The town of Pontardawe is situated on the Banks of the River Tawe seven miles from Swansea in the Swansea Valley, South Wales. Originally sited at the crossroads of two drovers’ roads, the history of this now thriving town can be traced back as far as the sixth century when the scattered cottages were populated by farmers trying to eke out a living on its poor soil.
The soil may be poor and difficult to farm but the valley in which this charming town lies is, like many other places in Wales, full of running streams, beautiful waterfalls, charming villages and green hills surrounded by four big hills (Alltwen, Craig Glyn Meirch, Llangiwc Rock and Caraig yr Abby) which shelter it.
The name Pontardawe actually means “Bridge on the River Tawe” in Welsh. The stone bridge mentioned was built around 1757 by William Edwards, renowned for building several bridges and even a town in Wales. The bridge was built to connect the parishes of Cilybebyll and Llangiwc, the first church at the village of Llangiwc was built during the sixth century.
The tin and coal mining industries, so prevalent in Wales, led to the growth of this community with the opening of several mines and collieries. During the 18th and 19th centuries the population in Pontardawe grew along with the tin mining industry as many people came to this area looking for work. The opening of the Swansea canal in 1798 and the Swansea to Pontardawe railway in 1860 made Pontardawe an important part of the South Wales mining industry. Unfortunately the depression in the 1920’s led to a step backward in the town’s prosperity.
Tourism is now becoming a growth industry in and around the Pontardawe area, some of the old collieries and mines in the area have been turned into museums such as Cefn Coed Colliery Museum, and nearby Aberdulais Falls, a spectacular waterfall now owned by the National Trust, is the largest electricity generating water wheel in Europe. The reopening of the Canal in this area together with the beautiful countryside provides a wealth of places to visit and a rambler’s paradise. The South Wales Miners Museum in the Afan Argoed Countryside Centre, Neath Abbey, Gnoll Country Park and Margam Country Park are a few of the popular local sites of interest for visitors.
Pontardawe itself now has a growing population of over 5,000. Celebrated for its contributions to the Arts, especially music, the town is home to the modern Pontardawe Arts Centre which hosts regular performances by both renowned National and International artists, an active film society, the Valley Folk Club and the Pontardawe Acoustic Music Club. This growing town is best known though for the Pontardawe Festival of World Music and Dance held every August since 1978.
The Arena Pontardawe Charity is working enthusiastically towards the future of this town by developing a large activity complex at the Glanrhyd Industrial Estate and in 2007 was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund award to develop their project “Birth of a Valley”, the recording and preservation of the History of Pontardawe and the Swansea Valley.