The Royal Visit of 1912

105 years ago today, Merthyr was honoured with a visit from King George V and Queen Mary.

On 25 June 1912, the Royal Couple had embarked on a three day visit to Wales, the primary reason for which was to lay the foundation stone for the new National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The King, however, had expressed a wish to see the social conditions of the area and Sir William Thomas Lewis (see previous posts) arranged a tour.

The Royal Train at Treherbert

On the 27 June they travelled on the Royal Train, first visiting the Lewis Merthyr Colliery at Trehafod, then on to the Mines Rescue Station at Dinas. The tour then continued by train through Pontypridd, Llancaiach, Bedlinog, Cwmbargoed, to Caeharris (Dowlais) Station where the King and Queen were scheduled to visit the Dowlais Works.

Dowlais Works decorated for the Royal Visit

To mark the occasion, craftsmen at the Dowlais Works had specially constructed two monumental archways for the Royal Couple to pass through – one made of coal and one made of steel.

The Coal Arch (left) and the Steel Arch (right)

They entered the works on foot, through the ‘Coal Arch’, and were greeted by a rousing rendition of ‘God Save the King’ by the Penywern Choir, who had been invited to entertain the Royal party. A message was later sent by the King and Queen to the conductor of the choir – Mr Evan Thomas, complimenting them on their singing, saying that the Penywern Choir “were the best choir of voices they had heard on their tour of South Wales”. The Royal Couple then entered Dowlais House where they met several invited distinguished guests and were served a sumptuous lunch. The Penywern Choir entertained the visitors during the lunch from a marquee that had been specially erected in front of the dining room.

Following lunch, the King and Queen were given a tour of the Works by Sir W T Lewis and Mr Arthur Keen, the owner of the works (he had purchased to Dowlais Iron Company from Ivor Bertie Guest in 1899, and the Works were now operating under the management of Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds). Having visited the Blast Furnaces, the Bessemer Plant, Goat Mill, Sleeper Mill, Sole Plate Mill, Fishplate Mill and the Siemens Plant, the Royal Couple exited the Works via the ‘Steel Arch’, and proceeded to Merthyr in their own Daimler car, to arrive at the Town Hall steps at 4.00pm where Sir W T Lewis presented them to the Mayor and Mayoress, Mr & Mrs J M Berry.

The King and Queen at Dowlais Works
Crowds outside the Town Hall in a specially erected stand

The Dowlais Works have since closed, the Steel Arch was dismantled in the 1920’s and the Coal Arch was dismantled in 1960.

Photographs courtesy of

Idloes Owen – another Merthyr Musical Giant

Everyone will know of the Welsh National Opera, but how many people know that its founder was yet another Merthyr boy – Idloes Owen.

Idloes Owen

Idloes Owen was born in Merthyr Vale in 1894. His parents Richard and Jane, originally from Llanidloes, moved to Merthyr Vale where Richard secured a job at the Nixon Navigation Colliery. Richard and Jane had six children – John, Thomas, Hannah, Mary, Idloes and Christmas.

As a child, Idloes took an interest in music and began studying the piano and violin, as well as being a promising boy soprano. At the age of 12 however, Idloes left school and followed his father into the Colliery. His time underground was short-lived as he contracted tuberculosis, and was forced to leave the pit. The enforced change in his circumstances made Idloes determined to pursue a career in music.

His ambitions were dealt another blow with the sudden death of his father, rendering the family unable to financially support Idloes’ music career. The villagers in Merthyr Vale, aware of Idloes’ talent and ambition, embarked on a series of fund-raising concerts to raise enough money for the young man to go to Cardiff University to study music.

Having graduated, Owen embarked on a career as a composer, arranger, teacher and conductor, and in 1925 he became the choirmaster of the Lyrian Singers in Cardiff. This male voice choir were able to take advantage not only of the demand for concerts, but also of the growing demands of radio, that had launched in Cardiff in 1922. The Lyrian Singers became, effectively, a resident BBC choir. He was soon also considered to be one of the finest singing teachers in Wales – one of his pupils was a budding baritone named Geraint Evans.

Musical life in Cardiff between the wars was largely amateur, with no public funding. An embryonic National Orchestra of Wales had foundered just before the outbreak of the Second World War and Owen’s plan, in the early years of the war, to launch an orchestra of his own were blocked by the prior existence of the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra.

