Mount Pleasant Spitfire Crash

On 7 July 1941, five people were killed in Mount Pleasant in Merthyr Vale as a result of a terrible accident involving two Spitfire fighters.

At about 6.30pm on Monday 7 July 1941, two planes were seen flying over the hills behind Aberfan at an altitude of approximately 600 feet. The planes were Spitfires of the Royal Canadian Air Force on a training exercise from No 53 Operational Training Unit, based at RAF Heston. The planes were piloted by Sergeant Gerald Fenwick Manuel (R/69888) aged 25, from Halifax, Nova Scotia and Sergeant Lois “Curly” Goldberg (R/56185), aged 27, from Montreal.

From eye-witness accounts, the one plane overshot the other and their wing-tips touched, resulting in both pilots losing control of their aircraft. Sergeant Goldberg’s plane crashed into a field, killing him instantly, but the plane piloted by Sergeant Manuel crashed into a house at the end of South View in Mount Pleasant.

The house was the home of the Cox Family: James Cox, a shift worker at a munitions factory; his wife Alice aged 33, and their five children. At the time of the crash, James Cox was in bed, having just come home from a shift at the factory; his three sons Donald, Thomas and Len were out playing; and Alice and the two daughters, Phyllis aged 14 and three-year-old Doreen, had just returned from a shopping trip. Alice and the two girls were killed instantly, as was Sergeant Manuel, but James Cox had a remarkable escape as the impact of the plane threw him out of the rear window of the house, and he escaped with minor injuries.

Alice Cox. Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

William Brown who lived next door to the Cox family, and who’s house was also damaged, spoke of his own lucky escape: “I was coming out of my house with a bucket of water to go to my allotment when I saw the plane coming towards my house. Some instinct made me go back in, and when I was going along the passage something gave me a smack on the head. I managed to get into a room in the back and I saw the Cox’s house in flames……..There are usually ten to twelve children playing by the lamp-post directly outside the house, but today they were playing in the fields down by the river. My wife and grandchildren were in the back of the house, and they too were uninjured”.

Neighbours and local residents tried in vain to rescue Alice and the children, but the house had burst into flames immediately following the crash, and the heat was too great for attempts to rescue the family. The local police inspector paid tribute to the people, especially the women, saying: “The people of the district were marvellous. They all worked and spoilt their clothing, and never seemed to tire. The women-folk worked unceasingly, carrying water and sand while the men worked the stirrup pumps. They were magnificent and worked like Trojans”.

The bodies of Sgt Manuel and the deceased family members were buried two days later in the Ffrwd Cemetery, Cefn-Coed, while the body of Sgt Goldberg was interned in the Jewish cemetery at Cefn-Coed.

In 2007 a mural painted by local school children was unveiled in memory of the victims of the crash.

Mount Pleasant Crash Memorial Mural

The Building of St Mary’s, Merthyr Vale

In the last post, a newspaper cutting appeared announcing the opening of St Mary’s Church in Merthyr Vale. The story of the building of the church is a fascinating one, as the church was built at a time of austerity, actually coinciding with the General Strike of 1926.

A number of people from Merthyr Vale and Aberfan worshipped in the Anglican faith, and indeed they had their own vicar – Rev P Evans. The one thing they didn’t have was their own church. Encouraged by Rev Evans, they decided that they would build a church themselves, and despite the deprivations of the time, and having very little money, plans were drawn up by Rev Evans; Mr Walter March, the engineer of Merthyr Vale Colliery; and Mrs Lewis James.

One of the first problems facing them was where to get the materials needed to build the church. Fortunately the owners of the Glamorganshire Canal told them that they could have the dressed stone from the old, disused pump house near the Pontyrhun Bridge in Troedyrhiw, but they would have to dismantle the building and transport the stones themselves. Mr Ernie Williams, a coal delivery driver from Troedyrhiw offered them the use of his delivery lorry, and every day, people from Merthyr Vale, led by Rev Evans went to Troedyrhiw and pulled down the pump house, stone by stone, and Ernie Williams delivered the stones to Merthyr Vale. After many months of back-breaking work, the building was finally completed, but the generosity didn’t stop there.

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Rev Evans and volunteers during the building of the church

Money being very scarce, the group had very little to spare for fixtures and fittings for the new church, however, a church in Aberdare offered the people of Merthyr Vale a pulpit. Once again, the services of Ernie Williams were called upon, and with the aid of a steam wagon borrowed from Merthyr Vale Colliery, not to mention many willing helpers, the pulpit was loaded on to the wagon for the journey to Merthyr Vale. Hearing of the endeavours of the Merthyr Vale group, the firm of Williams and Williams, colliery lamp makers, gave those who had journeyed to Aberdare a free meal.

The journey from Aberdare to Merthyr Vale was not an easy one. The steam wagon travelled at a speed of five miles per hour, and was so heavy that several bridges en route had to be strengthened to take its weight. Despite this, the pulpit arrived in one piece and was installed in the church. The church was consecrated on 12 December 1926.

St Mary’s Church

Sadly, due to subsidence caused by the mine workings at Merthyr Vale Colliery, St Mary’s Church was demolished in 1967, after just over 40 years serving the community. A new church was built on the same site in 1974.

Photos courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)

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.

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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 11 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 (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)
St Tydfil’s Church courtesy of Steve MT