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, January 15, 2009

The Strange Case of the Missing Watch

The strange case of the missing watch

One of the best features that the History Society has enjoyed since starting our website is the large number of enquiries received regarding issues concerning lost relatives, even from the esteemed office of Debretts on one occasion. Our own Central Record Office – Mr Phylip Jones is usually able to answer the enquiry but an e-mail from Ann Smith has sent everyone guessing. The enquiry featured that of a long service watch from Cam Gears (TRW today) given to a Mr R L Davidson in 1985.

Ann Smith takes up the story:

Dear Trefor, I am seeking help in tracing a person by the name of R.L.Davidson and wonder if you or the Society have any ideas that might help. I shall briefly explain: My son has found a watch with an inscription R.L.DAVIDSON TRW/CAM GEARS LTD 20 YEARS SERVICE 1985 Now we live in Luton, and this is where the watch was found, but our research so far has led us to believe that this company had branches in this area some years ago. I believe until about 2000 it was still in existence in Resolven? What I am trying to do is reunite this lovely watch with its owner. There is only one R.L.Davidson in the local phone directory and that is not him. I wonder if you know if there is any way in which one could access a list of past employee's for the company and gain a lead as to how to find this person. My next move is to place a small ad in the local newspaper perhaps. I suspect the watch is of little monetary value but I know if it were mine I would very much like it back. If you have any ideas I would be most grateful.

Yours sincerely, Ann Smith

Our Secretary replied by e-mail:

Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2009 09:44:38 +0000Thank you for your recent enquiry. Cam Gears is still in existence in Resolfen, it changed its name to TRW Steering Systems around a decade ago- it is currently hanging on by its fingertips in the current recession. Since the factory employed over a thousand workers in the 80s I'm sure there will be someone who remembers the owner. I will make some enquiries however perhaps the company would be able to help you directly since many workers worked there for a far longer period than twenty years.

Best wishes,

Trefor Jones

Then followed some detective work and some longstanding workers at the Cam Gears factory were asked if they knew if Mr Davidson was still living in the area. This drew a blank, though one suggestion was that he may have worked in one of the English plants and had spent some time in Resolfen. However Ann Smith was already on the case

10 January 2009 11:32:18
Trefor Jones (
Thank youTrefor. From your info I have managed to get the number for TRW Systems and have made contact regarding the watch. They in turn are looking into it. So far they have got back to me to say that there were actually 3 Mr Davidsons at the Luton branch at that time and they are going to see if these folk are still contactable. I guess I can do no more but hope to hear from THE Mr Davidson one day so that I can reunite him with his watch. Once again many thanks for your help. Ann Smith

The trail seemed to be wending its way over the Severn Bridge however a chance remark to our President in our recent monthly meeting led to another strand. Apparently, Phylip worked with a Mr Davidson in Cam Gears at the time and he was a resident of Skewen. Ann Smith was subsequently informed by e-mail. A brief perusal of the telephone directory showed that no R L Davidson lived in Skewen today, though there was still a Davidson who might well be a relative. Of course, Mr Davidson if he is still alive might well be ex-directory.

I’m sure this will not be the end of the case and we await developments. Anyone with any ideas should contact us. Watch this space.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Noel Thomas Lecture 2009

Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture 2009

The meeting began with the sad news that loyal and hard working member of the Society, Stuart Hicks, husband of our Treasurer, Julie, had passed away on Sunday 11th January. Stuart will be greatly missed and Gwyn Thomas expressed his appreciation of his contribution over the years and passed on the collective sympathy of the History Society to the family. A minute’s silence was observed

The speaker for the evening needed no introduction since it was none other than Mr Phylip Jones, the Society President. He began by stating that this was the twelfth Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture and that Noel had enjoyed all that was good in a traditional Welsh upbringing, including singing, poetry and an interest in education. These three themes were to feature prominently in his talk.

Mr Jones began by stating that he had been accused of over emphasising the contribution of the Three Doctors of Music to the detriment of other “worthies” emanating from Resolfen, his mission therefore was to set the record straight.

The first luminary chosen was Sir Clifford Darby (a full record of Sir Clifford’s achievements already exist on this site from an edition of Who’s Who), the only Resolfen resident thus far to receive a knighthood. Sir Clifford was born in 9, Coronation Avenue in 1909, son of Evan and Jenny Darby and grew up in Neath Road. He proved something of a child prodigy and after attending Neath Grammar School went up to University College, Cambridge at the tender age of sixteen. He graduated at nineteen with First Class honours and by the age of only 22 achieved his Doctorate. Then began a glittering academic career in both Cambridge , London and the USA where Cliff Darby specialised in the field of Historical Geography. His magnum opus was a study of the Domesday Geography of England which took some thirty years to complete. He had a distinguished war record and compiled some thirty atlases which were used during the war effort. He married in 1941 to Eva Thompson and had two daughters. He was knighted in 1988 for services to Geography

Though largely forgotten in Resolfen today, Sir Clifford Darby never forgot his roots. In 1935 he was the President of the evening session of the Jerusalem Cymanfa Ganu with a congregation of over a thousand ( even though Jerusalem officially only holds 850). Darby was noted by the academic establishment for his obvious Welsh accent and fervent 'hwyl'while delivering his lectures. A fitting epitaph describes him thus, “A complex man of high ability,he demanded high standards of others.”

The second 'worthy' to gain recognition from Phylip was David “St” John the noted pugilist and bare knuckle fighter who achieved nation wide fame. He was born in 1872 and though his mother was born in Lyon’s Row ( Place – Y Rhestr Fawr) it is not known whether he was born in Resolfen since his father had moved constantly in search of employment. However he grew up in the village where he was known as “Dai Bac y Vaughan’s”, after the now disappeared terrace behind the Vaughan Arms- Sims Row. One of eleven children, he was the second eldest son (and distantly related to Mr Jones whose great grandfather was one of the eleven siblings). He was a fine specimen of a man and unusually big for the time at six feet and two inches and weighing over fifteen stone. While working in the local colliery he gained a reputation as a prize fighter on the local mountainside and in fairground boxing booths.

In 1896 he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards and became the heavyweight boxing champion of the British Army, gaining national recognition. He became known as “Saint” as a nick name from this period. He took part in military campaigns in both Egypt and the Sudan and was eventually sent to South Africa during the Boer War. Unfortunately he was killed in action in the Battle of Belmont, 23rd of November 1899 at the age of 28. Such was his fame that his death was commemorated by the production of crockery and his own heroic demise was shown in pictorial form in periodicals of the day.

In September, 1997 a commemorative plaque and headstone was placed in St David’s churchyard in a military ceremony conducted by the Grenadier Guards.

Mr Jones concluded his talk by speaking of other “worthies” from the village including Madam Jenny Ellis who won the National Eisteddfod seventeen times. He also spoke at length on Sammy Lloyd the poet, who was born in Moses Row in 1880 and who gained considerable success in semi-national Eisteddfodau , and every place of worship in Resolfen and other meeting places including the Reading Room had one of his bardic chairs on display.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Jones for a most interesting and informative talk and lamented that we will have to wait until next year for the next episode.

P.S. Providing we receive match funding from the Ffynnon Oer Fund, many of these luminaries will receive commemorative plaques in the coming months.