Merthyr Memories: Cyfarthfa Park Swings

by Laura Bray (née Bevan)

Do you remember the Cyfarthfa Park swings?  Not those that are there now, which are but a pale shadow of their former incarnation, but those of the 1970s?

There were two sets of swings in the Park. The Bottom Swings, down by the Lake –  more or less where the miniature railway now runs – contained a wooden, boxed-in roundabout; the most amazing helter-skelter slide which was about half the size, at least to my childhood eyes, of those found in a fairground; and the “baby swings”, for small children.  There was also the paddling pool, usually empty of water, but I recall some hot summers where it was filled and crowded by children in varying states of undress, splashing, both themselves and those on the bank, watching. My main use for the paddling pool, however, was to cycle round the edge, where there was a band of differently coloured paving slabs and where we could see how fast you could go without going over the edge and into the painted blue depths of the dry abyss!

But for me, the main attraction was the Top Swings. These were just off the road between the Chalet where you could buy ice-cream, and the Quar Gate. They contained a six-seater iron rocking horse, which you could push until it banged against its metal supports; a spider’s web roundabout where, depending on how dizzy you wanted to get, you could push from the inside or the outside, then jump on the bars with your legs outstretched and spin till you couldn’t stand up; and a slide, not too high, but which people did seem to routinely fall off. And we ran up the steps to slide down the slide, or raced up the slide itself, turning round at the top to come back down again. In the hot summer of ’76, the metal on that slide burned the backs of your legs, and yet we came back for more.

There were swings there too – a set of cradle swings for small children and a set of normal swings where we raced to see who could swing the highest. Sometimes we would jump off mid-swing to land with a thud on the floor, and there was a kudos in letting go when the swing was high. Then we would run to the parallel bars and the staggered bars, where we could hang upside-down from our knees and see if we could touch the concrete beneath. Not for our generation the soft surfaces enjoyed by children today.

However, the star of the Top Swings was the Swinging Log. These have all but disappeared now but essentially this was a plank, suspended from an A-frame, on which there was space for four children seated. Two more stood, one at either end, and they were responsible for swinging it back and forth. Some of the boys could swing it so hard that the plank reached heights parallel with the top of the frame, 15 or so feet from the ground, moving at speed. How there were no injuries, I never know, either from falling off or from the risk of being knocked out if you stood too close to the swinging end. There were several near misses, but that was part of the fun.

A log swing similar to the one in Cyfarthfa Park

We would take our bikes and bump across the grass between the two sets of swings and then head home – hot and tired, with our hands smelling of rust and our trousers stained by grass. Those were the days indeed.

If anyone has any photographs of either of the playgrounds in Cyfarthfa Park, please let us know.


Elisabeth Parry – in memoriam

by Carl Llewellyn

On Thursday 27 July 2017, Elisabeth Parry passed away peacefully at her home in Wanborough, Surrey. She was 96 years old.

Elisabeth Parry

Mhari Elisabeth Forbes Parry was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on 9 September 1921, the great-granddaughter of Dr Joseph Parry. Educated privately at Eversley School, she passed the Oxford Board School Certificate with six credits in 1937, as well as the Associated Board Advanced Grade Piano and Intermediate Grade Singing. Elisabeth was offered a place at Oxford to study French and German in 1939, but refused this on the outbreak of war to join the Red Cross as an Ambulance driver.

She continued to study singing privately in London with Mark Raphael and the World famous tenor Dino Borgioli. She became a soloist with the Red Cross Staff Band and the Royal Army Medical Corps between 1940-1945, and toured extensively with them in Britain and the Middle East. Broadcasting frequently at home and abroad, she became a ‘Forces Sweetheart’ in 1944. She also gave many recitals for the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, later the Arts Council, and sang in many concerts and oratorios.

Following the end of the war, she set up and ran the Wigmore Hall Lunch Hour Concerts in London from 1947-1949, and in 1947 joined the English Opera Group, making her operatic debut at Glyndebourne as Lucia in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Rape of Lucretia’. Awarded an Italian Government Scholarship to study at the Accadamia Chigiana in Siena with Giorgio Favaretto in 1951, she continued to study there and in Rome. She gave two recitals in Genoa and broadcast from France, Switzerland, and Belgium.

She went on to start the Opera Players, together with Phyllis Thorold, in 1950, and sang in hundreds of performances with them, and was Managing Director of the Company (now the London Opera Players) until 2001.

Elisabeth Parry, being one of the principal trustees of Parry Trust Fund, presented the residue of the Parry Trust capital into the capable hands of the Welsh National Opera Company. In February 2009 the WNO’s new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was funded partially by money from the Parry Trust, and enabled a rising baritone, David Soar, to make his debut as a principal in the role of Figaro. An annual bursary in the name of the Parry family was finally set up in 2010 to help gifted young singers.

As well as her musical activities Elisabeth took up climbing and colour photography in 1960, and gave illustrated travel talks all over the British Isles. Elisabeth was a Member of the Alpine Club, Association of British Members of the Swiss Alpine Club and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She has translated a Rossini Opera, which has been broadcast and televised, and contributed articles to ‘She’, ‘Sphere’ and ‘Tatler’ magazines, as well as a number of mountaineering publications.

In 2011 she published her memoirs in a book entitled ‘Thirty Men and a Girl’.

Elisabeth’s association with Merthyr Tydfil began after Cyfarthfa High School won the Prince of Wales Trust Award in 1977.  Preparations were made between the Merthyr Tydfil Council and the Prince of Wales Trust to mark the occasion by officially opening No 4 Chapel Row, Georgetown as the Dr Joseph Parry Cottage museum. The event took place on Friday 22 September 1978 when the Cottage was opened in the presence of the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Mrs Mary John, and special guest Elisabeth Parry. Dr Joseph Parry’s grand-daughter Barbara Parry was originally invited to open the cottage but was unable to attend, so Elisabeth was invited in her place. The Dowlais Male choir was in attendance and sang Joseph Parry’s most famous composition, “Myfanwy”.

On 28 July 2002, to mark the centenary of the death of Dr Joseph Parry, an open air concert was arranged at Cyfarthfa Park. The guest soloists were Timothy Richards (Tenor), Rebecca Evans (Soprano), and Jason Howard (Baritone); accompanied by two male voice choirs, Dowlais and Pendyrus, and the National Chamber Orchestra of Wales, under the baton of Alwyn Humphreys MBE, conductor of Morriston Orpheus Choir. Again Elisabeth Parry, accompanied by her niece Rosemary Skipper, was invited to be a special guest at her great grandfather’s commemorative concert, and was later invited to the Mayor’s parlour by the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Alan Davies.

Dr Joseph Parry

Elisabeth Parry is last family link with Dr Joseph Parry, and it’s good to know she was proud of her family’s association with Merthyr’s musical heritage. Elisabeth kept up her ties with Merthyr to the end of her life, through the friendship that was forged between her and Mansell & Dwynwen Richards, and Carl Llewellyn.

If you would like to read more, Merthyr Historian Volume 16 is dedicated to articles about Joseph Parry and his family.

Elisabeth Parry     1921-2017