Pontardawe Poorlaw Institution


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The History of Pontardawe and District

by  John Henry Davies 1967


Before the formation of the Union of Pontardawe, paupers of the parishes of Llangiwg, Cilybebyll and Ynysymwn came under the jurisdiction of the Union of Neath. The average weekly cost of food in 1850 for adult paupers was 2 /01/2d. and for children, 1 /-. Clothing cost 31/2d. a week. In 1850, the Union of Neath charged Llangiwg £68. 2. 3d. and Cilybebyll £3.16.11d. for cholera and removal of nuisances.

The Pontardawe Workhouse, built in 1879, had an accommodation of 107 beds, and the number was the same to-day. The first Master and Matron of the Workhouse were Mr. Robert Short and Mrs. Helen Short, whose salaries in 1880 were £50 and £30 respectively. Mary Parks, assistant matron, had £12, and Jane Johns, nurse, £18 per annum.

To-day, we can hardly realise how meagre, monotonous and cheap the diet was for men paupers at Pontardawe Workhouse from 1880 to 1889. It was as follows : Breakfast, 7 ounces of bread and 11/2 pints of gruel. Dinner on Sundays consisted of one pound of suet pudding; Supper, 7 ounces of bread and 2 ounces of cheese. Breakfast and supper were the same every day of the week. On Monday and Thursday, the paupers ate 4 ounces of cooked meat and 12 ounces of potatoes. On Tuesday and Friday, dinner consisted of 4 ounces of bread and 1 1/2 pints of broth, and Saturday dinner was 6 ounces of bread and 2 ounces of cheese. There were only three meals a day and the only drink provided was water. The menu for women contained less weight.

The food was infinitely worse than the diet provided to the residents of Danybryn Hostel, under the Glamorgan County Council.

In 1929, the Poor Law Amendment Act transferred the control from the Guardians to the Glamorgan County Council. It was the Poor Law Institution until 1948, when a complete change in the life of the poor and infirm took place. A sample of the diet for one week in August 1964, illustrated changes from those given in the olden days :


Breakfast: Bread and butter, marmalade and tea. Cup of tea or cocoa at 10 a.m. daily.

Dinner: Lamb, runner beans, carrots, potatoes, followed by rice pudding.

Tea: Bread and butter, jelly and blancmange, sponge cake and tea.

Supper: This meal was light - tea and biscuits.


Breakfast: Bread and butter, tea, fried bacon and laver bread.

Dinner: Lamb, peas, potatoes, prunes and custard, tea.

Tea: Chopped ham and beetroot, bread and butter and tea.

Supper: Cream crackers, cheese and tea.


Breakfast : Bread and butter, bacon, sauce and tea.

Dinner: Corned beef, tart, gravy, potatoes, broad-beans, tea and tapioca pudding.

Tea: Bread and butter, jam, bananas, buttered scones and tea.

Supper: Cream crackers, cheese and tea.


Breakfast : Bread and butter, boiled or fried egg, marmalade and tea.

Dinner: Steak and kidney pie, cabbage and potatoes, icecream and mixed fruit salad and tea.

Tea : Bread and butter, cheese or jam, oranges and tea.

Supper: Tea and cake.


Breakfast : Bread and butter, tea, fried sausage and sauce.

Dinner: Fish and chips, tea and lemon cheese tart.

Tea : Bread and butter, scrambled eggs and spaghetti, tea.

Supper: Tea and cake.


Breakfast : Bread and butter, tea, fried bacon and black pudding.

Dinner: Boiled ham, salad, potatoes, tea, bilberry tart and custard.

Tea : Bread and butter, tea, sausage rolls and fresh peaches.

Supper: Bread and butter, tea, marmalade and cheese.


Breakfast : Bread and butter, tea, boiled or fried eggs and marmalade.

Dinner: Fried sausage, peas, potatoes, sago pudding and tea.

Tea: Bread and butter tea, jam or chedlet cheese, tomatoes and home-made cake.

Supper: Tea and cake.

Changes take place every week and fruit and vegetables vary with the seasons.

