The information contained in this history has largely been summarised from the book
The History of Pontardawe and District by John Henry Davies 1967.
There is a name index to the book on INDEX
Gwaun-cae-gurwen village is situated at the north west of the county of West Glamorgan, is in the parish of Llangiwg, in the Caegurwen ward.
To the north lies Brynamman, formerly Y Gwter Fawr, to the north east is Cwmllynfell, to the south east Ystalfera with Gwrhyd lying in between.
To the south the road leads to Pontardawe through Cwmgors and Rhydyfro while to the west the road leads to Garnant, Glanamman and Ammanford.
Local pride demands mention of the sub divisions of Gwaunlesion, Tairgwaith, Caenewydd, Cwmgors and Godre'r Waun.
Here and there on the hillsides are dotted many scattered farmhouses and beyond these are large areas uninhabited apart from grazing sheep.
The soil is of poor quality, the boulder clay underneath the surface rendering it heavy and cold.
There are extensive moorlands and wide valleys, rounded hills and deep ravines; there are green hills and running streams.
The Black Mountains loom to the north, reposeful and majestic.[5.5.2000 G]
Y Groes serves as the boundary between GCG and Cwmgors.
It begins at 950 ft near Penhow farm, crosses the main road at Pont y groes.
Then joins Nant Gors at Pwll y boblen, then known as Y Wrach.
The Gwrach leads us back to the period when superstition was rampant and witches were supposed to haunt the villages with their curses.There is a pool called Pwll y wrach......the witch's pool. From Pwll y wrach the stream leaps down steep rocks towards Garnant, the name Garnant is derived from Garw nant, or rough stream. It then loses itself in the R Amman a tributary of the Llwchwr[Lougher]which goes on to the sea.
Many generations of men and women have lived and died in its homes. They have toiled on the hillsides and tunnelled in it's mines, sang songs of love and bewailed their sorrows , just as their offspring do today
Up to about 1750 most people obtained their living on farms where they eked out a poor subsistence.
The population was almost stagnant between say 1550 and 1800.
There were large families but there was no means of keeping them alive.
With the growth of iron smelting, the use of tin and the working of the extensive anthracite coal fields the population increased rapidly, especially between 1900/1911.
Men and their families flocked to the area from Llandeilo and it's environs with a few Englishmen from Somerset and Devon. Later followed puddlers and miners from Merthyr, Aberdare and mid Glamorgan.
In the depression of the 1920's unemployed miners, and young men who had never had a job, left the area for work in places such as London, Birmingham and Coventry.
In 1801 the population of Glamorgan was 587,000, by 1911 it was 2.4m.
The first language of the people was of course Welsh, prior to the growth of schooling most people did not speak English, and the evidence of many of the birth/marriage and death certificates is that very many of them could not write their names.[5.5.2000 G]
The first condition, as well as the first signs of progress , is the development of roads and highways for traffic.
We need not go back very far in this area to find that the only means of transport were beasts of burden and the shoulders of the people themselves.
At the end of the C18 ,the only road at Gwauncaegurwen was Hewel hir from the Glwyd farm to Penlle'rfedwen. Traders from Llangadog to Neath had to find their way along rugged mountain paths. At the side of this road was built Old Carmel Chapel.
In 1741 the Highway Act was passed but the road through Cwmgors, Gwauncaegurwen and Garnant was not built until 1817.
In 1805 an Act was passed covering the maintenance of roads in Glamorgan, that part of the Act dealing with this area has references to " a road....from Pontrhyd-y-fro ......thence by Llwynha [Llwynhen] farm.....over Wain Kaegurwen to the River Amman " and "a road from Wain Kaegurwen to the confines of the county of Carmarthen near Kaegurwen Mill ." and " so much of the road leading from Pontrhyd y fro and thence by Pwll y Wrach farm to or near the Gate placed across said road adjoining the Common of Kaegurwen."
These were turnpike roads , there was a turnpike house near the Old Star but in 1856 it was moved to GCG [ where Gate shop used to be] because people avoided paying the tolls by walking up over Cwmnanthopkin farm and down the Nantygaseg track.
In 1819 the road across the Black Mountain from Brynamman was built.
In 1854 George Borrow came over the Waun from the Farmer's Arms, Brynamman and his book refers to " the morning was wretched and drizzly."
These main roads opened up the valleys.
The Swansea Canal was built in 1798, 16 miles from Swansea to Ystradgynlais.
There were wharves at Clydach, Gurnos and Pontardawe ; coal ,iron and manufactured articles were transported and this provided a great spur to industry in the Tawe valley.
