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, March 13, 2018

What did the Greeks do for us? Quite a lot!!!

A report on the March meeting of Resolfen History Society

This month’s speaker was Mr John Richards of Neath,who has visited us many times. This year he took the Ancient Greeks as his topic. He admitted at the outset that this was a massive topic and he would only be able to scratch the surface. In essence, his talk might be summarised as “what the ancient Greeks left to us". Indeed, it was remarkable how much of our speech, culture, politics  architecture and even entertainment wend their way back to the early Greek city states.

Mr Richards began by looking at how the Greeks themselves were very nearly subsumed by the Asiatic Persian culture almost before they began. He asked the audience, who they would assume was the most important Greek of ancient times, several candidates were suggested from Plato to Aristotle, yet it was the little known Themistocles who had Mr Richards’s approval. The answer was simple since Themistocles had literally saved Greece.

Battle of Salamis 480 BC
Following the successful triumph at Marathon against the Persians, Xerxes returned some decade later in 480 BC with an army of a million men. They quickly took and sacked Athens, and the Greeks fled to the island of Salamis. Themistocles realised that the size of the Persian army was also its weakness since the supply chain on land across the Hellespont was too long. The army, which could metaphorically drink a river dry would have to be supplied by sea. Themistocles managed to get an informer to tell Xerxes that the Greeks were in a very weak position, yet the subsequent sea battle destroyed the Persian fleet.

Following Salamis, there flowered a Greek civilisation and cultural explosion in medicine ( hippocratic oath) , sport ( Olympic games) , mathematics, astrology, steam engines, architecture ( neo classical designs in modern buildings) and entertainment. These were later adopted and developed by the Romans, and even the customs of the churches owe a lot to the Greek theatre.

Mr Richards went on to describe Greek religion which was not worship as we would know it, but instead a trade off by means of sacrifice in order to gain advantage in life from the gods. The
Greek Theatre

Greek mask used in plays

word tragoedia which is supposedly reminiscent of a goat being taken to sacrifice, gives us the word ‘tragedy’. The sacrifice would take place at an altar or thespis and the dramatic gestures of the priest gives us the word ‘thespian’, to describe an actor. The Greeks were not averse to adopting other cultures’ gods and Dionysus an Asiatic god was readily accepted. Dionysis is known as Baccus by the Romans.Dionysus was the god of fertility and wine, later considered a patron of the arts. Hereputedly  created wine and spread the art of viticulture, so it is ahrdly surprising that he was a popular god with his festival around April time synonymous with phallic symbols and merrymaking. The three playsin massive outdoor theatres  associated with Dionysus included mainly tragedies by authors such as Sophocles and Euripedes. The plots were usually ghastly and gory and stimulated both fear and pity, much as a modern horror movie. The antithesis was the fourth play a comedy by Aristophanes involved a degree of lude merriment. The plots involved discussions,  logos before prologos and epilogos which are easily ientifiable words in modern English.

Mr Richards conlcluded his talk by showing slides of Greek architecture. The Acropolis and Partheenon were explained and the Greek theatres shape gave us orchestra , odeon and palladium.

Mr Trefor Jones thanked Mr Richards for a very enjoyable and illuminating talk.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

March Meeting

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sweet Ber Dar - Queen of the Valleys

This month’s speaker was the highly amusing and entertaining Huw Williams of Merthyr Tudful. Huw has visited us on many occasions and also held an adult education class in Resolven some years ago, an experience he recalls with affection. His topic this year was “Sweet Bêr Dâr”, a term which was used by its residents to describe Aberdare and its district. Its bilingual construction is indicative of the complex history of the valley and betrays far more of its history than the English version of “Queen of the Valleys”. To others, including the residents of the Neath Valley, the residents were known as “Snakes”, its derivation unclear, though it may refer to strike breaking or be biblical in origin.

He described the valley at the beginning of the eighteenth century as being heavily wooded with oak trees. Indeed, a popular and probable myth in the Cynon Valley was that Nelson’s poop deck on the Victory at Trafalgar in 1805, came from the Cynon Valley. Its geographical location as an open ended valley made migration easy for the residents of rural west Wales to migrate to the area as it was industrialised with iron smelting and coal mining in the early years of the eighteenth century. The migrants had to confront the challenge of a dangerous if comparatively well paid employment, but this was compensated by the lure of opportunity and housing which the pioneer mining valleys provided. They had to learn a new language of industrialised terms , though they and their owners remained Welsh speaking (the Cynon Valley has a distinctive Welsh accent in Welsh closer to that of Montgomeryshire which is now rarely heard, Ed.) The nature of the coal seams arranged in a syncline meant that the prized steam coal which fuelled the world became deeper and collieries such as deep navigation were operating over a mile underground. Recent scholarship has pointed out that much of the capital investment came from Bristol and thus the connection with the slave trade. Mr Williams pointed out that this should be viewed in the context of its time and not propelled into our more politically correct era. The prize at Aberdare was the 4’ seam, and this was eventually located by Thomas Powell at Dyffryn, so maximising a fortune and the founding of the famous Powell Duffryn Coal Company. The increase in production was the 1840s the production was around 12,000 tons which was largely used for smelting, but by the 1870s it stood at two million tons which was being exported around the world, fuelling the Royal Navy. Brunel himself had realised the importance of the Cynon Valley and between 1839 and 41 constructed the Taff Vale Railway which allowed the less efficient canals to be replaced by rail. This led to the development of Cardiff and Barry as major coal exporting ports.

