The Brecon and Merthyr Railway

By the second half of the 19th century, Merthyr was served by several railway companies, one of which was the Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway (B&M) which, as its name implies, ran from Brecon to Merthyr.

A 1905 map showing the Railways around Merthyr and Dowlais

As early as 1836, Sir John Josiah Guest, of the Dowlais Ironworks, had written of his proposal to construct a railway linking Dowlais to the valley of the River Usk, and possibly also running into Brecon. The line would have pretty nearly covered the same route as was eventually adopted by the B&M. A similar proposal suggested a line running up the Taf Fawr valley over the Brecon Beacons via Storey Arms and thence to Brecon.

The Brecon and Merthyr Railway Company was established by a Bill of 1859, financially supported by several prominent Brecon citizens, and the complete route from Brecon to Merthyr Tydfil was authorised the following year. The first section to open was a 6.75 miles (10.86 km) section between Brecon and Talybont-on-Usk in 1863, which reused a section of a horse-drawn tram line. The Beacons Tunnel at Torpantau opened in 1868. Officially named the Torpantau Tunnel, at 1313 feet above mean sea level, it is the highest railway tunnel in Britain.

The system eventually came to comprise two sections of lines:

  • The Southern section, effectively the consumed Rumney Railway, which linked Bassaleg (where there were connections with the GWR and the London and North Western Railway) and the ironworks town of Rhymney, near the head of the Rhymney Valley.
  • The Northern section linked Deri Junction by means of running powers over a section of the Rhymney Railway in the Bargoed Rhymney Valley to Pant, Pontsticill and Brecon via a tunnel through the Brecon Beacons. From the tunnel the line descended towards Talybont-on-Usk on a continuous 1-in-38 gradient known as the “Seven-Mile Bank”. For southbound trains this presented the steepest continuous ascent on the British railway network.
Pontsticill Station. Photo courtesy of

Initially, the only connection to Merthyr Tydfil was by means of a horse-drawn bus from Pant, but by 1868, a connection with Merthyr at Rhydycar Junction had been established by sharing lines with Vale of Neath, London and North Western and Taff Vale railways. This involved the building of nearly seven miles of single line from Pontsticill to Merthyr, with an almost continuous descent of 1 in 45-50, two complete reversals of direction, and the construction of two viaducts to carry the line over the Taf Fechan at Pontsarn, and the Taf Fawr at Cefn Coed.

North of the Pontsarn viaduct, a connection was made with the LNWR’s Merthyr Extension line at Morlais Tunnel Junction from where the latter’s double track entered the 1034 yard Morlais Tunnel and beyond routed along the double line to Dowlais High Street and thence to Tredegar, Brynmawr and Abergavenny. The sections from Merthyr to Pontsticill and Bargoed through to Brecon were laid as single lines with passing loops and usually locomotive watering facilities at principal stations. For those single lines, tokens were issued to drivers from signal boxes at such locations and being essential for safe working over single lines.

A train leaving the Morlais Tunnel. Photo courtesy of

The line was eventually amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1923, and by 1958, the line was running three services each way on weekdays, increasing to four on Saturdays, taking around 2½ hours to run from Brecon to Newport. Although surviving nationalisation, the service had run at a substantial loss for most of its lifetime, and was an obvious candidate for closure. Passenger services were closed from Pontsticill Junction to Merthyr Tydfil in November 1961, with the remainder of services stopping at the end of the 1962. The line was closed completely after the withdrawal of goods services in 1964.

Towards the end of the 1970s, a private company, the Brecon Mountain Railway, began to build a narrow-gauge steam-hauled tourist line on the existing 5.5-mile (8.9 km) trackbed from Pant through Pontsticill to Dol-y-gaer. The initial section of 1.75 miles (2.82 km) from Pant to Pontsticill first opened in June 1980. After more than 30 years of hard work and extra-funding, passenger services finally extended to Torpantau in April 2014, bringing the BMR to a total of approximately 5 miles in length.

For more about the Brecon Mountain Railway, please follow the link below:

The Opening of St John’s Church, Cefn

143 years ago today the article transcribed below appeared in the Western Mail:

Opening of Cefn Church

Yesterday the pretty township of Cefncoedycymmer, near Merthyr Tydfil, was all astir, the occasion being the preliminary opening of the church of St. John’s.

