James Davies was a businessman in every sense of the word and took a keen interest in the affairs of Carmarthen, so much so that he became a very successful entrepreneur in the town. Rope was of course an essential commodity in the age of sail in Victorian Britain with a Royal Navy first rate ship of the line needing around 31 miles of it – over 20 for its rigging alone. James Davies during his apprenticeship at Chatham dockyard aged just 16 worked on the very same machinery that was used eighty years previously to make the ropes, sail and rigging for HMS Victory, the famous flagship having been built at Chatham in 1759. Chatham Dockyard was where James began his apprenticeship and it is here that his knowledge and expertise of the rope making process began. The building where he worked had an internal length of 1,135 feet (346 m) and when it was constructed it was the longest brick building in Europe. Hatchellers – semi-skilled artisans combed the raw hemp fibre across hatchels, boards with long iron pins to straighten out the fibres before they were spun into yarn. Whale oil, known as ‘train oil’ was used to lubricate the fibres. This was very hard manual work that took great strength.

A plan of Chatham Dockyard where James Davies worked as a young teenager. Chatham was where HMS Victory was built 80 years previously. The “Ropewalks” are the two very long buildings to the right of the plan .

There are many references to Carmarthen’s maritime past on many of the memorials in St David’s Cemetery as can be seen from the many inscriptions.


The top of the headstone of Master Mariner Fred Cadwallader with a little known but moving tribute to his past with this engraving of a ships anchor.

Sadly for James, he died in office after serving 18 years on the Town Council and was never to see the fruits of his labour. It was the first time that the Mayors chain was to be borne on a black crepe cushion. The Mayors chain, made in 1892 which is still in use today does not have his name inscribed on it, one assumes because he died in office. The following extracts are taken from a number of sources at the time which throws some light on a man who was committed to public life but whose life was cut short by illness. May he rest in peace.

The gold Mayoral badge that hangs from the chain showing the towns coat of arms. ( by kind permission of Carmarthen Town Council )


