Every year the Election of Llansteffan’s Mock Mayor is the first colourful event in what has now become known as Fiesta week. Held on the Friday night of that week of festivities, this huge and important event is an extension of a tradition which has it’s roots way back in the 19th Century and possibly much further . Llansteffan’s status as a borough was confirmed by King John in 1200, which meant that fairs and markets could be held there. Two fairs a year were held, Ffair Fawr and Ffair Fach. Dates changed periodically. A Mock Mayor-making ceremony coinciding with the August Fair was certainly established by 1875 as William Waters describes the ceremony in his History of Llanstephan:
The “Mayor” was `carried on chiefly by Glamorganshire visitors … on or about August 8 … The so-called mayor is drawn by his friends in a carriage for some distance, the procession generally terminating in the wood near the beach, when his representative announces to the audience that the the “newly elected mayor” will soon effect great improvements in the ancient “maritime borough” at his own expense; such as erecting an iron bridge from the Castle Hill to St Ishmael’s, purchasing a large number of bathing machines, and establishing coffee taverns on the sands!’
According to the late Griff Rees, a local historian and County Councillor, the origin of the election has been lost in the mists of the 19th Century when the tenants of the various small holdings that made up the village would congregate once a year in the lounge of the Union Hall, the local hostelry now known as the Sticks. There, they would pay their annual tithes and taxes to whatever local landowner held their leases and over the years this event evolved into a more social occasion, and whether to allieve the pain of paying large sums of money to their landowners or not, the village agricultural workers decided to elect one of their number as Mock Mayor for the year to come. The winner of the election was then mounted in the shafts of a local cart or gambo and made to parade around the village for the amusement of all and sundry.
As a ceremony, it’s popularity ebbed and flowed like the tide according to the idiosyncratic nature of the village population, but the ceremony came into its own as it coincided with Llansteffan’s popularity as a tourist resort. During the late 19th Century the Election was very popular with the Victorian holidaymaker, and also at the turn of the century, when Welsh coal miners from the Rhondda were here in great numbers for Miners Fortnight. The Mock Mayor election now took on a new lease of life. But it changed its nature somewhat as it came to be an election not of someone from the village, but from amongst the number of the holidaymakers in the village or at the very least from as far afield as Carmarthen town. Local Mayors from Llansteffan village would not be seen again until at least the 1980s.
But in those far off Victorian days the Election was held in the Sticks woods close to y Gegin Fach where you can still see the remains of of the old Election stage to this day. Its popularity was demonstrated in the fascinating photographs of the resident village photograher – William Vince at the turn of the century as his unique photos show the crowds of people mobbing the cart as it makes it’s progression around the village.
Candidates and their agents went around canvassing and the election promises became more and more inventive. In 1916 women were given the vote. Indeed, there were occasions when women were even elected Mayor. Voting procedure added to the hilarity; the arrival of last-minute votes from somewhere far afield like Patagonia would change the whole course of the election.
Another wave of popularity occurred during the inter-war years when a succession of colourful characters kept the Election in the forefront of summer activities. This popularity was also helped by the interest taken in the old ceremony by Mr Jack Thomas or Jack the Carrier, a local businessman who ran the transport service from Carmarthen to Llansteffan amongst other things. And surely a flourishing summer attraction did little harm to his trade of bringing visitors back and forth to the village. Whatever the reason the next 20 – 30 years were to be the zenith of this old ceremony producing many memorable characters.
William Pugh of Clydach
A giant of a man who could easily control an audience of thousands. Even.so the crowds were so large in the period 1935-1939 that he had to have amplifying equipment. He was the “Returning Officer” and Mayor in 1929.
Madam Lloyd George 1954
No! Not the Madam Lloyd George, but rather a local lass who was married to Police Sergeant Lloyd George of Mountain Ash. She worked tirelessly for the success of the event and was usually the “Lady Mayoress”.
