NEWS & MEMBERS ARTICLES
02 December 2023Neath's Dark Skies - Sequel
When Bombs Rained Down on the Communities of Coedffranc
On the night of 1st September 1940 and into the early hours of 2nd September, a group of Skewen residents fought to extinguish incendiary bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe on properties in and around Siding Terrace. At the forefront of the struggle to extinguish the fires were two senior Air Raid Precautions Wardens who took charge of the situation and, displaying exceptional courage and resourcefulness, prevented the small fires turning into an inferno. This was not the first, or the last, or the most devastating air raid that the residents of the Coedffranc community would experience during the Second World War.
In July 1939 a presentation was made at the Castle Hotel, Neath of badges and certificates to 60 men and 40 women ARP wardens of Skewen.1 These wardens became the first link in a chain of ARP bodies that would include firefighters, rescue and first aid parties, ambulance crews and medics. In order to report and co-ordinate the work of the ARP Wardens a local control post was required. The Wardens Post might be in a municipal building, a shop, or a basement, or even the front room in of one warden’s home. A limited number were purpose built constructions. In the communities of Coedffranc, Wardens Posts were established at:
22.A.1 1 Dynevor Place, Skewen (the home of Albert Emerson Truman)
22.A.2 19 Wern Road, Skewen (the home of Ambrose Richard Morgan)
22.A.3 79 New Road, Skewen (the home of Idris Dawkins)
22.A.4 The Cottage, Cardonnel Road, Skewen (the home of Edwin Gaskins)
22.A.5 Highlands, Skewen
22.A.6 Constructed Post, opposite the Smiths Arms, Neath Abbey
22.A.7 Scout Hut at Llandarcy
22.A.8 Constructed Post, Elba Crescent, Cymlyn Burrows
22.A.10 The Schools [sic], Jersey Marine
22.A.11P The Garage, Cefn Parc, Skewen
22.A.12P Lonlas House, Park Avenue, Skewen (the home of Miss Jennie Myfanwy John)
Wardens would report to their post when they came on or went off duty and part-time wardens were supposed to put in about three nights a week.
As the threat of war developed ARP wardens were issued with additional equipment, such as a more robustly constructed gas mask. Among the tools at the Wardens Posts was a stirrup pump and hose for firefighting. This was to be used by two people – one person working the pump, which stood in a bucket of water, whilst the second person held the hose and directed the nozzle at the flames.
On the night of 1st /2nd September 1940 the German Luftwaffe carried out its biggest raid on Swansea and the surrounding district to date. In the early hours of 2nd September extensive damage was caused to properties, a workshop and stores, also a timber yard when a high-explosive bomb fell on the roadway of Siding Terrace, Skewen and incendiary bombs fell on Nos 5, 7 and 8 Siding Terrace. The senior wardens on duty at that time were David William Thomas and Albert Emerson Truman. The high-explosive bomb dropped a matter of yards from the Wardens Post, damaging the Post. Thomas was on duty in the Warden’s Post and Truman was on patrol duty. As a result of this bomb explosion extensive damage was done to workshops, stores and houses, whilst incendiary bombs started several fires. Thomas and Truman took charge of the situation immediately. Using stirrup pumps they commenced to fight the fires - Thomas tackled the house fires with the aid of other wardens and residents, while Truman took charge of attempts to keep the timber yard fire under control. When one trailer pump that arrived failed to function fresh fires broke out. Thomas and Truman tackled them using the water for their stirrup pumps, from the water-filled crater caused by the bomb; this activity was being carried on while enemy planes were still dropping bombs. At the crater, where they were using the stirrup pumps, there was danger from falling debris from the damaged houses, but Truman and Thomas carried on and undoubtedly saved the situation by preventing small fires from becoming an inferno. For their courage and resourcefulness Thomas and Truman where awarded the British Empire Medal. The timber yard which belonged to Messrs Jones Bros was destroyed by fire while extensive damage was done to numerous houses. Fortunately there was no loss of life but six people were injured, two persons were classed as serious casualties and four as slight casualties.2
Bomb Damage at Siding Terrace
With oil storage tanks burning brightly the Luftwaffe returned on the night of 2nd /3rd September 1940, but this time the raid on the National Oil Refinery (Llandarcy)proved to be ineffective. The refinery’s anti-aircraft defence, aided by a ‘fighting vessel’ in the bay, put up a barrage of fire with the result that only two bombs landed in the refinery (both failed to detonate). However, a further five bombs landed in and about Llandarcy Village - one bomb fell near 35 Pretyman Drive and one at the rear of 22 The Greenway and three more bombs detonated on waste ground at the side of 68 The Greenway; fortunately there was no loss of life.3 During this raid four bombs were also dropped on Jersey Marine Golf Course, no personal injuries or property damage resulted.
