History Society Report

The Swansea Workhouses

This month’s speaker was Mr Bernard Lewis of Cimla, a noted local historian and author. His topic was to follow a day in the life in the Swansea Workhouse in the nineteenth century.  He began by noting that our perception of workhouses was the portrayal handed down by Charles Dickens in novels such as Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, yet this only gave half the story. The grind of the Dickensian novels belong more to the Poor Law which had been in force since the days of Elizabeth the First. Under the Poor Law each parish was entrusted to look after its poor, providing Poor Houses and alms to the poor and impoverished including medical care and burial. The level of care depended largely on the wealth of the particular parish and varied immensely .However, the revised New Poor law of 1834, the brainchild of Edward Chadwick gave the system a better organization and structure.

Firstly, under the Act, local parishes were combined to form Unions or Workhouse Trusts. Each Trust or Union would have a Clerk and Commissioner who acted as paid professional officials. The idea behind the Workhouse was one of deterrence and therefore they were far from pleasant places, with sometimes whole families forced to enter the institution. The original workhouse in Swansea was situated next to the Castle, but after the formation of the Swansea Workhouse Union it moved to the Bathing House, and re-titled a “House of Industry”. The residents were kept busy doing mind numbingly boring and repetitive tasks such as “picking oakem”, which entailed untangling hemp ropes. The residents also slept in wards; similar to what you would expect in a hospital .The next workhouse in Swansea was opened in 1863 at a cost of £16,000 in what is now known as Mount Pleasant.  It remained a workhouse as late as 1949, when it changed roles to become Mount Pleasant Hospital.

Workhouses were regularly inspected and the description of the residents was graphically unkind. They were described as “lunatics” and “the dregs of society. Notice was also drawn to the fact that there was little opportunity for exercise and the water supply for 200 hundred completely inadequate and insanitary. Lighting was exclusively by candlelight, sexes were separated and the toilets very rudimentary. In order to make life even harder in the workhouse, during the 1860s when the numbers in the Swansea workhouse increased to 235, the authorities responded by pushing the beds closer together! If there was no room in the workhouse for “in-relief”, younger people would receive “out relief”, in form of a dole or chit which they would be able to exchange in local shops for food.

Entrance to the workhouse was entirely voluntary, so long as the Master of Guardians agreed to your application. Others were directed to the workhouse if they had fallen on hard times or were destitute. Sometimes, Unions would exchange residents. Mr Lewis gave examples of Swansea residents being returned from Bristol, a process known as “removal”. The workhouse would provide medical care and treatment, though as was stated earlier the emphasis was that this was far from being the easy option.

One aspect of the administration of the records was that meticulous records were kept as to how long the residents had been in the workhouse. Routine was similar to a prison with the one important proviso that you could leave whenever you liked. The master and the matron were often colourful characters with former soldiers often fulfilling the role. Several of these key figures were dismissed by the Board of Guardians owing to misdemeanours including drunkenness and sexual dalliance. In addition, a positive aspect of the regime was that the “pauper” children were educated by the workhouse and remarkably for the period corporal punishment was not encouraged.  In addition, sometimes the workhouse would pay for the children to be educated in local schools.

Mr Lewis then gave an outline of the typical day in the workhouse which began with prayers at 6:00 am, followed by breakfast at 7:00. Work periods ensued until midday when dinner was served.  At six o’clock work finished for the day, and this was followed by a supper of bread and cheese. The diet was also regulated with a variety of set meals supplemented with gruel. It should be noted that the residents made no financial contribution and indeed they benefitted from the doctors’ fees which were sometimes rather hefty and were also buried in paupers graves, should the need arise. However, any bad behaviour by the residents was punished rather harshly.

Mr Lewis finished his talk by alluding to the contribution of Edward Chadwick to the public life of the UK during the nineteenth century. Indeed, despite being rather unpopular with his fellow politicians, who deliberately pensioned him off at one stage, his contribution to the society in which we now live is obvious. He was instrumental in the introduction of Death Registration (1836), the County Police Act (1838), the Public Health Act and also the Civil Service Examinations of 1971.

Following a question and answer session, Trefor Jones thanked Mr Lewis for a most interesting lecture and noted that our present social security system certainly owes something to the philosophy of the Workhouse.


Trefor Jones

D.A.N.S.A. Bus Timetable for Medical Centre Passengers




Although the ‘all new’ impressively spacious Vale of Neath Medical Centre has been receiving patients since 19th August, the Ceremony to officially open the Centre was held on Monday 14th October 2019 at 3pm.

Waiting & Reception Area

This long awaited building has two floors, the ground floor for Doctors Consulting Rooms and Treatment Rooms along with a glass fronted Reception Area, and a first floor accessed by stairs/lift for treatments, various clinics and offices for the staff.

