End of an era: Rowland Evans recollects memories of his life in farming

ROWLAND Evans is the son of a farming family who were based in St Clears Carmarthenshire. His journey from the farm at Gorsgandrill where he became restless to jumping aboard a ship, which took months to reach Australia is the story of schoolboy dreams.

Rowland was also part of the Glyn Coch Designs business, which he started with his first wife Jean. We met Rowland at his home in Lady Park Tenby where he now lives with his second wife.

Rowland’s story begins on a small farm in St Clears when farming really was hand to mouth. The farm was home to a small herd of cows, a bull, some chickens, pigs, ducks with just about everything being done by hand. As a small boy Rowland would wander off through the fields even going so far as to cross the A40, which in those days would have seen very slight traffic, but caused enough concern for his parents to ‘wallop’ him.

Rowland had itchy feet and in his own words he was ‘not very academic’. His future was mapped out. He was to stay on the farm and help out until such time as he took over from his father. As with any father and son relationship, there were troubled times. Having attended the local primary school and passed uneventfully through secondary school, Rowland was sent off to Gelli Aur Farming College. Here he enjoyed all the practical aspects of the courses but loathed any academic work. Keen to implement what he had learned he spoke of his ideas to his father who brushed them off as fanciful and not part of his plans.

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Rowland tells of a time when he had learned about the value of strip grazing instead of turning the cows out into a whole field of grass to spoil it. So keen was he that he spent some of his own money purchasing an electric fence to begin the process on the farm. Before he could switch the machine on, his father had grabbed hold of it and returned it to whence it had come. It was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for Rowland.

Coming from a large extended family Rowland had uncles who had taken their opportunities and gone off to farm in England. It was here that he fled first of all and gained an insight into another world, another way of doing things. Farming was going through rapid changes and young farmer’s clubs (YFC’s) sprang up debating the future of farming. The organisation was where young farmers had fun and traditionally met their husbands and wives. Rowland freely admits that he didn’t have much success with the ladies at that time.

By pure chance Rowland was party to a conversation at a family gathering when a vicar spoke of the opportunities in a far of land called Australia. Something ignited in Rowland and he became curious enough to take a trip to London to see if he could board a ship for the Gold Coast. With his money tucked into his shoes he found a shipping office and was asked if he had the necessary paper work. He didn’t. It was a long journey home and a steep learning curve for the young farmer. Not to be deterred he took another shot at it, this time he had saved the money and had all the paperwork. Despite his family begging him to stay he set off and boarded a ship for the princely sum of £107. A small fortune in those days.

What is extraordinary is that Rowland had no idea what was ahead of him. No internet in those days. He could have read books on the country but he chose to just play it all by ear. The ship he boarded had cabins, which were allocated for those who wanted to cruise the world. These were paying passengers. Rowland explained that he was quickly adopted by the world travellers and the crew and was taken ashore at every port and shown around. It was a very different world where only the select few could afford world travel.

His mother had made him promise that when he arrived in Australia he would look smart and wear a suit and tie. Having travelled for months and with hardly a penny in his pockets he donned his suit as the ship arrived in the harbour. It was a sweltering 110c and there he was suited and booted with his tie on while all around Dockers, travellers et al were in light clothing, shorts and hats.

Rowland headed for the employment lines in the hope of landing a job. The reality hit home when he saw the queues of people. He had been advised to go to Perth as that was where the work could be found. Having travelled there he again joined the queues and this time he was offered a job on a sheep farm. As a young naive Welsh farmer’s son he was easy prey for the locals who teased him asking him to count hundreds of sheep in a pen.

A strapping young man he was soon recruited to play rugby and he made plenty of friends. After almost four years he was offered a position at a massive grain silo and he was told it was a job for life if he wanted it. All the time he had been receiving letters from home from his family. They only wanted one thing. To see him return home. In one letter Rowland was told that his father had bought another farm and that this farm would be his should he decide to return home. The temptation was too great and he upped sticks and headed back.

