Joseph Williams – ‘Y Tyst’

by Carl Llewellyn

Joseph Williams was born at St Clears, Carmarthen, and came to Merthyr as a boy in 1842 to be apprenticed to his cousin Rees Lewis as a bookbinder. After serving his apprenticeship, he left Merthyr and went into business as a grocer at Llangattock. In 1872 he bought the printing business of Mr Thomas Howells (who had died the previous year) in Glebeland Street, which formed part of the block of buildings erected for Merthyr Express.

He continued at the premises for a few years before moving to other premises in Glebeland Place, extending his offices and putting in new machinery which helped with the journal publications. Some time after moving to the new premises, Williams took over the printing and publishing of the Welsh Congregational Newspaper. The newspaper had previously been published in Liverpool from its inception in 1864 under the title “Y Tyst Cymreig” (The Welsh Witness) then at Dolgellau, under the name of “Y Tyst a’r Dydd” (The Witness and the Day), but in the year 1892 the latter part of the title was dropped and it became known as “Y Tyst”.

Joseph Williams’ ‘Tyst’ Office in Glebeland Place

Joseph Williams also published two monthly periodicals – the religious magazine “Cenad Hedd” (Messenger of Peace) from 1880, and “Cronicl Cenhadol” (The Missionary Chronicle) established in 1897, recording the work done in the foreign mission field by the London Missionary Society, both magazines were well known throughout the Welsh Independent denomination.

He was a life-long teetotaller, and from his earliest years in Merthyr Tydfil was closely associated with the temperance organisations which came into being in later years. Notably he was indentified with the well known society “Cymmrodorion Dirwestol” a literary society devoted to the preservation of the Welsh language, his connection enabling him to render great service to Welsh literature. He was for many years a most zealous and efficient secretary of “Cymmrodorion Dirwestol”, and in that capacity he had a good deal to do with the promotion and production of the long series of successful Eisteddfodau held at the Temperance Hall on Christmas Day.

In religion Mr Williams was a Congregationalist. He was a member of Zoar Chapel, until 1850 when Joseph Williams with 59 other members of the chapel transferred themselves to Ynysgau, due to the demise of the minister Rev T. B. Evans, who’d lost the respect of his congregation through his persistent indulgence in intoxicating liquors. As a result Ynysgau Chapel almost became extinct. With the influx of members from Zoar, the congregation began to increase, giving the chapel a new lease of life. Only two of the 60 members of Zoar remained at Ynysgau – Joseph Williams and William Powell. Joseph Williams never coveted office or position, but his remarkable faithfulness to the church won him the foremost positions in Ynysgau Chapel – where he was prepared to lead others were willing to follow. In 1875 he was elected a deacon; he became the chapel treasurer from 1880-1892 and he also became the Sunday school superintendent.

In politics Joseph Williams was a Liberal and was ardent in the maintenance of his principles. He was regarded not to be extreme or bigoted, or self-opinionated in the slightest degree. He was a fair minded man ready to hear the other side, and meet it with kindly discussion. Through being an active member of the Nonconformist Committee he was co-operated in the political organisation of the Liberal party in Merthyr Tydfil.

In 1899 Ynysgau Chapel celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the cause plus the clearance of Chapel debt. The chairmanship was given to Joseph Williams who gave an account of his connection with the church during his 50 year membership, and he called upon his son D. D. Williams to read out a very ably written history of Ynysgau Chapel from its establishment.

Joseph Williams died in July 1903, and at his funeral service at Ynysgau Chapel was remembered as a naturally able man, and his acquaintance with Welsh literature was extensive. He possessed a large amount of knowledge which was very accurate, and was a man of sound judgement, an upright character and a credit to the community.

Merthyr Express – 22 July 1903

A Mystery Church

Continuing the religious theme from the last post, I have received an e-mail from my friend Laura Bray in Wrexham (but ex of Merthyr) with a bit of a mystery.

Just outside Wrexham, in the village of Coedpoeth, there is a church dedicated to St Tydfil. Laura has sent some photos of the church and wondered if anyone could shed some light as to why a church near Wrexham should be dedicated to St Tydfil. If anyone has any information please get in touch.

Merthyr’s Chapels: Caersalem Chapel, Dowlais

Our regular feature on the chapels in Merthyr continues with one of the oldest chapels in Dowlais – Caersalem Welsh Baptist Chapel.

Old Caersalem Chapel in Well Street

At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Baptists of Dowlais had to travel to Zion and Ebenezer Chapels in Merthyr to worship.

In 1817 a Baptist Cause was founded and met in the old Bethel Chapel in the Lower High Street in Dowlais. In 1820 it was decided to build a new chapel, so a plot of land in Well Street, just under 300 square yards was leased from the Dowlais Iron Company for 99 years, at an annual rent of £1.14s.11d, and the chapel was built at a cost of £500. Within three years of opening, the congregation had increased and a gallery had to be built at a cost of £150. Caersalem was still considered as a branch of Zion until 1829 when it gained its independence.

