The Cyfarthfa Mystery

What better for a cold winter’s night than a gruesome tale of murder and it’s ghostly aftermath?

The following story is one of those tales that has been passed down through many generations (I have certainly heard about it from several different sources), and has passed into Merthyr folklore.

As most people know, Cyfarthfa Ironworks was founded in 1765 by Anthony Bacon, a rich London merchant, and in around 1770 he had a home built for himself on the banks of the River Taff, next to the works, and called Cyfarthfa House.

Cyfarthfa House in the 1790’s from a drawing by William Pamplin. Photo courtesy of Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery

Soon after it was built, one of Anthony Bacon’s maid-servants began a love affair with a young man named William Owen, who, on one occasion presented her with a pair of silver shoe-buckles and a black silk neckerchief. The couple visited the Cefn Fair, but Will noticed that his lady-friend was very reticent towards him, and was paying far more attention to another young man – Benjamin Harry, obviously another would be suitor. To make matters worse, Will noticed that his rival was wearing the fancy buckles and the very silk neckerchief he had presented to his beloved!

On the Sunday following the fair, Will decided to confront the maid. Having attended the evening service at Ynysgau Chapel he went to Cyfarthfa House for an explanation of her behaviour. Will declared his love to the girl and proclaimed his faithfulness to her at all times, but accused her of being unfaithful to him. A heated argument ensued, culminating with Will plunging a knife into her chest. The injured girl managed to get into the house, and climbed the stairs to join the other maids. As she ascended the stairs, faint through loss of blood, she rested her bloodstained hand on the wall for support, before dying.

Ever since then, so the story goes, that subsequent generations who occupied the house decorated the hallway many, many times over, but no matter what they used, be it paint or wallpaper, the bloody hand-print would always show through.

Sir Frederick J Pedler, former mayor of Merthyr and historian, says in his book ‘History of the Hamlet of Gellideg’, that he actually visited Cyfarthfa House in 1926, and was shown the spot where the maid rested her bloodied hand on the wall, and sure enough, there was the shape of a hand print on the wall.

Cyfarthfa House was demolished in the 1930’s, and with it went the hand-print for good.

Many thanks to Chris Parry at Cyfarthfa Museum with additional information about Cyfarthfa House.

Merthyr Historian vol. 28

The Merthyr Tydfil Historical Society are pleased to announce the publication of volume 28 of the Merthyr Historian.

The book will be officially launched on 11 December 2017 at The Redhouse (the Old Town Hall) in Y Faenor Room (The Gallery) at 2.30pm.
Details of the latest volume are below.
Volume 28
Christine Trevett & Huw Williams, Editors
Published 2017 – ISBN 978-0-9929810-2-0
An Editorial Statement
1. Ars Gratia Artis: Popular Culture and the Making of Modern Merthyr Tydfil by Huw Williams
2. Rediscovering J.O. Francis (1882-1956) The Distinguished Merthyr-born Playwright by Mary Owen
3. Pilgrimage of a Vagabond: The Harry H. W. Southey Story by Christopher Parry
4. More Than Just a Bed-cover, More Than Just a Dress by Christine Trevett
5. Disestablishment of the Church in Wales: An Anniversary by David Lee
6. Isaac Craigfryn Hughes of Quakers Yard: Colliery, Culture and the Common Man by Christine Trevett
7. William Warde Fowler: From Gwaelod y Garth House to Ancient Rome by Christine Trevett
8. The Royal Crescent Allotments 1917-2017 by Hywel Mathews
9. George Jones (Talfyrydd): A Forgotten Local Historian by Brynley Roberts
10. The Taff in Poetry and Paint: An Appreciation of “A Fold in the River by Philip Gross and Valerie Coffin Price” by the Editors
11. Biography of Contributors


I have received an e-mail with the following request:

My name is Eira and I am doing a dissertation on the above mentioned subject. I was wondering apart from the information available in the library and internet, do you have any other information?
I was hoping to get a picture of the cinder tip and china together, not on a map. Also do you have any pictures of the area showing from the top of the cinder tip to the river?
I hope you can help me.
Many thanks
If anyone does have any information or can help in any way, please get on touch with me at the e-mail address shown, and I will pass it on.

