Briton-Ferry - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
BRITON-FERRY, a parish, in the union and hundred of Neath, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, 2 miles (S. W. by S.) from Neath; containing 718 inhabitants. This place, called in the Welsh language Llansawyl, derives its name from an ancient ferry over the river Neath, established here from time immemorial, and communicating with the opposite shore, from which there is an agreeable ride over Cremyln Burrows to Swansea. The Neath here expands into a channel of considerable breadth, and falls into Swansea bay, a little below the harbour. The navigation was greatly improved some years ago, at an expense exceeding �4000, raised by subscription among the proprietors of the coal, copper, and iron works in the neighbourhood, and other persons interested in the trade and prosperity of the town of Neath, to which place the river was rendered safely navigable for ships of three hundred and fifty tons' burthen at spring tides. In 1843 an act was passed for carrying out further improvements. The Neath canal, which passes through a district abounding with mineral wealth, terminates here, after a course of about fourteen miles; the wharfs are at a place called Giant's Grave, where, also, vessels lie when they are unable to proceed up the river so high as Neath. The water-communication between Neath and its out-port of Briton-Ferry is mostly carried on by means of barges. Powerful rolling-mills were built here in 1847, at which a good deal of the iron made in the Vale of Neath is converted into bars: the engine is of 300-horse power. It has been for some time in contemplation to construct a bridge over the river at this place, and to make a road across the Burrows to Swansea, by which a distance of seven or eight miles in the present coach-route would be saved. At present, persons on horseback and on foot save this distance between Swansea and the eastern part of the county by crossing the ferry, the fare of which is one penny for each man, and the same for each horse. In 1847 an act was passed for certain branches and deviations of the South Wales railway, including a branch to Briton-Ferry, one mile and three-quarters long.
Nothing can surpass the beauty of this sequestered spot: embosomed in hills, skirted by shady woods, fertile vales, and luxuriant meadows, the scenery is strikingly diversified. In some parts are fine views of the sea, from which the woods seem to rise. The atmosphere is mild and temperate, and the air salubrious; the arbutus, the myrtle, the magnolia, and other exotics grow in the open air, and the environs abound with the richest verdure. The advantages of its situation, and the facilities afforded for seabathing, may at no distant period render this the favourite resort of families who are fond of retirement, and of invalids whose state of health requires a temperate climate. Formerly the accommodation for visiters was extremely deficient; but since the Vernon Arms, a house of great respectability on the banks of the river, has been conducted by the present tenant, every regard is paid to the comfort of families, who may be boarded upon terms as reasonable as in a private family. Attached to the building is excellent stabling, with every requisite.
The parish comprises about 1500 acres of meadow, pasture, and arable land, with some mountain sheepwalks of various soils and quality; the wood consists chiefly of oak, larch, fir, and poplar. The mansion house of Briton-Ferry, which for many generations was the property and residence of the Mansels, one of the most ancient families in the county, is now occupied by George Frederic Muntz, Esq., M.P. for Birmingham, and late of Hockley Abbey near that town. It is a spacious building, adapted more to comfort and family accommodation, than remarkable for magnificence of character; the situation commands extensive marine views, and prospects over a tract of country richly cultivated, and abounding with objects of interest. The other principal mansions are, Rock House, Craig Vawr House, Court Sart, Upper House, and Baglan Bay. The Briton-Ferry estate, originally comprising nearly forty thousand acres, distributed through not less than forty parishes in South Wales, was devised to the younger brother of the present Earl of Jersey, on whose death it passed to the earl, who has reduced it to about eight thousand acres in the immediate vicinity. The Earl of Jersey is proprietor of the whole parish, and lord of the manor.
The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with �400 private benefaction, and �600 royal bounty; net income, �124; patron and impropriator, the Earl of Jersey. The church is a neat structure, about sixty feet long and twenty wide, and the churchyard, remarkable for its picturesque appearance, has been celebrated in elegy by the poet Mason, who, with Gray, occasionally visited at Baglan House, then the residence of the Rev. William Thomas, chancellor of the diocese of Llandaf. In this church the late Archbishop of York preached his first sermon; his Grace's half-brother, Lord Vernon, at the time occupying the mansion, and being owner of the estate. At Giant's Grave is a day school on the British system, established in 1842, and supported by subscription; also a Church Sunday school, and a Sunday school connected with the Independents. In another part of the parish is a Sunday school kept by the Calvinistic Methodists. The Countess of Jersey gives �10 per annum to be laid out in the purchase of flannel for the poor.