Bonny Lewis of Carmarthen 1953
The most famous candidate was W.H. ‘Bonny’ Lewis, easily identified in photographs by his top hat. In 1933 as out-going Mayor, he included in his election address a proposal for a daily air service from Llanstephan to Llansaint and another for `a huge Observatory to be erected on the Castle Grounds to publish weather conditions for farmers and shoemakers. Without his great contribution to the efforts Mayors Day would never have reached its popularity. He entertained thousands of visitors to L1ansteffan, not only on Mayors Day but throughout the season. A powerful baritone voice and tremendous sense of humour kept up the interest in the village year after year. Far less colourful and likeable characters have had “appreciations” written upon their death. Mayor in 1932 and 1953. He became known for his war cry “I am a man of power a man of destiny”
Bonny Lewis addressing his electorate on stage and on foot
Paddy Trench of Carmarthen
His opponent Mr `Paddy’ Trench in onevelection famously countered with a suggestion that all cockles be gold-plated to enhance their value and that the Bay be well-stocked with mermaids to attract old bachelors. In the event, neither won: a woman, Mrs Gibbon was elected. Paddy was a lively Irishman with a great natural wit, and his foil performances with Bonny in the 1934-6 elections will long be remembered for their pre-election eves where hundreds of people would line the Square to listen to the various speeches.
“Captain” Dicky Bell of Llanelli 1934
Dressed in full naval uniform, he strode at the head of the Mayoral Procession and treated his opponents and electorate as “something from the lower deck”. He was elected in 1934.
During most of the 1960s and 1970s the prestigious ceremony all but disappeared from view. With the popularity of the Swinging Sixties, The Beatles, and the advent of television in most homes, home spun entertainment like the Mock Mayor had to fight very hard to keep it’s head above the water. But with the great help of Llansteffan Football Club, and many individuals around the village like Glan Evans and Griff Rees, the election survived.
A Dangerous Des Cridland on the Electoral Trail
Also, it must be noted that the appearance of such noted characters and Mayors like Des Cridland were instrumental in bringing the Mayoral ship through rather stormy times. In the 1980s the Mock Mayor took on another life of it’s own. Strongly backed by village stalwarts like Tudor Bevan and Penri Thomas the election seemed to find a new lease of life and a new character list to breathe a new vibrancy into the old ceremony.
In 1987 to coincide with a Margaret Thatcher election, the TV cameras arrived in Llansteffan to film what must be one of the most unique elections in Wales, if not the British Isles. The cameras highlighted the traditional dirty tricks used by all the parties involved and dissected the various ridiculous promises given by all candidates to the electorate. Who can forget that nail biting finish when the ex-pat vote arrived from Patagonia to unseat the incumbent Mayor Des Cridland and crown the Morality candidate Mr Peter Jones as Mayor. Then, in scenes of riot and chaos, that very decision was also to be overturned when the appearance onstage of an accusatory pregnant woman somewhat upturned the Morality candidate’s apple cart.
A rare copy of an early campaigning video by two long forgotten candidates – circa 2008
A later video from 2009 featuring a rather famous historical character
Last year’s campaign video by a descendant of the previous year – a new rock star was born!
2011 Mock Mayor Election
Mayor Iwan Lewis Mayor Norman Cook
The 2011 Campaign video scandalizes the community!!!
What must be remembered is that every Llansteffan Mayor needs a worthy opponent, and all the opponents over the years have been just as important as the eventual winner . From the 80s to the present day we have had a succession of quality mayors and opponents, amongst them the king of them all – Des Cridland followed by Gerald Wilson, Margaret Meade, Iwan Lewis, and the present Mayor, Norman Cook. And who can forget their many worthy opponents over the years in whatever guise – the much loved John Thomas (JT), Elgan Evans, Chris Wilson, Peter Jones, Dennis O’Connor, John Evans, Terry Jarman, and the Sheriff of Llanybri amongst many worthy others. Long may it continue!