The fastest means of transport through the Tawe valley until 1860 was by horseback along a rough road.
The railway from Swansea to Pontardawe opened in 1860, was extended in 1861 to Ystalfera, the first passenger trains reached Brynamman in 1868. The Llanelli Railway Dock Co built a railway to Garnant in 1838, this was extended along the narrow gorge of Garnant stream right up to Pwll y Wrach.
In 1831 Roger Hopkin of GCG sank a pit near Caeglas Terrace, there were no railways so he made a tramway from the pit through Cwmgors towards Pontardawe.His idea was to take the coal in horse drawn drams to the Swansea Canal at Pontardawe.
Cuttings and embankments can be traced through Derwydd and Beiliglas farms and passed Cwmgors School. [ also through garden of house in Llwyn Rd where David Rees and Bess Hicks lived].
However excessive water in the pit made the tramway redundant before any coal was raised.[ he made a second attempt in 1837 and succeeded in hitting the Big Vein at 173 yds].
To overcome the differences in level between Garnant and the Cross ,GCG a self acting incline was made with full trucks going down and pulling up empty ones. The wheel and brake were known as the 'Machine', David Evans worked this for many years, he was known as 'Dafydd Machine', a name that stuck to his descendants . At first horses pulled wagons along a tram road from the top of the incline to the Old Pit.
Many GCG people went to the seasonal Llandeilo Fairs by way of the Llanelli Railway Dock railway, they got on via a temporary platform through the Prince Albert Inn in Garnant, coaches resembling cattle trucks took them on ordinary days but on Fair days ordinary coal trams were used .
The LRD extended the line from Garnant to Brynamman in 1846 to transport coal from Brynamman Colliery and iron from the Amman Iron Works in Brynamman down to the docks.
In 1869 the first steam train came up ' the incline', superseding horses.
In a brochure of October 21 1927, printed by the GCG Colliery Co Ltd, on the occasion of the Foundation stone laying at Buckland Pit, Cwmgors, and the official opening of Steer Pit, it is stated
" The GCG pits are situate at GCG a short distance south of Brynamman, and by virtue of connections with the GWR and the LM & SR are within easy access to the Ports of Swansea, Llanelli, Briton Ferry, and Port Talbot".
The railway serving Cwmgors Colliery and the brickworks opened in 1901.
In 1866 the first Post Office came to Brynamman, known as the Brynamman PO which removed all doubts about the name of the place i.e Gwter Fawr previously.
In 1886 Jenkin Mark, boot and shoe manufacturer, had the first PO in GCG, later moved to near Carmel chapel.
In 1897 a branch opened at Thomas Howell's shop in Cwmgors.
At a Baron Court of the Earl of Pembroke held at Noyadd Wen in 1610, in the reign of James I , the list of farms in the' Manor of Kaegurwen' and their annual rents were given.
These would mostly still be recognised today and included Cwmnanthopkin and Tir nant y gaseg, both rents 5.5d.
The tenants recorded in The Survey included; John Rees ap John at Tir nant y gaseg, Lln ap Jevan at Cwm Nant hopkin and Rees ap Richard and Catherine John at Wernbwll.
In 1894 a Report and Enquiry into Farming in Wales includes references to various local farms including Pentwyn, Garth Eithin, Cwmnanthopkin and Penhow.
There was a iron foundry in Ystradgynlais as early as 1612.
Iron was smelted in Pontardawe/ Clydach before 1750 [Parsons].
The necessary ingredients were ore [ from Abercrave,Ystalfera and Cwmtwrch].......limestone [ from Penwyllt and Craig y Nos]....... fuel [originally charcoal made from timber from Llandeilo, Llanddeusant and Breconshire] and then from 1780 coal [ from Cilybebyll].
Mined from early times in Cornwall, brought over to Swansea which was one of the nearest ports. Then put on canal barges and taken up to Ystalfera. In 1861 Ystalfera Tin Works was reckoned to be the largest in the world, employed 4000 people plus another 1000 in the ore and coal mines belonging to the works.
The Mond Nickel Co opened in Clydach in 1901. Nickel ore was mined in Canada and sent to Clydach for refining where there were skilled men and local anthracite available.
Coalmining in Caegurwen
Anthracite was worked in Caegurwen [ GCG, Brynamman and Cwmllynfell] over 360 years ago, [ Survey of Gower 1610].
