NEWS & MEMBERS ARTICLES
03 May 2020When All This Is Over.......
Until the 1970s each local authority had to appoint a Medical Officer of Health and in 1903 it was Dr James Mudie Morris who was appointed to that office by Neath Corporation. David Michael has looked at his official report for 1937 and finds a lively and opinionated public servant who gives us an unexpected insight into Neath and Briton Ferry in that year but also finds themes which are all too relevant today.
In the June of 1937 a family doctor contacted Doctor Morris, asking for his help in getting life-saving treatment for a two-year-old child. The doctor suspected that the child had caught scarlet fever some two weeks previously, although this had not been reported; it had now developed into mastoiditis, a disease which required an immediate operation.
Three general hospitals had refused to treat the child because of the risk of infection presented by scarlet fever and an isolation hospital also refused because it did not have an operating theatre [ Neath did not have its own isolation hospital at that time]. Later, Doctor Morris reflected in his annual report that he had spent from 8pm to 11:30pm that night 'well glued to the telephone' pursuing treatment for the child. A neighbouring Medical Officer finally agreed to send an ambulance to pick the child up but 'only as a very great personal favour.' The operation was performed successfully that night [in the Swansea area].
This image of a child’s life dependent on a night time telephone conversation calling in a favour gives a chilling glimpse of medical treatment and organisation before the creation of the National Health Service. It is mercifully unfamiliar now. We are so used to the National Health Service it is very difficult to understand life without it.
Before the creation of the NHS in 1948, even where medical services were available to working-class people, provision could be complex and difficult to access. Sometimes outcomes for patients were a matter of luck, timing and personal intervention as with this child. In Neath services were provided by a variety of the voluntary organisations such as the nursing associations [sometimes partly funded by the Corporation] and by the local authorities themselves, the Corporation and Glamorgan County Council. General practice was generally private but the Neath and District Medical Aid Society operated a scheme allowing access to doctors in return for a regular subscription. The role of the Medical Officer of Health could be crucial in drawing some of those strands together.
The organisation of things is strange and complex to us, but many of the themes picked up by Doctor Morris in his report have now become terribly familiar – those of quarantine and isolation in the treatment of communicable disease, but also the requirement for scientific analysis and the swift and decisive application of whatever resources come to hand to counter that disease.
In the autumn of 1937 the Borough was hit by an epidemic of diphtheria. No less than 146 cases had been confirmed by the end of the year. This was a highly infectious disease easily transmitted. It was mainly children and young people who were affected with only 24 cases amongst those over the age of 20. It was a widespread outbreak with cases in no fewer than 82 streets, but its method of transmission was difficult to detect as there seemed to be no connection with school attendance. The symptoms of most patients were mild and generally cases cleared up in around 48 hours. Sadly, however, there were four deaths, children of 10 months, three years, four years and a 28 year-old. In three of those cases there had been surgical intervention, once in the family home and twice at the Penrhiwtyn Hospital.
The Medical Officer of Health appears to have been resourceful and flexible in his response to the outbreak. Morris was concerned about the urgency of the situation and the apparent impossibility of getting adequate treatment for cases in the absence of an isolation hospital. With the agreement of the Neath Corporation, he set up a temporary diphtheria ward at Dyfed Road Clinic in accommodation normally used for tonsil and adenoid treatment. In considering the options for treating infectious disease Morris had already identified this as a perfectly safe option since the ward could be effectively isolated from the rest of the clinic. He was criticised in one quarter for taking this action, which criticism he put down to personal spite, but he pointed to the successful treatment of cases there without the need for surgery.
He also made arrangements for the Borough police to hold a stock of the antitoxins used to treat the disease which were supplied to the family doctors at any hour of the day or night because, as he put it, time-saving was possibly life-saving.
This was decisive local action taken by the people on the ground.
Morris was pleased to look forward to the opening of the Joint Isolation Hospital at Tonna Uchaf in1939 [Tonna Hospital as we know it now] which put an end to concerns about accommodation.
