Known also as the Eagle Inn (1874-1890) Port Talbot Hotel, Port Talbot Temperance Hotel, Port Talbot Hotel and Coffee Tavern (1890-1900) Eagle Hotel, Eagle Temperance Hotel (1900-1920s) Eagle Buildings (1941-1948) Eagle House (1940s – present)
The story of Eagle House begins in the 1850s with a local stonemason Rees Roderick, but first a bit of scene setting.
It is difficult to imagine now how Port Talbot looked in this era, that is the area east of the River Afan to Taibach.
The area did not see large-scale development until the turn of the 20th century, when the now familiar streets of Station Road and Talbot Road were laid out and the terraced streets of housing behind.
In the 1850s there were very few buildings in this area at all. The South Wales Railway had recently built Port Talbot Station which was relatively isolated, about 1/3rd of a mile away from the town centre of Aberafan. 1
Opposite the station were a few cottages where the Grand Hotel stands today. These were leased from the Margam Estate by the railway, presumably for station staff. 2
There was a roadway to Taibach, though no buildings along it eastwards after Port Talbot Station.
Rees Roderick was a stonemason and builder and worked for the Talbots on the Margam Estate. His father had worked for the Estate as a labourer. 3
He first rented the site opposite the Port Talbot Station in 1857 to support his stonemasonry business (listed as ‘A piece of land near the Port Talbot Station’) paying £2 annual rent to CRM Talbot. By 1859 he had constructed a shed on the site. The 1861 census shows he employed 2 men at the time. 4
Rees Roderick’s work for the Margam Estate (tap to open)
The name Rees Roderick crops up over and over again in Margam Estate records, with numerous entities of payment to him for repairs and work to buildings all over the estate5.
Here are some extracts from those records to give a flavour:
65ft stone crests for Kenfig farm buildings
Work done to the ruins in the garden £30
New pillars at Eastern Lodge Gates, £50
Repairs to the stone screen on the terrace at Margam Park £45,10
New window for the chancel of Kenfig Church £6,11
Carving old stone pillars by Eastern Lodge £39,15,9
Repairing and restoring Llandough Church £254,4,9
2 Octagon pillars at East Entrance to Margam Park £69,10,8
Repairing house in Club Row, Taibach £3,5
Examining and repairing roof of St Brides chancel
Repairing Cottage at Aberavon – Paid £3,9,2
Repairing Cottage at Gwar y Caeau £9,1,4
Restoring Chancel of Wick Church £127,4
Repairs of Port Talbot Inn £31,17,3
Building five cottages at Port Talbot, on site of old Brick Works £431,5,10
Additions, repairs and alteration of Stables and cottages at Llandough Castle
Roderick continued to rent the site for his business for another 12 years6, living elsewhere on the Margam Estate, but by 1869 he has built a home for his family on the site. This survives as the front corner portion of Eagle House.
The 1871 census shows Rees Roderick and his family living at the property along with two servants, he is now employing 9 men – the address is recorded only as ‘Port Talbot Station’ with no official street names in use for the area yet, with so few buildings in the area.
The Eagle Inn
In 1850, when the railway first came to Port Talbot, national annual passenger numbers stood at 2.5millon, by the mid 1870s this had ballooned to over 36million. 7
Although these are national figures it is clear that passenger numbers at Port Talbot station had been increasing considerably over the years.
The station remained isolated nearly 25 years after its construction, with Rees Roderick’s house one of the only new buildings to have been built in the vicinity.
Port Talbot Station itself had no on-site refreshment rooms for passengers waiting for trains – this presented an ideal opportunity for Rees Roderick. In 1874, he opened the house as the Eagle Inn. 8
This arrangement of using a residential dwelling was commonplace in comparison to a purpose built licensed establishment, hence the term ‘Public House’. At this time the inn was a ‘beer house’ holding only a license to sell beer. 9
It is possible that the house was operating informally as a refreshment room before it appears as the Eagle Inn in records, even if only for non-alcoholic refreshments.
Rees Roderick was still working as as stonemason at this time and it is likely his wife was running the Eagle Inn. This arrangement wasn’t to last, as in 1875, Mrs Roderick passed away. 10
Rees Roderick remained at the property and The Eagle Inn continued to trade. He secured a spirit license in 1879 after constructing stables, extending the inn and making improvements to facilities to satisfy the local licensing board. 11
It is possible that this is when the second half of the front block of the building was constructed.
