From the time the Dillwyn family came to to live at Penllergare in 1817, to the decline of the estate from 1927, ‘the big house’ and its inhabitants had an increasing influence and impact on the growth of the local community.
At the edge of the estate to the northwest, was the important crossway between Neath (to the east), the estuary (west), Swansea (south) and Pontardulais (west and north). It was marked at the beginning of the 19th century by the Old Inn on one side and by a few scattered thatched cottages. During this time the hamlet was known as Cors Einon. The wider area included a few farms and the small but important mills at Melin Llan, Parc-bach, Lliw Bridge and Cadle.
The birth of Gorseinon and Penllergaer
After coal mining began on an industrial scale in the area in the mid 19th century (1843 onwards) and the railway arrived in 1881, William Lewis of Melin Llan started his tinplate works to the west near Rhydymaerdy. The emerging township became known as Lower Cors Einon and eventually dropped ‘Lower’. The newly built railway station there was called Gorseinon. To differentiate between the two places – the village at the top of the hill became synonymous with the Dillwyn Llewelyn estate of Penllergare and took its name – acknowledging the celtic origins, and more correct spelling of, Penllergaer – “the head of the camp of fortified earthworks” – which it has remained ever since.
Penllergare and the local community
From 1817, as the estate grew in importance it provided employment. At the north entrance, a lodge was built, and nearby John Dillwyn Llewelyn erected new slate roofed cottages (reputedly designed by his wife Emma) to house estate worker’s families. Some of these still survive at Cadle and Penllergaer. Three other lodges were built on the new drive at Penllergare.
Opposite the Old Inn, in 1837 the foundation stone was laid for a ‘Chapel of Ease’ known as St.David’s. Built by John Dillwyn Llewelyn on the western boundary of the estate at his own expense and expressly for the benefit of his family, estate workers and the local community. A parsonage was built opposite. Apart from Sunday worship the church became the centre for most of the leisure and social activities of the area for two generations. The family at the ‘big house’ were enthusiastic supporters and benefactors of concerts, choir and Sunday School outings, national celebrations, festivals, fetes and sporting activities.
Next to the church, John Dillwyn Llewelyn built Penplas originally as a convalescent and retirement home for his employees (later this was lived in by the headteacher of Gorseinon Board School when it opened in 1882).
The first village school was also founded by John Dillwyn Llewelyn at North Lodge. When pupil numbers increased it became the girl’s school and the boy’s department was moved to Ysgol Gamp, later to become the Old Post Office. Eventually when larger premises were required the North Lodge school building became the Sunday School, the village library and the venue for meetings, parties, talks and lectures.
Later Sir John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn (the son of John Dillwyn Llewelyn and the heir of the Penllergare estate) built the Drill Hall for the 5th Glamorgan Volunteer Rifles on the north-east corner of the crossways and, after some renovation in 1920, he gave it to the church when it was renamed the Penllergaer Club and Church Institute. He also provided a cricket field and pavilion between Home Farm and the village to indulge his own passion for the game and as a local amenity.
The gardens and parkland were frequently opened to the visiting public, especially at daffodil and rhododendron time, and many charities benefited from the fundraising occasions held at the ‘big house’ and in marquees on the lawn.