Prior to these air raids, an earlier air raid on 21st July 1940 resulted in a near miss from a high-explosive bomb which landed in the garden of 25 Elba Crescent, Cymlyn Burrows. Nine people (four adults and five children) found themselves trapped inside their Anderson shelter in the garden. Covered by sand and dirt the survivors’ shouts for help were answered when ARP wardens and soldiers dug them out. All nine survived, but Mr William Harris, the householder, sustained shrapnel wounds, and his legs were crushed by a blast-wall he had constructed in front of the entrance to the shelter.4
Another devastating air raid on Skewen was that of the night of 20th May 1941. A single raider dropped a cluster of bombs on and around Burrows Road and whilst most fell on waste ground causing no damage, one high-explosive bomb caused extensive damage and death. Four casualties required hospital treatment, while one casualty was treated at a temporary ARP Post in Cardonnel Road. Sadly Philip George Moth died from his injuries at Penrhiwtyn Hospital. Mrs Mary Richards was detained in hospital requiring stiches to a gash across her eyes and punctured check. Four houses were badly damaged with Y Capel Chapel and four other houses having to be demolished; rescue and demolition parties were stood down at 20.35 hours the following day.5
The district of Neath Abbey was also on the receiving end of Luftwaffe attacks. In September 1940 nine bombs were dropped on the district, one causing extensive damage to Glynfelin (home of the Gibbins family) and in July 1942 the district was again bombed.
Bomb Damage at Glynfelin
ARP wardens were not above the law and offences for which Coedffranc’s wardens were charged included minor motoring misdemeanours. Failure to adequately screen bicycle lighting and torches, would lead to a summons. Other cases for which wardens in the district of Coedffranc were found guilty were more serious, such as the senior warden who was found guilty of black marketeering and a female warden who was found guilty of the theft of food and clothing. One unfortunate warden found himself briefly incarcerated in an internment camp since his parents were of German origin.
Over 1.9 million people served within the Civil Defence which was disbanded on 2nd May 1945. A farewell parade with representatives of all the Civil Defence Services from across Great Britain took place in Hyde Park, London on 10th June 1945 in the presence of His Majesty King George VI.
Note: The images used in this article are held at Glamorgan Archives and appear with the permission of the South Wales Police Heritage Centre.
1. Neath Guardian - 14th July 1939
2. Neath Control Centre ARP Log Book
3. A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 - VL Barnes
4. Memories of Swansea at War - South Wales Evening Post (1988)
5. Neath Control Centre ARP Log Book
2. Neath Control Centre ARP Log Book
1. Neath Guardian, 14 July 1939
04 November 2023Nineteenth Century Tazers
THE PAINTED TRUNCHEONS
NEATH BOROUGH POLICE
Martyn J Griffiths
The Neath Borough Police Force was created in February 1836. Throughout its history the constabulary at Neath remained small and, even at its close in 1947, numbered just over 40 men. At the end of the Victorian era there were still only 14 Neath Borough policemen.
Times changed and with them the uniform and accoutrements that each officer had to carry, but one item remained a constant; the possession of a trusty truncheon which was also known as a staff or baton and was intended primarily for defence and only to be used for offense in extremis.
The early police officers in the town would have worn blue swallow tail coats, white duck trousers and top hats during the day and darker attire at night. They would have been equipped with various accessories to help with their duties; one of these being a truncheon.
The earliest truncheons were 20 inches long and were not meant to be visible. The uniform of the new policeman was intended to blend in with the man-about-town and to allay public fears that the police were an arm of the government intended to spy on them and perhaps to support tax collection. It is because of this that the truncheon was secreted in the tail of the swallow-tail coat.