As the congregation grew, a larger building was required and a new chapel designed by Mr William Lewis, foreman carpenter at the Dowlais Ironworks was built in 1833 at a cost of £509.9s.3d.

The congregation grew to such an extent that three new churches were established, originally as branches of Caersalem:- Elim in Penydarren, Hebron and Moriah in Dowlais, and Caersalem was itself refurbished in 1852 at a cost of £650. In 1863 a cottage situated underneath the chapel was converted into a vestry, and in 1873 a baptistery was installed.

By 1883 it became obvious that extensive repairs were needed to the chapel. The exterior of the chapel was redesigned and the interior refurbished and a new pipe organ installed in the gallery. Whilst the renovations were carried out, the congregation met at Tabernacle Chapel in Ivor Street (later Elim Chapel).

In 1906, as a result of the 1904 revival, the vestry beneath the chapel was extended by converting the chapel keeper’s cottage which was next to the original vestry. This work was done by members of the congregation at a cost of £245.

On 30 June 1924, the freehold of the chapel and the three cottages beneath the chapel were purchased from Messrs Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds. The chapel freehold was purchased for one shilling as it was a religious building, but the three cottages were bought for £30 each.

Caersalem Chapel was forced to close and was finally demolished in 1977 due to the redevelopment of Dowlais. A new chapel was built in 1977 in Pant and is still in use.

New Caersalem Chapel in Pant

A Wizard at Cyfarthfa

The article, transcribed below, appeared in the Merthyr Guardian 170 years ago today:

On Friday evening, the 5th instant, by permission of R. T. Crawshay, Esq., Mr. Mathews, Wizard of Wizards, &c., exhibited his extraordinary feats of legerdemain at the Cyfarthfa ball room. The rapidity and cleverness with which Mr M. performed an almost endless succession of tricks, excited the wonder and curiosity of the spectators, and afforded very general satisfaction.

His ventriloquism was a novelty to many in the assembly and was very well done. But that which utterly confounded the shrewdest spectators in the room was the part enacted (as it would seem) by the so-called Mysterious Lady. She was truly blindfolded, and her back was duly turned upon the audience, yet she seemed to be perfectly cognizant of all that was carried on-and to every question she returned a correct and prompt reply. The contents of many a bachelor’s pocket were ransacked and every item was correctly described – she seemed to hear the very whispers of persons at a considerable distance from her, for she would pronounce aloud every secret that thus transpired. Even dumb show was significant to her for she appeared to see and understand it all.

A gentleman present shewed by chance a shilling of the Elizabethian age – a curiosity in its way – it was no sooner in Mr. Mathews’s hands than his lady yonder told him all about it. “Confound you” said one of the knowing ones present – I understand your other tricks very well, but this thoroughly puzzles me”- ” then you are confounded Sir”, was the prompt reply. This part of the performance was very cleverly accomplished.

The entertainment gave general satisfaction to a numerous and respectable company. The performances were repeated to a large company on Wednesday evening, with similar success.

Merthyr Guardian – 13 March 1847

Merthyr’s Boxers: Eddie Morgan

Eddie Morgan was born in Morgantown in 1892, and learned his skills in local boxing booths whilst working as a miner. Despite his slight stature, and weighing just 7 stone, he had the ability to lay out opponents twice his weight.

His first recorded professional fight was in September 1909 when he fought Joey Smith in a 20-round contest at Pontypridd and lost by points. However, he was more than half a stone lighter than Smith – a huge difference in weight.

The next recorded fight was a year and a half later when he fought Bert Moughton at St James’ Hall in Newcastle in March 1911. By now he was more than a stone heavier. A press cutting indicates the great Jim Driscoll, already British and Commonwealth featherweight champion, was in his corner that night in Newcastle. This time, Eddie did considerably better in this scheduled 20 round contest – knocking Moughton out in a little over a minute.

A month later at the same venue, Eddie lost a points decision to Joe Fox – a future two-weight British champion.

Eddie’s career really took off with six consecutive wins culminating in two important bouts against American Young Pierce in 1912. Pierce had claimed the American bantamweight title and a career total of 150 undefeated bouts and early in 1912, he had crossed the Atlantic to fight the best bantamweights in Europe in pursuit of world honours. His fight with Eddie was essentially just a warm-up fight. It didn’t go to plan because, after a gruelling 20 rounds, Eddie won on points in a packed Liverpool stadium and was carried shoulder-high from the ring.

Eddie Morgan

Eddie was by now quite a celebrity in Merthyr. Contemporary accounts say that when Eddie walked down Merthyr High Street, people would rush out of men’s clothier shops and compete with each other in offers to make Eddie a free suit, on the understanding he would tell people where he’d got it.

Boxing pundits of the day were now predicting Eddie was the only real contender for Digger Stanley’s British and European bantamweight belts.

Despite this, and Eddie Morgan opted to travel to America to fight instead. Eddie was due to leave Southampton on the trans-Atlantic voyage on Wednesday 10 April 1912, but having overslept, he arrived just as the ship was clearing the mouth of the dock. This mistake probably saved Eddie Morgan’s life – the ship was RMS Titanic.

