01 July 2020Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place



Lieutenant Colonel Robert Place of his Majesty's 41st Regt. of Foot - painted by William Charles Ross (1829)

Reading the transcriptions of journals and memoirs written by his contemporaries, you are left in no doubt that Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place was a highly respected officer by those who knew and served with him.  His first British Regiment was the 77th Foot which he joined in 1804 as a Cadet.[1]  Robert’s initial rise through the ranks in 1807 to Ensign and then Lieutenant was on merit, but from 1809 his promotions were by purchase [the practice of paying money to be made an officer].  By payment, a commission as an officer could be secured thus avoiding the wait to be promoted on merit or seniority.  In 1809 Lieutenant Place was made Captain and in 1819 a Major (both made by purchase).  Finally, in 1825 the unattached Major (on half-pay) purchased the commission of Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry.[2]  Around 1826, a Light Battalion of infantry was formed by the amalgamation of light infantry from the Queen’s and other regiments of foot and it was Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place, of the Queen’s, who was given command of this new battalion.   When the commander of the 41st Regiment died in August 1827, it was Robert Place who was appointed as the Regiment’s new commander - [this would be his last command].

A memorial tablet to him is situated on the north wall of the chancel of St. Catwg's Church.  The epitaph reads as follows:

Robert Place was one of ten children born to John Place and his wife Sarah Dumayne; the couple married in Bassaleg, Monmouthshire in 1776.  John Place [Robert's father] was born in Cornwall in 1756 but his father [Robert's grandfather] also named Robert, had moved to Neath Abbey by 1758  to start and manage the smelting of copper at the Mines Royal Works, Neath Abbey. In the same year, his son Edward was baptised at St Catwg's.   A surviving ledger from 1795, kept by John Place, records that there were 38 furnaces at the works capable of producing 17 to 20 tons of copper a day; evidently the Mines Royal Works at Neath Abbey was a considerable undertaking by this time.

Prominent in every aspect of life in Neath and its district the Place family occupied a house at Neath Abbey for nearly 60 years before they moved to Cadoxton Cottage, a property with a

                     'dining-room 19½ by 15 feet, drawing-room 16½ by 14 feet, breakfast-room 14 feet square, six bed-rooms,                        kitchens, cellars, and all suitable domestic offices; gig-house and ample stabling.'


This was a most commodious property when compared to the two roomed 'back-to-back' or 'through houses' having two rooms downstairs and two upstairs, occupied by working families of this period. [3]     John Place, who had been a Magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for Glamorgan died in 1821 at Cadoxton Cottage aged 65 years.  His wife Sarah Place put the property up for lease, fully furnished, in 1826 and moved to Neath.  Having outlived three of her ten children, she died in Neath in 1829; her dying wish was to be buried with her husband at St Catwg's. 

Robert Place served the majority of his career in the 77th Regiment of Foot (The Duke of Cambridge's Own) which was a line regiment of the British Army raised in 1787.  The regiment was given a county designation, becoming the 77th (East Middlesex) Regiment of Foot in 1807.  At the beginning of July 1809 Lieutenant Robert Place was appointed Captain of a Company of the 77th Regiment, by purchase - the previous incumbent having retired.  On 30th July, Captain Place was among some 40,000 soldiers and 15,000 horses, together with field artillery, to cross the North Sea and landed at Walcheren.   The Walcheren Campaign involved little fighting, but heavy losses from a sickness popularly dubbed 'Walcheren Fever' accounted for the loss of over 4,000 British troops [only 106 died in combat].  The 77th Regiment embarked for Spain in June 1811 for service in the Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington.  It saw action at the Battle of El Bodon in September 1811, followed by the Siege of Cuidad Rodrigo and the Siege of Badajoz.  The 77th Foot then fought at the Battle of Bayonne in April 1814 before returning home in August that year. 

