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, October 15, 2018

Historical entertainment at Ystradgynlais Welfare Hall

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Historical Geography in action: Skewen.

A Report on the October meeting of Resolfen History Society

The History of Skewen

This month’s speaker hardly needed an introduction since former Neath College lecturer, Mrs Carole Wilsher has been a resident of the Forest Lodge in Glynneath Road for thirty seven years. However, despite being well on her way to gaining her permanent -residency in Resolven, she described herself as being “Skewen through and through”.

She began her talk by given a brief account of why she had undertaken the work of producing a book on the history of her home village. The chief motive was the increasing march of globalisation in the modern world which was fast erasing the folk memories and even the buildings that had given rise to settlements in general.  At first, her family were sceptical as to why she wanted to embark on such an epic journey, but this was justified by her realisation that her entire family, back to her great grandparents had emanated from the Skewen  area. She praised the contribution of Gareth Richards, former proprietor of Gwasg Morgannwg in Skewen, for his encouragement and practical help in her endeavour. She started the work with an attempt to interpret the history of Skewen, by analysing the street names of the village, but failed when she realised that this called for some more serious research. The fruit of which was her book on the history of Skewen.

The story began with a look at the background to the development of the Skewen area.  In 1129, the Cistercians at Neath Abbey were granted lands amounting to ten square miles in order to clear and manage, a process known as “assarting” in Old English. The work of the monks can be seen today in the prefix “cwrt” or grange(self-sufficient farms) which are still evident in local place names. In the Skewen area many names included ‘cwrt’for example ,Cwrt-y –Betws; Cwrt -y - Clafdy; Cwrt Herbert; and Cwrt Sart ( in Briton Ferry) is a corruption of “assart”. (And of course, Melincwrt in the Resolven area, referring to a mill. Ed.)

In the 1600s, the now dissolved monastery was acquired by the Hobby family and later bought by Lord Dynevor. Parcels of land were leased for the use of both industry and the concurrent agricultural revolution. In 1801, the famous Neath Abbey Ironworks was established in the Skewen area, and copper works were situated along the river Neath. Another catalyst in the development of the settlement was the building of the Tennant Canal by George Tennant (1821) which took products to the docks at Swansea (Port Tennant).  However, the first embers of a sizable settlement came with the opening of the new turnpike road in 1830 to Swansea. This now forms the main thoroughfare through Skewen, as against the “old road”, which runs now to Llandarcy passing the Abbey.

It is difficult to give an exact date to the birth of Skewen, however, Mrs Wilsher showed that the area was almost exclusively farmland in 1770. However in 1816 a newspaper report on a robbery refers to the area as “Skewen Hill”, for the first time.  By 1801, Coedffranc  Parish ( still the name of the community council, Ed.) had some 50 scattered dwellings and in the 1811 census the area had 454 residents. The important aspect here is that instead of individual holdings, houses were now being built in clusters, surrounding industrial enterprises alongside the existing tracks on Skewen Hill, especially around the Crown Copper Works (There is a Crown public house to this day, Ed.). An estate map of 1838, shows that commercial premises were also being established in Skewen, and  Mrs Wilsher noted that her family were residents at that time. Living conditions were squalid and epidemics of cholera (1840s), smallpox (1872) and Scarlet Fever (1890) were endemic. By 1871, Skewen was firmly established as a community with 2,500 residents.

The next period of development surrounded the coal industry and the main railway line. Edward Ackland Moore and his son ( brother in law of Neath entrepreneur  Howel Gwyn) bought and ran a large colliery at Cwrt Herbert. In addition, large railway sidings were built nearby  in order to transport the coal via Birchgrove to Swansea. They also acquired the Cwmdu estate in Skewen, but changed the name of the emerging settlement to Mooretown, which gave rise to a nascent” upper” as against “lower”, Skewen. This is a distinction which persists to this day. All Saints Church was built at this time.

