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.

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.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Landslip at Abergarwed

The residents of Abergarwed and Glynneath Road have in the last week been troubled by a landslip near Y Deri. In the mid 1960s Hirwaun Cottages famously slid into the then A465 so shutting the road for many months. Apparently, the Farmers Arms did very well since they had a huge car park! Mr Redvers Davies who has been a councillor in Abergarwed for fifty years remembers the landslide very well, and informs us that the site was inspected on a monthly basis under the old Glamorgan County Council but was forgotten following subsequent local government reorganisation  in the 1970s and 80s. Here are two photographs of the 1960s landslip at Glynneath Road.

Hirwaun Cottages

Technological Changes and vested interests: plus ca change!!

We assume that technological change is new and has appeared in the last few years in our current digital age. In fact, it has always been with us and innovation is something which has caused change and innovation. The Neath canal was built between 1791 and 98 and ran between Briton Ferry and Oddfellows  Street in Glynneath where it is still noted by the two cottages at Canal Place. The canal carried coal and other commodities including gunpowder and was at its peak around the 1840s before the arrival of I.K.Brunel's Vale of Neath Railway in 1851. Evidently, the railway afforded an easier mode of transferring coal to the exporting docks at Swansea and Jersey Marine( 1/3 of maritime coal in the nineteenth century was Welsh). The rivalry however, between the Canal and Railway is largely forgotten, but this would be untrue as this extract from the Aberdare Leader shows conclusively. The role of vested interests in maintaining an outmoded if profitable mode of operation is clear from the piece. Many thanks to Glyn Davies for this fascinating cutting.

ABERDARE LEADER 23rd May 1914 (Page 6)

 Mr Stanton and the Use of Canals

The question of whether canals afford any effective competition with a railway company serving the same district was a matter again before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, presided over by Mr Soames on Monday on the resumption of the recommendation of the Great Western Railway Bill. This Bill amongst other matters, seeks powers to construct two small railways across the Neath Valley to assist colliery development on the west side of the valley.

Mr John Williams , MP for Gower, said there was practically a virgin coalfield on the west side of the Vale of Neath, and his opinion was that there were no facilities to get the coal away and had been responsible for the failure to develop the coalfield. The building of the railways proposed would enable the present output to be enormously increased. Witness said in certain circumstances it would be possible to ship coal by canal , but not by this canal. Given a canal 300 yards width and modern tipping machinery it would be satisfactory . But the Neath Canal could never be of any use.

Mr Charles B. Stanton, Miners' Agent for Aberdare and District, said he wanted to see these developments to take place because it would afford further employment and thus conduce to better conditions.

Answering, Mr Balfour Browne,KC, witness  said that he did not think that canals as a rule were any use for traffic in these days. He like to use them, but to his mind they were only to use for boys to go "tiddling", in ( laughter).

Mr Rhys Howells, mining engineer and agent for the Aberpergwm Colliery, and Mr Daniel Davies of Messrs Daniel and Co, mining engineers of Swansea gave evidence in favour of the proposed railway facilities. The latter said that they were only waiting for the railways to be started in order to sink new pits.

Mr Thomas Jones, managing director of Rock Colliery Glynneath and Mr George Barnard, chairman of the Parish Council of Neath Lower ( which included Abergarwed at that time Ed.,) also gave evidence in favour of the proposed development.

This concluded the Great Western case.

Mr Talbot, KC ., then addressed the Committee for the opposition of Colonel Edwards Vaughan, stating that the effect of the Bill if passed and the railways built would be to enable the Ynysared Colliery Company to get the coal on to the railway without crossing his land. He would the lose the wayleave, which amounted to a about £600 a year.

Evidence was given by Colonel Edwards Vaughan D.L, K.C., J.P., in support of Counsel's statement.

Cross-examined, witness said there was a clause on his lease with the same company regarding the Glyn Merthyr Colliery Company, which bound them to send all their coal over his land and pay a 1d. a ton, but there was no binding clause with regard to Ynysarwed . There was no legal right to compensation, but he thought that he had a strong moral right to receive something.

Railway and canal at Abergarwed

The canal closed in the late 1920s though there is evidence of loads being carried as late as 1934.

Reading Room

Mr Glyn 'Taxi' Davies has given us this fascinating picture of Resolven square with the Reading Room and Tabernacle Chapel. From the car in the background it would appear to have been taken in the late 1960s. The person dancing in the foreground is a certain Mr Hopkins who was a chemist in Cwmgwrach.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

February meeting

february MEETing

Mr steve david – 
“The Lordship of neath”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  8th 
February 2016.

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Eulogy to the Coal Industry

Eulogy to the coal industry

The Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture was once again in the capable hands of Society President Mr Phylip Jones. He explained at the outset to his talk that the recent closing of Kellingley Colliery in England had brought down a metaphorical curtain on deep mining in the UK and that had caused a change of topic for his deliberation. He therefore turned his attention as to the role of coal in Resolfen.

