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.
In our continuing section on Merthyr’s Chapels, we look at one of the many chapels that once stood in Dowlais but have disappeared in to the ether in the name of re-development – Bryn Sion Welsh Independent Chapel.
Following a disagreement at Bethania Welsh Independent Chapel in South Street, Rev Thomas G Jones and several members of the congregation left the chapel to start their own group, and began worshipping at the old Bethel Chapel at the bottom of Dowlais.
There were, already at Bethel, a group of Baptists who had left Caersalem Chapel, but the two groups worshipped separately (see previous article – http://www.merthyr-history.com/?p=575).
In 1833, Rev Joshua Thomas of Adulam Chapel in Merthyr had been given oversight of the growing congregation, and it became obvious that Bethel Chapel was no longer adequate for either group of worshippers there.
A new chapel called Bryn Sion was built and both congregations moved there in 1834. The Baptist congregation applied to join the Baptist Association, but were refused, so they decided to join the Independent congregation at the new chapel. Some staunch Baptists were unhappy with this and returned to Caersalem, but the majority stayed and the new church began to prosper.
Rev Joshua Thomas continued to have oversight at the chapel until 1836 when Mr Daniel Roberts, a member of Zoar Chapel in Merthyr, but a resident of Dowlais was asked to be Bryn Sion’s first minister.
As the congregation grew it was decided to build a new chapel. The chapel was designed by Rev Benjamin Owen, the minister of Zoar Chapel, Merthyr, and was completed in 1844 at a cost of £1,281.16s.11d. The chapel, as designed was built back from the street and incorporated four houses built in front of the chapel, which was approached by a paved area.
In 1876 a large schoolroom was built at a cost of £320, and a pipe organ was installed in 1894 at a cost of £280. Major renovations were carried out to the chapel during 1901-02. It was at this time the classical porch was built over the paved entrance way. The total cost of these renovations was £953.3s.7½d.
When Dowlais was redeveloped in the 1960’s, Bryn Sion Chapel was not amongst the many buildings listed to be demolished, and was not included in the Compulsory Purchase Orders. By 1968 however, all the streets around the chapel had been demolished and the congregation had to walk through mud and debris to reach the chapel, and also the chapel was being badly vandalised, so the congregation reluctantly decided that they couldn’t carry on worshipping at the chapel, and they sold it to Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council.
In years gone by, the most important event for the chapels of Merthyr (and indeed all of Wales) was the annual Cymanfa (literally translated as assembly or festival). As well as the Cymanfa Bregethu (preaching festival) there was also, more significantly and more famously the annual Cymanfa Ganu or Cymanfa Gerddorol (singing or music festival).
The first ever Cymanfa Ganu was held in Aberdare in 1873, and was inaugurated by Rev John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt) formally of Bethlehem Chapel, Caepantywyll, and the first Cymanfa Ganu was held in Merthyr Tydfil by the Calvinistic Methodists in 1874 at Pontmorlais Chapel.
The Welsh Baptists held their first Cymanfa Ganu in 1886 at Zion Chapel, Twynyrodyn and the Welsh Independents followed two years later holding their first Cymanfa Ganu in 1888 at Zoar Chapel.
Traditionally, the Welsh Baptists held their Cymanfa on Easter Monday, alternating between Zion Chapel, Twynyrodyn and Tabernacle Chapel; the Independents held their Cymanfa on Easter Tuesday at Zoar Chapel (and later at Gellideg Chapel) and the Methodists held their Cymanfa on the first Monday in May at Pontmorlais Chapel until it closed and then at Zoar Chapel until 1984 and afterwards at Hope Chapel.
As well as this, the Dowlais Baptists and Independents held their own separate Cymanfa’s, with the Independents holding theirs on Easter Monday and the Baptists on Easter Tuesday – both Cymanfa’s being held at Bethania Chapel. This continued until the 1960’s when both denominations amalgamated their Cymanfa’s to hold a joint Cymanfa on Easter Tuesday.
The Treharris and district Baptists and Independents also held their own Cymanfa’s – respectively on Easter Monday at Brynhyfyd Chapel and Easter Tuesday at Tabernacle Chapel.
Below are copies of: the programme for the 1911 Cymanfa Ganu held by the Methodist Chapels of Merthyr at Pontmorlais Chapel 106 years ago today; a programme for the Merthyr Independent Cymanfa of 1918; a programme for the Merthyr Baptist Cymanfa of 1937 and a programme for the Dowlais Joint Cymanfa of 1972.
Harry Evans was born on 1 May 1873 in Russell Street, Dowlais, the son of John Evans (Eos Myrddin), a local choirmaster and his wife Sarah. Harry had no formal musical training, but was taught the Tonic Sol-fa system by his sister; such was his prodigious musical talent however, that he was appointed organist of Gwernllwyn Chapel in Dowlais when he was only 9 years old. The elders of the chapel encouraged the young Harry and arranged for him to receive music lessons from Edward Laurence, Merthyr Tydfil.
In 1887 he was appointed organist of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais. He succeeded in passing all the local examinations of the Royal Academy and of the Royal College of Music, London, with honours. He was by that time anxious to devote himself entirely to music, but his father, who wished him to receive a more general education, obtained a post as pupil-teacher for him at the Abermorlais School; here he passed some South Kensington examinations in arithmetic, science, and art.
Although he passed the Queen’s Scholarship examination (for pupil-teachers), his health broke down and he was unable to proceed to a training college. In July 1893 he became A.R.C.O. (Associate of the Royal College of Organists), and from then on gave all his time to music.
