Briton Ferry
Briton Ferry is a town
A town is a human settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city. The size a settlement must be in order to be called a "town" varies considerably in different parts of the world, so that, for example, many American "small towns" seem to British people to be no more than villages, while...

 and community
Community (Wales)
A community is a division of land in Wales that forms the lowest-tier of local government in Wales. Welsh communities are analogous to civil parishes in England....

 in the county borough
County borough
County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland , to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control. They were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in England and Wales, but continue in use for lieutenancy and shrievalty in...

 of Neath Port Talbot
Neath Port Talbot
Neath Port Talbot is a county borough and one of the unitary authority areas of Wales. Neath Port Talbot is the 8th most populous county in Wales and the third most populous county borough....

, Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

. The town encompasses the electoral wards of Briton Ferry East and Briton Ferry West.

Briton Ferry is on the mouth of the River Neath
River Neath
River Neath is a river in south Wales running south west from its source in the Brecon Beacons National Park to its mouth at Baglan Bay below Briton Ferry on the east side of Swansea Bay.Several minor rivers rise on the southern slopes of Fforest Fawr...

 where it enters Swansea Bay
Swansea Bay
Swansea Bay is a bay on the Bristol Channel on the South Wales coast. Places on the bay include Mumbles, Swansea and Port Talbot. The River Neath, River Tawe, River Afan and Blackpill stream flow into the bay....

 and was the first river crossing along the Roman road
Roman road
The Roman roads were a vital part of the development of the Roman state, from about 500 BC through the expansion during the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Roman roads enabled the Romans to move armies and trade goods and to communicate. The Roman road system spanned more than 400,000 km...

 that followed the coastline along that part of South Wales
South Wales
South Wales is an area of Wales bordered by England and the Bristol Channel to the east and south, and Mid Wales and West Wales to the north and west. The most densely populated region in the south-west of the United Kingdom, it is home to around 2.1 million people and includes the capital city of...

. The river crossing was by ferry
A ferry is a form of transportation, usually a boat, but sometimes a ship, used to carry primarily passengers, and sometimes vehicles and cargo as well, across a body of water. Most ferries operate on regular, frequent, return services...

 boat some 2 miles (3.2 km) from the bridge across the River Neath at Neath
Neath is a town and community situated in the principal area of Neath Port Talbot, Wales, UK with a population of approximately 45,898 in 2001...

. At certain low tides it was possible to walk across the river via a ford
Ford (crossing)
A ford is a shallow place with good footing where a river or stream may be crossed by wading or in a vehicle. A ford is mostly a natural phenomenon, in contrast to a low water crossing, which is an artificial bridge that allows crossing a river or stream when water is low.The names of many towns...

 close to the ferry route using stepping stones.

There are remains of ancient stone age settlements on the hills above Briton Ferry. The town was part of the Briton Ferry Estate.

Industrial development

The Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 brought factories such as the Albion Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 Works, the English Crown Spelter
Spelter, while sometimes used merely as a synonym for zinc, is often used to identify a zinc alloy. In this sense it might be an alloy of equal parts copper and zinc, i.e. a brass, used for hard soldering and brazing, or as an alloy, containing lead, that is used instead of bronze...

 Works and the Baglan Bay
Baglan Bay
Baglan Bay is a part of the Swansea Bay coastline and a district of Neath Port Talbot county borough, Wales. The area currently has no inhabitants and is entirely occupied by industrial and commercial developments. Baglan Bay is also the name of a local government community coterminous with the...

 Tinplate Works were built on land close to the River Neath
River Neath
River Neath is a river in south Wales running south west from its source in the Brecon Beacons National Park to its mouth at Baglan Bay below Briton Ferry on the east side of Swansea Bay.Several minor rivers rise on the southern slopes of Fforest Fawr...

 and the new South Wales Railway
South Wales Railway
The South Wales Railway was a broad gauge railway that linked the Gloucester and Dean Forest Railway with Neyland in Wales.-History:The need for the railway was created by the need to ship coal from the South Wales Valleys to London, and secondly to complete Brunel's vision of linking London with...

, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS , was a British civil engineer who built bridges and dockyards including the construction of the first major British railway, the Great Western Railway; a series of steamships, including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship; and numerous important bridges...

