The Troedyrhiw Gleemen – part 1

by Carl Llewellyn

While the First World War was reaching its latter stages, a group of young men with a passion for singing approached a local musician, Mr Herbert Llewellyn of Troedyrhiw, to coach them in the rudiments of voice training. Each young male chorister paid Mr Herbert Llewellyn fourpence each per rehearsal for the privilege. Of course not all the Troedyrhiw Male Choir were Troedyrhiw born and bred – there were also a few from the Town and Heolgerrig.

Once the choir had been formed, circumstances had arisen that called for help in raising funds for charitable purposes, including the Prisoners of War Fund, and this was whole-heartily given. The male voice party began with only a few young choristers whose voices and musical talent were of the highest calibre.

Most of the choristers were unmarried and close friends. They were employed in the local collieries, and due to this and their youth they were too young to be conscripted into the armed forces.  The common bond between them was that they were young, musically talented, they had a deep desire to enhance their God given gift for singing.

In 1919 some of the choristers went on holiday to Swansea and trooped into the old Woolworths Store for tea. In a relaxed and happy mood they burst into unofficial song and, far from being thrown out they were invited back the following day to give another musical rendering for more free tea.

In 1920 the male voice choir, or gleemen, arranged a two week’s holiday combined with a choir tour to Portsmouth. The Gleemen consisted of 25 choristers of which only 19 were available to be part of the tour.

The photograph below of the Gleemen in Portsmouth was taken 97 years ago today.

The Troedyrhiw Gleemen on their trip to Portsmouth, 10 August 1920

BACK: left to right: David James, Yew Street: Emrys Jones, Merthyr: Emrys Jones barber: Ossie Bufton

SECOND ROW: left to right: Trefor Davies: William Richards: Sam Edwards, Church Street; Rees Richards: W Griffiths, Heolgerrig; Tommy Jones, Aberfan: Enoch John: Aeron Davies: Sydney Griffiths.

SEATED left to right: Billy Williams, Dyffryn, W. George; W Jones (Bett); Brinley Griffiths, accompanist, later conductor of the Merthyr Philharmonic Choir, Herbert Llewellyn, conductor; Mr Davies, Chief Constable of Portsmouth: Gwilym Edwards: David Williams: Ben Lewis, now in Scranton U.S.A.

The ensign they are displaying was given to the party by the officers of the battleship H.M.S. Barham, after they had given another concert on board the ship at Portsmouth. The flag was flown by H.M.S. Barham at the battle of Jutland. Mr Enoch John believes that the flag was given to Cyfarthfa Museum.

A report of the tour to Porstmouth will be featured in the next post.


Merthyr’s Boxers: Howard Winstone

The series on Merthyr’s great boxers continues with arguably Merthyr’s greatest champion – Howard Winstone.

Howard Winstone was born on 15 April 1939 in Penydarren, the second of four children. He attended Penydarren and Gellifaelog Junior Schools and, encouraged by his father, showed early enthusiasm and aptitude for following Merthyr’s rich boxing tradition. He started boxing aged eleven, and in 1954 joined the gym opened by the former welterweight champion Eddie Thomas, a short walk from the Winstone family home. He won three Welsh schools titles, and one British title.

After leaving school he worked at a Lines Brothers Toy Factory where on 19 May 1956 his right hand was crushed by a power press, leaving him without the tips of three fingers. As a result of the accident he lost much of the punching power in his right hand and so had to change his style developing one of the fastest left hand jabs in the sport. Far from hampering Winstone’s career, in 1958 he won the Amateur Boxing Association’s featherweight championship, a gold medal (Wales’ only gold) at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, and the Welsh Sports Personality of the Year Award – an honour he would receive on two further occasions, in 1963 and 1967.

Winstone won 83 of his 86 amateur bouts and hoped to box at the 1960 Olympics, but instead turned professional under Eddie Thomas’s management. He made his professional debut in February 1959 at Wembley Stadium, London, when he beat Billy Graydon on points over six rounds. He then proceeded to win his first 24 professional fights, at which point he was considered ready for a shot at the British featherweight title, and in May 1961 he fought Terry Spinks the holder of the title, and the 1956 Olympic gold medallist at the Empire Pool, Wembley. He out-boxed Spinks, forcing him to retire after ten rounds, and so claimed the British title.

He continued to win all his contests, and in April 1962 he defended his title against Derry Treanor, at the Empire Pool, winning by a technical knockout in the fourteenth round. The next month he defended his title against Harry Carroll in Cardiff forcing him to retire after six rounds.

