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By Hugh Thomas, National Library of Wales journal Winter 1976, Vol XIX/4

The complete article has been extracted by Gareth Hicks for Genuki with the permission of the NLW.

This is the final part of a series of three articles.

See also Part I

See also Part II

Although it is strongly recommended that the whole of this article is read as set out by the author, to assist the reader I have inserted these arbitrary bookmarks (which may be within paragraphs)

INDUSTRIAL growth produced during the middle decades of the nineteenth century massive changes in the numbers, occupations and commitments of the inhabitants of the parish of Llangiwg. Equally significant, however, was its impact upon the social structure and pattern of community life in the parish. This is, perhaps, best illustrated by the appearance of new social units with which the inhabitants came to identify themselves. Thus, the provision of living accommodation for the increased numbers within the parish near the places of employment led to concentrations of population which evolved into the villages of the parish. This process was attended by complex problems in respect of the quality of life of the inhabitants, the servicing of the communities and standards of public conduct. Then followed the emergence of the villages as identifiable communities. This was the product of a variety of factors which together welded the concentrations of people into communities and imposed upon them an individuality of their own.

In 1801 the number of inhabited houses in the parish was no more than 161, of which some 120 were farmhouses. The remainder consisted of the few places of business which existed at the time, most of them inns or public houses, the houses and places of work of local craftsmen, weavers, blacksmiths and miners, and there were the cottages of labourers. The parish was thinly populated, its inhabitants living for the most part in isolated farmhouses and cottages. Only where a few dwellings were clustered around a min or inn were there any concentrations of population and these were very few. By 1871 there had been a radical change in the settlement pattern of the parish. The number of dwellings had increased more than ten-fold and their distribution had altered significantly. The expansion in house building obviously reflected the progress of industrialization in the different parts of the parish. The progress made in the different parts of the parish is shown in the following table:

       Houses in the parish - by hamlets





























Parcel Mawr 






    352    1

These figures reflect variations in the chronology of expansion of the different parts of the parish. In Blaenegel, which was only marginally affected by industrial growth, there was little significant change. It was in Allt-y-grug that the most rapid expansion took place and the 1850s were the decade which witnessed its sharpest increase. Growth in the other two hamlets occurred on an altogether smaller scale, but in Caegurwen it was most rapid during the 1840s while in Parcel Mawr it was most marked during the 1850s and 1860s. These variations reflect the differences in the nature and tempo of industrialization in the different parts of the parish. Growth during the first four decades of the century was essentially the product of expansion in the coal industry, although the ironworks at Pontardawe and Ystalyfera did exercise some impact in the later years of this period. This continued to be the case in Caegurwen during the 1840s when there was considerable progress in coal getting here. In Allt-y-grug, on the other hand, the remarkable expansion of the 1850s was in very large measure the product of the growth of the ironworks at Ystalyfera. The works reached its peak during the early years of the following decade and thereafter the rate of growth in this hamlet dropped markedly. Finally, it was the revival in the fortunes of the Parsons ironworks at Pontardawe during the 1850s which was responsible for the growth in Parcel Mawr during these years.

A small number of the dwellings which had made their appearance in the parish by the middle decades of the century were substantial houses built by the works' proprietors and, in the case of the larger of them, their managers, the few professional men and affluent businessmen. There were, of course, the older farmhouses and the places of business with living accommodation attached. Only at Ystalyfera in the hamlet of Alltygrug were there tenements in substantial numbers. The vast majority of the dwellings were recorded as cottages, small and with sleeping accommodation frequently in the roof or attic. The following table shows the different categories of dwellings recorded in the parish in 1863:


Farm- houses


 Houses & shops

























Parcel Mawr 






    1    2

With the exception of the farms, these were concentrated for the most part in close proximity to the ironworks and collieries. By this time the parish had assumed in large measure the settlement pattern which prevailed into the present century. The former small centres of population had expanded and joined together to form the villages of the parish. The largest of these, the village of Ystalyfera, was the product of a number of such centres --- at Craig Arw and Craig-y-merched overlooking the ironworks, at Pantyffynnon and Ystalyfera Uchaf on the southwestern and north-western extremities respectively of the ironworks and these were joined together by the settlement at Gwern Fawr on the lower slopes of the Allt-y-grug Mountain. The village of Pontardawe was the product of the merger of the settlements at Ynysgelynen, the Cross, Maes lago, Tir-y-bont and Craig Llangiwg, all linked together by smaller collections of dwellings. In much the same way, Cwmllynfell was founded on the settlements at Tir Owen Gwyn, Llwyncelyn, Hendreforgan and Cwmllynfell; Brynaman on the settlements at Gwter Fawr, Clynboidy and Brynaman itself; and Gwauncaegurwen on those at Mairdy, Pwll-y-wrach, Cwmddrisien and Mount Pleasant.

The following table will give an indication of how the emerging villages of the parish increased in terms of dwelling places during the third quarter of the nineteenth century:

                                        1854   1863   1874

  • Ystalyfera               335      810    856
  • Pontardawe              89      145     187
  • Gwauncaegurwen     66        80       89
  • Cwmllynfell             47        77       78
  • Cwm-twrch              40        83       85
  • Cwm-gors                19        20       51
  • Ynysmeudwy           25        63       69
  • Rhyd-y-fro                9         12       15

The above figures do not give a complete picture of the urbanisation of the parish or of the size of the villages for in the case of a number of the latter there was considerable settlement outside the bounds of the parish. The villages of Brynaman and Cwmllynfell, for instance, included settled areas within the neighbouring parish of Llangadog, a substantial portion of the village of Cwm-twrch lay within the parish of Ystradgynlais and the village of Pontardawe extended into the parish of Rhyndwyglydach.

