Posted on Tuesday 8th May 2012
A proud tradition of world-famous events, people, places, industry, religion and culture is being celebrated in Rhondda Cynon Taf with the introduction of new Blue Plaques throughout the County Borough.
Two years ago Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Libraries, Museums and Heritage Service worked closely with various voluntary organisations, historical societies and individuals to determine sites in the county borough as yet unrecognized for their historical background.
The project sets out to identify icons, events and buildings, culminating in the placing of blue plaques to commemorate their history and achievements.
Owing to the massive success of the project, the call is greater than ever for further Blue Plaques to be unveiled, commemorating a whole host of historical people, ranging from leading politicians and postmasters to chapel preachers and Spanish Civil War fighters, a famous sculptor, and even the founder of the world-wide web.
In the Cynon Valley, the first Lord Aberdare will be remembered along with trade unionist John Ewington and Spanish Civil War volunteer Edwin Greening. Over the mountain in Maerdy, a plaque will celebrate the life of prominent musician Daniel “Eos” Dar Evans while in Cwmparc the community will remember world-renowned sculptor Robert Thomas.
Former Chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union Cliff Jones will be remembered in Porth whilst Donald Davies, the computer scientist whose work led to the founding of the Internet, will be celebrated in his hometown of Treorchy.
In Pontyclun the prominent Victorian engineer and industrialist George T. Clark of Talygarn will be remembered, along with Rev William Evans, the “silver bell” of Tonyrefail and postmaster Charles Basset, the co-founder of Pontypridd Market Company and the person responsible for changing the name of the town of “Newbridge” to “Pontypridd.”
Blue Plaques will also be unveiled on historic buildings throughout the County Borough including the first school in Aberdare and the site of the iconic manufacturer of miners’ safety lamps at Thomas and Williams in the same town. Also in Aberdare plaques will be unveiled to the 19th century printers “Walter Lloyd and JT Jones”.
In the Rhondda and the ancient site of pilgrimage at Penrhys will be celebrated along with the life-saving service provided by the century-old Mines Rescue Service in Dinas. The Corn Mill in Tonyrefail will also be remembered as one of the earliest buildings in the area along with Pontypridd’s iconic Fountain.
Funding for the Blue Plaques has been made possible through a number of sources. Some of the projects in Aberdare will be delivered through the Council’s £7.7million regeneration project of the town, part of which is the Townscape Heritage Initiative which recognizes and enhances historic buildings.
Similarly some of the projects in Pontypridd are being funded as part of the town centre regeneration schemes, as well as the Pontypridd Market Company.
The placing of the Blue Plaques over the coming year will allow residents and visitors a clear understanding of the sheer wealth of culture and heritage on offer in the county borough. Individuals will be able to follow a heritage trail through Rhondda Cynon Taf, following sites that many local and wider communities are unaware of.
Mayor of Rhondda Cynon Taf Cllr Sylvia Jones said: “This is an exciting scheme and one which will raise the profile of the county borough to both local and wider communities.
“The support from community organisations, especially historical societies in offering advice on the merits of each nomination has been massive and together we have managed to decide on locations evenly spread throughout the whole of the county borough to receive one of the Blue Plaques.
“Through the Blue Plaque Heritage Trail visitors will be enthralled by the sheer wealth of history we have to offer, while many long-time residents will also be surprised at the importance of buildings near their own homes.
“We have an incredible heritage in Rhondda Cynon Taf and one which we remain justifiably proud of. This is our opportunity to showcase the people, the places and the events of our county borough to all those individuals who live in, work in or visit Rhondda Cynon Taf.”
The Aberdare and Pontypridd regeneration schemes have been made possible following funding from the Welsh Government through the European Regional Development Fund, Targeted Match Funding, and Heads of the Valleys Programme, alongside Heritage Lottery Fund, Cadw, Council and private sector contributions.
The list of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Blue Plaques include:
Lamb Hotel, Penderyn
This pub, dating from early 17th century, is recognised as a significant building in the local area. Its cellar was used as a place of incarceration for Lewis Lewis – a chief protagonist in the Merthyr Rising in 1831. He and Dic Penderyn were amongst those indicted for rioting and although Lewis escaped the death penalty – Dic Penderyn was infamously hanged at Cardiff for allegedly killing a soldier – the feeling amongst the protesters was that this was as an example to prevent further unrest.
Henry Austin Bruce, Mountain Ash – 1st Lord Aberdare (1815-1895)
From 1847 to 1854 Bruce was stipendiary magistrate, resigning the position when he entered parliament as Liberal MP for Merthyr Tydfil. During this time, he became involved in the management of the Dowlais Iron Company. In 1862 he became Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and in 1868, was made Home Secretary by Gladstone. His tenure of this office was conspicuous for a reform of the licensing laws, and he was responsible for the Licensing Act 1872, which made the magistrates the licensing authority, increased the penalties for misconduct in public-houses and shortened the number of hours for the sale of drink. In 1873 Bruce became Lord President of the Council, and was raised to the peerage as Baron Aberdare of Duffryn in the County of Glamorgan.
