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

A to-do about a loo

by Carl Llewellyn

Whilst reading in the News of Wales on December 12, 2002 I came across an article written by Tony Trainor. Civic officials wanted to add an outside toilet to Joseph Parry’s former cottage to add to its historical significance. Councillors in Merthyr Tydfil believed the great musician’s home at Chapel Row in Georgetown now a museum – would be improved by the addition of the “privy”. A suitable toilet block was even offered by a resident living in River Row, Abercanaid – a terrace of historic workers’ cottages similar to the one lived in by the writer of the famous tear-jerker – Myfanwy. The council also resolved to move it to Chapel Row, so that visitors to the Joseph Parry birthplace museum would be able to see how people went about their toilet in the 19th Century as part of their tour.

Chapel Row

Despite the council’s attempts to recreate the past, no research had been carried out to determine where Parry’s original outhouse would have been sited if indeed he ever had one. Mr Henry Jones, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for education, said the toilet building could have been moved at relatively little public expense to a site at Chapel Row, where it would have been seen by visitors. A conservation architect from Cadw, the body responsible for historic buildings, then criticised the council’s plan to dismantle the privy in Abercanaid, an original structure made of rubble and sandstone with a lime-washed finish. “The building is an interesting historical survival of a type once commonly associated with terraced houses of this type”, he said. “In the absence of any convincing argument for its demolition, I cannot support the proposal to remove it”.

Whatever would the composer of Wales’ love song Myfanwy made of it all?

Merthyr’s Chapels: Bethesda Chapel

Over the years, Merthyr has been home to over 120 chapels, and they became one of the mainstays of life in the town. Every month I would like to post a history of a different chapel. Let’s start with one of the most famous of Merthyr’s chapels – Bethesda Welsh Independent Chapel.

Bethesda Chapel

In 1807, the minister at Zoar Chapel, Rev Daniel Lewis, embarked on a visit to London and other large towns to solicit gifts of money from sympathetic benefactors to help clear the debts at Zoar Chapel.

Even though this was the custom at the time, some members of the congregation took exception to the trip and to the expenses incurred by the minister, and instigated an investigation into the affair by senior ministers from surrounding areas. When the investigation exonerated Rev Lewis, his accusers, unhappy with the outcome, left to start their own church.

The congregation originally met in an upstairs room of a smithy near the spot where Salem Chapel now stands in Newcastle Street, and called it Philadelphia. After two years larger premises were necessary and the congregation moved to another blacksmith’s forge between Zoar Chapel and the Morlais Brook and called it Beth-haran.

It was while they were at Beth-haran that the congregation extended an invitation to Rev Methusalem Jones to come and preach at their small meeting. He eventually became their minister and the congregation decided to build their own chapel. They obtained a piece of land on a lease from Mr W Morgan, Grawen, for £5 per annum rent. They built the chapel at the start of 1811, and Rev Jones licensed it at Llandaff court on 23 July 1811.

Under the guidance of Methusalem Jones the congregation had grown from 90 to almost 300, thus a larger chapel was needed, and a new chapel was built in 1829 at a cost of £1,002. Whilst under Rev Methusalem Jones’ ministry, Bethesda became mother church to many other chapels including:- Bethania, Dowlais; Saron, Troedyrhiw; Ebenezer, Cefn Coed; Salem, Heolgerrig. Rev Methusalem Jones continued to minister to the congregation at Bethesda until his death on 15 January 1839 at the age of 71.

Following Rev Jones death, Rev Daniel Jones was invited to become Bethesda’s minister in 1840. At the time that Daniel Jones became minister, there was an influx of people coming to Merthyr from Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire seeking work in the various iron works; as Daniel Jones was known in those counties, a large number of the people coming to Merthyr started going to Bethesda Chapel thus greatly increasing the congregation.

Two years after becoming the minister however, Rev Jones had to have his right arm amputated, but because of the support and kindness he received from the congregation, he made a swift recovery and continued to preach at Bethesda until he left in 1855 to join the Anglican church.

It was at this time that the world famous composer Dr Joseph Parry was a member of Bethesda Chapel. He attended the chapel with his family until he emigrated to America in 1854. Indeed, Dr Parry’s mother, Elizabeth, had been working for Rev Methusalem Jones as a maid in her youth, and moved with him to Merthyr when he became the minister at Bethesda.

Following Daniel Jones departure, Bethesda was without a minister for three years, but the cause continued to flourish, and it was at this time that a number of members of Bethesda started a new cause at Gellideg Chapel.

