04 May 2021The families of a nineteenth century entrepreneur


Philip John

On the west wall of St. Catwg’s Church, Cadoxton, are two memorial tablets in memory of members of the Sutton family.  The memorial tablet on the south side of the west wall is solely to the memory of Thomas Stephen Sutton.  His epitaph reads:

In Loving Memory / of / Thomas Stephen Sutton / of Glynleiros in this Parish / who died / December 19th 1896, / in the 78th year of his age. / Lifes race well run / Lifes work well done / Lifes crown well won / Then comes rest.

Accounts of the death and subsequent funeral of Thomas Stephen Sutton were covered by several newspapers.  It is from these newspapers that we learn that he had been ailing for some considerable time and that earlier in the year he had been seriously ill from an attack of bronchitis and congestion of the lungs.  The newspapers record that he died at Glynleiros on the morning of Saturday, 19th December 1896 at 9.30am.

Thomas was born in the Wiltshire village of Winterbourne Gunner [four miles from Salisbury] and one of five surviving children born to Job Sutton and his wife Mary.  The first two born children, both girls and the last born child, a boy, died in infancy.  Job (like his father before him) was a miller and married Mary Selwood (or Sellwood) in 1808 by licence at Porton, Wiltshire.[1]  In 1809 Job’s signature appears on a Meeting House Application for the Methodist faith in Winterbourne Gunner.  Of interest is one application made in 1818

'Winterbourne Gunner.  A chapel building and school room adjoining, all under one roof, the property of Elizabeth Sutton.  Job Sutton of Winterbourne Gunner.'[2]

Was this Elizabeth his mother? The existence of a school room could possibly explain where Thomas Stephen Sutton and his siblings received their early education.  A little over three months before Thomas was born his father sold,

'Part of the HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE of Mr Job Sutton, at Winterbourne Gunner, Miller; comprising bedsteads, feather beds, table, chairs, an 8-day clock, kitchen requisites and numerous other articles…'

but there is no explanation as to why he sold the items.  In 1842 the 'Corn-mill at Winterbourne Gunner, in the occupation Mr Job Sutton, was on Wednesday evening last wholly destroyed by fire, less than an hour from the commencement, the whole was levelled with the ground.'[3]  Job Sutton died in 1845 at Laverstock Mill, Alderbury[4], having been forced to relocate there following the fire and live with his eldest son John. 

At the time of writing nothing is known of the early years of Thomas Stephen Sutton.  The 1841 census accounts for his brothers whilst his sister is living in Cape Town, Africa with her husband the Rev. James Smeeth.[5]  However, there are no confirmed online sources relating to Thomas after his baptism in 1819 until a family notice in The Cambrian in 1844.  On 17th December 1844 Thomas, an ironmonger, married the widow Elizabeth Sarah Fear, in the Parish Church of St. Thomas, Neath.  Several months earlier, in April 1844, a report of the death of 'John West, an 18 year old shopman to Mrs Fear, ironmonger,' indicates that Eliza had, in name at least, taken over the ironmonger business of her husband who had died in September 1843.  In September 1845 The Cambrian carried an advertisement, placed by TS Sutton, for 'a young man who well understands the Welsh language for employ as an Ironmonger Assistant' suggesting that Thomas was now running the business.  Thomas vigorously entered into commercial and political pursuits and is noticeable in local newspapers mixing with the influential inhabitants of the town.  By 1848 he was an assessor [selection of an elected or unelected official] for Neath Town Council.  After his marriage he began to expand his sphere of business and in Hunt’s Directory of 1849, not only was he recorded as an ironmonger, Wind Street, but he was also the fire & life assurance agent for the Legal & Commercial Co. Ltd.  The following year Thomas publicly announced his 'determination to retire from the Retail Department of his business' and after selling-up his furnishings and ironmongery in December 1850, he moved to Longford Court where in the 1851 census he described himself as a General Commission Agent. The family residence of Glynleiros had, in addition to the servants quarters, six principal bedrooms, a drawing-room, dining-room, library and 'domestic offices of every description; ample stabling, coach-houses, lofts, cow-houses, and other buildings; with lawn, walled kitchen garden, orchard, and rich pasture land, comprising altogether about 23 acres.'

In 1857 a Licence (mainly promoted by Thomas) for the erection of a Gunpowder Mill near Hirwain [sic] was granted for the first explosives factory in Wales.[6]  In Slater’s Commercial Directory for 1858  Thomas has been elevated to appear under the heading of Gentry, not only as an agent for the Plymouth and Dartmoor Powder Company, but also as agent for two insurance companies; 1858 was also the year that he took out a patent for 'improvements in miner’s lamps.'  Whilst Thomas entered vigorously into many business pursuits, it was metal smelting that yielded him tangible results and allowed him to amass his considerable wealth.  Firstly, he went into partnership with Thomas Jenkins to create the firm of Sutton & Jenkins, iron merchants, Neath and then in or about 1885 he set up the firm of Thomas S. Sutton and Sons, metal smelters.  To facilitate his metal business he purchased a freehold yard and appurtenances in the Mill-lands in 1879.   Additionally, the firm [probably now managed by his two sons due to Thomas’s failing health] took out a lease on a warehouse and yard in Gasworks Road in 1896 – the year of his demise. 