Before the days of the iron and coal trade, but a solitary cottage or two marked the now well populated outskirt of Cefn, and in those bygone days the important section of the parish of Vaynor was concentrated at Pontsarn and  Pontsticill. There, in a pleasant little dingle, just above the banks of the Taff vawr, nestled the old parish church. About ten years ago the original building presented a decayed and irreparable appearance, and leading Churchmen of the parish at once decided to introduce another place of worship adjacent to the old site, where Welsh people had worshipped for so many centuries. A sum of money towards the necessary building fund was soon forthcoming; but at the outset Mr. Robert Crawshay, of Cyfarthfa Castle, with characteristic perception, pointed to the more urgent necessities of the people of Cefn with regard to church accommodation, and practically evinced his anxiety to see a want supplied in this direction by the handsome offer, that if the nominal sum already subscribed were transferred for the construction of an edifice at Cefn he would, at his own expense build the Vaynor Church. This was agreed to, and Mr. Crawshay’s idea was speedily verified in the erection and opening of a place of worship at Vaynor.

Meanwhile the committee at Cefn, who themselves had worked hard, and subscribed to the best of their ability, were not so successful, in a financial sense, as was anticipated. Nevertheless, available funds were invested with a view to a commencement of the work at a convenient site near the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, the ground having been gratuitously granted by Mrs. Gwynne Holford.

The designs of the church having been prepared by Mr. G. E. Robinson, architect, Cardiff, the contract was taken by Mr. David Jenkins, builder, Merthyr, for a sum less than £2,000, and he has discharged his obligations most satisfactorily, under, perhaps, trying circumstances. Time does not allow of our entering here either into the circumstances which caused such delay in the completion of this work, or a description of the building itself. We may however say that within a short time since when the work of completion was undertaken under circumstances which will presently appear – the sacred house, partially pledged, remained for a protracted period with the doors and windows barricaded with boarding.

At last Mr. Crawshay, who had long since redeemed his promise by erecting a parish church, was appealed to for further help, and he at once gave directions that the church should be forthwith completed at his expense. This has been done, and a cheque for £200 from the Iron King, with a sum already in hand, satisfies the contractor. Of late a few ladies have rendered assistance to the committee by efforts in the shape of concerts, and solicitations of one shilling subscriptions, in order to provide certain details in connection with the building, which, it is computed, will cost altogether £2,000.

The edifice is substantially built, will accommodate 250 people, and prove a great boon to persons who have hitherto been compelled to either worship under the ministrations of the Rev. J. S. Williams, curate, in a temporary apartment, or journey to Merthyr in one direction, or Vaynor in another. The names of the gentlemen who have assiduously applied themselves in securing the church for Cefn are Messrs. W. T. Crawshay, C. E. Matthews, William Jones, and T. J. Pearce, who have been compelled to carry out the work solely from public subscriptions, not having received the slightest aid from any society.

The interior of the church can be pronounced complete, but the exterior surroundings suggest an unfinished appearance. A preliminary service was conducted in the church on Monday evening, when the Rev. John Jenkins, of Llanfrynach, preached in English, and the Rev. John Cunnick, deputation from the Church Pastoral Aid Society, in Welsh. The services yesterday were choral, and there was not the slightest ostentation displayed; a more appropriate and impressive ceremony being deferred till the grand opening ceremony on occasion of the thorough completion of the building.

The service, which commenced at 11 o’clock before a crowded congregation, was intoned by the Rev. Mr. Jones, rector of Dowlais. The Rev. J. Griffiths, rector of Neath, preached an eloquent discourse. Services were also held in the evening. We were unable at the time of the despatch of our parcel to ascertain the amount realised from offerings. The clergy and visitors were entertained by Mr. Wm. Crawshay, Mr. Matthews, and Mr. William Jones. Mrs. William Crawshay has contributed a beautiful altar cloth, and Mr. C. E. Matthews a Communion service.

Western Mail – 22 April 1874

Freedom of the Borough

Ceremony of the Conferment of the Freedom of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil

by Carl Llewellyn

On Thursday 18 April 2002, the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil bestowed two of its sons – Dowlais born Sir Glanmor Williams C.B.E and Cefn Coed born Major Tudor Price M.B.E, the freedom of the town.

The ceremonial proceedings began at St. Tydfil’s Church, where invited guests were able to view the Conferment of the nominated Honorary Freemen. I was fortunate to be an invited guest through my association with the Merthyr Tydfil Historical Society. At the commencement of the ceremony a fanfare of trumpets hailed the entrance of the Mayor, preceded by the mace and accompanied by the Chief Executive; Council Leader; Leader of the opposition; local Councillors; Mayor’s chaplain; present Freemen and Honorary Freemen elect.

The procession led by the Mayor proceeded to the designated platform assembled in front of the Church altar where the Master of Ceremonies, Mr Gordon Gray called for silence for prayers to be said by Canon Gareth Foster. The Chief Executive then read the notice convening the meeting with confirmation by the Council who unanimously agreed the proposal and indicated their confirmation by voting again.

The Mayor asked both Sir Glanmor Williams and Major Tudor Price if they would accept the Honorary Freedom of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil, and after both men agreed they were asked to read the oath. The Mayor then presented both honourees with their illuminated Commemorative scrolls, with floral tributes presented to Lady Fay Williams and Mrs Elsie Price by the Mayoress. The Master of Ceremonies then introduced a young lady called Zoe Perman who entertained the gathering with her angelic voice.