Industrial development and house-building inevitably had a profound effect upon the farms of the area, although the location of the settlements did tend to reduce the impact upon the farming economy. Some of the farms virtually disappeared --- the Ystalyfera ironworks, for instance, held the farms of Ystalyfera Isaf and Uchaf, Clyngwyn, Tir-bach, Maescwnrig, Tygwyn and Cwmtawe Uchaf with a part of Pantyffynnon. 3  The first five ceased for all practical purposes to function as farms, as did the part of Pantyffynnon occupied by the works. Much of the land of other farms in the parish was occupied by the ironworks and coalmines --- Bryn Morgan at Cwm-twrch, Hendreforgan and Cwmllynfell at Cwmllynfell, Cwm-gors, Llwynrhidiau and Clynboidy in the Gwauncaegurwen-Brynaman district and Gellifowy in the hamlet of Parcel Mawr. Farming land was also leased or sold to cater for the needs of some of the minor industries and for the building of houses and roads in the parish. The impact of all this on the farming of the parish was not as severe as might be expected for much of the house-building took place on land whose value to the farms concerned could not have been very substantial. The heaviest concentrations of houses, for instance, were in the Craig Arw, Craig-y-merched and Gwern Fawr parts of the village of Ystalyfera. The first two of these were on the very steep, bare slopes of the Allty-grug mountain, the last on land which had been waste and woodland.

One of the more interesting features of the domestic building in the parish is the pattern of house ownership that emerged during these years. The largest single group of house owners were the proprietors of the works in the parish. The Ystalyfera Iron Company owned 86 dwellings in 1854 and this figure had increased to 97 by 1874; Griffith Lewis and Co., the proprietors of the Ynysmeudwy Brickworks, owned 30 cottages near their works in 1863 and these had passed into the hands of W. T. Holland, the new proprietors, by 1874. Other employers owned houses near their works, but, as a group, the employers of the parish operated on a much smaller scale in this respect than did their counterparts elsewhere in South Wales. Local farmers in all parts of the parish took advantage of the demand for houses not only to sell or lease land for house building but to build houses themselves. Thus, John Morgans of Penlan-fach owned 16 houses in the Ystalyfera district, Evan Jones of Hendreforgan owned 10  in Cwmllynfell and David Harries of Rhyd-y-fro owned six in his own neighbourhood in 1863.   4   Local businessmen invested their ready money in the building and purchase of houses. A small factory owner, Philip Williams, owned seven houses at Maes Iago, Pontardawe, in 1854, but the more prominent of this group were the publicans and shopkeepers. At Ystalyfera, for instance, eight of the former owned between them a total of thirty houses in 1874, while among the latter William Williams of Ynysmeudwy owned ten houses. 5   It appears that some employees at the local works were interested in this form of investment, men like John Richards, a tinman at the Ystalyfera ironworks, and John Evans, a baller in the same works, owned three and two houses respectively in 1874.   6   Finally, there were those who built or bought their own houses with money which they borrowed from building or Friendly Societies. In 1863, for instance, the Exeter Building Society owned twenty-two cottages in the Ystalyfera district, the George IV Lodge owned one house and shop and five cottages in Cwm-twrch, the Ivorite Society owned six tenements at Craig-y-merched and the St. David's Loan Society six cottages at Clynboidy. 7

Despite the initiative shown by a number of the working men in respect of house purchase their total number was relatively small as compared with those who rented living accommodation. In the case of the three hamlets of the parish which expanded as a result of industrialization the proportion of owner-occupiers to householders was 1 to 9.64, 1 to 7.04 and 1 to 4.21 in Allt-y-grug, Parcel Mawr and Caegurwen respectively in 1874.   8   The variations reflect differences in the scale and rate of industrial expansion in the different parts of the parish. Allt-y-grug, the most intensively industrialized part of the parish, contained the lowest proportion of owner-occupiers. Here the relatively heavier immigration had created a greater demand for house accommodation and, therefore, provided better opportunities for those with capital to invest in house building for rent. Here, too, were the larger local employers who were able to build houses in substantial numbers for their workmen. Caegurwen, on the other hand, was the hamlet which, next to Blaenegel, retained in large measure its earlier rural character. Here were to be found in larger numbers those who combined the dual function of smallholder and coalminer. This, it could be argued, imposed an economic and settlement pattern which best suited the individual owner-occupier.

The expansion which took place in the parish was accompanied by the usual attendant problems and difficulties. An examination of the census returns seems to indicate that house building did not on average fall too far behind population growth. The following table shows the average number per dwelling in the different parts of the parish

Average number per dwelling, 1801-1871

                Allt-y-grug     Blaenegel      Caegurwen      P. Mawr     The Parish

  • 1801      4.8               3.7                 4.5                 6.9               5.2
  • 1841      5.3               5.05               5.1                 5.2               5.2
  • 1851      5.0               5.7                 5.4                 5.3               5.2
  • 1861      5.3               5.8                 5.05               5.1               5.3
  • 1871      5.1               5.9                 5.0                 5.05             5.1

