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, May 14, 2009

Early Tourists to Resolfen


The History Society brought down the curtain on a very successful lecture season with the visit of Mr Martyn Griffiths of Neath. He took “Early Tourists in Neath 1770 -1861” as his topic, and was accompanied by local actor Mr Peter Loaring who gave a dramatic illustration to the voices of some eleven notable visitors to the Neath area.
Michael Faraday

Mr Griffiths began his talk to the large audience by explaining how tourism began in the area. Following the English Civil War the nobility and wealthy would undertake “The Grand Tour” of Europe, a practice which was popular well into the 19th Century. Local notables including the Williams’s of Aberpergwm, Mansel Talbot and Howel Gwyn had all undergone the tour. However, during the 18th Century this practice went less popular as the exploration of Wales, Scotland and the Lake District gained in popularity. Rev.William Gilpin

One of the reasons for this was the 1705 Turnpike Act, which gave Wales its first modern roads. Prior to this, residents of the Neath area were obliged to give three days a year free to the upkeep of the roads, with the inevitable result that they remained rutted and muddy tracks. One of the first metalled roads in Glamorgan ran from Melincwrt to Aberdulais to carry the iron from the works. Consequent to the Second Turnpike Act of 1740, when Glamorgan gained its first turnpike roads and also notoriously tollgates at 2d per mile. Farmhouses consequently became inns to service the passing trade and locally Ynysgollen Farm ( now the Rock and Fountain) and the Ynysbipan ( the Farmers Arms today) became hostelries. They were not always very wholesome places and visitors referred to them being infested with fleas and vermin. Since roads lacked signposts and milestones the visitors would often need a guide to show them the delights of the local area including the waterfalls, mountains and heavy industry. This in itself caused some problems since the guides would have been monoglot Welsh speakers and one vistor, Samuel Carter Hall deemed this to be a sign of unfriendliness. Samuel Carter Hall

Mr Griffiths and Mr Loaring then gave a detailed account of the exploits of the tourists who had written of their vist to Neath. They came by stagecoach and mail coach, on horseback at two shillings a fortnight and famously George Borrow came briefly and breathlessly on foot. The Rev. Richard Warner took in the Neath area as part of an epic journey between Bath and Caernarfon in which he covered 462 miles in fifteen days. The scientist Michael Faraday also visited Melincwrt waterfall ( Sgwd Rhyd yr Hesg) in 1819 and befriended a young and highly attractive female guide. The Rev. William Gilpin who was recently featured on televison by Nicholas Crane was a famous traveller who is best remembered for inventing the word “picturesque” to descibe the beauties of the Neath Valley. Benjamin Melkin described St.Mary’s Church in Briton Ferry as a most beautiful building ( before Brunel built the Docks) and noted the Welsh tradition of placing flowers on graves. Other visitors described the customs and dress of the local inhabitants including the traditional Welsh costume, the custom of riding horses in pairs and the rich tradition of folk dancing in villages such as Pontneddfechan. Despite being filled with industrial slag Neath Abbey was also a powerful draw for vistors,as was the spleandour of the Gnoll House and grounds. However, Neath itself was described in rather less glorious terms “ Dirty narrow streets blackened by smoke”.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Griffiths and Mr Loaring for a most interesting talk and remarked that we had heard the voices of eleven speakers as against one.

The History Society will now take a break until September.However, the Summer trip will take place on Saturday,July 4th when the Society will visit the Rhymney Valley.