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.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

!00,000 hits!

Recently, this blog reached the milestone of 100,000 hits since its inception. This is rather impressive for a small history society such as ourselves and represents an average of 10,000 visits per annum. Obviously, we have our share of junk in the responses and as has been stated on an earlier posting we have had a great increase in Resolven history from countries which presumably can be put down to spy surveillance. However, the blog itself represents a permanent archive of our activities and a source for the study of both local and general history.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Martin Luther King Junior

The Society brought its season of lecture meetings to an end with a talk by Mr Phil Davies of Neath.  Mr Davies is better known as a pop historian making many appearances on BBC Radio wales, and he explained that it was this interest which had taken him to the southern US and its various musical genres that had led him to an interest in Martin Luther King Jr. He had visited the ghetto hotel ( now the National Civil Rights Museum) where Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated in 1968 in the 1980s, and was left with a lasting impression of the fight for civil rights in the USA which had frankly outlasted the apartheid struggles of South Africa into the present day.

He reminisced that the year 1963 was significant to him because his parents had purchased a television for the first time and one of the striking images of that year was the assassination of JFK and also the bombing of four innocent black children On 16 September 1963, a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four black girls attending Sunday school in Alabama. On 16 September 1963, a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four black girls attending Sunday school. This was later commemorated by the famous Black Christ stained glass window by Welsh artist John Petts of Llansteffan.

John Petts's Black Christ
Mr Davies described Martin Luther King Jr as a principled, charismatic and fascinatinating man who achieved an immense amount in his short life of only thirty nine years. The son of a Lutheran clergyman, also Martin Luther King, born in Georgia in 1929  King became poliitically active in the 1950s when the Ku Klux Klan was extrememly active with 8 million members. Rapes, murders, tarring and feathering and other atrocities were common and condoned in the southern states. Civil rights had hardly been won after the Civil War, but were given up grudgingly so aptly portrayed by the fim “Selma”, starring Oprah Winfrey and Tim Roth. The bus strike surrounding Rosa Parkes was also emblematic of the inequality.

The Million Man March
In August 1963. King led the “Million Man March”, to protest about the lack of civil rights on Washington DC where he delivered his famous “ I have a dream speech”, and sent a shiver down the spine of the WASP establishment.  Mr Davies made the point that King was driven by his Christian faith, which meant that he was difficult to attack on a political level. He was alsa a moderate in that he wanted peaceful change as against that of the Black Panther movement of the muslim Malcolm X which advocated violence. In 1964, King was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as his profile resonated around the world.

Political influence was also a factor in curbing the Civil Rights Movement. Mr Davies, made the point that the death of Kennedy had ironically brought a reformer to the White House in Lyndon Johnson who introduced Civil Rights Legislation against the background of the racist moves of four times presidential candidate George Mc Govern and the use of the National Guard to enforce desegregation in schools. Behind the scenes the FBI headed by J Edgar Hoover, slowed progress to a glacial pace by surreptitiously blackmailing successive liberal politicians with discretions in their private lives ( including King himself). The fall of Johnson led to the Nixon Years and the continuation of the fruitless Vietnam War.

King himself had become something of a cellebrity and was sometimes subject to criticism form the  black lobby himself. Ironically, it was this criticism which led to him to switching hotels in Memphis from a black owned high class hotel to the “flop”, Lorraine hotel in Memphis in June 8th 1968. James Earl Ray, a petty criminal and a fugitive from the state penitentiary, was convinced that there was a $50,000 bounty on the head of King and subsequently assassinated  him  . James Earl ray died at the age of 70 in 1998 having been sentenced to 99 years in prison for the killing of King. His guilt however, is a subject of intrigue and doubt.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Davies for a very insightful and passionate talk

The History Society will now take a break until the AGM in September. Anyone wishing to come on the Summer trip on Thursrday, July 8th to Brecon Cathedral and Canal ( £10 members; £15 non members ) please get in touch with Mr David Woosnam.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Whitsun March

The religious Whitsun has now been subsumed by an official Spring Bank Holiday. Resolven however still maintains a traditional Sunday school march at Whitsun to this day, though severely diminished in numbers from the days of old when 18 women were needed in order to cut the bread and cheese in Jerusalem Chapel alone, during the war, for the tea party which followed the march and service. Caryl Rees has given our blog some images of the banner used by Jerusalem Chapel and the march will once again take place next Sunday, 15th May.

The banner which was paraded by Jerusalem Chapel
                                                         The Whitsun March of yesteryear.

Monday, April 25, 2016

"I Have a Dream", May Meeting

may MEETing :

Mr Phil Davies  “Martin Luther King jnr”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  9th  mAY 2016.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Monday, April 11, 2016

Even Brunel got it wrong some times!!!!

Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway

This month’s speaker needed no introduction since it was History Society member, Mr Glyn Williams. Glyn has spoken several times on his favourite subject Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The difference this time was that the talk concerned one of Brunel’s less successful ventures.

The Great Western Railway, of which I.K. Brunel was its chief engineer was built between Bristol and Paddington in the period from 1835-41. During the period several smaller lines were built which came under the attention of Brunel including the Bristol and Exeter Railway completed in 1844, the South Devon railway and the Exeter to Plymouth Railway completed in 1844. It was the last railway which was the object of Brunel’s experimentation with a vacuum pipe as against a locomotive to propel the train.

