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DYFFRYN MANSION ICE HOUSE, BRYNCOCH, NEATH – Jeff Griffiths
Howel Gwyn (1806–1888) was a philanthropist and politician who built a Victorian Gothic mansion on his Dyffryn estate at Bryncoch outside Neath in the mid-1850s. He married into the Moore family who were partners in the Main Colliery Company which had amalgamated a number of small collieries in the Neath/ Skewen area. Having no issue, his nephew Joseph Edward Moore succeeded to the title and estate in 1900, taking the name Moore- Gwyn. The Main Colliery Company – which, together with their various estates, provided the family's principal income – went into decline in the 1920s. The family moved to the nearby Longford Court and, after plans to transform Dyffryn mansion into a hospital or similar institution failed to materialise, it was demolished in the early 1930s. An old stable block and a lodge house remain in addition to an underground ice house on the flanks of Drumau mountain where the mansion had once stood.
The Welsh Historic Gardens Trust’s Ice House Gazetteer on its website at http://www.whgt.org.uk/ includes an entry for the Dyffryn ice house, which is on private land. It has an L-shaped entrance passage, mostly brick-built but with some squared stone, opening to a chamber with a domed roof. Above ground there is a small chute which leads to the subterranean ice-chamber. The greatest diameter is described as 3.7m, and overall it is around 6.5m deep. The Gazetteer states that the building is dated 1823 on its façade which means it was built in the time of the Williams family who previously owned the estate. The centenary history of St Matthew’s Church, which gives an insight into the social history of Bryncoch and of the Squires of Dyffryn, can be found on this website.
Nearby are to be found other reminders of the ownership of this estate in the time of Howel Gwyn and his successors. A former lodge house, the Victorian Gothic parish church and a magnificent former vicarage stand next to each other. The lodge house carries the Moore-Gwyn crest in a stone panel. St Matthew’s, also widely known as Dyffryn Church, was dedicated in 1871. It was built by John Norton (1823–1904), a prolific church builder who was inspired by the work of Pugin and the Gothic revival. St Matthew’s has an outstanding pre-Raphaelite church interior that was restored with Heritage Lottery Funds in recent years.Norton’s work includes the soaring St David’s Church in Neath town centre and the nearby Gwyn Hall. His most outstanding commission was Tyntesfield, a vast private house in north Somerset which was expensively restored by the National Trust. Next to Dyffryn Church stands the magnificent former vicarage, also built through the munificence of Howel Gwyn, which is now a private house named Swiss Gables. This housed the first incumbent of St. Matthew’s, the Rev. John Charles Thomas, who served this parish for 52 years. He had married the heiress to a number of local collieries and was able at one time to maintain five servants at the Vicarage. They were an intellectually curious family and one of his sons, Howell Lewis, who interested himself in photography, is reported to have introduced electricity into the vicarage at an early date.