Concluding his account of the epidemic, Morris reflected that 'diphtheria as a disease will, until the days of compulsory immunisation, continue to create havoc at times in the child population.' The four Neath victims were amongst thousands who succumbed to the disease each year in the UK. Indeed, the Borough had been hit by a more virulent outbreak of the disease in 1923 when there were 24 deaths. As it turned out, widespread vaccination for diphtheria was introduced a few years later and is now routinely administered to infants. Vaccination means that cases of this disease, which killed Neath children in 1937, are now very rare indeed.
Many of these official reports will have been as dry as dust, but the Medical Officers of Health, despite the fact that they were appointed by the local authority, were effectively independent and what they wrote reflected their personality. Doctor Morris comes across as energetic and committed but also, by turns, opinionated, philosophical and witty. He was critical if he was crossed, but generous in his praise; such as of the efforts of his colleague, the Corporation’s Sanitary Inspector Evan Thomas, who was responsible for much slum clearance and the efforts of the nursing staff to which 'I owe everything' particularly the formidably named Superintendent Nurse Twigg. Reading his reports I would like to know more about him and suspect that he might have been a bit difficult to deal with from time to time!
Due to the style of his report we get a lot of local detail which might not be available elsewhere, such as the treatment of childhood disorder of Rickets. This arose out of poverty, malnutrition and lack of exposure to sunlight. To counter the latter the use of sunlamps became fashionable and a local choir the Neath Male Harmonic Society bought one of these lamps for the Dyfed Road clinic. The doctor reported positive results. [today, of course, the use of sunlamps and sunbeds is seen in a very different 'light' in relation to skin cancer]. Morris also supported the abandonment of the practice of nursing babies in the shawl 'Welsh Fashion' and its replacement by the perambulator as it gave infants more freedom to exercise. He had always been concerned about the lack of housing for young couples and pointed out that, of the total of 497 births that year, 227 had taken place in shared housing (shared that is either with other family members or in rented rooms). Often this was insanitary but, in any event, 'young children cannot be tolerated where two or three households are congregated together.'
Generally these reports tended to range widely from medical data to water quality and food standards reflecting the subjects upon which the Medical Officers were required to compile statistics. However, Morris’s reports were striking in the breadth of his interests and his vision for the future. Very often the 1930s are described as a wasted decade but the Neath Corporation had become invigorated in its attitude to public health and social conditions. The doctor speculated how an old native of the town returning in 1937 would see that the most notorious of the old slums, the back-to-back housing of the Green, the houses in Mexico Row, Samuel’s Buildings and The Ramparts (wherever that was) had now been demolished and spacious new housing provided in its place. Neath could now hold its head up in the company of other housing authorities. Still, more progress was required in all sorts of areas from medical services to children’s play areas. His continuing concern was for better access to housing for young couples.
Well, I wonder what Doctor Morris would think now. It is possible to overestimate the changes that are brought about by one-off events rather than long-term pressures. Each of us will probably take from this current experience what suits our individual view but surely certain things will stand out. It has, for example, sparked community activity on a scale that we haven’t seen in a long while. We breathe air less polluted than at any time before the coming of industry. We will perhaps have re-learned an old lesson found in the doctor’s report of 1937, that committed and long-term collective action is needed to combat a common enemy or achieve a common goal. Some things do not change, however; then as now the community is dependent on the efforts of those medical and care staff who serve it with unselfish dedication and , currently, with quite literal self-sacrifice. We have a lot of people to thank. We will have a lot of questions to ask - questions that should be asked. We will also have a lot to think about, an awful lot to think about, when all this is over.
This essay probably breaks many of the rules for writing local history. Since the archives are currently closed I have concentrated on one document out of a set of documents available online at the Wellcome Institute website without further background research. The views of Doctor Morris reflected the circumstances of the time and some of his comments would not sit comfortably with us now; they do, however, make informative reading and it would be interesting to find out more about him.