Brynamman and Cwmgors were developed earler than GCG because valuable coal seams ' cropped out' there. The Red vein outcropping at Cwmgors was 4ft 3ins thick, worked by Jeffreys in 1833 and quite close by Joseph Thomas opened the small Llwynrhidiau colliery. Jeffreys employed 4 colliers and in 1835 Thomas had 2 colliers and 4 boys . Cawdor colliery on Mynydd y Bettws worked the Red Vein at the same time.
Coal seams at GCG were at some depth below the surface so shafts were necessary.
In 1832 Roger Hopkin sank a pit near Caeglas Terrace [see Railways] and at his second attempt reached the Big Vein at the Old Pit in 1839. Old Pit had one shaft divided by a wooden partition [ fresh air down, foul air up] with a fire at the bottom to create an air current.
One day pump rods broke and smashed the partition and an explosion took place in the workings. Eighty men were down at the time, they ran to the pit bottom and put out their candles to conserve air. There was no other means of escape but the partition was repaired and all came up safely.
In 1847 another shaft was sunk to the Big Vein and this was used as the up shaft with a furnace at the bottom.
To illustrate wage levels, at Cwmllynfell colliery in 1849/53 a collier earned between 17 shillings and £2..4...3d per fortnight, an overman £1..8...0 per week, a labourer 1/10d a day and a boy with horse 1/0d a day.
The official Sliding Scale operated locally from 1862.
Female labour underground was prohibited by the 1842 Act, women did not work underground at GCG, they did work on the surface at the Mountain Colliery, Cwmgors .
Also prohibited was the employment of boys under 10 although evidently latter not enforced as boys under 10 continued to work underground until 1856 at most local collieries including GCG and Cwmgors.
In 1860 checkweighers were allowed , were paid for by the miners themselves.
In the 1864 Act the maximum numbers of hours to be worked underground was reduced from 12 to 10 hours a day, again not vigorously enforced.
But often the colliers, accompanied by boys, prepared the next day's timber on top of the 'incline' until 10.0pm,for this extra work the men paid for cakes for the boys in a 'braint' which was a special kind of wedding reception, also known as ' taith ' in Carms. This was an important function held when a pair got married , refreshments were sold and could raise £20/40 for the newly married couple which gave them a good start in their married life.
Eight hours a day was the aim at the end of the C19, as shown in the jingle;
Wyth awr o weithio;
Wyth awr yn rhydd;
Wyth awr o gysgu;
A Wyth swllt y dydd
Abernant Colliery, one of the deepest shafts in the anthracite area, sinking of shafts finished in 1958. The first coal worked from the Peacock Vein, switched to Red Vein in 1963.
Mine owners looked on the formation of an union as ' interference with management'.
Activists were victimised by the owners, often these were then employed as checkweighers by the men.
The Government took over control of mines in 1916.
Miners leaders often became Members of Parliament to try to influence matters and fight their corner more effectively.
One such was William Abraham[ known as Mabon], he became the Liberal MP for Rhondda in 1885.
He was also largely responsible for the creation of the Miners Federation of GB in 1899, there were previously 7 separate independent federations in S. Wales.
Mabon was a lay preacher, , and a singer. On the 1st Monday in every month the miners took a holiday known as ' Mabon's day'.
When he spoke on a Saturday evening at meetings to support John Williams, the first Labour MP for Gower, he stayed over on Sunday and preached and sang at Tabernacle, Cwmgors.
Another local man of some note was John James JP , born GCG. He was a Miner's Agent, first worked as a checkweigher at Cwmgors, became a ' champion of the workers' during the 1898 strike. He was victimised by the mine owners but made checkweigher by the men at Cwmgors, for 13 yrs.
Won 1st prize at the National Eisteddfod for his essay on " The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx".
And another was David James Williams, MP for Neath. He was born in Tairgwaith in 1897, went to GCG Elementary school, then the Labour College London and Ruskin College, Oxford. He became Secretary of the Miner's Lodge and was checkweigher at the Maerdy Pit. One of his books was " Capitalist Combination of the Coal Industry".
In the early period of coal mining there were no disputes or strikes .
At the end of C19 the Compensation Act came into force.
In the C20 the insurance companies had a tendency to contest cases thus causing a rift between the workers and the owners.
The coming of the Dissenters
In the C16 revolt against the Roman Catholic Church during The Reformation, Henry VIII set out to make the Church of England the only religion for the whole of England and Wales.
By the C17 many people in the Pontardawe area were moving away from tacit compliance with the Anglican religion towards an evangelicism of their own and held secret meetings in local farm houses. They were liable to punishment for their ' non- conformity'.
