Merthyr Memories: Merthyr’s Cinemas – part 1

by Kenneth & Christine Brewer

In the decade or so following the Second World War, cinema took hold in Britain in a big way. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true nonetheless that people loved the all the Hollywood glamour and escapism that the films provided to take their minds off the austerity of post-War Britain.

Merthyr was no exception – going to the cinema became one of the big attractions in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Such was the demand that at one time Merthyr had eleven cinemas – five in town (The Castle, The Palace, The Electric, The Theatre Royal and the Temperance Hall); two in Dowlais (The Oddfellows Hall and The Victoria); one each in Penydarren (The Cosy); Troedyrhiw (The Picture Palace); Aberfan (The Electric) and Treharris (The Palace).

The Castle Cinema in the 1970’s. Photo courtesy of

Going to the cinema in those days was a real night out. As well as the main feature, you would be treated to a ‘B’-movie (usually a Western from memory), a news-reel, a cartoon and adverts for forthcoming films. The news-reel footage made a huge impact – we only saw the news in newspapers or heard about it on the wireless, but seeing the pictures on the big screen really brought things home to us. I (Ken) particularly remember my grandmother being very upset and having to leave the cinema when they showed news-reel footage of the liberation of Belsen. Everything was on a continuous loop – there were no showings once or twice a day…the cycle would start at a certain time (‘B’-movie, news, cartoon, adverts, main feature), and would continue non-stop until closing time.

You could also have an ice-cream in the intermission as a treat. These were sold by the usherettes. They were a big part of the cinema going experience, they would show you to your seats, and woe-betide you if you misbehaved – you would have the usherette’s torch shining on you within minutes. Repeat offenders would be asked to leave!!!!

Quite often, after the last showing of the evening, you would emerge from the cinema and the town would be crowded with people coming from other cinemas all hurrying for buses to make their way home.

Forthcoming films were advertised in the Merthyr Express, and people would also turn out in droves to see their favourite stars. In the 1940’s the big stars were Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Clarke Gable etc. The big matinée idol at the time was Robert Taylor, and the pin-up girl was Rita Hayworth.

Robert Taylor and Rita Hayworth

When there was a ‘big’ film it wouldn’t be unusual to see people queuing around the block to get in. The ones that were particularly memorable were ‘The Robe’ at the Theatre Royal and ‘Quo Vadis’ at the Castle. The biggest queues however were for the re-release of ‘Gone with the Wind’ in the late 1940’s  (the original release was during the war) at the Castle Cinema – the queues stretched as far as the eye could see.

How times have changed, all of these cinemas have closed, and all but the Theatre Royal and Temperance Hall have been demolished. For many years, Merthyr didn’t have a cinema at all until the Vue Cinema complex was opened at Rhydycar. It’s not the same – the glamour and excitement have all but disappeared.

To be continued……

Merthyr Man at Mons

The following article appeared in the Merthyr Express 103 years ago today…


Private Flurence McCarthy, 1st Batt. S. W. Borderers, attached the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, and who now resides at 187 Gellifaelog Road, Penydarren, has just returned home from the front, having been wounded in the battle at Mons. A piece of Shrapnel shell struck his right arm. In his story to our reporter, Private McCarthy said: “We landed at Havre and stayed there about three days then commenced travelling, being on the move for about a day and a half. We then arrived at – I don’t exactly know where – but we had to march a distance of about eight or nine miles. We then encamped, waiting for other troops to come up. We continued to march day and night until we came into the neighbourhood of Mons. Then we commenced to dig the trenches. We did a considerable amount of work, and we were near the enemy all the time.

We had to take our rest in these trenches. As soon as day dawned we heard shots rattling, and above us we saw a German aeroplane. Half an hour later we had orders to retire from the trenches we had just finished, and an hour later those trenches were blown up by the Germans. We started retiring in earnest on a Sunday morning, and on that day we fought the enemy. That was the first time we really saw anything of the Germans, who were in great force, but a long way off. We obtained about two hour rest that night. The German artillery opened fire in the early hours of Monday morning, the enemy having taken up position in front of us.

