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The Neath and Tennant Canals were two independent but linked canals in South Wales that are usually regarded as a single canal.
They are the subject of considerable restoration work,and they meet at Aberdulais basin.
The Neath Canal received its Act of Parliament in 1791, and Thomas Dadford was employed as Engineer.
Construction started from Neath, northwards towards Abernant (Glynneath). The canal had reached the River Neath at Ynysbwllog by 1792, when Dadford resigned to take up work on the Monmouthshire Canal. He was replaced by Thomas Sheasby, who failed to complete the canal by the November 1793 deadline, and was arrested in 1794 for irregularities in the accounts of the Glamorganshire Canal. The canal company completed the building work by 1795, using direct labour.
A second Neath Canal Act was passed in 1798, to authorise an extension of about 1 mile to Giants Grave, where facilities for transferring goods to sea-going vessels were available. This extension was completed by 1799.
Between 1815 and 1842, additional docks and wharfs were build at Giants Grave, extending the length slightly, and the canal was eventually extended to Briton Ferry by the construction of the Jersey Canal in 1842, which was about 0.6 miles (1km) long, and was built without an Act of Parliament.
The final length of the canal was 13.5 miles, with 19 locks.
From the northern terminus, a tramway connected the canal to iron works at Aberdare and Hirwaun. This was built in 1803, and included an incline just north of Glynneath, which was powered by a high-pressure Trevithick steam engine. The Tappenden brothers had bought into the iron industry in 1802, and built the tramway because of high tolls on the Glamorganshire Canal, but by 1814 they were bankrupt, and had no further connections with the canal.
The Tennant Canal was built by George Tennant, initially as an extension of the Glan-y-Wern Canal, with the intention of linking the Tawe and Neath rivers. Work started in 1817, and the canal entered the River Neath at Red Jacket by 1818. However, barges from the Neath Canal could not cross the river, and so a further extension was started in 1820, to link with the Neath Canal basin at Aberdulais. The extension crosses the river on a 10-arched aqueduct, and the only lock on this section was situated at the south end of the aqueduct.
The length of the canal, completed in 1824, was 8 miles, and it was built without an act of Parliament. It is still owned by the Coombe-Tennant family. The canals faced competition from the Vale of Neath Railway after 1851, but remained profitable until the early 1880s. Navigation on the Neath Canal came to an end in 1934, and on the Tennant canal soon afterwards. However, most of the infrastructure was maintained by the Neath Canal Company as the canals supplied water to local industries.
Much of the final section from Ysgwrfa lock to Glyn Neath, including 5 locks, was lost when the Glynneath bypass was built. This road has since been superseded by the A465(T) dual carriageway.
The canals are the subject of active restoration projects. The upper section from Resolven to Ysgwrfa was completed in 1990, and received a Europa Nostra award in 1988 for the quality of the work, and a Civic Trust Award in 1992. The 4 million GBP project was jointly funded by the Welsh Office and the Prince of Wales Trust.
In 1993, the section from Ynysarwed to Tyn-yr-Heol lock at Tonna was polluted by iron-bearing water discharging from a mine adit. A treatment plant and wetlands were installed to clean the water, and this 1.6 million GBP project was commissioned in 1999.
The current restoration project involves the section from Neath town centre to Abergarwed, near the Ynysarwed locks. An initial 2.7 million GBP project enabled all of the polluted section to be cleaned, and much of the infrastructure to be restored. Nearly 65,000 tonnes of polluted material was dredged from the canal and removed. An additional 1.6 million GBP project is being funded by the European Union Objective 1 project, the Welsh Assembly and Neath Port Talbot Council. This includes complete replacement of the Ynysbwllog aqueduct, part of which was washed away in a flood in 1979. The water flow was maintained by replacing the missing arch with pipes, but the towpath was not re-instated until over 20 years later, when a steel footbridge was built.
When completed in February 2008, the new 34m aqueduct will be the longest single span aqueduct in the UK.
The Glan-Y-Wern Canal is a branch of the Tennant Canal which branches northwards near Crymlyn Burrows. It terminates at the Crymlyn Bog nature reserve, now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The canal was built to connect Richard Jenkins' colliery at Glan-y-wern with the River Neath at Trowman's Hole (or Red Jacket Pill), an inlet across the mud flats from the main channel of the river. Jenkins obtained a lease to build it from Lord Vernon on 14 August 1788, but died on the same day. Edward Elton took over management of the colliery, and the canal was constructed by 1790. It remained in use for about 20 years. Tennant incorporated the southern section into his Tennant Canal. The northern branch over the Crymlyn Bog was derelict by 1918.