This week we return to Wales and the mining industry. Industrialisation completely transformed the country between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, and as we shall soon see, some places are still getting back to their feet in the post-industrial era.
Abercraf, or Abercrave in its English form, is on the edge of the South Wales coal field. To the north is the Brecon Beacons National Park. Here the small River Craf (which means ‘garlic’) meets the southbound River Tawe. The Tawe will eventually pour into the sea at Swansea, whose Welsh name is Abertawe.
It is a long, thin village, running east to west along the Tawe. At the west end is the rugby pitch, and at the east is the Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary. The nearest town is Ystradgynlais, a couple of miles downriver.
A thousand years ago, Abercraf was in the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog, from which the region’s name of ‘Brecknockshire’, and eventually ‘Brecon’, originates. The more powerful kingdom of Deheubarth lay to the south west, and England was to the east.
Welcome back to the blog. I hope you’ve all had a good week. Our tour stop today is quite unlike Abercastle or Abercergir, in that it’s not too hard to find sources about the history of the village.
Many of Britain’s small villages only have a line or two for their Wikipedia entry, but Aberchirder has several paragraphs thanks to its involvement in nineteenth century religious change in Scotland. Not that I use Wikipedia as a source, but it’s a good starting point. The village also has a fantastically decked-out website with all kinds of information on the lives and history of the people there.
So shall we begin?
There’s some unusual things about Aberchirder than you, as a discerning reader of this blog, will soon notice. First, despite the ‘Aber’ part of the name, there’s no river. Second, the streets are laid out in an orderly grid fashion, suggesting planned rather than organic growth. Third, everyone keeps calling the place ‘Foggieloan’. And finally, despite this being the biggest settlement in the area, the church parish is not called Aberchirder, but Marnoch.
Episode 40 – Abercastle, Pembrokeshire
Hello everyone, I hope you’ve all had a good week and have come back feeling refreshed and ready for some more history. Either that, or you’re exhausted from a hard week’s work and are coming here to chill out. Whatever brings you here, thank you so much. Alphabetical order is certainly stranger than chronological or regional order, but we’ve already been to so many interesting places.
From today, I’ve set up a new Twitter account @BritainAlphabet just for the blog. I’ll be sharing photos, videos and articles about the places we visit and the people we meet, starting with Abercastle and Abercegir.
This week we’ll be heading back in time to the neolithic, then travelling all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from the USA to the small village of Abercastle.
It seems incredible to think, but this blog has now been going for over six months. It’s been an amazing experience so far, and I can’t believe how many interesting and obscure pieces of British history I have discovered.
The week before last, my proofreader Alan and I were on holiday in London, and we noticed a few places linked to earlier episodes. Westminster Abbey is home to a memorial by Frances Norton of Abbots Leigh, installed for her sisters, and there’s another memorial for Ramsay MacDonald – former Aberavon MP and British Prime Minister. Of course London is also home to the Palace of Westminster, which is right next door to the abbey, where many of the people we’ve already met have served as MPs and in the House of Lords.
It was a fantastic holiday and we learned so much. You can’t go ten metres in London without seeing some sort of statue or plaque. On the way home, our train went up the East Coast Main Line, past the site of the Abbots Ripton train accident.
This Friday’s shocking terrorist attack in London happened quite close to where we had been staying. I’m glad to hear nobody was seriously hurt, and I hope those who were hurt will get well soon.
Returning to our regular schedule, we’re still in Wales as we head south east from Abercanaid, across the valleys, to Abercarn. This Caerphilly town lies on the Ebbw river, which flows south through the Ebbw valley to Cardiff. Abercarn has a direct connection to one of London’s most famous landmarks, as we will soon see.
By now, you have probably realised that mining is at the heart of Wales. Since the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it has shaped the people and their lives. Abercanaid is no exception.
It is a small village, just to the south of one of Wales’s largest towns – Merthyr Tydfil. Aberaman is just a few miles to the south-west, but there are large hills in-between. There’s a good reason this region is known as ‘the valleys’.
The village is named for the Nant Canaid, the ‘white stream’. Here it enters the River Taf, one of the three rivers that gives name to the Rhondda Cynon Taf region.
The earliest, brief record is from 1449, in connection with the manor of Senghenydd, one of ten manors under the Norman Lordship of Glamorgan. There was some sort of farmstead here, and it would have been an isolated rural location before men decided to dig minerals out of the ground.
