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.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Another Precious Ramble from Phylip Jones

Many thanks to Brenda Oakes for this report on the January meeting, while the Editor was qualifying for his bus pass on the pistes of the snowy Alps.

A Local Theme – Annual Talk by History Society President Phylip Jones

Phylip introduced his annual talk by announcing that he would “ramble about as I normally do”. He then took the meeting on a tour of the development of Resolfen from 1840, reminding us that without coal the modern village would not exist. Before the development of coal there was a manor here in the Middle Ages at Glyncastle. The name of the mountain was Mynydd Soflan  which means stubble land and also plays a part in the name of the village as a corruption of "parsel soflan" . In addition, there was the Old Grange, Tŷ Cwm Farm and Cefn Soflan Farm, now gone. It was an agricultural village with long houses prior to the 1800s. These, he explained, were divided into 3 parts (Pentwyn farmhouse was one of these buildings) which comprised of animals at one end, hay  in the middle and a living space at the other end. Ton Farm was originally “Tŷ’n-y-Ton”,( the house in the field). “Ton”,  was a common name meaning land left for hay making.

Ynysfach public house where the former library now stands, is mentioned in the 1841 census and at the time there was only one street in Resolfen. The tithe map on 1843 shows this, as well as several other farms dotted around the area. The name of the street in the census is New Row. It should be noted that this census was not taken from house to house and it is surprising how many people living  in Resolfen today, have families which go back to that census. Phylip was born in Glynneath Road, his father in Railway Terrace and his grandfather and those before him had lived in Lyon’s Row.

Previous to the building of Sion Chapel, the Methodists met at  Pen-y-Darren near the quarry from 1779 to 1800. The old Sion was smaller, much like Tabernacl now. It was pulled down in 1868 and the stone was worked into the back of the present Sion building ( now the community centre) with the masons’ name carved into it.

260 residents of Resolfen lived between the two brooks, the Clydach Uchaf and Isaf (which is an Irish name by the way). They lived in Pentwyn,  Abertyddach among others and there was also one street, Blair’s Row which had one side built as a blank wall. The doors and windows were put in in the 1920s. The area around the present church hall was an old orchard!

By 1850 there had been some small workings of coal seams in the area. In 1836 the first commercial working commenced and the coal incline was built through the houses, crossing the not yet built New Inn Place to the Neath canal. The stone sleepers are still there and can be seen if you look carefully. Ten years later the railway came ( changing the name of the village from Ynysfach ) and Phylip emphasised (more than once) that EVERY station name in the whole Neath Valley was misspelt!!!

The Vaughan Arms (then Edwards Arms) was built in 1850 and the Simms family from Llansamlet ran it. The 1851 census shows Lyon’s Row (named after the colliery owner). As an aside Philip mentioned that coal in the Neath valley has mainly been accessed by drifts and levels as against deep mines.

Welsh speakers (the majority of local people in 1840 ) originally called Lyons Row Y Rhestr Fawr  – The Long/Big Row. Aberclydach Row had 5 houses and Phylip invited the audience to guess where this row used to be. One member got it right – it was opposite where Sion Chapel now stands. The Chapel House and stables were the home of Ifor Siôn, collier and preacher, and his family.

Phylip then led up up to Pant-y-Gelli Farm and the 3 houses where Woodlands now stands. These were stone built thatched cottages. Daniel Evans, known as Daniel Coch (he had a red face) lived in one of the houses with his family.

There was much change between 1841 and 1851. This included there being more men than women, an obvious situation given the need for more and more workers being needed in the area. These residents were extremely cultured in their own language and were mainly educated through attending Sunday School . Phylip then discussed “the treachery of the Blue Books”! At this time four High Anglican English Churchmen came to Wales and wrote “a report which was terribly biased”. This included the finding that “the local women and girls were highly immoral even though they did go to Sunday School. Hundreds of children went into the circulating Sunday Schools and learnt to read there, crucially in Welsh not English. Ordinary Welsh people had a better standard of their language than the English but they were counted as illiterate as they could not speak English. For the entry on ‘Welsh’ in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica readers were instructed to see under  ‘For Wales see England’!

In those days the figures for religious attendance were extremely high. The census entries held on the attendance of servant servant girls was low, this was explained by the fact that they could only attend on their holidays so were not included in their own chapels' figures.

A slight growth in population numbers is noted in the 1861 census which included the Vaughan Arms Row. The Vaughan’s  pub had some houses built behind it ( Bac y Vaughans) , Two and then Three New Inn Row was built, having six houses at first (near the river). William Herbert and his family from Crynant, a stonemason with 10 children (plus more children later) lived there. He built Sion Chapel. James ( Phylip’s wife Ann’s grandfather) was also a stonemason. Sion Chapel building is reputedly the strongest building in the village. William Herbert also built Jerusalem chapel, the school and the police station and his brother John was a mason at Rheola. Daniel Herbert was a good musician who conducted the choir in Sion. It should also be noted that on the  other side of the River Neath lies in the Parish of St Catwg, as against the Parish of St Illtyd which includes the rest of the village( Now one parish, Ed.).

The Ynysfach pub comprised of two buildings, the public house and the house itself. Philip’s great great great grandmother lived there. Mr Simms made enquiries some years ago regarding this pub as well as Philip and discovered that it belonged to Dai “St” John the famous boxer from Resolfen.

Shoemaker Row was probably the beginning of Davies Terrace in 1861. Davies was a shoemaker who came here and married a local girl from Waterfall Terrace. Tŷ Tomos Griffiths’s was by Waterfall Terrace. A thatched roofed house ruin was there which was the Railway Inn.There was also a small shop run by ‘Crippled Nellie’. Members’ families know this area. In 1851 Abertyddach Row became Shop Row. The school houses were built by the Vaughan’s Rheola family. It was a National Church School so all teachers had to become Anglicans before being appointed. Philip named several of these teachers. The former Clyne School was  older than Resolfen School and was a Board School.

Philip talked of the needs of residents, particularly widows, to take in lodgers to provide much needed income. Three Railway Terrace housed two daughters plus lodgers and a well-known village saying was “twelve of her own plus six plus six” which meant “twelve in school, six in bed, six at work” at Tai’r Clwb (Club Houses). Three Railway Terrace was where Philip’s father and grandfather were born, though which road was originally the site of Simms Place is unclear.

Phylip finished his talk with a more recent anecdote. His grandchild had to write an essay recently about his grandfather’s life and the child’s parents went to the school to see this. The parents were horrified to read that their son had mixed up the Welsh words for Scotland and Germany ( Almaen and Alban) so according to his grandchild Philip had been captured and incarcerated in a Prisoner of War Camp in Scotland during the war but had escaped. Asked by his mother why he had written this, the boy replied that he had wanted to make Philip’s life more interesting!

Thereby Philip brought our ramble through old Resolfen to a hilarious end.

Member Keith informed us of a Google Maps site called “Side by Side” which shows Resolfen now and in past times together. Worth a visit.

Details of the Annual Dinner are :-7pm on Friday 3 March at the White Horse Inn, Pontneddfechan. Cost to members £2 plus the cost of the meal, non-members £5 plus meal cost.


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