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.

The Troedyrhiw Gleemen – part 1

by Carl Llewellyn

While the First World War was reaching its latter stages, a group of young men with a passion for singing approached a local musician, Mr Herbert Llewellyn of Troedyrhiw, to coach them in the rudiments of voice training. Each young male chorister paid Mr Herbert Llewellyn fourpence each per rehearsal for the privilege. Of course not all the Troedyrhiw Male Choir were Troedyrhiw born and bred – there were also a few from the Town and Heolgerrig.

Once the choir had been formed, 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 male voice party began with only a few young choristers whose voices and musical talent were of the highest calibre.

Most of the choristers were unmarried and close friends. They were employed in the local collieries, and due to this and their youth they were too young to be conscripted into the armed forces.  The common bond between them was that they were young, musically talented, they had a deep desire to enhance their God given gift for singing.

In 1919 some of the choristers went on holiday to Swansea and trooped into the old Woolworths Store for tea. In a relaxed and happy mood they burst into unofficial song and, far from being thrown out they were invited back the following day to give another musical rendering for more free tea.

In 1920 the male voice choir, or gleemen, arranged a two week’s holiday combined with a choir tour to Portsmouth. The Gleemen consisted of 25 choristers of which only 19 were available to be part of the tour.

The photograph below of the Gleemen in Portsmouth was taken 97 years ago today.

The Troedyrhiw Gleemen on their trip to Portsmouth, 10 August 1920

BACK: left to right: David James, Yew Street: Emrys Jones, Merthyr: Emrys Jones barber: Ossie Bufton

SECOND ROW: left to right: Trefor Davies: William Richards: Sam Edwards, Church Street; Rees Richards: W Griffiths, Heolgerrig; Tommy Jones, Aberfan: Enoch John: Aeron Davies: Sydney Griffiths.

SEATED left to right: Billy Williams, Dyffryn, W. George; W Jones (Bett); Brinley Griffiths, accompanist, later conductor of the Merthyr Philharmonic Choir, Herbert Llewellyn, conductor; Mr Davies, Chief Constable of Portsmouth: Gwilym Edwards: David Williams: Ben Lewis, now in Scranton U.S.A.

The ensign they are displaying was given to the party by the officers of the battleship H.M.S. Barham, after they had given another concert on board the ship at Portsmouth. The flag was flown by H.M.S. Barham at the battle of Jutland. Mr Enoch John believes that the flag was given to Cyfarthfa Museum.

A report of the tour to Porstmouth will be featured in the next post.

 

The Fountain

We’ve all seen it but what do we know about the Fountain in Caedraw?

The Fountain in 2015

The fountain was commissioned in 1906 to mark the granting of the charter for Merthyr’s Incorporation as a County Borough. The fountain was a gift of Sir William Thomas Lewis, the Merthyr-born coal magnate and philanthropist, as a tribute to Robert and Lucy Thomas, his wife’s grandparents.

Lucy Thomas (1781-1847), was one of the most remarkable people in the South Wales coalfield. She is considered to be the ‘Mother of the Welsh steam coal trade’. It was the coal from the Waun Wyllt Colliery at Troedyrhiw opened by her husband Robert in 1824 that helped to establish the reputation of Welsh coal on the London market.

The fountain, designed by W Macfarlane & Co, and manufactured at the Saracen Foundry, Possilpark, Glasgow was an elaborate canopied drinking fountain, 18ft. by 4ft. The open filigree canopy was supported by eight columns with griffin terminals which were positioned over capitals with foliage frieze above square bases. The highly decorated cusped arches were trimmed with rope mouldings. Cartouches contained within each lunette offered shields for memorial: a miner wielding a pick axe; a working miner; the coat of arms of St. Tydfil; and a dedication shield. Doves and flowers offered decorative relief on the circular, ribbed dome. The internal capitals contained flowers, and lion mascarons were placed on internal lunettes. The cast iron structure was surmounted by a heroic classical figure of Samson inscribed Strength.

Under the canopy stood the font. A circular shaft, ornamented with water lilies, rested on a wide base with canted corners. Four lion jambs supported four highly decorated quatrefoil basins. Rising from the centre was a pyramid shaped stanchion decorated with swan and bird decoration. A kylix-shaped lamp terminal with four consoles originally offered drinking cups suspended by chains.

The inscription on the dedication shield read:

Erected by Sir William T. Lewis and William Thomas Rees of Aberdare and presented to their native town in commemoration of Robert and Lucy Thomas of Waunwyltt in this parish, the pioneers in 1828 of the South Wales steam coal trade

The fountain was originally sited on a raised plinth near the site of the present-day Caedraw roundabout. It remained there until 1966 when it was moved due to the widening of the road, and the canopy was re-sited in front of St Tydfil’s Church, on the site of the current car-park. By this time the original drinking troughs had been removed and the canopy needed restoration, but the whereabouts of the original drinking fountain and five of the eight shields is unknown.

The Fountain at its original site. Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

In 1988 it was designated a Grade II listed monument, and in 1993 as a result of a refurbishment programme, the fountain was moved to its present position immediately south of St. Tydfil’s Church. In 1995 Merthyr Council awarded the project to restore the fountain to Acorn Restorations Ltd and the re-sited and refurbished fountain was officially opened in July 1996.