The Welfare Officer from Neath paid each resident 13/6 a week pocket money. One ounce of tobacco or two packets of ten cigarettes a week is given free and the women get one pound of chocolates gratis every four weeks. Mr. and Mrs. Merlin Harris, the excellent Warden and Matron, were highly respected and capable and found no difficulty with discipline.

Marked improvements have taken place in the building during the last five years. The long dormitories had been converted into separate bedrooms, many with two beds, hot and cold water, heating apparatus, built-in wardrobes, dressing table and brightly decorated wall paper. This was such a contrast to the old painted dark green and brown walls.

Comfortable chairs, fine tables with T.V. sets in the corners of the lounges, and radio sets kept the residents in touch with many aspects outside the building. Twelve daily newspapers were also provided. Spacious glass verandas or covered-in rooms alongside the walls with carpeted floor and Marley tiles gave light and splendid rooms.

The well-equipped kitchen, with gas and electric stoves and ventilating fans was modern, and the dining furniture has changed from long tables to many small tables with formica tops. Dining chairs replaced the forms.


Trade Directories


Extracted from the Cds published by Archive CD Books

Pigot & Co, South Wales, 1844

Union Workhouse, Ty'n-y-Caia, Neath; Philip Davies, master. Eliza Davies, mistress.


Kelly's Directory South Wales 1895

Pontardawe Union.

Board day, alternate thursdays in the Workhouse Board room, at 1 pm.
The union comprises the following places: - Killybebyll, Llanguicke, Mawr, Rhyndwyclydach, Ynysymond, Ystradgynlais Higher (Breconshire) & Ystradgynlais Lower (Breconshire). The population of the union in 1891 was 21,700; area 57,167 acres; rateable value in 1894, £73,701

Clerk to the Guardians & Assessment Committee, Charles Bevan Jenkins, Pontardawe
Treasurer, Richard John Letcher, Glamorganshire Bank, Swansea
Collector to the Guardians, Relieving & Vaccination Officer, Thomas Rees, Ynysmeudwy
Medical Officers & Public Vaccinators, Eastern district, David Thomas M.D. Ystalyfera; Western district, Griffith Griffiths L.R.C.P.Edin.,  Pontardawe
Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages, Thomas Rees,Ynysmeudwy; deputy, Abel Auckland, Pontardawe
Superintendent Registrar, Charles Bevan Jenkins, Pontardawe; deputy, William C. Powel, Pontardawe

Workhouse, built of stone in 1879, at a cost of £8,890, to hold 130 inmates; Robert Short, master; Griffith Griffiths L.R.C.P.Edin. medical officer; Mrs. Helen Short, matron


Kelly's Directory South Wales 1910

Pontardawe Union.

Pontardawe Workhouse; J Morris Jones, master; William Owen Evans LRCP & S.Edin., LFPS Glas. medical officer; Mrs Lucy B Jones, matron


1881 census

Institution:    "Pontardawe Union Workhouse" Brecon Road
Census Place:   Llanguick, Glamorgan, Wales

Robert SHORT    M       31      M      Newcastle On Tyne Rel:    Head  Occ:    Workhouse Master (Mun)
Helen SHORT     M        30      F        Newcastle On Tyne  Rel:    Wife   Occ:    Workhouse Matron
Robert Lloyd SHORT      2 m   M       Pontardawe, Glamorgan, Wales    Rel:    Son
Mary PARK       U          28      F        Newcastle On Tyne  Rel:    Sister In Law    Occ:    Workhouse Assisant Matron
Hannah JOHNS    U        21      F        Canton, Glamorgan, Wales  Occ:    Workhouse School Mistress