Truncheons were gradually reduced in length with changes in uniform and by the 1860s some Police Forces issued leather truncheon cases to enable the staff to be suspended from the officer’s belt.
A Police Order dated 11th January 1887 introduced a new means of hiding this weapon. The truncheon was reduced to 15 inches and was secreted in a special pocket sewn into the police trousers. This remained the case up until the mid-1990s.
Police equipment, including handcuffs and truncheons, were produced by a number of companies including Hiatt and Co., a Birmingham company that closed in 2008.
Whilst every officer was issued with a truncheon, there is no evidence as to whether these were plain or painted. The idea of a decorated truncheon was that, by displaying a staff with a royal crown or coat of arms, it showed that the officer was acting with the authority of the Crown. Decorations varied, depending on the supplier and the needs of the purchasing authority.
Alan C. Cook, the author of ‘Truncheons – An Unequal Match’ (2014) believes that painted truncheons were widely issued. At the end of the 1830s several thousand were issued to Special Constables in Essex in order to deal with riots. An opposing view is that they were not general issue but, more likely, issued to certain officers or on special occasions. Whilst special constables might need a decorated truncheon to show their authority as they were not uniformed, it is less likely that Police Forces would go to the huge expense of producing painted staffs for every uniformed officer. In Neath, with a very small constabulary and with a watch committee that was always aware of cost, it is unlikely that any were made except for special presentation purposes.
What is not disputed is the fact that painted truncheons were issued widely. Former police officer, collector and author, Mervyn Mitton, conducted a survey for his book in 1985 and found well over four thousand painted truncheons in museums and police collections.
Victorian Crown (left) and Later Crown (right)
There are very few staffs in existence relating to Neath Borough Police. The earliest was believed to be one offered for sale thirty years ago for about £200. Its present location is unknown. There was some doubt about its validity but the paint is believed to date from the 1830s. This would place it right at the formation of the Neath Borough Police. This particular truncheon differed from later variants in that it was made of oak, was hand painted and did not have a black background i.e. the crown etc. was painted onto bare wood.
Painted truncheons at the South Wales Police Heritage Centre in Bridgend
Neath Borough Truncheon at the Police Heritage Centre in Bridgend
(It seems a lot shorter than other similar truncheons)
A later truncheon was owned by Doug Harris. He was born in 1900 and joined the Borough Police in 1926, becoming chief clerk and then transferring to the Glamorgan Constabulary on amalgamation in 1947, where he became an Inspector.
Truncheon owned by Inspector Doug Harris
There is another Neath Borough Police truncheon which formed part of the private collection of former policman, Alan Swain, who served in the Cambridgeshire Constabulary 1951-1982 (he died in 2015). It is in excellent condition and is described as ‘18” long, with Crown above Gartered Arms of Neath (gold) turret on blue background Neath Borough Police with the garter Acanthus decoration to reverse.’
A truncehon in the Alan Swain collection
Yet another truncheon is displayed in the Mayor’s Parlour at Neath Port Talbot Civic Centre.
Staff in the Mayor’s Parlour, Port Talbot
It is 17 inches long and does not have a maker’s mark
Ross Mather, a former police officer and also a former curator of the South Wales Police Museum, has one of the finest private collections of police memorabilia. This he readily displays on the Facebook page entitled, ‘Virtual Museum of Police in Wales’. He has also shown some items on the People’s Collection Wales webpage of the National Library of Wales. Many more items are on his website https://www.britishpolicecollection.com/
Three truncheons in the Ross Mather Collection
The one on the right was presented to a Neath Mayor in 1920
Most examples of Neath Borough truncheons are not dated but there is one truncheon in Ross Mather’s collection which bears a plaque stating that it was presented by Neath Borough Police to JR Jones, the Mayor of Neath in 1920. John Rowland Jones was on the Neath Borough Council from 1902 to 1938. He worked as a railway signalman and was an active trade unionist.
The seven truncheons so far located seem similar in design though the handles differ slightly. Some constabularies produced decorated truncheons to mark the end of World War 1 and the General Strike of 1926. It may be that the Neath staffs were issued around this period.