Outside of his business interests Thomas was the chairman of the Neath Conservative Club and, as one of the founders of the Neath Constitutional Club, read the welcome address to Lord Iddesleigh at the opening of the Orchard Street premises.  After serving on the Grand Jury on several occasions he was, in 1885, appointed a magistrate for the county of Glamorgan.  Thomas was interested in archaeology and presented a paper to the Cambrian Archaeological Society when fifty of its members visited Neath Abbey.  Among his publications were The Romance of the Monastery of Neath and A Vision in the Valley of Life.  Although brought up in a Wesleyan-Methodist family [as was his wife] he became a staunch churchman at the Cadoxton church of St. Catwg's where baptisms, marriages and burials of the Sutton family took place.  He was buried in the churchyard 23rd December 1896 in a coffin of polished oak with massive brass mountings.  Although semi-private, in addition to family members, his funeral was attended by local dignitaries and some of his employees.  Thomas left a family of two sons, two daughters and three step-daughters; his wife having predeceased him in 1872 at the age of 63 years.

On the west wall of the church is found the second memorial tablet to the Sutton family being that to the memory of Eliza Sarah Maria Sutton and her mother Elizabeth Watson.  Their epitaph reads as follows:

Erected / in loving memory / of / Eliza Sarah Maria / Sutton / of Glynleiros / who died October 20, 1872, / aged 63 years. / Also of / Elizabeth Watson, her mother, / who died October 3, 1840. / Aged 61 years. / Their remains rest in the adjoining churchyard. / The righteous / shall be in everlasting / remembrance.

Mrs Eliza Sarah Maria Sutton was born in Shrewsbury in 1809 to the Rev. John Watson and his wife Elizabeth.  Rev. Watson had married Elizabeth Prosser the previous year in Tenby.  His commitment to the Wesleyan-Methodist faith meant that Rev. Watson would preach and lead worship, along with other preachers, in different churches within a circuit; the arrangements of which were drawn up quarterly.  Among the circuits that the Rev. John Watson worked were Pembroke 1807 & 1810 and Shrewsbury in 1809, which accounts for Eliza being born there.[7]  Eliza was probably given a non-conformist baptism in Shrewsbury which is a possibly why she was married in St. Peter’s Church, Carmarthen by Licence. Born into a family with deeply religious convictions, which had over years suffered intolerance, Eliza’s upbringing was in the hands of her mother, a single parent supported by her sisters and the Methodist Church movement.  Eliza first married John Simmons Fear, ironmonger, of Neath, on 9th April 1833 and the marriage licence, obtained three days previously, attests to the fact that both had attained the age of 21 years.  Various newspapers record that Eliza was the daughter of the late Rev. John Watson, Wesleyan minister.  John Simmons Fear and his bride retuned to Neath where, in May 1833, he announced he had 'commenced Business as a Furnishing and General Ironmonger in Market Street.'

The couple had three girls: Elizabeth Sarah, born in 1835; Maria Ann, born in 1837 and Ellen Jane born in 1839.  By the time of the 1841 census the family had moved to Wind Street, Neath, where they employed two live-in apprentice ironmongers and had two live-in servants. When in October 1842 John advertised for an active young man to start immediately as an assistant, was it Thomas Stephen Sutton who filled this vacancy?  Although John Simmons Fear died on 19th September 1843 in Bristol, his body was returned to Neath for burial at St. Catwg's church.  In April 1844 it was reported that 'John E West, shopman to Mrs Fear, ironmonger,' had died [John West was one of the two apprentices listed in the census of 1841].  This newspaper report seems to indicate that Eliza was now running the business.  In his will, made some six months before his death, John Simmons Fear made provision for his daughters and his wife Eliza as long as she remained his widow. He appointed his friend Mrs Elizabeth Thomas, of Carmarthen Town, a residuary legatee to administer the will in the event that Eliza remarried.  Of note is that James Fear [John’s father] did not make Eliza, or any of her daughters, beneficiaries in his will dated 10th October 1844.[8]   

Just over a year after her husband’s death Eliza married Thomas Stephen Sutton. During the time that the Sutton’s resided in Neath, Eliza gave birth to four children: two girls who were Ellen Agnes born in 1846 and Laura Maud born in 1848, and twins born in 1850.  One of these was still-born and Henry Ormond (the other twin) sadly lived for only seven days after his birth.  Whilst in residence at Longford Court, before they moved to their final residence Glynleiros, Eliza gave birth to another male child, Herbert Selwood Sutton, who was born in 1851 and in 1856, at the age of 47, Eliza gave birth to the couple’s last born child – Charles Edward Sutton.

