the sole patentee. Plaintiff said that he never said anything of the kind. He was not the patentee of any process. Mrs Finglah gave him particulars of the colour of her husband’s eyes, hair and complexion to enable him to colour the enlargement. Mr S. Collin also gave evidence. He said that Mrs Finglah said that she would prefer the water colour enlargement. The price agreed was two guineas. Mrs Finglah said that the plaintiff told her that he was canvassing for portraits done by an entirely new process of which he was the inventor. He said that it was neither oil nor water colour nor a photo.
He said that the portrait would be washable and could be spring cleaned like a chair. She agreed to take a portrait at 15s 6d. She paid 10s, and the balance of 5s was to be paid on delivery. When the plaintiff brought the portrait and asked for three guineas, she told him to clear out of the house and to take the portrait with him. Plaintiff asked the witness whether Mr Finglah had not sent him a letter stating that he was playing a, “dangerous game.” Witness said that was so. Plaintiff: What is the dangerous game? The Judge: It is a, dangerous game to say there is a contract if there is no contract. Plaintiff (to witness): The Judge can see very well that you are committing nothing but a lot of perjury. The Judge: You must not say that. Mr Finglah said that he knew nothing of the matter until the portrait was delivered. He knew something of photography and had done a little sketching. He thought that the enlargement was worth 5s if uncoloured. Coloured as it was it was worth nothing. The Judge: The wife is not the husband’s agent to buy things like that. The husband is not responsible. Mr Finglah said he had no desire to fight the case on a technicality, but on its merits. Plaintiff: If the case goes on like this it is no good me bringing on cases. Can I summon the wife? The Judge: I don’t think it would be any use. If I had to decide the case on the facts, I would give the same decision.
The Judge** found in favour of Mr Finglah and dismissed the case.
**Judge Lloyd Morgan himself was born in Carmarthen in 1861, becoming a Liberal MP for Carmarthen West from 1889 to 1910. He became a KC (Kings Counsel) in 1906 and was much respected in the town. He died in 1944 and is buried in Union Street Chapel Cemetery Carmarthen, a few minutes walk from St David’s.
Obituary. Carmarthen Weekly Reporter 28th February 1919.
MR F. J. FINGLAH. Mr F. J. Finglah, Borough Surveyor, died at his residence in Johnstown on Saturday. The deceased, who was 50 years of age, had been appointed Borough Surveyor of Carmarthen in the year 1898. He was a native of Walsall, and previous to his appointment at Carmarthen was assistant surveyor to the Heston and Isleworth District Council. When he came to Carmarthen the Nantcwmtawel water scheme had just been adopted, and he carried out the work under the late Mr Barnes, of London, who had drawn up the scheme. Mr Finglah laid out the Park and the Cycle Track at Carmarthen. He was of a very quiet retiring disposition, and his voice was seldom heard at Council meetings. He was held in high esteem by all who knew him, and was a capable and upright official. He was well-known for his courteous and gentlemanly demeanor, and was held in high esteem by the Corporation and townspeople generally. He is survived by a widow (a daughter of the late Rev T. Hughes, vicar of Newchurch) and two daughters. The following photographs show the state of James Finglah’s grave before restoration began and the progress made in it’s complete restoration.
POSTSCRIPT. 100 years on
One hundred years after the opening of Carmarthen Park in 1900, the newly restored Coalbrookdale cast iron gates that stand proudly at its entrance once again became the subject of a lesser known “campaign” by my friend the late Earl of Snowdon GCVO. It was a subject close to his heart involving the removal of a fine set of Coalbrookdale gates originally erected as the gateway to the London Great Exhibition in 1851, only to have been re-erected some years later on the boundary of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, now acting as a backdrop to a major road junction propping up some road signs and totally out of place.
It was Lord Snowdon’s idea to have the gates removed and installed at the front of the Albert Memorial near Kensington Palace as part of a plan to erect a memorial to the late Princess of Wales. The “campaign” dragged on for ever with letters and phone calls from all over the UK and beyond but sadly to no avail. The Carmarthen Gates and that of the Great Exhibition- both being made by Coalbrookdale, were very similar in design and the fact that ours had been removed and restored and finally re-erected came to Lord Snowdon’s attention through a telephone conversation I had with him.
Indeed we had many a conversation over the telephone about them and how wonderful it would be if a similar project could be done in London, albeit with their relocation near the Albert Memorial. I was able to advise him quite a bit and we became good friends, but sadly all our efforts fell on deaf ears.
Nevertheless Lord Snowdon maintained an interest in what was going on here in Carmarthen and in August 2014 he very kindly wrote for me the foreword to the 100th anniversary service of commemoration programme of the start of the Great War in 1914 – the event very appropriately being held, where else but at Carmarthen Park within the cycle track itself, and so after 114 years James Finglah’s everlasting legacy once again provided a backdrop to a significant historical occasion as it has done continuously since it’s inception all those years ago. James provided Carmarthen with a legacy beyond anyone’s imagination. If nothing else, we owe it to him and his memory to remember what he achieved.
And finally….the great man himself – Frederick James Finglah. A never before seen photograph.(Copy of photograph kindly provided by The National Archives, Kew) Please ask for permission from the Thomas & Elizabeth Mayhook Charity to reproduce this image.