She sang “Ar Lan y Mor” and “Bring Him Home”, and the acoustics of St Tydfil’s Parish Church assisted Zoe’s vocal ability producing a harmonious resonance. The ceremony finished with the singing of the Welsh National Anthem, and the Mayor led the procession, preceded by the Mace, and followed by the Civic Party Honorary; Freemen and Members of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil, to Rhydycar Leisure Centre, where a celebratory dinner awaited the invited guests. The Mayor’s Chaplin Canon Gareth Foster said grace, with the toasts proposed by the Mayor.

In keeping with tradition the dinner menu was Cawl Cennin (Leek soup ) followed by Roast leg of lamb with laver bread stuffing topped with crisp pastry, served with mint sauce and redcurrant jelly, also hasselback and baby new potatoes and braised leeks, sugar snap peas, and baton carrots. The third course was a Raspberry Mist, followed with Cheeses, celery and grapes. To finish there was coffee and after dinner mints. The after dinner speeches began with Councillor  Royston Thomas, leader of the local labour party, giving an account of why the nominees Sir Glanmor Williams and Major Tudor Price where chosen as freemen.

Sir Glanmor Williams C.B.E.

Sir Glanmor Williams is undoubtedly one of Wales’ most illustrious living sons. His achievements all testify to the strength and affectionate links he feels for the town of his birth Merthyr Tydfil. On the commencement of the 21st Century, when perhaps distinguished academic accomplishments require strength and popular models, Sir Glanmor serves as a shining example through his hard work, loyal endeavour and dedication to the generation in South Wales. Sir Glanmor justifiably meets all the requirements for conferring the, Freedom of the County Borough. He is one of the great contemporary Welshman admired and respected throughout the cultural life of Wales and indeed throughout the world. When Sir Glanmor was called upon to make a speech, he described himself as “Bachgen o Dowlais”. He then went on to comment about dizzy professors, which led him to a story about an old Minister in Dowlais, who was very forgetful. One day when he arrived at one of the railway stations in Dowlais he’d forgotten his railway ticket. The ticket collector, realising the Minister’s dilemma, said, “Don’t worry about your ticket Reverend, I know who you are.” The Reverend answered, “Thank you, kind Sir, it’s very kind of you, but the ticket is not my biggest problem, I’ve forgotten where I’m supposed to be going”.

Major Tudor Price M. B. E.

Major Tudor Price has achieved many things in his lifetime, not only in the Armed forces, but also in the community at large, Indeed when the Queen bestowed the honour in 1982 , it was for his developments in relationships between military and civilian population. Major Tudor joined the South Wales Borderers in 1946, rising through the ranks and eventually commissioned into the Welsh Regiment before retiring as a Major in 1989. He saw active service in Korea, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland, and was stationed in Hong Kong and Germany in a career spanning 43 years, serving King, Queen and Country. There is no doubt that Major Tudor Price is a man of presence who is not only a great ambassador for the Royal British Legion but also for Merthyr Tydfil.

In the past 100 years the town of Merthyr Tydfil has only conferred the honour of freeman on at least 27 occasions, which clearly underlines the importance of such an honour.

Sir Glanmor Williams
Major Tudor Price


Sir William Thomas Lewis

Following on from the mention of Sir William Thomas Lewis in the previous post, here is an article that was published in the Cardiff Times 116 years ago today about the unveiling of the statue of him that stood for many years outside Merthyr General Hospital.

Cardiff Times – 13 April 1901

The statue is now situated outside the surviving part of St Tydfil’s Hospital.

Statue of W T Lewis outside St Tydfil’s Hospital in 2015

The Fountain

We’ve all seen it but what do we know about the Fountain in Caedraw?

The Fountain in 2015

The fountain was commissioned in 1906 to mark the granting of the charter for Merthyr’s Incorporation as a County Borough. The fountain was a gift of Sir William Thomas Lewis, the Merthyr-born coal magnate and philanthropist, as a tribute to Robert and Lucy Thomas, his wife’s grandparents.

Lucy Thomas (1781-1847), was one of the most remarkable people in the South Wales coalfield. She is considered to be the ‘Mother of the Welsh steam coal trade’. It was the coal from the Waun Wyllt Colliery at Troedyrhiw opened by her husband Robert in 1824 that helped to establish the reputation of Welsh coal on the London market.

