Canu'r Pwll a'r Pulpud (Songs of the Pit and Pulpit)
By Dr Huw Walters
Published by Cyhoeddiadau Barddas, Swansea; 1987
There follows a list of Contents, and a translation by Gareth Hicks of a brief Introduction and the Preface by Professor Caerwyn Williams.
'Literary activity on a grand scale occurred in the industrial valleys of south Wales throughout the nineteenth century', states the author of this book in his 'Introduction'. What we have in this volume is a thorough and detailed study of this activity. It focuses on the literary pursuits of the working classes in one district alone, namely the Aman Valley. The extent and complexity of the research, and the author's ability in organising the immense amount of material he has collected makes this work a multilateral volume. It is a study in local history, but in this case the local is also representative of the national. This volume will enable us to have a clearer perception of the folk culture of nineteenth-century Wales, - a culture and a century which we have tended to ignore, if not belittle over the years. The volume is also a contribution to literary criticism, as well as being a literary history. Poetry is placed in the context of its social background, and the book enables us to understand the exact meaning of the term 'folk culture'. We are introduced to a number of interesting characters, lively and colourful rhymesters, and the wonderful poets of the Eisteddfod - such as Watcyn Wyn, Gwydderig, D. L. Moses, Nantlais, J. T. Job, Amanwy and others. And though this cultural activity reached its peak in the years before the Great War, the discussion is not only focussed on the nineteenth-century. Indeed, it provides us with a glimpse of the Aman Valley before the nineteenth century, and ushers us into the twentieth century.
Many years have passed since it last happened to me, and perhaps it will never happen ever again, but there was a time when it happened often, namely having to complete an official form requesting my name and address, the place of my birth etc. I remember speculating why our part of the Waun (Gwauncaegurwen) was called Waun Leyshon after some Leyshon, as I had presumed, who was most probably, an Englishman. Later, I came to understand that Lleisiawn occurred as a family name in the works of the Gogynfeirdd (12/14th century Welsh poets). I can also recall how strange Llanguicke, the name of the parish, seemed to me as a child. The Welsh form - Llangiwg was unfamiliar to me at the time, and although the Welsh form was easier to warm to, - Ciwg, or Cïwg, was unknown to me as the name of a saint. But if both these names caused me problems, the name of the farm-house - Pencae-du, where I was born, was thoroughly Welsh, and though I visited the place infrequently, somehow or other, it became cherished in my imagination. I had heard that prayer meetings had been held here at Pencae-du, and this, as I had imagined, before a single chapel had been established on the Waun. Later, I came to realise that it was after the founding of Carmel, the old and the new, that prayer meetings were held there. According to the Revd Llewelyn C. Huws, author of Annibynwyr Gwauncaegurwen, (Landysul, 1942):
Also about this time, there were large crowds at prayer meetings which were held in the houses of the locality. It was considered something shameful if a family disregarded an invitation to have a prayer meeting at their home from time to time. There were even some who were not members who considered it their duty to invite the prayer meeting to their homes. There was a special crowd at Pencaedu, where the head of the household, Dafydd Rees, had been bedridden with arthritis for many years. Every room in the house was full on the night of the prayer meeting, with a good crowd outside as well. At that time, Gwallter Ddu was the minister at Rhydyfro and Gwrhyd chapels, and as Pencaedu was on the mountain, between Carmel and Gwryd, the old brother longed to hear the two ministers. One night the two heroes attended the prayer meeting at Pencaedu, and both preached with rare mood and conviction, and old Dafydd Rees rejoicing on his bed.
But if I was disappointed in my opinion that Pencae-du had been one of the homes of the Independents before the founding of Hen Garmel, my disappointment was alleviated by the fact that it had been a home for prayer meetings, and that at a time when it had been occupied by members of my mother's family.
Pencae-du never lost its enchantment for me throughout the years of my youth. The road which led to it ran along Heol or Hewl Hir, passing Hen Garmel on the slopes of Mynydd Penlle'r Fedwen, and along to Capel y Gwryd. I was familiar with this pathway, mainly because many of my relatives were buried in the cemeteries of both chapels. Indeed, it became a habit of mine, whenever I was bothered or perplexed by a problem, to go to the cemetery at Gwryd, and sit on the gravestone of one of my ancestors. There, I would ponder my problem in his hearing, as my mother had always insisted that I was quite like him in my good nature and even more so in my devilment.
Considering that I am a Calvinistic Methodist, having been nurtured at Seilo Calvinistic Methodist church, this attraction to both Hen Garmel and Gwryd chapels was rather strange. I was a Methodist because of my father (he was a newcomer to the district, and I was constantly reminded of this fact by those who insisted on referring to me as 'the son of Jac North' or 'Jac the Northyn'), and I had more than the usual loyalty towards Methodism. Why, therefore, the appeal of Hen Garmel and Gwryd and, to a lesser degree, New Carmel and Cwmllynfell chapels? As I look back, I can do no less than believe that it was there that I acquired, as part of my own heritage, the Independent tradition that belonged to the greater majority of the people of the Waun and district.
As could be expected, I wished to know as much as I could about the nonconformist tradition of the area, but I had but little interest in the history of its general culture. To me, the history of its nonconformity was the history of the Waun, - not that I was prepared to agree with the Revd Llywelyn C. Huws when he stated that:
Since the village is young, it has but little association with a literary and musical tradition as there is in nearby Brynaman.
But the facts were, it seems, in favour of Mr Huws's view. My father was a newcomer; indeed, most people on the Waun were newcomers, but if some had come from afar, as my father had done, others had come from nearby, and they had all brought with them their own cultural inheritance, thus contributing to the traditions which were already there. And there were sufficient natives there as a reminder that the area had its own history and that it had its own indigenous culture.
