Pontardawe and Swansea Angling Society

© 2009-17

History of Tawe Fisheries by Ray Lockyer

Following the battle of Hastings in 1066, it took the Normans nearly forty years to reach and conquer the region subsequently known as the Lordship of Gower.   The boundary to the west was divided from the Lordship of Cydweli by the River Lougher.  From the Lougher, the boundary ran along Cwm Cathan, over the hills beneath Penller Castell to Garnant; then along the Amman and across to the River Twrch, which divided Gower from the Lordship of Brecon; and so to the junction of that river with the Tawe.  The eastern border of Gower with the Lordship of Glamorgan followed the Tawe downstream to Glais.  The Manor of Kilvey, east of the lower Tawe, extending to the Glais and Crymlyn streams was a separate appendage governed with Gower.  By about the year 1106, with the Normans in firm control of Gower, Henry I granted the Lordship of Gower and Kilvey to Henry De Beaument - Henry Earl of Warwick.  However through an agreement between his descendant Thomas, Earl of Warwick and Henry II, Gower passed back to the Crown.   In 1203 King John granted the Lordship to William de Braose and his descendants held it until the time of Edward II.   


W.C.Rogers, writing about the Port of Swansea in Stewart Williams' Glamorgan historian, Volume Five records that:  "King John gave Swansea to William de Braose in 1203 as part of 'Totam terram de Guher', this word terram connoted not merely the land of Gower, but all its foreshore too, from 'Pulcannon' to 'Logherne' which is to say from Pwll Cynon in Crymlyn Bog to the junction of the Lougher and Amman rivers, inclusive of the beds of the Tawe and Loughor rivers"   By 1331 the Lordship of Gower had been mortgaged to such an extent that ownership had passed from William de Braose III to John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk.  In 1334, Edward III confirmed the earlier grants.  On 12th February 1462, during the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV committed the custody of the Lordship of Gower and Kilvey during the then young Duke of Norfolk's minority to the most prominent Yorkist supporter in Wales, William Lord Herbert.  In March 1465, John Duke of Norfolk was given his lands.  But Lord Herbert remained in control of Gower probably as the Duke's tenant.  In 1468 the Duke of Norfolk conveyed his Lordship of Gower and Kilvey to Lord Herbert; the conveyance was subsequently confirmed by Edward IV in 1469.  In 1492 Sir Charles Somerset married Elizabeth Herbert and in 1514 Sir Charles was made Earl of Worcester; the hereditary Lordship of Gower and Kilvey remained in the Somerset family from that time.  A direct descendant was made Duke of Beaufort in 1682.  


Michael Gregory writing in 'Angling and the Law' on the rights of the public to fish in tidal waters states:  "The public has no right to fish in any non-tidal waters, on the other hand, the public has a right to fish in all tidal waters, except where their right was lost before the Magna Carta, 1215, by the King granting fishing rights to a subject".   The Magna Carta preventing the King from depriving the public of such fishing rights.  Clearly all of the fishing rights in the River Tawe downstream of the confluence with the River Twrch at Ystalyfera were at one time in the ownership of the Beaufort estate including, as a result of King Johns grant in 1203, those in the tidal estuary and the foreshore.  There are a number of sources of information that tend to confirm that the public were deprived of their right to fish in fish in these tidal waters:   Alderman Edward Harris, in his book entitled 'Swansea',  published in 1935, describes on page 94 the ancient fisheries in the Tawe: "In present days, the discoloured and polluted waters of the Tawe make it almost beyond belief that fish could ever have lived in it, much less that it was ever a fisherman's paradise, as reputed.  The Exchequer MS however, show that before 1231, at the latest, John de Breus, Lord of Gouher, had granted to the Monks of Neath Abbey a moiety of two fisheries in his waters of Tawy 'whereof one lies near Swansea Castle and the other at Horegrove, where the Memroth stream falls into the Tawy'.


The records also show that the monks were also granted another fishery in the Tawe at Ynisymond or above Glais.


