Councillor Isaac Edwards, J.P.

Today we look at another important Merthyr resident – Isaac Edwards, business man, magistrate and mayor, who died 74 years ago today.

Isaac Edwards was born in Dowlais on 10 May 1872. Educated at the Dowlais Works School, at the age of thirteen he began working at the mill manager’s office at the Dowlais Ironworks.

At the age of 25, he left and opened an accountancy and auctioneering business in Dowlais. Within two years he was joined in the business by his elder brother and they began trading as Edwards Bros. As the business grew they purchased the practice of Mr Henry Lewis, auctioneer in Merthyr and opened a branch office in Market Square Chambers, Merthyr.

In 1910, he accepted an appointment as district valuer for the Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and West Denbighshire area in the Wales Division Board of the Inland Revenue. He remained in the position until 1916 when he returned to Merthyr and acquired the business of Messrs J M Berry & Son.

As a boy and young man, Isaac Jones was a member of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais where he continued to worship until he moved to North Wales. Upon his return to Merthyr he became a member of Zoar Chapel where he was elected as a deacon and became a Sunday School teacher. He was also elected President of the North Glamorgan Association of Independents; president of the Glamorgan County Association; chairman of the Independent Union Sustenation Fund, treasurer of Bangor College and in 1930 was elected president of the Welsh Congregation Union – only the fourth layman to be elected to the position since its formation.

He also made his mark outside the chapel. He was elected president of the Merthyr Chamber of Trade, as well as serving as secretary South Wales and Montmouthshire Federation and vice-president of the National Chamber of Trade. He was also appointed as a magistrate for the county in 1922. An Independent councillor since 1921, Isaac Edwards was elected as mayor in 1938.

Isaac Edwards died on Sunday 19 September 1943.

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

Belgian Refugees

It is sometimes forgotten that during the First World War, an influx of Belgian refugees arrived in Britain to escape the fighting in their country. Quite a number of them came to Merthyr, and transcribed below is an article describing the arrival of the first of these refugees in 1914.

Merthyr Pioneer – 17 October 1914

A very enthusiastic meeting of local citizens was held at the Town Hall on Monday night, when the final preparations for the welcome and maintenance of the Belgian refugees was made.

Addressing the meeting Coun. H M Lloyd (Mayor) referred to the terrible distress prevailing in Belgium owing to the German invasion, and pointed out the hardships which were being suffered by a whole nation out of employment. Inasmuch as Belgium has acted as a buffer State, we were indebted to them, and were called upon to help them bear their share of suffering and sorrow.

Alderman J M Berry J.P. was appointed treasurer of the committee, and Mr T W Morris, secretary.

A tremendous crowd of people thronged the High Street and the Merthyr Station Approach on Wednesday evening, and the 32 Belgian refugees received a hearty if somewhat embarrassing Welsh welcome. They were met at the station by Coun. H M Lloyd and Mrs Lloyd (Mayor and Mayoress), Major and Mrs Frank James, Capt. G B Williams, Councillors F A Phillips (Deputy Mayor), Mrs M A Edmunds, and Ald. J M Berry, Mrs Wills, Mr T T Jenkins and others.

Some difficulty was experienced in getting the visitors into the two decorated cars which had been lent by the Merthyr Traction Co. to convey them to the YMCA Buildings. Several of the refugees were obviously affected by the cordial welcome which greeted their arrival, and many of the waiting citizens were moved to tears when an elderly Antwerp lady who had received injuries was assisted to the car by Councillors Phillips and James whilst the appearance of Ald. J M Berry with a Belgian youngster on his shoulder was the signal for loud cheers. Outside the YMCA Buildings the Cyfarthfa Municipal Band greeted the refugees with the National Anthems of the Allies. After a splendid meal had been enjoyed, a musical programme in which one of the visitors took part, was provided.

In officially welcoming the refugees, the Mayor said that every class in the community was anxious to do what it could to alleviate their sufferings and misfortunes.

