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.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Where is Resolfen?

Resolfen from Craig-y-Nedd
To those of you who do not know where Resolfen/Resolven is. We will try and give you a brief overview and some very basic sketch maps (apologies) so that you may locate some of the places mentioned in the articles.

Resolfen is a typical post- industrial Welsh mining village situated some six miles from the main town, Neath in the County Borough of Neath Port Talbot, south Wales. It has a population of some 2,500 including schoolchildren and the main employer is the American motor part manufacturer TRW (still known locally as Cam Gears). The electoral ward includes Resolfen, Melincwrt, Clyne, Abergarwed and Ynysarwed.Some 18% of the village population is Welsh speaking and the community is predominantly a working class one. The local collieries and pits : Glyncastle, Ffald-y-dre , Garth Merthyr and Ynysarwed , produced over three million tons of coal since 1837, but they are now long closed. The aluminium works at Rheola closed in the early 1980s and its remnants are now a weekend market. However, Resolfen possesses a vibrant community and boasts a rugby, soccer, cricket and two bowls clubs. It also has several chapels and churches , a community centre, a Miner's Welfare, British Legion and two public houses. The completion of the A465 missing link trunk road in 1996 has made the area attractive for commuters and recently house prices have seen a dramatic rise as elsewhere in south Wales. The housing (see above photograph)is an interesting feature of the village in that it contains terraced company housing named after local coal owners ( common in the eastern valleys) and also the detached and semi detached pennant sandstone housing so typical of the more affluent anthracite coalfield of west Wales, where many of the colliers were also part time smallholders in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. However, approximatey half the village is now council housing which was built from the late 1940s onwards.

The name 'Resolfen' is rather a mystery since it does not have a ready meaning in either English or Welsh. Suffice to say, for most of its existence the area was known as Ynysfach(small clearing or Island). As with many settlements the Great Western Railway were to blame for rechristening the village when they took the name of the adjacent mountain Mynydd Resolfen for their railway station. Further scrutiny, by local historian Mr Phylip Jones indicates that the probable derivation is a corruption of 'parsel soflan' ( an area of poor grazing land or stubble) situated nearer Cwmgwrach than present day Resolfen. Also, it is fair to note that the area was very spasely populated prior to the arrival of primary industry to the area in the late eighteenth century and was composed of scattered farmsteads and households.

The communications of the area span from Roman times. A Roman road, the Sarn Helen runs along the the ridge of Hirfynydd, including the remains of a signalling station. The Neath canal built by Thomas Dadford in 1797 runs through the village and is mostly restored by a combination of voluntary and official efforts over the last twenty years, and includes an impressive basin . The Vale of Neath railway still operates as a freight line and was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to carry coal from the Cynon and Neath valleys for export from Swansea docks. Resolfen boasts an aqueduct which carries the river Clydach Uchaf over the railway and was reputedly constructed by Brunel himself . The A465 dual carriageway was also notorious as, until its completion in 1996, was known as the 'missing link' in the Heads of the Valleys road. The dangerous section ( now the B4242) was the scene of over two hundred road accidents in twenty years and dozens of deaths. Some lasting features of this victory for local pressure is the monstrous green bridge linking Glynneath Rd. and Abergarwed to the village replacing the old 'dram road'(see picture above), also two large lakes were created at Pentreclwydau ( also the site of the 1994 National Eisteddfod) as the borrow pits for gravel to build the road filled with water. Both canal and borrow pits are now havens for wildlife and are used for sporting and leisure activity.

A last note must include reference to the numerous sporting activities, remarkable for such a small area. In the past decade the Vale of Neath has hosted, the Women's UK Cycling Championships, the BMX world championships and in September 2006 is to hold the Extreme Sports world championship. However, probably the most prestigious sporting event to visit the area is the Rally (Wales)GB which has made the Resolfen area a vital cog in its long stay in Wales as part of the World Rally Championships.

Our aim in maintaining this blog is to capture some of the essence of local history which is quickly vanishing as folk memory recedes and the village inevitably changes both demographically and socially.

Trefor Jones

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Jerusalem Chapel 1875 - 1999

A short History of the Independent Cause in Resolfen: Part Two

Jerusalem Chapel 1875 - 1999.

Land was leased from Vaughan H. Vaughan Lee, Rheola for 99 years at 2/- per annum. At the same time a call had been extended to the Rev. David Griffith Morgan of Stockton-on- Tees to minister at Melincwrt. He commenced his ministry on June 6th 1875 and on the 20th of that month the commemorative stone was laid for Jerusalem chapel. The spacious new building was designed by the Rev. Thomas Thomas, Landore and seated about 500 people. The cost of the building and all the fittings came to £2,100. The builder was James Herbert and Brothers and the woodwork was executed by John Barclay. Jerusalem was opened on October 2nd 1876, and the meetings also served as the induction of the Rev. D. G. Morgan, even though he had actually been minister for a year. Fifteen ministers officiated at the meetings. The commemorative stone

The deeds of the chapel state that Jerusalem was for the ‘Public worship of God and other Religious or Philanthropic purposes under the direction of the Church for the time being assembled for worship on the said premises according to the Principles and usage of Protestant Dissenters of the Congregational denomination also called Independents being Paedobaptists’.