In Allt-y-grug the very heavy immigration of the fifties drove up the average per dwelling from 5.0 to 5.3 persons but this was reduced to 5.1 by 1871; in Caegurwen the rapid population growth during the forties raised the average per dwelling from 5.1. to 5.4., a figure which fell to 5.05 by 1851.   8   Certain reservations must, however, be made in respect of these averages. They represent the situations at ten-yearly intervals and it seems very likely that during the intervening years there must have been a time lag before house building responded to population growth, giving rise to intensive overcrowding for short periods. Again, they are averages and can, therefore, conceal instances of heavy overcrowding. In 1861 there were in the parish 249 families of seven or more members, each family occupying one dwelling and these dwellings were, for the most part, of the cottage variety whose accommodation was quite inadequate for the larger families.   9  A local doctor testified to this overcrowding in a report on the cholera outbreak at Ystalyfera in 1866. He quotes the case of a small two-roomed cottage housing  'a man and his wife, a married daughter and her husband in delicate health, and one child, with two or three younger daughters'.   10

More objectionable than the actual numbers per house were the quality of the dwellings and the lack of facilities and services afforded them. The district was visited by cholera --- Brynaman in 1849, Ystalyfera in 1854 and, more seriously, in 1866. This last outbreak started on 2 August and the last recorded death from it occurred on 28 November. During this period 119 people died and many more were severely in. The epidemic reached its peak in the late August and early September; thereafter it subsided but it was not until December that the district was free from infection. The report written by Dr. James Rogers referred time and again to the dampness of the back walls of the houses and tenements, especially those which were built below the surface of the road or canal, and to the poor ventilation in the small, badly designed, overcrowded cottages which harboured 'such a compound of ''villainous smell'' as would be difficult to imagine, or to one unaccustomed, to remain in many minutes without producing a horrible loathing, which nothing but Franklen's tobacco enabled me to withstand on the occasion of my visits.'   11   Very obvious was the absence of the most elementary precautions in terms of public health. The village of Ystalyfera was, for the most part, built on the lower reaches of a steep hill with little or no planning. Houses were erected 'as the fancy of each proprietor indicated, without any drainage, with very few privies, nearly all being on cesspools, many of them on higher ground than the neighbouring houses, were loathsome nuisances, percolating their contents into the soil below them '.   12   Another hazard was the inadequacy of the water supply, for the water consumed by the inhabitants was little better than the surface water which drained down the hillsides. Then there were the graveyards, overcrowded and quite unsuitably situated. One in particular, that of Panteg Chapel, 'crammed with the dead of the village and the neighbourhood ', was surrounded by houses whose floor levels were below that of the graveyard and were, therefore, vulnerable to the drainage of the polluted soil of the graveyard.

For some years prior to the 1866 cholera outbreak concern had been expressed at the general condition of public health in the parish. As early as 1840 the Neath Poor Law Union was commissioning substantial vaccination programmes and during the 1850s Inspectors of Nuisances were appointed to serve the larger villages. In 1855 the Neath District Highway Board, acting in its capacity as the local sanitary authority, instructed its surveyor, who was also its Sanitary Inspector, to issue handbills cautioning the public against depositing filth and rubbish on the highways. The inspector's investigations during the following year gave little cause for satisfaction --- his report referred to whole streets without drains, filthy deposits on highways, foul and offensive privies, drains and pigsties. 13   He also reported eight houses at Ystalyfera without drains, six which were not properly ventilated and twelve requiring privy accommodation   15 (14 ?)  The owners of the properties were ordered to make the necessary improvements and in the following year proceedings were taken against one of them for the non-erection of privies. The activity of the board does, however, appear to have borne some fruit, for the inspector noted that 'there now seems to be a readiness on the part of most persons to do their duty in the promotion and preservation of the public health.'   15  Progress was, however, slow and was hampered by the prevailing apathy and the vested interests which were involved.

The expanding population of the district created the need and provided the opportunity for a substantial increase in other features of urban activities. There was, for instance, considerable expansion in the retail trade of the parish during the third quarter of the century. In 1854 the parish could boast thirty-three places for the sale of intoxicants and seventeen shops of different kinds; twenty years later the number of the former had grown to fifty-two and off the latter to seventy-six. 15 ( 16?)  By 1874 the two largest villages of the parish had acquired a wide range of retail businesses. At Ystalyfera there were twenty-one places serving the 'demon drink', thirty-three grocery and general dealers, fifteen tailors, drapers and milliners, as well as representatives of almost every other type of retail traders. Pontardawe, which was considerably smaller had a dozen inns, public houses and beer houses, eleven grocers and general dealers and rather fewer of other forms of retail business.   17   In addition to the shopkeepers there were the craftsmen who conducted their own businesses or provided a service directly to the public. There were builders and contractors, masons and carpenters, painters and decorators; there were wheelwrights, saddlers, curriers and leather cutters; there were miners, maltsters, chemists and druggists conducting their businesses in the two villages. Finally, there were a number of small industrial undertakings, employing a small labour force and supplying the local market, like the three wool factories, a tucking min, four quarries and a timber yard. Some of these were well established, others came into being during the middle years of the nineteenth century to meet a growing demand for their products.

