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The History of Pontardawe

 

By John E Morgan [Hirfryn] 1911.
Translated by Ivor Griffiths
Here is the initial introduction to the book, followed by a list of subject headings for the remainder of the book


What I mean by history is bringing the past that we have lost, and putting it down so that we can re-live it in the present; or, to put it in another way, make a complete link between the past and the present, and what makes history are 'facts', and my work is to give facts and not opinions, and not build a tower of a thousand or more fairy tales about the history of Pontardawe. In all probability a few notes will come here and there, and possibly a few fairy tales.

The village has a very striking name, and was named when two parts of the parishes of Cilybebyll and Llangiwc were connected by an arched bridge of stone around the year 1757, built by a W.Edwards "who also built the old bridge at Pontypridd." The span of the arch is 80 feet.

It is difficult to say what was the original name of the river.Today it is called the Tawe, but I can believe that the finger and tongue of the English is attached to this name in the same way as dozens of other Welsh names that have been made contemptable by them. I prefer to believe that the original name was Tawy ---- "Ta" means wide,and "wy" is synonymous with water, and the meaning of the word in that form makes me cherish the idea that Tawy was the original name.

The bridge was very narrow, but wide enough to handle the traffic that crossed it at that time.The centre was higher than the two ends, but as the population increased,the County Council widened the roads, and the bridge was widened to its present size, and the road was raised, levelling it from the railway station to the bridge where it leads to Ynysderw road at present.

In passing, I must relate this tale. When carrying out the work of widening the bridge, there came a day of heavy rain .The night and following day was the same. Some of the workmen "those that knew the tendency and trickery of the Tawe", advised the contractor to move his machinery out of danger of the river flood, but he jeered at them saying, " 'Tis only a little brook," but the 'little brook' jeered at him and carried his machinery down stream for several hundred yards,and delayed the work for some days.

A few years before raising the road, an embankment was built below the "Glantawy Tinplate Works" ('Glanrhyd' today) to keep the river in its bed and prevent it flowing over the land and flooding the houses along Herbert Street, and covering Herbert Street itself for hundreds of yards with water, and hindering the people as far as High Street. During the times of flooding it was a common sight to see animals in 'deep water up to their chins,' about the land, and others on the surface being carried away to their destruction. When the Tawe over-flowed in this way, it compelled people wishing to go to the Alltwen side of Pontardawe to go around along the road or Ynysderw bridge, the way that coal was carried to the canal from the works of Ynysfechan and Primrose.

As to its geographical position, Pontardawe stands on a wide and beautiful plain below the midland of Tawe Valley about eight miles from Swansea, and twelve miles below Graig-y-Nos, the home of the Queen of song, Madam Patti as she was known throughout the civilized world. Also, it is about five miles on the main road leading from Neath in the direction of Cwmamman, Carmarthenshire, through Cwmdu.

To the East of it stands the beautiful rock of Alltwen, protecting it from the East winds. To the West stands Craig Glyn Meirch, with Gellionen mountain like a King behind it. To the North stands a high crag called by today's inhabitants Barley Hill, or Llangiwc Rock, and facing it at a distance from the South is 'Craig yr Abby' and 'Craig y Pal'.

So, it is surrounded by four fortresses, the work of nature, and each one as glorious as the other. It is the centre for a host of villages. Below, and between it and Swansea, on the right to the flow of the river stands Trebanos; above it on the same side stands the villages of Craig Llangiwc and Ynysmeudwy; and on the left to the flow of the river stands Alltwen; and beyond the rock on high ground, stands Rhos Brynhir, or Rhos Cilybebyll as it is called today. On the same side, and facing Pontardawe from the North-East there is the small and beautiful region of Gellinudd, and in the North-West between Gellionen Mountain and Llangiwc Rock on the road to Cwmamman is the little ancient village of Rhydyfro.

Pontardawe is a fast-growing village, and one of the most populous in the valley. Beneath it lies as much as fifteen feet to twenty feet of sandy 'gravel.' It is claimed by some geologists that the Tawe has changed its course so often in the past, going completely from one side to the other, that it caused the depth of sand that covers the valley. Others say that there was at one time a large lake in the direction of Ynyspenllwch. Others again claim that the Tawe valley at one period was covered by the sea, and try to prove this by saying that cockle shells have been found on the high rocks of Penwyllt in Brecknockshire. Whatever the truth of one or the other, it is certain that there is the depth of sand I have stated, beneath the Tawe Valley.

