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.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Joys of Lowland Farming

Ynysarwed farm today

Back before the Second World War, in 1937, my sister and brother – in – law, Ruby and David William Reynolds returned from London to Ynysarwed farm when Mrs Richards (Will’s adoptive mother) died .Mr and Mrs Richards had reared Will since he was two months old, following his mother’s death from typhoid fever. They returned to work the farm and care for Mr Dan Richards a well-known forestry haulier who owned two magnificent shire horses. A year later, I, Josie (Oaten) Duke joined them , to help when my sister was taken ill , and stayed for a year or so. This leads into my story of difficult times in farming.
The river Neath (Afon Nedd) , October 2005, in full spate notice the embankment built to raise the banks of the river and prevent it from invading its floodplain.
Twice yearly, sometimes more, the middle of the valley would be flooded due to torrential rain both locally and further up the valley, this was made worse by the blocked up arches of the Ynsybwllog aqueduct and meant that the whole farm was under water. William Davy (as he was known), Dan and the farm hands would be out in their waders and as many waterproofs as possible, battening down and tending to the animals, getting them to the highest places. Tiny chicks would even be taken upstairs in the house. Everyone was aware at all times of the danger of being knocked over by the strong currents, which lasted for hours.

The pigs in their sties, when the floods were at their worst would be up on their hind trotters with their front trotters resting on the gate tops above the water, squealing with fright. The only way in and out of the farm was on the back of shire horses.

The Vale of Neath – a classic glaciated valley with steep sides and flat bottom of poorly draining boulder clay. Notice the new A465 road is buit on an embankment because of the danger of flooding.
In the house, which would also be flooded, it would be time to move fast once water started trickling through the back of the kitchen fireplace. Rugs and carpet were lifted, movable furniture taken upstairs, heavy cupboards were emptied and lighter furniture was stacked on top. The baby grand piano’s legs were put in Wellington boots on top of blocks. Finally, food was taken upstairs. Despite the fact that some of this work had been done in advance it was still no mean task.

We would watch from the bedroom windows as the water rose to the level of the teeth of the horse drawn mower parked at the front of the house. Floating by would be all manner of debris – huge logs, tree branches, barrels, bins, literally anything that was floatable. Even chickens were swept rapidly along by the current. The worst time was at night, when the only lights were storm lanterns outside, oil lamps and candles inside.

There were huge sighs of relief by us all when the water started going down tooth by tooth on the mower at the side of the house. The water level inside would rise to a height of about two feet depending on the severity of the flood. As the water receded it was brush and shovel time in the house, one of us at the front door and another at the back furiously brushing the water out. It was important to keep the water swirling, taking the silt and the abundance of small coal with it from further up the valley.

Our next job was to re-light the fires to boil gallons of water for the purpose of scrubbing. The walls up to three feet, cupboards inside and out, flagstone floors and chairs had to be scrubbed over and over again. This took many hours whilst the men battled by brushing and shovelling the farm buildings, machinery and yards. This was a very worrying and traumatic time; the drying period took literally weeks.

This went on for many years despite trying to divert the river with old coal drams filled with rocks and pleading with the relevant authorities for help, all to no avail. Very many years later, the riverbed was dredged and the arches at Ynysbwllog aqueduct cleared. However, before this my sister and brother-in-law had had enough of this slavery and decided to move on the death of Dan Richards. The best thing they ever did.

The memories of those years will live with me and with their daughter Joan, forever.

Josie Duke

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Three Doctors of Music

Resolfen was notable during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as having produced three doctors of music. Here follows a synopsis of the story of the three doctors gleaned from the minutes of Resolfen History Society, December 1989.

The cultural background of the three men was very similar. Resolfen was a hotbed of musical activity, especially in choral singing. This was reinforced by three other factors, the congregational singing of the chapels, the rise of the Temperance Movement and probably most importantly the use of Tonic Sol-fa. By representing music in letters rather than musical score, it was possible to teach music to people who could not necessarily “read” music. John Curwen a Congregational minister introduced the system into Wales and Ieuan Gwyllt (Eleazar Roberts) set up classes to teach the system. Morgan de Lloyd and Tom Williams of Glynneath introduced the new system to Resolfen resulting in the formation of many choirs both mixed and male voice.

William Rhys Herbert was born in October 1868 at Ffwrnas (near the present Waterfall Terrace) the son of Rhys Herbert and Ann Rees. Having learned music he bought a harmonium – the first to come to the village. The instrument was brought to the village by train and was carted in style through the streets followed by hordes of children. Later he became the first organist at Jerusalem Chapel.

It was obvious from an early age that he had great talent musically and a concert was held at Jerusalem to raise funds so that he could receive professional lessons. He learned old notation while still working at Blaencwm Colliery , and T.J.Davies Mus Bacc., of Swansea recognising his promise took him for private tuition. William Rhys Herbert published his first tune at the age of 19 and at the age of 22 copied his mentor by leaving for the USA. Despite never becoming an American citizen the bulk of his work was composed there. He became a renowned organist and conductor in one of the largest churches in the U.S. at Minneapolis . He wrote over one thousand pieces , many of them for children .
He died at the age of 54 and is buried in the U.S. , however there is an inscription in his memory on the grave of his parents at Capel Melin-y-Cwrt cemetery.

