Cefn Iron Works
The 19th century saw the Industrial Revolution and, as the word ‘revolution’ implies that meant great change for the people of Glamorgan and Kenfig. Although it is true to say that Kenfig remained an agricultural area the Industrial Revolution did create new opportunities and some people decided to leave their cottages and farms to become ironworkers, coalminers or copper smelters.
The new industries of iron, coal and copper led to the creation of a transport network and new employment could be found constructing railways, turnpikes, tram roads and docks. An ironworks had been established at Cefn Cribwr by the Birmingham industrialist John Bedford in 1780 with the building of a blast furnace. Bedford was a great designer and experimenter; furthermore, he also founded a forge and brickworks as well as establishing coalmines.
Unfortunately, John Bedford was not a great businessman and his ironworks failed to make a substantial profit, closing for long periods of time. By the 1830s the ironworks had fallen idle; however, coalmining and brick making continued into the 20th century, coming to a close after the slaughter of World War One. Today, the ironworks is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Although medieval charters show that land was being leased in the region as early as the 12th century, Kenfig Hill is a relatively modern village.
Kenfig Hill developed thanks to the rich deposits of iron ore and coal in the area. In 1827 Thomas Hopkin, a labourer, was granted permission to build a cottage on the left-hand side of the road leading to Cefn Cribwr; this is the first house to be legally built in Kenfig Hill. Two years later, in 1829, another six building plots were leased and a seventh followed in 1830.
The construction of Bryndu Iron Works led to a need for more houses and a further forty-three leases were issued in 1839 – 40. In addition, another nine people built their houses without permission.
By 1841 one hundred and eighteen houses had been built in Kenfig Hill, the majority providing a home to iron ore miners. As Kenfig Hill developed, blacksmiths, charwomen, publicans, colliers, masons and agricultural labourers could also been found in the village, along with two lawyers.
At this stage Kenfig Hill was predominantly a home to local families, born in Glamorgan, with a few families from Ireland also living in the village. Thomas Hopkin, now aged fifty-five, was still there along with his wife Joan and their three sons, William, John and Rees.
In 1871 the population of Kenfig Hill had reached 1,390 and as the century progressed the village developed into a commercial centre with an array of shops catering for a variety of tastes. By the turn of the century over 300 houses had been built in Kenfig Hill and the vast majority of those houses were inhabited by coalminers and their families.
If you walked down the streets of Kenfig Hill in 1900 you might meet a blacksmith, a railway worker or a publican; more rarely you would encounter a teacher, a clergyman or a policeman. Maybe you would bump into Jenkin Jones, aged thirty, a professor of music, or his brother, David, aged eighteen, one of the many coalminers. Apart from the local accent, the accents you were most likely to hear were those from Carmarthenshire and from the West Country of England which, combined, accounted for a sixth of the population.
In 1900 a telephone exchange opened at Kenfig Hill and in 1904 the telephone directory listed eight people and businesses that were connected to the exchange. These were Baldwin’s Ltd of Aberbaiden Colliery, Cefn Cribwr Brickworks, J.H. Davies, M.D. J.P., Hughes Brothers, Provision Merchants, T. Jones, Surgeon, T. Thomas, Licensed Victualler, J. Woodward, Fish Merchant and Florist and W.H. Thomas of Mawdlam.
Into the 20th century notable landmarks in Kenfig Hill included the War Memorial, which was dedicated on the 11th November 1925, the Gaiety Cinema, which opened its doors on the 12th September 1913 and, arguably the most impressive structure of all because it was built from donations raised by the miners, The Welfare Institute, which cost £12,000 when the building opened on the 18th August 1928. The Welfare Institute had been built on five acres of freehold land that had been presented to the Miners’ Welfare Association by Baldwin’s Ltd. Facilities in the institute included a cinema, dance hall, bowling green, library, tennis courts, billiards hall and a meeting place for a number of societies.