Although we do not know how long Captain Place had known Margaret Elliott, or even where they met, they married in Clifton, Bristol on 13th October 1814, less than two months after the return of the 77th Regiment from France.  Margaret was the youngest of six daughters born to Philip Elliott and his wife Elizabeth Mundy; she was also the sister of Mrs Diana Ainsley Bowzer.[A]

In 1823 the 77th Regiment was posted to Belfast and in 1824 to Stoney Hill, Jamaica, where the Regiment (compared to other Regiments stationed in Jamaica) suffered the most from sickness – known locally as 'black vomit fever'.  The Army reported that in the ten months in Jamaica up to the 28th February 1825 the Regiment had lost two officers, two sergeants, 56 rank and file, three women and 18 children.  By June 1825 British newspapers were quoting reports in the Jamaica papers,

'.. that whilst our squadron on station healthy [Royal Navy] the troops had suffered from sickness – 77th Regiment had lost one hundred men and eight officers.'

Indeed in 1827, when the 22nd Regiment were garrisoned at Stoney Hill barracks the Regiment lost seven officers and 122 men to black vomit fever in two months.[4]  Sometime during his posting to Jamaica Major Robert Place was placed on half-pay and so, in May 1825, he purchased the Commission of Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry.  Following a recruitment drive for Regiments stationed in India in February 1826, he was appointed to the Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot (also known as the 2nd Regiment of Foot) and dispatched with the reinforcements to Bombay.  In September an expeditionary force against the Rajah of Koolapore in the Mahratta country to the South of Bombay, was put into the field.  The light company of the Queen’s with the light companies of the 20th and other regiments were formed into a light battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place of the Queen's and proceeded to Koolapore.  Place’s health was so bad that his doctor advised against active service and that Place should relinquish the command.  Typical of the man, he told his doctor “I go - [even] if I die on the road.”  Whilst engaged on this campaign he was appointed by the Commander-in-Chief in India to take command of the 41st Regiment of Foot, which was garrisoned at Koolapore and once again duty and honour took precedence over private considerations.[5]

His Last Command

Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place of the 2nd Foot was appointed to the 41st Regiment of Foot on 30th August 1827, following the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Latouche Chambers who died the previous day.  Weakened by a bout of cholera and suffering from a severe attack of liver complaint [cirrhosis of the liver], a kick from a horse confined Lieutenant-Colonel Place to his sickbed; meaning that he was unable to attend the accompanying ceremony on the surrender of the Rajah of Koolapore.  Now began the long and torturous return journey to Belgaum.  Setting off in the very early hours of the morning and travelling between thirteen and sixteen miles a day, the company reached Belgaum on 20th December.  Gravely ill, Place coined his last will and testament on 27th December, after which his doctors decided that should his condition improve he should be removed to the coast for embarkation to England.  With the death of two other officers diagnosed with liver attack, a decision was made to transfer him to the coast and so on 7th January 1828, at four o’clock in the morning, began the march to Vingorla which they reached on 12th January.  Suffering from fever, hot and cold fits and excruciating pain, Place lingered on until his death which was recorded as midnight on the 18th January 1828.  An autopsy, performed at ten that morning, revealed multiple conditions to his internal organs in addition to abscesses on his liver.  His body was interred with military honours on a hillside in an obscure part of the country with the service led by James Welsh of the East India Company.[6]

At the age of fifty, his wife Margaret remarried in 1832, but her second husband died 8 years later.  She lived out her remaining years with a companion and servant preferring lodgings to owning her own property, dying at Clifton, Bristol in 1872 aged 90 years.

Memorial to Robert Place at St. Catwg's Church

Of the Lieutenant-Colonel’s siblings;

 Catherine Place, the eldest of the Place children was born in 1779 in Neath Abbey (her parents John and Sarah were about 23 years old).  She married William Llewellyn, a surgeon of Brombil, Margam and Court Colman, Bridgend at St Catwg’s Church in 1818.  She died on 3rd November 1848 at Court Colman aged 69 years. 

Thomas Dumayne Place was a solicitor, Mayor of Neath, Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of Glamorgan.  He married Mary Jones of 'Glanbrane', Llansamlet in 1807 at St Catwg's Church. He built the houses named 'Glyn Leiros' around 1824 and 'Ffrwd Vale' around 1841, where he died from cholera on 30th August 1849 aged 69 years.