Over the decades the census returns show that the Sutton’s were not extravagant with live-in servants.  In fact, on each of the census returns covering the period 1851 to 1891 only two female servants are in the Sutton’s employ as live-in servants.  What catches the eye when looking at these census returns is that the Sutton’s have, on occasions, employed female servants who were born in the Sutton’s 'home' villages i.e. Winterbourne Gunner (in 1850s) and Amroth (1860s and 1880s).

Eliza’s first born daughter, Elizabeth Sarah Fear, married Lewis Griffith Lewis, Chemical Manufacturer, on 1st Jun 1859 at the age of 23 – just over 3 years after the birth of her step-brother, Eliza’s last born child.  This would be the only marriage of her children that Eliza would witness as she did not live to see the weddings of her remaining children; Eliza died on 20th October 1872 aged 63 years.  Her obituary records that 'she was a women of strong intellect which she applied to the subjects of history, divinity, botany and general literature.'  The next of Eliza’s children to marry was Ellen Jane Fear who married Jenkin Lewis Thomas, Civil Engineer, on 17 December 1872.  Then in quick succession Emily Agnes Sutton married George Willes Ommanney, Engineer, on 5th March 1873 and Laura Maud Sutton married David Godfrey Thomas, Iron & Metal Merchant, on 11th August 1873.  Charles Edward Sutton married Frances Matilda Bevan, daughter of David Bevan of the Vale of Neath Brewery, on 1st July 1881.  His brother, Herbert Selwood Sutton, married Edith Amelia Bradford, daughter of Hugh M Bradford, Civil Engineer, on 7th April 1885 in Radnorshire. Mary Ann Fear remained a spinster and died in Neath in 1922 at the of 86 years.            

Eliza’s mother, Elizabeth Watson, is commemorated on the same memorial tablet as her daughter. The inscription to Mrs Watson records that she died on 3rd October 1840, aged 61 years and that her remains rest in the adjoining churchyard.  Following her death the Silurian General Advertiser, published on 10th October, contained the following family notice:

 'On the 6th inst. at Neath, Mrs. Watson, in the 61st year of her age, mother in law to Mr. J. S. Fear, ironmonger, Neath. She was for many years an exemplary member of the Wesleyan connection.' 

A family notice in The Cambrian followed a week later:

'On the 6th inst at Neath, Mrs. Elizabeth Watson, relict of the Rev. J. Watson, Wesleyan Minister.  She finished her course with joy, having served God for upwards of 45 years.'

Elizabeth was buried on 11th October 1840 and, given that the memorial tablet was commissioned some 32 years after her death, the newspaper notices appear to give more credence to a death date of 6th October.

Rev. John Watson married Elizabeth Prosser on 18th August 1808, in Tenby, by Licence obtained three days previously.  John Watson was born in 1768 in the parish of Alstone Moor, Cumberland.  He was deeply religious from an early age but received little religious instruction in his very early years and it was not until the age of 12, on hearing Methodists’ preach, that he became 'enlightened to the ways of God.'  At the age of 18 he became an itinerant preacher and at the age of 31 he committed himself to the Methodist church and from 1799 joined those Methodist ministers preaching and leading worship in different churches within a circuit. His first appointment was to the Malton circuit, Yorkshire.  In 1805 and 1806 he was appointed to the Cardiff circuit and it was whilst preaching in Abergavenny that his health took a turn for the worse; Rev. Watson believed his poor health was brought about as a result of sleeping in a damp bed.  To aid his recuperation he was assigned to the Pembrokeshire circuit for 1807 and 1808.  With improving health he married Elizabeth and after he had 'enjoyed a very comfortable yea' he was assigned to the Shrewsbury circuit where he arrived on the 28th August 1809.  However, after about six weeks the Rev. Watson’s health gave cause for concern and a steady decline in his wellbeing set in.   After Christmas a change of air was recommend and 'Tenby being thought very favourable for the proposed purpose' the now family of three returned in April 1810.  After a year and nine months of illness and his health shattered, in the early hours of Monday, 15th July 1811 the Rev. John Watson 'finished his course and entered into rest'  in the 44th year of his age.[9]

Mrs Elizabeth Watson was the daughter of Benjamin Prosser, Excise Officer and his wife Sarah Palmer who married in St. Elidyr’s Church, Amroth, Pembrokeshire, on 20th July 1769.  Elizabeth was born in 1779 at Kilanow Farm in the parish of Amroth.  From an account written by her son-in-law [ Rev. John Watson] we know that she was one of five children born to Benjamin and Sarah.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to identify her siblings sine the christening records for the parish of Amroth before 1786 have not survived.  Elizabeth’s mother was devoutly religious being influenced by an event she experienced when she was six years old.   Sarah’s only brother was seriously ill, and apparently dying, which greatly distressed the little girl.  Kneeling down she asked the Lord to spare him another night and astonishingly the little boy didn’t expire that night and began to make a recovery; later in life Sarah’s religious convictions would cause tension within her family and conflict with some of her neighbours.   After 18 years of marriage Sarah’s husband died leaving her with five children to provide for.  She remained a widow for five years during which time she was persecuted for her religious beliefs by some of her neighbours. When an offer of marriage came she accepted it believing it would be for the comfort and benefit both of herself and family.  But her new husband, Mr Burton Burton, deceived her both as to his financial circumstance and his religious beliefs.  Following the death of Sarah’s only son [Elizabeth’s brother] the family moved to Brecon where Sarah wished to join the Methodist faith.  Her husband strongly objected to this until he became aware that his time was nigh and a few days before his death earnestly desired the Methodists to pray with him and for him.

                                                  A recent image of Kilanow Farm                                           public domain

After the death of her second husband Sarah and her daughters returned to Kilanow, the family farm, but struggling with the oppression of their neighbours the family made the decision to rent out the farm and move to Tenby.  Shortly after moving there, the first Wesleyan-Methodist chapel to be built in Tenby opened in 1804.  Mrs Sarah Burton (as she was then) died on 31st May 1811 in Tenby, in the 61st year of her age (13 months after her mother’s death and less than two months before the death of her son-in-law, the Rev. John Watson).[10]  Within a very short period Mrs Elizabeth Watson’s life had been turned upside down with the death of her mother (Mrs Burton) and then her husband. Following the examples of other religions the early Wesleyan-Methodists’ had set up a subscription scheme to enable retired ministers and the widows and orphans of ministers of the faith to receive a small annuity.  There are no records that I have found to substantiate that Elizabeth and her daughter benefited from the 'Preachers’ Fund' but I suspect that some provision for Elizabeth and her orphaned daughter would have been made given her circumstances.  

A lease dated 1st November 1824 reveals that Elizabeth had moved to Carmarthen and was living with her spinster sister Jane Prosser.[11]  The lease also reveals that Sarah (another of Elizabeth’s sisters) had married Thomas Watts, Esq. and was living in the Shropshire town of Ludlow.  Pigot’s directory of 1830 records Elizabeth Watson of Cambrian-place, Carmarthen, under Academies and Schools which suggests that she possibly had an income from teaching.  In 1833 two events associated with Elizabeth followed in quick succession; firstly in April, Elizabeth’s daughter married John Simmons Fear at St. Peter’s church, Carmarthen and then in June, Elizabeth’s sister Jane died at the age of 57 (Jane was subsequently buried in St. Elidyr’s churchyard, Amroth).

When Elizabeth moved to Neath, or where she consequently lived, is not known.  However, given that her only daughter gave birth to her three grand-daughters between 1835 and 1837 it might be speculated that she lived with her daughter and son-in-law John Simmons Fear and their family.  Elizabeth Watson, died in Neath and was remembered as 'an exemplary member of the Wesleyan connection who finished her course with joy, having served God for upward of 45 years.'


[1] Wiltshire Parish Records

[2] Wiltshire Dissenters’ Meeting House Certificates and Registrations 1689-1852 – Edited by JH Chandler

[3]Salisbury and Winchester Journal – 27th June 1842

[4] Laverstock Mill, Alderbury at one time made high quality paper for banknotes, it is now the Bombay Sapphire Distillery; the water being particularly pure.

[5] The Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine for 1853

[6] The Cambrian – 10th April 1857

[7] Wesleyan Methodism Circuits in England, Wales and Scotland 1765 to 1885 (with names of the Preachers who have travelled in them).

[8] Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills

[9] The Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine -  1813

[10] Some Account of Mrs Sarah Burton by Mr John Watson published in The Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine -  1813

[11] Pembrokeshire Archives

06 April 2021Neath Bridge


Martyn J Griffiths


The only way that people living on the west bank of the River Neath could get into town was via the river bridge which today has been replaced by a foot-bridge.  The Romans built their fort near a crossing point of the river.  The natural ford may have been replaced by a bridge as early as the late 13th or early 14th centuries but there is no mention of it in any archives.

The first recorded bridge was made of timber and was noted by Henry Vlll’s assessor of the abbeys, John Leland, during his visit to Neath when he commented,

'Botes cum to the very bridge of old tymbre, that is somewhat lower on the water than the town.'

A later bridge actually collapsed on 2nd January 1735 and it looks as though panic then set in as a half wood, half stone bridge was cobbled together as a make-do-and-mend which lasted another sixty years.

In the 1790s the Borough Council at last decided to rebuild the bridge.  Money was raised by public subscription although it took several goes in order to raise sufficient funds.  The council also chased after various parishes who had previously been responsible for the upkeep of the bridge and were well in arrears for payment.  The designer of the new bridge was Thomas, son of William Edwards the famous builder of Pontypridd Bridge.   The re-building took nearly ten years to complete. 