 We have to announce with regret the death, after an extremely painful illness, of Mr James Davies, Mayor of Carmarthen, which occurred at half-past one o’clock on Saturday morning. Some two months ago the deceased was obliged to relinquish his civic duties and appoint Mr Howell Howells, Pontgarreg, to act as his deputy. With the hope of recruiting his health, his worship visited the Welsh Wells, but after a brief sojourn only he had to return home and consult Dr. Roberts, of London. That eminent medical gentleman found that the case was a hopeless one, and the Mayor, after much severe suffering, succumbed to a cancerous disease in the stomach. The news, though not unexpected, was the topic on Saturday, and all paid a tribute to the sincerity of the deceased’s actions during his life time. Mr Davies was a St. Peter’s Boy to the core. He was born in the borough on the 12th of September, 1824. Both his grandfather and father (John Davies) were rope makers. After a few years tuition at an elementary school he was apprenticed to his parents. The term was evidently a short one, for when about 16 years of age he was doing a journeyman’s task in H.M. Dockyard at Chatham and when but 17 he married Miss Margaret Walters. Before he was two years older he returned to his native town and set up a business on his own account. By dogged perseverance he became a thriving rope maker and a general merchant. His wife died a few years after the marriage, and 35 years ago he married his present widow, the issue being four daughters and two sons, two of whom (one of each sex) are dead. Some seven years ago Mr Davies retired from business, the rope manufactory being taken over by his son, and the bakery, &c., by two of his daughters, Mrs Sampson and Miss Davies. The deceased had ever shown a keen interest in the town, his solicitude for the poor being of a marked character. For 17 years he had been a poor-law guardian of the parish of St. Peter, and it was his boast that he personally knew every pauper in the borough. For 18 years he was an honoured member of the Town Council and was made Mayor in November last. His policy on the council was “Save the ratepayers’ money,” and on some occasions he stuck to that motto, perhaps with a little too much tenacity. He was also an active member of the Towy Fishery Board, having been elected a representative of the Carmarthen fishermen. At Water-street Calvinistic Methodist Chapel on Sunday evening, the Rev. J. Wyndham Lewis referred to the loss the town had sustained through the death of the Mayor. His Worship had, he said, served his native town for many years, and, with the exception of a short period in his youth, bad always lived in their midst. He was a man of sterling qualities, and the town had lost one of its most loyal and faithful citizens, and the poor a generous and sympathetic friend. The funeral took place at noon on Wednesday, the interment being at St. David’s Churchyard. The cortege was a very large one. The general public came first. Among them being the Revs. C. G. Brown, J. D. Evans, J. Daniel, J. Griffiths, J. Marsden, D. J. Thomas, G. H. Roberts, A. Fuller Mills, W. Thomas, Parkglas; Father Peter, Principal Evans, Professor D. E. Jones, Professor Moore Messrs. W. Morgan Griffiths, J. Howell Thomas, George Bagnall, E. Lewis, Cillefwr; W. R. Edwards, James Brigstocke, D. T. Lloyd, Henry Howell, Lewis Daniel, T. Bland Davies, A. Soppitt, Frederick Jones, C. E. Davies, R. H. Holding, W. Spurrell, Albert Harries, J. P. Carter, Evan Morgan, James Davies, Towy Works; Alcwyn Evans, C. Scott, Rowland Browne, J. Johns, John Williams, watchmaker; J. Burgess, W. Evans, Stag’s Head W. S. Morris, Oliver Jones, T. Smith, D. Rogers, E. R. Evans, J. D. Evans, W. Lewis, saddler; D Phillip, Bradford House; T. Walters, Alma House; C. J. Davies, Sheaf Inn; H. James, Bunch of Grapes; J. Thomas, Penlan; J. B. Arthur, William Arthur, C. Whiteoak, D. Williams, etc. Then followed the borough police force, under Supt. Smith. The council came next, the members present being: Aldermen J. Rowlands, C. W. Jones, R. W. Richards, T. Jenkins, and E. A. Rogers; Councillors Thomas Davies, H. Cadle; H. Howells (deputy-mayor), D. Parcell Rees, E. Colby Evans, D. Griffiths, G. Talbot Norton, Walter Lloyd, Daniel Jones, John Lewis, C. Finch, J. T. Lewis, W. V. George, and John Jones, together with the Clerk of the Peace, Mr J. Barker the Town Clerk, Mr R. M. Thomas; the High Sheriff, Mr David Davies; borough surveyor, Mr J. Morgan; Mr T. Evans, Chapel-street; Mr A. Ll. Davies and Mr John Williams then came the hearse, followed by Mr David Morgan, Chequer’s Alley, carrying the mayoral chain. The first coach conveyed the Rev. T. R. Walters and Rev. J. N. Evans (the officiating clergy), Dr. E. R. Williams and Mr Arthur Lewis, Commerce House, to whom all the funeral arrangements had been entrusted. Mr James Davies is the seventh mayor of Carmarthen who has died in office. Martin Davy died in 1540, Walter Vaughan in 1593, Thomas Muggel in 1624, John Hughes in 1630, Griffith Williams in 1690, and William Brigstocke in 1700. It is worth noting that when Mr Griffith Williams died Mr W. Brigstocke was sworn in his stead; thirty years later Mr William Jones had to take Mr Brigstocke’s place under similar circumstances. A special meeting of the town council will be held on Tuesday to appoint a successor to the mayoralty. It is freely rumoured that Councillor Henry Cadle will be elected, but it cannot yet be authoritatively stated.


The grave of James Davies -Mayor of Carmarthen, and his family.


The remains of Mr. James Davies, Mayor of Carmarthen, were interred on Wednesday at St. David’s Churchyard, Carmarthen. At noon the cortège was drawn up in front of the deceased’s residence in Lammas street. The members of the Carmarthen Corporation and its officials, including the borough police force under Mr. Superintendent Smith, took part in the procession. Among the mourners were Mr. G. Davies, the only surviving son of the deceased, and three or four other members of the family. After the hearse was borne the mayoral chain on a roll of crape. The Rev. T. R. Walters, Vicar of St. David’s, assisted by the Rev. J. N. Evans, curate, officiated at the graveside.