In 1634 the Justices of the Peace were ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to enter houses suspected of holding meetings of dissenters.
The Independents eventually gained the' right of private judgement' in the Toleration Act of 1689 having successfully rejected the Church and State as theological authorities.
In 1692 the Unitarian Chapel on Gellionen Mountain, Pontardawe had its first official pastor.
Baran Chapel was built in 1805 at Nantymoel by the Independents, people went on foot and horseback over the mountains to the little lonely chapel. When it was flourishing 50 members emigrated to Pennsylvania. Saron Chapel, Rhydyfro branched off from Baran in 1844.
In 1762 a schoolroom was built at Cwmbach farm,on the hillside above and between GCG and Cwmgors, this was used for preaching sermons thus began Carmel Chapel.
A " house called Hewlhire in Kaegurwen was certified in 1767 as a proper place for Protestant dissenters".
In 1821 the thatched schoolroom became too small for the congregation, John Harries of Nantricet farm sold the 11 members some more land and Carmel Chapel was built with 50 members switching from Cwmllynfell Chapel.
In 1874 Old Carmel had 75 members.
In 1877 the new Carmel Chapel was built down on the main Pontardawe road in GCG.
In 1904/5 during the pastorate of the Rev.B D Davies the 'Welsh Revival' took place with Carmel Chapel full every night...enthusiasm bordered on hysteria. At the end of 1904 membership was 755.
Members from Cwmgors were allowed to form a church their own and 215 asked for their release.
In 1887 members of Carmel used the long room of the New Star, Cwmgors for Sunday school until a new Vestry was built in 1894. This was soon too small, as Cwmgors village grew, and Tabernacle Independent Chapel was built in 1912.
The Rev. T M Roderick was ordained in 1913 and continued until his death in 1944, followed by Ifor Samuel in 1948.
Seion Baptist Chapel, Cwmgors was formed in 1894, Llanfair Church,Cwmgors in 1886.
The first record of the Circulating schools initiated by the Rev.Griffith Jones, Llanddowror, was in 1739/40 when 45 children and adults were enrolled in GCG. Following this , Sunday schools began to be used as places of elementary education.
In 1832 ' Hen Abraham' kept a day school in the stable loft of Old Carmel Chapel.
The Rev Noah Jones, Walsall[ a native of GCG] gave the land at Cwmbach and paid for the building of a school in 1762.
As the population increased in GCG the school shifted to a room above the stable at the Caegurwen Arms. Philip Rees the proprietor , who lost a leg in the Crimean war, taught the children.
Afterwards a school was held in Pen yr Incline House, John Harries, Cwmbach, had a school at 'Y Cwt' and there was one at Ty'n y Coedcae, Cwmgors.
In 1866, at Caegurwen Arms, miners and others held a meeting and decided to build a ' British' school and contribute 1/- a month for the school and it's maintenance.
By Dec 1867 there were 90 children at the school.
In 1873 the Mines Regulation Act came into force compelling children in collieries to attend school for 10 hours per week.
In 1939 the new GCG primary school was built at the rear of the old which was demolished.
In 1912, Cwmgors primary school opened, Rees Evans was the first head teacher.
In 1849 cholera was rampant in the district, particularly bad in Brynamman.
In 1865 there was a bad outbreak of smallpox.
Cholera again in the district in 1866, hundreds died, people flocked to the chapels for refuge and solace.
Many people also died from Tuberculosis or consumption.
Many rugby players of the district played for Wales in international matches.
Clive Rowlands/Cwmtwrch , Clem Thomas/Brynamman , Claude Davey and my maternal uncle
Wil [Sgili ] Davies/Cwmgors and Edgar Morgan and Phil Hopkin/Pontardawe.
Until the C20 the culture of the Welsh people in the area was firmly based on the bible.
It is impossible to over emphasise the cultural aspects of the churches and chapels, sunday schools and young people's societies etc.
People met in their homes to discuss the rules of poetry, the englyn, and the ballads of the National Eisteddfod. Eisteddfodau served to some extent as a spur to poets, essayists, soloists, instrumentalists, male , ladies and mixed choirs. Writing dramas, acting plays and holding celebrity concerts assisted culture in the district.
Several famous local choir conductors won first prizes at the National Eisteddfod.
The GCG Silver Band was started in 1892 , in 1911 it won 1st prize 5 years out of 6 at the National and in 1925 began a radio broadcasting 'career'.
Gareth Hicks © Copyright notice