Two other painted Neath Borough truncheons are known to exist. One was owned by Sergeant Grey and the other by Constable David Samuel Williams. Evan Grey joined the Neath Borough Police in 1923 and was promoted Sergeant in 1941, becoming Detective Sergeant two years later. He served in WW1 and after WW2 was seconded to the Civil Control Commission in Germany. David Samuel Williams joined in 1926 and claimed to be the first motor cyclist in Neath Borough Constabulary. Both of these truncheons were made by another police equipment supplier, Parker Field. These would have been nineteenth century truncheons as Parker Field closed in 1883. Many smaller police forces saved money by re-using equipment and it is clear from the design that these truncheons were painted after Victoria’s reign ended.
There is no doubt that more Neath Borough painted truncheons are or were in existence. Mervyn Mitton, in his 1985 book, ‘The Policeman’s Lot’, has a photograph of one which seems to be another 1920s truncheon. Although the markings on the truncheon are quite clear Mr Mitton has unfortunately described the Neath truncheon as a Scottish painted truncheon.
The use of decorated truncheons as a badge of office would have come to an end when warrant cards were first issued in the late Victorian era.
WITH THANKS to Ross Mather, Bob Grant, Alan C Cook, Laurence Swain, David Michael, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, South Wales Police Heritage Centre and the family of Doug Harris.
10 October 2023COURT SART BRANCH CANAL
Court Sart Branch Canal
Over the period around 1799-1810 a sequence of leases for a portion of Eaglesbush Estate eventually led to the establishment of the Eskyn Colliery from which a horse-drawn tramway led to a wharf on the River Neath at Briton Ferry. In 1829 permission was granted for an alternative route to the river using the Neath Canal by the construction of a branch canal at Pantyrheol. The Court Sart Branch Canal would run between the Neath Canal and the New Turnpike Road (the present ‘Main Road’) at which point it would meet a new tramway from the colliery. However, it would exist in operation only up to the introduction of the South Wales Railway circa 1850 which cut directly across its path. This article chronicles the relatively short life of the branch canal along with tramway(s) from the colliery and describes features that may still be seen today as evidence of their original course.
1.0 Evolution of Neath Canal
The construction of the Court Sart Branch Canal was at the culmination of a number of prior activities initially associated with the earlier approximately one and three eighth miles long ‘Penrhiwtyn Canal’. Operational by 1792, this canal had been financed by Lord Vernon and ran from Giant’s Grave Pill to the furnaces of the ‘Penrhiwtyn Ironworks’ near Melincrythan. While construction was underway, a meeting was held at the Ship & Castle in Neath (now the Castle Hotel) on 12th July 1790 where interested parties discussed a proposal to build a canal from Pontneddfechan to Neath Town (a survey was subsequently undertaken by Thomas Dadford junior). Also considered was the potential of an extension to Giant’s Grave which was deemed to be of future benefit though this would not be part of the first phase. The following year an Act of Parliament authorised the construction of a canal from (the slightly nearer) Glynneath to the Melincrythan Pill, a total distance of approximately ten and a half miles and was completed in 1795. At the end of 1797 powers were sought to extend the canal by two and a half miles to Giant’s Grave (see Figure 1), Dadford was once more the surveyor.
Figure 1. Plan for Neath Canal between Melincrythan Pill and Giant’s Grave, Dadford 1797
The associated authorising Act was given assent in May 1798. Penrhiwtyn Canal was purchased from Lord Vernon and absorbed into this extension which terminated at a basin on the Neath side of Giant’s Grave Pill; work was completed by 29th July 1799. Around 1815 Lord Vernon’s agent, Lewis Thomas authorised a 150 yard extension around the end of Giant’s Grave Pill to a new shipping area on the south side. At some point soon after it was further extended by about 50 yards by a new landowner, the Earl of Jersey and increased again by 1832 for another half-mile. A final extension was made prior to 1842 allowing coal supplies to the then planned ironworks.