The vacuum pipe which was located between the rails had piston within a cast iron tube and a leather valve connected to the first carriage. The vacuum itself was obtained by a series of uniquely designed Italianate pumping stations of which there were a dozen along the 21 mile length of track between Exeter and Newton (Abbott)  at a distance of around three miles apart ( four were never used). The towers for the steam engines were around 30’ high though they only produced some 30 horse power to drive the train.
Italianate style pumping stations

Brunel did not invent the system which was designed as a system of propelling items in shops by George Medhurst in 1799. In 1812 a prototype was developed to carry passengers through a tube, this was not patented and was later discarded. In 1830, Samuel Clegg employed a company from the Isle of Dogs and a new patent under Samuda and Clegg was licenced.  In all, the vacuum scheme was tried in four locations including one in France and another in Ireland with varying degrees of success. Brunel deemed the system to be profitable much to the disdain of another famous GWR engineer, Gooch, who thought rightly that it was a doubtful proposition

No locomotive!

Remnant of vacuum pipe which included a piston.
. In its favour some phenomenal speeds were recorded – 68 mph, but ultimately the scheme failed.

Its failure, was in part mechanical in that the 13” pipes were replaced by a15” ones making the production of a vacuum more difficult.The inclement winter of 1847 caused the leather valves to become brittle and dessicated causing more costs as locomotives had to be hired for the line which was totally dependent on the atmospheric railway. In the end it proved too expensive and ran for only eighteen months.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Glyn Williams for a fascinating talk.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

April meeting



Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  11th ApRIL 2016.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Roots of Modern Protest Movements?

The Suffragettes

Dowlais has produced some noted historians including the late Gwyn Alf Williams and this month’s speaker, Mr Huw Williams, a lecturer with Swansea University's part time History degree course, was evidently of the same tradition.

Mr Williams began his lecture by bemoaning the fact that his neighbour did not intend voting in the upcoming Welsh election and European Referendum when such sacrifice had been made to ensure universal suffrage. He emphasised this fact by stating that it had taken a hundred years for men to get the vote and only twenty targeted years for  women to be enfranchised once their campaign was underway.

Emmeline Pankhurst

He explained that despite the massive amount of material available on the internet on the ‘suffragette’, movement, his interest had been sparked by a recent stamp collection noting “Women of Distinction”. These included the first female doctor, the first female MP, Marie Stopes and Barbara Castle. This was set partly against an age in which access to the professions was barred to women in the main. The very fact that women would need to protest to gain the vote shocked late Victorian and Edwardian society, with even the Queen herself horrified at the prospect.

The movement itself had two separate strands, namely the moderate Suffragists headed by Millicent Fawcett Anderson and the militant Suffragettes led by Emmeline Pankhurst. The terms were unsurprisingly coined by the Daily Mail. The struggle can be traced back to the demands in the 1830s by the Chartist movement for universal male suffrage and a gradual process led to women gaining the vote at 30 years in 1918 and full equality with men at 21 years of age in 1928. Mr Williams stated that in 1912, Asquith faced three struggles, Ireland, Germany and female suffrage and the greatest problem was Votes for Women. The Suffragettes based their campaign on a belief that no one was listening and therefore a campaign of law breaking was the only way to gain headway. Women of the time were considered (even by mainstream women) as having a moral duty to build a home and some even considered them to lack the intelligence to vote. It is significant that mainstream politicians and trades unionists including Lloyd George and Keir Hardie were lukewarm on the issue

Emmeline Pankhurst (née Goulding) was born on the 15th of April 1858, ( she claimed incorrectly to have been born on Bastille Day for greater effect). Even though she herself and many of the other suffragettes comfortably off  middle class people she was extremely radical and headed a very militant and direct campaign between 1900-14 .Her husband Reginald Pankhurst a middle ranking politician was influential in gaining women property rights. It is very significant that she called off the campaign on the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, as an act of patriotism for the men were being slaughtered at the front. The war itself  acted as a catalyst in the eventual partial winning of the vote.


Mr Williams then outlined the tactics of the Suffragettes, which included gluing post boxes, defacing the coins of the realm, sabotaging the administration of the 1911 Census, vandalising art treasures and disrupting public meetings by hurling flour bombs and eggs. The protestors faced a standard 40 shilling fine, being bound over or spending 14 days in Holloway Prison.  The protests usually included a deliberate act of vandalism which carried a fixed penalty,Emmeline Pankhurst herself was arrested over forty times (these tactics can be seen in more modern protests Ed.) The windows of the shops of Oxford Street were regularly smashed, and protestors often chained themselves to the railings of Westminster and other prominent buildings. The “Cat and Mouse Act”, was infamously used by Churchill to forcibly feed hunger strikers.

The most celebrated act of defiance was that of Emily Wilding Davidson, who brought down the King’s Horse in the Derby. It is unknown whether she actually meant to kill herself, having a return railway ticket in her pocket. However, her sacrifice was noted by a funeral through the streets of London in the progressive colours of white, green and purple (also those of Wimbledon tennis today).

The death of Emily Davidson

As stated earlier, the Great War brought an end to the protests and the jury is out as to what extent the social emancipation of women during the privations of the conflict, bolstered by their  in the world of work of a war effort made the government capitulate at its ending. Nevertheless, the prominence given to the Suffragettes in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 showed how momentous the contribution of Pankhurst has been to modern society.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Williams for a most memorable lecture.