The earliest reference to coal mining regards the early workings of the monks of Neath and Margam Abbeys in 1249. Small scale working of outcrop coal was demanded by the religious buildings and also the manor houses of the area. He noted that the word “pit” was wrongly used nowadays, since that involved sinking a hole by means of a gin deep into the ground. The geology of the area meant majority of coal working in the Resolfen area entailed driving levels or drifts into the mountainside. In early days, the working of coal was curtailed by the availability of daylight in the tunnel,however technical advances in lighting and pumping meant that the drifts/levels became deeper and more extensive.  Today, subsidence caused by sink holes is a common occurrence in the area and recently occurred in Cimla Road, Neath where a 12’ deep hole appeared a week or so ago. Phylip also referred that in south Wales the workers were known as “colliers” as against miners, showing the product that was being produced and he also stated that the NUM’s Welsh translation refer to “Undeb y Glowyr”. By the Census of 1841, there were more men registered as colliers in Resolfen than agricultural workers so ushering in a new industrial society ( Britain as a whole did not reach this point until 1851 Ed.)

A selection of coal industry life in Resolfen including a possible  works "parliament", pit head baths and pit ponies up for the summer break in production.

The first commercial colliery was that that of D.W. Lyons in Cwmclydach and was opened between 1835-38 . Lyon’s Place ( originally Row) commemorates the colliery and also included the company's office. An incline ran from the colliery past the present day Scout Hut, Perth y Dion, Clydach Avenue and along what was once called colloquially “the dram road”, to the Neath Canal.

The opposite side of the valley along Hirfynydd also saw coal working in Tweedle and Ynysarwed Collieries. Many levels peppered the hillside and a dram road carried “journeys”, of drams to the screens at Abergarwed.  Phylip referred to the eclectic Welsh names of many of the levels contributing to the various collieries in the area with their derivation unclear in many instances – lefel yr Offis, Lefel Pantygeifr, Lefel Uchaf etc. More substantial collieries were opened at Ffald-y- Dre and Blaen Cwm also in Cwmclydach.

Phylip made the important comment that the colliers themselves came from all over Wales and beyond. They were ‘cultured’, as against formally educated and as in many collieries the workplace was also a place of learned discussion with one level referred to as “the College” which says its own story. The men inhabited a brutal if highly skilled world yet had a thirst for knowledge which led to the building of the Reading Room, Welfare Hall and Chapels in the area.

The only pit in the area was Glyncastle Colliery, sunk in 1873/4 by the Cory and Yeo Company. The shaft was 550 yards deep and the company made a fortune from the coal leading to the development of Dyffryn House in the Vale of Glamorgan. Two terraced streets in Resolfen still carry an echo of the contribution of Cory brothers.

Phylip concluded his talk by referring to some of the working practices of “endless ropes”, hauliers, rope smiths on the four miles of rope, the practices of driving headings and cutting of timbers – all now a distant and fading memory. The collieries were mostly shut in the early 1960s though some small scale working carried on into the 1990s.

Mr Gwyn Thomas, as an ex collier himself, thanked Mr Phylip Jones for a most illuminating and enjoyable talk.Another former underground worker Mr John Watson also gave several anecdotes of his own experiences.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


The late John Rees was noted for boosting the role of art within the village of Resolfen. As an official with the History Society we were privileged that John made us bespoke posters for our meetings which were usually taken as a keepsake by the speaker. Caryl Rees has recently joined the committee and suggested that we could cut and paste some of John's artwork into our current posters hopefully making them more eye catching. As a reminder of John's flair here is one of his posters featuring a talk by Nev Anthony on the Somme, the centennial of which falls this year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year, here we go again!

January MEETing
Annual Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture:
Mr Phylip Jones – a local Theme

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Annual Members Night

Members Night

The usual practice in Resolven of not organising competing events seems to have been neglected this year since our annual members’ night clashed with the communal carol service at Sardis Chapel, which would normally take place on a Wednesday or Thursday. Yet, this did not affect the attendance with all the laid out seats taken.
The meeting began on a sad note as Chairman Gwyn Thomas made reference to the sad passing of life member Josie Duke. After a minute’s silence, Phylip Jones spoke of her early life and of her contribution to the success of the History Society. In tribute to Josie, Trefor Jones read a poem written by her on “The Village bakery”, from Resolfen Recalled, and followed this by reading an account of “The Joys of Lowland Farming”, which proved that heavy rain and flooding are not new, though a lack of resilience certainly is.

Colin Evans gave the first contribution to the meeting. His topic was Toc H ( see recent article) and after giving a brief background asked for memories from the membership of the Toc H branch which once flourished here. He was rather mischievous in doing this in that the scout master at the time was none other than a certain Phylip Jones, who duly added some detail by stating that he still had some of the log books in his possession.

The second contributor was John Watson. He took the recently closed Clyne School as his topic, since both his wife and mother in law had worked there. He used a booklet from 1996 which had been published to mark the centenary of the school. The booklet held many often comical anecdotes from past staff and pupils regarding life at the school. The practice of farm children jumping on to passing barges at Ynysbyllog  to get to school, 'mitching' and the one armed ‘whipper in’, bad weather and school attendance ( at one time the school had nearly 250 pupils) and visits to the Buffalo Bill Show in Neath.

The remainder of the meeting was taken up by the frivolity of the annual Christmas quiz .The rules are rather different with the aim being to gain the “honour”, of winning a Christmas cracker should three consecutive questions be answered correctly. Quiz-master Trefor Jones had a rather bigger bag of sweets than usual and it took over an hour to place twelve festive hats on the members’ lucky heads. The quiz was punctuated by an interval for mulled wine and minced pies which rather dulled the collective IQ, prolonging the quiz and leading to some very obvious hints from the front. A very good time was had by all.

Chairman Gwyn Thomas thanked everyone who had taken part and wished everyone a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.