Merthyr Memories: Cyfarthfa School part 2

by Mary Owen

Some time in the 1980s, a fresh faced, pleasant boy came to Cyfarthfa. He seemed to enjoy his French lessons and he loved illustrating his written work, when required, with neat, labelled drawings. When I saw his excellent work on the ‘Clothes’ chapter, I suggested he repeat it for the wall display for homework, if he felt like it. He arrived at the next lesson with a set of ten delightful sketches of the clothes, including a smart chapeau with a chic feather in it. He had drawn them, coloured them, cut them out and mounted each one separately on a large sheet of paper and labelled them with their French names.

The stylish result amazed me. I didn’t know then that I was looking at the early efforts of a future young fashion designer, who would work at the house of Chanel in Paris, city of my dreams! and who would later make his own name and label famous: Julien Macdonald had done a fine piece of homework. I was delighted, we pinned his work on the wall and I showed it off to each class and to some of the staff. I think it would have remained there until the end of my teaching career but for a sad and regrettable incident a couple of years later.

The painters and decorators were in and gradually each classroom was going to be spruced up. I was instructed that work was to start on my room after registration the following day and the room had to be cleared of all its stuff. After school I stayed behind and carefully unpinned the wall decorations, that had become part of the furniture. There was a problem – some were too big to store in my cupboard so I decided, as it was time I went home, to leave them on a front desk until the following morning; after registration I would get help to carry them to some corner in the staffroom.

The next day I entered the classroom, without looking towards the precious pile, settled the class down and began to call the register, before assembly. A smell of smoke wafted up from the boiler room, somewhere down below: Glyn, the caretaker, was burning yesterday’s rubbish. A lot of it was paper. I gave a sudden look of panic across to the desk, on which my stack of papers should have been; the penny dropped! I knew in that instant that they would not be there and worse still I knew that they were probably being incinerated at that very moment. The pupil, seated at that desk, noticed my silent anguish and soon she and the rest of the boys and girls were sharing in my sorrowful and not so silent laments. The cleaner had taken them for a pile of rubbish (how could they have been considered rubbish?) and we never saw them again.

The maps of France and of Paris, the Boulogne – trip photos, the French flags, the cheese and wine labels, our exclusive collection of sketches by Julien Macdonald (not yet famous, admittedly) and all the other bits and pieces had gone up in smoke. I fumed at my lack of foresight and and my regret never ended.

Twenty or so years later, when walking in Thomastown Park, I met Matthew Howells, an old pupil of the school and former school-friend of Julien’s. He introduced me to his wife and as he reminisced about Cyfarthfa, he told us that once, when making their GCSE subject choices, he and some friends had asked Julien why he had chosen Art. Apparently, his answer had been “Well, Mrs Owen made such a fuss of some drawings I did for her I thought I would do Art.” After A-level success – nothing to do with me – Julien went on to study Fashion Design in London and is now known for his glamorous creations. He is one of Merthyr Tydfil’s most famous exports.

Aerial view of Cyfarthfa Castle. Photo courtesy of

Merthyr Memories: Cyfarthfa School part 1

by Mary Owen

The classroom where I taught in Cyfarthfa High School (Castle site) was at the back, looking on to an area, darkly shaded by old trees. They had been planted circa 1824 when the mock-Gothic edifice, Cyfarthfa Castle, was built by William Crawshay, the ironmaster of the Cyfarthfa works. Less than a century later the family and iron-making disappeared from Merthyr Tydfil and their magnificent, unwanted home became a grammar school.

In the 1970s, when I was appointed to teach French at Cyfarthfa, by then a comprehensive school, one of those old trees became a particular favourite of mine and I admired it often as I glanced, or even took some time to gaze, at the shady woodland scene, just outside the window of Room 15: it was a cedar of Lebanon, the tree that indicates that the landowner, who paid for it was seriously wealthy. In quiet moments in that room I would muse on the Mediterranean land, from which the tree had sprung and of the time when the millionaire owner had bought it and many other specimens of exotic trees and plants. These had been transported, at great expense, to Merthyr Tydfil, his ugly, industrial town, for the beautification of his estate. Thanks to those past extravagances we had the most wonderful – looking school, a grey stone turreted castle, with lawns and a lake in front of it and well- established trees and gardens all around.

Cyfarthfa Castle in 2013

My north-facing room was dark and the ceiling strip – lights were often switched on to lighten and brighten it. In the well-used fashion of making the classroom a pleasant place in which the pupils can learn and where the teacher can impart knowledge, I made sure that the walls of the dingy room were colourfully decorated with scenes relating to France: pictures of famous buildings and work that the pupils had spent time creating in class or at home. As time passed the walls of the room were pinned with a collage of memorabilia, which gave great delight to me and, I hope, to the children, entrusted to me. Some of my own postcards were there – of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Mona Lisa; a map of France was in the place of honour in the centre of the back wall and it was mounted by two crossed ‘Tricolore’ flags. These had been drawn, painted and cut out by some enthusiastic pupils in break times. They had tried not to forget that Mrs Owen had said “ the colours of the French flag are blue, white and red (bleu, blanc, rouge), in that order from the flagpole, not red, white and blue. You must get it right.” There were wine bottle – labels, cheese – box labels, Orangina advertisements, photographs of the annual 24- hour, autumn trip to Boulogne, with many pupils and several teachers and where, if my allotted group of eight pupils could order their drinks in good French at the first café stop up in the old quarter of the town, I paid the bill; there was Richard Probert’s print of the Sacré-Coeur, bought especially for our classroom, on his and his brother Michael’s family trip to Paris. They would not forget it in a hurry because their Aunty Norma’s handbag, with her money and passport in it, was stolen in that beautiful white basilica, overlooking the city.

Another aunty had been snapped colourfully for posterity by her eager nephew, Owain Rowlands, as she was eating her way through a huge dish of ‘moules’. She was in the restaurant of the Hôtel de la Plage in the harbour town of Dieppe. This town featured in the Longman’s textbook, which was the basis of French language learning in Mid-Glamorgan schools. Aunty Jean was not to know then that she would be up there on the wall in our classroom, eating those mussels for many years to come. She was a French teacher and she had entered into the spirit of the family trip with gusto. The photos were rushed to school at the end of the holiday and there in front of us were the hotel, the town hall, the church, the swimming pool, the harbour in Dieppe and Jean eating those mussels – more visual aids for learning the ten French words of vocabulary that were expected to be known at the end of each chapter. La plage, le port, l’hôtel, l’hôtel de ville, i.e. the town-hall, surmounted with two crossed French flags etc… And so it went on until the end of the book and there were always creative hands, ready to change the scene a bit and to add an item about France and the French language to our décor. There was a notice, written carefully in good, correct French, announcing to all that Mrs Owen’s favourite character in Coronation Street was Mike Baldwin and her favourite television programme was Only Fools and Horses.

One chapter was about clothes. The required new points of grammar were introduced and the ten words for articles of clothing were there, to be learned through looking, listening, saying, repeating, writing, drawing and even singing. And of course there were volunteers for drawings of shirts, trousers, blouses, skirts, dresses, shoes, socks, macs and hats. Teaching French, especially in the first years to children of eleven and twelve, some at the start of even becoming clever linguists is a delight. One amongst several of these, was Sharon Rogers, who found it so easy to master the tricky French ‘r’ sound as soon as she heard it. It usually took a great deal of practice.

To be continued……….

A Tribute to Glynne Jones

Following on from his post on D T Davies, Carl Llewellyn has posted a tribute to another of Merthyr’s musical legends – Glynne Jones

Gofio un o Feibion Enwog Dowlais
by Carl Llewellyn

I would like to pay a small tribute to Glynne Jones a local character and a well-known musician through out the principality and beyond.

Glynne Jones was born on 7 November 1927 at No 3, Glendower Street, Dowlais, the home of his grandparents David & Margaret Jones, who originally kept a small shop on Pant Road near to the La Bodega restaurant, but known to locals as the Slipper. Glynne was the eldest son of David and Annie May Jones, and was brought up with his younger brother Degwel, and sister Margaret.

The Jones family were staunch members of Moriah Welsh Baptist Chapel, that once stood in Mount Pleasant Street, Dowlais. Sadly like most chapels the building is no more. Glynne’s religious background was nurtured at home with his father and an uncle, both deacons in Moriah Chapel. With Glynne’s musical talent it was no surprise when he became the chapel organist, a post he held from 1940 until 1963.

Educated at Cyfarthfa Castle Grammar School later becoming a graduate of the University College Cardiff, after his national service days, he became music master at the Old County Grammar School, where he formed a children’s choir to sing Handel’s Messiah. Glynne conducted the Merthyr Philharmonic Choir 1955-1961. Following early success with the Merthyr Philharmonic Choir and the Silurian Singers he became the Musical Director of Pendyrus Male Choir in 1962.

He was appointed Musical Adviser for Monmouthshire in 1965 and became Senior Music Adviser for Gwent from 1973 to 1990. Among his many achievements can be listed: prestigious conducting engagements on three continents; numerous radio and television broadcasts in Welsh and English; the musical direction of the BBC film “Off to Philadelphia in the Morning” in 1978, and the establishment of the Newport International Piano Competition.

In 1980 Merthyr Tydfil celebrated the 1500th anniversary of the death of its patron, Saint Tydfil the Martyr. A combined concert with Dowlais, Cefn-Coed, Treharris and Ynysowen Choirs was arranged at the Rhydycar Leisure Center on 5 October. with Glynne Jones being invited as the guest conductor. The guest artists at the concert were Stuart Burrows, tenor; Beti Jones, soprano and Huw Tregelles Williams at the organ.

Glynne’s lifelong commitment to Welsh music in education and the community was recognized by a Fellowship of the Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1994, and the award of the MBE in 1996.

Sadly Glynne died unexpectedly on Christmas Day 2000. In Glynne’s lifetime S4C produced a documentary on his musical background, as a mark of respect it was shown again after his death.


Please check back soon for Carl Llewellyn’s account of Glynne Jones’ memorial service