There were developments, too, in the postal services. These had in the early part of the century been operated by the Mail contractor at Swansea who left letters at certain houses along the valley to be collected by their addressees. This primitive system gave way to the official post offices which by 1865 were established at Pontardawe and Ystalyfera, by 1866 at Brynaman and before 1875 at Ynysmeudwy. By this latter year the Pontardawe and Ystalyfera offices served as Telegraph and Money Order offices and as Savings Banks. By 1875, too, the Glamorganshire Banking Company had an office at Pontardawe which opened for business between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and various insurance companies, the Queens, the Reliance Mutual, the Northern, the Prudential and the Sun, Fire and Life, had established agencies in the parish.   18

Significant developments took place also in the means of transport and communication. Throughout the eighteenth century the general condition of the roads and bridges in the district had been a recurring source of concern to the authorities. There were frequent discussions among the Glamorgan magistrates on the state of the bridge at Pontardawe which carried the road from Neath to Llandilo and on the condition of the King's Highway from Brecon to Swansea, which was in so ruinous a state from the point where it crossed the river Twrch at Ystalyfera to the Upper Clydach at Pontardawe that it could not be used by travellers 'without great danger of their lives and goods'.   19  The County authorised the expenditure of £200 on building a stone bridge at Pontardawe in 1767 and from the late eighteenth century the Neath District Turnpike Trust laid out relatively small sums of money, especially on the road from Pontardawe to Gwauncaegurwen.   20   In spite of this, the surveyor of the Neath District Highway Board in 1855 recommended the expenditure of a considerable sum on the road system of the parish, 'The Church roads in Llanguicke being very much out of repair' . 21   Six years later he was able to report considerable improvement in three of the four hamlets of the parish --- Gaegurwen being the exception.

The problem of road communication would have been very much more acute had it not been for the opening in 1798 of the Swansea Valley canal. Though initially intended to serve the needs of the Swansea merchants and copper smelters it fulfilled a vital part in the industrial development of the upper part of the Swansea Valley. Coal, ironstone and limestone were transported down the valley in such quantities as to guarantee its economic success from the outset. But it did more than offer incentives for the exploitation of the mineral resources of the valley. It encouraged the growth of manufacturing industries, especially of iron and by 1846 the Ystalyfera Iron Company alone was paying an annual £1,568. 8s. 8d. in tolls to the Canal Company. For a considerable part of the nineteenth century the two-way traffic on the canal --- minerals, iron and tinplate down the valley to Swansea and foodstuffs and retail goods up the valley --- played an important part in the economic life of the parish. Canal transport did, however, have its limitations. The canal itself was so narrow as to limit the speed of loaded barges to about 2 miles an hour; it was, moreover, subject to the vagaries of the weather. In long, dry summers the lack of water made the canal unusable, while very cold winters, like that of 1854, kept the canal icebound for long periods. Then there was the damage to foodstuffs and other commodities by water seepage in the barges.

It was the Gwauncaegurwen district which first witnessed the development of railway communication in the parish and its environs. The Llanelli Railway Dock Company built a railway from Llanelli to Garnant on the outskirts of the parish in 1838 and this coincided with the successful coal undertakings in Gwauncaegurwen associated with the name of Roger Hopkin. The line was extended into the parish and linked with his Old Pit by some half a mile of tramroad. In 1846 the railway was built to Brynaman to serve the needs of the collieries owned by John Jones, Brynbrain, in that area and of the recently established Amman ironworks. The Swansea Valley had to wait another ten years before its railway was begun, but despite much controversy and opposition from some quarters the line from Swansea reached the southern edge of the parish at Pontardawe in February 1860. By November of the following year it was operating to Ystalyfera and by March 1868 the line was completed to Brynaman. Before 1870, then, the parish was equipped with the means of transport and communication to serve its industrial and urban growth.

The new communities which emerged during the nineteenth century were the product of two processes --- a loosening of the old bonds of the pre-industrial parish and the operation of certain integrative forces within the new villages. The growth of industry had attracted large numbers of immigrants whose family roots were not embedded in the soil of the parish. As their numbers increased to the point when they outnumbered the indigenous inhabitants old loyalties tended to disappear, while their dependence on industry, rather than farming, released new  forces which shaped their loyalties and their attitudes. The need to find homes near their places of work completely destroyed the old distribution pattern of the parish's inhabitants and created aggregations of people with which they were able to identify themselves. The religious changes of the period further weakened the unity of the parish. The new churches which were built to serve the needs of the larger centres of population divided the church-going inhabitants of the parish into a number of separate congregations. More important, the growth of Nonconformity in the parish-- already by 1851 they outnumbered the Anglicans by ten to one - increasingly made the parish irrelevant as a religious community. The reforms which took place in local administration further reduced the significance of the parish and the control exercised by its officers over the affairs of its inhabitants. The criticisms of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 from certain quarters of the parish show that their opposition was as much the product of their resentment at the loss by the parish of its initiative in the matter of poor relief as of their dissatisfaction with the treatment meted out to the inmates of the workhouse at Neath.   22

The pattern of immigration into the district was one of the most powerful of the integrative forces at work in the new communities of the parish. The great majority of the immigrants came from the counties of south-west Wales, Carmarthenshire and west Glamorgan in particular. They were, with few exceptions, Welsh in speech and the products of a distinctively Welsh social and cultural background. Later migration into the district introduced a stronger English element into the population, but up to 1880 the immigrants were predominantly Welsh and firmly established the Welsh character of the communities. There were, however, certain variations within this overall pattern which were not without their significance in determining the features of the individual communities. Thus, the hamlet of Caegurwen, which bordered upon Carmarthenshire, drew a very high proportion of its immigrants from that county. While the hamlet of Allt-y-grug, whose population growth was considerably greater, also attracted many migrants from south-west Wales, these were joined by a substantial number from the industrialised areas of Glamorgan and a few from Monmouthshire and England. The hamlet of Parcel Mawr relied less heavily on immigration from the south-west and attracted a higher proportion of its immigrants from anglicised areas in Glamorgan and from England. Finally, the hamlet of Blaenegel drew very few immigrants and these were almost exclusively from the Welsh speaking environs of the parish. These variations, combined with differences in the scale of immigration and the nature of industrial development, undermined the unity of the parish and encouraged its inhabitants to identify themselves with the new villages which were emerging within the parish.

