The Neath Canal has been a major feature of the Neath valley since opening in 1795.
Traffic on the Neath Canal increased from 1799 and reached an annual tonnage of 200,000 tons in the mid 1820’s and continued at this level up to the 1870’s, despite competition from the Vale of Neath Railway. It was only after a court case in 1875 between the Ynysarwed Colliery and the Neath Canal Company that the right to build tramways over the canal was established, after which most of the colliers on the western side of the valley built branch lines across the valley bottom and transferred to rail transport. The last major coal producer, Morgan Stuart Williams of Aberpergwm built a bridge over the canal to link with the Great Western Railway in 1888.
After most of the collieries in the Neath Valley transferred over to the railway the canal fell into decline and by the start of the First World War, traffic had virtually ceased. After the war, traffic was almost non-existent, the last toll taken in 1934.
The Company of Proprietors of the Neath Canal Navigation, the original company set up in 1791 to build the canal, is still in existence today and still owns the greater length of the canal, some small sections of the canal have been sold off, but the right of navigation over the complete line still exists.
The Neath Canal Navigation Company was able to continue trading over this long period of time due to the fact that since 1865 they have profitably sold water to local industry and in latter years only maintained the canal as a water channel.
The last major extractor of water from the canal, BP Baglan Bay, has ceased manufacturing operations in this area and revenue from water sales has now ended. The future of the canals in the Vale of Neath is mainly in the recreational field with possibly small quantities of water being sold to future industrial enterprises.
The major shareholder in the Neath Canal Navigation Company at present is BP Chemicals and as they have no ongoing interest in the area, are seeking a body to which they could transfer their shares in the company.