London to Dowlais via Downton Abbey!!!

Many people of a certain age will remember Dowlais Central Schools, but did you know that the building was actually designed by Sir Charles Barry, the architect responsible for building the present Houses of Parliament (not to mention remodelling Highclere Castle – the setting for Downton Abbey)?

Sir Charles Barry
Sir Charles Barry

In 1853, Lady Charlotte Guest decided to commission a new school in Dowlais in memory of her late husband, Sir John Josiah Guest. She approached Sir Charles Barry, a personal friend who had previously re-designed the Guest’s new home at Canford Manor in Dorsetshire, to design the school to accommodate 650 boys and girls and 680 infants. The school was built by John Gabe, the prestigious Merthyr builder, and it was completed at a cost of between £8,000 and £10,000 (depending on which source you consult) and opened in 1855. The cost of the building was paid for, in full, by the Dowlais Iron Company. The Merthyr Telegraph described the completed building as:-

“…very chaste, massive and grand, without being at all heavy in its effect. The principal entrance admits, under a spacious gallery, into the Infants’ School-room, a noble apartment, 100 feet long by 35 feet wide; the roof of the open Gothic is 60 feet from the floor at the highest point. To the right and left, through two immense arches, open the schools for boys and girls, each 90 feet long by 30 feet wide. Light is admitted through very large and handsome Gothic windows – there are several spacious and handsome class-rooms attached, and there is an extensive play ground in front.”

Dowlais Central Schools
Dowlais Central Schools courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (

There was even a form of central heating used in the school, provided by hot air pumped from an engine house in the ironworks through underground ducts to the school itself.

Sir Charles Barry also designed, at Lady Charlotte Guest’s instigation, the Guest Memorial Hall (now the Guest Keen Club), a library and reading room for employees of the Dowlais Iron Company.

Guest Memorial Hall
Guest Memorial Hall

Dowlais Central Schools were demolished in the 1970’s, one of the many architectural masterpieces that Merthyr has sadly lost in the name of progress. Luckily the Guest Memorial Hall still survives to this day.

Do you have any memories of Dowlais Central Schools? If so please share them by using the comments button, or by e-mail at

If you want to learn more about Sir Charles Barry have a look at these sites:

Espionage in Merthyr Tydfil

As we are currently commemorating the centenary of the First World War, I thought I’d share a very interesting story that I came across in the Merthyr Express from 1914 – it is transcribed below.

SPY PERIL AT MERTHYR – Merthyr Express, 24 October 1914

A great sensation was caused in Merthyr on Tuesday when it became known that an alleged German spy would be taken before the magistrates and charged under the Official Secrets Acts, 1911, with attempting to convey to the enemy important plans etc. Consequently the police court was crowded. The defendant, who gave the name Carl Fick, a German, is a finely built man of middle age. He has for several months followed the occupation of a steeplejack. He used to travel about in a motor car. Fick was not only charged on Tuesday with attempting to convey plans to the enemy, but with attempting to persuade another to commit a similar offence. Only formal evidence was given, and the defendant, who didn’t have a word to say, was formally remanded in custody for a week.

Chief Constable Wilson said the defendant was of German nationality and was registered as an alien in August last. Since that time he had been kept under strict observation by the police. Certain information came to his (Mr Wilson’s) knowledge in September that the accused had approached a certain gentleman in the town with a view to getting his assistance in communicating to the German Ambassador certain plans indicating important landmarks for the purpose of dropping bombs. He (Mr Wilson) took particular precautions, and placed Detective-Sergt. Dove and Detective O’Neill in a place of observation, where they were able to hear and see the defendant. They listened to certain conversation to the effect that the townsman he had named should go to America, he (defendant) would pay the fare, and hand to the German Ambassador certain plans. The plans, the defendant said, were of a most destructive character, if carried out, and would practically annihilate the British Army. Defendant had prepared certain plans and notes, the latter written in German, which had been translated. One letter, written on October 16th, which the defendant intended for the German Ambassador in America read as follows:-

If these plans should be of any use to the German Government, please make any payments to myself only. I am unable to come to give any help myself.

That, said the Chief Constable, was written on the printed billhead of the defendant, who has for four or five months carried on the business of steeplejack, He asked that the defendant be remanded in custody in order that he might communicate with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Detective-Sergt. Dove was then called and questioned by the Chief Constable. “Do you remember visiting certain premises at Merthyr on the 15th September? – I do. Did you see the defendant? – I did. Did you hear him making certain statements? – I did. Did he ask a certain person to go to America to see the German Ambassador? – Yes. With what object? – For the purpose of handing plans over which he said would destroy the whole of the enemies of Germany.”