Another factor in the process of local integration was the community of economic interests which developed in the different parts of the parish. This operated not only among the newer industrial elements of the population but served also to link together the older farming and the new urban sections of the communities. Local farmers adjusted their farming practice to supply meat, dairy produce and root crops for local consumption. In a number of instances they complemented their farming activities by entering the retail trade, setting up butchers' shops and milk rounds. This, together with the fact that the younger sons of farming families were frequently compelled by the limited resources of the farms to seek employment in the local coalmines and ironworks, strengthened the identity of interests between the farming and the industrial sections of the parish's population.

The fact that the large majority of the inhabitants were working people, dependent for their livelihoods upon employment in coalmining and iron manufacture, was another integrative force. The shared experiences in facing similar problems, difficulties and dangers in their working lives created bonds which made it possible for them to identify with one another. Though they were slow to organise themselves in respect of their working lives, they did co-operate to give themselves and their families some measure of protection against the misfortunes and disasters which came their way. This is well illustrated by the activities of the Friendly Societies of the parish. The earliest of these was the Llanguick Society which was established in 1795 but it was during the years of rapid growth between 1840 and 1875 that these societies proliferated. By the latter year there were some fifty-six societies and lodges operating in the different villages of the parish. The majority of them belonged to one or other of three of the national Friendly Societies, the Oddfellows, the True Ivorites and the Loyal Alfreds, but there were a number of unattached societies. Some of these represented occupations or places of employment, like the Ystalyfera Workmen's Friendly Society which met in the Sorting Room of the local ironworks, others represented no particular interest or group and were known by the name of their usual meeting place, more often than not one of the many public houses of the district.

Their primary function was to provide some insurance for their members and their dependents against sickness, accident and death and this is reflected in the titles adopted by a number of the lodges, titles like Ffrynd y Tlawd Lodge which met at the Dillwyn Arms, Pontardawe and Llety'r Cymydog Lodge which met at the Provident Union Hall, Godre'r-graig. The mutual self-help which the societies practised reflected the community of interests which came into existence during these years. But the societies did more than merely reflect this: they contributed to it. The local societies and lodges were administered by the workingmen of the villages --- coalminers, quarrymen, annealers and mineburners --- who drew up the rules and invested the funds of the societies, dispensed benefits and disciplined members, made arrangements for presentations to the local doctors who attended their members and organised the cultural activities and entertainments in which the societies participated. Altogether, they represent a co-operative effort on the part of ordinary working people to protect themselves and to improve the quality of their lives.   23

The contribution made by organised religion, especially by the Nonconformist denominations, to the emergence of the new communities was of inestimable importance. Llangyfelach and its neighbouring, parishes had from the seventeenth century been a district where Protestant Dissent had flourished. Inhabitants of Llangiwg were hauled before the Archdeacon's Court at Carmarthen in the years from 1662 to answer charges of recusancy. They and others were probably members of the church at Cilfwnwr and Tirdwncyn near the village of Llangyfelach. By the close of the seventeenth century their numbers were sufficiently large to warrant the release of Llewelyn Bevan from his responsibilities at Cilfwnwr to take charge of the newly established church at Cwmllynfell in 1701. This was the beginning of organised Nonconformist worship in the parish. The industrial expansion which took place in the upper Swansea Valley during the nineteenth century created a situation to which both the established Church and the Nonconformists responded. There was, however, one significant difference. Whereas the expansion in the provision for Anglican worship was largely the result of the initiative taken by the local landowners and ironmasters, the progress made by Nonconformity was almost entirely the result of the efforts of working people.

The expansion of Nonconformity in the parish during the early years of the nineteenth century was the outcome of the more general religious revival which dated back to the second half of the preceding century. From the 1820s, however, the immigrants who were beginning to settle in the district provided a stimulus for further growth. The accommodation available for worship among the existing denominations became quite inadequate, while some of the newcomers were members of denominations which had no organised congregations in the upper Swansea Valley. Existing congregations grew rapidly, new branches of older churches were formed which were in due course incorporated as chapels and new places of worship were established by denominations hitherto unrepresented in the parish. The independents, already well established in the parish, made substantial progress. Their churches at Cwmllynfell and Alltwen, which had already been instrumental in founding schoolhouses at Cwmbach and Graig Arw, established 'daughter' churches at Cwmbach, Panteg and, somewhat later, Gibea, Brynaman. Naturally enough, the original churches continued to enjoy considerable local prestige which, to some extent, the 'daughter' churches inherited. These latter were served by the same ministers as the 'mother' churches in their early years, they were founded by members of the indigenous farming families which had long played a prominent part in the affairs of the parish and they recruited a number of the more prominent among the early Welsh speaking immigrants, some of whom were small employers and businessmen. The 'daughter' churches, therefore, had men of substance and local standing available to provide them with leaders and to endow them with a measure of reflected esteem and status.