Mr Williams, now turned to four unique features of the history of the Aberdare compared to the rest of south Wales. Firstly, the area was the first to have an iron bridge spanning a river. He discussed the claims of Abraham Darby at Ironbridge and other claimants on the Taff but was convinced that the first was on the Dare. Secondly, the Cynon Valley was the first valley to become exclusive to the production of coal. By 1870, the coal foundries had disappeared and coal mining dominated, twenty years before the Rhondda Valleys. This over reliance was remarked upon at the time as being very dangerous economically, since any hiccup in the coal trade would affect the area disproportionately. This became apparent when the still productive coal mines close in the twentieth century.

Secondly, the Duffryn Colliery was the site of the first modern industrial dispute in 1843. Powell Duffryn dismissed 69 men and replaced them with another 200. This caused uproar, especially among the wives, who caused havoc by throwing pans and kettles at the new workers in favour of their partners. Cornish workers from the tin mines lasted one day when brought in to work, in the face of this militant sisterhood. Mr Williams stated that the role of women in the coalfield had always been prominent and that it was untrue that this had only appeared in the 1984/85 strike.

A third feature, was the fact that Aberdare was the scene of the first explosion and major coal disaster, when in August 1845 scores of men and boys as young as 10 years of age were killed by a combination of an explosion and carbon monoxide poisoning at Powell Duffryn. The Jury at the inquiry which was composed mostly of coal owners, met at the Boot Inn Aberdare and suggested that the cause was the poor ventilation of noxious gases at the colliery. This was later rectified by Nixon at the Deep Navigation colliery.

By 1851, the population of Aberdare stood at nearly 15,000, which tough this would be eclipsed by Merthyr, gave it the fourth claim to be the first truly industrial community dominated by KingCoal.

Following a lengthy question and answer session, Trefor Jones thanked Mr Williams for a highly informative talk.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Penblwydd Hapus Phylip!!

The President of the History Society, Mr Phylip Jones celebrates his eightieth birthday on Tuesday the 23rd of January. He has not been very well in recent weeks, including several weeks in hospital, but is on the mend and we look forward to him returning to the activities of the Society very soon. Phylip's contribution to the preserving of the social history of Resolfen has been immense and it was a general disappointment to everyone that we did not have the pleasure of his annual talk ( loosely based on a local theme) this year.

Phylip and Gwyn Thomas unveil a plaque to the memory of the Three Doctors of Music
Phylip addressing the members at an original dissenting chapel at Glasbury

Brysiwch wella Phylip a llongyfarchiadau ar gyrraedd y garreg filltir arbennig hon. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

February MEETING

mr Huw Williams

“Sweet Ber Dar”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  12th February 2018.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Unexpected family connections

The opening meeting of 2018 proved something of a disappointment in that the Society's President's annual talk was cancelled owing to ill health. Phylip is on the mend and is now home from hospital, hopefully normal service will be resumed in 2019.

The attendance itself was rather disappointing with the ravages of inclement weather, long term illness and the normal coughs and sneezes reducing the number of members present. It was therefore left to the Secretary to deputise for the advertised speaker with a talk on the Anthracite Strike of 1925 based on a dispute in the Aman valley. It would be improper for the author of this piece to give a precis of the contents of this very interesting if little known dispute, since he also doubles as the Secretary of the Society and keeper of this blog. However, since the Vale of Neath and the Dulais valley played a notable part in this dispute it was very interesting that several of those present remembered fragments of the strike from the recollections of their parents. Indeed, Professor Hywel Francis, the main academic researcher into this dispute had obviously delved deeply into the first hand evidence given by the inhabitants of the Dulais valley, notably his father the famous NUM leader Dai Francis. The work of the Amman Valley History Society had also been crucial in keeping the memory of the anthracite strike alive.

If anyone would like a transcript of the content a similar talk then it is available on the Resolven and District News site  November archive, in an excellent article by Diane Sims.

Next month's speaker is Mr Huw Williams, who will give a talk on the history of the Cynon valley - "Sweet Ber Dare".

Friday, December 29, 2017

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda - January Meeting


January MEETing

Mr Phylip Jones – a local Theme

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  8th January 2018

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb