Early History of the Grand Hotel.
A new Hotel
The Grand Hotel is arguably one of our most notable surviving buildings from ‘Old Port Talbot’ occupying a prime location today opposite the railway station.
At the time the building of the hotel was announced in 1898 this area of Port Talbot was awash with new development. Station Road and Talbot Road were at that time laid out but there was otherwise very little development between the densely packed streets of old Aberavon town to the west and Taibach to the east.
The Port Talbot Railway and Docks offices on Talbot Road were built a year earlier in 1897 along with the first of the large four storey, red brick buildings at the station end of Station Road, the ‘new’ Police Station was under construction in 1898 and Lloyds Bank on the corner of Station Road and Grove Place followed shortly after.
The site of the hotel stood within the parish of Margam, formed of the Talbot Estate. Emily Talbot was known to be ‘greatly adverse to the building of public houses on her estate’ with only three public houses in the parish at the time, serving 9000 people. This was in stark contrast to the Aberavon parish where it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say there was almost one on every street in the town centre.
Despite this, Emily Talbot granted a lease for the land to a David Williams from Bridgend who employed George Robinson of Cardiff as the architect to build the hotel. The site was in the main undeveloped apart from a row of three cottages which were demolished.
Legend has it Emily Talbot had an influence on the design of the hotel, I’ve seen no evidence of this and no link between the architect and the Talbots, but the Gothic/Tudor revival style does give some weight to the theory, with elements in the hotel’s design that mirror Margam Castle.
These include castellations over the bay window, and the main entrance having these and a bartisan turret feature.
Construction was estimated to cost £10,000 (about £1.2m adjusted for inflation) for the 20 bedroom hotel, the lease contained a covenant to build an extra 12 bedrooms ‘when called upon by Miss Talbot’ (these were eventually built on top of the function room and back bar, but in the 1950s, long after her death)
At a licensing meeting in 1898 the case was made for the granting of a provisional license for the hotel, present were Samuel Evans MP, representing David Williams, and Rhys Williams, representing Emily Talbot.
Samuel Evans indicated there was no opposition to the application and evidence was also provided from an architect demonstrating the need for a hotel. The provisional license for the hotel was unanimously granted, which was a good thing as foundations had already been laid at the time.
Construction of the hotel appeared to take some time with the building mostly completed by January 1900. On the 5th March 1900 the license was finalised after the architect demonstrated to the committee that the hotel was built in accordance to the approved plans, the opening of the building came a few weeks later on the 31st March 1900.
The hotel’s unusual design was divisive at the time, with some reporting it to be ‘splendid’ ‘palatial’ and ‘quaint’ and others describing it as ‘not what one would call a handsome building’ and ‘mammoth’.
One interesting comment noted from a newspaper at the time said “that palatial building was not erected for the ‘people’. ”
Aside from the 20 bedrooms, which were fitted to accommodate lockers for travelling salesmen, the substantial four storey building contained several bars, and spaces for dining, meetings and functions, including a dedicated banqueting room. At the rear was a large stable block and yard, an area that is now used as a car park.
Of note on the interior is the lack of kitchen facilities on the ground floor, the kitchen was upstairs on the second floor until a 1980s remodel.
Station Street (as it was known then) in front of the hotel was widened to 60 feet as part of the new development.
Meetings, functions and events.
The modern well equipped hotel, located in a prime position, quickly made it a staple venue for local organisations to hold dinners, banquets and presentation evenings.
Most other hotels in the Aberavon area at the time would have been substantially older and lacked the versatility of spaces that the Grand offered. The Walnut Tree Hotel for instance had an ample provision of bars and a large billiard room but only one large dining room on the first floor.
The Jersey Beach Hotel had opened the same year, but was substantially smaller, catered towards excursion parties and was arguably less conveniently located, being in (at the time) an isolated spot on Aberavon Beach.
Railway and Docks Company
The earliest function at the Grand Hotel I’ve been able to find is a presentation evening held in June 1900.
The evening was for James Probert, the former manager of the Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company, which was based just a short distance away at Talbot Road.
The event was attended by employees of the company, the local mayor and various officials representing local companies such as the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway, and Port Talbot Graving Docks Company.
The Port Talbot Male Voice Party choir (who were runners up at the National Eisteddfod the following year) sang throughout the evening and a purse of gold was presented to Mr James Probert for his service to the company.
Port Talbot Association Football Club
The club’s early history appears to have some ties to the hotel. In 1902 the hotel was advertised as the headquarters of the club, with annual meetings and events for the club taking place at the hotel through the 1900s.
One example of this is a ‘smoking concert’ held in 1903.
These were popular in the Victorian era, reserved for men only, with musical entertainment. The events were places where men would gather, smoke and debate and discuss political issues of the day.
S. W. H. Tilley
At the beginning of 1901 the hotel was under the management of S. W. H. Tilley of Cardiff. He appeared to stay at the hotel for only a few years before returning to Cardiff.
It seems he was a fan of the relatively new game of Ping Pong, playing for local teams through 1902. Newspaper reports of the time report a game being played at the Grand Hotel against the ‘Llandaff Savages’ with the local team ‘The Talbots’ losing.
The fine of a Baptist minister
Headline from the Weekly Mail in 1903 
During Tilley’s tenure at the pub in 1903 an explosive story was reported in the papers of the time of a breach of license.
Tilley had allowed visitors to the pub later than his license allowed, a police offer had noticed a light on in the pub at 11.50pm and stood on the small wall outside the hotel to peer in through the window.
He observed four men inside: Tilley, the landlord; Rev W Walters, a local Baptist minister; Richard Harris, a local reporter and Edward Williams, the inspector of Weights and Measures for Glamorgan County Council, who had apparently enjoyed a fish supper earlier that evening.
After half an hour the men left the hotel to be confronted by the officer, with Tilley’s three guests all accused of being in various states of drunkenness.
Rev Walters was described as ‘beastly drunk’ and fell on his face on the path outside of the hotel before being taken to the police station.
Williams and Harris were summoned for being on licensed premises during prohibited hours.
Tilley was summoned for both allowing his premises to be open during prohibited hours, and for permitting drunkenness at his pub.
There was quite some debate before the magistrates as to the extent to which the men were drunk and whether or not they could be classed as guests of the hotel. Eventually they were found guilty, Tilley was fined £5, Walters 10s, with Harris and Williams receiving fines of 20s each.
Thank you for reading, would love to know what you think, or to hear any stories or information particularly around the early history of the building.
Emails welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will be adding to this piece again with some more illustrations, plans and information when I get the time.
Port Talbot Historical Society, Damian Owen and Barrie Flint in particular for their help with this. Thanks to Sally Jones for casting her expert eye over this for me too.
West Glamorgan Archive Service, National Library of Wales and National Library of Scotland.
 1897 6 inch OS Map. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland -https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
 Extract of a sketch by Barrie Flint, of the Upper Court Farm area from 1876 OS Map.
 South Wales Daily News 24th August 1898 pg 3 – Welsh Newspapers Online https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3740832/3740835/16/
 Postcard of the Grand Hotel c1902 deposited in Port Talbot Historical Society Archive by Barrie Flint.
 Plan based upon 1911/1949 plan from West Glamorgan Archive Service
 Weekly Mail August 22nd 1903 pg 7 – Welsh Newspapers Online https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3376344/3376351/149/
 Extract from unknown publication, deposited in Port Talbot Historical Society Archive by John Vivian Hughes