Port Talbot (Welsh name: Aberafan or Aberavon) is an industrial town in the traditional county of Glamorgan, south Wales, UK, with a population of approximately 50,000. Port Talbot is also the name of an electoral ward and a community in Neath Port Talbot county borough, which are closely related to the town.
The town grew out of the original small port and market town of Aberafan (Aberavon), which belonged to the medieval Lords of Afan. It built its wealth on the abundance of coal in the vicinity and on the abundant water available in the River Afan to power machinery and operate the docks.
The town got its new name from the Talbot family, who were related to the pioneer photographer, William Henry Fox Talbot. They were patrons of Margam Abbey, an ancient Cistercian foundation, and also built Margam Castle (1830-1839, architect: Thomas Hopper), a mock Gothic residence, now partially restored and open to the public along with the surrounding park.
Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot (1803-1890) was a wealthy landowner (and Liberal Member of Parliament for Glamorgan from 1830 until his death) who saw the potential of his property as a site for an extensive ironworks, which opened in early 1831. (This was just part of the industrialisation taking place across south Wales then; copper had been smelted at Neath since 1584, and there were tinworks and ironworks at Pontardawe.) CRM Talbot was also chairman and a major shareholder of the South Wales Railway.
His only son Theodore died in 1876 following a hunting accident. It was therefore his daughter Emily Charlotte Talbot (1840-1918) who inherited her father's fortune and became just as notable in the development of ports and railways. With assistance from engineers Charles Meik and Patrick Meik she set about creating a port and railway system to attract business away from Cardiff and Swansea. The Port Talbot Railway and Dock Company opened a dock at Port Talbot and the Llynfi Railway in 1897, followed by the Ogmore Valley Extension and the South Wales Mineral Junction Railway (almost all these lines were closed as part of the Beeching Axe cuts in the mid 1960s, but some bridges and viaducts remain). By 1900, the dock was exporting over 500,000 tons of coal; it reached a peak of over three million tons in 1923.
During the early twentieth century, the docks and a major steelworks attracted considerable investment, and this was followed by the establishment of a chemical plant at Baglan Bay by British Petroleum in the 1960s.
In recent years, the town has seen a serious decline, caused by the withdrawal or cutting back of major employers. The borough council has been absorbed into the larger unitary authority of Neath Port Talbot.
In 2005 the area was granted its first dedicated radio station when a local group - AfanFM - were awarded a 5 year Community FM Radio licence to serve Port Talbot and its neighbouring town of Neath. It will broadcast a "music-based information service" to young people aged 11-25.
The town is built along the eastern rim of Swansea Bay with Swansea being located on the opposite side. The beach along the edge of the bay is known as Aberavon Sands which are protected from erosion by a groyne at the mouth of the River Afan. The northern edge of the town is marked by the River Neath.
Arguably, the most famous landmark in Port Talbot is the steelworks. It was operated by Corus Group, but was purchased by India's Tata Steel (which is part of one of the oldest and largest business conglomerates in India, Tata Group) in January 2007.
On the extensive steelworks site, smoke can be observed rising from the BOS plant and water vapour from the cooling towers, a great distance away. When exiting Port Talbot in an easterly direction, the Abbey Works steel products plant (which is over 1 mile long) can be seen. The familiar 'smokey' smell of sulphur often hangs over this part of the town.
Movie director Ridley Scott quotes the sight of Port Talbot Steelworks at night to be his inspiration for the dark, gigantic buildings in films like Blade Runner. Top Gear have used the Port Talbot steelworks to film, a number of times. Director Terry Gilliam has cited the Port Talbot Steelworks as as a major initial influence in developing the movie Brazil.