"MERTHYR-TYDVIL (MERTHYR-TUDFYL), a market town, parish, and newly created borough, in the upper division of the hundred of CAERPHILLY, county of GLAMORGAN, SOUTH WALES, 24 miles (N. N. W.) from Cardiff, and 175 (W. by N.) from London, containing, according to the last census, 22,083 inhabitants.
This place derives its name from Tydvil, or Tudvyl, daughter of Brychan, Prince of Brycheiniog in the fifth century. Brychan, having towards the close of his life retired with part of his family into this neighbourhood, was attacked by a party of Saxons and Irish Picts, who put him to death, together with his son Rhun Dremrudd, and his daughter Tydvil. A church was soon afterwards erected near the scene of slaughter, in honour of the murdered Tydvil, and received the appellation of Merthyr Tydvil, or " Tydvil the Martyr."
Concerning the earlier history of this place, now so important for the richness of its mineral produce and the vast extent of its manufactures, very few events of general interest are recorded. It continued till the middle of the last century an obscure village, noticed only in the Welsh annals as containing within its limits a border fortress called Morlais castle, erected by Gilbert Lord of Glamorgan, for the protection of his estates in this part of the principality against the attacks of the tenantry of the adjacent territories of the lord of Brecknock, by whom they were frequently invaded. The uncertain and ill-defined limits of these contiguous lordships generated perpetual feuds between their respective owners ; and the erection of the castle added materially to the acrimony with which the hostilities were conducted. In the reign of Henry I., the castle is said to have been occupied by Ivor Bach, a native lord of Upper Senghenydd, who from this place is supposed to have made a descent upon Cardiff castle, and to have taken Robert Earl of Gloucester and his lady prisoners, and detained them in confinement till they consented to observe the ancient customs of the country, and restore the laws of Hywel Dda.
In the time of Leland this place does not appear to have been regarded as possessing any importance : that writer, having noticed Morlais castle, makes no further mention of Merthyr than as the parish through which "Morlais riveret goith to the ripe of Tave :" this fortress was demolished by the parliamentary forces in the middle of the seventeenth century.
The first congregation of dissenters known to have assembled in Wales was formed at this place, about the year 1620, when Vavasour Powel, celebrated in the annals of nonconformity, while preaching to this congregation, was apprehended and committed to Cardiff gaol. According to a curious journal kept by the incumbent of the parish at that time, the dissenters were not contented with the liberty of paying only what they pleased for tithes, but were in the habit of entering the parish church in a body, during the performance of divine service, and forcibly wresting the Book of Common Prayer from the hands of the officiating minister; and when he ascended the pulpit to preach, a teacher of their own sect would climb up into one of the yew trees in the churchyard, and commence an address to his followers.
In June 1831, serious dissensions arose between the workmen and the proprietors of the several mines in this parish, which were attended with consequences much to be regretted. The workmen having assembled in a tumultuous manner, the riot act was read by the police magistrate of the district, and the yeomanry and military, together with a company of the militia, which was then at Cardiff, advanced to the spot, and at length succeeded in restoring order, though unhappily not without the loss of several lives on the side of the workmen, and some of the military being wounded. Major Falls, who commanded the regular forces, was severely wounded at the beginning of the conflict, and the command of the military devolved upon Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan, of the Glamorganshire militia, whose coolness, intrepidity, and judgment were subsequently eulogised by the lord-lieutenant of the county, in his reply to an address of the gentry of Glamorganshire on the occasion.
The town is situated in a mountainous district near the extremity of the Vale of Taf, and on the river of that name, by which it is partly separated from the county of Brecknock : it is very irregularly built, consisting of assemblages of huts, cottages, and houses, confusedly mixed together, without any regard to order or uniformity of style or arrangement, and occupying both banks of the river, which is crossed by two bridges, but the principal portion of the town is on the eastern bank. Some little improvement has been made, within the last few years, by the construction of a street forming the principal thoroughfare, in which are some shops and houses of more modern character.
A mechanics' institute was established in 1829, at Dowlais, in which, since the philosophical society at Coedycummer has been discontinued, weekly lectures are delivered on general subjects, but chiefly on mineralogy and metallurgy : there is also a society for the discussion, in the Welsh language, of subjects connected with the history and literature of Wales. A theatre, of very inferior character as a building, and now almost concealed by small houses, by which it is surrounded, was formerly opened by a respectable itinerant company ; and races were formerly held on Twyn y Waun : but, from the depressed state of the iron trade within the last few years, both these sources of amusement have been discontinued.
