The Celts arrived here around 2,500 years ago, with the entire South East Wales region being occupied by the Silures tribe. The Silures were fierce warriors and when the Romans tried to conquer the area, they put up a powerful resistance. In fact, it’s not completely clear if the Romans actually defeated the Silures or simply agreed a truce with them. We reckon this Celtic bloodline is what makes our communities so strong and proud 2,000 years later.
The Romans eventually established the fort of Nidum in around 70AD, in what is the modern-day town of Neath.
The Normans were next to sweep through these parts. Neath Abbey was founded by the knight Sir Richard de Grenville in 1130, and by the 13th century was one of Wales’s wealthiest abbeys. Its ruins are still considered one of the most impressive monastic remains in South East Wales. Margam Abbey, founded in 1147, is the only Cistercian monastery in Wales whose nave is still intact and in use as a parish church.
The coal mining industry in Neath Port Talbot expanded rapidly with the development of the port of Neath in the 16th century and the abundance of coal also allowed other industries to thrive. Copper smelting began at Aberdulais as far back as 1584, powered by its waterfall, and Neath Abbey had become a copper foundry by the 1730s. The Neath, Tennant and Swansea Canals were constructed during this time to support the industrial boom. Neath Abbey Ironworks was founded in 1792 and Aberdulais switched to producing tinplate, which was exported all over the world. By the 19th century, our region had become one of the global centres of manufacturing metals and coal mining. When Cefn Coed Colliery opened in the 1920s and became the deepest anthracite mine in the world, there were over 5,500 men working in the coal mines of the Dulais Valley alone.
Despite the decline of our area’s industries by the late 20th century, our communities still have tremendous pride in their industrial heritage. Although the workers may be long gone, many of our heritage sites were right there at the heart of industrialisation. See and hear the stories of how men, women and children lived, worked, and died – at our Museums and Heritage Sites.