The archive of the Neath Antiquarian Society, housed at the Neath Mechanics' Institute contains an extensive set of reports of the Medical Officer of Health for Neath.
Photo Acknowledgements - Swansea Bay University Health Board, Peoples Collection Wales, Mancheatrer University Press, Wikipedia.
13 April 2020GAOLS AND LOCK-UPS IN NEATH
GAOLS AND LOCK-UPS IN NEATH
Martyn J Griffiths
The earliest goal in Neath was probably inside the castle. The castle had fallen into disuse by the end of the fifteenth century but it was still shown as being used as a prison 1491-2.
The town hall or Guild Hall is first mentioned in the early 14th century and was probably situated in High Street (now Old Market Street). It was recorded to be in ruins 1491-2 but had been restored by 1542 when, apart from usage as a corn market and assembly room, it was also used as a prison. Such gaols were usually situated under the stairs leading to the assembly room above a colonnaded corn market. This Guild Hall continued to exist until the new Town Hall (now known as the Old Town Hall) was built at Church Place in 1820.
Money was provided in 1724 (WGAS D/D Gn553) for ‘erecting a Gaol for restraining offenders’, but there is no detail of what or where any such building was placed.
The town’s population by the end of the century was 2,501 and there was an ever-increasing need for a secure holding unit for prisoners. A plan was drawn up in 1785 (NAS B/N 13/7/1) for a new court building with five cells attached, but this never reached fruition.
Plan for a new gaol 1785
A ‘new gaol’ was finally built in 1807 in James Street. This would have been in addition to the existing lock-up underneath the Guild Hall.
Neath’s first purpose-built gaol in James Street
The 1833 Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales, mentions the goal in Neath ‘consisting of four rooms which they allow to be used by the county magistrates as a lock-up house. The building is not suitable for its object, the rooms being exposed to view from the street and admitting of free communication with by-standers.’
In August 1841 the Glamorgan Quarter Sessions recommended that a joint (County and Borough) gaol be erected to be ready by the summer of 1842. This was initially turned down by the Borough Council but they then changed their minds. It appears to have been built on the site of the earlier gaol which is marked in the same place on a map of 1832.
The new gaol built in 1844 was built in the oldest and lowest part of the town; it was a sturdy building built of stone and abutting a street leading to The Latt.
Its accommodation consisted of three rooms on the ground floor with the main entrance separating two rooms on the one side and one room on the other. A staircase faced the main entrance and, from the landing, access was obtained to another living room and to the prisoners’ cells.
The rebuilt town gaol in James Street, 1844 - (part of NAS B/N 13/3/30-4)
On the ground floor – No. 1 was a small room used as an office; No. 2 was a small bedroom for a single constable; No. 3 was a living room for a constable and his family; and No. 4 was an upstairs bedroom.
Prisoners were kept in two large cells upstairs. To ensure that prisoners would not attempt to set the place on fire on purpose or by neglect, the floor of the cells was made of large stone slabs, measuring 5 feet long and 5 inches thick, and supported by iron joists. The stone slabs had open joists so that when prisoners committed a nuisance on the floor, it dropped down to the rooms below!
To add to the filth and smell, a drain ran beneath the building from a slaughter-house situated about 100 yards to the rear, and all the filth flowed downwards towards the station. The offal that was not taken away were buried in the adjacent garden and a most offensive stench came from there, especially in the hot summer months.
The window of the single bedroom opened into a stable yard where pigs were kept and pig and horse manure piled up in heaps and gave off and offensive smell.
The upstairs bedroom window opened into the smithy yard where dirt and smoke abounded.
(This account is mostly taken from Captain Napier, Chief Constable of Glamorgan’s report to Quarter Sessions in 1849 but includes interpretations by NAS member Tom Thomas in 1975).