. In 1840 an area of about 750 acres (3 km²) of land in Cwmafan
Cwmafan is a large village and community in the Afan valley in Wales, lying within Neath Port Talbot County Borough. It has a population of 5,603. In many ways it is a suburb of the nearby town of Port Talbot which is less than to the south, but it is separated from the town by the local...

 was leased for 99 years to John Vigurs and subsequently passed to Wright, Butler & Co. Ltd, then to Baldwins Ltd. The terraces of houses built on this land were sublet for the remainder of the term of this lease in 1897 and 1898 - but many were declared unfit for habitation in the 1930s and resultantly demolished.

The industrial development and industrialisation attracted other railways, including the Neath and Brecon Railway
Neath and Brecon Railway
The Neath and Brecon Railway linked the Vale of Neath Railway at Neath with the Brecon and Merthyr Railway at Brecon and also via a connection from Colbren Junction, it linked to the Swansea Vale Railway at Ynysygeinon Junction ....

, the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway
Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway
The Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway connected the coal mines of the Rhondda Valley to the Swansea Bay ports.Connecting with the Taff Vale Railway at Treherbert, it had branches to Aberavon and Port Talbot docks. It was later extended to Swansea and a branch to Neath was added, bringing the total...

, and the South Wales Mineral Railway with its cable powered incline.

Briton Ferry floating dock

In the 1850s the Briton Ferry Floating Dock Company was incorporated, and bought land from the Earl of Jersey
Earl of Jersey
Earl of the Island of Jersey, usually shortened to Earl of Jersey, is a title in the Peerage of England. It was created in 1697 for the statesman Edward Villiers, 1st Viscount Villiers, Ambassador to France from 1698 to 1699 and Secretary of State for the Southern Department from 1699 to 1700...

 to build the Briton Ferry Docks. When it opened in 1861, the dock consisted of an outer basin which was tidal, and an inner floating dock, where the water level was maintained by a single gate, which included a buoyancy chamber. It covered an area of 181 acres (73.2 ha). The gate was 56 feet (17.1 m) wide, and the unique structure with its floating caisson was designed by Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS , was a British civil engineer who built bridges and dockyards including the construction of the first major British railway, the Great Western Railway; a series of steamships, including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship; and numerous important bridges...

's father, Sir Marc Brunel
Marc Isambard Brunel
Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, FRS FRSE was a French-born engineer who settled in England. He preferred the name Isambard, but is generally known to history as Marc to avoid confusion with his more famous son Isambard Kingdom Brunel...

. Following Brunel's death in 1859, Robert Brereton took over as engineer, and also acted as engineer for improvements made in 1872 and 1873.
The company later went bankrupt and the Great Western Railway
Great Western Railway
The Great Western Railway was a British railway company that linked London with the south-west and west of England and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament in 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838...

 took over the docks as a going concern. After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 many warships were scrapped there, until the dock was closed in 1959. As part of a regeneration programme, a tower, which formed part of the complex, has been refurbished. It was an accumulator tower for the hydraulic system
Hydraulic machinery
Hydraulic machines are machinery and tools that use liquid fluid power to do simple work. Heavy equipment is a common example.In this type of machine, hydraulic fluid is transmitted throughout the machine to various hydraulic motors and hydraulic cylinders and which becomes pressurised according to...

 which operated the dock gate and cranes. The system was designed by William Armstrong, and in 2010, the Institute of Civil Engineers unveiled a plaque at the site to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

"Giants Grave" is a folk song written by Huw Pudner and Chris Hastings about the shipbreaking industry at the Briton Ferry Docks.
The chorus says
"And me and my old pals
With our hammers and spanners
We'd take out the fittings
We'd work until late
From Lisbon to Lagos
From Belfast to Boston
We'd salvage the cable
Steel rivets and plate"

The shipbreaking of WW2 ships, for example HMS Bermuda, took place at Giants Grave upstream of the floating dock, and north of the M4 and A48.

The Mouchel phenomena

In 1875 the French-born engineer Louis Gustave Mouchel
Louis Gustave Mouchel
Louis Gustave Mouchel was the founder of Mouchel, one of the United Kingdom's largest engineering consultancies.-Career:...

 established himself in Briton Ferry and quickly became involved in a number of successful enterprises. His consultancy company was directly responsible for introducing ferro-concrete
Reinforced concrete
Reinforced concrete is concrete in which reinforcement bars , reinforcement grids, plates or fibers have been incorporated to strengthen the concrete in tension. It was invented by French gardener Joseph Monier in 1849 and patented in 1867. The term Ferro Concrete refers only to concrete that is...