The Chief Constable: “Upon that evidence I ask for remand for a week. – Granted.”

If anyone has any interesting Merthyr-related stories about the First World War, please send them to me and I will post them on this blog.

The story of ‘Martyr’ Tydfil

If we are going to have a blog about the history of Merthyr Tydfil, it is perhaps natural to start with how Merthyr Tydfil got its name.

Stained glass window of St Tydfil at Llandaff Cathedral courtesy of Llywelyn2000

The story starts with the legendary 5th Century king Brychan Brycheiniog. Brychan was allegedly the son of the Irish king Anlach, son of Coronac, and of Marchell ferch Dewdrig heiress of the Welsh kingdom of Garthmadrun, which the couple later inherited. Upon his father’s death, Brychan returned to Garthmadrun and changed its name to Brycheiniog. Brychan had four wives and several concubines and was said to have had 24 sons and 25 daughters. Tydfil was his 23rd daughter by his fourth wife. Most of Brychan’s children were well educated, girls and boys, at a school in Gwenddwr on the Wye and went on to live deeply religious lives.

Tydfil decided to make her home in the Taff Valley, sparsely populated by Celt farmers. She established an early Celtic monastic community, leading a small band of men and women. She built an enclosure around a small wattle and daub church, and she became known for her compassion and healing skills as she nursed both sick humans and animal.

In approximately 480AD, the aged Brychan decided to visit his children one last time. He took with him his son Rhun Dremrudd, his grandson Nefydd and his son along with several servants. They visited his third daughter, Tanglwstl, at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil. Brychan wanted to stay with his daughters a little longer, so he sent most of his warriors and Nefydd on ahead, along the homeward journey. The king went on to Tydfil’s home while Rhun and Nefydd’s son were still at Hafod Tanglwstl.

At the time, Wales was experiencing raids from Scottish Picts who had settled in Radnorshire, and it was during Brychan’s journey from Hafod Tanglwstl that one of these raids occurred. Rhun was attacked by a raiding party, a mile from Hafod Tanglwstl and he died defending a bridge over the river at what is now the village of Troedyrhiw. With the bridge undefended, the marauding Picts were free to attack the King’s party. One group destroyed Hafod Tanglwstl, whilst the other attacked Brychan’s party which had reached Tydfil’s community. The party were all murdered, but whilst most ran away or fought, Tydfil knelt and prayed, but she too was cut down.

Tydfil was buried within the church she founded, and a Celtic cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff to mark the place where ‘Martyr’ Tydfil was slain and which became a site of pilgrimage. In the 13th century the cross and wattle and daub church were replaced by a stone church dedicated to Saint Tydfil the Martyr. This was in turn replaced in 1807, and rebuilt again in 1894.

Old St Tydfil’s Church courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (
St Tydfil’s Church courtesy of Steve MT

Old Merthyr Tydfil

Before I go any further with this blog I would like to thank the trustees of the Old Merthyr Tydfil website who have given me permission to use the photos from that wonderful website, and for their support and encouragement.

The Old Merthyr Tydfil website truly is a fantastic resource for all things Merthyr History related, and since the passing of its sadly missed founder Alan George it is great to see the site still running thanks to the efforts of his son and a small group of volunteers, all Alan’s friends, as a tribute to the great man himself.

Old Merthyr Tydfil is THE best Merthyr Tydfil related site and I encourage everyone to visit it.


Hello everyone

Welcome to this new blog.

I have created this blog to celebrate Merthyr Tydfil’s rich history and culture. Merthyr has had a lot of bad press in recent years, so it’s high time that people really knew the truth about Merthyr……good and bad.

Merthyr Tydfil’s history encompasses Norman, Roman and even older eras, but it is the Industrial Revolution that put the town on the world map and made it, for a time, the most important town in Wales, and one of the most important towns in the entire world.

Why the Melting Pot? As well as the industrial connotations of that title as regards its place in the annals of history as one of the foremost iron producing centres, Merthyr has long been a ‘melting pot’ of many different nationalities and cultures, with people coming from all over the world, originally to work in the ironworks and to settle in the town, and this mix of cultures has helped make Merthyr what it is today.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog, and please feel free to contribute to it.