Merthyr’s Girl-Collier

One hundred and sixteen years ago today, the following story broke in the Evening Express, and went on to grip the town for several weeks.

Six days previously, on Monday 30 September 1901, a fifteen-year-old girl had been found working as a boy in one of the Plymouth Ironworks’ collieries.

When interviewed, the girl, Edith Gertrude Phillips, said that she lived with her father, a pitman, her mother and five siblings at the Glynderis Engine House in Abercanaid, but was beaten and forced to do all the housework by her mother when her father was at work. On the previous Friday, her mother had ‘knocked her about the head, shoulders and back with her fists’ for not finishing the washing, so Edith decided to leave home. She dressed in some clothes belonging to her older brother, cut her hair, threw her own clothes into the Glamorganshire Canal, and walked to Dowlais Ironworks to look for a job.

Unable to secure employment in Dowlais, Edith then went to the South Pit of the Plymouth Colliery, and got a job with a collier named Matthew Thomas as his ‘boy’. She found lodgings at a house in Nightingale Street in Abercanaid, and it was there on Monday 30 September that she was discovered by P.C. Dove. The alarm had been raised about Edith’s disappearance by her father on the Friday evening, and following searches throughout the weekend, someone recognised the disguised Edith at her lodgings in Nightingale Street. Edith refused to go back to her parents, and in the ensuing arguments, collapsed from nervous exhaustion and was taken to Merthyr Infirmary.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children immediately started investigating the case, and Edith’s parents were questioned thoroughly. In the meantime, as news of the case leaked out, there was an outpouring of support for Edith, and dozens of people came forward with offers of support for her, some from as far afield as Surrey and Sussex. A committee was formed to start a fund to help Edith, and the met at the Richards Arms in Abercanaid, just a week after the news broke, and a public appeal was made for money to help her.

Evening Express – 17 October 1901

Despite the ongoing investigation by the N.S.P.C.C. and the countless offers from people to provide a good home to Edith, the Merthyr Board of Guardians, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the girl should be sent home to her parents upon her release from the Infirmary. Edith was indeed released and sent home to her parents on 31 October, but within hours, she was removed from the house by the N.S.P.C.C. and taken to the Salvation Army Home in Cardiff.

No more is mentioned in the newspapers about Edith until 8 February 1904, when the Evening Express reported that she had been living in Cardiff, but as the money raised to help her had run out, she had to leave her home. As she was in very poor health, she was unable to find work, so she had appealed to the Merthyr Board of Guardians to allow her to come back to Merthyr, and to enter the Workhouse. A doctor told the Board that Edith didn’t have long to live, so they agreed to allow her to return.

This is the last report about Edith in any of the newspapers, but thanks to the sterling work of Mike Donovan of the Merthyr Branch of the Glamorgan Family History Society, I have been able to discover that Edith didn’t actually die at the workhouse, she recovered and went on to work, in service, at a house in Penydarren, and  died in 1963 at the age of 77.

Evening Express – 4 November 1901

A Year in Patagonia – part 2

Continuing the fascinating account from our previous post…..

My father went out hunting sometimes with my cousin and one day killed a puma. Its skin was made into a mat which we girls had in our bedroom. I had four cousins out there living miles away – Mylyrfyn, Reene, Llewellyn, and Callan. Their father was killed by the Indians.  Mrs and Miss Rowlands were other friends of ours from Abercanaid – they lived a long way from us, and father would take us sometimes in a buggy, a farmer had lent it to him, to visit them. I used to stay with them for a holiday sometimes. Miss Rowlands had a sweetheart, a Spaniard named Antonio Miggins – he was much darker than our people I often wondered why. One night when we were sitting round the fire I asked him why he was so dark, the answer was that he always drank strong tea. They all laughed, they were very nice people I did enjoy my visits to them.

One day my father did not go to work as there were many things needing to be done around the home, and he wanted to do some fishing. Being away all the week he could not do much, so he took my sisters and myself with him we gathered a lot of sticks and lit a fire as we were so far away. Father knew mother was very timid so we hurried home. Although we were so many miles away we could see quite plain as the country was so flat, but before we reached our house we saw an Indian ride away. He only wanted to know the way to Chubut, Mother could not understand him so said Lo ken savvy , meaning I don’t understand you, the, Indian made to dismount she got very frightened and went into the house for a gun and showed him she could use it he then rode away. Mother stood the ordeal very well but she was glad when we were all together again.