John Place was a surgeon and militiaman who was appointed Second-Lieutenant and Surgeon to Major Thomas Lockwood’s Forest Volunteers at the age of nineteen.  After many years spent abroad, in the capacity of surgeon, his health deteriorated to such an extent that he was forced to return home.  After lingering more than two years in a state of suffering, he died at Cadoxton Cottage in 1823 at the age of 38 years.

James Place started his military carrier at the aged fifteen when along with his brother Robert, he also entered the Native Indian Army, in Bombay as a Cadet.  In 1812 he was promoted to Ensign [without purchase] in the 65th Regiment of Foot, that had been posted to India in 1811.  Over the next eight years he was further promoted to Lieutenant and then to Captain, both on merit.  At the age of 35 Captain James Place was listed by the army as being on half-pay.  He remained on half-pay until his death in 1847 at Cheltenham, at the age of 58 years.  His body returned to Neath and was interred at St Catwg’s Church on 2nd January 1848.

William Place was a volunteer who also received promotion in 1812 to the position of Ensign with the 77th Regiment of Foot, which was then serving in Spain.  In October 1814 William was promoted to Lieutenant [again on merit], but within the space of three months he was placed on half-pay.  William died in Portpool Lane, Holborn, in 1830 at the age of 39 years.

Edward Holden Place was a surgeon who lived at Maesyberllan House, near Resolven.  Although he had one son (Thomas Holden Place), with his servant Joan Morgan, he remained a bachelor.  Edward died in 1867 at Maesyberllan at the age of 74 with the proceeds of his estate (which amounted to £28 2s 6d) administered by his nephew William Llewellyn of Court Colman.  

Sarah Place was born in 1795 and was the second daughter to be given this name (the first Sarah having died in infancy in 1785).  She first married William Walter Jones of Gurrey, Carmarthenshire, in 1817 and the couple had two children before William’s death in 1828.  She remarried in 1833 to Henry Carnegie Carden in Cheltenham and shortly after the couple moved to Paris.  It was here that her daughter’s marriage took place at the house of the British Ambassador in 1836 and where in 1865, Henry took out a patent for 'an improved metronome or apparatus for measuring intervals of time.'  Henry died a widower in Paris in 1886.  In the absence of a death of burial record for Sarah Carden at present, it is likely that Sarah also died in Paris.

Ann Place was the youngest of Robert’s siblings, died 'after a painful, lingering illness' in 1817, at Cadoxton Cottage aged 20 years.

End Note:

The 41st Regiment of Foot was initially raised by Colonel Edmund Fielding in March 1719 as Edmund Fielding's Regiment of Foot.  Fielding recruited from regiments and from the Chelsea out-pensioners [soldiers incapable of normal service through disease, age or injury].  For much of its early history the Regiment undertook garrison duties at Portsmouth.  It was renamed the Royal Invalids in 1741 and it was numbered the 41st Regiment of Foot in 1751.  In 1782, when other regiments took county titles it was denoted as the 41st (Royal Invalids) Regiment of Foot.  When in 1787 it ceased to comprise of invalids and became a conventional line regiment, the title Royal Invalids was dropped.  The regiment received a territorial affiliation in 1831, becoming the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot.  In 1881 the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot and 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot amalgamated to form the Welsh Regiment, by which it was known until 1920 when it was renamed The Welch Regiment.  Today, after further amalgamations, we know it The Royal Regiment of Wales.

[A] Diana Ainsley Bowser and her husband move to Tynyrhoel, Tonna, in or about 1807 but her husband’s circumstance led to a move to Briton Ferry where, in March 1814, at the age of 38, she died in child-birth leaving 10 children to be cared for. 

