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, March 16, 2017

Neath Abbey

Neath Abbey – Ruins not Ruin

Firstly, apologies for being so tardy in delivering this report on the March lecture, sometimes  days should include double the amount of waking hours!!! (Ed)

This was the sixth time that Mr John Richards has spoken to the History Society and the packed hall was evidence that the other five had also gone down well. His topic this time was the well-known local ancient monument - Neath Abbey. Mr Richards was at pains to emphasise that the site include several ruins, as against that of the ancient abbey itself. The Norman lord Richard de Granville had bequeathed the land to site a monastery in 1130. The Normans had a reputation for being a blood thirsty race, yet their code meant that they were forbidden from spilling Christian blood. In order to overcome this encumbrance to conquering other countries, the Normans employed the clever device of penance. Pilgrimages, would atone for past sins, or indeed bequeathing land  to religious orders , the appearance of Norman monks at Neath.

There is some evidence of a pre-Norman Christian presence on the site, however, the Abbey itseld was commenced in 1147. The dozen or so monks hailed from Sauvignac in Normandy, but fairly quickly joined the Cistercian (White Monk) order based at Citeaux. This began a rivalry with another Cistercian Abbey at Margam, which sometimes included fights between the lay brothers of Neath and Margam along the granges of the Neath valley. Three English kings had visited Neath Abbey during its time as a monastery, King John, Richard the First and Henry the Second. Indeed, it is reputed that Henry was captured at Neath Abbey. The Abbey itself fell into ruin in 1539 with the dissolution of the rich monasteries forced by Richard Cromwell in the service of the impecunious Henry VIII.  The monks then disbanded to become the parish priests in local churches.

The Herbert family then bought the site and converted one of the wings into a Tudor style mansion. Mr Richards pointed out the divergent architectural styles of the mediaeval Abbey with its local Pennant sandstone blocks and Sutton stone English style doorways. This contrasted with the Tudor Windows and which had been constructed by the Herberts. Following the demise of the Tudor mansion, the Abbey entered an industrial phase with traces of smelting iron on the walls of some of its interior. It was later to lend its name to the Neath Abbey ironworks.

The last phase of the Abbey was the development of the Abbey as a tourist attraction and archaeological  research in the twentieth century. CADW is currently a major development at the Abbey. Mr Richards made the evident point that the significance of the Neath Abbey site is not appreciated locally and indeed some local people are not really aware of its existence. Mr Richards then gave a detailed illustrated tour of the site to emphasise the history of the Abbey.

Following a lengthy question and answer session, Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Richards for giving the Society a very informative talk.

Saturday, March 04, 2017


The Annual St David's Day dinner took place at the Old White Horse, Pontneddfechan and was a
great success. Some 23 members attended and enjoyed a lovely three course meal. Heads were scratching at the ordeal of the annual quiz, which this year featured the Oscars. The film buffs showed themselves and it resulted in a four way tie on 17 marks out of 24. The prize was generously shared out to all. Many thanks to David and Olwen Woosnam for organizing the event and to the staff of the White Horse for the enjoyable service.

                                                     Julie and Val discuss the Oscars!!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cyfarfod Mis Mawrth/March Meeting

Happy "Dydd Gwyl Dewi",  on Wednesday and remember the Annual St David's Day Dinner on Friday. The bus leaves the square at 6:15 for the White Horse in Pontneddfechan.


Mr John Richards – “ThE HISTORY oF Neath ABBEY”     

Meeting begins at 7:00 pm in the Church hall on MondAY  13th  MARCH 2017.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb !!!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Choirs of Resolven

Mr Hugh Lewis has sent us some fascinating photographs of Resolven Juvenile Choir of 1923 and of Melincwrt Choir in 1928.
Hugh’s uncle, Idris Griffiths lived in Rose Cottages, next to the New Inn ( now stores)  and formed both choirs.

He has also sent us a hyperlink to the Resolven and District News site which includes a "Memories of Resolven", feature. Diolch yn fawr Hugh, we are shaken but not stirred!!

