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

Merthyr’s Chapels: Shiloh Chapel

The next chapel we are going to look at is Shiloh Welsh Wesleyan Chapel – one of Merthyr’s grandest chapels, but now probably better known as the Miners’ Hall.

In 1807 Rev Edward Jones came to the English Wesleyan Chapel in Pontmorlais to work alongside Rev J T Evans and to serve the needs of the Welsh speaking congregation there. That same year a group of worshippers left the English chapel to start a Welsh cause, and by 1811 they had built a small chapel in John Street.

By the 1850’s the Great Western Railway Company asked to purchase the land on which the chapel was built for their new railway station, and an agreement was made to provide a new chapel for the Welsh Wesleyans in Church Street. This new building was reputed to have been designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, though no documentation has been found to substantiate this, and it was opened in 1853.

Shiloh Chapel

In 1859 a religious revival took place in Wales, and in Merthyr the revival began at Shiloh Chapel under the guidance of Rev Watkinson, the minister there at the time, “where with great demonstrations and emotional excitement the converts were overcome by strong preaching and hymn singing”.

One of the most prominent ministers to officiate at Shiloh was Rev Thomas Aubrey (1808-1867). Born in Cefn Coed, Thomas Aubrey became a Wesleyan Methodist minister in 1826, and between then and 1865 travelled Wales as a minister at various chapels including Shiloh between 1846-1849. Rev Aubrey went on to be one of the most important preachers in Welsh Wesleyan history.

Rev Thomas Aubrey

Unfortunately, the new chapel proved too large and too expensive to run, so it was reluctantly decided to close it in 1912 and the Welsh and English Wesleyans amalgamated at Wesley Chapel. Shortly after this, plans were formulated to build a grand Central Wesleyan Mission Hall on the site of the old Drill Hall, but the plan never came to fruition due to the advent of the First World War.

The building was sold to the Miners’ Welfare Committee, and it was opened as the Miners’ Hall in 1921. It later became a nightclub and was destroyed by fire in 1992. The shell of the building now lies derelict.

The remains of Shiloh Chapel

Merthyr’s Chapels: Hen Dy Cwrdd, Cefn Coed

We continue our series on Merthyr’s chapels with a look at one of the oldest causes in the Borough.

Hen Dy Cwrdd is the oldest chapel in the borough of Merthyr Tydfil. The chapel was originally built in 1747 when the Unitarians split from the congregation at Cwm-y-Glo and built their own small chapel at Cefn Coed.

This original building was built in a clearing in the wood between the Taf Fechan and the Taf Fawr rivers. It was a small barn-like structure, similar to the chapel at Cwm-y-Glo, with very small windows and a thatched roof. Indeed, the thatched roof wasn’t replaced by tiles until 1792.

An artists impression of the original Hen Dy Cwrdd Chapel

In 1765, Anthony Bacon built the first furnace at Cyfarthfa Iron Works and the wood was stripped of trees, and a small village began to grow in the clearing which became Cefn Coed y Cymer. Just over a century later, amid the rapid population explosion, a new chapel was built to cater for the ever growing congregation. The architect was John Lewis of Vaynor. £434 was collected via subscriptions by the members of the chapel and the new building opened in December 1853.

This chapel was very badly damaged in a storm and major repairs were necessary. The opportunity was taken to carry out various alterations and the chapel was virtually rebuilt in 1894/5 at a cost of £750, and so the present building took shape.

Hen Dy Cwrdd is considered to be an outstanding building and in 1985 it was listed by CADW Grade II, as being of Special Architectural and Historic Interest, and they made a considerable contribution to extensive refurbishment work, and in 1995-7 the chapel was re-erected using the masonry and fittings of the 1895 structure and is an almost exact replica of that building.

The reopening in 1997 coincided with the celebration of the chapel’s 250th Anniversary.

Hen Dy Cwrdd Chapel

The Opening of St John’s Church, Cefn

143 years ago today the article transcribed below appeared in the Western Mail:

Opening of Cefn Church

Yesterday the pretty township of Cefncoedycymmer, near Merthyr Tydfil, was all astir, the occasion being the preliminary opening of the church of St. John’s.

Before the days of the iron and coal trade, but a solitary cottage or two marked the now well populated outskirt of Cefn, and in those bygone days the important section of the parish of Vaynor was concentrated at Pontsarn and  Pontsticill. There, in a pleasant little dingle, just above the banks of the Taff vawr, nestled the old parish church. About ten years ago the original building presented a decayed and irreparable appearance, and leading Churchmen of the parish at once decided to introduce another place of worship adjacent to the old site, where Welsh people had worshipped for so many centuries. A sum of money towards the necessary building fund was soon forthcoming; but at the outset Mr. Robert Crawshay, of Cyfarthfa Castle, with characteristic perception, pointed to the more urgent necessities of the people of Cefn with regard to church accommodation, and practically evinced his anxiety to see a want supplied in this direction by the handsome offer, that if the nominal sum already subscribed were transferred for the construction of an edifice at Cefn he would, at his own expense build the Vaynor Church. This was agreed to, and Mr. Crawshay’s idea was speedily verified in the erection and opening of a place of worship at Vaynor.