Very different was the story of the Baptists who had no such long established roots in the parish. Their early leaders were 'pobl dwad', newcomers, many of whom had migrated to the parish to work in the coal and iron works. Thus, while the Independents of Panteg Chapel numbered among their members old farming families like the Evanses of Gilfach-yr-haidd, the Prices of Ystalyfera Isaf, the Morganses of Penlan-fach and the Thomases of Coedcae-mawr, the young Soar Baptists of Ystalyfera were led by men like the mining overseer, John Lewis of Rhymney, the ironfounder, Jacob Gabe of Llandilo, the shoemaker, Timothy Williams of Conwil, Carmarthenshire, and the ironworks labourer, John Kinsey of Radnorshire. Not surprisingly, the Baptists had during the 1840s to overcome strong local prejudice, which was the product of antipathy against newcomers as well as differences in religious observance. The Methodists, both Calvinistic and Wesleyan, failed to match the achievements of the Independents and the Baptists, despite the strenuous efforts which had been made by the Welsh Methodist leaders during the second half of the eighteenth century. True, they established churches in the larger villages of the parish but it was not until the late years of the nineteenth century that they won the support of more than a small minority of the parish's inhabitants.

The relative strength of the denominations in the middle of the century is reflected in the Ecclesiastical Returns for 1851. It must, however, be remembered that the totals in the following table do include attenders who were inhabitants of neighbouring parishes:

                                    Independents     Baptists        Wes. Methodists     Calv. Methodists

  • Accommodation         1,638            724                      352                          30
  • Attendance                 3,188            731                      198                          80
  • Sunday School              543            140                        60                           60            24

Later developments changed the situation somewhat but, in general terms, their impact was to re-inforce the features which were apparent in 1851.

As the nineteenth century advanced leadership in all denominations increasingly reflected the growing strength of the immigrant and industrial sections of the population. The chapels were thus able to make a unique contribution to the creation of those bonds which were so important in the emergence of the village communities of the parish. There were the obvious instances of the co-operation which was required to establish a cause and raise a place of worship. Then, there was the sustained effort required by the members to improve and maintain their chapels. To achieve this they became centres of a wide variety of community activities which made them focal points in the communities. There was the democratic nature of Nonconformist organisation which allowed members to participate in the affairs of the churches. This last, together with the fact that so many of the chapel leaders were drawn from the same section of society as the large majority of their members, contributed to a sense of group identity.There was also the influence exerted by the Nonconformist ministers on the communities in which they served. These were frequently men of ability and strong personality and, in a number of instances, were themselves of working class origins. Though primarily concerned with their spiritual responsibilities, they did not divorce themselves from the social and political problems which concerned their members and hearers. They were outspoken on issues like the Poor Law of 1834, the repeal of the Corn Laws, Church Rates, disestablishment, temperance and education. They did much to establish the reputation of the chapels in the parish and this in turn gave them and their successors considerable influence as local leaders of opinion on a wide variety of issues. True, there were many of the inhabitants who remained outside the influence of the chapels while the commitment of others, especially among the 'cholera converts', was superficial and short-lived. Nevertheless, the chapels made a substantial contribution to the integrating of the communities and the formulation of many of those conventions which determined the attitudes of individuals and the behaviour patterns of the communities.

The cultural activities of the young communities reflect the profound social changes which were taking place during the middle decades of the century. They also made their own particular contribution to the process of emergence. Much of the old literary tradition noted earlier continued to occupy the local poets but increasingly there is evidence of the new influences which were at work. The greater mobility of the population brought into the parish and its neighbourhood men with experience of composing in the strict metres who were familiar with the eisteddfodic tradition. One of the earliest of these was John Thomas (Ifor Cwmgwys) who exerted his influence on behalf of the eisteddfod and of composition in the strict metres while he was living at Cwmtwrch during the 1840s. One of the most influential was D. L. Moses, a native of Cribyn, Cardiganshire, who came to the district to work as a clerk in the Amman Ironworks. He taught many of the aspiring poets of the Brynaman district the rules of the classical bardic metres and encouraged them to compete in the eisteddfodau of the area. The poetic tradition which developed in this part of the district owed much to his guidance and inspiration --- so much so that Watcyn Wyn called him 'Tad Llenyddol y gymydogaeth' and Gwydderig acknowledged him as 'Athraw beirdd Brynaman'.   25  His example was followed by others, for Watcyn Wyn records his being taught the classical metres while at work in the coal level at Corsto.   26   Men with a literary interest met in private houses to discuss one another's poetic endeavours. Some of these meetings developed into local eisteddfodau in the villages of the district. These eisteddfodau proliferated during the fifties and sixties --- there were at least seventeen in the parish and its immediate environs between 1857 and 1875.   27

All this inevitably made its mark upon the poetry of the district. The long established triban in which the poets had expressed themselves gave way to the more disciplined englyn. Nevertheless, the poets retained their commitment to their communities which were facing acute social problems. A new note of respectability made itself heard in their poems which reflected the influence on the poets of the religious revivals of the time and the temperance movement which accompanied them. In many of their poems they attacked the evils of their day, condemning the demon drink and extolling the virtues of temperance, urging parents to see to the education of their children and exhorting housewives to maintain a clean, comfortable home so that their menfolk would be discouraged from spending their leisure time in public houses. Despite the new form and tone of so many of the poems, the poets were still social beings fulfilling an age-old function and making their contribution to the shaping of the new communities.

By the middle decades of the nineteenth century a prose literature was developing in the district to which the eisteddfodau again made an important contribution by offering prizes for competitions in essay writing on a host of different subjects. The development of the Welsh press made possible the publication of these prizewinning entries either individually or in collections, like those which followed the eisteddfodau at Ystalyfera in 1859 and 1860. The subject matter of these essays varied enormously but very prominent in them was the concern which was expressed for the locality and its communities. One such publication which appeared in 1860 was entitled Gardd y Gweithiwr on the grounds that its contents represented the literary endeavours of working men whose object was to raise the level of the cultural life of their fellows.   28  This, together with the testimony of writers like Watcyn Wyn,   29  serves as an antidote to the more general contemporary strictures upon the cultural standards of the communities and suggests that there was among a minority an active concern that matters of the mind and spirit should have their due place in the life of the communities.