Neath town goal 1844-1883
A report by the Borough Surveyor, William Whittington, in April 1883 refers to the gaol in James Street. The gaol was in a bad state and the Government Inspector suggested a cell being created on the ground floor to hold drunks. Whittington stated that this would only be a temporary measure and a new gaol would be needed or the police grant would be forfeited. The Council decided eventually to look at utilizing the old cells under the Town Hall. Therefore, it looks as though the James Street gaol went out of use at this time.
The building in James Street was used thereafter as a transformer station for the town’s electrical supply and was demolished in 1940 when air raid shelters were erected on the site.
The County Police Station built in Windsor Road in 1862 had its own cells for prisoners. The only reference to the standard of this accommodation appears in a newspaper report when the whole station was rebuilt in 1937. There the new cells are said for the first time to have heat, light and a bell for summoning assistance and 'providing a quiet rest for anyone unfortunate enough to be detained.'
POLICE STATIONS AND COURTS IN NEATH
The first Borough constable in Neath would not have occupied a Police Station. Most likely he just hung a sign above his front door.
The first Borough station and the first County Station were, as stated, in the James Street gaol.
In 1848 Constable William Rees applied for rooms in the Town Hall to be used as a Police Station. This was probably due to the conditions in James Street. The man who was allocated to live there, Thomas Owens, died due to cholera in 1849.
There is no clear evidence of when the Borough Police Station moved from James Street to the Town Hall but it was probably shortly after this time. Slater’s Directory of 1852-3 shows the Borough Goal and Police Station to still be in James Street but the latter had moved to the Town Hall by by 1859 (Slater’s Directory).
The Borough Police remained in the Town Hall until amalgamation with the County Police on 1st April 1947.
The town hall also housed a court room. It was described in 1850 (Hunt’s Directory) as ‘a spacious court… with an adjoining jury room’.
The old Town Hall, Neath - Home of the Neath Borough Police until 1947
The County Constabulary remained in residence in James Street until a new police station was built in Windsor Road in 1862. This included court rooms though the magistrates complained that they had difficulty hearing the proceedings due to the noise of trains in the railway station opposite.
Work on the new Police Station was started in Spring 1862 and it opened the following year. The new Station had two police courts – one inside the main building and the other above a garage at the rear of the premises. The courts stayed there until 1977 when a new independent building was erected in the town (opened 3rd November 1977). That premises closed in 2014 leaving the borough for the first time without its own magistrates’ court. Whilst the court had been able to use the nearby police cells to house prisoners awaiting appearance from 1862-1977, the court 1977-2014 had its own cells complex.
The rebuilt County Station in Windsor Road opened in May 1937 and closed in 1996.
View through the hatch of a cell door at Neath Police Station 1996.
The thin blue foam mattress covers a solid wooden bed.
Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales (1833)
Report to Quarter Sessions (1849)
History of Neath Borough Police Force - Glen A Taylor (1926)
Neath, The Town and its People - Tony Hopkins (2010)
Various Trade Directories
The Cambrian newspaper - various issues
20 March 2020Claudia Griffiths
The Tonna Heiress
To set the scene of how Claudia Griffiths came to be an heiress we must firstly introduce her family.
Lewis Griffiths (2) was born in 1796 and settled in the Neath area around the end of the eighteenth century serving as land agent to the Ynysygerwn Estate of William Llewellyn [little did he know that his family would ultimately inherit part of it]. He was also Church warden at St Catwg's church, Cadoxton during the building of the new aisle in 1843. The family at that time resided at Ynysgollen in a building which is now known as the Rock and Fountain Inn. Later they lived at Ynysygerwn Fach, another house that still exists today.
Lewis Jones Griffiths (3) followed his father by also serving as land agent to the Ynysygerwn Estate. He was described as a man of upright character, but he did not follow the family religious traditions. As a non-conformist he was one of five founders of Seion - Capel y Fforest Chapel in Aberdulais. However, two members of the Griffiths family did go into the established church; being brothers Walter and David, who both became vicars after studying at university.
