Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Monday, February 23, 2015

March Lecture

March MEETing
Caryl JONES –

“Madam Patti”,

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  9th March  (the lecture to begin at 7:30)
Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)
Visitors: £3.
Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Friday, February 20, 2015

Abnormal activity on the web.

Normally, our web log has around fifty visitors per day, which is very healthy. However, in the last week we have had an unprecedented level of interest in the history of Resolfen with over 500 visitors already today. Scrutiny of the geographical location of our visitors shows an increase in those from Russia. I wonder whether Mr Putin has lost his copy of Resolfen Recalled ? I have a spare one if he really needs one. I also suspect that within our annals there may be a reference to Donetsk, which was originally founded by a Welshman and known as Hugheskova until Stalinist times. He was a certain Mr Hughes from Merthyr Tudful, who started the steelworks there.

Esbima, Vladimir.Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers

Update: The Editor has had a word with Mr Richard Hopkins about this and he believes that our web log has probably been linked inadvertently to some major site in some way. He will also check the provenance of the increased traffic. The number of visitors has since returned to normal levels.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Admiral Hugh Evan Thomas

February Meeting :Admiral Hugh Evan Thomas  of the Gnoll

It is our intention during the period commemorating the centenary of “The Great War”, to have one lecture per season on that topic. This month’s speaker, Mr Steve David, drew a large audience to hear his comprehensive lecture on Admiral Evan Thomas of the Gnoll Estate.

Thomas’s family hailed from Beulah, Breconshire, and had bought the Gnoll estate. He was born as merely Hugh Thomas in 1862, at Gnoll House, but as was the fashion at the time gained “Evan” in his title in 1878. One of seven children, including three daughters, his parents felt that a military career was appropriate for him and he was sent to Chatham to train as a naval officer. There, he befriended the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later George V) a fact which affected his rise within the ranks of the Royal Navy and his future career. In 1888 he was promoted and transferred to Portsmouth, where he became friends with the later Admiral Jellicoe.
Admiral Hugh Evan Thomas

In 1891, an accident in the Solent led to the sinking of the flagship and the loss of over 500 men, this gave Thomas a mission to revolutionise the signalling methods of the Royal Navy, which had not changed much since the days of Nelson. Steam ships now sailed at five times the speed of sailing vessels,the gunnery was far more exact and reached longer distances,therefore the Admiralty required change. During this time, Thomas was given command of the Royal Yacht, Osborne, (probably and unhappily for him, owing to unwanted Royal patronage). Luckily, he was swiftly transferred to Malta and the Mediterranean Fleet, where he also met his wife Edith Vickery the heiress of a large estate in Bedfordshire.

In 1902, he took command of HMS Caesar at Portland and the western approaches. Here, he supervised Marconi’s famous early experiments with radio signalling. In 1906, he became Commander of Dartmouth Naval College for the training of Royal Navy Officers. To his dismay, the Royal connection played a part again, since he and his wife were personally charged with ensuring the health and safety of two royal princes, when they had measles. Hugh Evan Thomas, became a proponent of pinpoint range finding of guns which could now reach twenty miles.

In 1909, Thomas was once again transferred to Portsmouth, home

Admiral Sir David Beatty

of the Grand Fleet. He realised that the rising sea power at this time was that of Germany, and the race to build enough Dreadnoughts was already in place between the first and second greatest naval powers. However, the naval bases were all in the south, a fact stretching back to the days of Napoleon. Thomas advocated a base in the north of Scotland at Scapa Flow to allay the threat. Illness intervened and Thomas did not come back to active duty until 1914.
Admiral Jellicoe

The German Navy’s surface fleet's involvement in the Great War was minimal, since they were reluctant to leave their bases, as they feared the Royal Navy's superiority. The one major exception to this was the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. It is beyond the scope of this report to give a blow by blow description of the battle. However, the inconclusive engagement, in which both sides claimed victory, is mired in controversy. Admiral Sir David Beatty,a maverick naval commander ( see his unusual uniform style above), commanded a squadron of eight which took heavy losses of both ships and men when he inadvertently took on the German High Fleet. His cavalier firing was extremely ineffective and he is quoted as saying “What’s wrong with the bloody ships today”. Admiral Evan Thomas,had four ships some miles behind Beatty and managed through sheer accuracy to sink several of the German vessels which brought the major engagement to an end. To his discredit, Beatty blamed Thomas for the loss of his ships and the matter was not brought to a conclusion in Thomas’s favour until an inquiry in the mid-1920's (nothing new there then? Ed).

Unfortunately, in 1926, Evan Thomas suffered a stroke and retired to his estate in Bedfordshire where he died in 1928. However, his legacy is here to this day since he bequeathed the Gnoll Estate to the people of the town of Neath. As Mr David pointed out it is surprising that such a commanding figure in naval history is not recognised more widely in his own town.

