Old Town Hall, Neath

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Old Town Hall, Neath

Photo of Neath Town Hall in 1902
Neath Town Hall in 1902
© Neath Antiquarian Society

This building was erected in 1820-21, replacing a Guildhall which stood in the middle of the highway that is now Old Market Street. The doors in the new hall's Classical frontage (facing Church Place) led to a council chamber and courtroom. The ground floor at the rear hosted a market initially, later a fire station, before being enclosed for retail use.

The old photo shows the building's New Street side in 1902. The board between the doorways advertises London & North Western Railway services, although the company did not run trains to Neath! Around the corner are flags celebrating King Edward VII’s coronation, and signs for the Weights & Measures Office and Gentlemen’s toilets.

The county court (civil cases), petty sessions and Quarter Sessions (for more serious crimes) sat here. In 1883 a judge fined a magistrate £10 here! Arthur Gilbertson JP, owner of Pontardawe tinplate works, had ignored a summons to appear in court in connection with a case involving an employee.

In 1830 a meeting was held here to petition Parliament for abolition of British colonial slavery. Neath’s rector presided. Ministers from chapels also criticised slavery. So did a local Quaker – but in a voice so quiet that few in the audience could hear him! There was praise for the stance of the local Anglican clergy. At the time, some vicars and rectors owned slaves (see our Slavery History page to find examples in Wales).

The Swansea & Neath Anti-Slavery Society met at the town hall in July 1832, chaired by Lewis Weston Dillwyn. Speakers said slavery was incompatible with Christianity and criticised recent “atrocities” by British authorities in Jamaica against missionaries opposed to slavery. In January, an uprising by Jamaican slaves was quelled by the Governor, Royal Navy and soldiers. Rebels were executed and missionaries arrested.

One of many entertainments at the town hall in Victorian times was a concert in 1886 by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers from Nashville, the first choir of freed slaves to sing in concert halls.

Days after the First World War began in August 1914, local women formed two Red Cross detachments, headquartered at the town hall. The following month, the town hall was temporarily home to refugees who had fled Belgium as the Germans invaded. The building was “besieged” by local mothers offering to accommodate refugees.

In 1916 Socialist councillor W Challacombe was refused permission to hold a meeting at the town hall against conscription (compulsory military service, introduced in January 1916).

Today the town hall is owned by the town council and can be hired for weddings and other events – follow the link below to the council website for details.

With thanks to Neath Antiquarian Society

Postcode: SA11 1DU    View Location Map

Website of Neath Town Council