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.
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.
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.
102 years ago today a by-election was held in Merthyr to elect a new M.P. for the town to fill the vacancy left by the death of Keir Hardie on 26 September. The victor in that by-election was Charles Butt Stanton.
Charles Butt Stanton was born at Aberaman on 7 April 1873. After his education at Aberaman British School, he obtained his first job as a page boy in a Bridgend household, later returning home to work in a local colliery. An incident during the Hauliers’ Strike of 1893 brought him to public notice when it was alleged that he fired a gun during a clash between miners and the police. Arrested and tried, he was found guilty of possessing an unlicensed gun and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Prison did not cool his spirit and he played an active part in the South Wales miners’ strike of 1898.
Soon after the 1898 strike, Stanton went to London and found work as a docker, taking an active role in the London dock strike in the same year. He did not stay long in London but returned to Aberdare and was elected Miners’ Agent for Aberdare by a large majority in 1899, on the death of agent David Morgan (Dai o’r Nant). In this role he became involved in activities linked with the Cambrian Combine Strike of 1910, which led to the Tonypandy Riots.
During this first decade of the twentieth century, Stanton had not confined his activities to the South Wales Miners’ Federation. He became the first Secretary of the Aberdare Socialist Society in 1890 and was an active member of the Independent Labour Party, later serving as South Wales President.
In 1904 he was elected to the Aberdare Urban District Council as a member for the Aberaman Ward. A militant, he was critical of the more moderate approach adopted by the local Labour MP, Keir Hardie. When Britain entered the First World War, Stanton became a strong supporter of the national war effort, and publicly opposed Keir Hardie’s stance opposed to the war.
Hardie’s death, on 26 September 1915, a year after the outbreak of the war, caused a vacancy in one of the two Merthyr Tydfil parliamentary seats. The by-election to fill the vacancy was called for 25 November 1915.
The official Labour choice to succeed Keir Hardie was James Winstone (1863–1921). Winstone was a leader of the miners’ union – a miner’s agent since 1906, he had served as Vice-President of the South Wales Miners Federation since 1912, and had recently been elected President of the South Wales Federation. He had also been a County Councillor in Monmouthshire since 1906, and was a former chairman of the Urban District Councils of both Risca and Abersychan.
In the four by-elections held in Wales since the outbreak of war, the candidate of the former member’s party had been returned unopposed, in accordance with an electoral truce agreed between the parties. It was assumed therefore that the Labour Party candidate to succeed Keir Hardie would also be returned unopposed.
Stanton announced that he would stand against Winstone on a patriotic, win-the-war platform. Stanton’s campaign focused its attack on the Independent Labour Party. Stanton presented himself as a ‘National’ candidate – “… standing on a National platform, and respecting, as I am, the political truce, I am considering not only the opinion of Labour men but of all sections of the community. And hence I do not hesitate to say that my candidature is national in the truest sense of the term. Surely, it is obvious that the success of Mr. Winstone, which is unthinkable, would be a message of discouragement to our soldiers in the field …”
Stanton won the vacant seat with a majority of over 4,000 votes.
After the two-member Merthyr Tydfil seat was divided into two single member seats, Stanton focused on the Aberdare division, which he won at the 1918 general election. In Merthyr the new set was won by Sir Edgar Rees Jones.
Stanton again fought the Aberdare division at the general election of November 1922, this time as a Lloyd George National Liberal candidate. He was defeated by the Labour candidate, George Hall. In 1928 Stanton joined the Liberal Party.
Following his retirement from politics he settled at Hampstead, where he took over an old inn. Charles Butt Stanton died in London on 6 December 1946, survived by his widow, Alice and son Frank. His funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium on 10 December.
From the Evening Express 116 years ago today…
Following on from our last post, here’s what was showing at the Electric Cinema a hundred years ago today.
by Kenneth & Christine Brewer
The biggest and most popular cinema in Merthyr was the Castle Cinema. It was very grand with a large foyer with a café and lounge upstairs. Inside the auditorium were three tiers of seats, and at the back there was a section that was partitioned off by glass so that you could watch (but not hear) the film whist you were waiting to go in.