The Rebecca Riots
The dirt tracks and trails of the 18th century became the roads of the 19th century as industry created a new transport network. Roads were built by the Turnpike Trusts who charged tolls to pay for improvements. Those tolls were deeply unpopular with farmers and agricultural workers and they soon created a vast amount of resentment; between 1839 and 1843 that resentment spilled over into violence.
Taking their inspiration from the Bible (Genesis 24:60 ‘And they blessed Rebekah and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.’) men dressed as women and in the name of Rebecca they took violent action against the toll-gates.
In Kenfig, on the 26th October 1843, a crowd of over 500 angry farmers and freeholders gathered at Groes-y-Ddadl (the Debating Cross) to vent their fury at the Bridgend Trust and their toll-gates. Groes-y-Ddadl was a traditional meeting place and for centuries men and women had congregated there to resolve disputes. The source of the protestors’ anger was threefold: a toll-bar erected in 1834 and located above the Dyffryn Llynfi tram road, a gate at Pyle Cross erected in 1840, which blocked the road to Mawdlam, and a chain that barred the road to Taibach.
In many places troops were sent in and the protests rumbled on. By 1844 a combination of increased troop numbers, a desire by the protestors to avoid violence and criminal gangs posing as the rioters led to a resolution of the conflict. In the same year a Parliamentary Act was passed to amend the laws relating to the Turnpike Trusts and as the dust began to settle on that Act thoughts turned to a new force in the land with the coming of the railways.
If industry brought a revolution to the daily lives of the working man and woman then the railways brought a revolution to industry and to the way people spent their leisure time.
In 1825 an Act of Parliament was passed paving the way for a harbour to be built at Porthcawl and for a horse-drawn tram road to link that harbour with the coalmines and ironworks of Dyffryn Llynfi. The tram road ran through Nottage, South Cornelly, Pyle and Cefn Cribwr and its success led to the creation of a railway. That railway opened on the 18th June 1850 and the Kenfig Corporation received £249 14s 6d as compensation for land acquired by the railway company.
The building of the Great Western Railway was overseen by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who stayed at Pyle Inn during a period of its construction. In 1845 it took six hours to travel from the coalfields of the valleys to the port of Porthcawl. On the return journey limestone, an essential component in the iron and steel industries, was transported to the valleys from the quarries of South Cornelly.
Meanwhile, Pyle Station opened in 1850 and as well as serving commerce the station also became a vital cog in the burgeoning leisure industry as the introduction of Bank Holidays combined with the rail network to ferry passengers to seaside resorts, like Porthcawl.
Coal has been mined in the landscape around Kenfig since the 13th century. Deeds relating to Margam Abbey indicate that the monks were exploiting this natural resource in 1250 and they continued to do so throughout the Middle Ages.
That the area is rich in coal can be gauged from place names such as Bryndu (Black Hill) and Coal Brook, the river that snakes its way down from Margam to Kenfig. Meanwhile, in 1630, Jenkin Cradock had a coalmine in the borough and in 1654 John Leyson was mining coal on Cefn Cribwr common. At the close of the 18th century, in 1793, Griffith Thomas was paying £12 a year rent to mine coal on Cefn Cribwr common and in 1832 Kenfig Corporation employed miners to dig for coal at Cefn Cribwr, an enterprise that came to grief within two years.
In the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution moved on apace and demand for coking coal increased, numerous coalmines opened in the countryside around Kenfig. Three of the most prominent mines were Bryndu Colliery, Aberbaiden Colliery and, closest to Kenfig, Newlands Colliery.
A company was formed in 1834 to mine coal at Bryndu to fuel two blast furnaces at the same location. On the 23rd December 1853 a gas explosion, caused by a naked candle, killed five of the miners, including a boy of eleven and a teenager, aged sixteen. In 1858 a further eleven men were killed as they attempted to blast coal from the mine. Bryndu and its associated collieries regularly employed around 400 men until they closed in 1908.