Not everyone was happy with the new structure.  It was hump-backed and there was another hump caused by the need for a bridge over the newly built Neath Canal.  This led to the road into Neath to be called ‘the ups and downs of Neath’ and another comment that it looked as though the road had a broken back.  Things got worse when a third hump was needed a few decades later to cross the Tennant Canal.  The western end of the bridge was ramped in about 1850 in order to accommodate the building of the Low Level railway.

Vale of Neath  - Charles Deane (1794-1874)                          NPTCBC

In the 1860s congestion on the bridge got far worse.  This was mainly caused by the creation of a railway station for the Vale of Neath line and the transfer of the town railway station to the same area.  A survey was carried out of bridge users during one day in September 1865:

         14,395 persons

            1,542 horses

343 head of horned cattle

407 sheep

163 swine

302 wheeled carriages of various descriptions

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the footpath – 2 feet 6 inches wide – constricted traffic to the remaining 18 feet.

In 1869 road improvements were made and footpaths on cantilevers added, whilst the stone parapets were removed and replaced with latticed iron railings, enabling the full 21 feet width of the road to be used by vehicles.

The bridge was finally replaced by a footbridge as the road itself became redundant when the southern link opened on 7th April 1974.

Neath, The River -  a Tuck's Oilette postcard early 20th century

02 March 2021NOR Llandarcy Air Raid Defences




Philip John

                                         Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery - Jersey Marine - February 1941                              courtesy of Peter Street

Britain started preliminary preparations for the possibility of a Second World War as early as 1936, but it was in 1938 that the government began its preparations for war in earnest by building new warships and increasing its armaments production.  In line with preliminary preparations for war, the National Oil Refineries (NOR) process plants, pipes and tankage, at Llandarcy, which were painted the colour of aluminium, were gradually painted green as part of a scheduled maintenance Programme.[1]  This conversion, aluminium to green, was expedited following the “Munich Crisis” of 1938.[2]  Other camouflaging attempts included disruptively painting large structures green and black and installing rough timber rafts, covered with brush wood, to form large islands and promontories on the body of water known as North Site Reservoir.  The government also considered the possible dangers and difficulties the Home Front would face during war and started to take precautions.  People were needed on the Home Front to help with all sorts of things.  The biggest danger on the Home Front would undoubtedly come from air raids.  People were also encouraged to think about their safety and the government spent a great deal of time educating people on what to do in situations such as an air raid or a gas attack. Volunteers were needed to be trained in civil defence duties; these included fire-fighters, first aiders and ambulance drivers, special constables and air raid wardens to name but a few of essential positions to be filled.


For the residents of Llandarcy Village, and the surrounding districts of Neath, it was generally appreciated, that in the event of war, the NOR was liable to attack from enemy aircraft.  With the expansion of Britain's Anti-Aircraft (AA) defences in the late 1930s, new formations were created to command the growing number of Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Engineers (RE) AA gun and searchlight units. The Territorial Army's AA units were in a state of mobilisation because of the Munich crisis, although they were soon stood down.  The 45th Anti-Aircraft Brigade was formed at Newport on 29th September 1938 to take over the Territorial Army (TA) AA units in South Wales.  In June 1939, during the period of tension leading up to the outbreak of war, a partial mobilisation of AA Command was begun in a process known as 'couverture', whereby each unit did a month's tour of duty, in rotation, to man selected AA gun and searchlight positions.  AA Command mobilised fully on 24th August, ahead of the official declaration of war on 3rd September 1939.  The 65th Light AA Battery, RA TA, was deployed at Llandarcy and Clydach.  Over forty men, from Llandarcy and Skewen, enlisted to serve in the Territorial Army and were recorded as serving with the 65th Battery in September 1939.  Initially the 65th Battery, at Llandarcy, was deployed with two 3-inch Naval guns and twelve Lewis Guns.[3]  However, photographs confirm that the volunteers of the 65th LAA Battery, at Llandarcy, were at some time, trained on a Bofors gun.  Each Bofors Gun crew generally consisted of five men: a gun layer seated on the left of the gun who was responsible for traversing the gun onto its target; a gun trainer seated on the right who was in charge of elevating or lowering the gun barrel; the loader fed the breech with magazine clips (each consisting of four rounds); the gun commander; and at least two other men who kept the gun supplied with ammunition.  In addition to the men of the 65th LAA Battery, De-contamination Squads and Rescue and Repair Squads were created and both men and women volunteered to fill the roles previously mentioned.  On 14th May 1940, the Government made a broadcast calling for men between the ages of 17 and 65 to enrol in a new force, the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV); at the end of July 1940, the name was changed to Home Guard.  Prior to 1942, when the Women's Home Guard Auxiliaries was formed, the military policy was that women were not allowed in 'front line' or combat duties, and so no women were permitted to join the Local Defence Volunteers.[4] 

                                       Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery - Jersey Marine - February 1941                               courtesy of Peter Street

