The town grew out of the original small port and market town of Aberafan (English name 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, there were tinworks and ironworks at Pontardawe, and Swansea was developing into a world centre of metal-working.) 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 Docks Company opened a dock at Port Talbot and the Llyfni 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 and many of these railway routes have re-emerged as recreational cycle tracks). 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 Port Talbot 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 1970 a new deep-water harbour was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. It was capable of discharging iron ore vessels of 100,000 dwt , a tenfold improvement on the old dock. By the early 21st century, due to further modification and dredging, the harbour is capable of harbouring vessels of over 170,000 dwt
The town saw serious decline in the late seventies and early eighties caused by the withdrawal or cutting back of major employers, especially the steel works. The borough council was absorbed into the larger unitary authority of Neath Port Talbot in 1996.
The town is built along the eastern rim of Swansea Bay in a narrow strip of coastal plane surrounding the River Afan estuary. Swansea is visible on the opposite side of Swansea Bay. The local beach along the edge of the bay is known as Aberavon Sands which is situated between the River Afan and the River Neath. The other beach in Port Talbot is Margam Sands (or more popularly known as Morfa Beach). The north eastern edge of the town is marked by the River Neath. A very significant landmark in the town is the Port Talbot Steelworks.
Air quality is relatively poor over a large area of the town. In 2007 there were 45 exceedences of the European and National allowed Pm10 limits, which are set at 35 exceedences.
A campus of Neath Port Talbot College is located in the Margam area. The Margam campus was previously called Afan College.
The group is dedicated to the research and recording of local history and have published a number of books over the years. Although the society boasts a large membership there is a core of 10 -15 active members who will be engaged in the Community Archives Wales project. They are enthusiastic and have a great deal of local knowledge and are very keen to archive this information digitally. For the Community Archives Wales project they are keen to research and archive the history of the Sandfields area of Port Talbot and have a wonderful collection of photographs and postcards to digitise.
The area is also served by The Wave (96.4MHz), Swansea Bay Radio (102.1MHz), Real Radio (106MHz) and Nation Radio (107.3MHz) as well as the BBC. Radio Phoenix also operates a Hospital Radio service for the patients & staff of Neath Port Talbot Hospital in Baglan Moors.
The town is served by several newspapers. The Port Talbot Guardian is a weekly paper published by Media Wales, part of the Trinity Mirror group. The Swansea-based daily South Wales Evening Post and the weekly Courier and Tribune are also distributed in the town and are published by South West Wales Publications, part of the Northcliffe Media group.
Can i gymru is usually filmed in Port Talbot.
The town is served by Cardiff International Airport, which can be accessed by rail by changing at Bridgend railway station and by road from J33 (Cardiff West) of the M4 motorway. The airport provides scheduled, charter, domestic and international flights.
The M4 motorway cuts through the town from south east to north west, crossing a central area on a concrete viaduct, junctions 38 to 41 serve Port Talbot, with junctions 40 and 41 being in the commercial heart of the town. This busy urban stretch of the M4, with tight bends, 2-lane carriageways, short narrow slip roads and concrete walls on both sides, was the first length of motorway in Wales when it opened to traffic in 1966. The road has a speed limit of 50 mph enforced with a speed camera in the Eastbound direction. The stretch through Port Talbot town centre is a particular traffic congestion blackspot and there have been calls to close the slip roads at junctions 40 and 41 to improve traffic flow. However some commuters oppose this plan since it would add more time to their journey. A new dual carriageway relief road, the Port Talbot Peripheral Distribution Road (PDR) , is planned for completion in 2012. The new carriageway will serve as a distributor road to the south west of Port Talbot, beginning at M4 Junction 38 ending near Junction 41.
The Port Talbot Docks complex consist of an inner set of floating docks and an outer tidal basin. Construction of the tidal basin began in 1964 and the whole basin covers about 500 acres. The tidal basin is capable of handling ships of up to 170,000 dwt and is used mostly for the import of iron ore and coal for use by nearby Port Talbot Steelworks. The inner floating docks were constructed in 1898 and were closed in 1959. They were re-opened in 1998 for commercial shipping but in March 2007 for the import of some steel products and are capable of handling ships of up to 8,000 dwt. There have been proposals for the development of an intermodal freight terminal at the port.
Heavy industry is a visible feature of Port Talbot's economy. The coastal strip of the town features Port Talbot Steelworks, a large BOC industrial gases plant and a gas-fired power station. Three further power plants are being planned or commissioned, they are at Margam adjacent to the BOC plant, near the Aberavon Beach sea front and a recently announced £60m project within Corus to utilise by-product gases.
On 20 November 2007, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) granted consent for the world's largest biomass power station to be built at Port Talbot. This is expected to begin operation in 2010, and to provide enough electricity (from wood from environmentally-managed forests, mostly in North America) to supply half the homes in Wales with electricity.
Potential future development currently centres around the peripheral distributor road to the south, Baglan Industrial Park and Baglan Energy park to the west, Port Talbot Docks to the southwest, Margam Country Park to the east and the Afan valley to the north. The 1970s town centre is ripe for a future face lift. The area around the town's railway station is dominated by billboards and a derelict cinema.
2007 was a typically busy year with a beached whale making world news. They also took part in flood relief efforts in Gloucester and while all are volunteers, they spent Christmas morning responding to pagers after it was thought a whale had come ashore once more which turned out to be a log, much to everyone's relief. Updates can be found at http://www.ptcg.co.uk