Interviewed by the Pioneer representative on Thursday, the Mayor said that funds for the maintenance of the refugees were still coming in. As the committee desired to maintain them for at least six months, he hoped that local citizens would continue to contribute all they could afford towards the cost of their maintenance. The cost of maintaining them would probably be something between £15 and £20 per week. 19 more refugees were expected to arrive almost immediately, and as the distress was great and increasing, Merthyr might be called upon to maintain something like 100. “I am thinking of arranging for an illuminated carnival, perhaps the last day in October (Saturday the 31st), and I trust that all cyclist and motor cyclists, and those who have fancy costumes, will hold themselves in readiness for the occasion” added the Mayor.

Late on Thursday evening a further party of Belgian refugees, numbering nine, arrived at Merthyr, and were conveyed in cabs to the YMCA Buildings. The party consisted of seven women and two men. This brings the total to be maintained to 41.

Arrangements for the comfort of the visitors have been greatly enhanced by the spontaneous offers of assistance given by many local citizens. The management of all the local entertainment halls have offered free admission; the Traction Co. offer free rides, and Mr Arthur Davies, hairdresser, of Glebeland Street, has offered to attend to the toilet of the male members of the party.

Mrs Suzanne Doolan, local historian and former reporter on the Merthyr Express, is researching the Belgian Refugees in Merthyr, so if anyone has any information about them , please get in touch and I will pass it on.

John Mathias Berry

Today marks the centenary of the death of one of Merthyr’s most prominent citizens – John Mathias Berry.

John Mathias Berry and Mrs Mary Ann Berry

Born on 2 May 1847 in Camrose in Pembrokeshire, John Mathias Berry was brought up in Haverfordwest in a strict non-conformist household, and as a young man he began working for the Great Western Railway as a clerk. On 24 May 1870 he married Mary Ann Rowe of Pembroke Dock, and in 1872 became a father to a daughter, Lucy Beatrice. In 1874, Berry secured a better position as a station-master with the Taff Vale Railway and the family moved to Merthyr Tydfil.

On 17 September 1877, Berry became a father for the second time when Mary gave birth to a son – Henry Seymour. As a sideline to his job at Merthyr Station and also to earn extra money, John Mathias Berry began selling tea in the town, and this led on to him becoming a commercial traveller. During this time his family grew and he became a father to two more sons – William Ewart in 1879, and James Gomer in 1883.

In 1894, at the age of 46, John Mathias decided on a career change and opened a new business as an auctioneer and estate agent in Victoria Street. Due to a combination of his remarkable personality, his energetic business acumen and the economic growth at the time, the business became a huge success, and Berry became a very prosperous and important person in Merthyr.

As a result of his success, John Mathias became very active in public life in Merthyr. In 1902 he was made a J.P. for the County of Glamorgan, and he also became a councillor for the Town Ward on the District Council and from 1905 Borough Council. In November 1908 he became an alderman and was elected as Mayor in November 1911, and as such was responsible for welcoming King George V and Queen Mary on the occasion of their visit to Merthyr and Dowlais on 27 June 1912.

John Mathias Berry reading the proclamation of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary on the steps of the Town Hall

Despite his business and public activities, John Mathias remained a staunch non-conformist, and became a member of Market Square Chapel soon after his arrival in Merthyr, and within time he was elected as a deacon of the chapel. It was in this capacity that he was instrumental in the founding of the Caedraw Mission Sunday School and also the Ragged School. When Market Square Chapel celebrated its centenary in 1938, William Ewert and James Gomer, the two surviving sons of James Mathias, paid for a magnificent pipe organ to be installed in the chapel in memory of their father.

The pipe organ installed in memory of John Mathias Berry in the old Market Square Chapel

Indeed, John Mathias Berry was known as much for his charitable work in the town as his business and public life. As early as 1875, during the great ‘Lock Out’, John Mathias was at the forefront of the movement to open soup kitchens for the relief of the poor, and throughout his life he gave unstintingly of his time and money to help the under-privileged of the town.

John Mathias Berry died on 9 January 1917 after a short illness.

Despite everything he did in his life, John Mathias Berry’s lasting legacy will be as a father to three sons who became hugely successful millionaires and peers of the realm:-

Henry Seymour Berry (1877-1928), 1st Baron Buckland

William Ewert Berry (1879-1954), 1st Viscount Camrose

James Gomer Berry (1883-1968), 1st Viscount Kemsley

There will be more about the remarkable Berry brothers in the future. In the meantime if you wish to read more about them, take a look at the link below.