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01 September 2017Who goes there.....friend or foe?

THE INVASION OF NEATH

 

“An enemy force ... landed on the Cardiganshire coast and was advancing rapidly, had been instructed to seize all bridge-heads in the area.  Only short notice was given to the troops in charge of the defence and the Civil Defence units similarly were turned out with little warning”.

This event actually happened and it got worse:

“Determined attacks were made on the Glynneath defences…..  “which held until, a fast moving enemy mobile column charged down the hill from the direction of Hirwaun and enabled the defences to eventually be overcome.”

The Resolven Platoons of the Home Guard were put under pressure whilst further down the valley, “a fierce onslaught had been launched on the Aberdulais defences….. following a protracted struggle numbers eventually prevailed but only after considerable casualties had been incurred.”

“Meanwhile the Neath defences were also being severely tested on their remaining flanks, and with the aid of a naval column, a small force crossed the river at Briton Ferry and attempted to join up with an enemy force from Port Talbot, which was presumed to have landed on Aberavon sands and was rapidly advancing upon Briton Ferry defences from the east.”

They were joined by a force from Clydach and “after suffering heavy casualties in Skewen, succeeded in advancing but were eventually held up by the Neath Works Companies on the outskirts of the town.  The Bryncoch Home Guards also greatly aided the defence by their strong opposition to large columns of enemy arriving from Gwaun-cae-gurwen and Pontardawe.”

The battle for Neath was in some doubt, especially when an enemy force from Cymmer seriously threatened the Cimla area “but the timely arrival of a friendly mobile column of well-trained and cheery Tommies eventually carried the day for the defence.”

The Battle of Neath lasted six hours and was reported in Neath Guardian on 10th October 1941.  It ended with a scrimmage at the Gnoll when enemy and friendly mobile columns collided.  The newspaper reported a few realistic bombs and explosives were used.  Prior to the battle “bombing and several fires, gas and H.E. incidents were reported” and all dealt with by the various authorities.

Captain Mainwaring would have been delighted.

Neath Home Guard at the Drill Hall

14 August 2017'Home' from up North

Not so new a testament returns to Neath​

 After many years which took it to the other  end of the country, a pocket version of the  New Testament has come ‘home’ to Neath.    It was printed in 1880 by the Cambridge  University Press for the British and Foreign    Bible Society.  Although it has no great  monetary value, it is the binding and the  social history that are of interest.

 The volume is one of many presented to  Neath churches by benefactor John Henry      Rowland.  Larger format books were used at  services by the congregation and some  pocket versions were probably given as      prizes for good Sunday School attendance.  This particular volume was presented to William Coats of 8 Gnoll Park Road, a soldier who was gassed in World War One. Unfortunately, the dedication on the inside is faded but it seems to indicate that it was given to him on 12th September 1915.

The Coats family moved from Neath and Emma Mary Coats is recorded on the cover as being born on 7th June 1932 in the Scottish town of Hawick.  It is this lady who became Mrs E M McIndoe who, now living in Whitcinch, Glasgow, decided that her grandfather’s should return to Neath after over a hundred years.

 

John Henry Rowland, although largely forgotten was one of the Victorian ‘giants’ of our town.  He was born at Greenway House on 2nd December 1819, the eldest son of John Rowland who founded, along with Rees Williams of Aberpergwm House, the private banking house of Williams & Rowland around 1821. Surviving the crash of 1825 it merged with the bank of Eaton, Knight & Stroud in 1836. Rowland did not join the new firm but became manager of the Neath branch of the Glamorganshire Banking Company.           This fine building at 8 Wind Street whilst sadly disused still exists.

John Henry Rowland was a true bibliophile with an impressive library at his residence Ffrwd Vale. He generously donated volumes to the Neath Mechanics’ Institute who also inherited most of his library on his death.  Sadly these were lost in the fire of 1903.  Active in many other circles he served as Mayor in four occasions.

John Vivian Hughes gives an excellent account of Rowland which appears in the Annual Report of the County Archivist 2002-2003 (WGAS)

23 July 2017Hard Taskmasters?

This photograph (which we have annotated) was likely taken sometine in the late 1930s to early 1940s.  A schoolboy has written on the back in blue ink with a steel nib (remember them?) showing the masters names and in some instances their nicknames.  The hand is reasonably legible, and is transposed as a table below.  You may be able to help confirm the facts, fill in the gaps or give fresh information. Use our contact page and give us your opinions. 

