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Briton Ferry
Neath Road, Briton Ferry - - 127633.jpg
Briton Ferry is located in Neath Port Talbot
Briton Ferry
Briton Ferry
Population 5,911 (2909 East ward and 3002 West ward) (2 Wards 2011)
OS grid reference SS735945
Principal area
  • Neath Port Talbot
Ceremonial county
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town NEATH
Postcode district SA11
Dialling code 01639
Police South Wales
Fire Mid and West Wales
Ambulance Welsh
EU Parliament Wales
UK Parliament
  • Aberavon
List of places
Neath Port Talbot
51°38′13″N 3°49′16″W / 51.637°N 3.821°W / 51.637; -3.821
109 first river crossing
The western viaduct of the first road crossing of the River Neath at Briton Ferry in 1986
7 St Mary's church
The first St Mary's Church (pictured here in 2013) was founded in the 6th century

Briton Ferry (Welsh: Llansawel) is a town and community in the county borough of Neath Port Talbot, Wales. The Welsh name may indicate that the church, llan, is protected from the wind, awel. Alternatively, Sawel may be a derivative of Saul, St Paul's earlier name. He once landed at Briton Ferry. An alternative Welsh name unused today is Rhyd y Brython, a direct translation of Briton Ferry. The Normans referred to the River crossing as La Brittonne and Leland in 1540 as Britanne Fery.

Industrial development

The Industrial Revolution brought factories such as the Albion Steel Works, the English Crown Spelter Works and the Baglan Bay Tinplate Works. These were built on land close to the River Neath and the new South Wales Railway, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In 1840 an area of about 750 acres (3.0 km2) of land in Cwmafan was leased for 99 years to John Vigurs and subsequently passed to Wright, Butler & Co. Ltd, then to Baldwins Ltd. The terraces of houses built on this land were sublet in 1897 and 1898 for the remainder of the term of this lease, but many were declared unfit for habitation in the 1930s, and demolished.

The industrial development and industrialisation attracted other railways, including the Neath and Brecon Railway, the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway, and the South Wales Mineral Railway with its cable powered incline.

Briton Ferry floating dock

In the 1850s the Briton Ferry Floating Dock Company was incorporated, and bought land from the Earl of Jersey to build the Briton Ferry Docks. When it opened in 1861, the dock consisted of an outer tidal basin, and an inner floating dock, where the water level was maintained by a single gate, which included a buoyancy chamber. It covered an area of 23.7 acres (9.6 ha). The gate was 56 feet (17 m) wide, and the unique structure with its floating caisson was designed by Brunel's father, Sir Marc Brunel. Following Brunel's death in 1859, Robert Brereton took over as engineer, and also acted as engineer for improvements made in 1872 and 1873. The company later went bankrupt and the Great Western Railway took over the docks as a going concern. After World War II many warships were scrapped there, until the dock was closed in 1959. As part of a regeneration programme, a tower, which formed part of the complex, has been refurbished. It was an accumulator tower for the hydraulic system which operated the dock gate and cranes. The system was designed by William Armstrong, and in 2010, the Institute of Civil Engineers unveiled a plaque at the site to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

The shipbreaking of WW2 ships, for example HMS Bermuda, took place at Giants Grave upstream of the floating dock, and north of the M4 and A48.

The Mouchel phenomenon

In 1875 the French-born engineer Louis Gustave Mouchel established himself in Briton Ferry and quickly became involved in a number of successful enterprises. His consultancy company was directly responsible for introducing ferro-concrete (also called 'reinforced concrete') to Britain, with the claimed first entirely ferro-concrete building in the UK constructed for the Weaver and Co mills in neighbouring Swansea.

So important was Briton Ferry for trade with France that Mouchel was, from 1879 to his death, French Consular Agent to 'Briton Ferry, Talbot, Porthcawl and Neath Abbey'.


Briton Ferry Library - - 1540467
Briton Ferry Community Resource Centre- former Briton Ferry Library

The industrial revolution brought much expansion to Briton Ferry that included iron works, steel works, tinplate production and engineering. Production generally lasted until the 1970s. In 1951 as industry began to dwindle, portions of the estate were sold to the Principality Property Co., Estateways Builders, John Oliver Watkins, the City & Provincial Housing Association and Gwalia Land & Property Developments Ltd. Huw Pudner and Chris Hastings, two local songwriters, have written Giants Grave a song about the shipbreaking industry in Briton Ferry. The song was used in the film The History of Briton Ferry by Jason May.

Modern development

A new bridge across the River Neath was completed in 1955 and a second one, built to carry the M4 Motorway, was completed in 1993. The main line railway still passes through, but the industries have closed, resulting in Briton Ferry being a dormitory suburb of the new Neath Port Talbot County Borough.

The sailing ships with destinations all over the world that used to berth in Brunel’s ports have disappeared, as has the docks, which is now filled in with only a few remains to be seen. But work has now started to restore Brunel's tower, with a restoration group presently trying to restore what remains of the unique Brunel dock (the only one in the world to use a floating chamber) to working order, for use by fishing boats and yachts.

Nearest places

Sports clubs

  • Briton Ferry Llansawel A.F.C.
  • Briton Ferry RFC
  • Giants Grave BGC
  • Briton Ferry Steel Cricket Club
  • Briton Ferry Town Cricket Club



The railway was important in the town's industrial development town, and much of the core rail infrastructure remains. The town is served by the Briton Ferry railway station, which is now accessed from Shelone Road. It is near the Cwrt Sart junction, where the Swansea District Line meets the South Wales Main Line. For passenger services, Briton Ferry is served by two principal operators. The first, Transport for Wales, runs regional trains to Swansea and West Wales and also to Cardiff and Manchester via the Welsh Marches line. In contrast, First Great Western trains from Swansea to London do not stop here. The typical service pattern has been one train approximately every two hours in each direction, but Transport for Wales, which took over the Wales and Borders franchise in October 2018, intends to operate further services.


The town is served by twelve local services and three express services which pickup from various stops within the town. The local buses cater for local shoppers, colleges and hospitals in the Neath-Port Talbot area, while the express services are provided to reach Bridgend, Maesteg and Swansea.


The M4 and the A483 bypass the town to relieve the traffic on the A474, a former Roman road, which runs through the town parallel to the main railway line and connects Neath with Port Talbot.

First road crossing

Briton Ferry
Crossing the River (Spurgeon)

Construction of the first river bridge crossing took place from 1949–1955 and was one of the first large-scale road bridges to be constructed in Britain after World War II as part of the A48 Neath bypass road scheme. It comprises two viaducts. The western viaduct crosses the River Neath, and the eastern viaduct crosses the former dock area of Briton Ferry and the South Wales main railway line.

Second road crossing

The second road crossing was completed in 1994 to carry the London to Wales M4 motorway across the River Neath to supersede the A48. Briton Ferry has junction J42, which is 184 miles (296 km) from the motorway's eastern end and 15 mi (24 km) from its western at Pont Abraham. It filled the final 6.2 mi (10 km) gap in the motorway between Newport and west Wales, Its completion presented formidable problems, with extensive industrial and commercial development, estuarine flood-lands and the navigable River Neath all lying in the path of possible routes.

Notable people

  • Kenneth Crosby, linguist and missionary to Sierra Leone, West Africa
  • Harry Parr-Davies, musician, composer and songwriter
  • Mavis Nicholson (née Mainwaring) Journalist and Broadcaster
  • David Pickering Welsh rugby personality
  • Alf Shea, Welsh cricketer, born in Briton Ferry

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