Aberbaiden Colliery was developed by Baldwin’s Ltd in 1906. When the colliery opened it employed 295 men. By 1938 that number had risen to 604 men and the mine continued to be a major employer in the area until it closed in 1959.
Newlands Colliery opened in 1918 with the intention of working the seams under Margam Bay. Initially, around 300 men worked in the mine, but that figure topped 800 in 1938. Excess water bedevilled the mine and the colliery eventually closed in 1968.
The mines around Kenfig not only altered the landscape, turning hills and green fields black and grey, but they also dramatically altered the makeup of the local communities with many families moving into the area. Some of these families moved short distances as they followed the exploitation of fresh coal seams and the opening of new coalmines, while others originated from counties further afield, like Gloucestershire, or neighbouring countries, like Ireland. This influx also helped to accelerate sociological change: in 1891 the Welsh speakers of Kenfig numbered thirty, while one hundred and fifteen were bilingual and fifty-eight spoke English. By 1901 the Welsh speakers were down to five, while one hundred and forty-three were bilingual and sixty people spoke English.
Horace A. Ford
Horace A. Ford was born in London in 1822. The son of a solicitor he moved to South Cornelly in the mid-1840s with his wife Constantine. They lived in Ty Maen with their three sons, all of whom were born at the house, and five servants: a lady’s maid, a housemaid, a nurse, a groom and a cook.
Horace settled in Cornelly because of iron and coal and, along with his father, he established the Bryndu Iron and Coal Company. This was a boom time for coal in the area but, unfortunately, the Bryndu Iron and Coal Company went bankrupt in the 1860s and Horace retired to Bristol with his family and one servant, a parlour maid.
Away from business Horace was a keen archer. He was attracted to the sport in 1845 and four years later he triumphed at the UK Grand National Archery Meeting.
After that 1849 success Horace A. Ford went on to win an unprecedented eleven consecutive championships, remaining unbeaten until 1860. In 1857 he recorded a score of 1,251, a record that stood for seventy-two years.
By the time Horace A. Ford had won his twelfth championship, in 1867, he was regarded as the greatest target archer of all time. He wrote a book, ‘Archery: its Theory and Practice’ and he was also a prominent member of the Royal Toxophilite (Archery) Society. Moreover, many people regarded Horace A. Ford as the leading sportsman of his day.
Nineteenth Century Education
A report, published in 1763 noted that there were sixty-seven families in the Parish of Kenfig, none of whom were dissenters. There was no public school in the parish; however, there was a form of education and the report states that ‘about twenty children are taught to read and write, are carefully instructed in the principles and doctrine of the Church of England, and brought duly to church’.
Church-led education continued into the 19th century and in December 1843 the Guildhall at Kenfig was used as a schoolroom by Mr Kneath, who paid an annual rent of £2. The school ran until the 1860s, under the stewardship of Mr Taylor in 1846, when the rent was raised to £4, John Rogers in the later 1840s, Mr Lewis in 1852 and Evan Cox in 1865.
In January 1868 the Central Glamorgan Gazette reported that a meeting of schools had taken place at Moriah Chapel, Kenfig Hill, on Christmas Day 1867. In attendance were schools from Kenfig, Pen-y-Bryn, Cornelly, Water Street and Moriah. The ministers who questioned the scholars were the Revs. R. Saunders, Thomas Howells and George Watson and the meetings were held at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Crime visited the Guildhall school in May 1868 when a number of schoolbooks were stolen and vandalised. The Gazette stated that the suspects had been identified and the newspaper advised them to return the books to the school.
The following year the Central Glamorgan Gazette reported that scholars and friends of Pyle and Cornelly schools had enjoyed their annual trip to Sker Rocks on Friday the 30th July. Mr Howells of Pen-y-Mynydd, Mrs Loveluck of Cornelly and Mr Morgan of Sker provided the tea and cakes while Mr Morgan of Marlas and Mr Powell of Ty Draw transported the scholars in wagons to and from their destination. The Gazette was pleased to add that ‘everything passed very creditably’.