A more obvious form of communal cultural activity was the musical tradition which evolved in the villages of the district during the second half of the century. Congregational hymn singing had become an increasingly significant part of the religious services of the chapels before the 1850s when the religious revivals occasioned a widening of the scope of choral activity in the locality. In this context the outstanding individual was Ifander Griffiths who came to Pontardawe in 1850 and worked as a cashier at the local ironworks. He was an accomplished musician and a champion of the temperance movement. To further this cause he formed choirs at Pontardawe and Ystradgynlais, and his lead was soon followed by others. At a concert held at Soar Chapel, Ystalyfera, in 1858 to aid the funds of the recently built Caersalem Chapel four local choirs competed for a prize of £3 --- from Caersalem Chapel, Cwmtwrch, Gurnos and Pontardawe. In 1862 the scope of choral music was further widened when Ifander Griffiths formed a united choir of three hundred members from the villages of the Swansea Valley, the majority of whose members came from Ystalyfera, the largest of the villages at the time. During the first year of its existence the choir competed at the Carmarthen Eisteddfod of 1862 and was awarded second place to the older Aberdare choir. Thereafter, it became famous throughout Wales and made a considerable contribution to the musical life of the country. Another of the local choral pioneers was Morgan Morgans who founded a choir which as early as 1864 was performing oratorios locally. He later established the Ystalyfera Orpheus Glee Society which had a remarkably successful career as an eisteddfod competitor. These two choirs and the brass bands which were formed at much the same time began a musical tradition which flourished well into the present century.   30  The later achievements of the choirs and the brass bands do not concern us here. More relevant are the new dimension which they gave to the parish's cultural life at the time and the contribution which they made to the growing awareness of a community existence among the inhabitants of its villages.

The social structure of the parish during this period of transition reflect the changes which were taking place locally. The landed families, especially the Goughs of Ynysgedwyn and the Lloyds of Cilybebyll, retained their social supremacy. The farming section, too, though on an altogether more modest scale, was able to preserve a considerable measure of local influence and to provide leaders in various aspects of the life of the communities. More essentially new were the middle class elements, the proprietors of the ironworks and coalmines --- especially the ironmasters, the scale of whose operations assured for them a pre-eminence over the coal-owners. These came to occupy a status only slightly below that of the landed families with whose way of life their own bore marked similarities. While they never attained the local prestige of the landed families, they were compensated by the bonds which the identity of interests between them and their employees created and the influence which they exerted as employers of local labour. J. P. Budd at Ynys-y-darren, William Parsons at Ynysderw, followed from the early sixties by the Gilbertson family, maintained a way of life which reflected their position among the leaders of local society. They established churches, founded schools, sat on the bench, represented the parish in the new administrative units which were established and patronised cultural activities. But they were few in number and they were outsiders --- these facts and their positions as employers created a gulf between them and the majority of the inhabitants, although they were reputedly good employers.

Below them were the proprietors of smaller concerns --- coalmine owners like John Jones, Bryn-brain, wool factory owners like Philip Williams of Maes Iago, and the managers and agents of the ironworks and their ancillary industries, men like R. C. Fisher, John Newton and Henry Parish. Some of the first group were Welsh in speech as well as by birth, committed Nonconformists and stalwart members of local chapels. The latter were, almost without exception, either Englishmen or thoroughly anglicised Welshmen. While the former tended to concern themselves with the religious and cultural life of the parish, the latter were active in the administration of the locality as justices of the peace and members of the various boards which were established at this time.

Then there were the professional men --- doctors like James Rogers of Ystalyfera, William Price of Ynystwrch and David Thomas of Pontardawe; clergymen and Nonconformist ministers like David Jones, Vicar of the parish, Philip Griffiths of Alltwen and Panteg, David Edwards of Pontardawe, Charles Williams of Soar, Ystalyfera and Rhys Price of Cwmllynfell. Members of the first group were held in high esteem because of their ministrations to the sick, especially during outbreaks of infectious diseases. A number of the latter, more particularly among the Nonconformist ministers, were themselves of working class origin and their economic importance was slight. But they were of considerable consequence as leaders of opinion on political and social questions and they enjoyed an eminence and prestige in virtue of their religious leadership. The position which they enjoyed in the public mind reflected the place occupied by the chapels in the communities at the time.

Socially less prestigious was the position occupied by the businessmen who were increasing rapidly in numbers. Their origins were divers and varied. Some were natives of the district who saw the opportunities offered by industrial expansion; others were immigrants who had been attracted to the parish by the same prospect. Among the latter there were those who brought their crafts as masons and carpenters, weavers and tailors to meet the growing demand for homes and consumer goods in a growth district. There were also those who came to offer their skills in the industries and to earn relatively good wages. A number invested their savings in business enterprises of one kind or another. A Philip Williams came from Gwynfe in Carmarthenshire to become the proprietor of a woollen factory at Maes Iago in Pontardawe; a David Thomas of Llandybie in the same county, after working in the Cwmafan ironworks, became a blacksmith at the Ystalyfera works and opened a shop which prospered so well that he and his family were able to develop a flourishing grocery business; very similar was the career of a John Clee who came from north Breconshire to occupy the responsible position of furnace manager at the Ystalyfera ironworks. In their business capacity they provided a service which relied heavily on their allowing credit to their working class customers; with their surplus capital they built or bought houses to let. Thus they not only laid the foundations of the economic prosperity of their families but, as landlords and creditors, they also assured for them positions of some influence in their communities.