Melincourt Male Choir 1928

The Causes of the Great War

A War of Numbers

This month’s speaker was Mr Huw Williams of Merthyr Tydfil, a lecturer in the adult education part time degree course in History. His lecture was titled “The Causes of the Great War”, yet it became abundantly clear as the lecture progressed that the variety of contributory factors that led towards the first world war was an accident of fate in many ways as against a direct consequence of one factor.

Mr Williams, began his talk by stating that he had been looking at Resolfen’s war memorial prior to the talk and was reminded that this was one of thousands around the UK and Europe and was emblematic of the drastic and lasting memories of what was a totally unrivalled conflict in terms of combatants, machinery, capital, transport and weaponry. He noted some relevant facts regarding the war itself. No conflict in history has been pored over by so many historians, more people were killed (though more were killed in the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1919) than any other war and more soldiers took part. It was the first conflict to be captured on real time photography and revealed the absolute inhumanity of some of the tactics employed such as the use of gas. On a positive note it also spawned some fantastic  art and literature and other cultural output.

Mr Williams then looked at a number of Gobbet’s of the period including a range of contributors which exemplified how people saw the period at the time and how it is interpreted today. Excerpts ranged from those of the fictional Blackadder’s batman Baldrick,

“A bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry”

   to that of the journalist  Jeremy Paxman who wrote disparagingly of today’s political correctness,

“The war was a disaster, but we don’t need the right on prejudices of a generation far removed from what happened”.

It was evident from other quotes that the view of the political establishment varied from the more optimistic view of the volunteers rallying to the Colours on both sides. Foreign Secretary’s lamp-man was euphemistically putting out lights of Europe for a generation, while at the same time soldier’s expected it to not come to much and be over by Christmas.

Private Godfrey Buxton expected to resume his studies at university once the crisis was over,

“We were quite clear that Germany would be defeated by the 7th of October and we would go back to Cambridge (for rowing practice!)”

In similar fashion a German soldier chalked on a troop wagon taking soldiers to the front,

“Auf zum Preiss-schiessen nach Paris/ Off to Paris for a shooting prize!

The brutality of the fighting was portrayed vividly by the War Poets such as Siegfied  Sassoon and Rober t Graves and Wilfred Owen MC, who died five days before the Armistice.

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning……..”

Mr Williams then turned towards the main theories of the causes of the War. The orthodoxy, that Germany caused it and deserved to be punished by the reparations of Versailles in 1919, was counter balanced by the fact that prior to “the Entente Cordiale”,  with France our Gallic neighbours had been the traditional rival. No one had expected, with the possible exception of the Socialist International and Keir Hardie that a war with Germany was remotely possible before 1912. The esteemed English historian AJP Taylor, added credence to the “cock up”, theory of the commencement of hostilities “ as a war of railway timetabling”, since a mile long munition train had been intercepted met a Serbian train coming the other way.

The Great War could well have been a naval encounter. The European Great Powers had embarked on an arms race surrounding “Dreadnoughts” since 1905. The British Navy held sway over large swathes of the globe, fuelled by Welsh coal and relayed by bunkering stations such as Gibraltar, Aden and the Falklands.  The battle of Jutland in 1916,was the only occasion when this hand was played and it ended in a military draw, with the more severe horrors of the U-boat campaign a greater menace to allied shipping. This in turn brought the USA into the War in 1917, following the sinking of the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland.

It was a war of technology, machine guns. tanks, aircraft, tunnelling/sapping on an epic scale, barbed wire and hundreds of miles of trenches. The casualties were colossal, and the level of mobilisation unprecedented. Britain and its Empire alone had 8.9 million combatants and incurred 1.1 million casualties. Mr Williams also pointed out that some historians refer to a blood spat, in that the three predominant heads of state were all cousins, yet only one head of state’s   position, George V, survived intact. The Russians, as in the second world war incurred the greatest casualties despite the fact that they were only combatants for three years prior to the Bolshevik Revolution.

