Heritage buildings: Carmarthen going to ‘rack and ruin’ fears

A public meeting on Wednesday will discuss how to save a number of buildings falling into “rack and ruin”.

These include the former workhouse and the former post office, both architecturally significant buildings which have played a prominent part in the town’s history.

The workhouse was heavily damaged by fire in March 2018.

Mary Thorley, chair of Carmarthen Civic Society, said: “Rather than allowing the middle of our town to become almost a ghost town with empty buildings getting more and more derelict, we’d like to see some sort of planning – be it bringing people back to live in town or grants being given to businesses to use these buildings in the best possible way.”

Which buildings are at risk?

Buildings currently empty include the former Capitol cinema on John Street, which opened in 1930, and a number of early 18th Century houses on Quay Street, which at one time was the main route between the centre of town and the quayside on the River Tywi.

The former workhouse on Penlan Road was built in the 1830s and was stormed by protestors during the Rebecca Riots in 1843 but all efforts to save the building from becoming derelict have failed.

Fire at Old Workhouse
The former workhouse was gutted by fire last year
Former Guildhall courthouse

The building’s future is looking even more precarious after it was devastated in a fire in March last year.

The council said it was trying to preserve some of the empty buildings.

It bought the former Guildhall from the Ministry of Justice in 2016 – the building, which had been empty has now reopened as a bar.

But councillor David Jenkins, who is the executive board member for finance, says money was tight for similar projects.

“To say do more, you need resources but they’re in short supply,” he told BBC Wales.

“We’d like to do more but we’ve got to cut the cloth to suit the purse.”

New lease of life

Former Zion chapel
Former Zion chapel interior
Former Zion chapel interior

The former Zion Methodist Chapel on Mansell Street is highlighted as an example of a former historic building finding a new lease of life.

It now houses a camera shop, one of the biggest in Wales. Its owner Mathew Whittal-Williams said he was determined to find an old building for the business.

“One advantage of chapels is that they tend to be in the middle of town. That’s what we wanted, rather than being stuck on an industrial estate,” he said.

“You see so many chapels crumbling away – it’s sacrilege that a huge effort went into constructing these buildings and yet they’re allowed to rot.

“This building though, will be looked after for years to come.”

Mary Thorley

The public meeting will try to find a solution for the town’s empty buildings.

“The aim is to get the town working together to bring forward ideas for ensuring the future of empty religious, commercial and public buildings,” Ms Thorley said.

“Carmarthen has an uninterrupted history from pre-Roman times and to allow that heritage to slip away would be such a shame.”

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