Our artillery covered the retirement of the infantry. The same things happened the next morning. Our retirement took place mainly at night. On the march I sprained my ankle and got detached. But Pte Morgan of Pontypool insisted upon staying with me. I had a bad twist, but with the help of Morgan, struggled on slowly. We came up with the Glos’ters the next morning with whom I marched as far as I could. But by 12 o’clock mid-day I was compelled to leave them again as there was no conveyance to take me on. We came across some French peasants, who directed us to a village, where we stayed for about four hours at a little house. The French peasants were particularly kind to me, bathing my injured foot, and fed us both handsomely.

On Tuesday morning Morgan and myself again set out, and endeavoured to catch up with the Glos’ters, my foot having by this time become somewhat better. We fell in with a French battalion, and one of the officers, who spoke excellent English, tried to persuade us to remain with them. We refused, however, and after the officer had given us a good supply of food and tobacco, we continued our journey. As luck happened we met an ambulance. I reported myself to the medical officer, and my troubles were practically over, for I was soon despatched to Havre and then home. This was at Cambrai, after we had rejoined the Glos’ters. It was with them we had the first real bit of fighting, during which I was wounded.

A section of us were told off to a certain trench, and shrapnel flew about us. Happily, none of our men were killed, though several were wounded, the enemy being only seven hundred yards away. We kept up a strong rifle fire, and did a good deal of damage. I had been wounded by a piece of shell long before I discovered the fact. I had fired many rounds before I noticed that blood issued from my arm, the flesh of which had been ripped up from the wrist to the elbow. Of course, the officer would not dream of me doing any more fighting on that state.”

McCarthy expressed himself feelingly in regard to the treatment which had been meted out to the women by the Germans. Women were outraged in many ways, and he saw slain females lying about. “Our officer,” said McCarthy, “after we had seen those terrible things, emphasised the cruelty of the Germans to the women folk, expressed the hope that Britishers would not be guilty of such foul deeds.”

Asked as to the spirit in which Britishers fought, McCarthy said he had had six years of Indian Army experience, and while he had known soldiers on peace manoeuvres growling about heavy work, there was never a grumble with the soldiers in France. The soldiers there spent as much time as they could singing and smoking.

“Of course,” added McCarthy, “the French girls were jolly with us, and we were jolly with them. From the time we landed at Havre they asked us for our regimentals and identification marks. Upon the loss of these we were ordered to write our identification marks on our caps and shoulders in ink, or anything that would make a black mark.”

McCarthy admitted that he was not really anxious to go back to that ‘hell’. He said: “I don’t believe any man who has once been there, really wants to go back. But in response to the call, I will do what every soldier does, go back with a good heart and do my best.”

Merthyr Express – 24 October 1914

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.

Joseph Williams – ‘Y Tyst’

by Carl Llewellyn

Joseph Williams was born at St Clears, Carmarthen, and came to Merthyr as a boy in 1842 to be apprenticed to his cousin Rees Lewis as a bookbinder. After serving his apprenticeship, he left Merthyr and went into business as a grocer at Llangattock. In 1872 he bought the printing business of Mr Thomas Howells (who had died the previous year) in Glebeland Street, which formed part of the block of buildings erected for Merthyr Express.

He continued at the premises for a few years before moving to other premises in Glebeland Place, extending his offices and putting in new machinery which helped with the journal publications. Some time after moving to the new premises, Williams took over the printing and publishing of the Welsh Congregational Newspaper. The newspaper had previously been published in Liverpool from its inception in 1864 under the title “Y Tyst Cymreig” (The Welsh Witness) then at Dolgellau, under the name of “Y Tyst a’r Dydd” (The Witness and the Day), but in the year 1892 the latter part of the title was dropped and it became known as “Y Tyst”.

Joseph Williams’ ‘Tyst’ Office in Glebeland Place

Joseph Williams also published two monthly periodicals – the religious magazine “Cenad Hedd” (Messenger of Peace) from 1880, and “Cronicl Cenhadol” (The Missionary Chronicle) established in 1897, recording the work done in the foreign mission field by the London Missionary Society, both magazines were well known throughout the Welsh Independent denomination.

He was a life-long teetotaller, and from his earliest years in Merthyr Tydfil was closely associated with the temperance organisations which came into being in later years. Notably he was indentified with the well known society “Cymmrodorion Dirwestol” a literary society devoted to the preservation of the Welsh language, his connection enabling him to render great service to Welsh literature. He was for many years a most zealous and efficient secretary of “Cymmrodorion Dirwestol”, and in that capacity he had a good deal to do with the promotion and production of the long series of successful Eisteddfodau held at the Temperance Hall on Christmas Day.

