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.

S. O. Davies, M. P.

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Merthyr’s longest serving Member of Parliament – S. O. Davies. In 1934 he became MP for Merthyr Tydfil and held the post continuously until his death in 1972; for the Labour Party 1934-1970 and as an Independent Socialist 1970-1972.

S. O. Davies

Stephen Owen Davies was born at 39 John Street, Abercwmboi (officially) on 9 November 1886 (some sources place his birth in 1883 or even earlier), the fourth of six children of Thomas Davies, miner and union organizer, and his wife, Esther.

After attending Cap Coch School in Abercwmboi, Davies started work in Cwmpennar Colliery at the age of twelve, but subsequently studied mining engineering at night classes, and in 1908 secured sponsorship from Brecon Memorial College to study for a BA at University College, Cardiff, with the ultimate intention of entering the non-conformist ministry. Despite Brecon College withdrawing the funding due to Davies’ reticence regarding his religious beliefs, he gained his degree in 1913.

Following his graduation, he began working as a collier in Tumble, and during the First World War was adopted as an Independent Labour Party candidate for Llanelli, and in October 1918 he was appointed the full-time agent to the Dowlais district of the South Wales Miners’ Federation, remaining in the position until 1934, entering into a formidable partnership with his counterpart for the Merthyr district, Noah Ablett.

Davies quickly developed a reputation for militant action. He became strongly opposed to the post-war demands for the nationalization of the British coal industry. He visited Russia in 1922 and became a lifelong admirer of the Soviet system. He remained loyal to the Labour Party however, despite being strongly attracted by the appeal of the Communist Party. In 1924 he was appointed Chief Organizer and Legal Adviser to the South Wales Miners Federation and also became its Vice-President in the same year. He also served on the Executive of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, 1924-34, as the representative of the South Wales miners, and he was elected a member of the Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council in 1931. He later became an alderman of the Council and served as its Mayor in 1945-46. He remained a member of the council until 1949.

In 1934 Davies was elected Labour MP for Merthyr. The same year he remarried, his first wife Margaret Eley (who he had married in 1919) having died two years earlier leaving him with three daughters. His second wife was Sephora Davies from Carmarthenshire, with whom he had two sons.

At Westminster, Davies consistently proved himself of independent mind, as prone to oppose the policies of a Labour government as those of a Conservative administration. Ever the watchdog for socialism, in its purest sense, as well as a rigid apologist for Soviet domestic and foreign policy whatever the excesses, he lost the whip on three occasions between 1953 and 1961 on issues relating to American bases in Britain, West German rearmament, and opposition to the Polaris submarine programme. A thorn in the side of the Wilson government between 1966 and 1970, he disagreed with its policy on public spending, wage controls, and trade union legislation. His support for the idea of Welsh self-government also often found him at variance with party policy.

Unsurprisingly, Davies was never offered government office but proved himself an excellent constituency MP. His concerns included reformation of the national insurance law in 1967, giving additional compensation to former miners afflicted with dust-related diseases.

The Aberfan Disaster in 1966 led to Davies’s final estrangement from the Labour Party. Harold Wilson’s support for the idea of using the disaster fund to contribute towards removal of the tips led Davies to boycott the ceremony bestowing freedom of the borough of Merthyr on the Prime Minister in 1970. His constituency party consequently replaced him as its candidate in the general election later that year. Refusing to accept that his political career was over, he stood as an independent socialist and, campaigning on his record, won by more than 7000 votes over the official Labour candidate. While this may say something about the historically individualistic nature of Merthyr’s politics, it also testified to his reputation and the local esteem in which he was held.

S.O. Davies died at Merthyr’s General Hospital on 25 February 1972, following a chest infection, and was buried at Maesyrarian Cemetery, Mountain Ash, in his native Cynon Valley.

Dr Dyke of Merthyr

Today marks the anniversary of the death of another very important in Merthyr’s History – Dr T J Dyke.

Dr T J Dyke

Thomas Jones Dyke was born in Lower High Street in Merthyr on 16 September 1816. His father, Thomas Dyke, a pharmaceutical chemist, had moved to Merthyr from Bristol in the early 1800’s and set up a business in the town, first in partnership with D S Davies and then on his own at a premises at Court Street.

Thomas Dyke Jr. attended the schools of William Shaw in Gellifaelog, Taliesin Williams in Bridge Street and William Armsworth in Swansea, before finishing his education at the Bedminster House Academy in Bristol. In 1831 he began a three year apprenticeship with Mr David Davies, the surgeon at the Cyfarthfa Works, before going to London in 1834 to further his medical studies. He attended Granger’s School of Anatomy and Medicine and also Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals, and passed as an apothecary in 1837 and as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons the following year.

Returning to Merthyr, the now Dr Dyke set up practice, and in 1842 bought ‘The Hollies’, a cottage in Albert Street where he lived until 1894.

During the cholera epidemic of 1849 (see previous blog entry, Dr Dyke was appointed Medical Officer of Health of one of the districts into which Merthyr had been divided due to the epidemic. Dr Dyke actually contracted cholera himself, but after battling the disease for six weeks, he eventually pulled through. Cholera hit Merthyr again in 1854 and 1866, and Dr Dyke was at the forefront of the fight against the disease.

In 1863, Dr Dyke was appointed as the first permanent Medical Officer of Health to the Merthyr Tydfil Board of Health, a position he retained until his death, the Board of Health being replaced by the Merthyr Tydfil Urban Council in 1894.

In 1876 the Hospital for Sick Children was founded in Bridge Street, and Dr Dyke was put in charge of the medical care there. The Hospital for Sick Children would grow and eventually become the General Hospital in 1888.

Dr Dyke’s services were recognised when he was appointed High Constable of Caerphilly Higher (which covered Merthyr at the time) in 1876 and 1877; and in 1886 he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace of Glamorganshire.

The above facts do not give justice to the immense service he provided to Merthyr. Throughout his life Dr Dyke fought to improve medical and sanitary conditions in the town, and as Medical Officer to the Board of Health, he used his influence to facilitate many of these improvements. Through the auspices of the Board of Health, Merthyr received a reliable and clean water supply in 1861, and between 1865 and 1868 a system of new sewers was built in the town leading to a new sewage farm ensuring that very little sewage was deposited directly into the River Taff.

Thomas Dyke died peacefully in his sleep on 20 January 1900. In his obituary in the South Wales Daily News on 22 January 1990 was written:

“He was closely identified with Merthyr and all its works for the greater part of a century. The public came to recognise him as one who did something to the benefit of the community at large. No man did better life saving work in South Wales”.