Every farmer in Patagonia had an enclosure attached to his farm called a corral where he had his cattle put at night to protect them from wild beasts, or when the Indians knew they were well stocked. They were very cruel and would come down from the Andes and steal their stock. there was no way to stop them as they came in large numbers unaware. Father made mother an oven to bake in, it was made in the shape of a beehive it was baked without lime. Mother was very disheartened at times, she would travel for miles to the mill then could get no flour, and butter too she could not buy although she had plenty of money.

Life was not very easy in many ways so when father came home at weekends, they would discuss ways out of the difficulty. They found out there was a sailing vessel leaving Chubut for Buenos Aires. They decided to book a passage on her. Mother sold all our household furniture and we went to the Chubut village for a while until the vessel was ready to sail. I went to school for the first time in Patagonia, the first thing they did was to take my shoes and stocking off to see if my feet were clean, but did not bother about my hair as they do in this country. I learned to count up to ten in Spanish, also to sing Oh click a dak a pana Novama. My father again had a buggy to take us to the vessel at the mouth of the River Plate, and I remember when we reached the ship there, a sailor helped us up a rope ladder as he put us on deck he counted una piccaninny dos piccaninny tres piccaninny, and for mother he said Senorita. It took us less time to get home- about five weeks. Father had to forfeit his £5 guarantee. We eventually reached Pontypool Road Station, where friends and my dear Grandfather who I thought I would never see again were meeting us. There was great rejoicing when we met. Well dear children the year is now up and I do hope I have not tired you so Good night and God bless you.

Martha Thomas (née Protheroe) in later years

Many thanks to Thomas Gwynder Davies for sharing this document with us.

A Year in Patagonia – part 1

This account, donated by Thomas Gwynder Davies, was written by his grandmother, Martha Thomas (née Protheroe) about the year she lived in Chubut, Patagonia. She was born in Abercanaid 1878. Her family were members of Sion Chapel, Abercanaid, and they emigrated to Patagonia in 1887, but returned to Abercanaid in 1888.

One year of my life written by an 8 to 9 year old
Martha Thomas (née Protheroe)
1887 to 1888
in Patagonia, South America

My father and mother often wished to travel. They talked much about it and when father was offered a government job in 1887, to build a railway from Chubut Valley to the Andes Mountain, they decided to accept it. The government wanted £5 from each settler as a guarantee that they would stay until the railway was finished. There was much preparation to be made and although I did not understand much of what it involved, I was very excited. Mother was presented with a Bible from the members of Sion Chapel Abercanaid, and I was presented with a large book on behalf of the scholars of Abercanaid mixed school by Mr Evans, schoolmaster.

I felt the parting very much especially from my dear Grandfather whom I loved very much. He lived next door and we had never been parted before. Well the morning for going away arrived at last. Father and Mother my two younger sisters and uncle and two aunts from Swansea came with us to Liverpool to see us off. We stayed there two days and went to many places of interest. We visited the museum and had our photos taken on the steps outside and when we boarded the ship for Patagonia we again had to part with loved ones and friends who had come to wish us well in our new home and surroundings and a safe journey. It took six weeks to go on our journey.

One morning mother looked very tired and sad and thanked God that we had slept through the night, as there had been a terrible storm in the night, and every passenger and crew had worked very hard, as the implements that the ship was taking as cargo in the bottom of the ship had got loose, and they had to put sand bags between the irons to steady the ship as it rolled so, at the mercy of the storm. At last we reached our Chubut. We were taken in little boats to the landing stage. We still had a long way to reach the village, so were taken in wagons drawn by oxen. We did not travel very fast in those days, and had to sleep in the open three nights, and the men had to light fires to keep the wild beasts away while we slept. By and by we reached the Chubut village where a large tent was put up with long tables and benches where we had tea of bread and treacle, and a beverage called Valka made out of a native tree which we sucked through a straw.