Mr Williams concluded his talk, by stating that only those born in the twentieth century could now appreciate the feelings of those who had taken part. Combatants were usually sullen and silent regarding the events of 1914 -19 and perhaps could be summed up as a collective if not unique madness of circumstances.

Mr Gwyn Thomas, thanked Mr Williams for a fascinating lecture.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

February MEETing :

Mr Huw Williams  “The causes of the first world war”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  13th  february.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Another Precious Ramble from Phylip Jones

Many thanks to Brenda Oakes for this report on the January meeting, while the Editor was qualifying for his bus pass on the pistes of the snowy Alps.

A Local Theme – Annual Talk by History Society President Phylip Jones

Phylip introduced his annual talk by announcing that he would “ramble about as I normally do”. He then took the meeting on a tour of the development of Resolfen from 1840, reminding us that without coal the modern village would not exist. Before the development of coal there was a manor here in the Middle Ages at Glyncastle. The name of the mountain was Mynydd Soflan  which means stubble land and also plays a part in the name of the village as a corruption of "parsel soflan" . In addition, there was the Old Grange, Tŷ Cwm Farm and Cefn Soflan Farm, now gone. It was an agricultural village with long houses prior to the 1800s. These, he explained, were divided into 3 parts (Pentwyn farmhouse was one of these buildings) which comprised of animals at one end, hay  in the middle and a living space at the other end. Ton Farm was originally “Tŷ’n-y-Ton”,( the house in the field). “Ton”,  was a common name meaning land left for hay making.

Ynysfach public house where the former library now stands, is mentioned in the 1841 census and at the time there was only one street in Resolfen. The tithe map on 1843 shows this, as well as several other farms dotted around the area. The name of the street in the census is New Row. It should be noted that this census was not taken from house to house and it is surprising how many people living  in Resolfen today, have families which go back to that census. Phylip was born in Glynneath Road, his father in Railway Terrace and his grandfather and those before him had lived in Lyon’s Row.

Previous to the building of Sion Chapel, the Methodists met at  Pen-y-Darren near the quarry from 1779 to 1800. The old Sion was smaller, much like Tabernacl now. It was pulled down in 1868 and the stone was worked into the back of the present Sion building ( now the community centre) with the masons’ name carved into it.

260 residents of Resolfen lived between the two brooks, the Clydach Uchaf and Isaf (which is an Irish name by the way). They lived in Pentwyn,  Abertyddach among others and there was also one street, Blair’s Row which had one side built as a blank wall. The doors and windows were put in in the 1920s. The area around the present church hall was an old orchard!

By 1850 there had been some small workings of coal seams in the area. In 1836 the first commercial working commenced and the coal incline was built through the houses, crossing the not yet built New Inn Place to the Neath canal. The stone sleepers are still there and can be seen if you look carefully. Ten years later the railway came ( changing the name of the village from Ynysfach ) and Phylip emphasised (more than once) that EVERY station name in the whole Neath Valley was misspelt!!!

The Vaughan Arms (then Edwards Arms) was built in 1850 and the Simms family from Llansamlet ran it. The 1851 census shows Lyon’s Row (named after the colliery owner). As an aside Philip mentioned that coal in the Neath valley has mainly been accessed by drifts and levels as against deep mines.

Welsh speakers (the majority of local people in 1840 ) originally called Lyons Row Y Rhestr Fawr  – The Long/Big Row. Aberclydach Row had 5 houses and Phylip invited the audience to guess where this row used to be. One member got it right – it was opposite where Sion Chapel now stands. The Chapel House and stables were the home of Ifor Siôn, collier and preacher, and his family.

Phylip then led up up to Pant-y-Gelli Farm and the 3 houses where Woodlands now stands. These were stone built thatched cottages. Daniel Evans, known as Daniel Coch (he had a red face) lived in one of the houses with his family.