A very elaborate gold chain and badge has been provided for the ancient and distinguished borough of Carmarthen. It is in 18-carat quality gold, hall-marked throughout, and the chain is particularly interesting. There are a series of principal links of a Gothic character, suiting the antiquities of the borough, the centres having Knight Templar shields with castellated crowns, which are also emblems of the mayoral office. Each of the large shields is intended to take the name and year of office of the successive Mayors, the first on each side of the centre link being engraved with the name of Mr Thomas Jenkins, the present Mayor, who has held office for the last two years. Between each of the larger links, connected by double sets of oval chain, comes the Gothic monogram, C.C.—Corporation of Carmarthen, the centre link are two civic maces charmingly wrought, and on the former is a shield with the Prince of Wales’s feathers, relating to the fact that Carmarthen was anciently and justly considered the capital of South Wales. Below the shield are the crossed leeks of Wales in saltire, enamelled and over it, upon a seal of honour, is placed the Royal crown. From this suggestive central emblem of the chain depends the badge—a large oval surrounded by an open wrought border of Maltese crosses and fleurs de lis, representing the coronet of the Principality of South Wales. Next comes the legend of the borough in gold letters on an enamelled ground, and within it is given a magnificent blazon of the Borough arms- the famous Castle of Carmarthen, with river arch and three towers, two ravens upon the side towers, and an ostrich feather on each side, with the lion passant retardant below. The welsh motto of the borough completes the blazon. The following inscription is given on the reverse of the badge:—”This mayoral chain and badge is the property of the Corporation of the Borough of Carmarthen, and was provided in the year 1892 by subscription amongst members of the Town Council and others, £50 being contributed by Peter Hopkins, Esq.” The whole has been carried out in the finest style, the commission having been given to Messrs. T. and J. Bragg, of Birmingham, through Messrs. Jenkins and Sons, of Carmarthen.




Special meeting of the Town Council held January 29th 1892.

The committee appointed to consider the question of procuring a chain for the mayor re- commended that the chain be not less than twenty ounces in weight, forty inches in length, and of eighteen carat gold. The designs of Messrs. Jenkins & Son, jewellers, Carmarthen, and that of Mr John Williams, jeweller, were submitted to the Council for final selection. Both designs, we should state, are strikingly handsome. Mr Williams showed a chain of eighteen carat gold, twenty ounces in weight, and forty-two inches in length, the design of Messrs. Manton and Mole, Birmingham. The chain is renaissance in style, and the links, which are oblong in form, carry a shield for the initials of the various mayors. The shield is surrounded by the letter “C,” in reference to the town. On the centre link are the arms of South Wales, supported on each side by Welsh dragons, and surmounted by a civic crown. Underneath is a wreath of leeks, and an ancient Welsh harp. This is particularly appropriate, as Carmarthen is held to be the birth-place of Merlin. On the top of the shield is a representation of the Prince of Wales’s coronet, surmounted with the usual plume of feathers. The badge carries the corporation maces and sword, with the Prince of Wales’s plume, civic crown, and goat surrounding the whole. The cost of the chain is £150. The design sent in by Messrs. Jenkins & Son was by Messrs. Bragg, Birmingham. The specification showed that the chain consists of a series of links, having on the front a shield for the names, &c., of succeeding mayors. These links are surmounted by a mural crown typical of civic power, and are connected with another link forming two “C’s”, which refer to Carmarthen Corporation. The centre shield or appendage shows the plumes of the Prince of Wales, the Welsh leek in enamel, and the Royal Crown surmounts the whole. On each side are gold maces, typical of the Royal Authority. The badge, of oval shape, bears the borough arms in correct heraldic colours. Around this is an enamel medallion, bearing an inscription from a seal restored to the borough in the reign of George III in 1774. The border consists of fleur de lis and Maltese crosses, taken from the coronet of the Prince of Wales. The price is £146. 5s, the chain to be of 18 carat gold, weight twenty ounces. It was decided to proceed with the vote by ballot. The result showed that Mr Williams received three votes, and Messrs. Jenkins & Son, 13. It was, therefore, resolved to accept their tender.


The 18 carat gold chain and badge of the Mayor of Carmarthen. ( By kind permission of Carmarthen Town Council )


Henry Brunel White was Mayor of Carmarthen for four consecutive years from 1894 to 1897. This is the earliest known photograph of the Mayors Chain believed to have been taken in 1894 – two years after it’s manufacture.


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