Meanwhile the committee at Cefn, who themselves had worked hard, and subscribed to the best of their ability, were not so successful, in a financial sense, as was anticipated. Nevertheless, available funds were invested with a view to a commencement of the work at a convenient site near the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, the ground having been gratuitously granted by Mrs. Gwynne Holford.

The designs of the church having been prepared by Mr. G. E. Robinson, architect, Cardiff, the contract was taken by Mr. David Jenkins, builder, Merthyr, for a sum less than £2,000, and he has discharged his obligations most satisfactorily, under, perhaps, trying circumstances. Time does not allow of our entering here either into the circumstances which caused such delay in the completion of this work, or a description of the building itself. We may however say that within a short time since when the work of completion was undertaken under circumstances which will presently appear – the sacred house, partially pledged, remained for a protracted period with the doors and windows barricaded with boarding.

At last Mr. Crawshay, who had long since redeemed his promise by erecting a parish church, was appealed to for further help, and he at once gave directions that the church should be forthwith completed at his expense. This has been done, and a cheque for £200 from the Iron King, with a sum already in hand, satisfies the contractor. Of late a few ladies have rendered assistance to the committee by efforts in the shape of concerts, and solicitations of one shilling subscriptions, in order to provide certain details in connection with the building, which, it is computed, will cost altogether £2,000.

The edifice is substantially built, will accommodate 250 people, and prove a great boon to persons who have hitherto been compelled to either worship under the ministrations of the Rev. J. S. Williams, curate, in a temporary apartment, or journey to Merthyr in one direction, or Vaynor in another. The names of the gentlemen who have assiduously applied themselves in securing the church for Cefn are Messrs. W. T. Crawshay, C. E. Matthews, William Jones, and T. J. Pearce, who have been compelled to carry out the work solely from public subscriptions, not having received the slightest aid from any society.

The interior of the church can be pronounced complete, but the exterior surroundings suggest an unfinished appearance. A preliminary service was conducted in the church on Monday evening, when the Rev. John Jenkins, of Llanfrynach, preached in English, and the Rev. John Cunnick, deputation from the Church Pastoral Aid Society, in Welsh. The services yesterday were choral, and there was not the slightest ostentation displayed; a more appropriate and impressive ceremony being deferred till the grand opening ceremony on occasion of the thorough completion of the building.

The service, which commenced at 11 o’clock before a crowded congregation, was intoned by the Rev. Mr. Jones, rector of Dowlais. The Rev. J. Griffiths, rector of Neath, preached an eloquent discourse. Services were also held in the evening. We were unable at the time of the despatch of our parcel to ascertain the amount realised from offerings. The clergy and visitors were entertained by Mr. Wm. Crawshay, Mr. Matthews, and Mr. William Jones. Mrs. William Crawshay has contributed a beautiful altar cloth, and Mr. C. E. Matthews a Communion service.

Western Mail – 22 April 1874

The Birth of Non-Conformity in Merthyr

by Steve Brewer

Religious dissent in the Merthyr area has existed since the middle of the 16th Century. In the 1540’s, a man called Tomos Llewellyn of Rhigos translated William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament into Welsh. Llewellyn travelled widely across North Glamorgan and left the seeds of his dissenting beliefs in what was then the village of Merthyr Tydfil. A number of the villagers adopted these beliefs and clung stubbornly to them when the persecution of the Dissenters got underway under the Stuart kings. No matter how stubborn they were in their beliefs, they still had to be converted. If they were found practicing their beliefs, they were given sentences of imprisonment or death.

It is unclear when exactly Non-Conformity started in earnest in Merthyr but we can be sure that it had firmly taken root by the beginning of the 1600’s. The most conclusive evidence regarding the birth of Non-Conformity in Merthyr can be found in the papers of Rev Nathaniel Jones, the rector of the Parish of Merthyr Tydfil between 1640 and 1662. Amongst his papers was found a manuscript, written at some time in the early 1650’s giving a history of the troubles in the town at the time of the Long Parliament – the English Parliament summoned in November 1640 by King Charles I to raise the money he needed to wage the second Bishops’ War against the Scots which eventually led to the English Civil War.