Strangely, the war years saw another even less known contribution by Owen to Welsh music. The credit for the popular song, We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillsides has always gone to Mai Jones, a musician who became a light entertainment producer with the BBC in 1941, but it was Owen who, in 1940, arranged the music from a score supplied by Thomas Morgan, a member of the Lyrian singers, set to lyrics written by Mai Jones and Lyn Joshua.

In November 1943 Owen met with John Morgan, a former baritone with the Carl Rosa Opera Company and Morgan’s fiancée, Helena Hughes Brown, where they decided to form a national opera company for Wales. Only days later, on 2 December, 28 people met at Cathays Methodist Chapel in Crwys Road, Cardiff, at which they all pledged a guinea and promised to pay sixpence a week to pay for the rental of a rehearsal rooms. This company – originally called the Lyrian Grand Opera Company before deciding on the name The Welsh National Opera Company, gave a number of concerts around Cardiff all the way through 1944 & 1945.

The company’s first full opera season took place in 1946 with the first performance on 15 April of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci taking place at the Prince of Wales Theatre, with Idloes Owen as the conductor.

Poster for the first performance of the Welsh National Opera

Idloes Owen continued as the musical director until his untimely death in 1954, but the company he started has gone from strength to strength, and is now considered one of the finest regional opera companies in the world.

Merthyr’s Chapels: Hen Dy Cwrdd, Cefn Coed

We continue our series on Merthyr’s chapels with a look at one of the oldest causes in the Borough.

Hen Dy Cwrdd is the oldest chapel in the borough of Merthyr Tydfil. The chapel was originally built in 1747 when the Unitarians split from the congregation at Cwm-y-Glo and built their own small chapel at Cefn Coed.

This original building was built in a clearing in the wood between the Taf Fechan and the Taf Fawr rivers. It was a small barn-like structure, similar to the chapel at Cwm-y-Glo, with very small windows and a thatched roof. Indeed, the thatched roof wasn’t replaced by tiles until 1792.

An artists impression of the original Hen Dy Cwrdd Chapel

In 1765, Anthony Bacon built the first furnace at Cyfarthfa Iron Works and the wood was stripped of trees, and a small village began to grow in the clearing which became Cefn Coed y Cymer. Just over a century later, amid the rapid population explosion, a new chapel was built to cater for the ever growing congregation. The architect was John Lewis of Vaynor. £434 was collected via subscriptions by the members of the chapel and the new building opened in December 1853.

This chapel was very badly damaged in a storm and major repairs were necessary. The opportunity was taken to carry out various alterations and the chapel was virtually rebuilt in 1894/5 at a cost of £750, and so the present building took shape.

Hen Dy Cwrdd is considered to be an outstanding building and in 1985 it was listed by CADW Grade II, as being of Special Architectural and Historic Interest, and they made a considerable contribution to extensive refurbishment work, and in 1995-7 the chapel was re-erected using the masonry and fittings of the 1895 structure and is an almost exact replica of that building.

The reopening in 1997 coincided with the celebration of the chapel’s 250th Anniversary.

Hen Dy Cwrdd Chapel

The Meaning of Cyfarthfa

by Carl Llewellyn

Our Welsh laws refer to the “Tair Helfa Cyfarthfa” or the “Three Barking Hunts. The hunts were so called because the animals could either run fast, climb trees, or find safety in underground burrows, the hunter would bait his prey then send his dogs who would signal the position of the baited prey by barking.

Cyfarthfa has two meanings, either the ‘barking place’ as outlined above, or it could have been so called from the ‘echoes’ the rocky escarpment face of the Cyfarthfa Rocks made. We have been unable so far to trace any reference to the place name Cyfarthfa Rocks before the arrival of Anthony Bacon around 1765.

Another theory of the meaning Cyfarthfa was given by an old inhabitant of the Cyfarthfa district over 200 years ago. He stated that on the site of the Cyfarthfa furnaces there was formally a quarry with a fine echo, if a dog barked in the area it was repeated so strongly that one fancied that a large number of dogs had congregated in the locality.

The etymology of Cyfarthfa, according to Mr. Thomas Stephens, Merthyr poet, bard and chemist is the place of barking dogs – pretty well indicating the character of the place before the days of ironmaking. Game and vermin abounded, and the dogs held high revel there in the dense thickets and impenetrable copses.

Note that cyfar means ‘arable land’; cyfarth means ‘to bark’ or ‘to cough’ as a verb and ‘a barking’ as a noun; cyfarthwr means a ‘barker’ or ‘shouter’; cyfarch means ‘greeting’ or ‘request’ and cyfarchfa means ‘a hailing-place’.

I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Cyfarthfa Works in the 1870’s. Photo courtesy of