[Although complaints regarding the quantity of mud and poor available depth of the Neath Canal were made in 1866, traffic continued but declined considerably over the following years due to preferred alternative options of transport e.g. train, the number of barge tolls being virtually nil in 1921. The last toll was taken in November 1934.]
2.0 Court Sart Branch Canal
As soon as the first two major sections of the Neath Canal had been completed opportunities were taken to realise the advantage of this new waterway eventually resulting in three branch canals along its length. The first near the head of the canal at Maesmarchog was constructed c.1800, a second circa 1817 at Cnel Bach near Aberclwyd, with the third being built c. 1829 at Court Sart, Briton Ferry. The background to this latter branch canal originated with a press announcement in August 1812 concerning the opening of the ‘Eskyn Colliery, Briton-Ferry’ (aka Esgyrn / Esgryn / Eskin / Yskin / Erskine). Coal would be transported from the colliery, located near the section of Pant Howell Ddu Road that overlooks the Court Sart area, to a wharf on the River Neath at Briton Ferry via a horse-drawn tramway, passing St. Mary’s church en-route (see later), before being transferred to seafaring vessels.
Note: Lord Vernon would not permit a tramroad to be built in front of his mansion located near the church and so a tunnel was built from Church Street to the wharf!
Following non-payment of significant rent arrears the lease for the colliery was surrendered in 1827. The subsequent lease of the Eskyn Colliery from 1829 was granted by the Earl of Jersey to ‘Messrs. Smith, Terrill and Nell’ and included was their intention of making an alternative route for transporting the coal to the River Neath whereby the road element would be reduced by making use of the Neath Canal. It was proposed to cut a branch canal at Court Sart to join the Neath Canal ‘The proposed Cuts to join the Neath Canal...’ which also incorporated the agreement to construct roads/railways as necessary from the colliery to meet this branch. However, the original tramway would remain and be used as required. At this time the extension of the Neath Canal to (virtually) the wharf at Briton Ferry had yet to be built and so the terminus would have been near Giant’s Grave Pill as aforementioned. The use of this new route implies that coal would be double-handled before making its way by sea i.e. transfer from tram to barge at the new branch canal and then from barge to sea-vessel at the wharf. This would incur additional handling charges compared with the original route but nonetheless must have been considered more cost effective.
The branch canal plan (see Figure 2) commencing just above the buildings annotated ‘Court Sart’ hence the name. The ‘Intended Canal’ (coloured pink) begins at the Neath Canal then immediately passes under a bridge before continuing in a straight line to terminate at the New Turnpike Road.
Figure 2. Lease plan of 1829 detailing the ‘Intended Canal’ i.e. Court Sart Branch Canal
It appears that there was already a form of path/lane or field boundary between the New Turnpike Road to the Old Turnpike Road (the present ‘Old Road’) which was almost a straight continuation of the line of the branch. Slightly uproad from this point on the Old Turnpike Road a path or lane is seen heading towards Pant Howell Ddu Road which itself ran to the area of the Eskyn Colliery that was located just after the U-bend of the road. Hosgood’s slightly later plan of 1832 (see Figure 3) shows the branch canal after completion where it appears the bridge was not constructed.
Figure 3. Branch canal extending from the Neath Canal to the New Turnpike Road, Hosgood, 1832
The branch also crossed the somewhat triangular shape of the original course of the Crythan Brook (outlined brown in Figure 3) although by this time the brook no longer ran to the Court Sart Pill, being redirected to run to the River Neath at Melincrythan upon construction of the New Turnpike Road c.1818. By 1833 a proposed ‘new line’ of tramway/railway branching from the colliery ahead of the Old Turnpike Road was under consideration (see Figure 4). This was not completely new but more of an alternative initial portion of the tramway as it would thereafter cover the same path as the earlier pre-1827 route from the intersection with the New Turnpike Road, i.e. down to the wharf after passing St. Mary’s church. Also shown is the relatively smooth route that by then existed between the colliery and the branch canal obviating the original ‘dog-leg’ in Figure 2.
Figure 4. Proposed ‘New Line / ‘Rail Road’ branching from the branch canal line
However, the proposed route of the ‘new line’ in Figure 4 was not implemented. A more appropriate take-off nearer to the colliery than the original proposal was built at some point (see Figure 5), running parallel with Pant Howell Ddu/Ynysmaerdy Road until its junction with the New Turnpike Road, thereafter running to the wharf as previous. Also seen is a substantial quay/docking area at the junction with the New Turnpike Road.