John Ewington, Abercynon
John Ewington was a railway worker and trade unionist whose unfair treatment led to the Taff Vale Case which in turn was a central cause in the creation of the Labour Party. A trade union, called the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, went on strike due to the unfair treatment of Ewington, who had been refused higher pay and was punished for his repeated requests by being moved to a different station. When the Taff Vale Railway Company employed replacement staff, the strikers engaged in a sabotage campaign, greasing the rails and uncoupling the carriages. The Taff Vale Railway Company decided to engage with the union for the purpose of collective bargaining and the workers returned to work. The Railway Company however, decided to sue the union for damages and won. It held that at common law, unions could be liable for loss of profits to employers that were caused by taking strike action. The case was met with outrage by the labour movement, was a central cause in the establishment of the UK Labour Party and was soon reversed by the Trade Disputes Act 1906.
Edwin Greening, Aberaman (1911-2003)
Edwin Greening was born and brought up in Aberaman during the harsh days of the mid 20th century depression. He became a communist and made the heroic decision to volunteer for the British Battalion of the International Brigades of the Spanish Republican Army to fight in the Civil War in Spain. He fought the losing battle in the Ebro Valley through most of 1938 until the International Brigades were withdrawn from Spain. Greening went on to fight in the Second World War and in 1948 achieved his ambition of qualifying as a teacher.
Thomas & Williams, Aberdare
The Welsh Miners’ Lamps were ingeniously designed over 180 years ago to alert coal miners to danger. Countless miners depended on the lifesaving brass safety lamps produced by E. Thomas & Williams, Ltd. of Aberdare. While supplying ample light, these Cambrian Safety Lamps’ main function was to detect the presence of explosive methane gas, a constant hazard to underground miners.
Walter Lloyd & JT Jones, Aberdare
The famous 19th century printers gave Aberdare a reputation as 'the Athens of Wales'. J.T. Jones set up his own popular penny newspaper, “Y Gweithiwr”. In 1861 he began to publish The Aberdare Times. Another businessman came from Carmarthen, Walter Lloyd, who opened an office in 1856. In September 1858 he printed the “Gwladgarwr” and a year later he was proprietor. The paper and printing office are Walter Lloyd and Son in 1882, but though the office continued under this print after the father’s death in 1883, the newspaper ceased publication more or less immediately,
Daniel 'Eos Dar' Evans, Maerdy 1846 – 1915
The famous musician was born in Carmarthen, but the family moved to Aberdare, where he began work in a coalmine at the age of eight. Three years later he became a member of a choir conducted by Llew Llwyfo, later he joined the well-known ‘Côr Caradog’. He became conductor of the Aberdare Glee Society, and in 1876 he moved to Maerdy to work as a colliery winding engine man. He became precentor at Siloa Congregational Chapel, Maerdy, where he arranged for several cantatas to be performed by the chapel choir. He also conducted the Rhondda Fach men’s choir. He was a singer and served often in ‘Gorsedd y Beirdd’ ceremonies and as adjudicator in national eisteddfodau. Two popular public lectures on the harp and singing to the accompaniment of the harp were given frequently by him throughout South Wales.
Robert Thomas (1926-1999)
Born in Cwmparc, Robert Thomas attended the Cardiff School of Art in the late 1940’s and entered the Royal College of Art in London where he lived until 1971, teaching at various art schools during this period. His first major sculpting commission was in 1965 for a bust of James Griffiths, then Secretary of State for Wales. Other works followed including Aneurin Bevan in Queen Street, Cardiff, Hebe in Birmingham and several more statues in Cardiff. He was a prominent member of the ‘Rhondda Group’ and sculpted the Miner’s statue in Llwynypia.
Cliff Jones (1914-1990)
Cliff Jones was born in Porth and following a successful schools and college career, played fly half for Pontypridd and Cardiff. He went on to play for Cambridge University and won his first of 13 caps for Wales in 1934 and finished his Wales career as captain, narrowly missing a Grand Slam in the Home Internationals. His career was unfortunately blighted by a number of injuries. However, he went on to become a national selector with the Welsh Rugby Union and was central in devising coaching policies. He became president of the WRU in 1980 and later received an OBE for his services to Rugby. Following his death he was inducted into Welsh Sports Hall of Fame
Donald Davies (1924-2000)
Donald Watts Davies was born in Treorchy but his father, a clerk in the coal industry, died a few months after his birth. His mother then took him and his twin sister to live in Portsmouth where he was brought up. A brilliant scholar in Physics and mathematics he worked on the early incarnations of computers in the 1940’s and 1950’s. His career in the 1960’s saw him continuing to develop computing as an industry and he first presented his ideas on ‘packet switching’ in 1968. In 1970 he helped build a packet switch network of computers – enabling them to ‘talk’ to one another within the National Physical Laboratory – it remained in operation until 1986. Computer expert Larry Roberts in the USA became aware of the idea and built it into the ARPANET which evolved into the Internet – which has changed the lives of millions of people around the world.
Penrhys Holy Well
Until the late 16th century, Penrhys was one of the holiest sites for Christian pilgrims in Wales. The site of Penrhys has a rich religious history dating back to mediaeval times, though few settlements other than farmsteads can be traced to the area. Penrhys is significant for a mediaeval monastery, the holy shrine of "Our Lady" built at the holy spring of Ffynnon Fair. During the early 16th century the antiquarian John Leland wrote during his visit to the area that he saw "Penrise Village, where the Pilgrimage was”, suggesting that a settlement had built up in the area. In 1538 the shrine was destroyed during the English Reformation, and the area appeared to fall into decline. With the arrival of industrialisation in the Rhondda during the 19th century interest in the religious history of Penrhys increased. An archaeological dig at the old chapel was carried out in 1912 and a new statue of the Virgin Mary was unveiled in 1953.
Mines Rescue, Dinas
Owing to the amount of fatalities taking place in collieries throughout the country the British Government passed the Coal Mines Act of 1911 which enforced that central rescue stations were established. In Rhondda the site of the station was chosen as Dinas, close to the site of the first shaft sunk by Walter Coffin in 1812. A hundred years later and on June 27th 1912 King Georve V and Queen Mary opened the Dinas Rescue station which trained some 2,000-rescue men and attended over 200 emergency calls in the process saving countless miners lives.
George T Clark, Talygarn (1809-1898)
Clark’s early career was in medicine and he was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons in 1832. He practiced in Bristol where he visited South Wales and became friendly with the Guest family – the ironmasters at Dowlais. Following a chance meeting with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Clark joined Brunel’s staff in 1835 marking a turning point in his life to a career as engineer. He was involved in a number of railway engineering projects. He studied law before travelling extensively and ended in Bombay where he became an engineer on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company. Clark became a superintending inspector under the Public health Act of 1848 and submitted numerous reports on over 40 towns and cities recommending how to improve and regulate the sanitation. He met the wealthy Ann Price Lewis and married her in St Johns Church Cardiff in 1850. Her inheritance then meant that he eventually became endowed with property. In 1855 he became manager of the Dowlais Ironworks. He and fellow trustee, Henry Austin Bruce, took the decision to convert the ironworks from iron manufacturer to that of steel, a move that would secure the works future for many years. In 1865 he purchased an old thatched farmhouse at Talygarn and transformed it into the mansion that exists today.
Corn Mill, Tonyrefail
Built by the Prichard family who lived in Collena House, the corn mill and a nearby woollen mill were the original buildings around which a community grew and became the village of Tonyrefail.
Revd. William Evans, Tonyrefail (1795-1891)
The Calvinistic Methodist minister was born at Garthgraban-fach, Llantrisant. He was educated at Eagles School, Cowbridge, was converted in 1814 under the ministry of EvanJones of Merthyr Tydfil, and joined the Methodists at Tonyrefail. That year he married MargaretCadwgan of Llandyfodwg and the two made their home at Cae'r Curlas Uchaf. He began to preach in 1818 and was ordained at the Cardigan Association, 1825. In the course of his long life he toured and preached over the whole of Wales, being justly popular not only because of his outstanding personal qualities but also because of the pithiness of some of his observations. He was known to his contemporaries as “the silver bell of Tonyrefail”. He and Edward Matthews were responsible for the spread of Calvinistic Methodism in Glamorgan in the days when the population there was growing rapidly. He preached at the opening ceremonies of most of the new chapels which were then being built. His great-great-grandson was West End composer Ivor Novello
The Fountain, Pontypridd
The stone drinking fountain was unveiled in 1895 by its donor Sir Alfred Thomas, MP for East Glamorgan, (later Lord Pontypridd). It was designed to provide fresh drinking water to passers-by and animals.
Charles Bassett, Pontypridd
Charles Bassett was a prominent figure in the commercial and public life of Pontypridd during the mid 19th century. He came to Pontypridd about 1840 and rapidly established a large business as a chemist and druggist, the first of its kind in the town. It was due to this role as postmaster that Bassett became responsible for the adoption in 1856 of Pontypridd as the name for a growing town which up to that point had been known as Newbridge. Bassett had become increasingly irritated by the continual postal confusion with Newbridge in Monmouthshire or Newbridge-on-Wye, Radnorshire. He was a co-founder of the Pontypridd Market Company established in 1877.