Aberavon (Aber-Avon) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
ABERAVON (ABER-AVON), a rising port, a borough, and parish, in the union and hundred of Neath, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, 5½ miles (S. by E.) from Neath, and 196 (W.) from London; containing, in 1848, about 2500 inhabitants. This place, which derives its name from its situation at the mouth of the river Avon, is of considerable antiquity, and was formerly invested with various privileges. In the division of the county, on its subjugation by Fitz-Hamon, the Norman adventurer, Aberavon formed part of the territories conferred by that chieftain upon Caradoc, son of Iestyn ab Gwrgan the dethroned prince, who made it the place of his residence, and is supposed to have erected the ancient castle, the foundations of which are still discernible in a field adjoining the churchyard. This castle, though of no great extent, was commodiously situated for defending the pass of the river, and was sufficiently formidable to become an object of importance in the various wars which at that time disturbed the peace of the principality. Caradoc was succeeded in his lordship by his son Morgan, who is regarded by some writers as the founder of the stately abbey of Margam, in the vicinity, of which there are still some remains. About the year 1150, Madoc ab Meredydd, Prince of Powys, making an irruption into the county of Glamorgan, at the head of a powerful army, laid waste the territories of Morgan ab Caradoc ab Iestyn, and took and demolished the castle of Aberavon. Upon this occasion, Morgan, unable to resist the force which was opposed to him, fled with his followers, and, taking sanctuary in the churches and monasteries, placed himself under the protection of William, Earl of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan. In 1349, Thomas, son of Sir John de Avon, Knt., having succeeded to the lordship of Avon, granted to the abbey of Margam a charter confirming all former grants, and to the inhabitants of the borough the free exercise of all the privileges which they had previously enjoyed. At the commencement of the seventeenth century, the town suffered severely from an inundation of the sea, which did great injury to the sea-walls; and in the corporation records of the town of Swansea, is an entry of twenty shillings, paid by the portreeve, aldermen, and burgesses of that place to the inhabitants of Aberavon, in aid of the necessary repairs of the walls. During the usurpation of Cromwell, the portreeve, being apprised of the approach of the protector's emissaries, contrived to secure the charter and other documents relating to the borough, by concealing them in a rough piece of oak, in which he had formed a cavity for that purpose, and on which, upon the arrival of the officers, he was found chopping sticks, as upon a common block. By this artifice the papers were secured, and the piece of oak, upon which the marks of the hatchet are still visible, is now preserved as the corporation chest. The castle is said to have been dismantled by Cromwell's orders.
The town is situated on the road from Swansea to Cardiff, and near the line of the South Wales railway, at a short distance from the eastern shore of Swansea bay, under a lofty ridge of hills. It is sheltered from the north winds; but, from its proximity to a marsh, it is exposed to damps, and the inhabitants are consequently liable to ague and other complaints. The land in the vicinity is subject to the frequent inundations of the river Avon, which flows on the eastern side of the town. The most alarming and destructive of these occurred on July 25th, 1768, when the water flowed into the church and every house in the town, in most places to the height of five feet. Entire fields of corn were laid waste by the flood, which swept away Aberavon bridge and others, and a great quantity of hay, trees, &c.; and, on its subsiding, the town was left covered with mud and slime, which wholly destroyed the provisions in it, so that the poorer inhabitants were reduced to great distress, almost perishing from want and hunger, until seasonably relieved by the bountiful humanity of Thomas Mansel Talbot, Esq. A handsome and substantial stone bridge of one arch was afterwards erected over the Avon by the celebrated self-taught architect, William Edwards.
Aberavon is a creek to the port of Swansea, and forms the outlet of an important mineral and manufacturing district, in which large iron, tin, and copper works have been established. Previously to the year 1836, the course of the Avon from the town to the sea was circuitous and shallow, and the harbour afforded very limited accommodation, but a great improvement was then effected under the superintendence of Mr. H. K. Palmer, C.E., and the trade of the place has since much increased. The new works consisted chiefly in the formation of a straight channel from the town to the sea, cut through marshy land, and measuring twenty feet wide, by ten feet deep, into which the mountain torrents were directed. This trench soon became sufficiently large to admit the whole body of the river, which is now turned into the new track, and access thus afforded to a commodious harbour. The channel is about a mile long, free from shoal, and now at least 100 feet wide; the sea-lock of the docks is forty-five feet wide, and vessels of large burthen are able to come up at spring tides. The port is often called Port-Talbot, after the Talbot family, of Margam. In November 1847, a steam communication was established between Aberavon and Bristol, on a most efficient scale; and in the following year, an act was passed for establishing a market and a fair here; so that the town bids fair to become a place of some importance.
