Merthyr’s Girl-Collier

One hundred and sixteen years ago today, the following story broke in the Evening Express, and went on to grip the town for several weeks.

Six days previously, on Monday 30 September 1901, a fifteen-year-old girl had been found working as a boy in one of the Plymouth Ironworks’ collieries.

When interviewed, the girl, Edith Gertrude Phillips, said that she lived with her father, a pitman, her mother and five siblings at the Glynderis Engine House in Abercanaid, but was beaten and forced to do all the housework by her mother when her father was at work. On the previous Friday, her mother had ‘knocked her about the head, shoulders and back with her fists’ for not finishing the washing, so Edith decided to leave home. She dressed in some clothes belonging to her older brother, cut her hair, threw her own clothes into the Glamorganshire Canal, and walked to Dowlais Ironworks to look for a job.

Unable to secure employment in Dowlais, Edith then went to the South Pit of the Plymouth Colliery, and got a job with a collier named Matthew Thomas as his ‘boy’. She found lodgings at a house in Nightingale Street in Abercanaid, and it was there on Monday 30 September that she was discovered by P.C. Dove. The alarm had been raised about Edith’s disappearance by her father on the Friday evening, and following searches throughout the weekend, someone recognised the disguised Edith at her lodgings in Nightingale Street. Edith refused to go back to her parents, and in the ensuing arguments, collapsed from nervous exhaustion and was taken to Merthyr Infirmary.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children immediately started investigating the case, and Edith’s parents were questioned thoroughly. In the meantime, as news of the case leaked out, there was an outpouring of support for Edith, and dozens of people came forward with offers of support for her, some from as far afield as Surrey and Sussex. A committee was formed to start a fund to help Edith, and the met at the Richards Arms in Abercanaid, just a week after the news broke, and a public appeal was made for money to help her.

Evening Express – 17 October 1901

Despite the ongoing investigation by the N.S.P.C.C. and the countless offers from people to provide a good home to Edith, the Merthyr Board of Guardians, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the girl should be sent home to her parents upon her release from the Infirmary. Edith was indeed released and sent home to her parents on 31 October, but within hours, she was removed from the house by the N.S.P.C.C. and taken to the Salvation Army Home in Cardiff.

No more is mentioned in the newspapers about Edith until 8 February 1904, when the Evening Express reported that she had been living in Cardiff, but as the money raised to help her had run out, she had to leave her home. As she was in very poor health, she was unable to find work, so she had appealed to the Merthyr Board of Guardians to allow her to come back to Merthyr, and to enter the Workhouse. A doctor told the Board that Edith didn’t have long to live, so they agreed to allow her to return.

This is the last report about Edith in any of the newspapers, but thanks to the sterling work of Mike Donovan of the Merthyr Branch of the Glamorgan Family History Society, I have been able to discover that Edith didn’t actually die at the workhouse, she recovered and went on to work, in service, at a house in Penydarren, and  died in 1963 at the age of 77.

Evening Express – 4 November 1901

The Troedyrhiw Gleemen – part 2

Following on from our last post, here is a report of the Choir’s trip to Portsmouth from the Merthyr Express on 21 August 1920, transcribed by Carl Llewellyn.

Welcome Home to Great Choir

Great Reception to Mr Herbert Llewellyn at Troedyrhiw

The intense interest which has been evidenced by the appearance of Mr H. Llewellyn and party before their Majesties the King and Queen on board the Royal Yacht at Portsmouth, culminated with the inhabitants of Troedyrhiw and district giving to them a rousing reception, at their home-coming on Friday evening last. The services of the Municipal Band,  the Troedyrhiw Salvation Army Band and the Troedyrhiw Mission Band were engaged, though owing to some misunderstanding the latter band was unable to attend to be present in full strength, as its members had not all returned home from their holiday tour. However, the other instrumentalists were there in strong numbers and rendered several selections among which were “The Prairy Flower”, “Pomposo” and “Lynwood”. The party awaited the arrival of Mr. Llewellyn by the 6:40 p.m. T.V.R. train, while the bands and a large concourse of people stayed on the roadway below. Preparations had been made for a procession through the streets; the route taken along Bridge Street and down Glantaff Road, returning from thither and going through Wyndham Street and up the Cardiff Road, thence to the playground of the Boys School, where a stage was erected in order to carry out the evening programme.

The notables present were Mayor of Merthyr (Coun. F. Pedler), Coun. Mrs M.A Edmunds, J.P., Mr and Mrs Gerald Williams  (Agent for the Cyfarthfa Collieries), Mr D. Frances, M.E., (chairman of the party), Mr W. Hale, M.E., Mr W. P. Burrows (manager of the Co-operative Society), Mr Evan Edwards, Mr E. Emrys Jones, and Mr B. Williams (secretary and treasurer of the party). The Mayor, who occupied the chair at the entertainment, said he was very pleased to be present in such a gathering and the purpose it was called for, and he was proud of the honour the conductor and choir had brought to the borough especially to that part of the town. He heartily congratulated them on their good fortune, and then asked the Municipal Band to start the concert with a selection.

