Margam - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
MARGAM, a parish, in the union of Neath, hundred of Newcastle, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, bounded on the south by the Bristol Channel, and situated on the line of the great western road through the county, 9 miles (S. S. E.) from Neath; containing 3526 inhabitants, of whom 382 are in the hamlet of Margam. The early history of this place is involved in some obscurity: it was, at a very remote period, erected into a bishopric, which continued for five successions, and then merged in that of Llandaf. Some writers ascribe this to Morgan, or Morcant, son of the renowned King Arthur, who is said to have occasionally resided here; but the circumstance is doubtful. Its original name was Pen-dâr, "the oak summit," so called from a noble wood of oak that covers the breast of a mountain, upwards of 800 feet in height, forming a striking feature in the landscape, and deservedly admired for its boldness and grandeur, as well as for the beauty and variety of its outline. The present appellation is considered a corruption of Mawrgan, who was the son of Caradoc ab Iestyn, and a great benefactor to the celebrated abbey of Margan or Margam, if not its founder. Mr. Humphrey Llwyd, who is followed by several other respectable Welsh antiquaries, is of the latter opinion, and states that he had seen "Morgan ap Caradoc's original charter, with nine witnesses, all very antique British names." Dugdale, and the Annales de Margan printed in the second volume of Gale's Scriptores, both date the foundation in 1147, and attribute it to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who, according to the latter, died in this year. Bishop Tanner, in comparing these authorities with Speed and some manuscript accounts, which differ a little in their dates, inserts a quære whether "Robert might not begin this house only, a little before his death, and William, his son and successor, finish it some time after?" The latter is by Camden considered to have been its founder.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty of its origin, there can be little doubt that it was endowed by Caradoc ab Iestyn, lord of the adjacent lordship of Avon, with extensive grants of lands, which were confirmed by a deed under the hands of Morgan, and his two brothers, Cadwallon and Meriedoc, whose descendants, for several generations, were munificent benefactors to the establishment. This appears from the charter of Thomas de Avene, dated February 10th, 1349 (as found by Dugdale, translated into English in the collection of Mr. Hugh Thomas, without mentioning where the latter obtained it), wherein Avene states, "after due consideration, I confirm unto the said monks all donations, grants, confirmations, and sales whatsoever, which they enjoy by the bounty of any of my predecessors, viz., whatsoever they may have by the gift of Morgan ab Caradoc; of Leison and Owen, the sons of the said Morgan; and all they have by gift of Morgan Cam and his heirs, of Morgan Vaughan and Sir Leison, the sons of the said Morgan Cam; likewise whatsoever they have by the gift of Sir Thomas de Avene, my father." A large collection of original charters belonging to this abbey is preserved with the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum; the earliest is a confirmatory bull of Pope Urban III., dated in 1186. It was a Cistercian abbey, dedicated to St. Mary, and is mentioned by earlier antiquaries as the first house of that kind in these parts: according to Leland it had the privilege of sanctuary. When King John exacted a levy from the Cistercian monasteries, the abbey of Margan or Margam was exempted, on account of the hospitality he had received here, on his way to Ireland.
At the Dissolution, its revenue was estimated at £188. 14., and the site and possessions, together with the royalty of Avon water, were purchased by Sir Rice Mansel, Knt., who, about the year 1552, built a mansion partly on the site of the abbey, which continued to be the principal seat of the family until the extinction of the male line in 1750. This edifice, which subsequently underwent considerable alterations and repairs, was built of the stone of the country, with Sutton-stone quoins and dressings taken from the ruins of the abbey; it presented a long front without any magnificence in the structure, and was taken down about the year 1782. The chapter-house, which is a portion of the ancient conventual buildings, is in the form of a regular duodecagon without, but within, an exact circle, 49 feet in diameter. Its roof was vaulted, and supported in the centre by a single clustered column branching off into twenty-four ribs; but this beautiful roof fell in the year 1799, in consequence of the outer walls having become defective, and not, as has been asserted by tourists, from the filtration of water through the joints of the stones; and the side walls of the chapter-house, with the spring of the arches, only, are now left standing.
A noble mansion, in the style of English architecture which prevailed in the reign of Henry VIII., has lately been erected, on a scale suited to the rank and fortune of the representative of this ancient family, Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot, Esq., MP., F.R.S., lord-lieutenant of the county. Its chief external features are two grand façades, broken by bays, and a tower: the interior is superbly furnished. In the midst of the pleasure-grounds is a splendid orangery, an unusual appendage to a private residence, but there is no document in existence that shows the period of its establishment. According to tradition, this celebrated collection of exotics was intended as a present from a Dutch merchant to Queen Mary, consort of William III.; but the vessel conveying it having been stranded on the coast here, the choice cargo was claimed as the property of the lord, and a house, 150 feet in length, was built for the reception of the plants. The late Mr. Talbot, in the year 1787, built a new green-house, 327 feet in length, with a handsome Palladian front, and a room at each end; and, in 1800, a conservatory, 150 feet long, with flues in the ground. There are about 110 trees in the greenhouse, all standards planted in square boxes, and many of them eighteen feet high; those in the conservatory, forty in number, are trained against a trellis framing. The collection includes pomegranate, lemon, citron, and shaddock trees, as well as orange-trees. The evergreens cultivated in the grounds surrounding the orangery are healthy and luxuriant: among these a bay-tree, supposed to be the largest in Britain, sprouting from the ground in several branches, is the most remarkable, being upwards of sixty feet in height, and forty-five in diameter; the arbutus, Portugal laurel, and holly flourish in an extraordinary manner, and present a rich appearance.