The fountain, designed by W Macfarlane & Co, and manufactured at the Saracen Foundry, Possilpark, Glasgow was an elaborate canopied drinking fountain, 18ft. by 4ft. The open filigree canopy was supported by eight columns with griffin terminals which were positioned over capitals with foliage frieze above square bases. The highly decorated cusped arches were trimmed with rope mouldings. Cartouches contained within each lunette offered shields for memorial: a miner wielding a pick axe; a working miner; the coat of arms of St. Tydfil; and a dedication shield. Doves and flowers offered decorative relief on the circular, ribbed dome. The internal capitals contained flowers, and lion mascarons were placed on internal lunettes. The cast iron structure was surmounted by a heroic classical figure of Samson inscribed Strength.

Under the canopy stood the font. A circular shaft, ornamented with water lilies, rested on a wide base with canted corners. Four lion jambs supported four highly decorated quatrefoil basins. Rising from the centre was a pyramid shaped stanchion decorated with swan and bird decoration. A kylix-shaped lamp terminal with four consoles originally offered drinking cups suspended by chains.

The inscription on the dedication shield read:

Erected by Sir William T. Lewis and William Thomas Rees of Aberdare and presented to their native town in commemoration of Robert and Lucy Thomas of Waunwyltt in this parish, the pioneers in 1828 of the South Wales steam coal trade

The fountain was originally sited on a raised plinth near the site of the present-day Caedraw roundabout. It remained there until 1966 when it was moved due to the widening of the road, and the canopy was re-sited in front of St Tydfil’s Church, on the site of the current car-park. By this time the original drinking troughs had been removed and the canopy needed restoration, but the whereabouts of the original drinking fountain and five of the eight shields is unknown.

The Fountain at its original site. Photo courtesy of

In 1988 it was designated a Grade II listed monument, and in 1993 as a result of a refurbishment programme, the fountain was moved to its present position immediately south of St. Tydfil’s Church. In 1995 Merthyr Council awarded the project to restore the fountain to Acorn Restorations Ltd and the re-sited and refurbished fountain was officially opened in July 1996.

Harry Evans – A Musical Giant

Harry Evans was born on 1 May 1873 in Russell Street, Dowlais, the son of John Evans (Eos Myrddin), a local choirmaster and his wife Sarah. Harry had no formal musical training, but was taught the Tonic Sol-fa system by his sister; such was his prodigious musical talent however, that he was appointed organist of Gwernllwyn Chapel in Dowlais when he was only 9 years old. The elders of the chapel encouraged the young Harry and arranged for him to receive music lessons from Edward Laurence, Merthyr Tydfil.

Harry Evans

In 1887 he was appointed organist of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais. He succeeded in passing all the local examinations of the Royal Academy and of the Royal College of Music, London, with honours. He was by that time anxious to devote himself entirely to music, but his father, who wished him to receive a more general education, obtained a post as pupil-teacher for him at the Abermorlais School; here he passed some South Kensington examinations in arithmetic, science, and art.

Although he passed the Queen’s Scholarship examination (for pupil-teachers), his health broke down and he was unable to proceed to a training college. In July 1893 he became A.R.C.O. (Associate of the Royal College of Organists), and from then on gave all his time to music.

An advert for Harry Evans’ services from an 1895 edition of The Merthyr Times

In 1898 Harry Evans formed a ladies’ choir at Merthyr Tydfil and a male choir at Dowlais. The male choir won the prize at the National Eisteddfod held at Liverpool in 1900; and when the National Eisteddfod came to Merthyr the following year, he conducted the Merthyr Tydfil Choir in a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Following a further success at the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli in 1903, Evans retired from competition and accepted an invitation to become conductor of the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union.

In 1913 he became musical director at Bangor University College and, in the same year, local conductor and registrar of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. He also became, at this time, conductor of the North Staffordshire Choral Society. By this time many experts regarded him as the best choral conductor in the country, and he was invited to conduct Granville Bantock’s choral symphony, Vanity of Vanities, which the composer dedicated to him.

As well as his work as a conductor, Harry Evans was a one of the most well respected adjudicators at musical competitions, and he was much in demand in that capacity at musical festivals throughout the British Isles. Also a composer, his fullest compositions were Victory of St Garmon, produced at the Cardiff Festival in 1904, and also the cantata Dafydd ap Gwilym ; he also wrote several anthems and hymn-tunes, and arranged Welsh folk-songs and airs for choirs.

During 1914 Harry Evans’ health began to deteriorate, and his doctor advised complete rest, but it was soon discovered that he was suffering from a brain tumour. He underwent emergency surgery from which he never fully recovered, and on 23 July 1914 Harry Evans died and the tragically young age of 41. He was buried at the Toxteth Park Cemetery in Liverpool. After his death, a hymn-tune named In Memoriam was composed by Caradog Roberts in his memory and included in several Welsh hymnals.

Throughout his life Harry Evans’ main ambition was to establish a music college in Wales; had he lived he might have realized his ambition – the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama was established in 1949 as Cardiff College of Music at Cardiff Castle.