His first defeat came in November 1962 – his 35th fight after 34 straight wins. He was beaten by Leroy Jeffery, an American featherweight, by a technical knockout in the second round after having been knocked down three times. In January 1963, he defended his British title for the third time, defeating Johnny Morrisey by a technical knockout in the eleventh round, and won the European title the same year, defending the title in May 1964, January 1965,  and March, September and December 1966.

Winstone now set his sights on becoming the World Champion. In September 1965 he challenged for the WBA and WBC world featherweight titles held by the Mexican left-hander, Vicente Saldivar. The fight was held at Earls Court Arena, London and Saldivar won on points over fifteen rounds.

He challenged Saldivar again in June and October 1967, but was defeated on both occasions. Following the defence of his title in October 1967, Saldivar announced his retirement leaving his world title vacant. In January 1968, Winstone fought the Japanese, Mitsunori Seki for the vacant WBC world featherweight title at the Royal Albert Hall. Winstone won the contest and finally gained the world title.

In July 1968 he defended his newly won world title against the Cuban, Jose Legra, at Porthcawl, Wales. Although Winstone had beaten Legra twice before, he was knocked down twice in the first round. He continued fighting, but unfortunately he sustained a badly swollen left eye, which caused the bout to be stopped in the fifth round. Having lost the world title in his first defence, Winstone decided to retire at the age of 29.

He continued living in Merthyr Tydfil after retirement. In 1968 he was awarded the MBE. Later, he was made a Freeman of Merthyr Tydfil due to his boxing accomplishments. He died on 30 September 2000, aged 61.

In 2001, one year after his death, a bronze statue of Winstone by Welsh sculptor David Petersen was unveiled in St. Tydfil’s Square, and in 2005, he beat many other local luminaries to be named “Greatest Citizen of Merthyr Tydfil”, in a public vote competition run by Cyfarthfa Castle and Museum as part of the centenary celebrations to mark Merthyr’s incorporation as a county borough in 1905.

Merthyr’s Chapels: Graig Chapel, Abercanaid

We continue our series on Merthyr’s chapels with an article about Graig Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Abercanaid.

In 1846, a number of people from Abercanaid who attended Pontmorlais Calvinistic Methodist Chapel began holding meetings in the village. Rev Evan Harris, the minister at Pontmorlais Chapel at that time, supported the small group and was instrumental in arranging for a chapel to be built in Abercanaid.

In February 1847, Rev Harris and Mr Evan Jones, a tea dealer, led a deputation to the annual Methodist Association meeting held in Bridgend, and permission was obtained to build a chapel, chapel house and cemetery on Coedcaellwyd field in Abercanaid, next to the Glamorganshire Canal. The chapel was completed and opened for worship on 15 March 1848.

The original Graig Chapel

Over the years the chapel was renovated three times, including in 1897 at a cost of £365. However in 1899 it was discovered that cracks were appearing in the walls of the chapel due to the structure of the building being affected by the underground workings of Abercanaid Colliery.

It was decided to build a new chapel in the centre of the village of Abercanaid. The old chapel closed in 1903, and the new chapel, designed by Mr Charles Morgan Davies, was completed in 1905 at a cost of £2000. The cost of building the new chapel was helped by a compensation payment of £509, and the stone provided free by the colliery. In the period between the closure of the old chapel and the opening of the new chapel, services were held in Abercanaid School.

New Graig Chapel

In 1948, Graig Chapel celebrated its centenary with a series of events, but the celebrations were tinged with sadness as the old Graig Chapel was demolished in the same year.

With ever decreasing membership, Graig Chapel was forced to close and the building was demolished in 1996. A house has since been built on the site. The cemetery of the old chapel still exists but is badly overgrown, and is almost totally inaccessible.

There were two magnificent memorials, pictured below, to prominent members of the chapel situated behind the pulpit in the original chapel, and these were subsequently moved to the new chapel. They were the work of the renowned sculptor Joseph Edwards (see previous article – The memorials were removed before the new chapel was demolished and moved to Cyfarthfa Castle Museum.

Heritage Calendar

Many thanks to Carolyn Jacob for the following:

The 2017 Old Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Calendar is now available. The calendar is dedicated to the memory of Alan George, the founder of the website, and features a selection of Alan’s favourite photographs, chosen by him shortly before his untimely death last year.calendar

The calendar, which will cost £2.99 is currently available from Ynysfach Engine House, and will be available from Holdaway’s Newsagent, St Tydfil’s Church and Cyfarthfa Castle Museum from next week, or will be available via the Old Merthyr website within the next few weeks.