The Fforestfach Show of 1909

     Before we start out story, let’s remind ourselves that Fforestfach is a part of Swansea which should never be overlooked. It has a history which is hidden beneath the skin of our everyday world. There was a highly significant battle in Cadle in 970 AD between rival Welsh princes, the details of which have slipped from the collective memory, but the legacy of that brutal confrontation is still there in the names we use every day. Cadle itself means ‘place of battle,’ Penllergaer means ‘the head of the camp’ and Killay, further away of course, ‘the place of retreat.’ In fact the area had a history long before Swansea did. The old Roman road heading to the west is beneath the surface too, though its outline is clearly visible along Middle Road.

     Fforestfach developed in the nineteenth century as Swansea expanded and people arrived to serve the industries. There were a number of collieries, the brickworks at Cwmdu, as well as the railway through Cockett, which all needed workers and the town slowly drew the area into its embrace.
     It is still, however,  a place where the city meets the countryside. It is a route into Swansea from north Gower and it is a place where farms and gardens and allotments have always been important.

    In the summer of 1909, the second annual show of the Fforestfach Agriculture and Cottage Garden Society was held. Sir John and Lady Llewelyn turned up to bring dignity to the occasion and three thousand spectators were there to make up a crowd. They enjoyed the excitement of judging horses, dogs, pigeons and poultry and presumably gasped with astonishment when D. Jones of Killay won the prize for the best mangold. But the mood on that bright day in early August was suddenly destroyed and a child was killed.

     The crowd had gathered around the display ring for the judging of the best presented tradesman‘s horse and waggon. One of the entrants was a team belonging to W. G. Lloyd, a removals man, from Landore. The driver was William Leach and he ensured that the horse trotted happily round the ring, pulling a heavy waggon. On its second circuit however, it unexpectedly made a sudden dash for the exit and ploughed into the crowd. Spectators were thrown in all directions and some were trapped beneath the waggon. It was a scene of terrible confusion.

     ‘Shrieks rent the air, and there was such a rush to the scene that it took several policemen all their time to keep the excited surging crowd off the struggling people on the ground.’ (The Carmarthen Journal.)

    Others could not get away from the scene. Consequently attempts to rescue those trapped were hampered.

    The horse was quickly brought to a standstill by Mr. S. Snell of Ffynone Lodge, who grabbed the reins when it was on the top of as many as 15 people.

     ‘It was fortunate this was so, for had it been allowed to get any further many more people must have been injured.’  (The Cambrian)

     When the accident happened, another competition was just finishing – the competition for ambulance work- and the team led by Dr Frazer had just won a prize.

     ‘Thus there was a band of willing and skilful helpers ready at hand, and unfortunately there was work on which they could test the value of their teaching. These, with five other squads rushed to the scene, and quickly they were administering to the requirements of the sufferers.’  (The Carmarthen Journal)

     Eighteen year old John Jones from Tycoch, was the first of the victims to be struck. He was knocked unconscious, and a wheel ran over his leg, though he suffered no broken bones. Others, however, were not so lucky and the Mainwaring family of Fforestfach suffered considerably.

     Seven year old Annie May Mainwaring had been leaning on the rope around the display ring when the horse trampled into her.  The base of her skull was fractured. She was carried to Dr Frazier’s surgery, half-a-mile away, but died there within thirty minutes.  She had been badly crushed by either horse or waggon .Her grandfather, Robert, suffered an injury to his knee and her grandmother was wounded on the arm and leg, while her three year old sister Rachel, sustained a fractured thigh and a brother had injuries to the arm. Several others were injured, including a woman who sustained serious mouth injuries, and others suffered from shock.

     You will be delighted to hear that the Carmarthen Journal confirms  that ‘when order had been restored and the injured were removed the judging was resumed, and the proceedings carried on to the finish.’ Such fortitude.

    At the inquest held the following day, William Leach declared that the horse had been frightened by the band which was playing.  He tried to control the startled animal but when his foot slipped he dropped the reins accidentally and before he knew it the animal was crashing through the ropes and into the crowd.  Police Sergeant Thomas from Sketty said the band was not playing when the horse bolted. Others maintained that they had seen Leach use his whip before the accident happened.

     The owner of the horse, William George Lloyd, couldn’t understand what had happened and spoke highly of the horse, saying that it was normally very quiet and he also spoke in support of the driver.  Leach said he had been driving horses for about twenty years and had been a total abstainer for fourteen years. On reflection,  he did not think he could have done anything other than what he did under the circumstances.

     It is interesting that the coroner, delivering a verdict which surely would never be delivered today, said the accident was a very deplorable one, but there was nothing which indicated culpable negligence. The evidence showed that the driver did all he could and a verdict of accidental death was returned.

Illustration by Anna Farba. With permission

     In response to the tragedy, the committee for the Gower Show, which met a few days later, discussed the need to take out insurance cover for themselves and Swansea District Council examined the incident, briefly, later in the month. They felt that the accident was the result of inadequate preparations, ‘for the access and egress from the field’ was very poor. Their view was that the accident was preventable and that responsibility lay with the managing committee of the show. No action however was taken.

     In 1917 the Show was revived and held in Gendros by the Fforestfach Allotment and Cottage Garden Food Production Society. You will be as pleased as I was to learn that the winner of the ‘Best Collection of Vegetables’ was R. Phillips of Loughor. The prize was donated by H. A. Leak of Oxford Street.

Thank you for reading my piece – and for any of the others on the Blog you have read, too.

If you would like to listen to an extract from Our Lady of Mumbles (details of the book are, of course, on the website) then click on the link below and you can listen to me narrating a section about a public disturbance on Nichol Street in Swansea.
This is the fourth audio file I have prepared. The other three are also on my YouTube channel.


  1. Very interesting Where was it held in Fforestfach? I recall going to similar shows in The Ravenhill bus garages in the early 50s’

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