By the late 1870’s it was decided to build a larger and more comfortable chapel, and on 24 June 1880 the foundation stone was laid by Mrs W T Crawshay, wife of William Crawshay the owner of Cyfarthfa Ironworks.  The architect was Mr John Williams of Merthyr and the builder was Mr John Francis Davies of Dowlais. The chapel was completed in 1881 at a cost of £1,200.

Following its closure due to a diminishing congregation in 1976, Bethesda Chapel was used as an arts centre for several years. The building then began to fall into dereliction until it was finally decided to demolish the building in 1995.

The site of Bethesda Chapel has now been landscaped and a mosaic by Oliver Budd based on a painting by the renowned local artist and historian Mr Dewi Bowen has been erected as a memorial to the chapel.


A Tribute to Glynne Jones part 2

Carl Llewellyn continues his tribute to Glynne Jones with an account of the concert held his memory:

On the 11 May 2002, at Beulah English Baptist Chapel, Dowlais, the Dowlais Male Choir organized a memorial concert to Glynne Jones, with sponsorship by the Arts, Culture and Tourism section of the Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, with all concert proceeds going to the Pendyrus Trust Fund.

The concert began with an introduction by the Dowlais Choir’s chairman Grahame Clarke, who then introduced the evening’s compère –  the late Janice Rowlands, wife of Ted Rowlands, MP; a lady with great talent and charisma, who enlightened the audience with her charm and repartee. She gave a descriptive account of the artists and their musical items. The Dowlais Male Choir sang a number of items including the Easter Hymn from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana with Zoe Perman singing the solo part.

There were two groups of children taking part; first the Gwenllwyn School Choir followed by Ysgol Santes Tudful Recitation Party. Both groups entertained the audience with their songs and recitations. It was interesting hearing Ysgol Santes Tudful perform the story of Branwen taken from the Mabinogion.  The violinist Paul Horner and the cellist Ciaran Jenkins also performed – they were associated with Glynne, who’d recognized their musical talent.

Janice Rowlands made reference to the children’s message sent on 18 May, known as Good Will Day, when BBC Wales transmitted a message of peace and hope to children of all countries around the world in 12 languages. It was a joy to hear the 2002 message spoken in Welsh and English.

The chairman of Pendyrus Male Choir, Creighton Lewis gave a tribute to Glynne on behalf of Pendyrus Male Choir, and he explained how the Pendyrus Trust Fund would help young musicians – it was decided set up a conductor scholarship, for musicians who wanted to pursue a musical career in conducting and it was an interesting sight seeing a model of Glynne Jones with his baton fabricated out of music paper, the paper image being made by the children of Ysgol Santes Tudful.

It gave Janice Rowlands great pleasure to introduce Dr Terry James, for Dr James comes from Kidwelly – the Janice’s hometown, who reminded the audience that the mother of Wales’ greatest composer Dr Joseph Parry also came from Kidwelly. Dr James is a wonderful raconteur, and with his manner and humorous antidotes he began relating about his personal connection with Glynne Jones.

Dr James began by reflecting that in his memories of Glynne Jones the letter “C” kept coming to mind, mentioning the character, the charisma, and the caring nature of Glynne, giving an account of his reasons for using the letter “C”. Glynne could be flamboyant and an entertaining character, he was man of presence someone who could not be missed, with a passion for projecting the musical talent of young prodigies.

When Dr James returned after living in the USA for 15 years, he met Glynne who commented, “What has happened to your ginger hair locks? With your white beard and thin white hair you look like a prophet after he’d been in the wilderness”.

At one Eisteddfod where Pendyrus Male Choir competed, Dr Terry James was the adjudicator. He was so impressed with the performance he gave Pendyrus the first prize and made some glowing comments about the performance. The following week Dr James received a card through the post card that read “I totally agree with all your comments, Glynne”. Lastly, he related a story about when Pendyrus organized an Australian tour. There are about 100 to sheep to each person in Australia, and when Glynne addressed one of the concert audiences, he referred to the sheep saying that they reminded him that you can beat bit of Welsh Lamb.

It was an added bonus for the choir and congregation when Dr James conducted one of the communal hymns, and accompanied the last hymn on the organ. The Musical Director of Dowlais Choir, Gareth Ellis was not able to be present at the concert, but the baton was in the capable hand of the deputy conductor, Stewart Roberts, who was ably assisted by David Last. The honoured guests were Mrs. Margaret Evans and Mrs. Margaret (Peg) Maliphant sister and cousin of Glynne Jones; Ted Rowlands and Dr Terry James. The present conductor of Pendyrus, John Samuel and his wife Olive were also present – ‘John Sam’ having the benefit of conducting both choirs.

The concert was a fitting tribute to a local musician who had become a notable figure in the Welsh musical world.