In religion Mr Williams was a Congregationalist. He was a member of Zoar Chapel, until 1850 when Joseph Williams with 59 other members of the chapel transferred themselves to Ynysgau, due to the demise of the minister Rev T. B. Evans, who’d lost the respect of his congregation through his persistent indulgence in intoxicating liquors. As a result Ynysgau Chapel almost became extinct. With the influx of members from Zoar, the congregation began to increase, giving the chapel a new lease of life. Only two of the 60 members of Zoar remained at Ynysgau – Joseph Williams and William Powell. Joseph Williams never coveted office or position, but his remarkable faithfulness to the church won him the foremost positions in Ynysgau Chapel – where he was prepared to lead others were willing to follow. In 1875 he was elected a deacon; he became the chapel treasurer from 1880-1892 and he also became the Sunday school superintendent.

In politics Joseph Williams was a Liberal and was ardent in the maintenance of his principles. He was regarded not to be extreme or bigoted, or self-opinionated in the slightest degree. He was a fair minded man ready to hear the other side, and meet it with kindly discussion. Through being an active member of the Nonconformist Committee he was co-operated in the political organisation of the Liberal party in Merthyr Tydfil.

In 1899 Ynysgau Chapel celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the cause plus the clearance of Chapel debt. The chairmanship was given to Joseph Williams who gave an account of his connection with the church during his 50 year membership, and he called upon his son D. D. Williams to read out a very ably written history of Ynysgau Chapel from its establishment.

Joseph Williams died in July 1903, and at his funeral service at Ynysgau Chapel was remembered as a naturally able man, and his acquaintance with Welsh literature was extensive. He possessed a large amount of knowledge which was very accurate, and was a man of sound judgement, an upright character and a credit to the community.

Merthyr Express – 22 July 1903

The Meaning of ‘Gurnos’

by Carl Llewellyn

Some time ago I read an article in an old edition of the Merthyr Express. It was written by a J.R. Evans of Aberdare who complained that many local Welsh place names were incorrectly spelt; he then gave his interpretation why places in our locality were so named. Many Welsh place names were bestowed centuries ago and were often descriptive of their pictorial detail. Perhaps because these place names were seldom written, and again because of the inability of the English to pronounce Welsh words, in some cases these words become so changed in form they become unrecognisable and unintelligible, with the original signification being entirely lost.

Examples of the mutilation of Welsh place names can be found in “Lechwedd” (meaning a slope) has become “Leckwith” near Cardiff, and “Rhaiadr” (water fall) becoming “Radyr”. When referring to the name Gurnos, it immediately brings to mind one of the UK’s largest Housing estates situated near Prince Charles Hospital to a majority of people but most of them are not aware of its origin and translation. We often find the name of parts of the body are used in place names. For instance we speak of head or top of a hill, for instance  Penydarren, (pen, head or top; y, of the; darren, a rocky hill) also Troedyrhiw (troed, foot; y, of the; rhiw slope). So the word “Cern” meaning “side of the head”, is applied similarity to the side of the hill, which perhaps has an even surface resembling earth moulds protruding on the side of the hill. There is a diminutive plural suffix “os”, when appended to “Cern” gives us “Cernos”, The placing of the letter “y” before the word modifies it into “Y Gernos”, meaning the lower side of the hill. In the opinion of J.R. Evans “Y Gernos” has been incorrectly spelt by some as the “Gurnos”.  I tend to agree with J.R. Evans over the centuries it’s possible the word has been corrupted either by incorrect spelling or pronunciation. On the site of Gurnos Housing Estate once stood the “Gurnos” farm whose name aptly describing its location.

Gurnos Farm by Penry Williams. Photo courtesy of

Charles Wilkins in his History of Merthyr Tydfil calls the farm “Gyrnos” and gives it derivation as “Carn-nos” (carn, a heap of stones; nos, night), signifying “Night Watch Beacon” stating that it may have reference to the warfare day of the district. You the reader must make up your own mind on the explanations for the Welsh word “Gurnos”. I concur that Charles Wilkins reference is a romanticised version while J.R.Evans interpretation has more of a down to earth explanation.

These differing points of view reminded me of a television series, “The Dragon Has Two Tongues”, where Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, and Professor Gwyn Alf Williams gave their own passionate satire about Wales.