Alas, there was but little in the history and culture of the area which was visible to us, or at least so visible that we could boast about it to the world, as some of us were prepared to do when we had a cause. We were very proud of our Brass Band! But it has now been revealed to us that we have every reason to boast, and we are indebted to Dr Huw Walters for this revelation.
* * * * *
I cannot quite recall when I first came to know Dr Huw Walters, - but I took to him immediately for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason perhaps, is that he is an authority, who has chosen a subject to study and has studied it thoroughly. The second reason is that he has chosen as his subject the square mile which is, for all intents and purposes, my own square mile, and in so doing he has revealed treasures in my own heritage that I had never dreamed were there. And the third reason is, that in mastering his subject, he has become an authority, not only in that subject field, but also in all related fields. Among my acquaintances, I only know of one other like him - Mr Derwyn Jones, formerly of the Library at the University College North Wales, Bangor, - he also a librarian, a book worm, and an inexhaustible source of knowledge.
This is the second scholarly work that Huw Walters has published within a year. The first was John Morris-Jones, 1864-1929: Llyfryddiaeth Anodiadol, an excellent volume which scholars and students of the future will have as a mine of indispensable information. This present volume is based on his Ph.D. thesis, and like the thesis itself, it is the result of thorough research, - both detailed and creative. Though it appears on the face of it to be limited in scope, I venture to add that it's a work no future student of the history of the literature and culture of Wales will be able to disregard or ignore.
The author has shown considerable ability in defining his subject. It is not apparent at first sight that there are connections between events in the history of Betws (Ammanford), and events in the history of Cwmllynfell, and connections between events in both places with events in the history of Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare, and the history of Wales as a whole. But there were such connections, and the author illustrates them clearly.
It was with the coming of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, that the Aman Valley's story became truly exciting. But it was an area of some importance previously, and in its own way, reflects the history and culture of Wales from the earliest ages. Put another way, the macrocosm of Wales can be seen in the microcosm of this valley.
All who are familiar with the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen will have observed that Twrch Trwyth had passed through this region, but how many of us would have known that the name of the farmhouse on the slopes of Betws Mountain, the Llwch, and the name of the nearby valley Cwmgerdinen, explain a reference in the twelfth century Black Book of Carmarthen:
Bet llvch llaueghin ar certenhin avon?
How many of us would have known that until quite recently, there was a cave called Ogof y Ddinas near the village of Llandybïe, where, according to tradition, Owain Lawgoch and two of his soldiers are asleep until the hour arrives for him to drive the foreigner from the land? How many of us would know that the custom of sin-eating was prevalent in the area, or would know about the songs and ballads which were composed in the district during the impassioned controversies between Calvinists and Unitarians at the beginning of the nineteenth century?
This book is full of rich chapters, but the richest is the third, which opens with the following paragraph:
The industrial community which grew in the Aman valley in the nineteenth-century developed a distinct cultural identity, to which there are three main elements. The first is the natural continuity of the indigenous rural culture of the area. The second is the contribution of the newly arrived immigrants who came to the district in the wake of industrial growth, and the third is the influence of nonconformist values on the valley community.
The masterly way in which these three elements are described is to be admired, and this third chapter, to me, is enchanting. The discussion on Richard Hughes (who originally came from the Bala district as his pseudonym Gomer ap Tegid clearly shows), as master of the Cwmaman National School, is of particular interest to me as half a North Walian. Even more interesting is the story of men such as D. L. Moses (Evans), - men whose names I had heard of in my childhood, but of whom I knew very little. D. L. Moses came from Cribyn, a village between Llanybydder and Lampeter, and following periods at Blaenbidernyn and Rhydcymerau, he came to Brynaman as a check-weigher and later as a clerk at the Iron Works. D. L. Moses was a native of an area where there was a lively interest in literature and cynghanedd (poetry in strict metre), and his family had close connections with the family of Daniel Evans (Daniel Ddu o Geredigion; 1792-1846). His elegy in memory of Daniel Ddu, came second to an ode by Ioan Cunllo under the adjudication of Eben Fardd at the Lampeter Eisteddfod of 1859. And D. L. Moses above all, enthused the budding poets of Brynaman, Gwauncaegurwen and Cwmaman in the art of cynghanedd. These were young men such as Watkin Hezekiah Williams (Watcyn Wyn), his second cousin Richard Williams (Gwydderig), his cousin Griffith Williams (Tegynys), Thomas Thomas (Tom Pant-yr-ywen), Morgan Evans (Meurig Aman), William Evans (Gwilym Cyrwen) and Evan Gethin.
Dr Walters pays a great deal of attention to D. L. Moses and the younger poets whom he influenced, in a remarkably interesting way. Perhaps its the magnitude of their literary output, rather than its quality which strikes us today, but no one who has an interest in Welsh working-class culture can read about these people without feeling his heart warming to them.
But in that respect, part of the achievement of this volume is to show that Welsh culture was strong and versatile enough throughout the nineteenth-century to put down its roots in newly established societies and developing to flourish in a truly wondrous way. This book provides us with a synopsis of the history and culture of the district from an early age, and that is valuable, but even more worthwhile is the full description of the coming of the Industrial Revolution, the thronging here of people from near and afar, the influence of the religious revivals, the expansion of cultural identities old and new, and above all, the creation of a community of ordinary, hard working folk, often of poor backgrounds, who could boast of their cultural achievements.
It is a great privilege to introduce such a volume to my people, and on their behalf.
J E Caerwyn Williams.
(See here for a biography of Prof. Caerwyn Williams )
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(Gareth Hicks 10 March 2002)
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