Neath or Castell-Nedd (Neath Castle) as it is known in Welsh, is a town that lies in the historic county of Glamorganshire and the modern Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. It draws its name from the river Neath or Nedd; Nedd being Welsh for a wooded valley.
Some time around the year 75 AD the Romans built a fort which they named Nidum to protect the lowest crossing point over the river Neath and thus guard the road from Gloucester to Carmarthen. The same strategic considerations caused the Normans to build their own Neath Castle nearby. It was a Richard de Granville who is first recorded as having built a timber motte and bailey castle near in 1129, with the monastic foundation of Neath Abbey being established nearby.
Neath Castle became one of the minor Norman castles in the Marcher lordship of Glamorgan but around the castle a small settlement grew which was granted a charter by William FitzRobert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester and formed the nucleus of the town. Neath itself remained a small town clustered around its castle and church and survived the attack of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1231 who destroyed the castle. In the early sixteenth century coal began to be mined in the surrounding areas and in 1584 a copper-smelting works was built, using this locally mined coal and imported Cornish ore. A century later the Mackworth family arrived from Derbyshire and established their own copper smelting factories nearby at Melincryddan in 1695.
However such industrial developments were on a small scale and by 1823 Neath's population was only 3,000. The South Wales Railway arrived in 1850 and the Vale of Neath Railway was opened in 1851 and Neath rapidly developed as a centre for the smelting of nonferrous metals. The Melyn forge and foundry opened in 1864, followed by the Melyn tinplate works 1864, the Eaglesbush tinplate works in 1890 and later the Neath Steel Sheet and Galvanizing Company works in 1896. The population expanded in line with the pace of industrial development reaching 28,000 by the end of the nineteenth century.
The majority of these traditional industries progressively declined throughout the twentieth century but a large petrochemical industry grew up in the latter half of the twentieth century and remains significant.
Despite a population of some 50,000 modern Neath is rather overshadowed by the larger city of Swansea which lies only seven miles (11 km) to the west.
The town is home to Neath Rugby Club known as the Welsh 'All Blacks' and was the birthplace of Reginald Truscott Jones, born in 1908, and better known as Ray Milland the first British actor to win an Oscar in 1945. The musician John Cale one of the founders of the Velvet Underground was also born nearby.
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