In 1686 there were four fishing weirs upon the salt sands opposite to St. Thomas chapel, within the Manor of Kilvey, which were held by Bussey Mansel at rentals payable to the Lord of the said Manor.  The survey of Kilvey taken in that year states that one of these weirs had been lately erected upon a new foundation, and that no freeholder of the Manor could set up any weirs or engines or device for the taking of fish without the consent of the Lord.".  


'Swansea' also provides further detail on page 128 of fishing weirs in the bay:  "At that time and until very recent times, and probably by reason of ancient grants from the Lords of the Seigniory, who were entitled to and had retained the right of taking all fish from the bay, many of the houses in and around Swansea and also at Mumbles had attached to them as appurtenances which passed with the property a weir or weirs situated between high and low water marks in the bay upon which they had the right to erect stake nets, and thus obtain their own supplies of fish".  (Interestingly enough, the traps used on the foreshore of Swansea bay were, according to J.Geraint Jenkins in 'Nets and Coracles', of a distinctive design having very long V-shaped wicker wings with a basket trap attached at the apex. Wooden stumps that remain from these structures are still to be seen on low tides).


A dispute concerning ownership of part of the Tawe took place in 1756, and has been well documented by Prys Morgan in Volume Nine of Stewart Williams' Glamorgan Historian.  Referred to as the 'Glais Boundary Dispute';  it centred around two insignificant little brooks, the Cyrnach and Glais, which formed part of the ancient boundary between the lordships of Cadoxton and Kilvey.  As we have seen, since the middle ages Kilvey had been controlled by the Lords of Gower; consequently the protagonists were Gabriel Powell, Steward of the Lordship of Gower and Kilvey and one Thomas Edwards, Steward of the Lordship of Cadoxton.  Powell, having made an extensive study of the charts and grants of the land in the area owned by the Duke of Beaufort stoutly maintained that the boundary of Kilvey lay on the northern bank of the brooks;  whilst Edwards attempted to establish that it lay at the centre line of their beds.  On the 17th May, 1756 Edwards and party, representing the owners of Cadoxton, set off to mark the boundary, in the way that was traditional of the times, by placing stones along the centre line of the brooks.  Starting at the very source of the Cyrnach, working down its valley to the point where it joined the Glais Stream; then proceeding down the Glais to its confluence with the River Tawe at the village of Glais.  To counter the claim, Gabriel Powell and his supporters did all that they could to obstruct their opponents passage along this route.  On reaching the village of Glais, Thomas Edwards made it clear that the owners of Cadoxton made no claim to the River Tawe except for fishing rights in half of Glais Pool and Llyn Ymwn (the name Ymwn has been associated with Ynisymond).  Cadoxton's title to these fishing rights being traced to the grants made by the Norman Lords of Gower to the monks of Neath Abbey.  Now the Lordship of Cadoxton bordered on the Tawe between the Glais Brook and Nant Llecha (at Alltwen) and it would appear that Thomas Edwards was by this statement acknowledging the fact that the eastern bank and not the centre of the river constituted the boundary between the two lordships.  All of which tends to confirm what we already know of King John's grant of the Lordship of Gower to William de Braose.   


The claim by Edwards, on behalf of Cadoxton, to two fisheries provides something of an inconsistency, as all the evidence indicates only a single location being granted in this area to the monks.  Where was this fishery - Glais or Ynisymond?   Well, in 1334, Edward III whilst confirming the earlier grants to the monks indicated that the fishing was confined to a region of forty perches above and forty perches below a weir (four hundred and forty yards in total) and this was at Ynisymond.  In 1449, John ap Howell had a water driven corn mill at Ynyspenllwch and paid the Lord of Gower the sum of twelve pence for his water supply from a weir in the "Water of the Tawe near Enespenllogh".  Some two hundred years later in 1647 an iron foundry was built at Ynyspenllwch, probably on the site of the corn mill, this also used water from a weir.  Today the International Nickel Company covers the site of the mill and the only remnants of the earlier works is the dried up feeder from the weir skirting the western boundary of the INCO golf course.  The location of the weir was situated just downstream of what is known to present day anglers as the Coal Pool, Ynisymond.  It is reasonable to conclude that this was the likely site of the monks fishing weir and of course the location of Llyn Ymwn.  


