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.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A History of Aberafan

A Report on the April Meeting of Resolfen History Society

This month’s speaker was an old friend of the Society, Mr Clive Reed of Pontardawe.A large and appreciative audience heard Mr Reed give an illustrated lecture on the history of Aberafan.

He began his talk by referring to the name of Aberafan/Avon which appear on maps and refer to the mouth of the Afan, a river which also forms the boundary with the much larger Port Talbot. The origins of the old borough of Aberafan lie in a motte and bailey castle, built around 1100 and a Norman church St. Mary’s, which was much enhanced by the Talbot family. The modern town owed its existence to industry in the form of the Aberafan Forge at Felindre and the river bridge built by William Edwards in 1799 to carry the main road across south Wales.

Mr Reed then gave a very detailed narrative on the development of the town. By 1875, the town was a mainstay of the tinplate industry and had over 800 inhabitants living in largely insanitary conditions. A market/civic hall had been built in 1834, and 12 nonconformist chapels had also been built.

The 1830s were a turbulent time for the town with the burial of the innocent Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) who was accused wrongly of stabbing a soldier during the Merthyr riots. In addition the turnpike road (now the old road to Neath) was making a huge profit of some £5,000 per annum and it was hardly surprising that it became an early victim to the daughters of Rebecca.
Station Rd. Aberafan
The twentieth century brought both prosperity and ruin to the town. In 1906 the new steelworks at Margam was established and at its peak as the Steel Company of Wales in 1947 employed 28,000 workers. A new council chamber was built in 1914 and Aberafan also boasted a range of upmarket shops. The beginning of Aberafan as a holiday centre began in 1887, when bathing huts were brought there and a funfair was built. This endeavour reached its climax in the 1960s when the Afan lido was built to grace the new promenade. The Sandfields estate was also spreading across the sand dunes towards Aberafan beach. A leisure scene at Aberafan beach in the late 19th century

However, not all progress leads to improvement, and Mr Reed concluded his talk on a rather sad note . In 1974, the Council lost control of its senses and demolished most of the old town of Aberafan to create a huge shopping mall. The beach fell victim to the “costa” boom and never reached its potential and even the promenade is being undermined by coastal erosion caused by the building of a new waterway to the steelworks. Even the new town hall (now Neath Port Talbot Civic Centre) is being eaten by the salt laden air. The extension of the M4 in 1965 also demolished a fair proportion of the town.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Clive Reed for a most fascinating evening.

Trefor Jones