Former workhouse, Neath

Afon Veterinary Centre is one of several businesses in part of the town’s former workhouse, completed in the 1838. Poor people applying for assistance had to leave their own homes and live here and work for their upkeep. Families were split up.

Drawing of Neath workhouse plan in 1852Local parishes helped their paupers until the law changed in 1834 and parishes grouped together in “Unions”. The Neath Union’s area stretched as far as Ystradgynlais, Ystradfellte, Margam and Llansamlet. The building was known as the Neath Union workhouse and as Lletty Nedd. The end of the Gnoll rugby ground closest to the old workhouse is still called “the Union end.”

The 1852 drawing shows the workhouse with its different wings for men, women and children. Walls across the internal yards separated children from adults. Lletty Nedd forms the backdrop to the old photo, probably showing 1902 coronation celebrations.

Old photo showing Neath workhouseThe workhouse stood on a constricted site which sloped down steeply from the then main road towards the Neath canal. Inmates were already living in it when an inspection in December 1838 found serious omissions: no fireplaces and chimneys in the children’s day room and sleeping ward; the kitchen was too small; and the infirmary was drafty and lacked a fireplace.

Social reformer Joseph Rowntree said in 1864: “I never viewed property so cramped and manifestly unsuitable in every way for the erection of a Union workhouse.” The diet in Welsh prisons, he said, was superior to that in the Neath workhouse, where the food seemed to consist of broth and pea soup without bread.

At the 1871 census the workhouse was home to 59 men, 79 women and 38 children under nine years old. The men were mostly agricultural or general labourers, with a few in local industrial trades and one soldier.

Later that century, some improvements were made under John Henry Mills and his wife Ann (workhouse master and mistress for a long period), and others under their daughter Edith. Latterly Lletty Nedd took on the nature of an infirmary, aside for its accommodation for tramps. A district hospital in Penrhiwtyn was completed in 1915 but immediately became a military hospital.

The hospital transferred to civilian use in 1924 and the remaining patients left Lletty Nedd, whose last mistress, Edith Myfanwy Mills, was the hospital’s first matron. A road is named after her on the housing estate where the hospital stood.

The workhouse building was sold in 1926. The west wing was later demolished to make room for a new YMCA headquarters. The central block and eastern wing survive. You can see part of the rear from the canal towpath.

With thanks to David Michael, of Neath Antiquarian Society. Articles on the workhouse can be found in volumes 2 and 4 of the 'Neath Antiquarian'

Postcode: SA11 3HH    View Location Map

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