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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Merry Christmas / Nadolig Llawen

The last meeting in 2014 was our annual members night. It was decided some years ago that December was a poor month in which to get a speaker since attendances tended to be low. Instead we have provided a little bit of history ourselves. This year Colin Evans provided a historical insight on a recent tour of Flanders by Cor Meibion De Cymru to the battlefields of the Great War ( this will be used as an article in the future). Trefor Jones then "chaired", a twenty minute slot on the lost shops of Resolfen which gleaned some great snippets of local knowledge by viewing old photographs from our archive. Mr Phylip Jones then added an item on the historical meaning of Christmas in Wales, and how our modern consumerist manifestation is largely an American import via Charles Dickens with pagan overtones. 

Members Night always concludes with a historical quiz. A correct answer is rewarded with a sweet and a second correct answer with a Christmas cracker. After a long contest the members settled down to mulled wine and minced pies.

Best wishes to all members and friends of the History Society for a peaceful Christmas and a very prosperous New Year. Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd  dda

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Great War Exhibtion Victoria Gardens

War Horse made from willow.
Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council have opened an exhibition on the First World War in Victoria Gardens, Neath. The exhibition was opened by the Mayor of Neath Port Talbot on Monday 24th November, and featured exhibits from Neath supplied by many individuals and organizations. Many thanks to Mr Glyn Davies for providing photographs on our behalf to the organizers. Though quite small, the exhibition features an artwork of a cavalry horse made from  local willow and a length of trench. It is well worth spending some time any member is in Neath town centre.

Facsimile of a meal ticket given to servicemen.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Members' Night

december MEETing
members’ night

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  8th december

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)
Visitors: £3.
Croeso cynnes i Bawb

The Case of the Missing Gold Sovereigns

During our very interesting talk by Robert King last month, some members have asked whether we could go on one of his ghost tours of Neath. This would not seem to be a  problem, though Robert will charge a small fee per member. During the talk some members gave some of their own recollections of family ghost stories, and here is one them in full. 

The strange tale of the missing gold sovereigns

The following tale is one that I first heard in the funeral of my grandfather, the Reverend John Jones,  in 1973. In the after-funeral tea, the family began reminiscing about the days gone by and the tale of Will Aby’s ghost made an appearance. My grandmother’s maiden name was Harris, the “is” being significant because it was different to the other Welsh ‘Harries’ family spelled with an e. The main point being was that Harris was Jewish in origin and possibly hailed from either “Horvitz or Horovitz. The compilers of the 1871 Census were known to Anglicise names, and it was around this time that many of our modern Welsh surnames appeared. The family was known as the “Welsh Jews” locally, since they had a distinctively Jewish facial appearance which was not surprising since they hailed from one William Abraham reputedly the first Jew in Neath and resident in the ‘Mera’, district of the town – now Water Street. The Mera was a wild area, frequented by a transient population of immigrants, much like some British cities today. Eastern Europe was the scene of violent pogroms which expelled the Jews from Russia and they eventually fetched up in places such as the industrial cauldron of late nineteenth century south Wales.  A single man, William Abraham ’Horvitz’had married a gentile and the family then ceased to be Jewish since the Jewish line is maternal.

William Abraham (or Will Aby as he was known), had a reputation as a hoarder and was known to  delight in taking out his bag of gold sovereigns at night and counting them, to the envy of his relatives. When he died, the family searched high and low for the treasure but to no avail, the fortune of gold sovereigns had gone with him. Such was their panic that the little house was stripped of everything including the floor boards but with no success. However, the ghost of Will Aby was often seen by the family late at night counting his gold hoard. Several members of the family claim to have seen the ghost (including my late father), whom he described as a Dickensian figure in a night shirt and a “Willy Winkie”, hat (sic.), reminiscent of modern day descriptions of Scrooge .One of my great aunts (Mary or Molly, I‘m not sure) had such a good relationship with the ghost that she happily shared a bedroom with him. Whether this was a ruse to have a room of her own,  in an age of larger families, we shall never know.