[1] Alphabetical List of the Officers of the Indian Army – Dodwell & Miles (1838)

[2] The London Gazette – various dates

[3] The Cambrian -  29th April 1826

[4] The Sessional Papers (1852) -  Parliament Publications (1852)

[5] Historical Record of the Second or Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot - Richard Cannon (1838)

[6] Military Reminiscences - Colonel James Welsh (1830)


The portrait of Robert Place from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection is by permission of the Brown University Library - https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:227386/





Keith Tucker

The quite large old stone had been in the churchyard of St. Mary Llansawel for longer than anyone could remember.  A large sandstone lump much weather beaten and eroded; it had obviously been worked by skilled hands for a specific purpose many centuries ago.  Due to the square socket cut into its upper face, the conclusion arrived at by clergy, historians and antiquarians was that this stone had formed part of a churchyard cross.

That decided, it languished in the churchyard left in peace until 1931 when a rearranging of access and general 'tidying up' of the burial ground required to be relocated. Under the direction of the vicar Walters, two sextons set about moving the stone.  Thereby, on laying the stone on its side the long forgotten 'secret' was discovered; a large hollowed out recess.








Why was this done, was the obvious question?  There was no reason to suspect that it was done purely to make the stone lighter and easier to manipulate. The vicar contacted Glen A Taylor, a leading light of the Neath Antiquarian Society, expert in church architecture and the driving force behind excavating the Neath Abbey ruins.

Glen Taylor viewed the artefact, took photographs and formulated his own conclusions, as can be seen in his letter to the vicar on 25th June 1931 with the accompanying sketch and conjectural construction.  The following day, he also wrote to Aymer Vellance who was a leading authority on churchyard crosses hoping to have his opinion confirmed or refuted.

Sadly, we do not have the reply. As to what, if anything, was hidden in the recess? - Well, the stone keeps that secret still.



01 June 2020William Gronow


Grafting onto the Family Tree

Martyn J Griffiths

We know a great deal about William Gronow but there has been speculation about his family origins ever since one his sons rose to fame or infamy.

William Gronow, 1771-1830, lies buried in a very large grave at Cadoxton Church.  In fact, it is probably the largest grave in a very big churchyard.  The grave measures 4 metres by 5 metres yet he is the only person buried there.

His list of achievements goes on and on:  surgeon, apothecary, man-midwife, banker, portreeve, colliery owner, land owner, property owner in the town of Neath, magistrate, deputy lieutenant, etc, etc..  He was married twice and had three children.  Through his first marriage he had a grandson, Gronow Davies, who was one of the first to win a Victoria Cross for action in the Crimean War.  His eldest son, from his second marriage, was Captain Rees Howell Gronow, soldier, failed parliamentarian, author, dandy and friend of royalty; his 'Reminiscences…' made him a celebrity in his day and his accounts of Waterloo gave him a kind of immortality even though he ended his days a pauper.  The younger son, Reverend Thomas Gronow, also gained some notoriety for the problems he presented during his incumbency at Cadoxton-juxta-Neath between 1821 and 1834.  There is an excellent article about him in Morgannwg L1, written by Rev. Roger Lee Brown.

Nowhere, however, has there been printed any proof positive of William Gronow's ancestry, but that has not stopped a great deal of speculation.

When William Gronow died in 1830 The Gentleman's Magazine made no reference to his family's illustrious past.  However, by 1862, these fables start to emerge.


Burke's Landed Gentry of 1862 set the seal of approval on the family when referring to the Reverend Thomas Gronow of Ash Hall and speculated that the Gronow family 'was a very ancient family originally seated in north Wales where they had large landed possessions.'   A knighthood and a relationship to the Tudor royal dynasty are mentioned, as well as links to eminent relations in Pembrokeshire.




The Gentleman's Magazine of 1866, reporting the Captain's death, spoke of him being of 'an ancient Welsh family'; and Roger Lee Brown continued in the same vein stating that William Gronow 'seems to have belonged to a cadet branch of the once influential family of Gronow'.

All of these lineages seem to emanate from the introductory chapter to Volume 1 of Captain Gronow's book about himself, published in 1862, which gives details of the family claims to ancient ties.