Following the declaration of war on Germany, on 3rd September 1939, Germany did not immediately attack British cities by air as was expected.  In fact, there followed a period that was known on the Home Front as the phony war when, and apart from a few brief skirmishes and some consequential naval engagements, both sides tended not to initiate major confrontations on land.  This period came to an end with the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940.  Through June and July the national mood of Britain was reportedly at its darkest with the population on Britain’s south coast witnessing the first serious air battles over Britain’s coast.  In late June the first bombs were dropped on Swansea; six High Explosive bombs dropped on Danygraig Road and a further four bombs on Kilvey Hill.  In a bombing raid in July both Swansea and the NOR, Llandarcy, were targeted.  At about 11.00am on the morning of 10th July 1940, two German Luftwaffe planes dropped fourteen bombs in the tank farm area of the refinery but amazingly only one storage tank was damaged.[5]  Later that day, at about 3.00pm, a single plane flew up the Neath River before dropping four 500lb high explosive (HE) bombs on the process area of the refinery.  Three of the four bombs detonated with one destroying the Sulphur Dioxide Plant.  Six employees were injured, but sadly three more died as a result of this action.  These were:

Frederick David Bowen, Engineering Fitter and Turner aged 42. Husband of Eleanor Ann Bowen (nee Davies) of 6 Springfield, Skewen, who died at the National Oil Refineries, Skewen.

Charles Bertram Fryer, Electrician aged 47. Son of the late Adam Fryer; husband of Marion Florence Fryer, of 215 Glais Road, Birchgrove who died at Swansea Hospital. 

Henry James Rees, Chemical Engineer aged 65. Husband of Ada Priscilla Rees, of 17 Margaret Street, St. Thomas who died at Swansea Hospital. 


Damage to the SO2 plant - 10th July 1940

DSWP-PH-AIR-58 & 59 Glamorgan Archives by permissin of the South Wales Police Heritage Centre

On the night of the 1st/2nd September 1940, incendiary and high explosive bombs were dropped in the tank farm area, but because RAF night fighters were in the area engaging with the Luftwaffe, the HAA Battery, located at Jersey Marine, was prevented from firing for the first three hours of the air raid (following this raid a revised barrage scheme for the Swansea sector, codenamed 'Ball of Fire', was implemented).  Those incendiary bombs which fell on the roofs of tanks set fire to the bitumen covered steel wool used to camouflage them.  The burning tanks and ground fires Illuminated the 'target' very effectively for the next raid which dropped high explosive bombs in the area of the tank farm.  By dawn seven tanks were ablaze but the firefighting efforts to control the major blaze were hampered by the large number of unexploded bombs.[6]  The local bomb disposal section were labouring to cope with the number of unexploded bombs and so Lieutenant Bertram Stuart Trevelyan Archer, along with a Sergeant and twelve Sappers, were despatched from Cardiff.  Archer chose to tackle a bomb lodged underneath a storage tank, deciding that it was the best way to stop further fires from breaking out.  Archer and his team managed to work through the bomb disarming two detonating fuses – the first one being the clockwork delayed-action device and the second one was a mechanism meant as a booby trap for bomb disposal experts – and by 2:50pm his (and his team’s) ordeal was over. They had worked on that one bomb alone for over four hours under intense heat and during which time two other bombs had exploded.[7]  With the tanks burning brightly the Luftwaffe returned on the night of 2nd/3rd September, only this time the raid proved to be ineffective.  The refinery’s anti-aircraft defence, aided by a “fighting vessel” in the bay, put up a barrage of fire with the result that only two bombs landed in the refinery (both failed to detonate) and a further five bombs landing in and about Llandarcy Village – one bomb fell near 35 Pretyman Drive and one at the rear of 22 The Greenway, three more bombs detonated on waste ground at the side of 68 The Greenway; fortunately there was no loss of life. [8]   The large fires in the tank farm continued to burn for several days before they were finally extinguished; the pall of smoke had drifted as far east as Cardiff. 

The first major bombing of Liverpool took place in August 1940. The Luftwaffe’s line of approach was from the south west, from aerodromes in Normandy, passing over the English Channel, Devon, the Bristol Channel, then Swansea and on up the Cardiganshire coast to Liverpool.  After circling and dropping their bombs the planes returned over the reverse route. This gave two opportunities for the Heavy AA Batteries at Jersey Marine to engage them (HAA projectiles were high explosive shells, usually fitted with a time delay or barometric pressure fuse to make them explode at a pre-determined height); the enemy planes would pass over in waves at about hourly intervals from early evening.  All the duty manning personnel for the gun positions were quartered in tents in the sand dunes about a hundred yards away from the guns.  A total manning force would amount to four NCO’s and forty gunners, to man four guns, an NCO and five gunners on the predictor (automated anti-aircraft control system used against high-altitude bombers), an NCO and two gunners on the height finder and two spotters.  In addition, there were the Gun Position Office (GPO), Gun Positon Officer’s Assistant (GPOA) and telephonists in the command post. This number was increased in time by the addition of radar personal, plotters and an additional officer, a Tactical Control Officer (TCO), in the command post.[9] 

Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photographs, dated 15th February 1941, highlight various features of interest for bombing.  Swansea docks are shown to be highlighted as a target, with several oil tankers at their moorings also noted.  In addition, several barrage balloons were identified and circled as were numerous HE bomb craters in open ground.  A large rail maintenance and infrastructure yard was earmarked for attack. The nine oil tanks on the docks site were also highlighted and one tank is ringed, signifying that it has been damaged by bombing.  At the NOR site fifteen more tanks are highlighted as being damaged or destroyed.  Further east, towards the River Neath, a heavy anti-aircraft battery was also highlighted.  On the night of 18th February 1941 (the start of the Swansea Three Day Blitz) several planes flew over the bay and dropped bombs on the refinery’s tank farm causing fires which once again lit up the surrounding area.  The Swansea Blitz (during which it was estimated that over 50,000 incendiary and 1200 HE bombs were dropped) left 230 people dead, 409 injured and more than 7,000 people homeless.  After 1941 the Luftwaffe raids became less frequent but sporadic air raids on the refinery continued (on the 1st July 1942 high explosive bombs were dropped on the refinery and at Neath Abbey),  but it was when crude oil stocks were exhausted in September 1941 that refining operations were suspended until March 1942.[10]  

Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance photograph - bomb damge and oil tanks blazing    NAS/Ph/45/3/013

As Anti-Aircraft Command's resources expanded responsibilities were reorganised and in November 1940 a new 9th AA Division was created to cover the South Wales Gun Defence Area (GDA).  The 9th AA division's fighting units were organised into three AA Brigades, consisting of Heavy (HAA) and Light (LAA) gun units and Searchlight (S/L).  Many of the Regular Army units posted to anti-aircraft duties were transient spending only a month or so in the locality of Jersey Maine.  Searchlights were manned by men of the 67th Welch Searchlight Regiment and men of the 4th Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment as well as men of 958 Barrage Balloon Squadron.  With the threat of air bombardment much diminished by the end of 1941, the decision was made to draft some 50,000 men away from Anti-Aircraft Command and to replace them with men of the Home Guard and women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).  Locally, the Home Guard men were transferred on a geographical basis in relation to the gun sites and to build this organisation up speedily local battalions were called upon to give up large numbers of men.[11]  Initially a Light Anti-Aircraft Troop was formed within the Home Guard Company appointed to defend the refinery.  Training for men from the NOR was initially given on 40mm Bofors Guns and subsequently on 20mm Hispano Guns.[12]  Eventually the whole of 'I Company' (the Home Guard company attached to the NOR) were trained in anti-aircraft work.  Some of these men from the Neath Home Guard who transferred to AA duties, were trained at Cark, Grange-over-Sands, where anti-aircraft gunnery training was undertaken by shooting at mobile air targets.[13] 

Early in 1941 the manning of Z (Rocket) Batteries began to be transferred to the Home Guard as the equipment was comparatively simple to operate and the rounds were lighter than conventional anti-aircraft gun ammunition.  During 1942 Grace Burnet, Lance Corporal ATS, was in charge of a radar team attached to 113th Z Battery RA Jersey Marine.  The ATS were billeted at Bleak House (which had been the local mortuary) and the radar equipment was sited among the sand dunes of Jersey Marine.  The radar teams monitored the height, distance and location of enemy aircraft which showed on the radar screen and this information was sent to the control room where it was plotted on a table map by the Home Guard.  The solid propelled rockets were about eight feet long and eight inches in diameter with fins at the bottom of them.  At Jersey Marine the Z battery comprised of twin launchers set on circular revolving platforms in a square formation. To facilitate the training the Home Guard by regular soldiers of 386 Battery 'dummy runs' were carried out several times a week.[14] 

Following the D-Day landings in June 1944 and the allied advance into Germany, the threat to Britain from the Luftwaffe planes began to diminish and so on 3rd December 1944 the Home Guard was formally stood down and finally disbanded on 31st December 1945.  The South Wales TA AA Brigade, which had been subject to restructuring during and post-war, continued in its Territorial role until 1955.[15]

Occupations of the Men of the 65th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery RA TA in September 1939[16]

Capt. Valdar Edward Jones - Company Director.

Capt. Edward Jasper Horley - Petroleum Technologist.

Lieut. George Owen Price - Oil Technician.

2nd Lieut. Frank V M Bell - Chartered Civil Engineer.

Sergeant James Allen Boyd - Boilermaker.

Bombardier Evan Alfred Salisbury - Fitter.

Bombardier George H French - Process Worker Oil Refinery.

Lance Bombardier Richard P Carr - Fitter Oil Refinery.

Lance Bombardier David Millar - Shunter.