Figure 5. Undated map, possibly 1849 showing tramways and dock area at the New Turnpike Road
The ‘old line of railroad’ and ‘present line of railroad’ are clearly outlined with yet another ‘proposed line of railroad’ albeit once more joining the very earliest route to the wharf, the new line running straight from the colliery area to join with the existing line. This new line does appear to have been built based on later maps (section 3.0) and was to be the last of the various routes transporting coal from the Eskyn Colliery to the River Neath at Briton Ferry.
So, from the early 1830s the Eskyn Colliery was able to transport its output to the River Neath either by tramway to the junction with the Court Sart Branch Canal and onto the Neath Canal to transfer to the River Neath at Giant’s Grave, or via the earlier tramway reaching a further point along the River Neath at Briton Ferry. It is considered that these routes were in operation up to the late 1840s i.e. up to the introduction of the South Wales Railway (SWR), no evidence being found to the contrary.
During 1847 the Earl of Jersey had already drawn up terms with George Penrose and James Evans for them to surrender their latest lease of 1843 in order to obtain the land at the branch canal and associated roads for building of the SWR;
Messrs. Penrose & Evans to surrender the old tramroad made by the late Robert Smith & Co. Leading to the Courtsart canal – likewise such Canal and the land cottage and smithy adjoining – to surrender also the present tramroad now in use and to restore it into pasture land.’ Also ‘The Earl to receive all compensation for such of the Courtsart Pill or Canal and the land so to be surrendered which shall be taken by the South Wales Railway Company for their Railway.
Surrender of the lease was executed on 31st December 1849 effectively halting the relatively short-lived operation of the Court Sart Branch Canal.
[A report by Glen A Taylor in 1937 stated that the Court Sart Branch Canal ran ‘...almost due east, crossing the road near Pantyrheol Church and on to the old road. The pathway between the old and present main roads at this point is on the site of the old Towing path.’ Unfortunately this incorrect statement has been taken as fact in later reports. Also, the branch length is described by Hadfield as between 440 - 550 yards long (0.25 - 0.31 miles). Approximate distance from the Neath Canal junction to the Main Road (New Turnpike Road) is actually 700 yards (0.4 miles).]
3.0 Demise of the Court Sart Branch Canal
Following closure of the branch to colliery traffic it was effectively rendered obsolete. Figure 6 presents a collage of the four Ordnance Survey maps of 1877 that cover the associated area.
Figure 6. OS map collage 1877 - remaining section of branch canal leading to the previously SWR but now Great Western Railway (GWR) and residual section up to the New Turnpike Road; subsequent path of the tramway to the Eskyn colliery indicated by field boundaries
The junction with the Neath Canal is clearly seen (top left) with the branch running diagonally downward unaffected until it reaches the GWR line, further curtailing its length. Proceeding in a straight line thereafter it is unsurprisingly more fragmented by that time up to the New Turnpike Road. The branch was by then probably filled-in between those points. The significantly narrower lines (of trees) reveal the original tramway route from the New to the Old Turnpike Road, probably having been returned to pasture as per the lease surrender agreement. The 1877 map at Figure 7 shows the area between the Old Turnpike Road (on left) and the Eskyn Colliery (on right) plus Pant Howell Ddu Road from the Eaglesbush Estate which runs down to meet the Old Turnpike Road presently leading onto Ynysmaerdy Road.
Figure 7. Map of the Eskyn Colliery area, 1877
Below this road the outline of the final (post-South Wales Railway) tramway from the colliery is clearly seen running towards Briton Ferry. The outline of the original tramway continuing up to Eskyn Colliery is also still just evident alongside Pant Howell Ddu Road. The tramway to Briton Ferry was bridged by both the SWR line and the later South Wales Mineral Railway (SWMR) line seen sweeping across Figure 7, although it had probably ceased operation by 1861. At this time the leaseholder, George Penrose, was declared bankrupt, the colliery already having been reported as ‘abandoned’ in 1859.
