St. Mattew's Church, Dyffryn

Not far on we come to the beautiful St. Matthews' Church, Dyffryn. It was erected in eight months in 1871 with money and land given by the local squire, philanthropist Howel Gwyn who lived in a grand, feudal style from 1854 in nearby Dyffryn House, now demolished. The church is beautifully decorated with vivid colours, and the roof is of special note. It was built at a cost of 4,500 from Pennant stone from one of Gwyn's quarries. The Dyffryn mansion had forty seven rooms and its stables, bearing the date of 1862, still exists. Like other 18th Century mansions - Gnoll House, for example, Dyffryn House had an ice-house, which can still be seen there. Howel Gwyn was born in Neath town in 1829. Having completed the Grand Tour of Europe, he studied at the Bar and became a Conservative M.P. in 1847. He lived at Baglan House until 1835 when he bought the Dyffryn estate from the Williams family. He became High Sheriff of three counties and Mayor of Neath, building many local schools. He was buried in St. Matthews' churchyard in 1888. His nephew, J.E. Moore, lived in the house until his death in 1925. The church's lych-gate is an attractive one, and next door to it is Swiss Gables, in Tudor style, once the rectory of the vicar.

We must now mention the numerous collieries or drift mines that existed scattered about in the Dyffryn Clydach parish. Coal mines had been recorded here since the 16th Century. Mention should be made, in particular of Bryndewi Colliery, a specimen of whose coal, known as Craigola, was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and was then described as "obtained under a mountain lying in between the Vales of Neath and Swansea and about three miles from the sea". The Main Colliery company owned the Brithdir, Court Herbert, Dyffryn Main, Waunceirch and Bryncoch Main collieries, between 1897 and 1918 these produced some eight million tons of coal, employing about two thousand men. As early as 1806 the Quakers - Fox, Price and others, had leased the Dyffryn estates minerals and had formed a Neath Abbey Coal company, and much later in 1882 - the Dynevor Coal company under Howel Gwyn and the Moore family controlled the Court Herbert, Bryndewi, Brithdir and Dyffryn Main collieries. There was also a Fire Engine pit at the top end of Glynclydach pond and also a small Darren pit near Longford Court. The Pwll Mawr pit at Bryncoch had been sunk by William Kirkhouse, the engineer who built the Tennant Canal, and at the time (in the 1820's) was the deepest in the Country reaching a depth of 200 yards. It is interesting to find that the Neath poet, Elijah Waring, once wrote a poem about Bryndewi Colliery. All the collieries sent their coal along tram roads down to the wharves on the river at Neath Abbey and the Tennant Canal. And the collieries were not without several tragic accidents - there were a few deaths at Bryncoch mine in 1839, and an inrush of water at Dyffryn No. 1 pit drowned 25 men in 1859 [see a contemporary account here] while an explosion at the same pit in 1896 killed 7 miners. Three repairmen were killed on the Main Colliery Company's private railway in 1906, and a father and son killed in a roof fall at Bryncoch in 1919. Nearly all of the Dyffryn Clydach pits had closed by the year 1928.  An exception to this was the small Darran Colliery, which continued for over another 50 years, and was reputedly the last mine in the country still using pit ponies.  Also, in the 1960s open cast coal was taken from the fields of Price's farm alongside The Darran mine.

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