A Letter from Germany

The following article appeared in The Merthyr Pioneer 103 years ago today, on 26 September 1914 – just after the outbreak of the First World War….

As reported in our issue of August 29, Miss Margaret Gilleland, daughter of Mr and Mrs Gilleland of Brecon Road, is one of the British subjects who were unable to leave Germany before the outbreak of the war. As was explained in that issue of the Pioneer, Miss Gilleland took up the post of governess with a German family residing at Posen in April last, from which place, however, the family have since gone to Borkun, probably in view of the advance of the Russian Army towards Posen.

Mr and Mrs Gilleland have naturally been somewhat concerned about the safety of their daughter, from whom they had received no communication since August 1 until the following letter arrived from a lady residing at The Hague, Holland, in which was enclosed the few lines written to her parents by Miss Gilleland in German (all letters posted in Germany at present must be in the German language), and translated by the lady who kindly forwarded the note to the family in Merthyr. By the courtesy of the family we are able to publish the letters as received, and Miss Gilleland’s friends in the district will be delighted to know that she is in good health and ‘very happy.’ The letter is as follows:

“The Hague
15th Sept 1914

Dear Sir and Madam, – You will probably be surprised to receive a letter from a total stranger. Fraulein Tietz, from Zulchan (Germany), asked me if I could write to you for your daughter, as you would be longing to know how she is getting on. On the overleaf you will find a translation of her German letter to you, for, of course, she cannot but write in German. So if you would kindly write your daughter in English, and then sent the letter to me, I will translate it, and forward it to her.

I have tried to translate it as well as I could, but please to forgive me if the language is not quite correct. Hoping you will soon send me a reply for your daughter. – I am, with kind regards, Yours sincerely,

                   L Huijgen de Raat”

Miss Gilleland’s note to her parents (as translated) is as follows:

“My Dear Parents, – I will write to you just a short letter to tell you that I am quite well and very happy. I also want to state that when in newspapers it is put that we foreigners are badly treated, this is absolutely untrue.

Please let me know how you are, and where George is. Much love, from yours lovingly,                                

Margaret Gilleland”

Below is a photograph of Margaret Gilleland that appeared in the Merthyr Guardian on 5 September 1914.

Merthyr Pioneer – 5 September 1914

Merthyr’s Trams

78 years ago today saw the last tram journey run in Merthyr. To mark the occasion, local historian Keith Lewis-Jones has provided the following fascinating article.

Trams at Pontmorlais Circus

The first thoughts of a tram system in the Merthyr area were in 1878, when a scheme was proposed by Messrs. Taylor, Forester and Sutherland, to construct a horse or steam tramway between Merthyr and Dowlais. In 1879, a public meeting was held at the Bush Hotel in Dowlais for the three promoters to explain their plans and to canvass support for the proposed system. The tramway failed to materialise for a variety of reasons, both financial and fear that the toll on the horses hauling trams up gradients, as steep as one in eleven, would make the tramway unprofitable to work.

By 1890, the population of Merthyr was 60,000, and the service of horse cars and brakes was wholly inadequate for the transport needs of such a large population. By this time a large section of the working population was employed at the Dowlais Works, with many living along the Brecon Road corridor and in Cefn Coed

It was therefore proposed to lease out, to a private company, the right to construct Light Railways between Cefn Coed and Dowlais, with a branch running to the centre of Merthyr at Graham Street. As is always the case with such progressive ideas, a great deal of vigorous and influential opposition was forthcoming from vested interests. It was decided to set up a commission to hear evidence and propose a way forward.

In May 1898 the Merthyr Tydfil Electric Traction and Lighting Co. Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of British Electric Traction (BET), made an application for a Light Railway Order under the Light Railways Act of 1896, and the order was granted on 16 May 1899.

The Light Railway Order authorised the construction of three railways.