In the manuscript Rev Jones states: “We have, in Merthyr Tydfil parish, a fellowship of men and women, who have for some time been in the habit of holding conventicles, in which some have formulated an ecclesiastical constitution according to their own wishes, contrary to the prevalent laws and regulations of the State Church”. The document emphasizes that this had been going on for about 30 years, so it is safe to argue that the Non-Conformists started holding regular meetings in about 1620. It was then that Non-Conformists from both Merthyr and Aberdare started meeting at Blaencanaid Farm.

blaencanaid-farm
Blaencanaid Farm

Under the aegis of Oliver Cromwell, Parliament relaxed the laws against the Non-Conformists and they began to meet openly. Following the restoration of Charles II to the throne however, new stringent laws were passed against Non-Conformity, foremost amongst these was the Conventicle Act of 1664. The Non-Conformist worshippers, who now numbered between 300 – 400, had to return to meeting in secret at Blaencanaid. They were in constant danger of antagonism and arrest, so a number of men were elected as ‘watchers’ to keep watch whilst the meetings were taking place and warn the worshippers of any imminent danger. Despite all of their difficulties the congregation flourished, so a new meeting place was found at a barn belonging to Cwm-y-Glo Farm. As well as being larger, the new meeting place was more secluded and thus safer than Blaencanaid.

In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed which granted freedom of worship to all Dissenters. As a result the worshippers at Cwm-y-Glo decided to build a proper chapel for themselves. The landowner, Captain David Jenkins, granted them permission to build a chapel at Cwm-y-Glo which was completed in 1690. The congregation at Cwm-y-Glo at this time comprised of many different groups – Quakers, Presbyterians, Arminians and Anabaptists.

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The Ruins of Cwm-y-Glo Chapel

For many years, all went peacefully at Cwm-y-Glo until disputes arose over points of religious dogma, and a bitter argument followed. This is not surprising since the congregation of Dissenters comprised many different denominations. The main split came in 1741 when the Unitarians left to establish their own church at Hen Dy Cwrdd, Cefn Coed. In 1752, Cwm-y-Glo itself was closed when the remaining congregation moved to their new chapel in Merthyr town – Ynysgau.

ynysgau
Ynysgau Chapel

Non-conformity was firmly established by the end of the 18th Century. The Baptists established Zion Chapel in 1788 and Ebenezer Chapel in 1794, the Calvinistic Methodists established Pennsylvania (Pontmorlais) Chapel in 1793, and the Independents managed to establish Zoar Chapel in 1798 and Bethesda in 1807 as well as having acquired Ynysgau. Lastly, the Wesleyans established their chapel in 1796.

Between 1789 and 1850, at least forty places of worship were licensed in Merthyr, Dowlais and Penydarren alone.

Bridging the gap 2

Following on from the recent post about Cefn and Pontsarn Viaducts, here is a bridge-related article from ‘The Weekly Mail’ of 24 September 1910:

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Please remember – if anyone has any suggestions for this blog, or if anyone would like to contribute an article – please contact me at the e-mail address below

merthyr.history@gmail.com

Bridging the gap

One of the most striking structures in Merthyr if Cefn Viaduct. You can’t miss it, but how much do you know about it?

viaduct_2
Cefn Viaduct photo courtesy of Christopher Surridge

The viaduct was commissioned by the Brecon and Merthyr Railway company to span the Taf Fawr Valley in Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer. Before work began, a special Act of Parliament had to be sought in 1862 to allow construction. The viaduct was designed by Alexander Sutherland and Henry Conybeare, and was built by Thomas Savin and John Ward. In early 1866, the project faced disaster when Savin and Ward suffered serious financial and legal difficulties. It was eventually completed with the assistance of Alexander Sutherland, and was completed on 29 October 1866 at a cost of £25,000.

cefnviaduct_beingbuilt_adj
Cefn Viaduct under construction courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)

The viaduct is 770 ft long, and at its highest point stands 115 ft high; it has 15 arches, each one 39 ft 6 inches wide. It was planned to be constructed entirely of limestone , but a strike by stonemasons in February 1866 caused the company to buy 800,000 bricks and use bricklayers to complete the 15 arches. The most striking feature of the viaduct is its elegant curve. The viaduct was apparently designed this way to avoid encroaching on Robert Thompson Crawshay’s land.

Smaller, but no less impressive is Pontsarn Viaduct. This was also designed by Alexander Sutherland and built by Savin and Ward to bridge the Taf Fechan Valley. Opened in 1867, Pontsarn is 455 ft long and 92 ft high at its highest point and comprises seven arches. Unlike Cefn Viaduct, it is built entirely of limestone.

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

The Merthyr to Brecon Line stopped carrying passenger trains in 1961, but goods trains continued to use the viaducts, with the last train crossing them on 1 August 1966. Both viaducts are now Grade II* listed and form part of the Taff Trail.