Institution:    "Pontardawe Union Workhouse" Brecon Road  

  • John THOMAS               9     M       Brynmawr, Glamorgan, Wales Occ:    Scholar
  • William BARKER            8     M       Llanguicke, Glamorgan, Wales Occ:    Scholar
  • Daniel John FINKE         7     M       Clydach, Glamorgan, Wales Occ:    Scholar
  • David GRIFFITHS           6     M       Neath, Glamorgan, Wales Occ:    Scholar
  • Sarah LOCK      W        47      F       Llandilo, Carmarthen, Wales
  • Mary BURKE      M       47      F       Llanguicke, Glamorgan, Wales
  • Jane MURPHY     U      30      F       Haverfordwest, Pembroke, Wales  Handicap: Idiot
  • Margaret DAVIES U     22      F       Llandilo, Carmarthen, Wales  Occ:    Domestic Servant
  • Ann LEWIS       U          74      F       Ystradgunlais, Glamorgan, Wales Handicap: Idiot
  • Ann FRANCIS     U        22      F       Killybebill, Glamorgan, Wales
  • Emma EASMOND  W   84      F       Burton, Pembroke, Wales
  • Hilder JAMES    W         47      F       Bristol, Gloucester, England
  • Sarah Ann GRIFFITHS  12      F      Llanguicke, Glamorgan, Wales  Occ:    Scholar
  • Selina LOCK                  10      F      Neath, Glamorgan, Wales  Occ:    Scholar
  • Hannah GRIFFITHS         8      F      Llandilo, Carmarthen, Wales  Occ:    Scholar
  • Elizabeth BURKE             7      F      Llanguicke, Glamorgan, Wales  Occ:    Scholar
  • Mary THOMAS                6      F      Brynmawr, Glamorgan, Wales  Occ:    Scholar
  • Janet BURKE                    3      F      Llanguicke, Glamorgan, Wales
  • Elizabeth Ann LOCK       3      F      Neath, Glamorgan, Wales
  • Rachel Ann THOMAS     3      F      Brynmawr, Glamorgan, Wales
  • Maggie LOCK                  5 m  F      Pontardawe, Glamorgan, Wales



Sundry references

Around Pontardawe. The Archive Photographic Series 1996. Compiled by the Pontardawe Historians.

There is an index to this book on Genuki

This book has a photograph of Pontardawe Workhouse c 1920.

The narrative mentions that the first  meeting of the Board of Guardians was on 14 April 1875, among those present were J P Budd, W Gilbertson, H Lloyd and H N Miers.

In 1891 the institution held 22 inmates, including 7 children, the master being Robert Short.

The Local Government Act of 1929 transferred the responsibilities of the Poor Law Guardians to Glamorgan County Council. The workhouse was renamed a 'public assistance institution' and remained so until 1948. It subsequently became the Danybryn Hostel, of which there is a photograph, and closed in 1988 being later demolished for the sheltered accomodatoion which stands today on the site.

Around Pontardawe. The Second Selection, Images of Wales series 1999 Compiled by the Pontardawe Historians

There is an index to this book on Genuki

The book has a photograph of the last meeting held at the Workhouse, or Poor Law Institution, in 1907 between the Pontardawe RDC and the Board of Guardians. Those attending are named.

The workhouse buildings are also included in a broad view of the town taken from the Craig, Alltwen in 1937.

Details of extant records on Archives Network Wales for the following;

  • Pontardawe  Union Board of Guardians Records      "Until the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, relief of the poor was the responsibility of the parish. Following the Act, parishes were grouped into Unions that were charged to provide a workhouse for the relief of the able-bodied poor. Pontardawe Poor Law Union was formed in 1875 from the parishes that formed the north-west part of the Neath Poor Law Union, consisting of Cilybebyll, Llangiwg, Mawr, Rhyndwyglydach, Ynysymwn, Ystradgynlais Higher and Ystradgynlais Lower in Glamorgan. The Union workhouse was situated in Pontardawe and was opened in 1879. The Board of Guardians responsible for the Union had other duties from time to time, including the registration of births, marriages and deaths, vaccinations, assessments of rates, sanitation, school attendance and infant life protection. By the time of the Local Government Act 1929 unions were abolished and their duties transferred to County Councils, with responsibility for the poor being transferred to the Public Assistance Committee until 1948. The workhouse became Pontardawe Public Assistance Institution in 1930 when the functions of the Poor Law Union were transferred to the Glamorgan County Council. In 1948, it became the Danybryn Hostel which finally closed in 1988. The building was demolished shortly afterwards and sheltered housing now occupies the site"
    "......... including minutes, 1875-1936; financial records, 1875-1958; inmate registers and records, 1902-1979; workhouse administration records, 1901-1953; valuation lists, 1898-1927; photographs, c.1880-1988; Pontardawe Union Rural Sanitary Authority records, 1883-1898"