Railway no. 1 was to be 3 miles 1 furlong 2.8 chains long and was to run from opposite the Morning Sun public house in Cefn High Street via Cefn Bridge, Brecon Road, Pontmorlais Road West, Penydarren Road, High Street Penydarren, New Road & High Street Dowlais to a terminus opposite the Bush Inn.

The section from the Morning Sun to the Merthyr side of Cefn Bridge was not to be constructed until Cefn Bridge had been re-constructed or replaced.

Railway no. 2, 3 furlongs 3.5 chains in length, was to run from the north side of the Owain Glyndwr on Pontmorlais Road West to Graham Street via High Street, terminating at the west end of Graham Street.

Railway no. 3 was 1.7 chains in length and formed the third side of the triangle at Pontmorlais, joining railway no. 1 with railway no. 2 on the east side of the Owain Glyndwr.

Trams at the terminus in Graham Street

The Tram Depot, known as the Traction Yard, was constructed on the site of Penydarren Ironworks and was reached by way of a branch line which left the Dowlais route at the Trevethick (sic.) Street Junction. As well as providing facilities for tram maintenance, the site also housed the generating station for 550 volts direct current. As can be seen in the Company’s name, not only was it set up to operate trams but also to provide lighting within the area.

Traction Yard

For the opening of the system, thirteen single deck and three double deck trams were obtained. The single-deckers, nos. 1-13, were built by the Midland Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. Ltd., of Shrewsbury. They seated twenty-six passengers.

The open top, double deck trams came from the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works Ltd. (ERTCW), of Preston – part of Dick, Kerr & Co. Ltd. They were numbered 14-16 and seated forty-eight passengers.

The first passengers were carried 6 April, 1901 with Dowlais route trams displaying a triangle and Cefn route vehicles a square on the front. The trams ran between 5.15 a.m. and 10.15 p.m. Passengers fares were one penny per mile or part thereof. Some examples being – Merthyr to Dowlais 2d and Cyfarthfa to Merthyr 1d. The fare for a journey from the Morning Sun in Cefn to the Bush Hotel in Dowlais would be 4d.

A tram outside the Bush Hotel in Dowlais

1903 saw the only serious accident to affect the tramway. On 22 January car number 10 left the rails while descending New Road, Dowlais causing no serious injuries, but the tram was badly damaged.

Passenger numbers had declined to 2,086,684 by 1936. The 1930’s had seen a decline in the number of passengers carried, partially due to the high rate of unemployment in the Borough – 41.7% in 1936.

The Corporation had been prevented from competing with the trams under the provisions of the Merthyr Tydfil Corporation Act of 1920 and so the tramway was eventually purchased by the Corporation for £13,500 in 1939, and abandoned on 23 August, leaving the Company to continue electricity generation until 1948.

Merthyr’s Last Tram

During its life, the tramway carried an estimated 85 million passengers and the tramcars covered a distance of around 8 million miles. Apart from the system in Cardiff, Merthyr’s tramway was the longest lasting in South Wales.

A fuller account of Merthyr’s Tram system by Keith Lewis-Jones can be found in Merthyr Historian volume 20.

All photos courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

A Fowl Crime at Merthyr

The curious article transcribed below appeared in The Merthyr Telegraph dated 21 September 1867. Although amusing, it is also fascinating in that such a trivial piece on the surface tells us so much about various aspects of life in Merthyr at that time.


Sarah Davies, a prostitute, was charged with stealing a duck, the property of Ann Harris, of Brecon Road, brothel keeper. Ann Harris deposed that she bought a duck Saturday night. On Sunday morning the prisoner took the duck away, and witness asked her to pay for it. She said she would give a shilling some time or other, Witness said she should not have it for less than eighteen-pence. The prisoner would not return it, so witness slipped out of the house and fetched the police. The duck was not cooked when she took it.

P.C. Lynne deposed that when he arrested the prisoner, she said she had bought the duck from a woman who stood in the market, but she did not know who it was. His Worship adjourned the case until next Monday in order that both women might produce as witnesses the parties from whom they purchased the duck.