Morgan did eventually go to America later that year to fight at Madison Square Garden. His opponent was tough New Jersey boxer Frankie Burns and he achieved a very commendable draw in a brutal encounter described in the local press as a “slashing exhibition”.

The Welshman immediately impressed in three New York outings, including one against future two-weight world champion Johnny Dundee. Morgan failed in his pursuit of a shot against world featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane, though, so he headed home, only to again meet frustration as he chased the British crown.

Rheumatism would limit the length of Morgan’s career and it this point it began to worsen.

With war looming in 1914 he returned to the States, but he was not the same fighter and he suffered two defeats, although he did floor Pal Moore in their clash on Christmas Day, 1914. Two no-decision contests followed against the champion Kilbane, the first in the National Athletic Club, Philadelphia, on 23 January, 1915. US journalists claimed that Kilbane won the six-round bout while British reporters said the exact opposite, but all agree that it was a stunning fight.

A similar showdown followed the next month, but the victory seems to have been more clearly in the champion’s favour. Morgan engaged in two close bouts with Rocky Kansas, the future world lightweight challenger, before returning to Britain.

After just one more fight in his home country he returned to the States for good. Morgan settled with his family in Philadelphia, and he would fight many more times, mostly in the Philadelphia area, but by now his skills were fading and triumphs were few.

In 1937, Eddie Morgan collapsed in the street and died at the tragically young age of 45.

Belgian Refugees

It is sometimes forgotten that during the First World War, an influx of Belgian refugees arrived in Britain to escape the fighting in their country. Quite a number of them came to Merthyr, and transcribed below is an article describing the arrival of the first of these refugees in 1914.

Merthyr Pioneer – 17 October 1914

A very enthusiastic meeting of local citizens was held at the Town Hall on Monday night, when the final preparations for the welcome and maintenance of the Belgian refugees was made.

Addressing the meeting Coun. H M Lloyd (Mayor) referred to the terrible distress prevailing in Belgium owing to the German invasion, and pointed out the hardships which were being suffered by a whole nation out of employment. Inasmuch as Belgium has acted as a buffer State, we were indebted to them, and were called upon to help them bear their share of suffering and sorrow.

Alderman J M Berry J.P. was appointed treasurer of the committee, and Mr T W Morris, secretary.

A tremendous crowd of people thronged the High Street and the Merthyr Station Approach on Wednesday evening, and the 32 Belgian refugees received a hearty if somewhat embarrassing Welsh welcome. They were met at the station by Coun. H M Lloyd and Mrs Lloyd (Mayor and Mayoress), Major and Mrs Frank James, Capt. G B Williams, Councillors F A Phillips (Deputy Mayor), Mrs M A Edmunds, and Ald. J M Berry, Mrs Wills, Mr T T Jenkins and others.

Some difficulty was experienced in getting the visitors into the two decorated cars which had been lent by the Merthyr Traction Co. to convey them to the YMCA Buildings. Several of the refugees were obviously affected by the cordial welcome which greeted their arrival, and many of the waiting citizens were moved to tears when an elderly Antwerp lady who had received injuries was assisted to the car by Councillors Phillips and James whilst the appearance of Ald. J M Berry with a Belgian youngster on his shoulder was the signal for loud cheers. Outside the YMCA Buildings the Cyfarthfa Municipal Band greeted the refugees with the National Anthems of the Allies. After a splendid meal had been enjoyed, a musical programme in which one of the visitors took part, was provided.

In officially welcoming the refugees, the Mayor said that every class in the community was anxious to do what it could to alleviate their sufferings and misfortunes.

Interviewed by the Pioneer representative on Thursday, the Mayor said that funds for the maintenance of the refugees were still coming in. As the committee desired to maintain them for at least six months, he hoped that local citizens would continue to contribute all they could afford towards the cost of their maintenance. The cost of maintaining them would probably be something between £15 and £20 per week. 19 more refugees were expected to arrive almost immediately, and as the distress was great and increasing, Merthyr might be called upon to maintain something like 100. “I am thinking of arranging for an illuminated carnival, perhaps the last day in October (Saturday the 31st), and I trust that all cyclist and motor cyclists, and those who have fancy costumes, will hold themselves in readiness for the occasion” added the Mayor.

Late on Thursday evening a further party of Belgian refugees, numbering nine, arrived at Merthyr, and were conveyed in cabs to the YMCA Buildings. The party consisted of seven women and two men. This brings the total to be maintained to 41.

Arrangements for the comfort of the visitors have been greatly enhanced by the spontaneous offers of assistance given by many local citizens. The management of all the local entertainment halls have offered free admission; the Traction Co. offer free rides, and Mr Arthur Davies, hairdresser, of Glebeland Street, has offered to attend to the toilet of the male members of the party.

Mrs Suzanne Doolan, local historian and former reporter on the Merthyr Express, is researching the Belgian Refugees in Merthyr, so if anyone has any information about them , please get in touch and I will pass it on.