The borough, which is such by prescription, is governed by an indefinite number of burgesses; all general matters being transacted at monthly courts, and extraordinary business at assemblies, called Halls, specially called for the purpose, and to which the burgesses are summoned. The style of the corporation is "The Portreeve, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the town and borough of Avon." The immediate direction of affairs is entrusted to a constable of the castle, a portreeve, two aldermen, a recorder, a common-attorney, two serjeants-at-mace, four haywards, a pound-keeper, and two ale-tasters; all of whom are appointed according to custom only, although the town received a charter from Edward le Despenser, in the 47th of Edward III., 1372, which document is yet in the possession of the officers. The constable of the castle is chosen by the lord of the borough. The portreeve and aldermen are elected at a court leet held before the existing portreeve, on the first Monday after Michaelmas-day, when the burgesses elect three of the resident burgesses to be returned, as portreeve and aldermen, to the constable of the castle, by whom it is decided which of the three shall be portreeve. The recorder is appointed annually by the portreeve; and the commonattorney, serjeants-at-mace, haywards, pound-keeper, and ale-tasters are chosen by the jury at the first monthly court held after the election of the portreeve. The portreeve presides at the monthly courts, and, with the aldermen, grants licenses for public-houses. The common-attorney collects the rents and superintends the property of the corporation; and of the haywards, two have the office of distraining all cattle found trespassing on the common lands, and two have some duties connected with the pasture lands of the principal burgesses; but the emoluments of these and all the other officers are of little consideration.
This was one of the boroughs contributory to Cardiff in sending a member to parliament; but, by the Reform Act, the towns of Swansea, Loughor, Neath, Aberavon, and Kenvig, have been constituted one borough, with the privilege of returning a representative. The limits of the borough are minutely described in the Appendix. The right of election is vested by the Reform Act in the former resident burgesses, and in every male person of full age, occupying any house or other premises, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, of the clear yearly value of not less than ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering his name as the act demands. The portreeve of Swansea is the returning officer.
The freedom is inherited by all the sons of burgesses, on their coming of age, and may be acquired by purchase, though the burgesses recognise no other claim than that of birth: on one occasion the sum of £200 was accepted for it by the burgesses at large. The burgesses have the privilege of turning their cattle on the uninclosed lands belonging to the borough, which are of great extent, including several hundreds of acres. There are also ninety-nine customary acres of inclosed ground, which by an old ordinance are divided equally among the thirty-three oldest burgesses, who hold the property for their lives, and on whose death their widows, if any, continue to receive the benefit. In addition to this property, there is a small quantity of hay land assigned to the portreeve and other officers; and from other sources, the corporation, as a body, receive an income of about £40. A town-hall was begun in the year 1826, and upwards of £300 expended upon its erection, but it is still unfinished, owing to the want of adequate funds. The parish comprises 1500 acres by computation; the soil between the town and the sea is clay and sand, tolerably well adapted for tillage, and the land in the vicinity of the town is chiefly pasture of good quality.
The living is a discharged vicarage, endowed with the great tithes, with the living of Baglan annexed, rated conjointly in the king's books at £9. 4. 9½.; patron, the Rev. David Rees: the tithes of the two places have been commuted for a rent-charge of £190. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, was rebuilt about eighty years since, and is appropriately fitted up. There are several places of worship for dissenters. A school-house has been erected for the instruction of children in the principles of the Established Church; and there are seven Sunday schools, one of them connected with the Church, two with the Calvinistic Methodists, two with the Independents, one with the Wesleyans, and one with the Particular Baptists. Previously to 1786, a gift of £10 for the use of the poor was made by the Rev. Leyson Thomas; it was lent on the security of a house now in ruins, and nothing has been received from the charity for the last twenty or thirty years. Some interesting relics have been found on the sea-shore, consisting of stags' antlers, a large brass coin of Commodus, foundations of buildings, an ancient sea-wall, footmarks of deer and oxen, and old fences in a state of carbonization; all of them below the line of high water. In December, 1839, an inscribed Roman stone was discovered in one of the high sand-hills on the western bank of the new cut at Port-Talbot: the inscription is impcflav (mcl) maximino invicto avgvs. In March, 1840, a brass spear-head, about nine inches long, was discovered at the harbour, about twentyfive feet below high-water mark.