By 1881, Rees Roderick, now aged 59 lists his profession as ‘Inn keeper’ having passed the stonemason mantle to his son William to carry on the family trade. 12
Rees Roderick passes away at the Eagle Inn during 1881.13
Roderick Stonemasons – the Roderick family name continued to be associated with stonemasonry in Port Talbot until fairly recently. (information on the family link, and date of business closing would be welcome)
The Eagle Hotel
The Margam Estate quickly leased the Inn to David Jones, who was running the Victoria Hotel (Water street), Aberavon.14 His press advertisement used the first recorded use of the Eagle Hotel name for the premises. The rent by this time is £150 per annum. 15
During this time the Hotel hosted a function for the Glamorgan Volunteer Rifle Association who had historically met outside the GWR station for some years.
By 1884 the Eagle Hotel was leased to David John. He introduces skittles to the inn and employs additional staff. 16
In 1886 after 14 years of construction, the Great Western Railway opened the Severn Tunnel – cutting 18 miles off the journey towards London.1
That same year Mr John was summoned for opening the Eagle Inn past licensing hours. His defence, that he was serving visitors who were due to travel by train. The magistrates acknowledged that people used the premises as a waiting place for the railway, but stated that adequate standing room was provided at the station. David was fined 15s. 16
By 1890 David John has left the Eagle Hotel and is declared bankrupt, owing £604 9s 9d – he put this debt down to bad trade at the Eagle Hotel and his children raiding the till following the death of his wife. 17
Port Talbot Hotel
On the 1st January 1890 Cristopher Rice Mansel Talbot passed away, and Emily Talbot inherited the Margam Estate from her father. This was beginning of a new era for the Estate and arguably the town itself. 18
CRM Talbot was a known supporter of the Temperance movement 18a and it appears Emily Talbot also took this view18b – to this end she instructed her agent Mr Edward Knox not to lease the hotel again, but instead to set up a Temperance Hotel run by the estate itself. 19
A newspaper report in October 1890 reads: 19a
“THE EAGLE” INN, opposite the Port Talbot station, is to be henceforth closed as a licensed house for the sale of ales and spirits. This change is made at the express wish of Miss Talbot, of Margam-abbey, who desires that it should be in future used as a coffee tavern, and the house will, we understand, be fitted up for that purpose.
No doubt this will be very acceptable to commercial and other travellers, but to completely meet their requirements, sleeping accommodation should be provided, as it would undoubtedly with such provision be a place of much resort, owing to its proximity to the railway station.
By May 1891 The Port Talbot Hotel (and Coffee Tavern) was announced to the press.
A manager, Henry Charles Gant was put in place to run the establishment, and plans were drawn up to build an extension to accommodate billiards and additional trading space. 20
Mr Knox was to oversee the operation on behalf of the Margam Estate.
To Builders and Contractors.
TENDERS are invited for the ERECTION of a new BILLIARD ROOM, and COMMERCIAL ROOM at the Port Talbot Hotel and Coffee Tavern, Port Talbot. Plan and Specifications to be seen at the Post Office, Port Talbot.
Tenders to be sent in to E. Knox, Esq., Estate Offices, Margam, Port Talbot, on or before Saturday the 13th June, 1891. All Persons Tendering will be supplied with further particulars, if required, on application to
S. BAKER, Manor yard, Margam, Port Talbot.
During this period Mr Knox held meetings of the Margam Local Board at the Port Talbot Hotel.21
The Hotel appeared on the front cover of the account books in 1891-2, showing it as a trading entity owned and run by the Margam Estate itself.
The additions to the building, probably the rear block, opened in November 1891 with a billiards match between Mr J Evans, the billiard table supplier and a Mr W Doherty, who won the match. 22
Ultimately The Temperance Hotel was not a successful venture for the estate, and 1892 accounts show a loss of £112 with Edward Knox remarking.
“There is little doubt that the success of a Temperance Hotel depends largely upon the Manger and that in this case he was not all that might have been expected.”
The manager is removed by the end of 1892 and the business is instead leased to a Mr Rowe on Emily Talbot’s instruction, to continue to be run as a temperance hotel.