The village has an interesting history. It did not achieve its present eminent position in a day.The pulling down of old buildings and raising better ones has often been through the demands of an increase in trade.There were inhabitants here very early ---- we can at least go back as far as the sixth century, as there is evidence that the first church of Llangiwc was built during that period. It appears that farmers were the majority until the beginning of the last century, as will be shown later. Sixty years ago the population was small; an occasional cottage here and there. There were no houses between Ynys y Gelynen Bridge and Llangiwc except two pairs of houses on the side of the road near the place where Elim Baptist Chapel stands at present ---- one house, the property of a Llewelyn James, the father of "Alaw Meudwy", Llanelli; and a small white limed house where the lovely smallholding called "Bryn Meudwy" is today, which was the dwelling of the Rev.D. Emrys James, the minister of Bethesda,Ynysmeudwy. Opposite were two houses, the property of Evan Jones, the "annealer" as he was called. The canal bridge 'Ynys y Celynen' was in existence many years before the building of Thomas Street,and there was a footpath going from the road that is Thomas Street today, to Alltycham across a field called by the old natives "Cae Pentwyn", and on to Gelligron.

Going down from Ynys y Gelynen Bridge in the direction where the present day Public Hall stands, on the right side, there was a field called Cae'r Pandy (Pandy Field). On this field, alongside the canal there were three white-washed and thatched roofed cottages. In one of them lived William Davies, or 'Will Netty', with old Shoni Twm Shon, the first 'town crier' of Pontardawe living in the one next to the bridge; and the ancient mansion "Ynys y Gelynen" standing on the corner of Holly Street and Herbert Street. We next proceed from the Railway Station towards the square. In the middle of Herbert Street, between the river and Ynys y Gelynen, where at present stand houses, the property of Thomas Vaughan's widow, "their days also being numbered", there stood a thatched cottage and a blacksmith's forge, and the one who lived in the cottage and worked at the forge was David James (the grandfather of David James who collects the rates in part of the large parish of Llangiwc at present). Opposite the cottage, on the other side of the road, where J.C. Davies's drapery shop stands, there was an old sty of a round construction in a place called 'Crofften Fach'. There was also a house owned by a Mr Auckland, a pottery merchant (occupied today by Ivor Jones the butcher) who also worked in the pottery works in Ynysmeudwy. Also in front of the Public Hall and to the right, where the office of the Cilybebyll Estate stands, there was a 'Pandy' (Fulling Mill) with a large water wheel working the machinery. The occupiers and operators of this place were Shon Panwr and his son, Dick Shon Panwr who was a prominent member with the Methodists. In front of the house there was also a large apple orchard.

Again, next to it there are two houses where Sir John Jones Jenkins (Lord Glantawe) was raised, and some say that it was in one of those two houses Ben Davies, the world renown singer was born. He was the son of John Davies, assistant preacher with the Independents of the district.

Further on, between them and the canal bridge, where the large shop of J Harries and Sons stands, there was a small tavern called the "Coopers", with a slate roof that was level with the road, the home of Evan Griffiths (Ianto'r Hooper) the bard, who will be mentioned later. On the other side of the road opposite the "Coopers" was the"Carpenters Arms" with a row of houses under the same roof. There was also a tavern where now stands Noah Williams's shop called the 'Beehive'. There was a tavern where John Williams, owner of the 'public weigh-bridge' lived, called the "Gwachel Dan".  It appears that the life of this row was also coming to an end.

Beyond the canal bridge in Herbert Street --- from the bridge to the square, and around the corner, stands the "Cross Inn Hotel", and next to it the Co-operative Stores where there was another tavern called the 'Taproom'. Here there was a high hedge of Hawthorns, inside which there was some sort of 'timber yard' where they conveyed wood to load and dispatch in barges. This yard was a very wet place with the cart wheels sinking to their hubs in mud and water. After this, a wood sawing pit was constructed by David Rees, who later lived in a tavern called 'Porters Stores', between the present 'Cross Inn' and the 'Co-operative'. The 'Cross Inn' has recently been re-built, and although it is one of the temples of Bacchus, it cost more than most of the places of worship in the district.

There was a row of houses between the Cross Inn and the Co-operative where Nancen Grove had a sweet shop. Also near by there was raised and pulled down a place called the "Crown Hotel" where now stands a Grocer shop (J Scales). There is a timber yard, carpenter's shops and smithies on the old yard now.

On the left of Herbert Street, between the canal and the square there was a sort of dock where the I.L.P. Hall is at present, and there the barges loaded the coal conveyed from the little pit of Waun Ty yn y Graig, Rhos, Cilybebyll in carts pulled by two horses over Alltwen, owned by the Morgans of Cilybebyll. Here too was brought the ore from the works at Cefn Llan, Rhydyfro. Between the dock and the road, Mr David Smith of Alltwen had raised the "Concrete Houses" about 32 years ago. Between them and the bridge which crosses the river to Rhyndwy Clydach once stood the small tavern called the "Dillwyn", with another small house near it. The "Dillwyn" has just been rebuilt for the third time. The first was a small house with a thatched roof, but now it is one of the most magnificent buildings in the village. An old "feeder" ran past the door of the early"Dillwyn" and on to the canal.