In 1898 Harry Evans formed a ladies’ choir at Merthyr Tydfil and a male choir at Dowlais. The male choir won the prize at the National Eisteddfod held at Liverpool in 1900; and when the National Eisteddfod came to Merthyr the following year, he conducted the Merthyr Tydfil Choir in a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Following a further success at the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli in 1903, Evans retired from competition and accepted an invitation to become conductor of the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union.
In 1913 he became musical director at Bangor University College and, in the same year, local conductor and registrar of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. He also became, at this time, conductor of the North Staffordshire Choral Society. By this time many experts regarded him as the best choral conductor in the country, and he was invited to conduct Granville Bantock’s choral symphony, Vanity of Vanities, which the composer dedicated to him.
As well as his work as a conductor, Harry Evans was a one of the most well respected adjudicators at musical competitions, and he was much in demand in that capacity at musical festivals throughout the British Isles. Also a composer, his fullest compositions were Victory of St Garmon, produced at the Cardiff Festival in 1904, and also the cantata Dafydd ap Gwilym ; he also wrote several anthems and hymn-tunes, and arranged Welsh folk-songs and airs for choirs.
During 1914 Harry Evans’ health began to deteriorate, and his doctor advised complete rest, but it was soon discovered that he was suffering from a brain tumour. He underwent emergency surgery from which he never fully recovered, and on 23 July 1914 Harry Evans died and the tragically young age of 41. He was buried at the Toxteth Park Cemetery in Liverpool. After his death, a hymn-tune named In Memoriam was composed by Caradog Roberts in his memory and included in several Welsh hymnals.
Throughout his life Harry Evans’ main ambition was to establish a music college in Wales; had he lived he might have realized his ambition – the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama was established in 1949 as Cardiff College of Music at Cardiff Castle.
Over the years, Merthyr has been home to over 120 chapels, and they became one of the mainstays of life in the town. Every month I would like to post a history of a different chapel. Let’s start with one of the most famous of Merthyr’s chapels – Bethesda Welsh Independent Chapel.
In 1807, the minister at Zoar Chapel, Rev Daniel Lewis, embarked on a visit to London and other large towns to solicit gifts of money from sympathetic benefactors to help clear the debts at Zoar Chapel.
Even though this was the custom at the time, some members of the congregation took exception to the trip and to the expenses incurred by the minister, and instigated an investigation into the affair by senior ministers from surrounding areas. When the investigation exonerated Rev Lewis, his accusers, unhappy with the outcome, left to start their own church.
The congregation originally met in an upstairs room of a smithy near the spot where Salem Chapel now stands in Newcastle Street, and called it Philadelphia. After two years larger premises were necessary and the congregation moved to another blacksmith’s forge between Zoar Chapel and the Morlais Brook and called it Beth-haran.
It was while they were at Beth-haran that the congregation extended an invitation to Rev Methusalem Jones to come and preach at their small meeting. He eventually became their minister and the congregation decided to build their own chapel. They obtained a piece of land on a lease from Mr W Morgan, Grawen, for £5 per annum rent. They built the chapel at the start of 1811, and Rev Jones licensed it at Llandaff court on 23 July 1811.
Under the guidance of Methusalem Jones the congregation had grown from 90 to almost 300, thus a larger chapel was needed, and a new chapel was built in 1829 at a cost of £1,002. Whilst under Rev Methusalem Jones’ ministry, Bethesda became mother church to many other chapels including:- Bethania, Dowlais; Saron, Troedyrhiw; Ebenezer, Cefn Coed; Salem, Heolgerrig. Rev Methusalem Jones continued to minister to the congregation at Bethesda until his death on 15 January 1839 at the age of 71.
Following Rev Jones death, Rev Daniel Jones was invited to become Bethesda’s minister in 1840. At the time that Daniel Jones became minister, there was an influx of people coming to Merthyr from Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire seeking work in the various iron works; as Daniel Jones was known in those counties, a large number of the people coming to Merthyr started going to Bethesda Chapel thus greatly increasing the congregation.
Two years after becoming the minister however, Rev Jones had to have his right arm amputated, but because of the support and kindness he received from the congregation, he made a swift recovery and continued to preach at Bethesda until he left in 1855 to join the Anglican church.
It was at this time that the world famous composer Dr Joseph Parry was a member of Bethesda Chapel. He attended the chapel with his family until he emigrated to America in 1854. Indeed, Dr Parry’s mother, Elizabeth, had been working for Rev Methusalem Jones as a maid in her youth, and moved with him to Merthyr when he became the minister at Bethesda.
Following Daniel Jones departure, Bethesda was without a minister for three years, but the cause continued to flourish, and it was at this time that a number of members of Bethesda started a new cause at Gellideg Chapel.
By the late 1870’s it was decided to build a larger and more comfortable chapel, and on 24 June 1880 the foundation stone was laid by Mrs W T Crawshay, wife of William Crawshay the owner of Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The architect was Mr John Williams of Merthyr and the builder was Mr John Francis Davies of Dowlais. The chapel was completed in 1881 at a cost of £1,200.
Following its closure due to a diminishing congregation in 1976, Bethesda Chapel was used as an arts centre for several years. The building then began to fall into dereliction until it was finally decided to demolish the building in 1995.
The site of Bethesda Chapel has now been landscaped and a mosaic by Oliver Budd based on a painting by the renowned local artist and historian Mr Dewi Bowen has been erected as a memorial to the chapel.