A sketch map of Skewen.
The dawn of the twentieth century saw a massive boom in the population of the village, with the population in 1901 standing at 5, 410, this increased exponentially to 8,125 by the next census of 1911. The reason for the explosion is obvious since the Main Colliery Company had opened two new pits in Skewen , in 1903 and 1904. New houses were built for the workers along Dynevor Road ( formerly Coronation Road) , thus joining upper and lower Skewen for the first time. The streets were built on a typical grid pattern and organised by the Coombe- Tennant family, indeed Stanley Road refers to the famous H.M.Stanley ( a friend of the family) and Christopher Road is a son of the Coombe-Tennants. However, this blossoming development came to a crashing halt with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. The Skewen collieries failed to gain an Admiralty contract for their coal which sent them into permanent decline, closing in the early 1920s. Another unwelcome guest at the time was the Spanish flu which decimated the population.

The saviour of Skewen without doubt was the coming of a large oil refinery in 1920 to nearby Llandarcy.  This undoubtedly saved the village economically, and it was considered one of the wealthiest settlements in Wales because of the 3,000 well paid and varied jobs which came from the refinery.  This is noticeable in the prevalence of mainly 30s style detached and semi-detached houses along Crumlin Road and Wern Road. The vast Skewen Park was established alongside the nine acres of Tennant Park. The Ritz cinema opened along with a dog track for racing and other notable buildings. The Refinery was a target during the second world war but mercifully was not badly bombed.

After the war, a period of council housing saw one hundred and fifty new houses in Skewen and also a move to clear the derelict land was undergone by Coedffranc Community Council following the Aberfan disaster of the mid-1960s. Another development was the setting up of new private estates following the closure of Llandarcy . Indeed, the only two original shops which are left are the Italian café run since the early twentieth century by the Cresci family and the Jeffreys Stores ( now Arborne) which was opened by a Jewish family.  With a population of 8,500, Skewen is recognised as the largest village in Wales if not the UK.

Following a lively question and answer session, Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mrs Wilsher for a memorable evening.

(All proceeds from the book are donated to theTŷ Olwen Hospice, and remaining copies are still available from Mrs Wilsher at a cost of £12).

Monday, September 24, 2018

October Meeting


Mrs C. Wilsher,

“The History of Skewen”.

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

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Monday, September 10, 2018

Cadw's open day at Neath Abbey ironworks

Open Doors - Neath Abbey Ironworks

Neath Abbey Ironworks is a place that changed our world. It manufactured steam engines that powered the Industrial Revolution, making Wales the first industrial society. From 1792 until 1885 it produced locomotives, ships' engines, ships, gas works, and steam engines for national and global use.
See two superb eighteenth century blast furnaces built into a cliff for ease of charging, and the engine manufactory where the steam engines were constructed.
This year there will be more to see, such as the uncovered rolling mills and the site of the charcoal-fired seventeenth century blast furnace built over the Clydach river.  
This is only the second time that the Ironworks has been open to the public, and expert historian, Bill Zajac, will be guiding tours at 2pm on 29th and 30th September.
The Friends of Neath Abbey Iron Company will have an exhibition and literature which will explain the Ironworks' heritage, and will answer questions regarding the company. The Dyffryn Clydach Volunteers will be present explaining the work they have done on site. 
Refreshments will be served.
Neath Abbey Ironworks is accessible by the lane to the side of GMF Motor Factors, opposite the Smith’s Arms on New Road, Neath Abbey, Neath SA10 7NH on the A4230. There is plenty of free car parking in the area.
For transport by bus, there are stops adjacent to the entrance and outside the Smith’s Arms.
The site is flat, but uneven and rough. There may be difficulties for wheelchair users but it is accessible.
Neath Abbey, near by, is also holding an Open Doors event on the same day. Bill Zajac is also conducting tours there.