Lance Bombardier Ernest T C Pannell - Oil Refineries Clerk.

Lance Bombardier David William Mullins - Invoice and Order Clerk, NOR.

Gunner Absalom Follant - Process Worker NOR.

Gunner Lionel Jesse Jones - Charge Hand Fitter NOR.

Gunner Albert Charles Griffiths - Charge Hand Lub Oil Drum Reconditioning.

Gunner Harold Clough - Engine Fitter.

Gunner Ira Gilbert Millard - Engine Fitter.

Gunner Thomas Noble - Process Worker Anglo Iranian Oil Co.

Gunner William Laird Richmond - Despatch Foreman Oil Refinery.

Gunner William Dowdeswell - Oil Refinery.

Gunner George Gibson - Foreman Oil Refinery.

Gunner William Dodd - Process Worker Oil Refineries.

Gunner Myles McNiff - Boiler Maker NOR.

Gunner Richard Gwyn Clement - Boiler Cleaner National Oil Refineries.

Gunner Thomas William Richards - Process Worker, National Oil Refineries.

Gunner Howell Bevan - Process Worker NOR.

Gunner John T Price - Process Worker NOR.

Gunner William J Dodd - Process Worker Oil Refineries.

Gunner Sidney T Davies - Screw Cutter & Driller NOR.

Gunner William Gulley - Filter Sheeter Oil Refinery.

Richard Stanley Pape - Stores Ledger Clerk NOR

Maelgwyn E Thomas - Refinery Managing Stocks Clerk.

Fred Bell Miler Mann - Lub Oil Drum Reconditioning.

Daniel Davies - Fitter.

George Frost - Electrician Canning Plant.

Idris Arthur Davies - Clerk.

Robert Pegg - Process Worker NOR.

Howard Williams - Process Worker NOR.

William F Johnson - Fitter at Oil Refinery.

John Edward Pryce - Oil Process Worker.

George Edward Halter - Foreman Fitter NOR.

Richard John Gibbings - General Labourer.

Gad Elias Jones - Process Worker NOR.

Henry John Phillips - Fitter and Turner Oil Refinery.

Thomas Davies - Oil Blender.

Bernard Tamma - Charge Hand NOR.

William Gaskings - Process Worker.

William Barrons - Fuel Package Distribution NOR Llandarcy.

James Thomas Watts - Loco Driver.

Frederick George Fiddler - Sup. Instrument Engineer.

William George Lawrence - Process Worker NOR.

Sidney Nicholas - Process Worker NOR.

John E Arnold - Painter.

Frederick David Bowen - Engineering Fitter NOR.

Ivor Rhys Jenkins - Cost Acct Clerk.

Llewellyn Jones - Pay Clerk.

Thomas Stitsan Saunders, - Builders Labourer.

David Davies - Process Worker NOR.

David J Phillips - Acid Tar Operator NOR.

David Davies - Process Worker Oil Works.

Thomas Symonds - Process Worker NOR.

George A G Brooks - Engineering Fitter, NOR.

Edgar O Williams - Refrigerator Compressor Driver.

Thomas B Walters - Sports Groundsman NOR.

Joseph Reason - Oil Packer NOR.

David Richards - Still Cleaner.

William P Richards - Process Worker NOR.

William R Evans - Process Worker, NOR.

Thomas G Gibbs - Process Worker NOR.

Rueben J Phillips - Process Worker NOR.

Edward P Thomas - Process Worker NOR.

William J Hill - Still Cleaner NOR.

William Hickman - Storeman (Territorial Army Home Defence).

Charles Ballard - Bricklayer (Anti-Aircraft Gunner).

[1] A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes 


[2]  Nazi Germany invasion of Czechoslovakia

[3] 45th Anti-Aircraft Brigade - Wikipedia

[4] Fourteen Refinery female staff immediately joined - A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes

[5] Estimated 10% of German bombs dropped between September 1940 and May 1941 failed to detonate - Imperial War Museum

[6] A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes

[7] War History Online

[8] Proposed Residential Development, Heritage Gate, Coed Darcy, Neath Port Talbot – Earth Science Partnership

[9] BBC WW2 People’s War - Lt Graham Nott-Macaire

[10] Explosive Ordnance Threat Assessment in respect of Swansea Docks to Baglan Burrows – BACTEC International Limited; A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 by VL Barnes

[11] Home Guard Anti-Aircraft Formations – UWE Bristol

[12] The smallest unit was the Section in infantry battalions.  At the beginning of the war, a section was eight men but by 1944 it had increased to ten men. A Section was usually commanded by a Corporal and three sections formed a Troop in artillery regiments.

[13] Notes relating to Llandarcy Village during the Luftwaffe attacks. – West Glamorgan Archives D/D Z 779/7

[14] ATS Remembered.org.uk

[15 45th Anti-Aircraft Brigade - Wikipedia

[16] Not a complete list of men of the 65th LAA Battery.



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