The following is an obituary to the late Albie Evans, 1902 – 1968
Albie Evans was born Albert Francis Evans in Llanelli in 1902 and began work as a 17 year old as a self employed wagon repairer. He used to travel as far as Milford and Haverfordwest to repair wagons used by steel works, collieries, etc., in their sidings. Most of the wagons were owned by the railways, such as Great Western and private collieries and the bills for repair sent to the head office.
In 1922 Albie went into partnership with an associate called Dave Williams but, by 1925 Mr Williams was in financial trouble and emigrated to Canada leaving Albie as the sole owner of Evans & Williams Wagon repairers.
Over the following years, with the help of his foreman and close friend, Harvey Thomson, Albie gradually built the company up and had workshops at Nevill Docks, which could house 12 wagons in the sheds at any one time. He also had a machine shop, which mainly re-threaded bolts, and a carpentry shop, which contained tools such as a cross cut saw, and he had two blacksmiths. Wagons were made out of three types of wood – solid oak, mahogany and pine.
Twice a week lorries delivered sacks of timber blocks salvaged from damaged wagons to the work force, friends and others associated with the wagon business. One of many examples of Albie’s generosity is that a few weeks before Christmas the men would use the machinery to manufacture toys such as kites, cricket bats, toy planes, scooters, ball bearing trolleys and ping pong bats, etc., out of wood. Up to three generations of a single family worked for Evans & Williams and in 1946 it was the first private company in Wales to pay a non-contributory pension to its’ workers.
With the outbreak of WW2 in 1939 the company expanded further with outstations such as one at the Old Castle Tin Plate works. In 1941, 45 men worked at the Nevill Dock site and, luckily, missed the Swansea Blitz, which claimed 230 lives from a total of 44 bombing raids over South Wales.
The men used to take lunch from 1.00 to 1.30 pm down the local pub but Albie soon realised that some were not returning until 1.50 pm. On questioning, the reply was “Sorry boss, but we have to wait for the runner to arrive at 1.45 to give him our bets (horse-racing)”. Albie’s solution to the problem was to ask them to be back by 1.30 pm but he would start taking their bets himself. Within 5 years he had 230 runners working for him taking bets!
At the companies office in James Street 5 clerks worked until noon in the wagon accounts office and then transferred to a tin shed office in the garden, which had five phones, where bets used to be taken. Runners received 10% of bets stake money, as commission, up to the value of £5 and 5% over £5. Although betting was illegal at the time, it was socially accepted by the public and authorities alike and very little control was encountered.
When betting was legalised in 1961 Albie, who was trading as ‘A F Evans Turf Accountant” had 19 shops from Kidwelly to Gorseinon.
On the wagon repair front steel had replaced wood in the manufacture of new wagons in the 1950s and by the early 1960s few timber wagons still existed. The death knell of the wagon repairing industry came in 1963 when the “Lord Beeching Report” was published called “The Reshaping of British Railways”. The Labour Government had privatised the railways in 1954, forming British Rail. The outcome of this was that all repairs were done by in-house in British Rail workshops and the orders stopped for all private companies. Evans & Williams and many others were forced to close down and generations of families working at the company had to sadly look for other employment.
Away from wagons, Greyhounds were Albie’s main love in life. He owned what is now known as Llanerch and Penygaer playing fields and at the far end of Penygaer built a dog track. Although the council would not grant permission for regular meetings, Albie was allowed to hold meetings 8 weeks a year without a licence. He made these 16 weeks with back to back years, with races held on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
A fence was made at the works to put around the track, and, wait for it, the hare was a rugby ball with a fur tail stuck on it, pulled around the track on a pulley system with an Austin 9 car providing the horsepower. Once the flag was raised someone would accelerate the car and the hare was away with the six traps opened. Meetings were extremely popular, with up to 1000 people regularly in attendance. Unable to develop the facilities further Albie eventually donated Llanerch and Penygaer to the town with the proviso that the land could be used purely as sports fields, in perpetuity. The farmhouse was sold to the council and became a housing site.
Albie was extremely supportive of anyone involved in sport. In the early 1950s Llanelli Football Club was in financial trouble and Albie bought Stebonheath to save the club. He had plans to make it into a proper stadium, with a dogs track surrounding it but, again the council would not grant permission. Four years later he ended up returning the ground to the supporters club at its initial price.
Sadly, Albie passed away in 1968. His health had deteriorated as the outcome of so many days working outside in his younger days and he was stricken with arthritis. He left two sons, Karl and Barry. Albie’s wife had passed away when Karl was four and a half and Albie remarried. Albie’s legacy of Evans & Williams Sports Club lives on and if it wasn’t for his Company, and wonderful workforce, donation of kit and a pitch nobody would be recalling memories of the last 50 years.
Evans & Williams Football Club originated in the late 1950’s, after some of the workers from the Evans & Williams Wagon Works, decided to form a football team. They were supported by owner Albie Evans, hence the club gaining the nickname ‘Albies’.