The Welsh have always been proud of their ancestry and many books have been written about the genealogies of the princes.  In Cadoxton church are plaques created by Philip Williams of Dyffryn which are believed to present the longest family tree in Wales.  On there you will find Iestyn ap Gwrgan last prince of Glamorgan (said in the Gwenllian Chronicle to be the worst prince ever seen in Wales.), kings of north Wales, Gwent and Dublin and even Old King Cole together with a host of other characters from Welsh history [never let the truth stand in the way of a good story]!  Iestyn ap Gwrgan is said to have had 13 children and almost anyone living in south Wales in the mid-nineteenth century might claim descent from him.

Captain Gronow told a good tale.  He was regaled in the courts of England and France and his fame as a raconteur meant that when he published the four volumes of his 'Reminiscences…' between 1862 and 1865 it was a best seller.  Perhaps he would not have been so popular in certain quarters if it had been known that his grandfather was from humble origins.  Perhaps hints at illustrious ancestors were his way of getting round the problem [nothing concrete, mere suggestions].

Captain Rees Howell Gronow; one of the most celebrated dandies

New evidence has now emerged which throws doubt on all these grand connections.

Lewis Herbert was a joiner/carpenter from Cadoxton who had built up a substantial property portfolio in the town of Neath.  By the time of his death around 1821 he owned the freehold on several properties in Wind Street and also had the leasehold on five properties in High Street.  In his will[1] he does not mention a wife or any children and leaves all his wealth to two main beneficiaries.  One is William Herbert Elias who was a tallow chandler in High Street and was probably a nephew.  The other was William Gronow, then of Court Herbert, was the greater beneficiary, being left all the freehold properties.

Lewis Herbert's wife, Elizabeth, is named as a 'life' in an indenture dated 1813, referring to properties in High Street and Wind Street, Neath[2].  Her age is shown as 66.

The link between Lewis Herbert and William Gronow is found in the marriage at St. Thomas' church on 23rd June 1788, of Lewis Herbert, widower, and Elizabeth Gronow, widow, both of that parish.  Was Elizabeth Gronow mother or much older sister to William?  The answer to that lies in an earlier marriage, again at St. Thomas', on 22nd September 1770 between Thomas Gronow and Elizabeth Moore.  William [from his burial record] was born about a year later so there is little doubt that he was Elizabeth's son.  There is no reference anywhere to any other Gronow children so it is likely that Thomas Gronow died shortly after the marriage.

Marriage record of Thomas Gronow and Elizabeth Moore

On the banns to the above marriage record[3] Thomas Gronow is shown as 'blacksmith', which is certainly not someone belonging to the gentry class.  Furthermore, he could not sign his name and instead made his mark.  It is likely, therefore, that it was Lewis Herbert who gave his stepson a first step onto the ladder and provided him with the means to gain an apprenticeship to become a surgeon.  There is no doubt that William Gronow rose to become one of the senior citizens of Neath by his own means thereafter.

It is still possible that the Gronows were descended from one of the noble families mentioned in Burke's Landed Gentry but in Wales, almost everyone with Welsh lineage is probably descended from one line or other of the fertile Welsh princes, so that in itself would not be unusual. Proof of such descent is, however, very rare.

What is most likely is that Captain Gronow embellished possible links to the family name and when put into print for his 'Reminiscences…' it became accepted as fact.  If indeed there was a link, then it is lost in the mists of time as there is no earlier record than Thomas Gronow's marriage in 1770.

Anyone wishing to research the Gronow name before his marriage might have problems since there is no record of him in Neath prior to that date.  The bondsman on the Marriage Bond was Thomas Rimbron 'of the parish of Llandaff'.  Bondsmen might be a relative or friend of either party so there is a possibility that the Gronow family came to Neath from the Cardiff area.

The lesson here is 'don't believe everything you see in print'.  

[1] D/D Z 238 - WGAS

[2] D/D Gn428 - WGAS

[3] dated 1st September 1770 - NLW



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.

Author’s note:

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.





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.'


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

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