Welcome back to Aberavon, or – as it’s been called since the 1830s – Port Talbot. This week, we’ll find out how the residents of the area liked to relax, and what connects this small town to the heart of British politics.
The railway soon arrived at the port, and in 1840 the Cwmavon Railway was made to carry iron, copper and tin down the river to be shipped away. A few years later, in 1848, there was an accident on the railway close to the suburb of Aberavon.
Welcome back to Wales. Today we’re on the south coast, in the town of Port Talbot which was once called Aberavon. Aberavon is now a suburb within the town, which is why it still comes up on my map. It has a lot of history to it, so I won’t be able to fit everything into one blog post. This week we’ll be covering from the dawn of human history in Britain up to the birth of Port Talbot.
The name, which is ‘Aberafan’ in Welsh, comes from the river ‘Afan’. It is one of the larger rivers in the area and we’ll be coming back to other places along its length in the future.
Recorded history of the town dates back to when the Normans invaded Wales in 1090, but we know that as far back as 10,000 BCE hunter-gatherer communities would have travelled along the shore gathering shellfish and berries.
Episode 35 – Aberargie
We’re still in Scotland for our first visit today, returning to Perth and Kinross for the village of Aberargie. This is just four miles north-east of Abbots Deuglie, across the M90 motorway.
Its name comes from the river Farg, and the Gaelic words ‘Ober Fhargaidh’ which have been anglicised as ‘Aberargie’. It is not the only ‘Aber’ town in the area, as it is part of the parish of Abernethy, which we will get to soon enough.
I’ve found a couple of references to a Roman tower that was at Aberargie in the second or third centuries, but nothing substantial. In the fifth century, the Pictish Chronicle says that King Nechtan held Aberargie as part of his lands.
In 1783 there was a water mill at the village, and by 1860 it had developed into a complex of structures. It was initially called Farg’s Mill, but in 1879 was known as Ayton Farm and sawmill. This mill shut down in the early twentieth century, but other mills in the village continued to take advantage of the waterways.
Today, Aberargie is home to Morrison and MacKay Whiskey, which recently opened its doors as Perthshire’s first new distillery since 1949.
Episode 36 – Aberarth
Hold onto your hats, everyone! We’re now going all the way back to Wales. In fact, almost all the way back to where we started on the ‘Aber’ towns – Aberarth is just a mile up the coast from Aberaeron.
Our next tour stop is a small village in the Welsh county of Gwynedd. Situated on the border of Snowdonia National Park, Aberangell is a short drive north-east of the market town Machynlleth, on Wales’s west coast.
Here Afon (or river) Angell arrives at Afon Dyfi. If you love nature then it’s a great place to visit and explore the forest and hills. You might also find the ruins of old slate mines, where a great hole would be dug out of the ground to form a quarry.
Once there was a railway station at Aberangell, opened in 1867. Passengers went on the line until 1901, when passenger services ended. Freight continued until 1908 when it was finally closed down. The station at Aberangell was used as an exchange from the Hendre-Ddu tramway system onto the main railway system.
The Hendre-Ddu trams didn’t run on the same type of tracks as the main line. It was a private line, carrying timber and slate down from the Hendre-Ddu quarry. This output nearly a thousand tons of slate in 1883, with 31 men working there. Over time production decreased and in 1946 it closed for good.
One slate mine owner lived in Aberangell, and bought his home – Bryn Derwen – for just £6,000. It is still lived in today.
We now need to travel a long way. Back into England, up the M6, through Scotland almost all the way to Inverness. Here is Aberarder, one of four villages around Loch Ruthven, to the south east of Loch Ness. It is at the top of Strath Nairn, where the River Nairn first forms its course before making its way to the sea.
This week we’re visiting Rhondda Cynon Taf, a county in the south of Wales, named after the five valleys that make it up. The region is close to the capital city of Cardiff.
Aberaman is found in the Cynon valley (pronounced ‘cuh-non’). As we learned last week, ‘Aber’ means river mouth, and this village is located where the Amman river (Afon Aman) arrives at the Cynon river.
Before the nineteenth century, Aberaman Isha was the rural home of the Mathew family. They were large landholders in the Glamorgan area, which included the modern Rhondda Cynon Taf region. Three of the Mathews served as High Sheriff of Glamorgan.