 (also called 'reinforced concrete') to Britain, with the claimed first entirely ferro-concrete building in the UK constructed for the Weaver and Co mills in neighbouring Swansea.

So important was Briton Ferry for trade with France that Mouchel was, from 1879 to his death, French Consular Agent to 'Briton Ferry,Talbot,Porthcawl and Neath Abbey'.


The industrial revolution brought much expansion to Briton Ferry that included iron works, steel works, tinplate production and engineering. Production generally lasted until the 1970s. In 1951 as industry began to dwindle, portions of the estate were sold to the Principality Property Co., Estateways Builders, John Oliver Watkins, the City & Provincial Housing Association and Gwalia Land & Property Developments Ltd.

Modern development

A new bridge across the River Neath was completed in 1955 and a second one, built to carry the M4 Motorway
M4 motorway
The M4 motorway links London with South Wales. It is part of the unsigned European route E30. Other major places directly accessible from M4 junctions are Reading, Swindon, Bristol, Newport, Cardiff and Swansea...

, was completed in 1993. The main line railway still passes through but the industries have closed resulting in Briton Ferry being a dormitory suburb of the new Neath Port Talbot County Borough.

The sailing ships with destinations all over the world that used to berth in Brunel’s magnificent ports have disappeared as has the docks, which is now filled in with only a few remains to be seen. But work has now started to restore Brunel's tower, with a restoration group presently trying to restore what remains of the unique Brunel dock to working order (the only one in the world to use a floating chamber), for use by fishing boats and yacht
A yacht is a recreational boat or ship. The term originated from the Dutch Jacht meaning "hunt". It was originally defined as a light fast sailing vessel used by the Dutch navy to pursue pirates and other transgressors around and into the shallow waters of the Low Countries...


Briton Ferry Woods

Briton Ferry Woods is a natural woodland
Ecologically, a woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of...

 that has never been felled and remains one of the oldest ancient woodland
Ancient woodland
Ancient woodland is a term used in the United Kingdom to refer specifically to woodland that has existed continuously since 1600 or before in England and Wales . Before those dates, planting of new woodland was uncommon, so a wood present in 1600 was likely to have developed naturally...

 areas since the last Ice Age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

 covered Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

. The majestic beech
Beech is a genus of ten species of deciduous trees in the family Fagaceae, native to temperate Europe, Asia and North America.-Habit:...

 trees, which display vivid orange hues in autumn and cool shelter from the sun in summer, welcome visitors to the wood. In spring time bluebell
Common Bluebell
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, commonly known as the common bluebell, is a spring-flowering bulbous perennial plant. -Taxonomy:...

s put on their show. Ancient upland Welsh Oak woods cover much of the slopes, which give way to healthy scrubland or moorland
Moorland or moor is a type of habitat, in the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome, found in upland areas, characterised by low-growing vegetation on acidic soils and heavy fog...

 towards the top of the hill. There is also an area of fir
Firs are a genus of 48–55 species of evergreen conifers in the family Pinaceae. They are found through much of North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, occurring in mountains over most of the range...

s within the wood, a remnant of a very old plantation. The wood is full of birdsong during spring and summer, and in the evening you may see bat
Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera "hand" and pteron "wing") whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels, gliding possums, and colugos, glide rather than fly,...

s feeding on insects throughout the wood.

Notable people

See :Category:People from Briton Ferry

  • Alf Shea
    Alf Shea
    Alf Shea was a Welsh cricketer. He was a right-handed batsman and a right-arm medium-pace bowler who played for Glamorgan. He was born in Briton Ferry and died in Neath....

    , Welsh cricketer, born in Briton Ferry
  • David Pickering
    David Pickering (rugby player)
    David Francis Pickering is a former Wales international rugby union player. He played club rugby for Llanelli RFC and Neath RFC. He won 23 caps for Wales between 1983 and 1987 and captained the national team on eight occasions....

     Welsh rugby personality
  • Mavis Nicholson (nee Mainwaring)
    Mavis Nicholson
    Mavis Nicholson is a British writer and TV broadcaster.She was born Mavis Mainwaring and spent her childhood in Briton Ferry. She became a student at Swansea University...

    Journalist and Broadcaster

External links

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