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.

The Building of St Mary’s, Merthyr Vale

In the last post, a newspaper cutting appeared announcing the opening of St Mary’s Church in Merthyr Vale. The story of the building of the church is a fascinating one, as the church was built at a time of austerity, actually coinciding with the General Strike of 1926.

A number of people from Merthyr Vale and Aberfan worshipped in the Anglican faith, and indeed they had their own vicar – Rev P Evans. The one thing they didn’t have was their own church. Encouraged by Rev Evans, they decided that they would build a church themselves, and despite the deprivations of the time, and having very little money, plans were drawn up by Rev Evans; Mr Walter March, the engineer of Merthyr Vale Colliery; and Mrs Lewis James.

One of the first problems facing them was where to get the materials needed to build the church. Fortunately the owners of the Glamorganshire Canal told them that they could have the dressed stone from the old, disused pump house near the Pontyrhun Bridge in Troedyrhiw, but they would have to dismantle the building and transport the stones themselves. Mr Ernie Williams, a coal delivery driver from Troedyrhiw offered them the use of his delivery lorry, and every day, people from Merthyr Vale, led by Rev Evans went to Troedyrhiw and pulled down the pump house, stone by stone, and Ernie Williams delivered the stones to Merthyr Vale. After many months of back-breaking work, the building was finally completed, but the generosity didn’t stop there.

merthyrvale_stmaryschurch
Rev Evans and volunteers during the building of the church

Money being very scarce, the group had very little to spare for fixtures and fittings for the new church, however, a church in Aberdare offered the people of Merthyr Vale a pulpit. Once again, the services of Ernie Williams were called upon, and with the aid of a steam wagon borrowed from Merthyr Vale Colliery, not to mention many willing helpers, the pulpit was loaded on to the wagon for the journey to Merthyr Vale. Hearing of the endeavours of the Merthyr Vale group, the firm of Williams and Williams, colliery lamp makers, gave those who had journeyed to Aberdare a free meal.

The journey from Aberdare to Merthyr Vale was not an easy one. The steam wagon travelled at a speed of five miles per hour, and was so heavy that several bridges en route had to be strengthened to take its weight. Despite this, the pulpit arrived in one piece and was installed in the church. The church was consecrated on 12 December 1926.

St Mary’s Church

Sadly, due to subsidence caused by the mine workings at Merthyr Vale Colliery, St Mary’s Church was demolished in 1967, after just over 40 years serving the community. A new church was built on the same site in 1974.

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

The story of ‘Martyr’ Tydfil

If we are going to have a blog about the history of Merthyr Tydfil, it is perhaps natural to start with how Merthyr Tydfil got its name.

st-tydfil
Stained glass window of St Tydfil at Llandaff Cathedral courtesy of Llywelyn2000

The story starts with the legendary 5th Century king Brychan Brycheiniog. Brychan was allegedly the son of the Irish king Anlach, son of Coronac, and of Marchell ferch Dewdrig heiress of the Welsh kingdom of Garthmadrun, which the couple later inherited. Upon his father’s death, Brychan returned to Garthmadrun and changed its name to Brycheiniog. Brychan had four wives and several concubines and was said to have had 11 sons and 25 daughters. Tydfil was his 23rd daughter by his fourth wife. Most of Brychan’s children were well educated, girls and boys, at a school in Gwenddwr on the Wye and went on to live deeply religious lives.

Tydfil decided to make her home in the Taff Valley, sparsely populated by Celt farmers. She established an early Celtic monastic community, leading a small band of men and women. She built an enclosure around a small wattle and daub church, and she became known for her compassion and healing skills as she nursed both sick humans and animal.

In approximately 480AD, the aged Brychan decided to visit his children one last time. He took with him his son Rhun Dremrudd, his grandson Nefydd and his son along with several servants. They visited his third daughter, Tanglwstl, at her religious community at Hafod Tanglwstl, what is now known as the village of Aberfan, south of Merthyr Tydfil. Brychan wanted to stay with his daughters a little longer, so he sent most of his warriors and Nefydd on ahead, along the homeward journey. The king went on to Tydfil’s home while Rhun and Nefydd’s son were still at Hafod Tanglwstl.

At the time, Wales was experiencing raids from Scottish Picts who had settled in Radnorshire, and it was during Brychan’s journey from Hafod Tanglwstl that one of these raids occurred. Rhun was attacked by a raiding party, a mile from Hafod Tanglwstl and he died defending a bridge over the river at what is now the village of Troedyrhiw. With the bridge undefended, the marauding Picts were free to attack the King’s party. One group destroyed Hafod Tanglwstl, whilst the other attacked Brychan’s party which had reached Tydfil’s community. The party were all murdered, but whilst most ran away or fought, Tydfil knelt and prayed, but she too was cut down.

Tydfil was buried within the church she founded, and a Celtic cross was put up in a clearing near the Taff to mark the place where ‘Martyr’ Tydfil was slain and which became a site of pilgrimage. In the 13th century the cross and wattle and daub church were replaced by a stone church dedicated to Saint Tydfil the Martyr. This was in turn replaced in 1807, and rebuilt again in 1894.

Old St Tydfil’s Church courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)
St Tydfil’s Church courtesy of Steve MT