T.S.Eliot once wrote that "April was the cruellest month", it would seem that February would assume that title for the History Society. For the second year in succession the advertised speaker could not make it, this time owing to a bad case of flu and laryngitis. We are extremely lucky as a Society that we have members who can, at the drop of a hat, give talks of quality and interest. Once again it was Phylip Jones who metaphorically rode to our collective rescue.
Phylip took the development of Resolven as his topic, using the national censuses from 1831 to 1891 as his guide. Prior to 1831, the area now known as Resolfen/Resolven was largely uninhabited and the derivation of the name of the village has been well discussed on this site in the past. Possibly the first settlement as such was on the north side of the Clydach Uchaf ( brook) at a spot called Capel Resolfen ( Soflan) . The area had been under the auspices of both Neath and Margam Abbey during the Middle Ages and the fields names "Cae'r Capel" ( Chapel Field ) and "Maes yr Eglwys" ( Church field ) at Ty'n y Cwm farm lend support to this claim. The farms included Ynysfach ( which originally gave its name to the settlement).The Ton in Neath Road today ( rebuilt in 1801) had an orchard on which the present Church hall now stands. Other farms included Pen-y-Gelli, Pentwyn, Glyncastle, Blaencamgoed, Drehir , Gwaun Gogofan Uchaf ac Isaf; and Aberclydach ( sometimes known locally as Tonmaen after the family that lived there). A tithe map of 1843, relates to the Manor of Resolven which stretched from the river Gwrach to the Clydach Isaf at Melincourt.
Melincourt developed earlier that present day Resolven owing to its ironworks (1716-1800) and both St.David's Church and Melincwrt Chapel were built in order to be nearer the main population centre. The settlement which today we would recognize as Resolven began with the building of Lyon's Place (after D.Whytton Lyon a local colliery owner),which was known as Lyon's Row/ Y Rhestr Fawr around 1840. The dram road ( tramway )from Whytton Lyon's level ( begun in 1835) stretched down to the river Neath and the Neath canal. The wooden piles can still be seen when the river Neath is low and the road was still known as the dram road until the completion of the A465 extension in 1995. Two of the houses in Lyons Place are still in their original style and the road we see today is the back of the houses which explains the steps down to the road. The original Sion Chapel was built in 1821 (rebuilt in 1868).A tavern, the Ynysfach Inn, stood where the library stands today.
By 1841, there was a recognisable settlement and indeed many of the families which are a feature of the village today were well established. Most were very local and nearly all were monoglot Welsh speakers.
In 1850, the railway arrived and the 1851 Census shows the population at 360 people. The Ynysfach Inn had closed and another hostelry then known as the Edwards Arms had been built ( the Edwards family who were not landed gentry had bought Rheola House and later changed their name to Vaughan ) this is now known as the Vaughan Arms. A schoolhouse had also been built where the new Tabernacl now stands.An Aberclydach Row had been built ( probably now Tan-y-Rhiw Road)and five houses had been built at Pencwar now known as Pentwyn.Three houses known as "Tai Mwclyd" ( thatched and probably made of whitewashed mud) stood where Woodlands stands today.
By 1861, a Shop Row was named instead of Aberclydach, and it is known that this included a cobblers. Shoemakers Row ( now Davies Terrace) was the home of Dafis y Crydd ( cobbler ) and his son built what is now Marcia's sweetshop and Ardwyn Terrace.New Inn Place had also been built by this time, though it did not contain 11 houses until the 1870s. Bethania Chapel which stood in Railway Tce - now the site of a sheltered home LLys Bethania
The 1870's heralded some new housing and names in that Shop Row was now Chapel Row;Pentwyn now had five houses including Brynhyfryd and Bryngolwg and a Sims Place and Court ( named after the publican of the now defunct Ynysfach Inn). The famous boxer Dai St. John had been born in Sims Ct. that was known locally in Welsh as "Bac y Vaughans". Railway Terrace was in the process of being built with its first six houses, "Tai'r Clwb" presumably funded by a local friendly society.
However, the 1880s spawned rapid urban development with the building of stone terraces for workers of the local collieries. Cory,Company and Yeo street added 130 houses to the village at a cost of £65 each. Jerusalem Road now had two houses ( nearest the present library) and Neath Rd would eventually grow from the direction of Melincourt in the 1890s. In fact the biggest difference with the advent of a new decade was the fact the census noted more non Welsh speakers,though they did learn the language quite quickly (especially if they wanted a wife). The population itself fluctuated since workers had no social security and moved with the opportunity of finding work.
The new century saw the building of the longest road in Resolfen, John St. It is noted for having a number 106 even though the terraces include only 105 houses. Neath road, in contrast was a road of well to do private residences. Phylip made the point that with some exceptions these were not wealthy people, but many were members of the Temperance Movement and presumably spent less of their expendable income and could afford the £150 to raise the houses. Rugby Road ( after the then location of the rugby ground ), Vaughan Avenue, Rheola Avenue and Cross St took their bows at this point. The back lanes were put in later and the chore of taking coal through the house was the bane of everyone's lives.
Following the second world war, work began on the building of council housing on the north bank of the Clydach brook, beginning with Clydach avenue. It is strange that half a century later the "new" houses are still referred to locally as "the site".
Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Phylip Jones for his memorable talk. This was seconded by Mr Trefor Jones who said that it was remarkable that anyone could produce a lecture of such quality at such short notice.