Tag Archives: Welsh Chutney

The Amman Valley Bubble

(Professor Crafty d’Og’s article on the the scandal of the Amman & Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise, with a surprising link to the settlement of Welsh Patagonia)

The Amman Valley Bubble (The Chutney that never was)

Chutneys are always today considered to be an introduction from the great Indian sub-continent – they were indeed being imported from there in large quantities by the early nineteenth century, any gaps in the ships being filled up with leaf tea.  This lack of a local chutney was largely due to the great difficulty in reaching the Welsh chutney seams which, at over 200 feet, were too deep to safely reach with existing technology[1] .  British chutneys had long been extracted from the small bell-pits of the south-east of England but this had been of the Piccalilli variety[2].  Though Kent chutney was popular, it was not universally so.  The demand for chutneys led to their import from the far east (even further east than East Anglia), but because of the long sea journeys that involved[3], there was a desire for a home-grown chutney, so to speak.  There had been some Welsh chutney mining during the late eighteenth century as the beds of mango of the Amman valley had been exploited due to their closeness to the surface.  It’s popularity and scarcity led to its early demise, and the trade was blighted by the Amman Valley Bubble scandal of the 1820’s. 

The scandal (in reality, a tremendous fraud) began when rumours of a great find of an easily accessible hot chutney (supposedly a chilli one) spread like hot butter across Wales.  Almost immediately a company emerged, the Amman and Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise, who proposed to exploit the outcrop (so near the surface, they said, that it was dripping into a local stream).  They issued shares in this rich chutney seam, the price of which rocketed as everyone wanted a slice of the chutney pie (excuse the mixed metaphors).  The company bought a stretch of the foothills of the Black Mountain (paid for in shares) and had even started clearing trees and scrub for a tramroad that was to take the chutney in wagons to the coast.  The day before the ground was due to be broken to open a tunnel for a drift mine, the samples of chutney that had gone to be assayed in Cardiff were discovered to be merely a jam mixed with peppers[4].  The telegraph lines went berserk as messages flew back from Cardiff about the worthless so-called chutney.  Customs officers sped to the site and arrived in Glanamman only to find the mine buildings abandoned.  The owners had taken all their money from the bank in Ammanford (still then known as Cross Inn) that morning and had fled. 

There followed a desperate chase across Carmarthenshire, horse-borne customs officers racing after two stage coaches of Amman and Gwendraeth Valley Chutney Enterprise “managers”. They nearly caught up with them at Llandybie but were held up by a drover taking sheep to Llandeilo market.  The ship (called ‘The Golden Duck’) with the fraudsters on board was just leaving Kidwelly docks as the customs men arrived at the waterside, only to watch them sailing into the sunset with the shareholders money.  The shares which so many people had bought were worth absolutely nothing.  As can be imagined, the reputation of the Amman Valley chutney industry was tainted for many years and held up its development, to the great advantage of the Jam and Marmalade magnates who bought up huge parts of the valley for next to nothing[5]

It is alleged that the ship with the fraudsters on board landed in South America, and that it was one of them that sold land rights in the Chubut Valley in Patagonia to fellow Welshmen who arrived later in the century in search of a better life[6].  They had been told by this fraudster that not only was the land rich with honey, but with jam and marmalade too.  Another of these fraudsters (he preferred to be called an entrepreneur) tried to establish a trade taking Welsh emigres to Patagonia, then filling the ship up with lamas to take back to Wales.  It was only partly successful.

It would not be until the 1850’s when new technology and the fading of the scandal into distant memory allowed for the expansion of the Amman Valley chutney industry, with the problems inherent in that.

[1] There had been some attempts to make 200 feet long ladders, notably by David Thomas, known as “Dai the Saw”, but there were problems finding trees tall enough, and then the difficulty in 2 men walking a 200 foot ladder along the turnpike roads without encountering the odd speeding wayward carriage (“Engineering and Carpentry of the South Wales Valleys”, E.V. Jones; Swanseashire University Press, 1986, p 28-35

[2] Notably round Sevenoaks, named after a “Stephen Nokes” who founded the village in the early 1250’s to provide housing and processing space for the 12 bell pits around the area (, “The Kent Jamboree”, Professor H. Higgins, Kent Free Press, 1953, p 15-64

[3] The introduction of the Chutney Cutter (much like their cousin the Tea Cutter) was not for another half a century.  This would have cut the journey time drastically, and was another of the causes of the later slump in Welsh chutney production. “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958

[4] See “The Cambrian Daily”, 14 July 1828,  Swansea, for a front page article on the discovery, as well as testimony of residents of Glanamman, and of Kidwelly who saw the later flight of the fraudsters.

[5] “Money, Power and Preserves; The Growth of the Amman Valley Chutney Lords”, J.C. Thomas, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXVII, July 1958

[6] Evan Meredith, an émigré from Merthyr Tydful, wrote in his memoirs of meeting a “very nice man, if a bit swarthy, of our own old country and tongue” at a bar in Buenos Aires who told him about the wonderful lush grass, and flowing streams of Patagonia that reminded him of his native Carmarthenshire.  He had also spoken about being able to put your hands in the soil and pull out handfuls of fresh marmalade, that needed very little processing. Naturally Evan took him at his word and bought the deeds to 20 acres of what turned out to be pampas.  Fine for cattle but not for preserves. “From Porth to Puerto Madryn; My Life in Patagonia”, translated by D.C. Jones, Carmarthenshire Historian, XXXIX, August 1967