From the Evening Express 109 years ago today…..
One of the oldest and most impressive buildings still standing in Merthyr is Dowlais Stables.
In the early part of the Nineteenth Century, despite Merthyr being at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and indeed pioneering the first steam-powered locomotive in 1804, Dowlais (and all the other) Ironworks were reliant on horses and ponies to bear the brunt of the heavy haulage work. In July 1819, it is recorded, Michael Faraday the eminent scientist visited the Dowlais Works, and walked with Josiah John Guest to the hay fields near the Works where the hay made there was used to feed the 150 or so horses which the Dowlais Iron Company used.
The following year, Josiah John Guest had stables built to house the horses. The architect of the building is unknown, but it was (and still is) a striking building. The complex is of symmetrical design, in the form of a rectangular plan of ranges set round a (formerly railway-served) central yard. The façade has two-storeys with centre and end pavilions separating 9-bay ranges and there is a tall central arch, through which the railway passed, with a circular clock face. This façade is roughly 450 feet long, and the central block rises to over 50 feet, with the central arch being roughly 30 feet high. This is topped with a decorative wooden cupola.
It is said that when the stables was built, a number of contemporary newspaper cuttings, and several items of memorabilia were hidden behind one of the arch stones to be revealed “when the building falls down”.
The stables were well used; towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Dowlais Iron Company were employing “over a dozen blacksmiths, several stable lads and a score of other hands to tend the several hundred head of horses now owned by the Company and stabled in the very heart of Dowlais”.
As well as being used as for stabling horses, soldiers were stationed in the building for several years after the Merthyr Riots of 1831. Also, of course, Lady Charlotte Guest famously used the large first-floor rooms as a boys school until Dowlais Central Schools were opened in 1854-5.
The stables closed in the 1930’s and the complex became derelict; in the late 1970’s unauthorised demolition was started, but was brought to a halt. The site was subsequently bought by the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust in 1981, and despite the façade partially collapsing in 1982, the building was eventually rebuilt as flats; the south east facade walls were also substantially rebuilt. Of the original structure, only the southeast range and Stables House on the north west range currently survive.
In our regular feature on the chapels of Merthyr, we next take a look at the history of Elim Baptist Chapel in Penydarren.
In 1841, Rev William Robert Davies, minister at Caersalem Chapel in Dowlais decided that a new Baptist cause should be started in Penydarren to cater for the ever growing population there. Land was leased from the Penydarren Iron Company and the chapel, named Elim was built in 1842.
In 1849, the infamous cholera epidemic struck Merthyr which caused the death of 1,682 in Merthyr and Dowlais alone (see previous entry – www.merthyr-history.com/?p=123). On 4 August, cholera struck Rev Davies’ household, when his daughter died of the disease. Despite his grief, Rev Davies continued to visit the sick and comforted their relatives. One of the results of the cholera was a sudden upsurge in chapel attendance, and on the last two Sundays of August alone Rev Davies baptised no less than 150 people.
By this time he had begun discussing with the deacons the possibility of appointing another minister to help him continue the work at Caersalem. However, before this could be acted upon, Davies was himself struck down by the cholera on 1 September. He became suddenly ill at nine o’clock in the morning, and by seven o’clock that same evening he was dead. He was buried in the same grave as his daughter at the graveyard at Elim Chapel. He was 51 years old.
Elim continued to be considered as a branch of Caersalem until it gained its independence in 1852. The congregation continued to grow however, and the chapel was rebuilt in 1858.
By the 1930’s it had become obvious to the members that the chapel needed a new schoolroom to accommodate the burgeoning Sunday School at Elim Chapel. The materials necessary to build the school room were offered to the chapel at a very reasonable price on the condition that the members of the chapel could collect them. As this was the time of the Great Depression, and the Dowlais Works having recently closed, most of the men at the chapel found themselves unemployed, so they collected the materials, and built the school room themselves. The women of the chapel organised many activities to raise money towards the building. The schoolroom was opened on 18 July 1933.
On the night of 23 December 1977 Elim was severely damaged in a storm, the roof was blown off. The chapel was beyond repair and had to be demolished the following year. Services were subsequently held at Williams Memorial Chapel until that chapel closed, and the remaining members of the congregation rejoined their mother church at Caersalem.
A development of flats for senior citizens has now been built on the site of the chapel and is called Hafan Elim.
Today we look at another important Merthyr resident – Isaac Edwards, business man, magistrate and mayor, who died 74 years ago today.
Isaac Edwards was born in Dowlais on 10 May 1872. Educated at the Dowlais Works School, at the age of thirteen he began working at the mill manager’s office at the Dowlais Ironworks.
At the age of 25, he left and opened an accountancy and auctioneering business in Dowlais. Within two years he was joined in the business by his elder brother and they began trading as Edwards Bros. As the business grew they purchased the practice of Mr Henry Lewis, auctioneer in Merthyr and opened a branch office in Market Square Chambers, Merthyr.