The cinema was managed by Mr Cyril Smith, and the commissionaire was Vines Perry. The Castle also had a magnificent organ which would rise out of the floor, and the resident organist was Gene Lynne.
The Castle was owned by ABC Cinemas (Associated British Cinemas), and on a Saturday morning they would have the ABC Minors – a cinema club with special showings for children. At the beginning of each Saturday morning session, the “ABC Minors Song” would be played to the tune of ‘Blaze Away’, whilst the lyrics were shown on the screen with a bouncing red ball above the words to help the audience keep the place.
The Palace Cinema, which was in Pontmorlais (where the car park near Flooks is now), was smaller than the Castle. It only had two tiers of seating, but it too had a café upstairs. The manager at the Palace was a Mr Jones who was always smartly dressed in a black suit and a dickie-bow. The Palace was a very popular cinema, but the lasting memory is that in the winter it was always freezing cold there, so there would always be a scramble to sit near the radiator.
Also on the High Street, just a few doors up from the Castle Cinema, was the Electric Cinema. This was the oldest cinema in Merthyr, and by the 1940’s it was quite dilapidated and had a bit of a reputation – its nick-name was ‘The Bug-House’. I (Ken) only ever went there once when I was quite young. I had asked my mother to take me to see a George Formby film (I don’t recall which one), and when we got to Merthyr (from Abercanaid), the only cinema that was showing it was the Electric. My mother didn’t want to go there, but I finally persuaded her – but only on the understanding that I never told anyone that we went to the Electric!!!!!
The Theatre Royal and the Temperance Hall were also used for theatrical performances as well as being cinemas.
The Theatre Royal was also quite grand – it also had two tiers of seating, with a standing area at the back…..not glassed in this time though. Every Christmas there was a Pantomime there – I (Ken) remember seeing Cinderella starring Ronnie Ronalde (the yodelling music hall star) as Dandini and the radio stars Clapham and Dwyer as the Ugly Sisters.
The Temperance Hall also put on plays – it even had its own repertory company. One of the junior leads was Pamela Mant who left the company to play Christine Archer in ‘The Archers’. Another regular at the Temperance Hall was Pat Phoenix who went on to star as Elsie Tanner in ‘Coronation Street’. When you went to see a film at ‘The Temp’, you had to be careful where you sat. Some of the seats downstairs were behind the pillars supporting the balcony, so you would be forever dodging from side to side to see the screen. Also, one of the rows of seats was quite rickety, and if you weren’t careful, you would find the whole row falling backwards…..with you on it!!!!
Of the other cinemas in Merthyr, the only others I (Ken) visited were the Oddfellows Hall and the Victoria in Dowlais – this was because the queues in Merthyr were so long that we caught the bus to Dowlais to watch the films instead. I only visited each of them once. I remember the Oddfellows Hall was quite big, but a bit old fashioned, and I particularly remember the Victoria because when you entered the auditorium, you came in from under the screen. I had never seen that before.
Those days were poorer, but simpler times, but we were far more contented, and it is sad that all of the history of those days is being washed away.
by Kenneth & Christine Brewer
In the decade or so following the Second World War, cinema took hold in Britain in a big way. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true nonetheless that people loved the all the Hollywood glamour and escapism that the films provided to take their minds off the austerity of post-War Britain.
Merthyr was no exception – going to the cinema became one of the big attractions in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Such was the demand that at one time Merthyr had eleven cinemas – five in town (The Castle, The Palace, The Electric, The Theatre Royal and the Temperance Hall); two in Dowlais (The Oddfellows Hall and The Victoria); one each in Penydarren (The Cosy); Troedyrhiw (The Picture Palace); Aberfan (The Electric) and Treharris (The Palace).
Going to the cinema in those days was a real night out. As well as the main feature, you would be treated to a ‘B’-movie (usually a Western from memory), a news-reel, a cartoon and adverts for forthcoming films. The news-reel footage made a huge impact – we only saw the news in newspapers or heard about it on the wireless, but seeing the pictures on the big screen really brought things home to us. I (Ken) particularly remember my grandmother being very upset and having to leave the cinema when they showed news-reel footage of the liberation of Belsen. Everything was on a continuous loop – there were no showings once or twice a day…the cycle would start at a certain time (‘B’-movie, news, cartoon, adverts, main feature), and would continue non-stop until closing time.