Among the wage earners, who constituted the great majority of the inhabitants, the social stratifications and interest groupings were complex and depended upon a variety of factors which frequently overlapped one another. Craftsmen, skilled workmen and those occupying responsible positions within the work force were able to command respect among their fellows; thrifty workmen who invested their savings in house purchase also enjoyed a certain social prestige. But there were other, non-economic, influences at work. Leadership in the chapels and in the cultural life of the neighbourhood, commitment to voluntary work as officers of local organisations, even the reputation of being something of a 'scholar' won for those concerned a measure of pre-eminence among their peers. These did not, however, necessarily involve social divisions; rather did they entitle such individuals to the respect of their equals. During the early history of the communities social sub-divisions among the working population was the product of other factors --- of interests as between the chapel and the public house, of time of settlement in the parish as between the earlier immigrants and the later newcomers, of places of family origins as between those from the rural west and those from the more industrialised east, of language as between the Welsh speaking majority and the English speaking minority. Despite the sense of superiority which these might induce among the different elements, the divisions which they created were more vertical than horizontal, producing a complex of groupings, many of which were interrelated, rather than a hierarchical social stratification.

Further changes took place in the parish during and after the last decade of the nineteenth century. There was the shift in its economic base which followed upon the collapse of the Ystalyfera ironworks and the expansion of anthracite mining for the export market. There was a fresh wave of immigration which modified somewhat the composition of the population and inevitably influenced the life of the communities. There was the logical progression of the developments of the third quarter of the century which defined more clearly the social divisions within the communities. Nevertheless, the features which had emerged before 1886 continued to determine in very large measure the character of the communities of the parish until they were subjected to the economic transformation of the mid-twentieth century.




  • 1. Enumerators' Census Returns, op. cit., Llangiwg Parish Rate Book, 1874, G.C.R.O.P/59.
  • 2. Llangiwg Parish Valuation List, 1863, G.C.R.O. R /UN (59), O/34.
  • 3. Llangiwg Parish Rate Book, 1854, G.C.R.O. R/59, 2/14; Valuation List, 1863, supra; Poor Rate Book, 1874, op.cit.
  • 4. Valuation List, 1863, ibid.     
  • 5. Poor Rate Book, 1874, ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.   
  • 7. Valuation List, op. cit.
  • 8. Enumerators Census Returns, op. cit.    
  • 9. Ibid., 1861, op. cit.
  • 10. James Rogers, A Sketch of the Cholera Epidemic at Ystalyfera in 1866, Swansea, 1867, p.15.
  • 11. Ibid., p.10
  • 12. Ibid., p. 8
  • 13. Neath District Highway Board Minute Books, 1855-1866, G.C.R.O. H/BN, 3 September 1856.
  • 14. Ibid., 1858.     
  • 15 Ibid., 14 May 1859.
  • 16. Parish Rate Book, 1854, op. cit.
  • 17. Worrall's Directory of South Wales and Newport, Monmouthshire, 1875, Oldham, 1875.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Glamorgan Quarter Sessions Minute Books, G.C.R.O. QSM 1920-9, 1768.
  • 20. Neath District Turnpike Trust Minutes G.C.R.O. Q.A.T.(N), 1, 2, 3, 13 January 1798, 3 March 1802, 7 September 1808, 4 May 1818, 5 May 1819.
  • 21. Neath District Highway Board Minute Books, 1855-1871, G.C.R.O. H/BN, 13 June 1855.
  • 22. P.R.O. MH 12/16354, Yr Haul, Rhif 24, tud. 55, 185, 186.
  • 23. J. T. Pratt, A List of Friendly Societies, P.R.O. FS 2/12, IND 255 35; Undebaith y Gwir Iforiaid, Cofres o'r Cyfrinfaoedd am 1861, Aberdare, 1861, University College, Swansea, Library; Gweithrediadau y Gynhadledd Flynyddol o Urdd y Gwir Iforiaid, Aberdar, 1875, University College, Swansea, Library.
  • 24. Ecclesiastical Returns, 1851, P.R.O. H.O./121/584 and 129/585.
  • 25. J. Llwyd Thomas, Gwydderig, Pigion allan o'i weithiau, Llandybie, 1959, tud. 5.
  • 26. Watcyn Wyn, Atgofion Watcyn Wyn, Merthyr, 1907, tud. 17.
  • 27. D. M. Richards, Rhestr Eisteddfodau, Llandysul, 1914.
  • 28. Gardd y Gweithiwr: sef Y Cyfansoddiadau Gwobrwyedig yn Eisteddfod Ystalyfera, Mehefin 25,26, 1860, Abertawy, 1861, Preface.
  • 29. Watcyn Wyn, op. cit., tud. 38-41.
  • 30. For Ifander Griffiths, see Record of over 50 years Music, Temperance, Eisteddfod and other Mission Work, 1850 -1903, in Wales and Cumberland, Workington, 1903. For the cultural activities of the district, see Y Traethodydd, 1894, tud. 70-74;  J. E. Morgan, Hanes Pontardawe a'r Cylch, Abertawe, 1911, and the publications of Professor T. J. Morgan on the subject, e.g., 'Beirdd Eisteddfodol Cwmamman a Chwmtawe', Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society, 1964.