 

Proper Name

Nickname

1

Mr Whitehouse

Willy Whitehouse

2

Elis Jenkins

Shunks

3

Mr Bevan

Mr Jingles

4

Walter Thomas

Waller

5

Mr Hopkin Jones

Hoppy

6

Billy Allen

Egbe

7

Mr Payne

 

8

Mr Lewis Jones

Lew

9

Mr Sam Evans

Smithy

10

Mr Bryant

Bill

11

Mr Lawence Thomas

Lawry

12

Folds

 

13

Stratton

 

14

Tom Pugh

Tom

15

Mr W Davies

Ching

16

Mr Joshua

Josh

17

Mr Kerslake

Kersey

18

Dr John

TheBoss

19

Mr Tanner

George

20

Mr Perrot

Berty Perrot

21

SES Powers

Bill Powers

22

Aubrey Owen

Aubrey

21 July 2017Send for Reinforcements!

Martyn Griffiths tells us of an unusual agreement between south Wales and the west of England.

 

MUTUAL AID

The Mechanics Institute in Church Place is the repository of the considerable archival collection of the Neath Antiquarian Society.  This charts the history of the town and district of Neath over many centuries but it is by no means the only source of information.  Records relating to Neath have been traced right across the United Kingdom and even as far afield as North and South America.

 

Devon and Cornwall Constabulary run a Police Museum.  It has been moribund for many years but now a team of volunteers are endeavouring to tackle years of neglect and return it to a working museum.  One of the ledgers gathering dust was marked ‘Rough Book’.  It contains the minutes of the Watch Committee for the former Exeter City Police and is a mine of information charting the history of that Police Force from its inception in 1836 to when it  amalgamated with its larger neighbour in 1966. 

 

Within the pages are reference to a mutual aid agreement between the Neath Borough and Exeter City forces whereby, should it be requested, police officers would be sent to assist in times of unrest.  Similar arrangements have always existed between Police Forces in England and Wales and many will remember police being despatched all over the country during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85. 

 

However, one would expect such aid to come initially from neighbouring Forces; in Neath’s case from Glamorgan, Swansea, Merthyr or Cardiff.  Why on earth would policemen be needed from Exeter? Given the distance involved, this seems an unlikely liaison. 

 

Unlikely as it seems in December 1913 a Police Inspector (Inspector May), a Sergeant and nine Constables were deployed to Neath.  Twenty men had been requested but that number could not be spared by Exeter which itself consisted of only about fifty officers.  The Exeter Watch Committee charged Neath 13 shillings per day for the Inspector, 10 shillings for the Sergeant and 9 shillings for each Constable and also expenses for travel, accommodation and subsistence. 

 

They were called to Neath due to a railway strike affecting many parts of South Wales. The strike on the Great Western Railway was caused when two engine drivers were dismissed in Llanelli for refusing to handle ‘tainted’ Dublin traffic.  In Neath 260 men working at the GWR locomotive sheds came out in sympathy and 120 wagons were left on the main line in the yard.  Other local industries were also affected by the strike; 600 colliers were laid off in the Vale of Neath and work stopped at the Neath Galvanising Works affecting another 500 men.

 

Railway boxes, signal boxes and railway crossings were patrolled by the police but there was no unruliness in the area.  The Exeter men remained in Neath on the 4th, 5th and 6th January.  The strike itself ended on the 5th and the railwaymen went back to work without achieving anything.  The two engine drivers were not reinstated by the GWR.

 

The years 1910-1914 are known as ‘The Great Unrest’ since this was the time when the unions were flexing their muscles and calling for better working conditions.  There were strikes in the mines, docks, railways and elsewhere and they affected workers right across the country and the grievances were many.  Locally, for example, the 350 men of Copper Pit, Morriston, had gone out on strike throughout the festive period 1912-3 seeking preference for the men to horses being brought up from the pit to the surface.  With disturbances threatening across South Wales, Neath’s neighbours may have felt that they could not spare men to help the Borough, leading them to appeal to Exeter for assistance.

 

In July and early August 1911 an unofficial railway strike had been organised. Railway workers were campaigning for shorter working hours, but their main complaint was about the slowness of the conciliation process.  Troops were called in and in Llanelli two men were shot dead. There was trouble at the same time on the streets of Neath. The Chief Constable, William Higgins, was denigrated unfairly for his actions in one particular local newspaper and he certainly would not have welcomed a repeat performance.  The call for assistance from Exeter appears to have been with the effects of this 1911 strike very much in mind.

The mutual aid agreement was rescinded by Exeter shortly after the 1913 event.

 

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