On the road to Rhydyfro, where the "Victoria Hotel" stands at present, there was an old mansion, where once lived an old physician called Dr. Price, and a priest named Pendrill, who was the vicar of Llangiwc Church. Around it, on the land where the large shop of J. Davies, Ironmonger now stands, and on up the Brecon road, there was an apple orchard surrounded by a high wall, with a 'feeder' running through it which continued under the main road to the canal; and the local children were often seen throwing stones at the apples that were hanging over the 'feeder' and then running down to the front of the "Dillwyn" and lying on their stomaches watching for the apples coming with the water, because apples stealthily obtained in this manner were much sweeter than ones received; like Adam, their forefather, "stolen apples."

Now, we shall journey across the bridge to Rhyndwy Clydach, because the village is in the parishes of Llangiwc and Rhyndwy Clydach. The old road takes us down to where the 'Skating Rink' of Lewis Brothers stands at present, and out between Danygraig, the home of Mr Philip Davies, superintendent in Mr Gilberts Tinplate Works, and the place called "Hen Gate" (The old Tollgate).

On the left after crossing the bridge, and between the river and the road, there was an old thatched roofed house where lived one called "Morgan y Crydd" (Morgan the Shoemaker), or as some called him,"Swansea Moc", and his wife Mary.The nickname indicated that the old man was a native of Swansea.

As is the fate of all Adam's children, Morgan died, and as was traditional in the region, a watch night or prayer meeting was held the night before the burial, and in the gathering was the amusing old character, Shoni Twm Shon. Before the service ended, Shoni got up to his feet and asked if he could go a little further. His wish was granted, and he started in a serious and sanctimonious voice, and said among other things "Oh, Lord ! You brought and took away old Swansea Moc from Wales. If you come here again tomorrow, you can also have Mary as far as I am concerned." The embarressed congregation were struck dumb with fear and dread.

After the death of old Morgan, Mary was alone, and the local children would go past her cottage to the school held further down where the "Slaughter House" of Phillips."Pontardawe Inn" stands today, and as they went by, they would disturb her peace. There was a small window in the loft, and they would throw stones through this window at the old woman. She did not chase after them, but as soon as she thought that they had reached the school, she would go down with a stick in her hand, and into the school without asking anyone's permission and give them an important lesson on the correct behaviour on their way to school by using her stick on all the children from one end to the other, so that she could be certain that the offenders were punished.The innocent having to suffer with the guilty.

The name of the place where the school stood was Cae'r Doc. It was called Cae'r Doc because it was in this Dock the barges that served on the canal were built, and where they were loaded.

One night when old Mary was in her bed, there arose a storm of wind and rain.The river rose and worked its way beneath the foundations of her old cottage and the following morning, when the local people started going to their various occupations, they saw that the old cottage had fallen down and the poor old woman still alive, but buried under the rubble.

Also, on the right from the direction of the bridge, where the old white houses are at present, there were two old thatched roofed cottages. Opposite the place where the Printing Office is at present, and behind the houses, between them and the 'feeder' leading down to the Pontardawe Tinplate Works, there was a black-smith's forge where William James, "Will y Gof" worked. At the end of the houses,---where there was lately a bank and a shop,---- there was an extensive piece of land with three large holly trees in front of it with the earth banked up around their bases. The shop was in one of the old houses --- the only shop in the area --- kept by one named John Owen, who also owned a piece of land on top of Alltwen. Children came down from the direction of Rhydyfro and other places to John Owen's shop to fetch a pound of sugar at a time --- brown sugar I believe, which cost five pence a pound; and the family had to manage on that pound for three weeks to a month. He kept the sugar in a barrel that was wet. The water probably meant more profit. As well as the barrel of sugar, there was another barrel containing herrings, and by buying half a dozen herrings, this meant enough meat for the family for a fortnight by sharing one herring among the family. They could be thankful that Jimmy Edmunds did not come across them at that time, as he would settle the matter in a few seconds without even a fire to cook it. There were some houses in Maesiago, and a factory owned by Thomas Humphreys, with another beyond it. That is a brief outline of the houses in Pontardawe sixty years ago. Some rows were built after this, and they have increased up to the present day, and among them some of the most lovely buildings, especially in the main road, Herbert Street. A street of brick houses was built behind Herbert Street. This street was called Tawe Terrace.


Here are the subject headings relating to the remainder of the book;

Here is a name  index to the book

 


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