The Real Ugly Lovely Town.

Heading westwards along the old A48 the first thing you see, coming over Stormy Down, is the smoky haze above Port Talbot. Not Port Talbot, I hasten to add, just the haze. It has been this way for well over a century, but the very production of the smoke and steam has provided the town's inhabitants with a profitable livelihood, and you can't have everything. Tin, iron and steel have been it's lifeblood, brought to the town by the proximity of coal, limestone, water, various ores, available labour sources, and especially access to the sea for reasons of import and export. Over the centuries, who are the people who have visited Aberavon, and what has happened to Port Talbot, as it is now known? Let's start with the Romans in 50AD, followed by the Danes in 893, who burned nearby Cynffig. Margam Abbey was founded in 1147 and twenty-three years later the Great Llanfiangel Man Eisteddfod took place. In 1350 Thomas ar Afan granted Aberafan it's charter. Owen Glyndwr stormed Cynffig in 1405. It certainly has a chequered history! 1537 saw the dissolution of Margam Abbey. The Great Flood of 1607 carried away the Church of St Mary's, which had to be rebuilt. No less a figure than Oliver Cromwell visited in 1648, and twenty years later the present Aberafan Bridge was built, the original one also being carried away by the flood. Coal was first cut at Cwmavon in 1750; the opening of the town's first copper works at Taibach in 1760 followed this. In 1819 the first blast furnace was erected at Cwmavon and another one was put up at Pontrhydyfen six years later. Cwmavon got its own copper works in 1835 and the smoking stacks had begun in earnest. The first locomotive arrived in the valley in 1845, the same year that Taibach started making it's first coins. 1831 had seen the burial of folk hero Dic Penderyn at the churchyard in Aberafan, and in 1837 the name Port Talbot was adopted. The Royals who called to visit the area were Henry the Second in 1171, King John in 1210, Edward the Second became a fugitive at Margam in 1326, and Richard the Second visited in 1399. These are some of the historical facts in relation to the town, but from my own family's viewpoint we have our own memory of the Royals, which originated in Port Talbot.

In my father's First World War diaries, when he was involved with both the Red Cross Society and also the St John's Ambulance Brigade, he wrote on Monday 5th November 1917: Train of wounded in. 22 cot cases and 48 walking wounded'. These were the soldiers being brought back from the trenches in France to hospital at Briton Ferry. There were frequent entries like this in his diaries, week after week, month after month. With very little information coming back from the fighting, the arrival of the wounded was a tremendous shock to those at home. Shortly afterwards my father joined the Royal Flying Corps. After the war he continued working with the first aid services, culminating in his appointment by King George V l, in the first year of his reign, as a Serving Brother of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. The title of 'Serving Brother' was actually conferred on my father by Queen Victoria's favourite son Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, at St John's Gate on 4th June 1937. At the time my father was the Superintendent of St John's at Port Talbot Docks. Coincidentally, Connaught Street in the town was named after the Duke. In view of recent events, I believe the continued involvement of members of the Royal Family with the general public can only be for the good of everyone. I know that a number of people in the area took quite a pride in my father's appointment, because it reflected on all the first aid services in the Port Talbot area. I hope that I will be forgiven for having introduced a personal element into this essay. Incidentally, this was the same period when my mother went up, and around, on the ' Wall of Death', an import from America, which had been erected opposite where the Plaza Cinema now stands, near the town's railway station. She rode side-saddle on the petrol tank! This was considered quite daring of her, because motorbikes were still fairly new machines at this time,

Arthur Colburn.


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