“I venture to think that you have done wisely in letting the Hotel at a fair rent to a Mr Rowe whose experience of such work will probably not only allow him to earn a profit but will thereby fulfil the object which you had in view in starting the place as a Temperance Hotel.”
Little is known about Mr Rowe’s time at the Temperance Hotel.
In 1896 a meeting of the Glamorgan Rifle Volunteer Association is called at the Eagle Hotel24
In 1897 a meeting of the Mid-Glamorgan Conservative Association was held there, with E Knox in attendance. 25
Newspaper notice (tap to open)
That same year, the Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company completed their railway from Port Talbot Docks to Maesteg. This line terminated for passengers at the Port Talbot Central Station, located right next to the Eagle Hotel – the building now served two railway stations.26
Between 1898-1900 the Grand Hotel was built next door and the Margam Estate allowed this building to be a licenced establishment. It contained 20 bedrooms, catering for the same commercial traveller clients that the Temperance Hotel was fitted out for.27
Despite this, the Eagle Temperance Hotel continued to trade, with a Miss Ida Withall the proprietor from 1899 to 1906.28
The building continued to trade as a Temperance Hotel until at least 1916 and remained listed as such on the Electoral Registers until the end of the 1920s.
Mabel and John Daniels were listed as residents on the 1918 electoral registers.
In the 1920s the site housed several businesses in the outbuildings to the rear, possibly in former stables or even workshops used by Rees Roderick.
This included an upholstery business run by a Mr Mills, and a garage and repair shop for a truck hire and removal business run by Trevor Jones. John Daniels also used the building as a patternmakers shop.
A large fire broke out in these buildings in 1921, causing significant damage..29
In 1940 at least part of building was in use as the Margam Estate Office, with Mabel and John Daniels still also listed as residents.
This lasted until June 31st 1940 when a bomb exploded in the courtyard. The building was vacant for around 12 months following the damage.
At this time in 1941 the newly formed 499 Squadron Air Training Corps were looking for a headquarters and the Commanding Officer P H Burton managed to secure the premises for their use.
It seems the building needed a fair bit of work before they could make use of it with ‘many gallons of water’ needed to clean the building up, along with clearing out damaged areas.
The squadron produced several booklets called the ‘Talbot Eagle’, the name of which they took from their headquarters.30
In 1942 they created a canteen for the unit to cater for their parade nights and other special occasions. The squadron required a license to operate the canteen due to wartime rationing. The note below specifies the foods allowed. .31
Ministry of Food License (tap to open)
Some notable figures were associated with the squadron, including Phillip H Burton, the original commanding officer and a local school teacher, who founded the YMCA drama society. 30
With Burton at the helm, the squadron were involved in a number of amateur productions, including a radio play he wrote, ‘Venture Adventure’, performed on the BBC Home Service in 1941, and a production of ‘Youth at the Helm’ at the YMCA Hall. These activities must have been unusual for an ATC squadron!
A young Richard Burton (then known as Richard Jenkins) was a member of the squadron at this time and performed in ‘Youth at the Helm’. He later took the name of his mentor and commanding officer, P H Burton.
Youth at the Helm – Programme (tap to open)
499 Squadron were based at the building until at least 1945, Burton was awarded an MBE in that year, possibly for services to the ATC.
The 499 Squadron is still in existence today, having had several bases over the years, including at the Drill Hall, Forge Road, Morrison Road and Green Street, Aberavon. They are currently back at the remains of the Drill Hall site, co-located with the Army Cadets.
Port Talbot Borough considered requisitioning the building for conversion to housing in 1948, along with Royal Buildings on Talbot Road, but this doesn’t appear to have been progressed.32
Following WWII and into the 1950s the building is listed again as the offices of the Margam Estate. 33Alongside this other notable businesses are also based there in this period, including Andrew Scott the builders. 34
Part of the building remains occupied as a dwelling during this period by Mabel and John Daniels.
Several businesses traded from the building through the latter half of the 20th century including John D Wood Estate Agents (who handled Margam estate affairs following the departure of the last agent) and the Wesleyan assurance society. 35
Almost 100 years of continued residential use ends in 1961, when Mabel Daniels passes away, having lived at Eagle House for at least 43 years. 36
By the early 1960s the building appears to have been altered, the ground floor of the building was rendered, some windows enlarged and the original doorway blocked up. The biggest change being the addition of a lean-to extension to the front, to house a new staircase, presumably to facilitate interior changes to the building.