Some years later in 1978, I visited my grandmother with my wife, Maggs (then my girlfriend) in Digby Road, Llantwit. During the journey to Neath I had recounted the tale of Will Aby to her. On reaching the house, much to my utter amazement my grandmother had a copy of the Evening Post with a story in it about the finding of a bag of gold sovereigns in Water Street. This was in the foundations of what is now the Tesco Metro and multi storey car park in the region of Will Aby’s  house .It would appear that he had taken to hiding the gold coins in a secret cache in the foundations of his abode  and must have died suddenly not revealing its location to anyone. My great uncle, Alfred Harris, did try to claim the gold with no success, and as far as I know it was taken to the vaults of the Bank of England as treasure trove.

How much truth is in this story? Quite a lot I would contend. William Abraham was a real person, though whether he was Horvitz or Lewinsky is open to doubt. The gold existed, though how it came his way is unknown and was the cause of frantic searching by the family. When I was contacted on a totally different matter by a distant relative, also named Harris from Clyne, our telephone conversation quickly came around to the discussion on Will Aby’s sovereigns which proved that we were indeed related. Historically, Water Street was the location of a Jewish ghetto in Neath during the nineteenth century and he did indeed reside there. The question of the ghostly apparitions is the only fragment of the story which does not readily pass muster. The people who admitted to seeing the ghost gave identical descriptions of him, though presumably some had also known him when he was alive. My late father was a GP and a practising Christian who was not readily known to spread fanciful stories about ghosts, yet he believed the account in its entirety. Obviously, there are embellishments and undoubtedly exaggerations surrounding this tale, but the coincidence of telling the story to a neutral and at least figuratively ‘finding’, the gold minutes later takes some beating. If I’m allowed some poetic licence it was almost as if Will Aby was telling me, that neither I nor anyone else would get hold of his fortune.

Trefor Jones ( 24/11/14)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ghosts of Neath

The Ghosts of Neath
It is great to report that the Society returned to the newly refurbished church hall to hear this month’s speaker Mr Robert King, the author of the book “Haunted Neath”. Mr King is a resident of Abergarwed, therefore was hardly a stranger to the large audience. He explained that he considered the subject of his talk to be a “daft”, topic  for a history  society, however he was intrigued as to how many invitations had come his way to speak on the ghosts of Neath. He explained that even burly policemen could be reduced to jelly, by some eerie bumps in the night in a Skewen cemetery and that he had accumulated hundreds of tales over the years.

Robert leading a ghost walk in Neath
Winfred Coombe Tennant and Lloyd George
Mr King explained that most of the episodes seemed to come from the Victorian period. Writers such as Dickens had often referred to ghosts and ghouls in his stories and the reference to the world of ghosts and the embellishment of those stories was typical of the period. He then referred to Winifred Coombe-Tennant of Cadoxton Lodge (now Stanley Place) who led a double life as a psychic called Madam Willett. Luminaries such as George Bernard Shaw and Lloyd George visited her in Neath for séances to “raise” ghosts. Mr King added that he had visited the ruin of Cadoxton Lodge as a child and had a strange experience there.

He then turned to the unexplained events in the area, and it is worth noting that these were in the main, recent in origin. He turned first to Resolven itself and the tale of “the girl in a red coat”. A motorist one evening, gave a lift to a girl whose clothes were sopping wet to the village. Leaving the car she opened the door and entered one of the council houses, and disappeared inside. The following day, the motorist realised that she had left her umbrella in his vehicle and returned it to the house. On knocking the door, the resident who answered stated that the umbrella belonged to his daughter who had died six months previously.

Mr King then turned his attention to some iconic buildings in the town of Neath which he uses for his popular ghost walks. He began by referring to the Castle Hotel (originally the Ship and Castle, Ed.).The ancient building had once been described by the Sun newspaper as the most haunted building in Wales, following one of his reports. He explained that the building, which was built in 1695,was originally closer to the docks and a tunnel was reputedly said to run to the river, and may have been used for contraband. The ghost tale referred to a hound howling, a noise which has been heard by many of the staff over the years.

Ty Mawr in Neath Abbey, was the home of Joseph Tregelles-Price  who owned the Neath Abbey Ironworks. A devout Quaker family, Mr King was baffled as to why the house should be associated with the “other world”. However, recent owners had been troubled by ghosts, apparitions and unexplained events. The house had been exorcised by an Anglican priest but the trouble has not fully disappeared.