Emma Woolett


A small group of invited guests including representatives from the Architects (Austin Smith:Lord), Building Contractors (John Weaver Contractors),  PPG (Patient Participation Group), local Councillors, NHS Doctors/Staff were present to celebrate the occasion and to hear a short speech given by Emma Woolett, Chair of the Swansea Bay University Health Board as she explained that the development project had taken over a decade to come to where we are today as there had been complex issues and problems that had to be resolved along the way.  She went on to say that the finished project was well worth the wait and thanked everyone involved and connected with the development for their hard work.


Carolyn Edwards

The next speaker was Carolyn Edwards Chair of the PPG (Patient Participation Group) who stated that she was delighted to be part of the official opening of the Vale of Neath Medical Centre.  She said that the PPG had always been fully involved in the project from the start which was, in her words ‘a very long time ago indeed’.

She was also proud to say that the PPG had been instrumental in the purchase of the ‘hook up’ for the Breast Care Services, and for the Screen Displays situated at various points in the building. She said she was pleased to have the opportunity to thank everyone and hoped that the PPG would continue to be involved in the future.



Simon Knoyle


The final speaker was Simon Knoyle, the Glynneath Town Mayor who also praised the ‘new build’.  He said it was good to finally have a much needed facility for Glynneath, Cwmgwrach, Resolven and all the surrounding areas of the Vale of Neath.  It had been a long time coming and ended by thanking all the patients for their patience.





After the speeches, it only remained to cut the red ribbon draped over the doors and this was done by Emma Woolett, before all present were asked to enjoy light refreshments with some of the staff in a relaxed and informal atmosphere on the first floor.

Some members of the PPG (Patient Participation Group) & local Councillors with Emma Woolett


At the rear entrance to the building

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This is the Patient Transfer ‘D.A.N.S.A.’ bus near the front entrance, used to transport patients to and from the Medical Centre.

Approximate pick up times shown below

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What is PPG (Patient Participation Group)?

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Report by Hugh & Lorna Lewis

Organ Recital in St. David’s Church Resolven



Lunch After Church

A  lunch was  held at St Cadoc’s Church on the 5th Sunday of September.


This was an ideal opportunity for  friends who do not normally attend Church on a regular basis to join us for a relaxed meal and a chat.

Church members brought along a plate of food to share and people were very generous with their portions.

Everyone enjoyed their time to eat, chat and relax and  this will be repeated. The next 5th Sunday will be Sunday 29th December at St David’s Church Hall, Resolven at 10.30am

All are welcome.




St David’s Cream Tea

An Autumn Cream Tea was  held at St David’s Church Hall on Saturday 5th October.

After much preparation the day arrived that Mair and I had worked towards for several weeks with help from others leading up to the day and also on the day. Thank you


A lovely crowd of 60 people turned out to enjoy sandwiches, pastries, a variety of cakes and scones with jam and cream.

A raffle was held with a lovely selection of prizes donated from local organisations and many individuals. The beautiful table decorations were also given away. Labels had been put underneath a chair from each table. If you were sitting on that chair then you were the proud owner of the beautiful centre piece.

Not much left on this table!!!

The Cream Tea raised £630 for St David’s Church.















Resolven History Society ~ October Meeting

Renewing Your Bus Pass

St. David’s Cream Tea 2019

Sunrise over the NeathValley

Sunrise over the Neath valley 22/09/2019
Image by RDN photographer Mike Davies

Message from Transport for Wales

Our Valleys (Transport for Wales event) – Neath Port Talbot

Want to find out more about what’s happening in Neath Port Talbot? We’re holding our next Our Valleys, Our Community, Our Stations event at the Castle Hotel in Neath on 19th September. Join us from 4 pm to find out more about Transport for Wales’ plans for rail services in your area

Neath Railway Station -Image by MIKE DAVIES


Melissa Gnojek—-Rugby International

 Resolven might not have a women’s rugby team but it does have women rugby players. Charlotte Griffiths and Melissa Thomas, to name two, and now 18 year old Melissa Gnojek .

Originally Melissa joined the Resolven Juniors mixed team as under 9’s and played alongside Wales Under 18’s player Bradley Roderick for about 2 seasons. Melissa first love at this time however was Acrobatics a hobby she had pursued since she was 6 years old.  Melissa thrived within the discipline winning numerous competitions.  She also was part of Western Warriors a local cheerleading squad again competing nationally.

Melissa first got back in to rugby around the age of 15 when  Sioned Harries the current no 8 for Wales Women started a girls rugby team in Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera.  Sioned recognised that Melissa had a natural talent for the game and during one match made the comment “if Melissa played rugby she would get a Cap”.  Melissa joined NPT Hawks in the summer of 2016.  The Hawks is an initiative by the WRU to create Girls rugby hubs in each of the Rugby Regions. Melissa was also attending Bonymaen RFC who were trying to establish a girls youth side.   Sioned Harries encouraged Melissa to attend an open talent ID session for the Ospreys Girls Under 18 team.  93 girls attended that session and around 40 made the original cut.  Josh Humphreys, Head Coach, has since told Melissa that she only just made that cut and that they took a chance on her because of her lack of experience and because she didn’t have a club.