There was a period he says when he was considered as the outsider at home. A young man who had travelled the world was not seen as someone to be welcomed but someone to be envied and brought back down to Earth. This he says happened on the rugby field where he received a bruising from the local lads. The farm he inherited was not as we would say today ‘fit for purpose’ but Rowland being the hardworking man with ideas set about restoring the old buildings and making a go of it.

On an excursion to Tenby he took his chance and cornered a young lady asking her to dance. After communicating by post the relationship blossomed. Jean, a young, quiet gentle and refined English lady as he described her was to become his wife. Jean had an artistic talent. She was as Rowland describes a gentle and creative soul. Jean had a talent for working with oil based paints and Rowland created a studio on the farm for her to work. It may not have been what his family wanted, a more practical girl from farming stock was what usually befell the local farmer’s sons.

Life was tough but Rowland continued to have those chance meetings and lucky breaks. One of his neighbours was a rep for milking machines and he helped Rowland no end enabling him to extend his herd and produce milk. Another chance meeting with a fruit farmer and a conversation about growing strawberries led to this young man diversifying and beginning to grow strawberries. He researched it and eventually found the best strawberry variety for the conditions in West Wales. He sold them to local cafes, shops and restaurants. All this time Jean was painting. Another conversation about pottery led Rowland to visit Stoke, where he met some young men who were setting up a new business. It happened to be production of transfers for pottery. The synergy between what they were doing and what Jean was producing was obvious to Rowland. The rest as they say is history.

Glyn Coch Designs was born and the small studio quickly turned into a production facility where Jean’s beautiful artwork was used to create transfers, which in turn were placed onto fine bone china. The results were what we have come to know as Llanelly Pottery, which has graced the Welsh dressers of farms and homes across Wales for decades. Limited edition designs were produced and ever the entrepreneur Rowland would scan the local paper for news of anywhere having a special celebration or the end of an era for an establishment and then travel to try and speak to the head honcho and convince them that what they needed was a plate or a jug to help commemorate the event. It worked and celebratory pottery was produced for the likes of Big Pit, RAF Brawdy, Dylan Thomas commemorations and Royal Commissions. Glyn Coch became a household name in Wales sitting in display cabinets in the posh shops like Pugh Brothers of Llanelli.

The farm continued with the help of others, family and friends and Rowland and Jean built up a very successful business, which at one time saw coach loads of visitors travelling down the farm lane to get a piece of Welsh pottery and of course a punnet of strawberries. The business branched out and opened a studio at Stepaside near Tenby.

Having had a fantastic run and having raised a family Rowland and Jean separated. Rowland met his second wife Lou and they settled in Tenby. Many photographers and artists throughout history have at some stage in their lives, usually in a fit of madness but sometimes for a specific reason, destroyed part or most of their work. Although Rowland was not the artist he retained Jean’s work as part of a business agreement.

In the last year Rowland has decided to sell up and move closer to family on the English borders. It was as he says time to clear out. While doing so he came across the boxes of transfers containing many of the iconic designs. If as he says those transfers fell into the hands of others they could replicate the pottery and thus in Rowland’s view devalued what had already been produced. It is about loyalty he says. Loyalty to the shops and galleries who bought the pieces and loyalty to those who own them. Rowland took the decision to destroy what was left of the transfers. In effect there will be no more replicas. If you happen to have a piece of Llanelly Pottery or Glyn Coch Designs hang on to them.

It has been a great experience meeting this adventurer, farmer, sales man, strawberry grower and traveller. Rowland’s story along with Jean’s creative work will live on in Wales through the beautiful pieces they produced. Some years ago they gifted a large collection to Parc Howard Museum. It is we believe still on display there to this day. Llanelly House also carries a large collection of Llanelly Pottery.

A remarkable story it may not be to some but consider the period they did it in. Diversification, cottage industry, the arts and crafts movement and a Wales and world without the Internet. It really is a testimony to Rowland and Jean that the Glyn Coch Designs succeeded and have become such treasured possessions in Welsh culture.

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