David Evans was born in what is now known as 2 , Davies Terrace on February 6th 1874 , the son of Morgan Evans ( Ton mân ) and Sarah Davies. His musical background was based firmly on sol-fa and when young his alto voice was used as a model of how easy it was to learn to learn music by that method. He was also a very successful competetitor at local eisteddfodau , formed his first singing group at the age of 9 and conducted his first choir at the age of only 12. He began working with his father at Tyrrau Colliery at the age of 13.

In 1891 he conducted his first Cymanfa Ganu , in those days these festivals were well rehearsed events aimed at improving the quality of congregational singing . By 1895 , David Evans had gained a Mus Bacc. ( Oxon ),the youngest to achieve this in Wales at the time. Following a period in London ,in 1903 he succeeded Joseph Parry by joining the Music Department at University College, Cardiff. In 1908 he also became Professor of Music at Cardiff. He died in 1948 and is buried there.

Dr. Tom Hopcyn Evans was born in Cory St., Resolfen in June 1879 the son of Dafydd Evans ( Tonman) and Ann Hopkins of Glynneath. His working background is similar to the others and he became organist in Seion Chapel and later the first organist at the new Tabernacl Calvinistic Methodist Chapel. In 1905 he won first prize in the mixed choir competition at the National Eisteddfod in Mountain Ash.

In 1909, he became organist and choirmaster at Neath’s London Road Presbyterian Chapel , and later formed Neath Choral Society.. In 1914 he became a Mus.Bacc. ( Oxon) followed by his doctorate in 1924. In 1991 he moved to Liverpool and succeeded Harry Evans ( Merthyr) as conductor of Liverpool Welsh Choral Society.

He was best known as a conductor and noted for his interpretation of Delius . In fact , at the 1933 National Eisteddfod at Wrexham he was highly commended by the composer himself and Hopcyn Evans later became vice- president of the Delius Society.

He fulfilled engagements as a conductor all over the country. However, during Easter 1940 he felt unwell and decided to return to Neath. He died there at the age of 61 and is buried at Capel Melin -y – Cwrt.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bert Coombes (1893-1974)

10, New Inn Place, Resolfen.

In November 1999, Llafur, the Society of Welsh Labour History dedicated a day’s conference in Neath Old Town Hall to the work of miner-writer Bert Coombes. This coincided with the publication of a biography of Bert Coombes by Bill Jones and Chris Williams in the Writers of Wales series (University of Wales Press, 1999). Bert Coombes is best known for his book “These Poor Hands: An autobiography of a Miner Working in South Wales” (1939) which sold 80,000 copies in its first year. He also wrote “Those Clouded Hills” and “Miners Day”.

Despite being born in Wolverhampton in 1893, Coombes’ formative years were spent in the Madley district of Herefordshire. Eventually, by a series of fortuitous circumstances he arrived in Resolven (see book for details) ‘Treclwyd’ in “These Poor Hands”, and naturally became a miner. He married in St. David’s Church in 1913 and in 1919 moved to 10, New Inn Place with his family. Later he moved to Oak Lodge and later to Ynysgron , Cwmgwrach in 1941. In 1945, using the proceeds gained from his writing he moved again to Nantyfedwen Farm near Onllwyn.

He contributed a regular column in the Neath Guardian in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. However, Coombes also had features in the New Statesman, The Listener, Fortnightly, New Writing, Daylight and even Geographical Magazine. His activities also included radio broadcasting and writing scripts for documentary films. Several of his plays, including ‘Eight pointed Star’ (1957), the story of the St.John Ambulance underground and ‘All Roads Blocked’ (1960) the story of miners trapped underground (1960) were also broadcast on radio.

He died at the Adelina Patti Hospital, Craig-y-Nos in 1974 aged 81 years of age and is buried alongside his wife Mary in St.David’s graveyard Resolven.

Trefor Jones.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Resolven, by C.J.O. Evans

This is an extract from CJO Evans, "Glamorgan, its History and Topography" published 1953.

Resolven, six miles north-east of Neath and in its pretty value, is a colliery town through which the Tennant Canal passes. The splendid Melincourt Fall (80 feet) can be reached by crossing the Melincourt brook beyond St. David's Church, and taking a short walk up the ravine. Near Henllan Farm are believed to be the remains of a stone circle. It was about 30 feet in diameter and was composed of about 28 small stones leaning inwards with, apparently, no centre stone. St. David's Church built in the early Gothic style in the middle of the 19th century consist of chancel, nave, western porch, and belfry. A grange, or chapel, it is believed, formerly existed here. The Bryn Cyffneithan stone from this district is now at the National Museum of Wales. It is a cross of the familiar type of the Margam stones, with the inscription in a panel below a wheel cross. The inscription remaining is PROP ARAUI T GABA LA... (Gabala ... prepared [this cross for the soul of ...]).
The stone, it is said, formerly stood near a small holy well in the vicinity.