Walter Griffiths became vicar of Glyncorrwg. He was active in the locality being one of the Neath Guardians and a member of the Board of Visitors to the Vernon House Asylum at Briton Ferry. At the age of 48, Walter married Ann, the widow of Matthew Wayne (owner of the Carmarthen Tinplate Works) in 1852. Ann was the daughter of William Llewellyn and had inherited the Dylais Fach Estate  in Tonna which at that time consisted of about 800 acres.
Following their move to Dylais Fach House they were both active in the Tonna community, being generous benefactors to the village and building a school room further down in the village to be called a school church, since at that time Tonna did not have a church. The Cardiff Times reported on 15th November 1879 thus, - ' TONNA - a Harvest Thanksgiving Service was held on Wednesday, at the School Church… Choice plants and fruit were supplied by Mrs Walter Griffiths, Dylais Fach.'
The Ruridecenal Conference of 1885 was held at Dylais Fach House after which Rev. and Mrs Griffiths entertained the clergy to lunch.
Highway improvements were needed at Llantwit Hill in 1869 and the Rev. Griffiths donated £20. Richard Jones, (game keeper of the Dylais Fach Estate), was attacked by three men, two of whom were from Neath and one from Aberdulais. The men were proved to have been poaching on the property of Rev. Griffiths and consequently fined. The incident was reported in the South Wales Daily News on 3rd February 1879.
Sadly, Ann died in 1881 and Walter planned to build a church in her name on a parcel of land that had been gifted for the purpose. Unfortunately, he died nine years later, before the project had started.
With no heirs born to Walter and Ann the Dylais Fach Estate was bequeathed to the surviving members of the Griffiths family collectively; being his sisters and the other vicar brother David Griffiths, who served the parish of Resolven. With the intention of carrying out his brother's wishes, the building of St. Anne's church now commenced. The laying of the foundation stone took place on 6th November 1890 and was carried out by his sister Miss Mary Griffiths, who had been living with him at Resolven. The ceremony was reported in both the Western Mail and The Cambrian the following day on 7th November 1890. Ironically David Griffiths also did not live long enough to see the project through to completion.
It is at this point in 1892 that the spinster sister Claudia Griffiths becomes heiress to the Estate and moves into Dylais Fach House along with her aforementioned spinster sister, Mary. Records show that in 1841 (aged 10 and 15 respectively) they were both pupils at Miss Beal's School in the Ropewalk.
Claudia's personal life is by and large a mystery. Regardless, she was very active in business and in the church.
Claudia had been active at St. Catwg's, Cadoxton. In 1883 she attended the service of dedication for the enlargement and damp proofing of the organ chamber. The work had been completed by WG Vowles, a prestigious organ builder of Bristol. The majority of the money for the work had been raised following a bazaar in 1881 with which she was involved.
Naturally, Claudia would now fulfil the wishes of her deceased brothers’ by completing the building of St Anne’s church. Over her lifetime she gave generously to the church and furnished the building with many items including the superb west window in memory of her family.
There are many reported instances of kindness to the community:
An article entitled 'Seasonal Benevolence' speaks of Mrs Ritson of Dulais House and Miss Claudia Griffiths of Dylais Fach giving every household in Aberdulais and Tonna - 5lbs of beef, 4lbs of sugar and 1lb of tea on Christmas Eve. These same households were given 20 tons of coal to distribute between them from the partners of Aberdulais Tinworks.
Although the parishioners of Tonna were saddened when the popular Rev. Marsden left to take up a new living, a social evening was held in honour of him and his wife. Here Claudia presented him with a gold hunter watch on behalf of the villagers of Aberdulais and Tonna, speaking warmly of the couple and that the gift was a token of their high esteem. The watch was supplied by Davies & Son of Neath.
Even when away from the village Miss Griffiths showed great concern for the welfare of her tenants. Such as when she was in Bournemouth at the time when the drains of the disused Wenallt Level failed causing flooding and resulting in the fields of Tonna Farm to be deposited with colliery waste.
The Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 was a time of national celebration and in Tonna the schoolchildren were treated to tea and cake by Claudia, her contempories, Mr and Mrs Ritson of Dulais House and Mr William Jones. Each child (numbering about 500) was presented with a Testament by the Coronation Committee (willingly subscribed to by the village inhabitants) and also a pencil case, given by the Llantwit Lower School Board.
It was due to the generosity of Claudia that the church hall at St Anne’s was built. She gave £300 for the erection of the hall for use as a Sunday School and laid the foundation stone in 1901. She also laid the foundation stone for a church hall at Cadoxton on 25th January 1906 just months before her death.
Unusually for the time, it seems that Claudia was involved in politics. There was a revision of the voting lists for the borough with Claudia and her sister Elizabeth being removed from the list for Dylais Lower, although their colleagues argued against it.
The district councillors along with a surveyor, clerk to the parish council and a Water Inspector, carried out a survey of Dylais Fach Estate to determine the best places to lay water mains to give the village a better water supply. Claudia, along with adjoining landowners, was asked to give her permission.
Claudia’s cousin, James Benjamin Garsed Price acting as her solicitor, wrote to the district council threatening to cut off the water supply unless the rent of £10 was paid. Mr Price said that there was a threat of flooding from the Wenallt colliery again.
There was a campaign against the water supply being changed by the water company. Claudia, along with her lessee Joshua Williams, was very vocal in petitioning. They wanted to ensure a continued supply of water from the river Dulais so that the tinworks would be able to function. The petition was successful and the water supply continued.
Following a short illness, Claudia died on May 4th 1906 at 74 years of age with her doctor in attendance. Being a wealthy lady, her will was reported in all the newspapers of the day as far afield as North Wales. Newspaper reports vary but some give her considerable fortune for those days at £250,000; however, it is known that she also bequeathed £40,000 to various good causes.
Under the terms of Claudia's will a scholarship was founded in 1907 at Jesus College, Oxford. This was restricted to the sons of clergymen beneficed in Llandaff in the Oxford Welsh scholarships. The first award was given to William Jones of Cowbridge Grammar School.
The Dylais Fach Estate was left to her cousin JBG Price but he had to sell off many portions of land in order to honour the legacies in Miss Griffiths' will. One such piece was Penvole Farm near Penwyllt which he sold to Baron Rolf Cederstrom for £197.10s. Mr Price continued his cousin’s good works until he retired to Brecon.
 This is the earlier (corrupt) spelling of what is today Dulais.
 The building still exists but is now a private residence.
 South Wales Daily Post - 27th May 1897
 The Cambrian - 15th August 1902
 No longer owned by the church, it continues in a religious function as the Neath Islamic Cultural Centre
 Cardiff Times - 12th December 1903
 The Cambrian - 21st October 1902
 History of the Vale of Neath - D Rhys Phillips p.448-449 (also see p.120)
 The second husband of Dame Adelina Patti (Craig-y-Nos)
04 March 2020Flew by the seat of his pants!
Edwin T Prosser
Edwin T Prosser, born in Wolverhampton on 14th April 1895, was an early British aviator, who reputedly flew a Bleriot [plane] at the age of 16. He obtained his Royal Aero Club Aviator's Certificate from the Hendon Flying School in June 1913 and became a member of the Birmingham Aero Club. Along with Mr A M Bonehill he built a glider of the Chanute type in August 1910 and they began offering towed passenger flights until the glider was destroyed by a gale on 26th August 1911.
The Amman Valley Chronicle reported on 30th October 1913 that Prosser had flown a 50 horsepower 'Caudron' biplane over Cwmamman - 'Every vantage point was thronged with people watching the first aeroplane flying through the district and, of course, like most other things, it went to Ammanford.'
There were plans for him to give exhibition flights at Neath but this plan changed at the last minute.
Prosser later immigrated to Australia, where he trained pilots. His World War One service is recognised on the Ballarat Avenue of Honour.