The area around Church Place in Neath, was also renowned for an apparition  which appeared to walk below the present pavement and into the premises of a well-known firm of solicitors. This might be explained by the “fact” that the ghost was walking along the original surface of the road ( a similar story has been heard in Abergarwed, Ed). The offices were once the location of a police cell (see the article on Neath Borough Police, Ed.) and the story of the ghost apparently caused fear among the staff. Later, the owner found legal documents disturbed in a secure vault. Strangely, most of the stories would appear to happen during the day rather than the night which is contrary to what would be expected from popular cultural depiction.

Finally, Mr King turned to the area between the old workhouse (now a Vet’s) in Pen-y-dre, and the large town cemetery at Llantwit . A tale referred to a young couple visiting a grave at the cemetery and their child refusing to leave because he was playing with another child. On later inspection, it appears that this was the grave of a four year old girl.

Mr Gwyn Thomas in his vote of thanks to Mr King, invited members of the audience to add any stories of their own. Tales of miserly ghosts and buried gold sovereigns in the “Mera” area of Neath alongside  child conversations with recently deceased relatives were forthcoming. He told the members to read the blog which he was assured would be “ghost written”.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Charles James Thomas

Members will recall that Mr J.Eric Powell contacted the Society some weeks ago regarding Glyncastle colliery winding engine. He stated in his letter that he was investigating the Newport RFC players he were involved in the work and also played a very important part in the founding of Resolven RFC. He has contacted Newport RFC and unearthed the history of Charles James ( Charlie) Thomas who was one of those involved. The picture purporting to be Glyncastle Colliery is incorrect and is actually from Aberaman. Click on the images to enlarge.

Many thanks once again to Eric Powell.

A Ghostly tale?

NOVEMBer Meeting
Mr Robert King,
“The ghosts of neath”.
Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall  on MondAY,10th  novemBER.
Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)
Visitors: £3.
Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Church Hall

Following last night's committee meeting, it was reported that the Church Hall would be back in business shortly. Therefore our November meeting on Monday the 10th, will be at the newly refurbished Canon Lewis Memorial Hall. This will come as good news to some older members who will not have to brave the walk to the Community Centre in the coming winter months.
It looks the same from the outside

How will it look now inside following the work?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Letter from America

The Society has recently received a letter from a member of the Resolven diaspora now resident in St Petersburg, Florida (lucky him). Mr J.Eric Powell is a former resident of Cory Street and also a former collier in Glyncastle colliery. Mr Powell has given us some fascinating information regarding this photograph
Number One Pit winding engine Glyncastle colliery c.1885

I reproduce some of Mr Powell's letter below:

Dear Mr Jones,

                            In the book " Reflections of a Bygone Century", compiled by Mr Glyn Davies, there is a photograph on page 65 entitled; "A Newport (Monmouthshire) engineering firm installing boilers at the Glyncastle Colliery pithead. The photo however, is that of the Number One Winding Egine being assembled. I am researching the history of the manufacture, purchased by Cory Bros - shipping to Resolven, assembly at Glyncastle etc of the winding engine. I wonder if there is a clearer photograph available? Also if there other photographs available of the installation of this remarkable steam winder as I believe it was built for a side paddle steam ship? 

I was born in 3, Cory Street in 1931, which was next door to Trevor the barber ( Glyn Davies's grandfather. Ed.) and we moved to 102, John Street when I was three years of age. I worked at Glyncastle Colliery from 1947 to 1952, when I left to attend Glamorgan Technical School, Treforest (now the University of South Wales, Ed.). My father, William John ( Jack ) Powell was Chairman of Neath Rural District Council and also served as a Justice of the Peace. Both my parents' families were very much involved in local affairs. I keep up to date with news of Resolven through family members and your News Letter.

                                   With kindest regards,
                                                             Eric Powell

When we produced Resolven Recalled in the year 2000, many commentators gave us detailed information after the book had been published. Now, in the days of the internet, revising content is a fairly simple task . However, folk memory is finite and it may be an idea to have a meeting in the near future when the other pictures which Glyn has given us, and not used in his wonderful book can be scrutinised by our older members for other insights into the history of Resolven.