22 December 2018The Good Doctor of Aberdulais


Danygraig House stood on the right hand side of the entrance to what is now the National Trust property in Aberdulais.  It was built for the chief cashier of the Aberdulais Tinworks and was leased by Doctor Prell from about 1912.  When he died in 1950 his successor, Dr. Norman Thomas, rented the house and bought it from the Ynysygerwn Estate a couple of years later.  He later sold it to Neath Borough Council who demolished the property in 1978.

The doctor’s surgery was on the opposite side of the entrance and had previously been a schoolroom.  Today it is the tea-room for the National Trust.

Doctor Prell came to Neath sometime around 1902, having previously been engaged as house surgeon at St. Mark’s Hospital, London.  He was born in Sheffield the son of Johann Lorenz Prell (later known as John Lawrence Prell) and Susan Forrest.  His father had come to Britain from Bavaria where he had studied at Leipzig University.  He spoke six languages – German, French, Spanish, English, Russian and Italian and is believed to have found work in the Manchester area as an assistant teacher around 1860.  He then found employment as the foreign correspondent for the steel cutlery producing firm of Mason and Gamble in Sheffield.  He earned a good living there but tried to branch out on his own and made the disastrous decision to sever his connection with Mason and Gamble.  In 1877 he went bankrupt and was obliged to return to Germany to look for work as a teacher.  He was not heard of again.

His wife, Susan, was left with three daughters and a young son, all under 14 years of age.  Her widowed mother joined the family and supplemented their income, whilst Susan found work first as a toy dealer and then a stationer.  Her mother’s help enabled her to pay the 2d a week for each of her children to attend St. George’s School in the town.

The dogged spirit of his mother and grandmother enabled John Philip Prell to go to medical school and eventually qualify as a surgeon. He qualified MRCS and LRCP in February 1902 and was soon based in Aberdulais , operating from the surgery next to his home.  He married a Tonna woman, Irene Griffiths, in 1912 though it is strange that the marriage took place in London.  Her father worked in the tinworks and was a deacon of Nazareth Chapel in Tonna.  At Christmas he would conduct choirs of  hymn-singers outside his home.

The Tea Rooms at Aberdulais, formerly the doctor’s surgery and before that a schoolroom for the tinplate works.

The newspapers are full of records of gory events attended by Dr. Prell.  Headlines such as, ‘Aberdulais Man Roasted Alive’, ‘Fell on his Head’ and ‘Child in a Lime Kiln’, tell of the busy and uncomfortable life of Neath’s premier doctor.

During the Great War both he and his wife were active on the Home Front.  Mrs Prell was part of the Tonna Working Party for Soldiers and Sailors, making useful articles of clothing for serving men.

Dr. Prell volunteered through the Red Cross in August 1915 as a Medical Officer based at Cwrt Sart Hospital.  He would meet convoys of soldiers arriving at Cwrt Sart Station and ensure their safe passage to the hospital for treatment.  Apart from his medical responsibilities he was also instrumental in training people for such duties.

Dr. Prell was often spotted doing his rounds in his pony and trap.  He always wore plus-fours and was a popular, efficient and effective physician who seems to have had an amiable disposition.  Apparently his favourite dish was jugged hare.  Mrs. Prell was perhaps not so welcoming.  She insisted that the girls in service with her called her ma’am, would check the lengths of their dresses and insist that they wear a different dress in the afternoon.

Doctor Prell died in September 1950 and was buried at St. Catwg’s Church, Cadoxton, his small grave standing almost opposite the main church doorway.   



Keith Tucker

Salts in Georgian silver

In exploring Neath's long industrial history you encounter the usual undertakings expected in this part of south Wales; coal mining, tinworks, steelworks, ironworks, copper refining, chemical works, brickworks and even a gunpowder works.

Landowners, gentry and industrialists were always keen to speculate and invest in any venture that would turn a profit.  It is, therefore, remarkable perhaps to discover that in the 1770s one of these was a salt works that was operating on The Green, Herbert Mackworth being the main investor.

Agreement, Charles Cotes to Herbert Mackworth, to build and finish the salt works on land called The Green near Neath at his own cost, with materials supplied by Herbert Mackworth to be held by Charles Cotes for 7 years and a further 99 years. 2 Oct. 1733 - RISW/Gn 1/61a-b

In essence salt is obtained either by mining or by the evaporation of seawater and it was this latter method that was being used at Neath.

