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Alfred Russel Wallace Audio Trail

1. Bryncoch Farm

On Wallace’s arrival in Neath in 1841 he and his brother William took up lodgings at Bryncoch Farm with farmer, David Rees, who was bailiff to the Dyffryn Estate. From here the brothers surveyed Cadoxton Parish from the bottom of the Neath Valley to Pontneddfechan at the top.

Their stay at Bryncoch Farm would have been comfortable having fresh food such as eggs, butter, milk, cream and cheese daily. Wallace became very fond of the cheese made at Bryncoch Farm which was made from a combination of sheep and cows milk.

However Wallace would have struggled with living and working in this area because, at the time, the vast majority of the local community could only speak Welsh.

Wallace found the language barrier particularly challenging whilst collecting monies for his brothers outstanding accounts on his second stay in Neath.

2. Clydach River

Wallace nearly drowned as a young boy, and had a fear of water but the crystal waters of the River Clydach, that ran below Bryncoch Farm, proved too much temptation for Wallace and it was there that he taught himself to swim.

3. Crynant

Whilst surveying Cadoxton Parish Wallace and his brother travelled on foot through the Dulais Valley to the county boundary at Pontneddfechan.

The Dulais Valley was undeveloped by industry at this time and community was made up of farms, brewers, mills, small scale collieries and an iron works.

Wallace stayed at a number of lodgings in the Dulais Valley including what he describes as a small beer shop in the hamlet of Crynant.

It is thought that the public house in question was the old Red Lion pub. At the inn Wallace describes the landlady as brewing her own beer in a very primitive fashion using a large pot in the washhouse.

4. Neath Abbey Iron Works

After a year at Bryncoch Farm, Wallace and his brother moved across the Clydach River closer to Neath to lodge with another surveyor called Samuel Osgood.

Samuel Osgood had drawn the 1830 map of the Neath Abbey estate and then in 1832 a map on the wider area of Neath. He also worked for Joseph Tregelles Price the manager at the Neath Abbey Iron Works.

Tramlines would run past the front of Wallace’s dwelling to the Neath Abbey Iron Works, where a few years later, Wallace’s younger brother John found employment.

The cottage that Wallace and his brother moved to was basic to say the least and to their dismay was covered in bedbugs. This was soon resolved by Wallace’s brother William who made it his mission to rid the house of these pesky bugs.

Wallace and his brother lodged with Samuel Osgood until 1843. Unable to find enough work, Wallace left Neath to find employment in London and then took a teaching post in Leicester. In Leicester Wallace met fellow amateur naturalist Henry Walter Bates who was to become a great friend, colleague and influence on Wallace’s scientific fascination.

5. Lodgings on New Street

Wallace’s brother William died suddenly in 1845 forcing Wallace to return to Neath to finalise William’s business affairs. Wallace continued with the surveying business and took lodgings with a photographer called Thomas Sims on New Street.

Thomas Sims eventually became Wallace’s brother in law, marrying his younger sister Frances in 1849.

6. Vale of Neath Railway and Melin Court Waterfall

During the period known as ‘railway mania’, Wallace was employed by a civil engineer in Swansea to survey the Neath valley for a proposed railway. This job was very well paid at two guineas a day plus expenses. Wallace spent the summer and autumn working on the railway line which was to carry coal from the collieries as far as Merthyr Tydfil to the main port in South Wales, in Swansea.

Wallace wrote about his work on the railway saying,

‘I enjoyed myself immensely. It took me up the south east side of the valley…along pleasant lanes and paths, through woods and by stream and up one of the wildest and most picturesque little glens I have ever explored. Here we had to climb over huge rocks as big as houses, ascend cascades, and take cross levels up steep banks and precipices all densely wooded.’

When the work was complete Wallace, and the others who had been working on the Vale of Neath Railway, took their plans to London to present to parliament. The Vale of Neath Railway plan was passed by parliament in 1847.

7. Llantwit Cottage

In 1846 Wallace persuaded his brother John to move from London to find work with him in Neath. Their mother and sister Frances also wished to join them so Wallace rented a cottage in Neath next to St Illtyd’s Church less than a mile from town.

It was here at Llantwit Cottage where Wallace stayed until he embarked on his journey to the Amazon with Henry Bates in 1848. Wallace described the cottage as having, ‘a nice little garden and yard…going down to the Neath Canal, immediately beyond which was the River Neath, with a pretty view across the valley to Cadoxton and the fine Drymmau Mountain.’

8. Neath & Tennant Canals

Whilst living at Llantwit cottage Wallace’s brother John became determined to build a small boat giving them access to Swansea via the Neath and Tennant Canals.

John was a carpenter by trade and he built a small lightweight boat, light enough to carry and to hold two to three people. One day Wallace and his brother persuaded their mother to travel to Swansea with them on the boat, ending in one of them getting wet feet. Listen to the audio story available to find out who got their feet wet.

