Merthyr’s Chapels: Graig Chapel, Abercanaid

We continue our series on Merthyr’s chapels with an article about Graig Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Abercanaid.

In 1846, a number of people from Abercanaid who attended Pontmorlais Calvinistic Methodist Chapel began holding meetings in the village. Rev Evan Harris, the minister at Pontmorlais Chapel at that time, supported the small group and was instrumental in arranging for a chapel to be built in Abercanaid.

In February 1847, Rev Harris and Mr Evan Jones, a tea dealer, led a deputation to the annual Methodist Association meeting held in Bridgend, and permission was obtained to build a chapel, chapel house and cemetery on Coedcaellwyd field in Abercanaid, next to the Glamorganshire Canal. The chapel was completed and opened for worship on 15 March 1848.

The original Graig Chapel

Over the years the chapel was renovated three times, including in 1897 at a cost of £365. However in 1899 it was discovered that cracks were appearing in the walls of the chapel due to the structure of the building being affected by the underground workings of Abercanaid Colliery.

It was decided to build a new chapel in the centre of the village of Abercanaid. The old chapel closed in 1903, and the new chapel, designed by Mr Charles Morgan Davies, was completed in 1905 at a cost of £2000. The cost of building the new chapel was helped by a compensation payment of £509, and the stone provided free by the colliery. In the period between the closure of the old chapel and the opening of the new chapel, services were held in Abercanaid School.

New Graig Chapel

In 1948, Graig Chapel celebrated its centenary with a series of events, but the celebrations were tinged with sadness as the old Graig Chapel was demolished in the same year.

With ever decreasing membership, Graig Chapel was forced to close and the building was demolished in 1996. A house has since been built on the site. The cemetery of the old chapel still exists but is badly overgrown, and is almost totally inaccessible.

There were two magnificent memorials, pictured below, to prominent members of the chapel situated behind the pulpit in the original chapel, and these were subsequently moved to the new chapel. They were the work of the renowned sculptor Joseph Edwards (see previous article – The memorials were removed before the new chapel was demolished and moved to Cyfarthfa Castle Museum.

A Forgotten Grave, I Presume?

Sir Henry Morton Stanley

Most people will have heard of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the journalist and explorer who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. He is the person who is supposed to have uttered the famous phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” upon finding him.

A few people may know he was Welsh, having been born John Rowlands in Denbigh on 28 January 1841, but how many people know that his great-grandfather is buried in Merthyr Tydfil?

The following article from the Western Mail 128 years ago today will tell you more….

Western Mail – 22 May 1889

Lord Evans of Merthyr Tydfil – Physician to the Queen

Last month we highlighted the career of Harry Evans – the great Merthyr musician. No less remarkable is the career of his son Horace Evans.

Horace Evans was born in Dowlais on 1 January 1903, the eldest son of Harry Evans and his wife Edith. When his father was appointed conductor of the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union that same year, the family moved to the city, and Horace was educated at Liverpool College. Following in his father’s footsteps, Horace originally decided on a musical career, and shortly after his father’s untimely death in 1914 he went to the Guildhall School of Music for four years and to the City of London School.

During his studies he realised that he wasn’t destined for a musical career, and decided his future lay in medicine. In 1921 Evans entered the London Hospital Medical College on a science scholarship. He qualified in 1925, graduated in medicine and surgery in 1928, and took his M.D. in 1930 when he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians and a fellow in 1938. This work merited his appointment as an assistant director of the medical unit in 1933, assistant physician to the London Hospital at Whitechapel in 1936, and physician in 1947. He worked under Arthur Ellis, who instructed him in the traditional English clinical discipline, and who brought him into prominence by selecting him as house physician to the medical unit. Subsequently he held appointments in surgery, obstetrics, pathology and anaesthetics, which gave him a broad basis for a career as a general physician.

He specialised in the effects of high blood pressure and diseases of the kidneys, making a thorough study of Bright’s disease, on which he published papers in medical and scientific journals. In addition he was consultant physician to five other hospitals and to the Royal Navy. It was through his influence that the Royal College of Physicians was moved from Trafalgar Square, having attracted the financial support of the Wolfson Foundation towards the cost of erecting new buildings at Regent’s Park.

He served the royal family as physician to Queen Mary in 1946, to King George VI in 1949 and to Queen Elizabeth in 1952, all of whom received him as a friend. He was knighted in 1949, and created a baron in 1957. In 1955 he delivered the Croonian lectures and was made Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1961. The University of Wales conferred on him an honorary D.Sc. degree and he was made a freeman of Merthyr Tydfil in April 1962.

Sir Horace Evans. Photo courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery (ref NPG x167429)

He was regarded as the last of the great general physicians of his age, convinced of the need for personal physicians with a critical judgement based on broad general experience, and of the importance of treating patients as human beings. His presence in a patient’s room or hospital ward left an immediate impression on every one who came into contact with him. His sympathy and understanding stemmed largely from his own family experiences.

Horace Evans had married Helen Aldwyth Davies, daughter of a former high-sheriff of Glamorgan in 1929, and they had two daughters. His younger daughter died in tragic circumstances after accidentally electrocuting herself, and his wife suffered prolonged ill health.

Horace Evans died on 26 October 1963 at the age of 60. Following his death, the Royal College of Physycians published an obituary which contained the following accolade:

“The death of Lord Evans in October 1963 cast gloom over the College. No more would we see his tall, slightly stooping figure, and behind the lightly horn-rimmed glasses the alert but kindly eyes that inspired confidence in patients and assured a welcome to every colleague. Few men carried high honours so gracefully.”

