Aberafan before and After the M4 Motorway
I would welcome comments on the information below in fact why not develop it into our memories of the old town of Aberafan we all have memories and stories so why not place them on this site let others know about the old Aberafan and the people who made it such a vibrant place to live, send your information and stories to John and he will place it on these pages.

Before and After the M4.

Just recently I was introduced to a television documentary Reporter/Researcher who was busy garnering information on what it was like before and after the M4 Motorway was built. At that time I was too busy to give a proper interview on camera, but it set me to thinking what did we gain as a community out of acquiring this massive structure that stretched from London to the counties of South and West Wales, I write this with the premise that I am as fallible as the next man and that my memory is not as sharp as it once was. I have been guilty like others in exclaiming “Nothing”, was gained, but ponder a thought many of us before the M4 was built suffered from the annual floods when spring tides flooding up the lower Afan met surging river floods caused by heavy rainfall in the upper reaches of the Afan Valley, this caused the Afan to breach its banks and flood the streets of Aberafan and Velindre this happened to a lesser or greater extent each spring. At the time of the building of the M4 a river flood defence system was also built since then there has been no flooding, a positive gain for residents of Velindre and Aberafan. It used to take seven to nine hours to drive to London Heathrow airport our mother would fly to Canada a distance of a couple of thousand miles arriving in Canada four hours after we would be arriving home to Aberafan. It now takes a little over three hours on the M4 to travel that distance to Heathrow, another Positive gain. Personal travel journey time has been cut so we arrive at our destinations within a short time, but this saving in journey time has also got costs attached to it. I can remember the Norwegian merchant seamen that were a common sight in the town on shore from the ships that imported the timber that we needed and other coastal ships that plied their trade along the coast routes, they spent a great deal of money in the town . With the opening of the M4 the Norwegian trade dried up as they could now birth their ships at the larger docks of Barry and Cardiff and transport their unloaded cargoes by road, the same applied to the coastal shipping. This was a loss to Aberafan. This led to a knock on effect, as the railways were no longer used transporting goods from the Aberafan docks and the roads within the docks unsuitable for Traffic, this was again another loss to Aberafan. Then we saw a gradual drain of both heavy and light industry tempted by grants to relocate in areas that had previously been out of economical reach, before the M4 was built to our detriment the drain went too far as firms sought out new premises in grant aided locations west of Port Talbot again a great financial loss to Aberafan. In my view the M4 contributed to a great financial loss to the economy of Aberafan and was a contributing factor in the decline of prosperity in Aberafan. So far in the scales of whether the M4 was Good for Aberafan we have only one small gain in a mass of losses. Then we had the massive shift to road transport of the coal from the mines no longer did the mine have to transport coal by the railway to coal yards for shipment, they could now load at the mine and transport all the way to their destination by road another loss. Later on the Tory’s under Thatcher used the road links as a weapon to defeat the miners. So we can see that economically Aberafan did not fare so well beneath the M4, plus due to the devastation of the valley coalfields by Thatcher, something had to be done to save the valley communities and so a valley’s strategy was put into place thanks to the M4 a networks of roads leading into the valleys was built taking work that would have been located near Aberafan before the M4 was now diverting up into the valleys replacing the lost coal industry tempted again by grants to locate in that area, I do not begrudge them their successes for their loss was as great as ours because of the M4 in the loss of their coal industry.
But what of the community that was Aberafan it was made up of families who had lived in the same locality for over two hundred years, when the M 4 came they ripped the heart out of the town from which it has never recovered. The town market should have been spared the bulldozer, for that had always been the focal point of Aberafan there meetings had taken place under the clock in fine weather outside in the square, in bad weather inside the large arcade area, On New Years Eve from all corners of Aberafan people would gather in the market square and dance until midnight struck on the old clock in older times music supplied by local amateur musicians playing brass instruments drums and accordions, later music was supplied by the furniture shop Cavendish who would allow a “Stereo Gram” to be placed at its shop doorway blasting out music from records. Every day business carried on in the market was that of every town market of that time, farmers had stalls selling their produce from vegetables to raw meat, cooked meats cured meats, and dairy produce their wives would be selling their home cooked bread and cakes, there were stalls selling tools and ironmongery farm supply stalls garden supplies clothing stalls. Grocery and foodstuff stalls Fishmongers stalls, the produce we could buy in that one area was tremendous it supplied all our needs. When the bulldozers moved in and tore down the old town centre and surrounding commercial area they not only tore down buildings they tore apart a community that has never recovered. We knew each family or a member of a family we worked together were at school together socialised together all that came to an end with the birth of the M4. Our entertainment establishments were razed to the ground old pubs with their traditions. Workingmen’s clubs like the Band club (The Progressive ) nicknamed the Band club because it allowed one of the local Brass bands to practice there. The Workman’s club with its fine architecture and New Hall Dance room these and others like them replaced by tinsel palaces ugly buildings with no character and soon no clientele as the traditional drinking man took his custom to outlying areas like Briton Ferry and Neath with their unspoiled pubs and clubs, as this is supposed to be a snapshot enough said on Aberafan Town.
What was it like to live through the actual building of the M4 one word describes it HORRENDOUS. I was in my early twenties when the M4 first intruded into my life, our street had been a street of five rows of terraced houses two on the north side three on the south side with the Vivian Square at the entrance these two areas a community within a community although we were part of Aberafan both the square and Llewellyn street were seen as set apart there were other like areas within the borough as no doubt I shall soon be informed of.
Vivian square was razed to the ground its residents scattered to new homes in all parts of Port Talbot in its place was built the Aberafan centre three of the terraced rows were demolished in Llewellyn street leaving two that have existed almost in isolation to the rest of the town its residents having to mount campaigns to get services into the street. For three years we lived in perpetual dust and dirt from the building of the M4 that was being built just yards from our homes and watched as each day it climbed higher until it towered above our rooftops it is impossible to convey in writing what conditions were like for those of us that had to endure the daily strain of living under those conditions Heavy lorries with loads of various materials and waste from the construction of the M4 passed within two yards of our front doors in the top block in a constant stream of noise, dust and vibration cement trucks emptied their loads within four yard of the fronts of our homes scaffolding erected as the walls of the M4 climbed higher each day making our roadway even narrower. The road surface gave way under the constant heavy traffic sinking in places to a depth of two feet the road soon became so uneven that the underside of our cars would ground on the uneven surface I was on the tank training ground of Senalaeger in Germany when in the army on an exercise called Holdfast the deteriorating conditions of our roadway within the street was as bad as any track I saw at that training ground eventually we had to leave our cars at the bottom of the street as the damage to the underside of our cars was a daily expense too much bare. Our quality of life was a disaster this continued for us for a period of three years. But did not end there for as we all know our town was like a bombsite for many years after the completion of the M4. We had no respite in our street as we fought to get our roadway resurfaced the noise from passing traffic above our homes was a constant drumming until just recently they resurfaced the M4 with a sound proof tarmac this took forty years to come about. Debris rained down onto our street from the vehicles above that passed our homes on the M4 in the late nineteen nineties they at last put a barrier wall that deflected most of the debris back onto the road although small chips continue to crack my upstairs window panes. Dust continued to plague us until we campaigned to get the side of the street that had been demolished grassed over we live with the sight of the M4 pillars. And what of the compensation we received for living this horrendous life. Not a single penny.
So did the M4 Motorway benefit the people of Aberafan I think not for the future and all the promises made of a brighter tomorrow, I believe them to be EMPTY,

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