9. Neath Town Hall

During both his residences in Neath Wallace taught lectures at the Town Hall and Mechanic’s Institute on a Friday evening. Wallace taught the subjects of Geology, Geography, Astronomy and Science.

At first Wallace was reluctant to lecture but with a bit of persuasion from Mr William Jevons who owned the Cwmgwarch Venallt Iron Works he gave in and started to teach the basics of science, including physics. The Town Hall is a grade two listed building located on the same street as the Mechanic’s Institute, both buildings are still in use today.

10. Cwmgwrach Iron Works

Mr Jevons was a local industrialist and was a co-founder of the Mechanic’s Institute in Neath. Locally he was known as the ‘man of Neath’ holding a substantial private library of books which Wallace would occasionally borrow. As a result of these meetings Wallace was persuaded to lecture at the Mechanic’s Institute.

Cwmgwrach Iron works opened in 1839 to smelt iron with anthracite; however by 1854 the furnaces were out of use. Today you can still see the remains of iron works features include the blowing-house engine, part of the cast-house, the base of the stack and the furnace walls. The office building is now a residential farmhouse. From the top of the iron works there are panoramic views looking down over Glynneath and the surrounding valley.

11. Mechanic’s Institute

The Mechanic’s Institute in Neath was formed in 1843 to provide working men with education in elementary and technical subjects. The Mechanic’s Institute started with a library and various resourses such as maps and globes and held its classes all at the Town Hall. However due to its popularity the original Institute became too small and a new building was necessary.

Mr William Jevons from Cwmgwrach Iron Works co-founded the Mechanic’s Institute and was a driving force in the creation of a purpose built building for the Mechanic’s Institute. The Mechanic’s Institute asked Wallace to design a new building, his plans were accepted. The building included a library, reading room and class room, it was soon completed at a cost of £550 and opened on Church Place in 1847 where it remains actively attended and open today.

12. Crymlyn Burrows

Wallace spent hours exploring Crymlyn Burrows, which is a site of special scientific importance. During his explorations in the burrows for bugs and different species of flora and fauna, he discovered the Phylan Dune Beetle, more commonly known as the Tiger Beetle. As well as this he and his brother John stumbled across an uncommon black snake which unbeknown to them was poisonous.

Crymlyn Burrows includes fine examples of habitat transitions between sand dune and saltmarsh habitats. These habitats are important to a range of bugs and plants which rely on the habitat to survive. The Dune Tiger Beetle and the Strandline Beetle are two particularly scarce beetles restricted to sand dune sites, and they can both be found at Crymlyn Burrows.

13. Pontneddfechan Waterfalls

Wallace made many trips to Pontneddfechan showing his brother John the array waterfalls in the area now commonly known as ‘Waterfall Country’.

Wallace once compared the impressive Sgwd Gwladys Waterfall to one of the natural wonders of the world Niagara falls, but with Sgwd Gwladys being on a far smaller scale of course.

Wallace made many references to the beauty of the Vale of Neath, he mentions that he had one of his most memorable times in the area whilst visiting Pontneddfechan to sleep in a cave overnight with his brother in preparation for their voyage across the Amazon.

14. Drymmau Mountain

It was during his stay at the Bryncoch Farm that Wallace’s fascination with nature and the classification of plants began. Finding there was not always enough work for both brothers, Wallace used to have a lot of spare time, so he started to explore the local wildlife spending hours rambling around the countryside including Drymmau Mountain.

After buying a shilling book, published by the ‘Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’, on the identification of plants and wildflowers he began cataloguing and drawing specimens that he found in the locality. Wallace’s brother William deemed this a futile passtime, however this began Wallace’s unofficial training as a young field naturalist.

Wallace wrote in his autobiography My Life, 

‘what occupied me chiefly and became more and more the solace and delight of my lonely rambles among the moors and mountains, was my first introduction to the variety, the beauty, and the mystery of nature as manifested in the vegetable kingdom’.

15. Cadoxton Church

Wallace came to live in Neath to help his brother survey the land of Cadoxton. Wallace and his brother completed the survey work within six months and drew maps of the Cadoxton and Neath area. Cadoxton Church sits in the village of Cadoxton just outside Neath Town Centre.

16. St Illtyd’s Church

The ancient Welsh Church of Llan Illtyd, also known as Llantwit Church or St Illtyd’s Church, is situated on the left bank of the River Neath. The original church was built by St Illtyd, an early Welsh Saint and ex-Knight who was one of the teachers of the Celtic Saints in pre-Norman times. The church originally constructed from wood, was later rebuilt with stone during the Norman period.

Wallace surveyed the courtyard of Llantwit church as one of his jobs whilst living in Neath.

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