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, October 14, 2008

October Meeting : Brunel in Neath

Brunel in Neath

Firstly, apologies that this posting is so late. Unfortunately the vagaries of modern technology mean that it is truly marvellous when it works, and very frustrating when it does not. Many thanks to Richard Hopkins for his wizardry in sorting out my computer and giving me a little time to catch up over half term.

This month’s speaker was Mr Glyn Williams of the Rhyddings, who is also a full member of the Society. He was ably assisted by fellow Brunel enthusiast, his grandson Morgan. Mr Williams took the theme of Isambard Kingdom Brunel as his topic but focussed his talk on his impact on the Neath area.

He began his lecture by noting some Neath buildings which are linked directly to the time when Brunel was resident here. Briton Ferry Docks, Brunel’s stable at Ynysmaerdy and his office in Angel Square (Great Western Chambers) is some examples. However, probably the most lasting reminder of Brunel is the unmistakable design of his railway bridges, with a distinctive double layer of stones and low semi-circular shape.

The large audience was then treated to a detailed examination of the four main projects undertaken by Brunel in the Neath Area. Firstly he looked at the South Wales Railway which was built via Gloucester and Bristol in order to link with Ireland via Milford Haven in 1851. Briton Ferry is a good example of a Brunel Built station of this period and the original Neath station and wooden railway bridge across the river Neath was built at this time.

The second project, of obvious interest to our Society was the building of the Vale of Neath Railway, also in 1851. The new railway shared a station with the South Wales Railway and crossed the Neath via a wooden viaduct at Aberdulais. A double tunnel remains at this point near the canal, one apparently used to carry the road to Resolfen and the other serving as a railway bridge. A notable local feature is the aqueduct in Commercial Rd., Resolfen (which is currently being renovated - more to follow). Brunel was anxious to keep his tunnel level from the Railway station and therefore raised the Clydach Uchaf over the railway. This is an extremely rare feature made of wrought iron and with original strengthening ribs still intact. Mr Williams also stated that the purpose of the bridge carrying the present bridleway past the rugby ground was rather a mystery to him; this mystery was solved by the audience who noted that this carried the “dram road” from the Resolfen collieries. It was also noted that the marshalling yard at Glynneath was the third largest in Britain.

The third project carried out by Brunel was the South Wales Mineral Railway which carried coal from the upper Afan Valley by means of an ingenious pulley system to Briton Ferry Docks. Finally, Mr Williams spoke on the posthumous completion of the Briton Ferry Docks in 1861 at a cost of £160,000.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Williams for a most interesting lecture, and then followed a lengthy question and answer session.

Trefor Jones