In 1870 the Elementary Education Act was passed setting the framework for the schooling of all children aged between five and twelve. However, education was not made compulsory until 1880 because many factory owners opposed the idea of schooling, fearing that the removal of children from their factories would reduce their pool of cheap labour.
The Elementary Education Act set up Board schools, as opposed to the church-run National schools. However, parents still had to pay a fee before their children could attend school, although the Board of Education did subsidise the poorest children.
Slater’s Commercial Directory of 1880 stated that there was a Church school in Kenfig Hill with William Sherwood as the master and that a Board school had been established in North Cornelly with Thomas Penhale as the master and Elizabeth Penhale as the mistress. At these schools education was based on reading, writing and arithmetic.
In 1891 education took a leap forward when elementary schooling became free in both Board and Church schools.
Nineteenth Century Shipwrecks
For centuries the people of Kenfig have been feeding their families and making a living from the sea. Experience and local knowledge helped these people to navigate the dangerous sand banks and lethal rocks that lie in wait along Kenfig’s coastline. However, not all sailors were so fortunate and many lives and ships have been lost, particularly in the 19th century. Ships from the West Indies, Portugal, France and Scandinavia floundered, some with tragic consequences while others were rescued by the Porthcawl lifeboat which, in the 1860s, was called the ‘Good Deliverance’.
The ‘Good Deliverance’ was a six-oared vessel, the first lifeboat to be stationed at Porthcawl. The lifeboat was launched on the 29th April 1860 and the craft saw service until 1872 when it was replaced by the ‘Chafyn Grove’ (1872 – 87) and then the ‘Speedwell’ (1887 – 1902).
One of the more bizarre shipwrecks off the Kenfig coast occurred early in the 19th century, in April 1806, when the ‘Perseverance’, a brig bound from Cork to Bristol, was wrecked on a sandbank near Sker. Fortunately, the sixty people aboard the vessel were saved, but the cargo of Irish whiskey was looted by a mob before the cavalry from Swansea could arrive at the scene. A form of rough justice was delivered when, later, two of the looters drank themselves to death.
Mary Francis – The Woman Who Lived to be 110 Years Old
At 12.15 a.m., on Thursday the 17th September 1890, Mary Francis, also known as Bopa, died; she was 110 years old.
Mary Francis hailed from Llansamlet, near Swansea. According to her obituary in the Glamorgan Gazette she was born on the 15th August 1780, the youngest of seven daughters.
Around 1810 Mary arrived in Cornelly and she worked as a servant to Owen Howells of Pen-y-Mynydd Farm. Her first husband was a collier named Griffiths. In search of work, the couple returned to Llansamlet, only for Mr Griffiths to expire when he fell into a canal. A widow, Mary went into service at Aberavon.
Mary’s fortunes changed when she returned to Cornelly to work on Ty Tanglwst Farm. There, she met one of the farm-hands, David Francis. The couple married on the 21st May 1814 and they settled at Ty Capel, adjacent to the chapel, where Mary lived for the rest of her days.
Mary Francis had six children, four of whom were still alive at the time of her death. Her mother, reputedly, lived until she was 111 years old and she is buried at Llansamlet. Mary’s husband, David, died on the 2nd November 1839, aged fifty-nine, and so Mary lived as a widow for a further fifty-one years.
The Gazette remembered Mary as an industrious, respectable woman whose faculties remained clear until her closing years. Apparently, she could distinguish people at a considerable distance and her hearing and mind were well preserved. Physically, she was short and of small proportions and, like many of her generation, she could neither read nor write. Throughout her working life Mary was employed on various farms in the neighbourhood and she was also in demand as a midwife and feather cleaner.
When she was seventy years old Mary broke her leg in an accident and from that point on she was compelled to seek parish relief. Of a religious disposition, Mary regularly attended Capel-y-Pil; she had a fine voice and she loved the hymns. When she could no longer attend the chapel the Rev. E. Williams, himself eighty, would visit her at home.
