"GELLYGAER (GELLI-GAER), a parish in the hundred of CAERPHILLY, county of GLAMORGAN, SOUTH WALES, 7 miles (S.E. by S.) from Merthyr-Tydvil, containing 1825 inhabitants.
This extensive parish derives its name, signifying "the fortress of the hazel grove," from an ancient fortification contained within its limits, which by some writers is supposed to be of Roman origin ; and this opinion is in a great degree confirmed, not only by the form of the camp, but also by numerous remains of masonry, and other vestiges of Roman occupation, which may still be discerned near the spot. Though apparently of considerable importance in ancient times, little is known of the early history of this place, prior to the Conquest. Soon after that period, the Norman settlers, upon whom Robert Fitz-Hamon had conferred the various tracts of country which he wrested from the Welsh in this part of the principality, attempted to extend their possessions ; for which object, about the close of the eleventh century, they invaded the province of Gower, expecting to make an easy conquest of it. To oppose this aggression, the Welsh rose in great force, and, encouraged by some previous successes, gave the invaders battle, and gained a decisive victory over them. The Normans, defeated in this attempt, and intimidated by the increasing numbers of the Welsh, had recourse to England for assistance; and being reinforced by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, and other English commanders, they returned to the attack. The Welsh, feigning a retreat, drew the enemy into the interior of the country, where the mountainous inequality of the surface gave them a decided superiority ; and turning round upon the Anglo-Norman forces, at Gellygaer, defeated them with prodigious slaughter, and compelled the few that escaped from the field of carnage to seek shelter in their fortresses.
The parish is beautifully situated at the eastern extremity of the county, bordering on Brecknockshire and Monmouthshire, from which it is respectively separated, on the north-east and east, by the river Rumney, which forms its boundary on those sides : on the west and north-west it is bounded by the rivers Bargoed Taf and Clydach, by which it is separated from the parish of Merthyr-Tydvil. It extends nearly fourteen miles in length, and is almost four miles broad, and comprises about thirty thousand acres : on the south-west, a small portion of it is intersected by the turnpike road from Caerphilly to Merthyr-Tydvil. The surface is boldly varied with abruptly rising hills, skirted with woods of stately and luxuriant growth, and numerons rocks of precipitous elevation : the southern extremity of it is flatter. Though occupying an elevated situation, the parish is, notwithstanding, surrounded by mountainous ridges of greater elevation, and of diversified appearance.
Its scenery is strikingly varied, combining features of picturesque beauty and romantic grandeur ; and the views from the higher grounds, though limited by the circumjacent mountainous ranges, embrace many interesting objects. The prevailing soil is gravelly : the lands are but very partially enclosed, and only a small portion of them is arable, the farmers relying more upon the feeding of sheep and the increase of their live stock, than upon agriculture. There are numerous extensive tracts of waste land, comprising some thousands of acres, which are common to the parishioners, for depasturing their flocks ; and many acres of peat, which supply them with fuel.
The parish abounds in different places with iron-ore, coal, and slate. In the hamlet of Brithdir are the Bute Iron-Works, so named from their being situated on the estate of the Marquis of Bute. They are very extensive, and the buildings are justly considered superior to any of the kind in Europe, being erected after Egyptian models : the furnaces and engine-houses are faced with stone curiously wrought and dressed : the expense of their erection is estimated to have been £ 80,000, and not less than three hundred men are employed in the various processes and departments of the manufacture. Behind these works are inexhaustible mines of iron and coal, which latter is procured chiefly for the supply of the company's works : in these from four to five hundred men are constantly employed. There is also an extensive and valuable slate quarry, which is in full operation, and affords constant employment to a considerable number of men. Very extensive iron-works are carried on at Rumney, near the north-eastern extremity of the parish. Facilities are afforded for the conveyance of the produce of these various works, to their several destinations, by two tram-roads, one of which, passing through the Vale of Rumney, continues its course to the sea at Newport in Monmonthshire ; and the other, from the collieries on the west side of the parish, extends a distance of nearly three miles, to the Glamorganshire canal, between Cardiff and Merthyr-Tydvil.
The parish is divided into five hamlets, which jointly maintain their poor; one rate extends over the whole, which is raised on an old valuation, averaging about one fifth of the rack rents. It is within the jurisdiction of a court of requests, established by an act passed in the 49th of George III., for the recovery of debts not exceeding £ 5, and held at Merthyr-Tydvil, on the second Thursday in every month.
The living is a rectory, with Brithdir annexed, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Llandaf, rated in the king's books at £20. 7. 11., and in the patronage of the Marquis of Bute. The church, dedicated to St. Cadocus, is a neat plain structure, with a square tower, and contains an ancient font of the eleventh century. There are two places of worship for Particular, and one for General, Baptists.
Edward Lewis, Esq., of Cilvach-Vargoed, in this parish, in 1715, bequeathed seven tenements, now producing conjointly £ 191. 6. per annum, and also the interest of £ 1600, for the support of a master to teach fifteen poor boys of this parish, and for clothing and apprenticing them ; for the endowment of a lectureship in the parishes of Bedwellty and Mynyddyslwyn, in the county of Monmouth ; for the relief of such of the poor as do not receive parochial aid ; and lastly for a periodical distribution of bread. A Sunday school, conducted on the National system, has been established within the last five years.
There are some remains of the ancient camp of Gelly Gaer, from which the parish takes its name, consisting of a redoubt of earth and stones, enclosing a quadrangular area, and commanding the avenue leading to the village. Roman bricks, tiles, domestic utensils, fragments of pavement of considerable size and of artificial materials, and other relics of antiquity, are frequently dug up at this place. On the mountains are two upright stones, about nine feet in height, supposed to have been originally placed there as landmarks to some cairns in the vicinity, the stones formerly composing which are now scattered, and the stone coffins which they covered exposed to view. One of these stones is near Brithdir chapel, and the other is on the side of the mountain road to Merthyr-Tydvil: the latter bears an inscription which is now nearly obliterated, but when entire was read Deffro da i ti, "a joyous or blessed resurrection to thee."
Llancaeach, in this parish, was the residence of Colonel Prichard, an officer in the parliamentarian army, who is said to have entertained Charles I. at this house, when that monarch, travelling through this part of the country, lost his way between Tredegar and Brecknock. It is now together with other estates formerly belonging to that family, partly the property of Lord Dynevor, and partly that of J. M. Richards, Esq., through descent by marriage with the daughters and coheiresses of Colonel Prichard, and by purchase.
The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor amounts to £477.10."
A Topographical Dictionary of The Dominion of Wales by Nicholas Carlisle, London, 1811.