In June 1760 the Steward for the Lordship of Gower produced a "Statement of His Grace the Duke of Beaufort's Title to the River Tawey in the County of Glamorgan and Evidence to Support it".   The statement demonstrates from the number of references to leases and rents for fisheries in the Tawe, many applying to freeholders with property bordering upon the river, that they were being run as 'Several fisheries' (that is private fisheries) owned by the Duke of Beaufort, some existing in the estuary and on the foreshore.  The entry of 1746 records the renewal of a lease to one Lockwood Esquire for the fishing from Forrest Bridge to the sea.  The statement also records other occasions when the Lordship of Gower's title to the fisheries were challenged by individuals.  For example, in 1752, a Thomas Popkin inherited land on both sides of the river at Forrest, he immediately made claim to the river and the fishery where it passed through his property.  To defend his title the Duke of Beaufort instigated legal proceedings against Popkin.  In March 1755 the dispute came to trial at Hereford where the Court found judgement in favour of the Duke.   


The report of the Royal Commission into Salmon Fisheries (England and Wales) produced in 1861, provides a substantial amount of information about the fisheries on the River Tawe, it was mainly collected from four individuals: Messers George Harry, Matthew Moggridge, William Thomas and Trevor Adams Williams.  From the evidence, the fishery on the river was being adversely affected by trapping, netting, liming, spearing, groping, sledge hammering, mine water, tin works, saw mills and all manner of other activities. Williams and Moggridge were rod and line anglers of the period and conversant with fly fishing; despite being 'brothers of the angle', even they were prepared to exploit the river and 'pink' fishing without any close season was an accepted practice.  There being very little control of any description.  Interestingly enough a rod licence for England and Wales was being discussed by the Commission and a price tag of ten shillings (50 pence) or one pound was mentioned - perhaps we should not complain to loudly about the cost of fishing today!   Another titbit from the report is that the young seatrout were known as 'skirlings'; a name I would prefer to the current colloquial term of shoalie or schoolie used in the valley.


In 1927 the Trustees of the Will of H.N.Mears purchased from the Tenth Duke of  Beaufort the freehold of the 'Fishery, soil and bed of the Rivers Tawe and Clydach' where they joined or passed through the lands belonging to the Ynispenllwch Estate.  The Miers family were for some considerable time the owners of Ynispenllwch and events leading up to the sale would indicate that the title to the rivers had been the subject of a dispute between the two parties.  It is of interest to note that although the Ynispenllwch Estate acquired the whole of the river bed and fishing rights, their land ownership only extended, except on part of the River Clydach, to one bank of these rivers.


In 1954 Pontardawe Angling Society obtained a lease to these Ynispenllwch fishings and  for the next thirty years members fished both banks, erected styles and notices; all without hindrance from anyone.  Over this period some of the rights were sold to INCO and in 1984 the Society purchased the freehold title to the remainder which included the Cemetery Pool at Trebanos, the Junction Pool at Clydach and virtually all of the Lower Clydach River from the Junction Pool upstream to the Lone Bridge.  Even this purchase has not been without its problems;  British Waterways making claim to the western bank of the Junction Pool at Clydach, but reference to the1794 Act of Parliament which permitted the construction of the Swansea Valley Canal soon persuaded them of their folly.  The Act contains a number of clauses for the protection of Duke of Beaufort's fishery in the River Tawe and no provision can be found which would have allowed the promoters to obtain title.  The land owners on the eastern bank of the Cemetery Pool also created some difficulty when the purchase was ongoing but must have been advised of the weakness of the claim as they have not pursued the matter and members continue to fish the area.  Each year since its purchase, in the time honoured tradition, your Secretary has walked and fished unchallenged on the eastern bank of the Cemetery Pool to clearly mark the boundary of the Society's rights at this location.


Ray Lockyer

April 1996


6 Feb 2009