"ABERAVON (ABERAVON), a small port, borough, and parish, in the hundred of NEATH, county of GLAMORGAN, SOUTH WALES, on the road from Swansea to Cardif, 5 1/2 miles (S by E.) from Neath, and 196 (W.) from London, containing 573 inhabitants.
This place, which derives its name from its situation at the mouth of the river Avon, is of considerable antiquity, and was formerly invested with various privileges, which, however, have fallen into disuse. In the division of the county, which took place on its subjugation by Fitz-Hamon, the Norman adventurer, it formed part of the territories conferred by that chieftain upon Caradoc, son of Iestyn ab Gwrgan, the dethroned prince, who made it the place of his residence, and is supposed to have erected the ancient castle, the foundations of which are still discernible in a field adjoining the churchyard.
This castle, though of no great extent, was commodiously situated for defending the pass of the river, and sufficiently formidable to become an object of importance in the various wars which at that time disturbed the peace of the principality. Caradoc was succeeded in his lordship by his son Morgan, who is regarded by some writers as the founder of the stately abbey of Margam, of which there are still considerable remains. About the year 1150, Madoc ab Meredydd, Prince of Powys, making an irruption into the county of Glamorgan, at the head of a powerful army, laid waste the territories of Morgan ab Caradoc ab Iestyn, and took and demolished the castle of Aberavon. Upon this occasion, Morgan, unable to resist the force which was opposed to him, fled with his followers, and, taking sanctuary in the churches and monasteries, placed himself under the protection of William, Earl of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan. In 1349, Thomas, son of Sir John de Avon, Knt., having succeeded to the lordship of Avon, granted to the abbey of Margam a charter, confirming all former grants, and to the inhabitants of the borough the free exercise of all the privileges which they had previously enjoyed.
During the usurpation of Cromwell, the portreeve, being apprised of the approach of the protector's emissaries, contrived to secure the charter and other documents relating to the borough, by concealing them in a rough piece of oak, in which he had formed a cavity for that purpose, and on which, upon the arrival of the officers, he was found chopping sticks, as upon a common block. By this artifice the papers were preserved, and the piece of oak, upon which the marks of the hatchet are still visible, is now carefully preserved as the corporation chest.
The town is situated at a short distance from the eastern shore of Swansea bay, under a lofty ridge of hills, by which it is sheltered from the north winds ; but, from its proximity to a marsh, it is much exposed to damps, and the inhabitants are consequently subject to ague and other complaints : it is neither paved nor lighted, and consists almost entirely of mean and illbuilt houses, affording but little accommodation to the inhabitants, and fewer attractions to strangers. The land in the vicinity is subject to frequent inundations of the river Avon, which flows on the eastern side of the town. The most alarming and destructive of these occurred on July 25th, 1768, when the water flowed into the church and every house in the town, in most places to the height of five feet, to the great danger of the lives of the inhabitants. Entire fields of corn upon its banks were laid waste by the flood, which swept away Aberavon bridge and others, and a great quantity of hay, trees, &c. ; and, on its subsiding, the town was left covered with mud and slime, which wholly destroyed the provisions in it, so that the poorer inhabitants were reduced to great distress, being almost perishing from want and hunger, but were seasonably and plentifully relieved by the bountiful humanity of Thomas Mansel Talbot, Esq.
A handsome and substantial stone bridge of one arch has been erected, by William Edwards, the celebrated self-taught architect, over the Avon, to which river alone the town is indebted for the small degree of importance it has acquired. Aberavon is a creek to the port of Swansea : the harbour is small, but sufficiently commodious. The imports are copper and iron ores, for the supply of the extensive works at Cwm Bychan, in the adjoining parish of Michaelston, from which a tram-road passes through the town to the shippingplace near the mouth of the river, for the more easy conveyance of copper, iron, and tin plates, which are manufactured at those works, and, with pyroligneous acid, form the principal exports. The other works in this neighbourhood, consisting of tin, iron, and copper, are in the parish of Margam, and their shipping-place is at Tae Bach, a short distance to the eastward. There is no chartered market, but meat and other provisions are constantly exposed for sale : an annual fair is held on the 30th of April.
Aberavon is a borough by prescription : the government is vested in a portreeve, a recorder, two aldermen, and an unlimited number of burgesses, assisted by a "common attorney," two serjeants at mace, and other officers. The portreeve is annually appointed by the constable of the castle, who, from three of the burgesses, put in nomination for that purpose by ballot, selects one to fill the office. This was one of the boroughs contributory to Cardif in returning one member to parliament ; but by the new reform bill, recently passed, the towns of Swansea, Loughor, Neath, Aberavon, and Kenvig, have been constituted one borough, with the privilege of returning a representative to parliament : the right of election is in the resident burgesses, and in every male person of full age, occupying any house, or other premises, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, of the clear yearly value of not less than ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering his name as the act demands: the portreeve of Swansea is the returning officer. The freedom of the borough is inherited by all the sons of burgesses, on their coming of age, and may be acquired by purchase, though the burgesses recognize no other claim than that of birth : on a recent occasion the sum of £200 was accepted for it by the burgesses at large. The corporation formerly were in possession of considerable property, which, from the encroachment of the sand and other causes, has become of very little value. Twenty-five of the senior burgesses still enjoy each the exclusive right of three acres of enclosed land, and the rental of the remaining borough property is about £50 per annum. A town-hall was begun in the year 1826, and upwards of £300 has been expended upon its erection, but it is still unfinished, owing to the want of adequate funds.
The living is a discharged vicarage, with Baglan annexed, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Llandaf, rated conjointly in the king's books at £9. 4. 9 1/2., endowed with the great tithes, and in the patronage of the Rev. Edward Thomas. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, was rebuilt about sixty years ago, and is appropriately fitted up for the accommodation of the inhabitants. There are places of worship for Particular Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic Methodists.
A National school is about to be established, in connexion with the Central School Society in London, which has contributed £50 towards the erection of a building for that purpose. The average annual expenditure for the maintenance of the poor amounts to £ 63. 8."