In warmer climes seawater can be contained in pools (known as salt pans) to be reduced by evaporation caused by the heat of the sun into brine.  The brine then eventually dries out completely into salt crystals. Even with our British climate there are a few examples of coastal salt pans, such as at Salcoates in Ayrshire where in the 1500s, King James V financed the establishing of such an industry from which the town takes its name.

Now, whilst seawater is reasonably close at hand, Neath is not known for a Mediterranean climate and so the heat had to come from other means (the introduction of an alternative form of heat to replace that of solar was a natural progression).  What Mackworth did have was a plentiful supply of coal which could be burnt to provide the heat source for boiling pans. The liquid being evaporated was a mixture of seawater and rock salt.  It is likely that the rock salt came from Cheshire, being the main area where it is mined in this country. The adding of rock salt was to make the seawater saltier and thereby the crystals formed.

The workers at the salt works were classified as Baylers (presumably those who removed the crystals from the pans into the tuns (barrels), and smiths who again presumably constructed the boiling pans. The wages seem fair for the time.

Account of wages at Salt Works at Neath. 9 Jan.-3 April 1742 - Salt Baylers and Smiths - 6d. and 9d. per day  - RISW/Gn 3/245

Whilst there are no records to indicate other occupations at the Neath Salt Works the following historical names given to occupations in open pan salt works, primarily in Cheshire are of interest;

  • Lumpman: A lumpman would work on pans that made fine salt crystals, which were known as 'fine pans' or 'lump pans'. The quality of the salt depended on the state of the fires which crystallised the salt by forcing off the water. Therefore, each pan had its own individual furnace and chimney, which the lumpman was responsible for controlling. Wooden moulds were filled with salt crystals from the pans to produce a hard block (lump) of fine salt. Lumpmen were paid piecework, and would start at 3 or 4 in the morning, and could expect to work 12- to 16-hour days.
  • Waller: A waller would be under the charge of the lumpman, and was responsible for the initial draining of the salt. Salt was drained by being raked to the side of the pans, and then transferred using skimmers onto the hurdle boards (walkways) around the pans. A waller is an ancient name for a saltmaker. He would have been hired on a daily basis.
  • Fireman: In addition to the fine pans there were other 'common pans', used to make coarser salt. Because the production of common salt required slower burning fires, it was possible for a single fireman to have charge of several common pans, which could be up to 80 feet long.
  • Pan-smith: This was originally the name given to the man who made the salt-making pans.

Like tea, salt was a valuable commodity.  An undated report made of the works indicates that it must have been a profitable undertaking;



Fake advertisments of what might have been for 'Neath' salt


A computation of the profit of making salt at Neath with Salt Water strengthened with Rock Salt…….

…….. the Boyling Pans will make 10 or if required 15 Tun of Salt every week with a competent quantity of Rock Salt to heighten the brine and each Tun of Rock will produce for a Tun and a quarter to 2 Tun of White Salt according to the strength of the sea water with which it is mixed, which increase is called the outcast.

Note that the salt made from sea water and rock is esteemed better and stronger than any other salt made in England so that at this time the salt made from Rock is sold at Bristol at £9 per Tun and that made at Droitwich but for £7.10s.0d. at most. - RISW/Gn 3/249

Droitwich had it easier than Neath since there they were producing salt by the evaporation of brine springs which were ten times saltier than seawater.  This made it more profitable since it did not need 'strengthening' with rock salt and the additional costs involved.

The operating of a salt works also required an Act of Parliament as we see in;

An Act for granting and continuing the duties upon salt and upon red and white herrings, for the further term of seven years; and for allowing rock salt to be used in making of salt from sea water, at the salt works at Neath in the County of Glamorgan, 14 Geo II. 1740 - D/D Z 573/1


Incidentally, a salt cellar (also called a salt and a salt pig) is an article of tableware for holding and dispensing salt. They can be either lidded or open, and are found in a wide range of sizes, from large shared vessels to small individual dishes. Styles range from simple to ornate or whimsical, using materials including glass and ceramic, metals, ivory and wood, and plastic.

