Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Merthyr Tydfil

I had to go to Merthyr Tydfil recently and had a spare half hour before I caught the train back to Cardiff.

Merthry Tydfil is one of those names once heard is never forgotton. Sadly I know exctly when I first heard the name.

At 9.15 am on Friday, October 21, 1966 a waste tip slid down a mountainside into the mining village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. It first destroyed a farm cottage in its path then the slide engulfed the local school and about 20 houses in the village before coming to rest. 144 people died in the Aberfan disaster: 116 of them were school children. About half of the children at Pantglas Junior School, and five of their teachers, were killed. http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/desc.htm

I was eight at the time, a similar age to many of the children that were killed and I can still recall the shock that every one felt.

On a frosty bright January morning, catching the train up the valley from Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil, it is had to picture what it must have been like then.

I wasn't sure what to expect - the first thing that greets you at the station is a massive Tesco Extra - no escape from their relentless march.

A short walk to the south finds St Tydfil's the Old Parish Church of Merthyr Tydfil which stands at the lower end of the High Street.

The name Merthyr Tydfil means THE BURIAL PLACE OF TYDFIL (although other sources say it is Welsh for Tydfil the Martyr).Legend has it that Tydfil was the daughter of a 5th Century Chieftain, Brychan, King of Breconshire. While visiting their sister Tanglwst in Aberfan,Tydfil and her family were massacred by a band of marauding Picts, who came over to Wales from Ireland. It is generally believed that she died on the site of the Parish Church, which bears her name, having defied the pagans and refused to give up Christianity. http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/incorporation.htm

It is thought that some form of church has stood on this spot for nearly 1500 years. This church was closed for worship in 1968 when St. David’s Church, situated in the centre of the town became the new Parish Church. The present church was not built until 1894, when the previous church, built in 1808 was replaced. It was designed in Neo-Romanesque style by J L Pearson, who also designed Truro Cathedral.

The Old Parish Church is now used as a Chapel of Rest and for special services throughout the year. One is always held on St. Tydfil's Day, August 23rd.

Walking up the High street brings you to St David's Church.It was built in 1846-7 to house the growing English-speaking congregation. St Tydfil's was the parish church at that time and was mainly Welsh-speaking. St David's is a large church built in the Victorian Gothic Early English style although the interior is mostly 20th century.

Of more interest is the drinking fountain outside the church commemorating the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 1863. Another Grade II listing (13 January 1988)

Just up from St David's is the library. This Carnegie funded library, designed by T Edmund Rees,was fully opened in 1936. it is a Grade II listed building. (A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie).

In front of the library is a statue of Henry Seymour Berry. He had substantial holdings in steel, coal, transport, printing, and shipping and was made a Freeman of the Borough in 1923 and then became Baron Buckland of Bwlch in 1926. The statue was designed by W Goscombe John RA and erected 1931. It too is Grade II listed.

A plaque on the wall of the library commemorates Richard Lewis.

Richard Lewis (1807/8-1831), better known as Dic Penderyn, was a native of Aberavon. At the time of the 1831 Merthyr Rising he was a miner in Merthyr Tydfil.He was charged with feloniously wounding Donald Black of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Despite a petition of 11,000 names for his reprieve, he was hanged at Cardiff on 13th August, 1831. His last words on the scaffold were reported to be ‘O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd’ – ‘O Lord, what injustice’http://www.mtht.co.uk/HeritagePlaquesPeople.html

Up the road again and you come to once splendid but now boarded up Town Hall. This was designed by Johnson, who was a local architect and built in 1896. It was originally built as the offices for the Board of Health, but became the town hall after Merthyr Tydfil was granted a Municipal Charter of Incorporation by King Edward VII in June 1905. A sign outside notes that 'In 1900 the historic victory of Kier Hardie, the first Independant Labour MP in Britain, was announced from the balcony of the old Town hall.

One final building, now in a sorry state, is the former Miner's Welfare Hall. It is believed to have been designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel but was severely damaged by fire sometime in the past. This was Grade II listed on 13 January 1988.


  1. http://www.welshchapelsandchurches.org/contact.html

    Thank you for taking time to photograph and share the photos of my once hometown Merthyr Tydfil. I am writing to ask your permission to use the photos of St Tydfil & St Davids church on my website of chapels and churches of Wales.

    Best wishes Jill

  2. I have just made the same trek today... searching for ancestral information.