Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Members Night

December MEETing :


Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  12th  december 2016.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Nymphs of the Pave

Cyfarthfa Ironworks - Thomas Prytherch

The large audience had an anxious wait for speaker Steve David to arrive at this month’s meeting, however his subsequent lecture proved that it was worth waiting for the late start. He began by stating that the dictionary definition of the term “nymphs of the pave”, was a “lady of extinguished virtue”. It would be easy to dismiss this as a description of a prostitute but Mr David’s talk showed that these women were very much a symbol of Merthyr Tydfil in the 1840s. At the time the town was

 devoid of law and order and very much in the hands of a criminal underclass, unique in the world of its day.

Merthyr in the 1840s was the largest settlement in Wales. In 1720, the surrounding area had a population of less than 200 people. Yet by 1841 this had mushroomed to 57,000, spurred by the industrialization of the ironmasters. The largely male, young and unruly population was described as “the detritus of the flood”, by a concerned minister of religion. The commercial and financial success however was undoubted with nine businesses producing turnover of over £100,000 per annum. John Guest measured the profits of his company and his personal wealth in millions and Merthyr despite its poverty was one of the greatest concentrations of industrial capital in the world.

Most of the population was both Welsh and Welsh speaking, some further 10% was Irish and contributed in no small measure to the building of the ironworks. The Jewish community amounted to around 1% of the population and contributed to the shops of the town (which included three cheese shops) and had established a synagogue in the town. Merthyr itself had no local government or corporation and was virtually lawless and self- regulating. People were attracted to Merthyr by the vastly higher wages offered by the industries which were three times as high as the penury offered by the countryside. Mr David spoke of the hiring fairs, which set a fixed annual wage to agricultural labourers and often meant that a second child would not survive a harsh winter. However, the magnet of the ironworks and its associated industries led to a massive disparity in the gender ratio of the town. It was described as a “masculine republic”, with over 1000 men to every 50 women. Dowlais alone was serviced by 200 pubs and there were also “gin palaces”, which were frequented by the women. Women also worked in the heavy industries, and earned ¾ of a man’s wage. They frequently had to discard some of their clothing (did not wear petticoats) and Merthyr was described as Gomorrah.

The notorious area of China, named  after a flour works and its products a comparison to the opium wars of the time, was the haunt of the “nymphs of the pave”. The area had 63 working prostitutes controlled and protected by “bullies”, under the ultimate control of Ben and Margaret Evans, the Emperor and Empress of China.  In return, there were only 17 police officers, totally incapable of suppressing the total dystopic anarchy of the situation. One of the “bullies”, was the infamous Sioni Ysgubor fawr, who was to feature in the Rebecca Riots when he moved to the Llanelli area. The cultural mayhem continued until around 1845, when a well-connected medical Doctor Melville was fleeced by a one of the young nymphs at his own home ( despite having sent his house keeper away for the night!). He was connected to the Earl of Bute and his agent Crichton Stewart.

Two actions resulted from this. Missionary Societies moved into the town and started to calm the situation, indeed there was a religious revival at Merthyr in 1852. Secondly, troops were sent from Brecon and arrested many of the miscreants including the Emperor and Empress. These were later transported to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) following a trial at Cardiff for periods ranging between 10 years and life.

In 1862, a commentator noted in a report that the “nymphs”, were considerably older and that the problem had largely passed.In reality, it was Merthyr Tydfil itself which had passed its industrial and demographic zenith as other areas such as the Rhondda were being opened with their own similar social problems, but with the difference that the newly formed Glamorgan Constabulary would take greater control of the situation. Merthyr however, remains historically almost unique as a town totally dominated by an organised criminal class in the nineteenth century.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Steve David for a most interesting talk. Next month’s meeting will be a members’ night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Nymphs of the Pave: November Meeting

November MEETing :

Mr Steve DaviD – “The Nymphs of the Pave”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  14th  November 2016.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Noel Thomas Lecture : Gwyrosydd – “ puddler, miner and genius”.

Daniel James "Gwyrosydd".
This year’s Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture was given by Mrs Rhian Rees of Pontyberem (though a former resident of Melincwrt), who took her husband’s great grandfather Daniel James “Gwyrosydd”, as her topic.  Daniel James’s famous composition of the words of “Calon Lân”, is universally known both in Wales and beyond, and is more likely to be heard in a pub or rugby ground these days than a chapel.  This thought may well have appealed to the mercurial character that was Daniel James. Mrs Rees described him as an “ordinary working man”, though he evidently had extraordinary qualities.

He was born in LLangyfelach in 1848, and was named as the third Daniel James in his family after his father and grandfather. It was evident that his family were literate from the marriage certificate of his parents which gave him a start in life. However, the lower Swansea Valley at the time was a dangerous place to live and was described as a sulphurous hell, being the eminent centre of copper smelting as well as other heavy and polluting industry. Infant mortality was very high, and young Daniel was fortunate to survive the cholera epidemic of 1849 which was brought on by the insanitary domestic conditions of the time. There were two schools in Llangyfelach at the time and it is probable that he attended  J.H. Vivian’s Hafod Copperworks school. Howver, he left at the age of thirteen and began work as labourer in a local tinworks.

