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Neath Town

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Map ReferenceSS79NW
Grid ReferenceSS7400097000
Unitary (Local) AuthorityNeath Port Talbot
Old CountyGlamorgan
CommunityDyffryn Clydach
Type Of SiteTOWN
The market town of Neath developed on a site that had long been important owing to its position as the lowest crossing point on the River Neath. The Roman fort of Nidum (NPRN 301350) was founded there in the first century AD and remained in sporadic use until the fourth century. In the early twelfth century two castles were built in the area; one in the centre of the present town founded by Robert, Earl of Gloucester (NPRN 402739), the second across the river, founded by his lieutenant, Richard de Glanville (NPRN 94528). In 1130 Glanville went on to found Neath Abbey (NPRN 133) in the shadow of his castle, and a village and market began to develop around them.

Neath's early history is marred by repeated sackings at the hands of the lords of Afan, but by the fourteenth century relative peace was achieved, and the completion of town walls (NPRN 307205) and a bridge across the river allowed trade to flourish in the regular markets held there. In the sixteenth century coal mining and copper smelting commenced in the area, and paved the way for the eighteenth century industrialisation of the town. In 1795 the Neath Canal (NPRN 34444) was completed, followed in 1824 by the Swansea to Aberdulais Canal, and in 1850 and 1851 the South Wales Railway and Vale of Neath Railway respectively. Many of the signs of Neath's industrial past remain; the dry dock (NPRN 34269), the Town and Market Halls (NPRN 31909 & 31826), the Mechanics Institute (NPRN 18327) and the Melyn Tinplate Works (NPRN 302182).

K Steele, RCAHMW, 16 December 2008

The town takes its name from its strategic situation on the lowest crossing point of the River Neath (Nedd). Owing to the shallowness of the river, the Romans established a fort here, Nidum, c.75 AD which remained in use until the departure of the Roman forces in the fourth century.

Two castles were founded in the area in the twelfth century, one by Richard de Glanville who in 1130 also established Neath Abbey. The town and market of Neath quickly developed around the castle and abbey, but was repeatedly sacked by the Welsh Lords of Afan. By the fourteenth century a walled town was well established, however, and trade flourished.

Neath began to develop heavy industries relatively early, and in the sixteenth century coal mining and copper smelting were undertaken here. The town was heavily industrialised in the eighteenth century with the growth of iron, steel and tinplate works, and by 1795 the Neath Canal had been completed, followed by the Swansea to Aberdulais canal in 1824. With the arrival of two railways in 1850 and 1851, the town had excellent links with industrial production sites further inland making it a major industrial hub.

During the Romantic period, travellers who came to Neath looked with equal amounts of horror and fascination at the spectacle presented to them by a view across the valley. Sublime nature and abbey ruins situated at one end of the valley contrasted with the billowing smoke and flames shooting into the sky at the other end. For a Romantic traveller and thrill-seeker, Neath at night was like stepping into a painting of the underworld.

Record updated as part of the AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
R. Singer (Bangor University) and S. Fielding (RCAHMW), 2017.
application/pdfETW - European Travellers to Wales ProjectDescription of a visit to Neath by Franz Br?mel from 'Nordland-Fahrten. Zweite Abteilung' (c. 1870s). Text available in Welsh, English, French and German. Produced through the European Travellers to Wales project.