Melissa then signed for Seven Sisters Youth and made the final Ospreys squad selection and after her very first season at the Ospreys was named Back of the Year and nominated for the Ospreys Under 18’s most promising player at the main Ospreys awards.  In April 2017  Melissa was selected to play for West Wales vs East Wales and scored a great try under the watchful eye of Wales Women Head Coach Rowland Phillips.  Melissa went on to complete 2 further seasons with the Ospreys winning Ospreys Most Promising Player at the end of both seasons. Melissa Captained the side for her final season.

In April 2018 as part of Rowland Phillips plan to develop young talent in readiness for the Women’s World Cup 2021, an Emerging Wales Women’s side was announced to play Emerging England in the Principality Stadium.  Melissa was amongst those selected to play and they Beat The English!!!  The following year 2019 Melissa was selected again to play for Emerging Wales and was proudly named as Co-Captain of the side and they beat the English Again!

Melissa has recently played her first game for the Senior Ospreys Women team and has been selected in the Wales Under 18’s Sevens squad to play a Home Nations tournament.

There is a lot of time and commitment given By Melissa (and her parents) she is currently training every day between Seven Sisters, Ospreys and travelling to WRU National Centre of Excellence at the Vale Resort to train with the Wales sevens team.  Melissa’s natural ability for the game may run in the family on both sides with both her paternal grandfather and maternal great great grandfather playing for Neath, but it is Melissa’s commitment and desire to achieve that drives her own.  Melissa is often told that she is very coachable and it is this quality that continues to see her develop and improve her game.

Melissa does however keep her hand in with Acrobatics and Contemporary Dance by coaching and teaching when she can at her Auntie’s Dance School – X-Qlusive Dance Company.  These along with Rugby all require teamwork as well as individual skill and Melissa  has a real flair for coaching and encouraging others to do their best.

Over the past 3 years Melissa has seen vast improvements in the Women’s Game and the promotion of the sport.  There is still a long way to go to equal the Men’s game but steady progress is being made.

Community Flu Clinics 2019

Resolven Welfare Social Club on BBC Wales TV


Down The Social with Owen Money

In this 4-part series, Owen is joined by Ebbw Vale performer Mandy Starr to visit a number of different social clubs.  The first episode is at the Merthyr Ex Servicemen’s Club on Monday 16th of September at 7.30 pm

The second episode features Resolven Miners Welfare (Monday 23rd September at 7.30 pm) and sees the comedian and Radio Wales presenter visit a club that was once the pride of its Valley, but now faces an uncertain future


Resolven Miners Welfare– Contrary to appearances on the outside, inside the club is thriving and hugely popular with its 200 members. And it holds another secret –   a part of it that very few people now get to see.

Joined by veteran club performer Mandy Starr, Owen is taken behind locked doors to a hidden art-deco theatre. They both get a chance to explore the 340-seat hall, that was once home to vibrant opera nights and entertainment shows. However, it’s been left in a dilapidated state ever since its doors closed 17 years ago when it was deemed unsafe for the general public.

 Those performing at the club today are getting by with a makeshift stage now in the bar area. But there is a hope that, one day, the theatre can return to its glory days.

The club faces an even bigger, more pressing problem though – the general state of the building. Unless they can find the money to make the building safe, the insurance company won’t cover them, and they’ll have to permanently close the doors on Resolven Miners Welfare. They’re in a race against time as they have just four weeks to find the £10,000 they’ll need to make the building safe.

Owen digs deep into the history of the club, and how it’s helped out the community in times of need. In the early months of the 1984 Miners Strike, the women of the club set up a soup kitchen – the first in the country – to help support and feed the kids of miners who were surviving for months without income. Club Stewardess Diane Sims tracks down video footage of those events to give a younger generation an insight why places like the social club really matter.



Resolven Ladies’ Bowls Finals

Mother and daughter, Carwen Thomas and Ceri Holmes, faced each other in the Two Wood Final on Saturday.  After a wonderful display of bowling skills from both players , Ceri won by one shot after  an extra  end  needed to be played to decide the winner.




Carwen,Ceri and Christine Twaite (marker)

Carwen, who has enjoyed  a very successful season, then went on to face Brenda Rees in the Club Championship Final.   Brenda took the title and created a club record by doing so at the age of 83!   Never!!!





Brenda, Chris (marker) and Carwen


Ceri (Club Captain) receives her Two Wood  Singles Trophy from  Club Chairwoman Brenda


Brenda (Club Chairwoman) receives her Club Champion’s Trophy from Club President Iris Thomas

Another enjoyable season on the green ends  -our 33rd!  Roll on the 34th!