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, 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.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Darlith Gyhoeddus / Public Lecture

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

March Meeting


Mr HUW Williams –
“Emmeline pankhurst and the suffragettes in south wales”

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

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Lordship of Neath

The Gatehouse of Neath Castle

This month’s speaker was WEA lecturer Mr Steve David. Despite the windy and inclement weather brought to Wales by depression Imogen, a large audience came to hear Mr David speak about the Lordship of Neath between 1130 and 1542.

The Lordship of Neath was roughly congruent with the borders of the Borough of Neath which disappeared in the last local government reshuffle in 1995. Its derivation was a mixture of the old Welsh cwmwd or commote, which was part of a cantref (literally a hundred settlements) of the princedom of Gwenhwysig , which included Morgannwg ( Glamorgan), Gwent Uchaf and Is-goed.  It  existed from around 830 AD. The river Tawe was seen as the boundary.

Mr David spoke of the rivalry between the Deheubarth princedom of West Wales and Gwenhwysig when raiding parties would raid each other. The coming of the Normans and the Marcher Lords confused the issue further, and though it is an over simplification to say that south Wales was conquered by “Twelve Knights”, by the time of William the Second (Rufus) the Normans had a grip on things and had killed Rhys ap Tewdwr, ruler of Deheubarth in 1093, a fact which is recalled in “Brut y Tywysogion”. Robert Fitzhamon came to Cardiff and conquered as far as the River Ogwr and built some 14 castles.  Richard de Glanville, crossed from North Devon and headed for the estuary of the river Neath and built a ‘motte and bailey’, castle in the proximity of the fore-runner of Neath Abbey  around 1129, and so began the lordship. By his death in 1148, the frontier territory of Neath Ultra and Sutra had been established . Crucially, this included the fording and bridging point to the uplands “Blaenau Morgannwg”, and to west  Wales. Surprisingly, the area around the Afan valley stayed in Welsh control and proved a bulwark against the expansion of the Normans. However, not everything went the way of the Normans and in 1148 the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth descended on the town of Neath and burned it to the ground. This led in its turn to the establishment of a larger stone castle at Neath.

By 1170, Neath had a population of 104 burgesses and a total rent of £26 per annum. The Abbey itself was a rival trade centre and produced 24 sacks ( two tons) of wool from 4,000 sheep on their granges including that at Resolven which was given to the Abbey at Margam around this time. This reflected badly on Neath and its gross rent take fell to a very low level. The monks themselves were hated by the townspeople who regarded them as both lazy and rich, even using their own serfs to do their work.

 In 1299, Gilbert de Clare, built the present castle. He also appointed a Constable of Neath Castle ( a post held by the Mayor of Neath today Ed.) with a garrison of four professional soldiers and eight crossbowmen. This however did not stop the Welsh hero Ifor Bach of Senghennydd from storming and destroying the castle forcing the Normans to rebuild and adding the gatehouse which is still prominent in Neath today.  Interestingly, the law which kept order in Neath was an admixture of the Welsh law of Hywel Dda and that of the Marcher Lords, the English laws of Edward 1 did not apply.  

By 1389, the town had a population of 680 people and had become a centre of Welsh writing and bardic traditions. Indeed much of the prophecies regarding a “mab darogan”, or returning King came from the Neath area. Interestingly however, the town did not rise when the eponymous Owain Glyndwr raised his standard in 1400.

Following this the Borough of Neath entered a long decline both in terms of wealth and fertility. This may have been due to climatic change with the end of the medieval warm period, but agricultural production slowed with even attendance at Neath Fair showing a decline. The 1536 Act of Union between England and Wales largely spelled an end to the Lordship which vanished in 1542. Economic industrail prosperity would have to wait until the arrival of the Mackworths some two centuries later.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr David for a very enjoyable talk and remarked how the speaker had not used any notes or illustrative material on what was a very complicated subject.