Dates, times and prices

29 Sep - 30 Sep 2018
10.00am - 4.00pm
Adult - Am ddim / free
Family - Am ddim / free
Senior citizens, students and children under 16 - Am ddim / free
Member - Am ddim / free
Disabled and companion - Am ddim / free

Annual Meeting

A Report on the Annual Meeting of Resolfen History Society

The attendance was rather sparse in this year’s Annual Meeting with only 13 members in attendance. The Chairman, Mr Gwyn Thomas drew attention to the fact that even the Society President was absent owing to a long term medical condition and hoped that he would soon be able to attend meetings once again.

The Treasurer, Mrs Julie Hicks, gave a very positive financial report and noted that membership of the Society was very good value and stood steady at 33 full members. On another positive note the committee and officials agreed to carry on for another year en bloc.

In his address, Chairman Gwyn Thomas, thanked the officials and committee for their hard work during the year. He also stated that he had not played an active part in the Society over the preceding year owing to the final illness of his wife, Jean.

The meeting itself finished earlier than usual and in order to give the members the Secretary read the first chapter of the autobiography of Joe Cookson, a resident of Melincourt during the early decades of the twentieth century. The fascinating story of Joe’s first day at work in Clyne Merthyr colliery in April 1920 brought another era back to life. It also sparked animated discussion on the days of the small private mines which proliferated in this area.

Members were also reminded that two open days will be held at Neath Abbey and ironworks on the 29th and 30th of September with official guided tours of the site from 2o’clock in the afternoon.

Trefor Jones

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Here we go again/ Ymlaen a ni ar flwyddyn newydd

Here we go again on the start of a new lecture season for the History Society for 2018/19. The Annual Meeting kicks off the season on the 10th of September, and please don't be shy to put your name forward to become a member of the committee or an official. We know that Resolfen is proud of its history society, yet like all organizations they do not run themselves and new ideas are always welcome. We have a wide range of speakers on a range of interesting subjects which should appeal to everyone.  

Dewch yn llu.!!! 



Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the CHURCH HALL on MondAY  10 th SEPtember.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Who shot JFK. Will we ever find out???

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive', Sir Walter Scott.

The above quote is often mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare, when in fact it comes from a poem by Sir Walter Scott on Flodden field. Yet, it is very apt to describe the fascinating talk given by Phil Davies on the ‘suspected’ assassin of President John F Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald. This was the third talk given by Mr Davies on the subject, yet the question as to who ultimately shot Kennedy is still very uncertain,

Mr Davies began his talk by stating that the poster advertising the talk had been incorrect and the “J”, might refer to Lee’s elder brother (Joke, Ed). However, in his view the assassination would rank with most of the world shattering events of the last century. He mused as to how the late twentieth century would have panned out had he not been shot. Possibly, there would not have been a Vietnam War, a Nixon Presidency, Watergate, Chinese détente or glasnost. He then turned the focus of his talk on to the mercurial Lee Harvey Oswald, on whom there is little evidence that he actually pulled the trigger.

Oswald was born in New Orleans in 1939, his father, Robert Lee Oswald, left his unstable mother and two older siblings. In the absence of a father figure, Oswald came under the influence of an uncle who was a minor figure in the New Orleans underworld. He in turn was known to Carlos Marcello, the father figure of the Sicilian Mafioso in New Orleans. Robert Kennedy, brother of JFK had attempted (unsuccessfully) to extradite Marcello to his native Colombia, and it is possible that this played a part in his assassination.

Oswald was rather a misfit as a child as well as being dyslexic. It did not help that his mother who worked as a care worker moved schools thirteen times, which did not help him make friends. He had an above average IQ ( 118) and was prone to seek attention, a feature of his character which would remain with him until his ultimate demise. It is also probable that he was influenced by the television programme “I have Three Lives”, which featured the “Reds under the beds scare”, of Joseph McCarthy. Oswald empathised with the victimhood exemplified at this time.