A further curtailment of the branch was imposed by the construction in 1876 of the GWR engine shed (see Figure 8). Note that the shed was not shown on OS maps of 1884 although these were supposedly updates of the 1877 version.
Figure 8. Proposed construction of GWR engine shed, 1876
The engine shed was built across a section of the branch canal, the only remaining portion of the latter existing thereafter reaching up to the shed from the Neath Canal junction. The isolated length of branch canal between the shed and railway would then no doubt be filled in. GWR made considerable efforts to avoid the remaining section the branch canal from impacting on their works by closing the Neath Canal junction with a new area of canal bank. Further minimising of water ingress was implemented with later constructions at the site between the rear of the shed and the Neath Canal (see Figure 9).
Figure 9. GWR engine shed area near Neath Canal junction
However, the branch canal was not totally filled in between the Neath Canal junction and shed, small sections remaining as shown.
A lane existed between the present Main Road and the railway line running alongside the original route of the branch canal, probably along the towpath. This was gradually becoming established with residential premises and by 1913 was named ‘Farm Road’ (see Figure 10).
Figure 10. Farm Road area, 1913
The direction of the colliery tramway can still be seen on this map running from the opposite side of the Main Road in line with Farm Road.
4.0 Current Views of Court Sart Branch Canal Area
Despite the changes mentioned even today there remains some landscape features related to the branch canal. Figure 11 shows a current view of the area, the red pointer (top left) positioned at the original junction with the Neath Canal.
Figure 11. Branch Canal area 2022, Neath Canal shown as bright green line (top left)
Figure 12 shows the junction of the branch with Neath Canal located just upstream of the railway bridge that crosses Neath Canal.
Figure 12. Location of Court Sart Branch Canal junction on Neath Canal
Although the GWR constructed a new section of banking on the Neath Canal, a remnant of the branch canal may be seen just the other side of this bank in the form of a depression/channel. Occasionally this area contains water depending on previous weather (see Figure 13).
Figure 13. Court Sart Branch Canal remnants located behind Neath Canal bank
This brief section is all that remains of the short lived Court Sart Branch Canal. Following the line of the branch canal from the Neath Canal junction (see Figure 11) the remaining portion of the branch canal is covered by foliage with the area previously occupied by the long gone GWR engine shed represented by the relatively flat grassy section. Unsurprisingly, there are no features remaining between this area and Farm Road. However, the continuing direction of the branch along the line of Farm Road is clearly shown reaching the Main Road. Thereafter, the line of the tramway can be seen running along the row of buildings between the Main Road and Old Road and then continues to run alongside the sports facilities until reaching Ynysmaerdy Road/Pant Howell Ddu Road i.e. the original Eaglesbush Estate road.
Therefore, along with remaining hard evidence of pools in the original branch canal near its junction with the Neath Canal there are additional clues to its existence. These include the direction taken by subsequent developments along the original course of both the canal as far as the Main Road and the tramway thereafter across the Old Road and onward as far as Ynysmaerdy Road/Pant Howell Ddu Road.
5.0 Summary & Conclusion
Few records exist to indicate the use and life of the Court Sart Branch Canal. It is likely to have been in commercial operation up to about 1850 prior to construction of the SWR railway which then almost certainly ended any further coal transport. Thereafter, all coal from the Eskyn Colliery would have once more been transported to the River Neath at Briton Ferry via the original tramway.
Despite the Court Sart Branch Canal being constructed over 200 years ago and relatively quickly becoming obsolete, evidence of its existence remains to this day. It is revealed not only in the small section remaining at the junction with the Neath Canal but also in the line of Farm Road with the direction taken by buildings on the opposite side of the Main Road heading towards the Old Road indicating the line of the canal tramway which originally ran towards the Eskyn Colliery.
The legacy of Court Sart Branch Canal has not been totally erased.
P Richards - Neath Antiquarian Society, 2022
Neath Antiquarian Society Archive
West Glamorgan Archive Services
The Canals of South Wales and the Border - Charles Hadfield (1960)
Photographs and other maps - Hywel Rogers, Gerald Williams, National Library of Scotland, Google Maps