The parish is bounded on the west by the parishes of Aberavon and Michaelston-super-Avon, on the north and north-east by Llangonoyd, on the east and south-east by Tythegston, and on the south by Pyle and Kenvig. It contains 11,200 acres, of which 3200 are good and productive, 4800 poor and indifferent, and 3200 mountain and warren; every kind of corn is produced in the portion of good soil, and there is a large extent of pasture. A magnificent wood presents itself on the side of a mountain 820 feet high, in which oak most abounds, but all sorts of timber are found to thrive; the parish is watered by the Avon on the west, and the Kenvig on the east, and there are the Frydwyllt and other brooks falling into these rivers. A building in the form of a semilunar battery, upon the summit of the mountain, commands a view of the woody concave, singularly beautiful and striking; and from the same point is obtained a magnificent prospect of the sea, and the bay of Swansea, with the distant hills of the counties of Somerset and Devon. The South Wales railway runs through the parish.
Owing to the abundance of coal, there are some very large works carried on. The first was an ironforge established by Nathaniel Myers, Esq., of Cadoxton, on the site of the present tin-works of Messrs. Robert Smith and Co. Then followed the Tai-bâch copper-works of the English Copper Company, the oldest association of that kind in the kingdom, a charter having been granted in 1691, soon after copperore was discovered in Great Britain, to Sir Joseph Hume and other merchants of London, who were thereby incorporated under the title of "The Governor and Company of Copper-Mines in England." In the year 1800, was erected here the first steamengine used for the manufacture of copper in the principality. These works, now in the possession of other parties, usually afford employment to about 400 persons, and the quantity of copper annually exported amounts to 1400 tons. The charter now belongs to the owners of the great Cwmavon copper, tin, and iron works, partly in Margam parish, but chiefly in the parish of Michaelston-super-Avon: see Cwmavon. Messrs. Smith and Company's tin-works are situated not far from the town of Aberavon, or PortTalbot, and employ some hundred persons. A part of the hamlet of Hâvod-y-Porth, on the north-western confines of the parish, is included within the new boundaries of the contributory borough of Aberavon (which see); and the hamlet of Kenvig Higher, and part of that of Trissient, are comprised within the borough of Kenvig.
The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £1600 parliamentary grant; net income, £121; patron and impropriator, C. R. M. Talbot, Esq. The church, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and will accommodate 550 persons, was chiefly erected in 1809, by the late Mr. Talbot, on the site of the nave of the abbey church, which had become ruinous: the west front was preserved, and is considered a fine specimen of the Norman style. In widening the north aisle to its original size, several interesting monuments were discovered; one without date, bearing a Latin inscription to the memory of an abbot, also the mutilated effigy of a crusader, in chain armour, which was placed within the entrance to the chapter-house. At the east ends of the aisles are monuments to several members of the family of Mansel, upon which are recumbent figures, the men being in armour, and the ladies in the dress of their times, with their children, in a kneeling posture, about the sides of the tombs, having the names inscribed over their heads. On a plate in one of the pillars is a Latin inscription in monkish rhyme, to the memory of a favourite huntsman, supposed to be by Dr. Friend, the eminent classical physician; it was translated into English verse by the late Very Rev. W. Bruce Knight, dean of Llandaf and incumbent of Margam. At Tai-bâch, about two miles from the church, at the western extremity of the parish, a chapel of ease was erected in 1827, to accommodate the increasing population; the principal contributors towards which were, C. R. M. Talbot, Esq., the English Copper Company, John Reynolds, Esq., and Robert Smith and Co., assisted by a grant of £400 from the Incorporated Society for building and enlarging churches and chapels. A gallery has since been erected at a cost of £100: the whole building contains between 600 and 700 sittings, of which upwards of 500 are free. There are places of worship in the parish for Calvinistic Methodists.
It contains the Margam Churchyard school, in the village; a Church school at the Tai-bâch copperworks; another at the tin-works, near Aberavon; the Bryndû works school, a mile distant from Pyle; and a school at the Oakwood portion of the Cwmavon works. Of these, the first is partly supported by subscription, and partly by school-pence; the others are supported by a stoppage on the workmen's wages. There are nine Sunday schools, one of them in connexion with the Church, two unconnected with any religious congregation, and six belonging to the Calvinistic body. John Brown, in the year 1682, bequeathed £100, due to him by bonds from his master, Sir Edward Mansel; the interest of which, £4.19. 8. charged on Margam Park, is distributed, according to the intentions of the donor, in twenty-three penny loaves of bread every Sunday after service, among the poor not having parochial relief. The poor also receive on the 24th of December, and have so received for the last seventy or eighty years, from the Talbot family, a distribution of meat and money, the former consisting of a fat bull of the value of £10 or £12, cut up into eighty pieces, and the latter of the corresponding value of twenty Winchester bushels of wheat, and the same quantity of barley, according to the average price of those articles in the preceding market at Neath. The money is divided among the same persons as the beef, and varies in sums of 1s. to 8s. to each. Mr. Talbot's agent, assisted by the minister, churchwardens, and overseers, attends at the distribution.
In the wood above the village of Margam, called Craig-y-Capel, stand the roofless walls of an old chapel; and upon the top of the mountain to the north-east, is (or until lately was) a monument inscribed Bodvacus hic jacet filius Catotis Irni pro nepos Æternali Domo. Among the curiosities preserved in Mr. Talbot's mansion, are some Roman antiquities found in the neighbourhood; and in the grounds is a very interesting collection of early monuments. On the road from Margam to Kenvig was a nunnery, part of which has been converted into a farmhouse. Near the chapter-house of Margam are two ancient British crosses, standing upright, supposed to be of the fifth and sixth centuries. There also vestiges of an intrenchment upon the hill of Pen-y-Castell.