The use of salt cellars is recorded as early as classical Rome. They continued to be used through the first half of the 20th century; however, usage began to decline with the introduction of free-flowing salt in 1911, and have been almost entirely replaced by salt shakers.









Apart from those quoted above, further information may be found in the following documents also held at the WGAS.

RISW/Gn 3/239 to 3/248

RISW/Gn 3/249 to 3/272

25 October 2018The Truth Will Out


The year is 1861 and William Kirkhouse, the eminent engineer, is in his 77th year and living on his farm Pen-yr-Ally, in Skewen.  Living with Kirkhouse at the farm were his daughters Mrs Mary Jenkins and Margaret (a spinster and the housekeeper); also resident at the farm was his eldest sister Mrs Elizabeth Edwards.  The live-in servants, employed by Margaret, were Mary James, farm servant; Elizabeth Hopkins, dairy maid and Richard Harris, farm labourer.

 One of Kirkhouse’s routines was that at the end of   the day he would hang up his silver watch in the   hallway on his way up to bed and pick it up the   following morning.  On the morning of Monday, 9th   September 1861, when Kirkhouse went to retrieve   his watch it was not hanging on its usual peg.  As   far  as he was concerned the only explanation for   the  absence of the watch was that it had been   stolen! 

 Kirkhouse suspected his farm labourer Richard   Harris to be the thief. He was so confident of the   truth of his suspicion that Harris was, by Kirkhouse’s   order, apprehended and charged on suspicion of stealing a watch belonging to his master.  When brought before the magistrate Kirkhouse’s statement was found insufficient to commit Harris to the Quarter Sessions and consequently Harris was discharged.

Harris became very vocal about being falsely accused and threatened an action at law against Kirkhouse for violating his personal liberty.  The threat never materialised and in the following two months Harris verbally abused Kirkhouse, his daughter and son-in-law (Mr John Jenkins).  Words and threats finally came to blows when on Wednesday, 6th November 1861 when Harris waylaid Jenkins and demanded money in redress for the deformation of his character.  Harris threw stones at Jenkins and when a stone struck Jenkins in the face Harris told him that was his [Jenkins] share for slandering his character.  Jenkins directly reported the assault and Harris was found and summoned to appear on Friday next to answer the charges preferred against him.

Harris now realising his situation decided to get away and make a new start, but he needed money to do so. With this in mind he made his way to the shop of Lazarus Samuel, a Neath clock and watch maker and more to the point as far as Harris was concerned, a pawnbroker.  Harris produced an old silver watch case and some other bits of silver offering them for sale. When asked how he came by them Harris replied that he had let the watch fall out of his pocket and a cart had run over it.  Inspecting the peculiar watch case Samuel told Harris he would have expected the cart to have flattened the case rather than damaged it along its edge.  Opening the watch case Samuel recognised his markings on the inside. His paperwork recorded that the watch had been in for repair in 1855 and 1858 and was the property of William Kirkhouse.  Not wanting to give the game away Samuel told Harris to take a seat while he [Samuel] took the silver to be weighed.  Harris believing he was going to be cheated would not let Samuel go alone so they left the shop together to weigh the silver.

Part way down New Street Harris asked where they were going, to which Samuel replied “I am going to the Station House to have you taken in charge”.  Harris now changed his story saying that he had in fact found the watch case and if Samuel would let him go he [Samuel] could keep them.  Realising that Samuel was not going to change his mind Harris made a break for it but Samuel grabbed Harris’s coat and shouted for assistance.

 Having been taken into custody and charged with   stealing the watch Harris said he had not done so   and that the watch belonged to him.  Confronted   with the evidence he changed his story and stated   that he found it coming on the road from Aberavon   that morning.  Before being committed for trial   Harris stated: “I found the watch out in the yard on   top of the cheese, and I dashed it to pieces as soon   as I came back”

In December 1861 the Monmouthshire Merlin and the Cardiff Times reporting on the proceedings of the Winter Assizes stated the outcome of the case against Harris;

 'Richard Harris, 22, labourer, was charged with stealing a silver watch, of the value of £8, the property of Wm. Kirkhouse, at Neath, on the 9th of September, 1861. The prisoner pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment in the house of correction, there to be kept to hard labour.' 



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