There was much change between 1841 and 1851. This included there being more men than women, an obvious situation given the need for more and more workers being needed in the area. These residents were extremely cultured in their own language and were mainly educated through attending Sunday School . Phylip then discussed “the treachery of the Blue Books”! At this time four High Anglican English Churchmen came to Wales and wrote “a report which was terribly biased”. This included the finding that “the local women and girls were highly immoral even though they did go to Sunday School. Hundreds of children went into the circulating Sunday Schools and learnt to read there, crucially in Welsh not English. Ordinary Welsh people had a better standard of their language than the English but they were counted as illiterate as they could not speak English. For the entry on ‘Welsh’ in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica readers were instructed to see under  ‘For Wales see England’!

In those days the figures for religious attendance were extremely high. The census entries held on the attendance of servant servant girls was low, this was explained by the fact that they could only attend on their holidays so were not included in their own chapels' figures.

A slight growth in population numbers is noted in the 1861 census which included the Vaughan Arms Row. The Vaughan’s  pub had some houses built behind it ( Bac y Vaughans) , Two and then Three New Inn Row was built, having six houses at first (near the river). William Herbert and his family from Crynant, a stonemason with 10 children (plus more children later) lived there. He built Sion Chapel. James ( Phylip’s wife Ann’s grandfather) was also a stonemason. Sion Chapel building is reputedly the strongest building in the village. William Herbert also built Jerusalem chapel, the school and the police station and his brother John was a mason at Rheola. Daniel Herbert was a good musician who conducted the choir in Sion. It should also be noted that on the  other side of the River Neath lies in the Parish of St Catwg, as against the Parish of St Illtyd which includes the rest of the village( Now one parish, Ed.).

The Ynysfach pub comprised of two buildings, the public house and the house itself. Philip’s great great great grandmother lived there. Mr Simms made enquiries some years ago regarding this pub as well as Philip and discovered that it belonged to Dai “St” John the famous boxer from Resolfen.

Shoemaker Row was probably the beginning of Davies Terrace in 1861. Davies was a shoemaker who came here and married a local girl from Waterfall Terrace. Tŷ Tomos Griffiths’s was by Waterfall Terrace. A thatched roofed house ruin was there which was the Railway Inn.There was also a small shop run by ‘Crippled Nellie’. Members’ families know this area. In 1851 Abertyddach Row became Shop Row. The school houses were built by the Vaughan’s Rheola family. It was a National Church School so all teachers had to become Anglicans before being appointed. Philip named several of these teachers. The former Clyne School was  older than Resolfen School and was a Board School.

Philip talked of the needs of residents, particularly widows, to take in lodgers to provide much needed income. Three Railway Terrace housed two daughters plus lodgers and a well-known village saying was “twelve of her own plus six plus six” which meant “twelve in school, six in bed, six at work” at Tai’r Clwb (Club Houses). Three Railway Terrace was where Philip’s father and grandfather were born, though which road was originally the site of Simms Place is unclear.

Phylip finished his talk with a more recent anecdote. His grandchild had to write an essay recently about his grandfather’s life and the child’s parents went to the school to see this. The parents were horrified to read that their son had mixed up the Welsh words for Scotland and Germany ( Almaen and Alban) so according to his grandchild Philip had been captured and incarcerated in a Prisoner of War Camp in Scotland during the war but had escaped. Asked by his mother why he had written this, the boy replied that he had wanted to make Philip’s life more interesting!

Thereby Philip brought our ramble through old Resolfen to a hilarious end.

Member Keith informed us of a Google Maps site called “Side by Side” which shows Resolfen now and in past times together. Worth a visit.

Details of the Annual Dinner are :-7pm on Friday 3 March at the White Horse Inn, Pontneddfechan. Cost to members £2 plus the cost of the meal, non-members £5 plus meal cost.

Friday, December 30, 2016

January meeting


January MEETing

Mr Phylip Jones – a local Theme

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  9th January 2017

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb