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.
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.
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.
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.
Last month we highlighted the career of Harry Evans – the great Merthyr musician. No less remarkable is the career of his son Horace Evans.
Horace Evans was born in Dowlais on 1 January 1903, the eldest son of Harry Evans and his wife Edith. When his father was appointed conductor of the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union that same year, the family moved to the city, and Horace was educated at Liverpool College. Following in his father’s footsteps, Horace originally decided on a musical career, and shortly after his father’s untimely death in 1914 he went to the Guildhall School of Music for four years and to the City of London School.
During his studies he realised that he wasn’t destined for a musical career, and decided his future lay in medicine. In 1921 Evans entered the London Hospital Medical College on a science scholarship. He qualified in 1925, graduated in medicine and surgery in 1928, and took his M.D. in 1930 when he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians and a fellow in 1938. This work merited his appointment as an assistant director of the medical unit in 1933, assistant physician to the London Hospital at Whitechapel in 1936, and physician in 1947. He worked under Arthur Ellis, who instructed him in the traditional English clinical discipline, and who brought him into prominence by selecting him as house physician to the medical unit. Subsequently he held appointments in surgery, obstetrics, pathology and anaesthetics, which gave him a broad basis for a career as a general physician.
He specialised in the effects of high blood pressure and diseases of the kidneys, making a thorough study of Bright’s disease, on which he published papers in medical and scientific journals. In addition he was consultant physician to five other hospitals and to the Royal Navy. It was through his influence that the Royal College of Physicians was moved from Trafalgar Square, having attracted the financial support of the Wolfson Foundation towards the cost of erecting new buildings at Regent’s Park.
He served the royal family as physician to Queen Mary in 1946, to King George VI in 1949 and to Queen Elizabeth in 1952, all of whom received him as a friend. He was knighted in 1949, and created a baron in 1957. In 1955 he delivered the Croonian lectures and was made Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1961. The University of Wales conferred on him an honorary D.Sc. degree and he was made a freeman of Merthyr Tydfil in April 1962.
He was regarded as the last of the great general physicians of his age, convinced of the need for personal physicians with a critical judgement based on broad general experience, and of the importance of treating patients as human beings. His presence in a patient’s room or hospital ward left an immediate impression on every one who came into contact with him. His sympathy and understanding stemmed largely from his own family experiences.
Horace Evans had married Helen Aldwyth Davies, daughter of a former high-sheriff of Glamorgan in 1929, and they had two daughters. His younger daughter died in tragic circumstances after accidentally electrocuting herself, and his wife suffered prolonged ill health.
Horace Evans died on 26 October 1963 at the age of 60. Following his death, the Royal College of Physycians published an obituary which contained the following accolade:
“The death of Lord Evans in October 1963 cast gloom over the College. No more would we see his tall, slightly stooping figure, and behind the lightly horn-rimmed glasses the alert but kindly eyes that inspired confidence in patients and assured a welcome to every colleague. Few men carried high honours so gracefully.”
By the second half of the 19th century, Merthyr was served by several railway companies, one of which was the Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway (B&M) which, as its name implies, ran from Brecon to Merthyr.
As early as 1836, Sir John Josiah Guest, of the Dowlais Ironworks, had written of his proposal to construct a railway linking Dowlais to the valley of the River Usk, and possibly also running into Brecon. The line would have pretty nearly covered the same route as was eventually adopted by the B&M. A similar proposal suggested a line running up the Taf Fawr valley over the Brecon Beacons via Storey Arms and thence to Brecon.
The Brecon and Merthyr Railway Company was established by a Bill of 1859, financially supported by several prominent Brecon citizens, and the complete route from Brecon to Merthyr Tydfil was authorised the following year. The first section to open was a 6.75 miles (10.86 km) section between Brecon and Talybont-on-Usk in 1863, which reused a section of a horse-drawn tram line. The Beacons Tunnel at Torpantau opened in 1868. Officially named the Torpantau Tunnel, at 1313 feet above mean sea level, it is the highest railway tunnel in Britain.
The system eventually came to comprise two sections of lines:
The Southern section, effectively the consumed Rumney Railway, which linked Bassaleg (where there were connections with the GWR and the London and North Western Railway) and the ironworks town of Rhymney, near the head of the Rhymney Valley.
The Northern section linked Deri Junction by means of running powers over a section of the Rhymney Railway in the Bargoed Rhymney Valley to Pant, Pontsticill and Brecon via a tunnel through the Brecon Beacons. From the tunnel the line descended towards Talybont-on-Usk on a continuous 1-in-38 gradient known as the “Seven-Mile Bank”. For southbound trains this presented the steepest continuous ascent on the British railway network.
Initially, the only connection to Merthyr Tydfil was by means of a horse-drawn bus from Pant, but by 1868, a connection with Merthyr at Rhydycar Junction had been established by sharing lines with Vale of Neath, London and North Western and Taff Vale railways. This involved the building of nearly seven miles of single line from Pontsticill to Merthyr, with an almost continuous descent of 1 in 45-50, two complete reversals of direction, and the construction of two viaducts to carry the line over the Taf Fechan at Pontsarn, and the Taf Fawr at Cefn Coed.
North of the Pontsarn viaduct, a connection was made with the LNWR’s Merthyr Extension line at Morlais Tunnel Junction from where the latter’s double track entered the 1034 yard Morlais Tunnel and beyond routed along the double line to Dowlais High Street and thence to Tredegar, Brynmawr and Abergavenny. The sections from Merthyr to Pontsticill and Bargoed through to Brecon were laid as single lines with passing loops and usually locomotive watering facilities at principal stations. For those single lines, tokens were issued to drivers from signal boxes at such locations and being essential for safe working over single lines.
The line was eventually amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1923, and by 1958, the line was running three services each way on weekdays, increasing to four on Saturdays, taking around 2½ hours to run from Brecon to Newport. Although surviving nationalisation, the service had run at a substantial loss for most of its lifetime, and was an obvious candidate for closure. Passenger services were closed from Pontsticill Junction to Merthyr Tydfil in November 1961, with the remainder of services stopping at the end of the 1962. The line was closed completely after the withdrawal of goods services in 1964.
Towards the end of the 1970s, a private company, the Brecon Mountain Railway, began to build a narrow-gauge steam-hauled tourist line on the existing 5.5-mile (8.9 km) trackbed from Pant through Pontsticill to Dol-y-gaer. The initial section of 1.75 miles (2.82 km) from Pant to Pontsticill first opened in June 1980. After more than 30 years of hard work and extra-funding, passenger services finally extended to Torpantau in April 2014, bringing the BMR to a total of approximately 5 miles in length.
For more about the Brecon Mountain Railway, please follow the link below:
Harry Evans was born on 1 May 1873 in Russell Street, Dowlais, the son of John Evans (Eos Myrddin), a local choirmaster and his wife Sarah. Harry had no formal musical training, but was taught the Tonic Sol-fa system by his sister; such was his prodigious musical talent however, that he was appointed organist of Gwernllwyn Chapel in Dowlais when he was only 9 years old. The elders of the chapel encouraged the young Harry and arranged for him to receive music lessons from Edward Laurence, Merthyr Tydfil.
In 1887 he was appointed organist of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais. He succeeded in passing all the local examinations of the Royal Academy and of the Royal College of Music, London, with honours. He was by that time anxious to devote himself entirely to music, but his father, who wished him to receive a more general education, obtained a post as pupil-teacher for him at the Abermorlais School; here he passed some South Kensington examinations in arithmetic, science, and art.
Although he passed the Queen’s Scholarship examination (for pupil-teachers), his health broke down and he was unable to proceed to a training college. In July 1893 he became A.R.C.O. (Associate of the Royal College of Organists), and from then on gave all his time to music.
In 1898 Harry Evans formed a ladies’ choir at Merthyr Tydfil and a male choir at Dowlais. The male choir won the prize at the National Eisteddfod held at Liverpool in 1900; and when the National Eisteddfod came to Merthyr the following year, he conducted the Merthyr Tydfil Choir in a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Following a further success at the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli in 1903, Evans retired from competition and accepted an invitation to become conductor of the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union.
In 1913 he became musical director at Bangor University College and, in the same year, local conductor and registrar of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. He also became, at this time, conductor of the North Staffordshire Choral Society. By this time many experts regarded him as the best choral conductor in the country, and he was invited to conduct Granville Bantock’s choral symphony, Vanity of Vanities, which the composer dedicated to him.
As well as his work as a conductor, Harry Evans was a one of the most well respected adjudicators at musical competitions, and he was much in demand in that capacity at musical festivals throughout the British Isles. Also a composer, his fullest compositions were Victory of St Garmon, produced at the Cardiff Festival in 1904, and also the cantata Dafydd ap Gwilym ; he also wrote several anthems and hymn-tunes, and arranged Welsh folk-songs and airs for choirs.
During 1914 Harry Evans’ health began to deteriorate, and his doctor advised complete rest, but it was soon discovered that he was suffering from a brain tumour. He underwent emergency surgery from which he never fully recovered, and on 23 July 1914 Harry Evans died and the tragically young age of 41. He was buried at the Toxteth Park Cemetery in Liverpool. After his death, a hymn-tune named In Memoriam was composed by Caradog Roberts in his memory and included in several Welsh hymnals.
Throughout his life Harry Evans’ main ambition was to establish a music college in Wales; had he lived he might have realized his ambition – the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama was established in 1949 as Cardiff College of Music at Cardiff Castle.