In 1910, he accepted an appointment as district valuer for the Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and West Denbighshire area in the Wales Division Board of the Inland Revenue. He remained in the position until 1916 when he returned to Merthyr and acquired the business of Messrs J M Berry & Son.
As a boy and young man, Isaac Jones was a member of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais where he continued to worship until he moved to North Wales. Upon his return to Merthyr he became a member of Zoar Chapel where he was elected as a deacon and became a Sunday School teacher. He was also elected President of the North Glamorgan Association of Independents; president of the Glamorgan County Association; chairman of the Independent Union Sustenation Fund, treasurer of Bangor College and in 1930 was elected president of the Welsh Congregation Union – only the fourth layman to be elected to the position since its formation.
He also made his mark outside the chapel. He was elected president of the Merthyr Chamber of Trade, as well as serving as secretary South Wales and Montmouthshire Federation and vice-president of the National Chamber of Trade. He was also appointed as a magistrate for the county in 1922. An Independent councillor since 1921, Isaac Edwards was elected as mayor in 1938.
Isaac Edwards died on Sunday 19 September 1943.
by Victoria Owens
In September 1836 advertisements for On the use of hot air in the Ironworks of England and Scotland […] appeared in the London newspapers. Published by the august firm of John Murray, it was a modest octavo, priced at 5s 6d. To all appearance, the English text was anonymous, the title page stating only that the work was ‘Translated from a report made to the director-general of mines in France, by M. Dufrénoy in 1834 [sic]’ without naming the translator. The entries in John Murray’s ledgers were equally uninformative about the origin of the English version, referring to the work only as ‘Hot Air (On the use of)’ with a caret mark adding the scribbled note ‘By M. Dufrénoy’. The illustrations, however, carry some mark of Lady Charlotte’s involvement. Murray’s publication re-cycles the engravings which had appeared in Dufrénoy’s Rapport, but with an addition. Examination of the English text reveals the initials ‘C.E.G.’ – Charlotte Elizabeth Guest – in her distinctive handwriting beside each picture, presumably as confirmation to the printer that the image is to be bound in with the text.
To remain anonymous may have been her choice. Not only were mid-nineteenth century publishers apt to view women writers dismissively – it was why the Bronte sisters took masculine pen-names – but her mother had been less than happy about her marriage. For all his acumen, the industrialist John Guest was not the husband she would have chosen for her daughter – she preferred Robert Plumer Ward, a barrister-cum-novelist, whose proposal Charlotte resolutely declined. Charlotte, what was more, had loved South Wales from her first sight of the ‘blazing furnaces’ of Dowlais and the ‘broad glare of the fires.’ By contrast, when Lady Lindsey visited in August 1834, she thought the Glamorganshire countryside ‘wild enough for banditti’ and likened the ironworks to ‘a den of thieves.’ It seems unlikely that she would have viewed her daughter’s work on the Rapport sur l’emploi de l’air chaud with much enthusiasm. Nevertheless, Charlotte’s achievement did not remain secret for long. In December 1836 the local newspaper jubilantly identified her as the translator of On the Use of Hot Air and carried a story full of praise for her disregard of all ‘temptations to indolence’ and ‘frivolities of fashion,’ and ready devotion of her ‘time and talents to useful […] works by which mankind may be benefitted, and the interests of Science advanced.’
Her book had a print run of only two hundred copies but in iron manufacturing circles, it sparked considerable interest. On 1 October 1836, when it had been out for less than a month, John Wilson, co-proprietor of the Clyde Ironworks and member of the syndicate which held the patent rights to the Hot Blast process, called on Lady Charlotte to request a copy of her translation. He was apparently ‘anxious to see [it], as he did not understand French.’
If it yielded little financial return, the engagement with Dufrénoy’s survey of the British iron trade nevertheless set the course of Charlotte’s future. It is no coincidence that in her journal entry for 26 September 1836 – just when the book went on sale – she should mention having ‘undertaken the office of Merthyr’s secretary, to write all his letters and keep them copied and arranged.’ It was, she thought, a ‘beginning in earnest’ for which she had ‘been training for some time.’ Her remarks were prescient indeed, for on John’s death in 1852, she succeeded him as head of the works, and would soon have to bring all her acuity to bear on resolving a strike. Disputes aside, commerce gave her immense satisfaction. ‘I am happy to see we are at the head of the iron trade,’ she wrote in April 1839. ‘Otherwise I could not take pride in my house in the City, and my works at Dowlais, and glory (playfully) in being (in some sort) a tradeswoman.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
In our continuing section on Merthyr’s Chapels, we look at one of the many chapels that once stood in Dowlais but have disappeared in to the ether in the name of re-development – Bryn Sion Welsh Independent Chapel.
Following a disagreement at Bethania Welsh Independent Chapel in South Street, Rev Thomas G Jones and several members of the congregation left the chapel to start their own group, and began worshipping at the old Bethel Chapel at the bottom of Dowlais.
