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.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Some dates for your diary

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Kicking off the new season

October Meeting of Resolfen History Society

This month’s speaker was Mr John Richards of Skewen who spoke on the “Castles of Neath ”. Using the definition, that a castle was a defensive structure with both a domestic and judicial function, then the Neath area has possessed castles for millennia.
Mr Richards began his talk by referring to a 1930s archaeological dig in Skewen which revealed the existence of a crannog, which was a house built in a lake on wooded piles. The crannog was in existence during the late stone age or early bronze age and at least was in a defensive position.
A Crannog

The talk then took the members to the iron age . The area had several candidates for inclusion in this category including Warren Hill in Briton Ferry and at sites in the Glynneath area. Apart from the fact that the inhabitants were Celtic little is known of the users of these defensive sites.

The Romans arrived at Nidum in AD70 and have left several defensive structures in the area. The main fort was at Neath in the vicinity of Dŵr-y-felin school and “banana island”. The gateways of this substantial fortress are still visible. Other features include a massive marching fort at Tonna, a signalling station in Resolfen and another base at Coelbren along the Sarn Helen Roman Road.
The Gatehouse at Nidum

The Romans left in AD 410 and the dark ages gave rise to some new castles. Hen Gastell in Briton Ferry , was now thw base for the new bridge on the M4 and had been extensively excavated during the 1990s. This was inhabited at least until the age of the Norman conquest and one of its local lords was reputed to be Morgan ab Iestyn ab Iorwerth.

In 1081, William the Conqueror came through Neath with his formidable army and met with the local Welsh lord, Rhys ap Thomas. Even though William was on a pilgrimage to St David’s he decided to set up a “motte and bailey” castle, which was complete by 1100. This was probably sited between the present day McDonalds restaurant and Caewathen. Then followed a series of wooden castles which were strengthened each time the Welsh burned them down. By 1258, the castle was totally of stone and was able to withstand attack.

Today, the gatehouse is the most obvious feature left of the castle, which has largely been ravaged for building stone by successive generations of Neath residents. It was visited by two English kings, Edward I in 1284 and Edward II was arrested there in 1322. Luckily, the castle escaped the attention of Owain Glyndwr in the 1400s.
Neath Castle gatehouse
The use of gunpowder rather made castles redundant after that, and Mr Richards finished his talk be referring to the Castle Hotel, which had no defensive but did qualify on the domestic criterion.

Following questions, Mr Jim Kent thanked Mr Richards for a very enjoyable talk.
Next month’s speaker on Monday November 12th will be Lt.Colonel Frank Batten who will speak on the history of the Gurkhas.