He married Ann Hopkins at the age of 23, and soon found that he had a talent for writing which he used to his advantage composing odes for his friends and getting paid for it. Now working as a 'puddler', in Morriston Ironworks, the intense heat from the furnaces gave rise to a huge thirst which was usually slaked with weak beer. It is this period which probably gave rise to the not uncommon paradox of a literary genius with a dependency on alcohol which lasted his whole life. He was a friend of the bard David Watkin Jones  “Dafydd Morgannwg”, who  taught him the strict metre of Welsh verse and also persuaded him to adopt the Bardic name “Gwyrosydd”, for his writing. This resulted in the publishing in his first book of verse “Caneuon Gwyrosydd”.

Bust of Gwyrosydd originally placed on Mynyddbach Community Centre
In 1887, Gwyrosydd’s first wife died of pneumonia and he was left with two daughters, however he quickly married Mrs Parry the widow next door who already had five children. Now working at Landore tinplate works, the Mckinley tariff of 1890, badly affected the tinplate industry in south Wales and Gwyrosydd was laid off from his employment.  This caused him, and his now large family to move to the Blaengarw area where he worked as a collier. He continued to write for the Mid Glamorgan Gazette and also founded a Welsh literary society in the area. His next collection of writings “Caniadau Gwyrosydd”, included the famous verse of “Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus”, which is usually sung to the tune “Calon Lân”a tune that was inspired by the words of the song. The circumstances regarding its composition are rather murky, and they could well have been written on the back of a cigarette packet in the pub. However, it had become a firm favourite with Welsh congregations by the time of the religious revival in 1904. As well as writing, Gwyrosydd also enjoyed playing the harp, pennillion singing and competing successfully at Eisteddfodau. Tragedy, was not far away however and his second wife ,Gwennie, died of cancer leaving him once again with the task of coping with a large family on a meagre income. By 1901, the family had dispersed and returned to Swansea including Tawe (Mrs Rees’s husband’s grandfather).

Calon Lan Park, Blaengarw, opened in 2008.
Gwyrosydd then went to live in Mountain Ash, where he took a labourer’s job in the Nixon Colliery and worked there for a further fifteen years until aged 68. He was still too young however, to receive Lloyd George’s new Old Age Pension and was forced to work for a further two years for the local council.  During this time he also had an episode of skin cancer which he survived thanks to the herbal remedies of Mr Howells of Brynaman. In his declining years, Gwyrosydd went to live with his daughter Olwen in Swansea where he received a pension of ten shillings per week!

His life had been a hard one in terms of his work and experiences, however, he was also famous throughout Wales as a writer. O.M. Edwards, a towering figure in Welsh public life at the time  described  him as the country’s greatest bard. He is commemorated by the names of two schools in Swansea, a Calon Lân park exists in Blaengarw and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams visited his bardic chair in Swansea and also chose his famous song for “Desert Island Disks”.

Gwyrosydd died in 1920 and is buried with his first wife in Mynyddbach Chapel cemetery. The chapel closed some years ago but has been reopened as a community centre with the graveyard now cleared of knotweed.  He is also immortalised on the terraces of sports grounds thoughout Wales and beyond. Mrs Rees finished her lecture by commenting that the sentiments expressed in Calon Lân largely epitomised his character and philosophy on life.

“Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,aur y byd na’i berlau mân.

  Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,Calon onest calon lân.”

[I ask not for a luxurious life, the world’s gold or fine pearls.

   I ask instead for a happy , clean and honest heart ]

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mrs Rees for a very thorough and enjoyable talk.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

October Meeting



Noel thomas memorial lecture

Rhian ReES,


Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the CHURCH HALL on MondAY  10th OCTObeR.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Report from the AGM

Some seventeen members attended the AGM held at the Church Hall. In an age of speed dating this was an extremely quick event with all business concluded in under twenty minutes. There were no changes to the committee, the balance sheet was very healthy and a notice of motion was passed.

The motion stated that each member should have the annual trip free of charge. The logic behind this was that it would encourage people to become full members, since the cost of the trip would probably amount to more than the membership which has been frozen for several years at £10. In addition, there is little point it letting money rest in a deposit account which renders little or no interest and gives no benefit at all to the membership. However, it should be noted that the motion was for the current year only and will be reviewed on an annual basis.

Both President Phylip Jones and Chairman Gwyn Thomas thanked both the membership and the officers for their support and diligent effort in making the History Society an enduring success.

Election of OfficersPresident: Mr Phylip Jones

                                      Chairman: Mr Gwyn Thomas

                                      Treasurer: Mrs Julie Hicks

                                       Secretary: Mr Trefor Jones

                        Transport officers: Val Davies and David Woosnam

Committee: Mary Evans, Caryl Rees, Jean Thomas, Brenda Oakes, Olwen Woosnam.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

New season on the horizon!!

Our 2016 - 17 season will kick off on the evening of the 12th September. Our little history society is doing well, however, we still need new members of the committee in order to ensure that success. It is not a huge commitment and amounts to around four meetings per year - ITERESTED? We also need new ideas and suggestions as to how the Society is organised and how our activities can be improved. For instance, should we have a Facebook account in order to reach more people in the area and beyond? This blog has proved a success with over 100,000 visits so far, but Facebook could give us an easier reach since opportunities to advertise on the streets of the village have become more limited and the nature of the population has changed.


September MEETING:

Annual general meeting

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the CHURCH HALL on MondAY  12th septembeR.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb