Merthyr: Then and Now

PONTSARN RAILWAY STATION

Pontsarn Station was, at one time, one of the busiest stations on the Brecon and Merthyr Railway line, as Pontsarn was always the venue of choice for Church and Chapel Sunday School Outings.

In the first photograph taken in the early 1900’s we see a quite busy station with its own station-master.

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

The second photograph taken in October 2017 shows that nothing remains of the old station other than the platform. It is now a scenic stopping off point on the Taff Trail.

Many thanks to Jason Meaker who suggested this post.

The Opening of St John’s Church, Cefn

143 years ago today the article transcribed below appeared in the Western Mail:

Opening of Cefn Church

Yesterday the pretty township of Cefncoedycymmer, near Merthyr Tydfil, was all astir, the occasion being the preliminary opening of the church of St. John’s.

Before the days of the iron and coal trade, but a solitary cottage or two marked the now well populated outskirt of Cefn, and in those bygone days the important section of the parish of Vaynor was concentrated at Pontsarn and  Pontsticill. There, in a pleasant little dingle, just above the banks of the Taff vawr, nestled the old parish church. About ten years ago the original building presented a decayed and irreparable appearance, and leading Churchmen of the parish at once decided to introduce another place of worship adjacent to the old site, where Welsh people had worshipped for so many centuries. A sum of money towards the necessary building fund was soon forthcoming; but at the outset Mr. Robert Crawshay, of Cyfarthfa Castle, with characteristic perception, pointed to the more urgent necessities of the people of Cefn with regard to church accommodation, and practically evinced his anxiety to see a want supplied in this direction by the handsome offer, that if the nominal sum already subscribed were transferred for the construction of an edifice at Cefn he would, at his own expense build the Vaynor Church. This was agreed to, and Mr. Crawshay’s idea was speedily verified in the erection and opening of a place of worship at Vaynor.

Meanwhile the committee at Cefn, who themselves had worked hard, and subscribed to the best of their ability, were not so successful, in a financial sense, as was anticipated. Nevertheless, available funds were invested with a view to a commencement of the work at a convenient site near the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, the ground having been gratuitously granted by Mrs. Gwynne Holford.

The designs of the church having been prepared by Mr. G. E. Robinson, architect, Cardiff, the contract was taken by Mr. David Jenkins, builder, Merthyr, for a sum less than £2,000, and he has discharged his obligations most satisfactorily, under, perhaps, trying circumstances. Time does not allow of our entering here either into the circumstances which caused such delay in the completion of this work, or a description of the building itself. We may however say that within a short time since when the work of completion was undertaken under circumstances which will presently appear – the sacred house, partially pledged, remained for a protracted period with the doors and windows barricaded with boarding.

At last Mr. Crawshay, who had long since redeemed his promise by erecting a parish church, was appealed to for further help, and he at once gave directions that the church should be forthwith completed at his expense. This has been done, and a cheque for £200 from the Iron King, with a sum already in hand, satisfies the contractor. Of late a few ladies have rendered assistance to the committee by efforts in the shape of concerts, and solicitations of one shilling subscriptions, in order to provide certain details in connection with the building, which, it is computed, will cost altogether £2,000.

The edifice is substantially built, will accommodate 250 people, and prove a great boon to persons who have hitherto been compelled to either worship under the ministrations of the Rev. J. S. Williams, curate, in a temporary apartment, or journey to Merthyr in one direction, or Vaynor in another. The names of the gentlemen who have assiduously applied themselves in securing the church for Cefn are Messrs. W. T. Crawshay, C. E. Matthews, William Jones, and T. J. Pearce, who have been compelled to carry out the work solely from public subscriptions, not having received the slightest aid from any society.

The interior of the church can be pronounced complete, but the exterior surroundings suggest an unfinished appearance. A preliminary service was conducted in the church on Monday evening, when the Rev. John Jenkins, of Llanfrynach, preached in English, and the Rev. John Cunnick, deputation from the Church Pastoral Aid Society, in Welsh. The services yesterday were choral, and there was not the slightest ostentation displayed; a more appropriate and impressive ceremony being deferred till the grand opening ceremony on occasion of the thorough completion of the building.

The service, which commenced at 11 o’clock before a crowded congregation, was intoned by the Rev. Mr. Jones, rector of Dowlais. The Rev. J. Griffiths, rector of Neath, preached an eloquent discourse. Services were also held in the evening. We were unable at the time of the despatch of our parcel to ascertain the amount realised from offerings. The clergy and visitors were entertained by Mr. Wm. Crawshay, Mr. Matthews, and Mr. William Jones. Mrs. William Crawshay has contributed a beautiful altar cloth, and Mr. C. E. Matthews a Communion service.

Western Mail – 22 April 1874

Bridging the gap

One of the most striking structures in Merthyr if Cefn Viaduct. You can’t miss it, but how much do you know about it?

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Cefn Viaduct photo courtesy of Christopher Surridge

The viaduct was commissioned by the Brecon and Merthyr Railway company to span the Taf Fawr Valley in Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer. Before work began, a special Act of Parliament had to be sought in 1862 to allow construction. The viaduct was designed by Alexander Sutherland and Henry Conybeare, and was built by Thomas Savin and John Ward. In early 1866, the project faced disaster when Savin and Ward suffered serious financial and legal difficulties. It was eventually completed with the assistance of Alexander Sutherland, and was completed on 29 October 1866 at a cost of £25,000.

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Cefn Viaduct under construction courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)

The viaduct is 770 ft long, and at its highest point stands 115 ft high; it has 15 arches, each one 39 ft 6 inches wide. It was planned to be constructed entirely of limestone , but a strike by stonemasons in February 1866 caused the company to buy 800,000 bricks and use bricklayers to complete the 15 arches. The most striking feature of the viaduct is its elegant curve. The viaduct was apparently designed this way to avoid encroaching on Robert Thompson Crawshay’s land.

Smaller, but no less impressive is Pontsarn Viaduct. This was also designed by Alexander Sutherland and built by Savin and Ward to bridge the Taf Fechan Valley. Opened in 1867, Pontsarn is 455 ft long and 92 ft high at its highest point and comprises seven arches. Unlike Cefn Viaduct, it is built entirely of limestone.

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Pontsarn Viaduct courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)

The Merthyr to Brecon Line stopped carrying passenger trains in 1961, but goods trains continued to use the viaducts, with the last train crossing them on 1 August 1966. Both viaducts are now Grade II* listed and form part of the Taff Trail.