Many of the people of the Afan Valley worked in the various enterprises of the industrial revolution, including iron works, tin works, copperminers, coal mining, and steel.
Welsh was the primary language of many, although it was diluted significantly by the influx of English-only-speaking from other parts of the UK during the huge expansion of the steelworks in Margam.
Religion played a significant role in the lives of Afan folk, as evidenced by the many chapels and churches of various denominations. Pub life was also very evident throughout the valley.
Wales has long been called The Land of Song, and nowhere was this more clearly evident than in The Afan Valley. I have fond memories of growing up listening to and singing Welsh hymns and folk songs.
It has often been said that rugby is a religion in Wales, and the people of The Afan were no exception to the rule. I attended my first rugby game held at the Cwmafan rugby ground at the ripe old age of 6 months, and my father used to take me to see all the home games.
It was common for multiple people to have the same first and last names, so valley folks made their profession a part of someone’s name. Ocassionally, they’d use some physical attribute instead of the profession. Eddie the post, Tom Jones the insurance, Alec the rent, Roy the baker, and Jim one arm (a roadsweeper) are some I recall from my days growing up.
A number of celebrities were born &/or grew up in the Afan Valley, including actor Richard Burton and Singers Ivor Emmanuel and Rebecca Evans, singer/songwriter Geraint Griffiths, and radio host and entertainer Chris Needs. The village of Pontrhydyfen proudly recognizes some of these celebrities with a sign near Richard Burton’s home.
For an illustration of life in a mining valley and how the speaking of Welsh by schoolchildren in many Welsh villages was discouraged, read the book How Green Was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn (1939), ISBN-10: 0684825554 ISBN-13: 978-0684825557. Or watch the movie with the same title (1941) starring Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O’Hara, ASIN: 6302640504.
Some interesting, and sometimes humourous, prose referring to people of Afan can be found in Sad flows old Afan, a collection of poems by Alan Davies.