Mr Gwyn Thomas, thanked Mr David for his magnificent talk, and stated that in the Navy there was no hiding place in the heat of battle for both commander and men.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Historical Geography

We in Resolfen are justly proud to be the birthplace of Sir Clifford Darby, one of the most eminent luminaries in the field of historical geography. The biography of Sir Clifford can be found elsewhere on this site, but Historical Geography is specifically the interpretation of the layers of landscape with reflections on both past and present. Abergarwed as a hamlet once boasted a large colliery and washery /screens though it would be difficult for the casual observer to pick this out today by visiting the same site. The images below show the site of Ynysarwed Screens both past and present. Unfortunately, the aerial photograph has not come out very well compared to the photograph of the site though it has been realigned toward the South.The two things which stand out immediately are the Neath Canal which has been filled in along with the disappearance of the small stone bridge on the canal.  The large railway sidings complex, has disappeared, though there is a large concreted area which once was the site of the screens along with some of the buildings ( now revamped).This area can now be walked as the original towpath has been partially if unofficially, reopened. The Abergarwed Farm, farmhouse, outbuildings and the classical miners' terraced housing are still there today.
Looking South as per photograph.

Monday, January 26, 2015

February Meeting

FEBRuary MEETing
“Admiral Evan Thomas of the Gnoll and the First World War”
Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  9th FEBRuary.
Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Incorrect date

Apologies to all members and friends of the Society. Next moth's talk by Mr Steve David on "Admiral Evan Thomas of the Gnoll", is on Monday the 9th of February, not 10th as advertised.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A far from dismal local theme?

Saint Dismus is the patron saint of undertakers. He is said to be the “good thief” at the crucifixion and gives us the very gloomy word “dismal”. This year, Phylip Jones in delivering the Annual Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture gave a far from dismal lecture on the role of Abergarwed undertaker, John Barclay, in inadvertently keeping a record of the social history of Resolfen in his notebooks. Phylip explained, that he was reprising a talk he gave in 1985, and he doubted whether many would remember it now though it was well worth a second visit.
Resolfen c.1900

John Barclay of the Stag, Abergarwed was the product of a second marriage,his father in his will bequeathed him an apprenticeship as a carpenter. His labours can still be seen in the ornate carpentry in Jerusalem Chapel today. He ran an undertaker’s business and two small copy books remain in his copperplate writing recording every death in the village between 1878 and 1910. There are over 1000 entries over the period. Three hundred and twenty of the deaths are those of babies under one years of age and four hundred and eighty eight are of infants under five (this was the normal infant mortality at the time Ed.). The average life span of a resident at the time was twenty five and a half years, and those who survived five years usually between forty five and sixty years. Between the ages of fifteen and forty the majority of deaths were women, undoubtedly because of the risks of childbirth and conversely,  males outnumbered female deaths between forty five and sixty years of age.

Phylip stated that the contents of the books gave him two contrasting emotions. On one hand, a fascination with the names, occupations, addresses, family links and historical footnotes . On the other, a revulsion at the young deaths caused by common diseases such as “whooping” cough, diphtheria , scarlet fever and pneumonia which would be treatable today. Families were often halved in size by epidemics.

Phylip then turned to the contents of the books. He referred to taverns such as the long demolished “Bottle and Glass”, in Clyne and the Ynyscollen Inn (now the Rock and Fountain). Farms such as Ty’n Garn and Pencraignedd, which remained as family names decades after the homesteads had been abandoned. Street that have now been subsumed such as Sims Terrace, Jenkins Terrace, Erw Coed, Oak Villa and Jones’s Terrace (now part of Commercial Road near Garfield’s shop).
A child's funeral crossing from Glynneath Road c.1890
Family names were also a fascination because the old Welsh way of naming by taking the name of the father and grandfather following the Christian name would conflict with the name in the Censuses following 1841. For instance, one burial referred to the death of Billy Rhys Enoc in 1892, whose official name was William Thomas. His mother in turn was Ann, and she was known as Ann Rhys Enoc. A similar example was that of Mrs Jane Evans who died in 1907, a resident of Lyons Row she was known as Siân Dafydd Dafis. The concept of “Mr and Mrs”, was largely absent in the monoglot Welsh culture of the village at the time and it was more common to refer to people by their family relationship. A concept which has to some extent continued in Resolfen is to refer to non-local people by their places of origin e.g. Wil Cardiff or  David Dafis Penderyn.

The footnotes in the copy books reveal some invaluable clues as to the development and chronology of the village. The first funeral in John Street occurred in 1901, the first death in Gored Terrace was in 1905 and the first funeral in Cross Street occurred in 1906. Some people lived very long lives and there six entries of residents surviving well into their nineties and one Ann Howells had survived the entire nineteenth century having been born in 1799 and buried in 1904 at a hundred and five years of age.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Phylip Jones once again for a remarkable insight into the history of Resolfen.