Railway Accident at Merthyr Station

143 years ago today, on the afternoon of Saturday 16 May 1874, a scheduled passenger train left Brecon for Merthyr at 1.50pm, and following a few unavoidable delays arrived just after 3.25pm, eight minutes late, at the Great Western Railway Station at Merthyr Tydfil. The train was just reaching the end of the inner platform when it was hit by great force from behind by twenty-one fully-laden coal trucks.

At approximately 3.00pm that afternoon, a coal train of twenty-four fully-laden trucks had left the same platform at the Station heading for Swansea. At that time it was the policy of the Great Western Railway Company to work mineral trains going up the incline to the Aberdare Tunnel with an extra engine at the rear or at the front of the train to help propel the train up the incline. On this day, the train that had left Merthyr station was in one of these latter configurations.

On such occasions, it was the duty of the guards to be at separate positions at each end of the train to help operate the brakes with the brake-man. For some reason, the guard on this particular train was travelling with his colleague in the engine at the front, leaving the brake-man alone in the rear van. Shortly after the train had entered the Aberdare Tunnel, a coupling somewhere near the front of the train broke. The guards were alerted to this by the fact that the front part of the train suddenly accelerated. Having brought the train to a standstill the guards ran back along the track to find that more than half the train – twenty-one trucks in all had become detached from the train and had run back along the line on which they had just travelled. Between the Great Western Station and the Aberdare Tunnel, the railway line rises over three-quarters of a mile in a series of inclines ranging between 1 in 45 and 1 in 70 gradients, so this, coupled with the weight of the loads being carried, meant that the runaway trucks were accelerating the whole time along the track. The train was travelling at such a speed that the signalman at the Cyfarthfa Crossing and another signalman at the Rhydycar Junction, just half a mile from the station, were powerless to do anything to stop the train’s progress or to warn those at the Great Western Station.

Within minutes the trucks hit the passenger train. It is estimated that they were, by this time, travelling in excess of 40 miles an hour. They hit the passenger train with a force of approximately 300 tons of deadweight travelling at a mile a minute, and the sound of the crash was heard over a 300 yard radius. The force of the impact smashed the passenger coaches and forced the locomotive engine ‘The Elephant’ through the buffers at the end of the track, across the platform at the end of it, through the front of the station and into the road beyond before finally crashing into the high retaining wall at John Street, penetrating the wall to a depth of about four feet and damaging the foundations of the Grosvenor Hotel in John Street.

The first carriage on the train, immediately behind the engine tender, took the main force of the concussion that travelled along the train, and it was reduced to splinters, the only portion left for identification being the framework which was embedded beneath the guard’s van. Fortunately there were no passengers in this carriage – it is obvious that if there had been anyone in the carriage they would have been killed outright. Next was a composite (a mixed first and second class) carriage which came to rest on top of the guard’s van, amazingly the only damage this carriage sustained was broken windows and doors, and passengers in this carriage sustained only minor injuries, two further third-class carriages followed this, but the final third-class carriage which took the main brunt of the collision was almost totally demolished. It was in this carriage that most of the injuries occurred.

In all 52 people were badly injured, most people suffering from fractures and cuts and bruises. A large number of people also suffered from the effects of shock. The most serious injuries were sustained by the recently married Mrs Stephens of Pontypridd who suffered serious fractures to both legs, resulting in them both being amputated below the knee.

Miss Sarah Davies of Coed-cae Court, Twynyrodyn, also sustained fractures to both legs and needed one of her legs amputated below the knee. Mrs Elizabeth Morgan, aged 30, of Cefn Coed, also had both legs fractured and needed one leg amputated below the knee. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the doctors, Mrs Morgan’s injuries were far worse than originally thought, and she died of her injuries a week after the accident. It is miraculous that this was the only fatality. The driver of the train, David Humphreys, along with the stoker and the guard, managed to jump from the engine just as it crashed through the end of the station and sustained only minor injuries.

An artist’s impression of the crash from 1874

If you want to find out more, a fuller account of the crash appears in Merthyr Historian volume 26.

A to-do about a loo

by Carl Llewellyn

Whilst reading in the News of Wales on December 12, 2002 I came across an article written by Tony Trainor. Civic officials wanted to add an outside toilet to Joseph Parry’s former cottage to add to its historical significance. Councillors in Merthyr Tydfil believed the great musician’s home at Chapel Row in Georgetown now a museum – would be improved by the addition of the “privy”. A suitable toilet block was even offered by a resident living in River Row, Abercanaid – a terrace of historic workers’ cottages similar to the one lived in by the writer of the famous tear-jerker – Myfanwy. The council also resolved to move it to Chapel Row, so that visitors to the Joseph Parry birthplace museum would be able to see how people went about their toilet in the 19th Century as part of their tour.

Chapel Row

Despite the council’s attempts to recreate the past, no research had been carried out to determine where Parry’s original outhouse would have been sited if indeed he ever had one. Mr Henry Jones, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for education, said the toilet building could have been moved at relatively little public expense to a site at Chapel Row, where it would have been seen by visitors. A conservation architect from Cadw, the body responsible for historic buildings, then criticised the council’s plan to dismantle the privy in Abercanaid, an original structure made of rubble and sandstone with a lime-washed finish. “The building is an interesting historical survival of a type once commonly associated with terraced houses of this type”, he said. “In the absence of any convincing argument for its demolition, I cannot support the proposal to remove it”.

Whatever would the composer of Wales’ love song Myfanwy made of it all?