Friday, September 07, 2007

Heritage (2)

Linda Ware of the Welsh Nationalists opposes the demolition of a historic mill building in Neath Abbey. She writes in the Neath Guardian:

"many people now feel disheartened regarding the treatment of our heritage by Neath Port Talbot Council and its Community Councils.

"Neath is a very ancient market town and the area around Neath Abbey could be a huge tourist attraction given the attention it deserves.

"The descendants of the last Abbot of Neath Abbey, Abbott Hopkin Leyson, remain in the area today in the Hopkins family, who have farmed for generations and the Leyson family occupy an ancient house in Cadoxton, Ysys Ladd.

"The whole area from South of the Abbey at Neath to nearly Crynant in the Dulais Valley was Abbey Land. And Cwrt Herbert, the home of the Turberville family, direct descendants of the Norman Knight who was given this land by William the Conqueror.

"There is the grave of the traitor monk there, the beautiful Abbey ruins, the site of one of the earliest woollen mills in the area and, incidentally, the site of the woollen mill where the shawl of Ann Williams of Glynrhigos Farm in Cilfrew was woven from the black sheep of Llettyrafel Farm, so it retained it's blackness. This was in approximately 1740. This shawl was worn by Ann Williams when she rode from Cilfrew to Trefecca for the first Communion of the Presbyterian or Calvinistic Methodist Church in Wales where the famous Daniel Rowlands and Howel Harris preached. [...]

"we have a town destroyed by planners where people who visit remark: 'is there nothing but charity shops and building societies?' and we have to reply 'no'.

"The ancient Charter which grants Neath the privilege of holding a market produces two fruit and veg shops in the indoor market and two or three traditional butchers. The town, where remarkable history is buried in the vaults of the Antiquarian Society, instead of being brought out and made alive to give the children of the area hope and belief in themselves."

Typically of Plaid Cymru, Ms Ware's emphasis is on the historical and religious, though she does make a passing reference to Brunel (not quoted). While not denigrating the attractions of this romantic approach to visitors, I suggest that industrial history is an increasing magnet for foreign tourists. For some time, American and Japanese enthusiasts have been keen to see the birth-places of the Industrial Revolution, and it is likely that Indian and Chinese students will follow, as their own industries grow.

Neath Abbey Ironworks, as the papers in the Mechanics Institute show, was in at the birth of the railway age. The successors of these pioneers, Taylor & Sons of Briton Ferry, are, I understand, keen to develop the area as a heritage site. One hopes that the money - and it could come from a mix of sponsorships, not just council-tax payers' money - can be found to achieve this.

In the mean time, what is left of the fabric should be protected.

- Frank Little
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