The next speaker Mr. D. Frances M.E., who was evidently jubilant at the achievement of the party and who stated that he never felt prouder of anything than to find the boys who worked under him making a stir in the singing circles of the Principality. It made him glad to be an inhabitant of Troedyrhiw, for the village was giving the borough a lead in high honours inasmuch as it continued in Councillor Mrs Edmunds a past chairman of the Merthyr Board of Guardians, she was one of its representatives on the Town Council, and had recently been made the first lady J.P., in the borough. These honours were all deserved, but some were living in hope of seeing in her the first local lady M.P. Yet again his friend, Mr Llewellyn and the young singers bringing with them an undreamt of renown to the place. It was a big and joyful surprise to him when he learnt that his pit-boys had the great privilege of performing before Royalty. The English version of Troedyrhiw was foot of the hill, but it should be on top of the hill, when taking accomplishment into account.

Mr Frances, not unnaturally dropped into the vernacular, and someone in the crowd objected, then the speaker warmly asserted that he was not ashamed of Welsh, of being a Welshman or of speaking the language  as it was his mother tongue. Turning to Mr. Llewellyn he reminded him of Ceirog’s words: “Ti wyddost beth ddywed fy nghalon ” (thou knowest what my heart says) and went into a description of how the party came into being, its work  on behalf of charity and at the same time saying that he had the temerity to pledge the party (in return for the civic reception given to them) to promote a concert in the near future in aid of the Merthyr General Hospital. Finally, he urged all young men and women to strive for improvement socially and intellectually, and to always give their support to good causes.

Councillor Mrs Edmunds J.P., who was prevailed upon to speak, said she would see that Mr Frances kept his promise and that she was exceedingly pleased with what the conductor and choir had done, and congratulated them on the honour received. Nothing gave her greater pleasure than to see young people again as they had done, and as some of their fellows in the village, had achieved lately in educational pursuits. They have plenty of leisure now, and it ought to be used wisely, having a care to avoid all those pleasures which contained an element of evil in them. Mr Gerald Williams who spoke in praise of the work of the choir, said it was a pleasure to him to take part in the reception, knowing how well it was deserved. Their past acts of good-will should be sufficient criterion of something better in the future. Mr W. Hale expressed himself highly pleased, and said he came into contact with Mr Llewellyn prior to the conductor taking up residence at Troedyrhiw. He remembered him when he had charge of the Mountain Ash (Temperance) Male Voice Party which was so successful at Liverpool National Eisteddfod, and bringing home the challenge cup from Crystal Palace. Mr Llewellyn had many choirs under his baton, and was also in great demand as adjudicator and as conductor of Gymanfaoedd.

Rising to respond to the generous felicitations on behalf of the party and himself, Mr. Llewelyn gave a humorous account of their visit to the fleet and the Royal Yacht. He told how they were met by the chief constable of Portsmouth, Mr. Thomas Davies and his wife, both of whom were Welsh speaking patrons, on the South Parade Pier at their first concert, and so enthusiastic were they with the singing that the party was escorted by Mr. Davies round the town, who insisted on paying their expenses. He obtained for them permission from the naval superintendent of the dockyard to see a battleship, and went with them on their visit to H.M.S. Barham, where they gave a concert to the officers and crew, who were delighted with the songs, and invited them to a fine repast in the officers mess-room, where they were presented with a flag, which had been used in the Battle of Jutland as a memento to the party of the visit they had made.

Other gifts were also showered upon the singers.  It was Mr. Davies who brought the command from their Majesties to sing on the Royal Yacht. In describing the performance, the conductor put the choir through the programme exactly as it was given at Portsmouth, so the people at home got as much as was given to the King and Queen.

The several pieces sung were the “Jolly Rodger”, “Cod yr Hwyl”, “Myfanwy”, “Dear Home”, “Evening Bells”,(Mr Llewelyn)’s, own composition, and the two hymns “Hyfrydol” and Aberystwyth”. He related how the singing impressed the hearers, how the Queen approached him and spoke the praise so often retold, of her going to each of the boys and congratulating and thanking them personally, of the King’s enquiries as to their employment, where they came from, and so on. After this they were sent below for refreshments.  Mr Llewelyn pointed out that the party was not one of his seeking, but the young men came to him about two years ago asking to be coached and paying fees to him for so doing. Circumstances had arisen that called for help in raising funds for charitable purposes including the Prisoners of War Fund, and this was whole heartily given. The last success they had attained was well-earned for it was due to their unflagging energies and attention to instructions.

Mr Francis in moving a vote of thanks for the musical treat during the evening said that the sympathies of all were tendered to Mr. Freddie James, who through ill health was unable to go with the party on their trip, and thus was unfortunate in not sharing the honour as it was one which was rarely accorded. He called for a public rendering of “Aberystwyth”, which was complied with. Mr. Burrows suitably seconded the motion and the Salvation Army gave a selection. With the singing of “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”  and “God Save the King”, a red letter evening in the annals of Troedyrhiw terminated.