In 1954, Oswald returned to New Orleans and joined the Air Cadets, where he was trained by a rather strange character David Ferry. Ferry, suffered from alopecia, wore a wig and was a homosexual, yet was involved in the JFK shooting some eight years hence.  Oswald began reading avidly, especially military manuals and he also had an interest in the writings of Karl Marx. Ironically, he attempted to join the American Socialist Party at this point when also enlisting in the US Marine Corps. He trained in Mississippi and California where he was trusted with classified information. He was then transferred to Osaka, Japan, where the evidence points that he was in the process of defecting to Russia. He may have had a role in the downing of the U2 spy plane. In Osaka, Oswald became fluent in both Japanese and Russian , in addition he became involved with a beautiful geisha who inevitably was a Russian spy. Following a series of disciplinary incidents, Oswald was forced to leave the Marines and then began a bizarre series of events whereby he moved to Le Havre, London, Helsinki and then Stockholm. He gained a visitor’s visa to enter Russia and appeared on Russian television.

At first, the Russians viewed him as an embarrassment yet allowed him to overstay his visa when he slit his wrists in protest. Following a stay in a psychiatric hospital he went to Minsk, where the Soviets began to view him as a ‘useful idiot’. There he worked in a radio factory where he learned photographic skills, a skill which would help him identify fake photos when he was arrested after the Kennedy shooting. He married the daughter of a KGB Colonel, Marina. Yet, getting bored with life in the USSR he demanded to be sent back to the USA.

In 1961, Oswald and his wife arrive back in the USA, where he felt slighted that his return did not get much attention from the media. He then went to Fort Worth, Texas, where he was befriended by an oil magnate, a white Russian emigre who was also a covert agent for the CIA (he was not thought to be a material witness in the ultimate investigation into the assassination). Oswald then had a series of menial jobs and was very cruel to his wife who left him taking the two children with her. Oswald at this point buys two rifles for $29, using aliases and safe boxes in classic spy style. It is thought at this point that he tried to assassinate a right wing US general, whom he missed as an easy target, a doubt then arises as to how he would have been able to shoot Kennedy with crack accuracy. Bizarrely, he also left the USA for Mexico City where he visited both the Cuban and Russian embassy, Oswald even had time for an affair with a Russian attaché. Another twist to the tale is that five weeks before the assassination of Kennedy, the file held by the FBI on Oswald was ordered to be destroyed by J Edgar Hoover.

The events surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, on Friday, November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m., also indicate that Oswald, though part of the plot in some way, was unlikely to be the killer. To begin with he could not drive and took the bus to the centre of Dallas. After the assassination he took a taxi to his lodgings after a visit to the cinema, he also passes a policeman without arising suspicion. After lurking in a doorway it was a shopkeeper that alerted the Police to his whereabouts in the cinema. Despite the fact that the rifle belonged to Oswald there is no evidence that he shot it.

Taken to the Chief of Police in Dallas, he is questioned for 14 hours, yet there is no written record of the deliberations. The press were outside and on occasion Oswald was seen, where he referred to himself as a “patsy”, slang for fall guy. Later when attempting to be moved to the city penitentiary a series of unfortunate events gave Jack Ruby, an Italian Jew with connections to the mafia, a clear view of Oswald whom he shot dead. Ruby was arrested and the body of Lee Harvey Oswald was taken, ironically, to the same Parkland Hospital where the corpse of JFK lay.  

Lee Harvey Oswald arrested.
Jack Ruby
So who shot JFK? After three talks it is still a mystery. Even Donald Trump, who promised to release the files, found that some would never be declassified.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Davies for a most interesting talk.

The History Society will now take a break until September. The Annual trip has been moved to Saturday 20th October, and details will be available in the AGM on the second Monday in September.


Next Monday in the Church hall, a quiz in aid of the Christian Aid appeal will be held. If you were not at last night's monthly meeting, it would be great to have several teams representing the History Society to boost attendance at this worthwhile and annual village quiz.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The third installment in a trilogy from Phil Davies