In her younger days Mary would frequently walk with a neighbour, Mrs Howe, from Cornelly to Neath, and back, in a day, to distribute plaited bonnets made by the local children.
Unfortunately, in the last two years of her life Mary was confined to her bed, except for a few hours when she would sit by the fireside. During those final years people would call on her and leave donations.
When Mary Francis died her body was covered with a white sheet strewn with sweet scented thyme and rosemary. She was buried at Mawdlam Church and an estimated 1,000 people attended her funeral.
There is little doubt that Mary Francis lived beyond the age of 100; however, the census returns from 1841 to 1881 record her birth year as 1786. In 1881 Mary was living with her youngest daughter, Anne, herself a widow, along with Anne’s daughter, Mary, and her husband George and their eleven month old daughter, Mary-Ann. Mary’s daughter, Anne, was born on the 15th April 1832 which means that if Mary’s birth year of 1780 is correct, then she would have been fifty-two at the time of Anne’s birth. Given Mary’s strong constitution, this could well have been possible and maybe if you live to be 100 years old, then you have the right to stop counting.
A Victorian Christmas
Christmas in the Victorian era differed considerably from the Christmas we celebrate today as these extracts from the Glamorgan Gazette reveal. In 1876 the Gazette reported that: ‘The Sunday Schools belonging to the Calvinistic Methodists in this district held a meeting on Christmas Day at Cornelly, to recite portions of “Hyfforddwr Charles.” The following schools took part: Kenfig, Water Street, North and South Cornelly. The meetings were held at two o’clock and six o’clock in the evening. The scholars were questioned by the Rev. J. T. Jones of Marlas House and the answers were very satisfactory’.
Meanwhile, in Kenfig Hill: ‘Meetings were held at Elim Chapel on Christmas Day for the purpose of encouraging the young people of the place in worthy exercises. A meeting was held at two o’clock, consisting of recitations and singing by the members of the Band of Hope. At six o’clock a literary meeting was held and prizes were offered for singing, reciting, lecturing, prose and poetry. The prizes consisted of various interesting books. The chapel was crowded, and the whole proceedings turned out quite a success’.
In 1881 the Gazette stated that: ‘The churches in this parish (Pyle and Kenfig Hill) were tastefully decorated for Christmas with holly and evergreens by Mrs Davies the Vicarage, Mrs Morgan, Marlas, and numerous friends. At the morning service on Christmas Day the Vicar preached, taking for his text St John iii, 16. After the service Holy Communion was celebrated. In the evening the Vicar again preached from Timothy i, 15. On Thursday evening, December 29th, a special service was held for catechising the children of the Sunday School and presenting them with prizes for good conduct during the year. A similar meeting will be held in Welsh next Tuesday evening’.
Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree
The festive season is traditionally a time of over-indulgence, but if you are thinking of consuming one glass too many this Christmas, you might like to consider these cautionary tales of our ancestors.
In August 1875 Frederick Bryant, a haulier from Cefn Cribwr was so drunk that he fell off his horse in Park Street, Bridgend. Totally legless, he was unable to support himself or his horse and he was fined 15 shillings for his trouble.
Alternatively, consider Rees Rees, a carpenter and the Mayor of Kenfig who, in April 1867, was found splashing in a pool of water by the roadside. As PC Beynon approached, he heard the mayor cry out, ‘O, God, save my life!’ At the subsequent court case, PC Beynon reported that the mayor was ‘very drunk’. The mayor, himself a magistrate, received a fine of 20 shillings with costs of 9 shillings tuppence.
Finally, in July 1869, the Glamorgan Gazette reported the following exchange of views: Magistrate, ‘What brought you here, sir?’ Prisoner, ‘Two officers, please, Your Honour.’ Magistrate, ‘Then I suppose liquor had nothing to do with it?’ Prisoner, ‘Yes, sir, they were both drunk!’
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