Merthyr’s Chapels: Elim Chapel, Penydarren

In our regular feature on the chapels of Merthyr, we next take a look at the history of Elim Baptist Chapel in Penydarren.

In 1841, Rev William Robert Davies, minister at Caersalem Chapel in Dowlais decided that a new Baptist cause should be started in Penydarren to cater for the ever growing population there. Land was leased from the Penydarren Iron Company and the chapel, named Elim was built in 1842.

In 1849, the infamous cholera epidemic struck Merthyr which caused the death of 1,682 in Merthyr and Dowlais alone (see previous entry – www.merthyr-history.com/?p=123). On 4 August, cholera struck Rev Davies’ household, when his daughter died of the disease. Despite his grief, Rev Davies continued to visit the sick and comforted their relatives. One of the results of the cholera was a sudden upsurge in chapel attendance, and on the last two Sundays of August alone Rev Davies baptised no less than 150 people.

By this time he had begun discussing with the deacons the possibility of appointing another minister to help him continue the work at Caersalem. However, before this could be acted upon, Davies was himself struck down by the cholera on 1 September. He became suddenly ill at nine o’clock in the morning, and by seven o’clock that same evening he was dead. He was buried in the same grave as his daughter at the graveyard at Elim Chapel. He was 51 years old.

Elim continued to be considered as a branch of Caersalem until it gained its independence in 1852. The congregation continued to grow however, and the chapel was rebuilt in 1858.

By the 1930’s it had become obvious to the members that the chapel needed a new schoolroom to accommodate the burgeoning Sunday School at Elim Chapel. The materials necessary to build the school room were offered to the chapel at a very reasonable price on the condition that the members of the chapel could collect them. As this was the time of the Great Depression, and the Dowlais Works having recently closed, most of the men at the chapel found themselves unemployed, so they collected the materials, and built the school room themselves. The women of the chapel organised many activities to raise money towards the building. The schoolroom was opened on 18 July 1933.

Elim Chapel, Penydarren in 1933 showing the recently built new schoolroom

On the night of 23 December 1977 Elim was severely damaged in a storm, the roof was blown off. The chapel was beyond repair and had to be demolished the following year. Services were subsequently held at Williams Memorial Chapel until that chapel closed, and the remaining members of the congregation rejoined their mother church at Caersalem.

Elim Chapel following the collapse of the front wall as a result of the storm

A development of flats for senior citizens has now been built on the site of the chapel and is called Hafan Elim.

Merthyr: Then and Now

PENYDARREN HIGH STREET

For the latest in our series, we have three photographs showing somewhere that has altered beyond all recognition – Penydarren High Street.

At one time Penydarren High Street was lined by houses and shops; a chapel – Radcliffe Hall; a cinema – the Cosy, not to mention several pubs. Penydarren High Street was also the site of The Lucania where Eddie Thomas had his gym.

The first photograph shows the High Street in about 1910.

Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

The next photograph taken just slightly further up the High Street is from 1972.

Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

In this photograph you can see that the houses are still standing, if a little more weather-worn than previously, and Radcliffe Hall Chapel is at the bottom of the photo on the left hand side.

The last photo is from 2012 – nothing remains. That’s progress for you!!!

Merthyr Man at Mons

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

MERTHYR MAN AT MONS

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

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

Merthyr’s Trams

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.

Trams at Pontmorlais Circus

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.

Trams at the terminus in Graham Street

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.

Traction Yard

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.

A tram outside the Bush Hotel in Dowlais

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.

Merthyr’s Last Tram

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.

All photos courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

Merthyr’s Boxers: Howard Winstone

The series on Merthyr’s great boxers continues with arguably Merthyr’s greatest champion – Howard Winstone.

Howard Winstone was born on 15 April 1939 in Penydarren, the second of four children. He attended Penydarren and Gellifaelog Junior Schools and, encouraged by his father, showed early enthusiasm and aptitude for following Merthyr’s rich boxing tradition. He started boxing aged eleven, and in 1954 joined the gym opened by the former welterweight champion Eddie Thomas, a short walk from the Winstone family home. He won three Welsh schools titles, and one British title.

After leaving school he worked at a Lines Brothers Toy Factory where on 19 May 1956 his right hand was crushed by a power press, leaving him without the tips of three fingers. As a result of the accident he lost much of the punching power in his right hand and so had to change his style developing one of the fastest left hand jabs in the sport. Far from hampering Winstone’s career, in 1958 he won the Amateur Boxing Association’s featherweight championship, a gold medal (Wales’ only gold) at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, and the Welsh Sports Personality of the Year Award – an honour he would receive on two further occasions, in 1963 and 1967.

Winstone won 83 of his 86 amateur bouts and hoped to box at the 1960 Olympics, but instead turned professional under Eddie Thomas’s management. He made his professional debut in February 1959 at Wembley Stadium, London, when he beat Billy Graydon on points over six rounds. He then proceeded to win his first 24 professional fights, at which point he was considered ready for a shot at the British featherweight title, and in May 1961 he fought Terry Spinks the holder of the title, and the 1956 Olympic gold medallist at the Empire Pool, Wembley. He out-boxed Spinks, forcing him to retire after ten rounds, and so claimed the British title.

He continued to win all his contests, and in April 1962 he defended his title against Derry Treanor, at the Empire Pool, winning by a technical knockout in the fourteenth round. The next month he defended his title against Harry Carroll in Cardiff forcing him to retire after six rounds.

His first defeat came in November 1962 – his 35th fight after 34 straight wins. He was beaten by Leroy Jeffery, an American featherweight, by a technical knockout in the second round after having been knocked down three times. In January 1963, he defended his British title for the third time, defeating Johnny Morrisey by a technical knockout in the eleventh round, and won the European title the same year, defending the title in May 1964, January 1965,  and March, September and December 1966.

Winstone now set his sights on becoming the World Champion. In September 1965 he challenged for the WBA and WBC world featherweight titles held by the Mexican left-hander, Vicente Saldivar. The fight was held at Earls Court Arena, London and Saldivar won on points over fifteen rounds.

He challenged Saldivar again in June and October 1967, but was defeated on both occasions. Following the defence of his title in October 1967, Saldivar announced his retirement leaving his world title vacant. In January 1968, Winstone fought the Japanese, Mitsunori Seki for the vacant WBC world featherweight title at the Royal Albert Hall. Winstone won the contest and finally gained the world title.

In July 1968 he defended his newly won world title against the Cuban, Jose Legra, at Porthcawl, Wales. Although Winstone had beaten Legra twice before, he was knocked down twice in the first round. He continued fighting, but unfortunately he sustained a badly swollen left eye, which caused the bout to be stopped in the fifth round. Having lost the world title in his first defence, Winstone decided to retire at the age of 29.

He continued living in Merthyr Tydfil after retirement. In 1968 he was awarded the MBE. Later, he was made a Freeman of Merthyr Tydfil due to his boxing accomplishments. He died on 30 September 2000, aged 61.

In 2001, one year after his death, a bronze statue of Winstone by Welsh sculptor David Petersen was unveiled in St. Tydfil’s Square, and in 2005, he beat many other local luminaries to be named “Greatest Citizen of Merthyr Tydfil”, in a public vote competition run by Cyfarthfa Castle and Museum as part of the centenary celebrations to mark Merthyr’s incorporation as a county borough in 1905.

The Meaning of ‘Gurnos’

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 http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

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.