Roberts Wells

J.W. Roberts and Co: Swansea Road Nurseries

Swansea Road Nurseries

A market garden kept the Roberts family afloat in 1875 when financial problems forced the Llanelly Pottery to close for two years.  Many Staffordshire potters left Llanelli but Thomas Roberts (1833-1904) made a living selling produce.

His father in law John Wells (1787-1850) had worked as a gardener, probably for the Dundas family at Wauncrychydd Farm or Ael y Bryn, now the Diplomat Hotel (the death of John Wells’ newborn son John in 1813 is recorded in the Llanelli Parish register as “at Dundas’s”).  John Wells senior came from a notorious slum at Westminster in London know as the Devil’s Acre where his mother (according to witness evidence to an Old Bailey trial in 1789) ‘sold greens about the streets in a cart’.

John Wells Roberts outside his shop

Thomas Roberts’ son John Wells Roberts (1862-1932) had no interest in following his sisters into the Pottery when it re-opened and he persuaded his father to let him run the garden as a business.  When the new market opened in Llanelli in 1884 he rented a shop at the Cowell Street entrance which was run by the family for more than 75 years, later by his sons Frank (1904-1960) and Jack (1901-1955).

J.W. Roberts and Co sold flowers, fruit and vegetables. Some was sent down by train from Covent Garden market in London but much of it was grown at Swansea Road Nurseries, a piece of land first rented from the Stepney Estate in October 1888.  They grew the best tomatoes in town. Fruit from each plant would be tasted and piece of rag tied round the best which would be saved for seed. At busy times all female members of the family were pressed into service making wreaths, bouquets and buttonholes.

John Wells Roberts and his sisters

The freehold of the nurseries was not bought until the 1950s by which time the Roberts family had two houses and greenhouses on the land.  Tom Roberts bought two neighbouring houses at the end of Bryntirion Terrace for his daughters Elizabeth (1868-1940) and Emma (1874-1944).  His daughter Sarah Jane (1859-1935), the cockerel plate paintress, worked in the business after the Llanelly Pottery closed, as did his granddaughter Annie Gwendoline Hawkins (1905-1988) and his son in law Jack Thomas (1848-1935). The shop and the nurseries closed after the death of Frank Roberts in 1960.

The land was sold to the council and the houses were demolished in the 1980s for the construction of the new A484 road from Llanelli to Swansea.


  • Sian Howell (Hurren)
    February 6, 2018 - 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful to see these photos. This was where we used to play as children long after the gardens had closed. We didn’t need to go home for lunch as we would eat our way through the fruit bushes that remained there. To us the gardens were know at Roberts Y Gardd.

  • Frederick Williams
    February 7, 2018 - 7:27 am | Permalink

    Hello I lived and played as a young boy around that place do you have any more photos please

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