There were, already at Bethel, a group of Baptists who had left Caersalem Chapel, but the two groups worshipped separately (see previous article – http://www.merthyr-history.com/?p=575).
In 1833, Rev Joshua Thomas of Adulam Chapel in Merthyr had been given oversight of the growing congregation, and it became obvious that Bethel Chapel was no longer adequate for either group of worshippers there.
A new chapel called Bryn Sion was built and both congregations moved there in 1834. The Baptist congregation applied to join the Baptist Association, but were refused, so they decided to join the Independent congregation at the new chapel. Some staunch Baptists were unhappy with this and returned to Caersalem, but the majority stayed and the new church began to prosper.
Rev Joshua Thomas continued to have oversight at the chapel until 1836 when Mr Daniel Roberts, a member of Zoar Chapel in Merthyr, but a resident of Dowlais was asked to be Bryn Sion’s first minister.
As the congregation grew it was decided to build a new chapel. The chapel was designed by Rev Benjamin Owen, the minister of Zoar Chapel, Merthyr, and was completed in 1844 at a cost of £1,281.16s.11d. The chapel, as designed was built back from the street and incorporated four houses built in front of the chapel, which was approached by a paved area.
In 1876 a large schoolroom was built at a cost of £320, and a pipe organ was installed in 1894 at a cost of £280. Major renovations were carried out to the chapel during 1901-02. It was at this time the classical porch was built over the paved entrance way. The total cost of these renovations was £953.3s.7½d.
When Dowlais was redeveloped in the 1960’s, Bryn Sion Chapel was not amongst the many buildings listed to be demolished, and was not included in the Compulsory Purchase Orders. By 1968 however, all the streets around the chapel had been demolished and the congregation had to walk through mud and debris to reach the chapel, and also the chapel was being badly vandalised, so the congregation reluctantly decided that they couldn’t carry on worshipping at the chapel, and they sold it to Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council.
The chapel was demolished in 1969.
Ninety years ago today, an enormous fire occurred in Dowlais, devastating one of the town’s most famous factories and destroying a chapel.
On the evening of Sunday 3 July 1927, “soon after worshippers had proceeded to service”, people reported seeing smoke coming from the Messrs D Jones, Dickinson & Company Ltd cake factory on North Street.
Starting with humble means, the two Jones brothers came to Dowlais from Breconshire in the 1870’s and started a small bakery in Union Street with the object “of bringing to the doors of the people the best food at the cheapest price, placing what had previously been a luxury to the wealthy within the reach of the purchasing power of the Working Classes”. Through a combination of untiring energy, determination and hard work, not to mention a talent in baking, the company, ‘David Jones & Co, Dowlais’ soon became a very successful business, and the goods produced by the firm were in demand not only in Dowlais and Merthyr, but all over Britain, and even as far as the Colonies
In 1886, the firm moved to larger premises in North Street, covering an area of over 1,100 square yards, with entrances on Union Street, Ivor Street and Wind Street, and which housed a modern and efficient factory with most up to date machinery. In 1895 the firm became a limited company called Messrs D Jones, Dickinson & Company Ltd.
Within a year however, the factory was destroyed in another fire which broke out on 25 May 1896. The damage, which was estimated at over £5000, was soon repaired and the business was up and running by the end of the year.
On the night of 3 July 1927, the alarm was raised soon after the first signs of the smoke, and the fire brigade soon arrived at the factory. By this time, however, due to the combustible nature of the materials in the factory, the fire had really taken hold, and flames were shooting up into the sky. The fire brigade, hampered by a poor water supply were overwhelmed by the blaze. The firemen concentrated their efforts on saving adjoining businesses and houses, and also Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Chapel in Wind Street which was next to the factory. The fire became so intense that residents on the opposite sides of Wind Street and Ivor Street were evacuated from their houses, and there was a fear that Tabernacle Chapel (later Elim Pentecostal Chapel) opposite the factory in Ivor Street was in danger from sparks and burning debris from the blaze.
Contemporary witnesses state the flames could be seen from Dowlais Top and Garden City, Penydarren, and the fire was described as the biggest blaze in the town for half a century.
By 11.00 that evening, the firemen had managed to bring the fire under control. They had successfully saved all the adjoining shops and houses, but the factory was devastated and Ebenezer Chapel was gutted.
Ebenezer Chapel was later rebuilt, in a much simplified building, further down Wind Street, behind the Oddfellows Hall, and then moved to Francis Street. Messrs D Jones, Dickinson & Company Ltd was rebuilt and continued trading, later moving to the Goat Mill Road Estate and trading as Delberry’s, supplying cakes to several National supermarkets.
Many thanks to Mike Donovan who provided the following article that appeared in the Merthyr Express 81 years ago today…
Here’s the story of another Merthyr ex-pat who rose to high office from the Weekly Mail 124 years ago today…..