Mr Morgan was an excellent preacher and had a regular congregation of several hundred people. D. Rhys Phillips writes of him ‘Mr Morgan deserves remembrance as a forceful personality of strong convictions, who laboured assiduously’. He contributed greatly to the cultural and educational life of the village. He also took part in the activities of his own denomination and his article were published in two volumes.

In 1882, a schoolroom was built at Clyne for £150, excluding the cost of carrying building materials. This building eventually developed into Hermon Chapel. Sunday schools were held not only in Jerusalem, but in Melincwrt, Clyne and the Stag (Abergarwed), so that people did not have to walk back again after the morning meeting. Hermon, Clun.
The membership (see first article on Melincwrt) at the end of 1894 stood at 232 and continued to rise to 243 in 1895 despite having lost 14 members through migration. Church discipline was enforced by public admonition or expulsion. The majority of those disciplined would ask to be received back into membership in three to six months time. The Rev. D.G. Morgan died on July 7th 1898 and D. Rhys Phillips, writes that ‘the whole countryside bemoaned his loss’. Such was the deep love and respect shown by the church that it paid for the printing needed for the funeral, and all the funeral expenses. The mourning cloth draped the pulpit for a year!

By the end of 1901, the church was discussing the need for a new minister and extending the chapel. The extension would consist of a vestry, an organ behind the pulpit and heating was to be installed. The minutes of 1992 emphasise the need for an extension since the congregation had outgrown its building. A call was extended to the Rev. R. E. Williams; Cilfynydd to become the minister in 1902, his salary was to be £10 per month and whatever was collected above that sum at the collection for the ministry. He was also to have one free Sunday a month. He was inducted on June 30th and July 1st 1902. Jerusalem was reopened in August 1903. In 1904, the great religious revival broke out and its effect was felt in Jerusalem, 'many turning to religion but not all remaining faithful' ( the words of Nesta Hopkins, see below).

Mr Williams was still minister at the outbreak of the First World War and in 1916 received an increase in wages to £12 per month to last for the duration of the war. This was later increased to £20 per month in 1920. The first cymanfa ganu (singing festival) was held in 1915 and conducted by the famous hymn writer Dr.Caradog Roberts, Rhosllanerchrugog. It was a great success and continued to be so for many years, yet there is no record in the minute book of the preparation for the gymanfa or a report of it.

As has already been stated, the pipe organ was installed at the time of the new extension in 1902/03. However, for whatever reason, it took until 1922 to form an organ committee and to formulate as to who and when the organ could be played.

The economic depression of the 1920s had its effect on Jerusalem and every other part of the wider community. The treasurer informed the deacons in October 1926 that the church was in debt to the tune of £30 and that many more bills were outstanding. It was decided a month later that the minister’s wages would be cut to £2-10-0 a week which meant a reduction to half his normal income. This was later reversed in 1927, providing the chapel had sufficient funds.

On September 30, 1928 a request came from Hermon, Clyne to be formed as a separate church rather than a branch of Jerusalem. This was agreed by the deaconate and confirmed by the church later that evening. By 1934, relations between the minister and the deacons, reflecting the majority view of the membership had deteriorated. The outcome was that the Rev. R. E. Williams resigned as minister of Jerusalem with effect from 15th April 1934 after a period of 32 years.

Two years elapsed before a call was extended to Mr Lynn T. Walters, BA, who was also at the time a student at Aberystwyth. His Ordination and Induction Services were held on Monday July 4th 1938, commencing an equally long ministry. ‘Cynlais House’ Neath Rd. was bought by the chapel the same year and was re-named ‘Isallt’.

In 1943, the first broadcast was made of Caniadaeth y Cysegr by the BBC (This is the longest running Welsh based programme on the BBC. It consists of Welsh hymn singing and is broadcast by Radio Cymru at 4.30 on Sunday afternoons) interestingly, the first broadcast time, at 6.30pm on a Sunday was rejected and it was finally agreed that the programme would be broadcast between 4 and 5 o’clock.

One problem which dogged Jerusalem for many years was that of language. It seems that Mr Walters was using very little Welsh and this had repercussions. Some members were keeping from the services, many were with-holding their contributions and others stood silent when an English hymn was sung and two deacons resigned over the issue.

At an election of deacons in 1968, two female members were elected for the first time, namely Mrs Rachie Davies and Mrs Nesta Hopkins BA. In the same year Nesta Hopkins became Secretary of Jerusalem (see her “Synopsis of the History of Jerusalem in “Resolfen Recalled” p.39-42) until 1979, when Noel Thomas became Secretary.

In 1983, Mr Lynn Walters moved from Isallt to Llys Bethania (an old people’s home) and the church held on to the manse in the hope of calling a new minister in the future. Mr Walters resigned on the 1st January 1984, having been minister since 1938 with Jerusalem being his only church. He died on August 27th 1986. A memorial stone was unveiled in his memory on Sunday 23rd April 1989. The former manse 'Isallt', in Neath Rd.

The recurring themes in the subsequent minutes has been the maintenance of both chapels and the cemetery at Melincwrt, the condition of the pipe organ and after Mr Walters’ retirement the desirability of having a new minister. It took some years to realise that without a substantial increase in membership and financial contributions this would remain an aspiration.

This article was gleaned from an extended essay by Mr Phylip Jones, written to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Independent cause in Resolfen in 1999.