An Electrical Mystery

I have received an e-mail from Alan Davies with a bit of mystery. Alan writes:

“I have seen two of these labels at properties in Penydarren, Merthyr
that I have worked in, at the fuse box location. I thought a photo may be of
small interest. I wondered if perhaps the customer was able to have three
lights installed for free, provided you paid the electric company for the
electric consumed!”

Can you shed any light (sorry!) on the mystery?

If anyone has any information on this, please get in touch.

Dowlais Stables – an additional comment

Many thanks to Victoria Owens, a keen supporter of this blog for the following piece that she sent as a comment on my previous post. As it is so interesting I thought it was worth sharing with everyone and deserved a post in its own right.

In January 1835, following Josiah John Guest’s return – unopposed- as Merthyr Tydfil’s MP, he and Lady Charlotte hosted a ball in the granaries above the Dowlais stabling to celebrate. Charlotte organised the decorations, which included patriotic transparencies proclaiming ‘W.R.’ [William Rex] and EGLWYS Y BRENEN [Church and King] drawn by the clerks from the ironworks office and hung where they caught the light. Josiah John’s Arms -‘with a Lyre and a fleur de lys’ according to the Merthyr Guardian, but when had he acquired the right to an heraldic device? – were chalked on the floor. The Rev Evan Jenkins, Rector of Dowlais, lent the Guests the church chandeliers, evergreens bedecked the walls and the band of the Cardiff militia provided music. The local gentry, whether or not they shared Guest’s political views, came in anticipation of a good party. By all accounts, the weather was vile, with thick snow delaying the London mail coach. In consequence, the local paper had much fun at the expense of a party of urban sophisticates who arrived too late for the fashionable quadrilles and had to make do with country dances ‘like Sir Roger de Coverley and Boulanger’.

(Information from the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette, Saturday 24 January 1835 and Lady Charlotte Guest, Extracts from her Journal, ed. the Earl of Bessborough (John Murray: London, 1950, pp 37-38, 19 – 20 January 1835).

Dowlais Stables

One of the oldest and most impressive buildings still standing in Merthyr is Dowlais Stables.

In the early part of the Nineteenth Century, despite Merthyr being at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and indeed pioneering the first steam-powered locomotive in 1804, Dowlais (and all the other) Ironworks were reliant on horses and ponies to bear the brunt of the heavy haulage work. In July 1819, it is recorded, Michael Faraday the eminent scientist visited the Dowlais Works, and walked with Josiah John Guest to the hay fields near the Works where the hay made there was used to feed the 150 or so horses which the Dowlais Iron Company used.

The following year, Josiah John Guest had stables built to house the horses. The architect of the building is unknown, but it was (and still is) a striking building. The complex is of symmetrical design, in the form of a rectangular plan of ranges set round a (formerly railway-served) central yard. The façade has two-storeys with centre and end pavilions separating 9-bay ranges and there is a tall central arch, through which the railway passed, with a circular clock face. This façade is roughly 450 feet long, and the central block rises to over 50 feet, with the central arch being roughly 30 feet high. This is topped with a decorative wooden cupola.

A plan of the layout of Dowlais Stables

It is said that when the stables was built, a number of contemporary newspaper cuttings, and several items of memorabilia were hidden behind one of the arch stones to be revealed “when the building falls down”.

The stables were well used; towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Dowlais Iron Company were employing “over a dozen blacksmiths, several stable lads and a score of other hands to tend the several hundred head of horses now owned by the Company and stabled in the very heart of Dowlais”.

As well as being used as for stabling horses, soldiers were stationed in the building for several years after the Merthyr Riots of 1831. Also, of course, Lady Charlotte Guest famously used the large first-floor rooms as a boys school until Dowlais Central Schools were opened in 1854-5.

The stables closed in the 1930’s and the complex became derelict; in the late 1970’s unauthorised demolition was started, but was brought to a halt. The site was subsequently bought by the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust in 1981, and despite the façade partially collapsing in 1982, the building was eventually rebuilt as flats; the south east facade walls were also substantially rebuilt. Of the original structure, only the southeast range and Stables House on the north west range currently survive.

Dowlais Stables after the partial collapse in 1982