In 1999 the building housed the first constituency office of Dr Brian Gibbons, the local Assembly member for the newly created Welsh Assembly. 37
In 2001, the first parliamentary constituency office for Aberavon was also sited in the building, opened by Dr Hywel Francis. 38
Both representatives remained there until 2010 before relocating to other premises nearby.
Some minor refurbishments were carried out in 2012 consisting of the re-rendering of the exterior, some works to windows and internal refurbishments. This revealed some of the features for the first time in around 40 years.
Eagle House is now threatened with demolition.
The building is incredibly important for its association with the very early development of Port Talbot, as the oldest commercial building remaining and one of the oldest buildings of any kind remaining in the area.
Although not remarkable in age by general standards, a building of this age is incredibly rare and unusual in Port Talbot, due to the significant unsympathetic redevelopment that has taken place throughout the 20th century.
The story of its builder and first occupier, Rees Roderick, is intrinsically linked to the story of the Margam Estate. The building is a clear and unique physical presence showing how the estate supported local business and the prosperity of working people in Port Talbot.
Mr Roderick himself can also lay claim to building at least one of the Grade II listed structures in Margam Park, the octagonal pillars at the East Lodge. He was also responsible for the extensive restoration of the Grade II listed Wick Church, being commissioned by CRM Talbot to carry out the work.
It’s likely given his prolific work for the Talbots that other such buildings in the former parish and estate could be attributed to him with further research.
The buildings use as an Inn in the 1870s has a direct link to the national development of the railways in the UK and the GWR expansion in to Wales. The opening of the Inn coming at a time when passenger numbers ballooned.
The remains of cellar accesses to the exterior of the building allow this part of the buildings life to be read from the fabric of the building. As does the continued physical proximity to the railway station.
It’s further and closer link to the Margam Estate, as the Port Talbot Temperance Hotel, is culturally significant in being the only surviving building from this movement in Port Talbot.
The building can also lay claim to being the only public establishment run by the Margam Estate in the Port Talbot area, being directly run by the estate at the express wish of Emily Talbot herself. The estate commissioned the extensions and alterations to the building to meet this purpose and employed a manager to run it.
Emily Talbot took a direct interest in this venture as shown by the correspondence from her agent Mr Knox.
This, the association with Rees Roderick and its later use as the Margam Estate office give the building a group association with the wider Margam Estate, and a unique significance with it being this far westwards and so near the nucleus of the town.
The building has had further notable involvement in key events, such as being struck by a German bomb in 1940, leading to it hosting the 499 ATC squadron in WWII, as its first headquarters – the squadron formed by notable playwright P H Burton MBE, and attended by Richard Burton.
In more modern times, the building has been a physical office presence for our local representatives, the first such building to be put to that use in the Aberavon constituency, signifying a political and social shift where politicians have become more accountable and accessible to those who they represent.
The buildings design, materials, scale and eclectic layout are in contrast to the surrounding buildings, the varying uses, alterations and extensions are clearly legible and give the building a unique and irreplaceable character.
The location of the building at a central point in the town centre, opposite the railway station, is also critical in terms of assessing its significance – the building is visible to every disembarking passenger though the viewpoint window of the new railway station, to passengers using the bus interchange and those travelling along the A48 corridor.
Thanks must go to several people and organisations for helping me pull this piece together in a record time of 3 weeks!
Allen Blethyn – descendant of Rees Roderick and legendary local historian, for providing me a head start on this part of the buildings’ history.
Sally Jones, D John Adams and John Vivian Hughes – all of whom have published works I’ve made reference to or used here, and for allowing me to pick their brains and collections.
Lynne Rees – for her help proof-reading, correcting my rusty grammar, running some FindMyPast searches for me and deciphering some hard to read handwriting.
Port Talbot Historical Society – members past and present whose collections and photographs have been referenced or used here.
West Glamorgan Archives Service, Glamorgan Archives and Neath Port Talbot Libraries – who have provided many of the sources used in the article and helpful guidance along the way.
Welsh Newspapers Online and the British Newspaper Archive – both invaluable sources of information which have been critical to writing this article.
499 Squadron – for access to their archive.
If anyone has any relevant information, photographs, pointers or corrections, please email me at email@example.com