You could also have an ice-cream in the intermission as a treat. These were sold by the usherettes. They were a big part of the cinema going experience, they would show you to your seats, and woe-betide you if you misbehaved – you would have the usherette’s torch shining on you within minutes. Repeat offenders would be asked to leave!!!!
Quite often, after the last showing of the evening, you would emerge from the cinema and the town would be crowded with people coming from other cinemas all hurrying for buses to make their way home.
Forthcoming films were advertised in the Merthyr Express, and people would also turn out in droves to see their favourite stars. In the 1940’s the big stars were Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Clarke Gable etc. The big matinée idol at the time was Robert Taylor, and the pin-up girl was Rita Hayworth.
When there was a ‘big’ film it wouldn’t be unusual to see people queuing around the block to get in. The ones that were particularly memorable were ‘The Robe’ at the Theatre Royal and ‘Quo Vadis’ at the Castle. The biggest queues however were for the re-release of ‘Gone with the Wind’ in the late 1940’s (the original release was during the war) at the Castle Cinema – the queues stretched as far as the eye could see.
How times have changed, all of these cinemas have closed, and all but the Theatre Royal and Temperance Hall have been demolished. For many years, Merthyr didn’t have a cinema at all until the Vue Cinema complex was opened at Rhydycar. It’s not the same – the glamour and excitement have all but disappeared.
To be continued……
The article transcribed below appeared in The Glamorgan and Brecon Gazette and Merthyr Guardian 178 years ago today. Would you say that this is an objective and unbiased piece of journalism?
MERTHYR TYDVIL (sic) AND BRECON, Nov. 9, 1839. Treason and bloodshed have again been the order of the day. Birmingham could not satisfy the dupes of the Melbourne Government; and Newport has been added to the riotous list. It wanted only that the spark should have been applied to the train at Cyfarthfa; it wanted only one word at a meeting on Penrheolgerrig, and Merthyr also had been the scene of similar disgraceful occurrences.
The few Chartists we have, are chiefly to be found in the neighbourhood we have alluded to. They have latterly been more cautious as to their places of meeting. The wicked and traitorous individuals, who from the mere love of spouting, and the petty gratification of the cheers of an ill-educated, we might almost say a non-educated populace, inflamed their passions, and rendered them dissatisfied with their condition, are skulking lest they should be arrested by the arm of the civil power, and suffer the punishment their crimes so richly deserve. The conduct of the magistrates of the neighbourhood, during the week, has been beyond all praise. Every precaution which it was proper to take has been resorted to; and they have given their almost undivided attention to the preservation of the peace of this locality.
We beg to direct their special attention to the beer-houses in the upper part of Merthyr, and in the neighbourhood of George Town and the Cyfarthfa works. There is where they will now find all the mischief concocted. It is matter of notoriety that these houses are kept open till one, two, and three o’clock in the morning. Surely this fact alone proves the necessity of having an effective police force; and, with all due deference to certain lovers of darkness, well- lighted streets also. But even more important than these would be the establishment of regimental barracks within four or five miles of Merthyr.
The idea is horrible, that the respectable tradesmen of a large town should be exposed, as they now are, to the brute force of a mob, led on by one or two traitors, who ought long since to have been made examples of at the bar of their county and that it might be several hours before a sufficient military force could be obtained. If the inhabitants are true to themselves, they will not rest till they have remedied this state of things.
A military depot between this place and Newbridge, would by its presence do more than thousands of special constables, towards keeping the misguided rabble within bounds. To this should be added a prison within the precincts of the town. At present if a prisoner has to be remanded, he is sent off to a public-house, with very fair chances of escape or rescue, because the place called the lock-up house is too beastly to turn a pig into.
We shall not lose sight of this subject; and in the mean time we would remind the inhabitants of Merthyr that a meeting of the parishioners is called for Tuesday next, to consider some propositions respecting a police or constabulary force and we trust that every tradesman will be present, determined to support any reasonable proposition remembering that a moderate expenditure now may be true economy in the end.
If anyone has anything they would like to contribute to the blog about the Chartists in Merthyr, please get in touch.