We soon settled when father had a 4 roomed homestead built of mud and straw. Evan Hopkins who came with us from Abercanaid was a carpenter and he made us a table and benches for our kitchen and we had mats made by the Indians of animals skins and dyed with vegetables that grew on the Andes. We had two dogs – ‘During’ a house dog, and pet called ‘Fancy’, two hens and cockerel. Father now  had two horses to take him to work as he worked a very long way from home and only came home at weekends. When he went back to work he rode the one horse until it became tired and picked up the other to ride the rest of the way, so he would have it to ride half the way home next weekend – the first horse having eventually returning to us by itself. My sisters and I would go for long rides as it was quite docile.

The weather was very extreme. When it rained it tore up the earth into holes, and they would soon fill with water, but in a few days it would be quite dry again. When it snowed it came down in great lumps not like our flakes. When there was a thunder storm the lighting was like a huge picture in t he clouds. As the grass grew, the wind and the sand caused it to burn and became yellow. There was little green grass to be seen anywhere, therefore there was no pasture for the cattle to eat and they were very thin. There was very little butter in the shop as the farmers could only make a little in the summer when the grass was at its best.

To be continued in the next post……


Merthyr Memories: An Abercanaid Childhood

by Ken Brewer

I was born in 1937, so my memories begin during the War when I was about 3 years old, and I started school. I clearly remember carrying a cardboard box that contained my gas-mask, and during school lessons the bell would go, and we were all ushered into the yard and instructed to lie lay on our stomachs in case there was an air raid. The classes in those days numbered about 40 pupils due to the influx of evacuees, so the teachers were very busy.

Abercanaid School. Photo courtesy of

Abercanaid itself was very self-supporting, meeting the needs of the people who lived there. There were two bakers, a butcher and three grocery shops, plus a number of small corner shops. There was also an official ‘layer-out’ for the village, and when we saw the elderly lady in question hurrying along with her little bag, you knew someone had passed away.

What went on in the village, mostly centred around the church and the chapels. St Peter’s was the church, and the chapels were: Sion Independent Chapel, Deml Baptist Chapel and ‘my chapel’ Graig Methodist Chapel. The members of these chapels and church would regularly stage concerts and amateur dramatic performances to entertain the villagers. For the children there was ‘Band of Hope’ and ‘Rechabites’ so we rarely left the village. As children, we didn’t have chance of misbehaving – everyone knew everyone so any misdemeanours would soon reach our parents.

As in most places, the pubs outnumbered the chapels. In Abercanaid we had The Colliers Arms, The Richards Arms, The Glamorgan Arms, The Llwyn-yr-Eos Inn, the Duffryn Arms (also known as the Teapot), and in Upper Abercanaid – The White Hart.

The Llwyn-yr-Eos Inn. Photo courtesy of

We also had our own Police Station, Library, football ground – The Ramblers, and a Social Centre on the Canal Bank which was built by the villagers themselves. Abercanaid was also served by two Railway Stations – Pentrebach Station on the Merthyr to Cardiff line, and Abercanaid Station on the old Rhymney Line.

Ladies exercise class in the Abercanaid Social Centre in the 1940’s.

If anyone wanted to know where someone lived, you could tell that person, not just the street, but the exact house. Neighbours were so important, and everyone was ready to help in an emergency. During the war everything was in short supply, floor coverings consisted of home-made rag mats or coconut matting. My family were considered posh because we had some carpet mats! The items were actually hand-me-downs; my mother had worked for Price Brothers, the bakers and wholesale merchants in Merthyr, for over 25 years, so when their carpets were beginning to wear, they replaced them, and the old ones were given to my mother. Many times I came home from school to find the carpets missing from the front room – when I asked about them I was always told that “Mrs So-and-so has visitors so she has borrowed the carpets”.

Another incident I recall occurred one Sunday lunchtime. The meat was cooked, and the vegetables were ready, and my grandmother (who lived with us) was making the gravy. There was a knock at the door, and a close neighbour stood there in tears, distraught because her brother and three children had turned up from Cardiff and she didn’t have enough meat to give them for lunch. The result was that she had our meat and we managed on vegetables and gravy! I wonder if such a thing would happen today?

Things were undoubtedly hard at that time in Abercanaid, as elsewhere, but I’m sure the wonderful community in our village helped us to cope a lot better with the deprivations and stresses of the time.

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 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?