Cyvarthva Castle and Park form a fine object above the town ; and Pen y darren House, with its gardens, is equally interesting at the other extremity. But the general aspect of the vicinity is unprepossessing, the face of nature being disfigured by towering heaps of scoria from the iron mines, which are undergoing continued increase, thus precluding the growth of vegetation upon them, and exhibiting, from their nakedness, in combination with the dense columns of black smoke incessantly emitted from the works, a repulsive appearance of rudeness and gloomy sterility. In the lower part of the parish, however, and in other detached portions, are still several well-wooded and extensive plantations. The vale of the Taf, at the distance of some miles below the town, is narrow and bounded by steep hills, but expands gradually towards the part on which the town is principally built. The parish extends about ten miles from north to south : at the northern extremity its breadth is about five miles, but towards the south it contracts to a breadth of less than one mile.
The mineral treasures of this district, though not fully explored, or rendered so extensively available as they have been since the middle of the last century, were not altogether unappreciated or neglected previously to that period, as is evident from the great heaps of scoria, and other remains which are frequently turned up by the plough in the adjacent lands. From the simple apparatus employed in the mining operations prior to that period it is evident that the process must have been tedious and the produce inconsiderable ; and it appears from tradition that the ore was smelted in small blomeries blown by bellows similar to those used in the common forges of smiths. About one hundred and sixty years since, some small improvement was introduced into these operations ; and works upon a more enlarged scale were constructed on the site on which the Pen y darren works have been subsequently established, in which the bellows were worked by a water wheel, which is said to have been one of the earliest instances of the application of water to this purpose known in the island. Charcoal was used in calcining the ore, instead of coke, the method of preparing which from mineral coal being at that time unknown ; and the wood for the supply of these works is said to have been obtained from a common contiguous to the town, called Coedycymmer. To the general use of charcoal for this purpose may be attributed the great want of timber on the districts adjoining the town, which are known to have been in former times richly and extensively wooded.
The present extent and importance of the iron and coal works, and the consequent enlargement of the town and the amazing increase in the amount of its population, are to be primarily attributed to Mr. Anthony Bacon, subsequently member of parliament for the borough of Aylesbury, who, about the middle of the last century, in conjunction with some other gentlemen, obtained a lease for ninety-nine years, at £ 200 per annum, of a mineral tract in this district, abounding with coal and iron-ore, and extending about eight miles in length and four in width. Mr. Bacon soon afterwards erected a furnace and works at Cyvarthva, for smelting the ore, and subsequently a forge for the. manufacture of bar iron. The Dowlais and Plymouth works were successively established by different companies ; but they were not carried on to any great extent, or with any considerable benefit to the proprietors. Soon after the commencement of the American war, Mr. Bacon entered into a contract with government for supplying the different arsenals with cannon, and erected at Cyvarthva a foundry, and works for the boring of cannon, which in 1782 he let on lease to Mr. S. Homfray, who contracted with him for all the iron produced at Cyvarthva, at £4. 10. per ton long weight, and for as much coal as he should require, at the rate of four shillings per ton. Mr. Homfray, having entered into this contract for a term of fifty years, completed his establishment, and introduced a number of the best workmen from England ; he made great improvements in the machinery for boring cannon, and also built some forges for manufacturing bar iron; but, in consequence of some misunderstanding with Mr. Bacon, he in a very short time disposed of his portion of the Cyvarthva works to Mr. Tanner of Monmouth, who afterwards sold it to Mr. Richard Crawshay, an iron-master from London. After his retirement from the works at Cyvarthva, Mr. Homfray, in company with some other gentlemen, established the Pen y darren iron-works, in 1784, which he conducted with very great success ; and in 1793 he discovered a method of producing what is here called Finers' Metal, a discovery of the highest value and importance in the manufacture of iron, as this valuable ingredient not only increases the quantity, but also improves the quality of the iron. After superintending the Pen y darren works for some time with considerable success, Mr. Homfray projected the construction of a canal from the Cyvarthva works at Merthyr Tydvil to Cardiff, over a tract of country singularly difficult, from the hilly nature of the ground; but from some misunderstanding which arose between the managers and the proprietors, he finally withdrew from the concern, the superintendence of which devolved upon Mr. Richard Crawshay, aud has proved of incalculable benefit to the county at large, and to the shareholders in particular.
On the death of Mr. Anthony Bacon, his various works were let on lease to different gentlemen ; those at Cyvarthva were taken by Mr. Richard Crawshay, who had previously held that portion of them which were originally leased to Mr. Homfray ; the works at Hirwaun, by Mr. Glover, and the Plymouth works by Mr. Hill. The Cyvarthva works, under the superintendence of Mr. Crawshay, who had a great amount of capital at his command, rapidly increased in extent and improvement; and in the year 1800 that gentleman constructed an overshot water wheel of cast iron, fifty feet in diameter, at an expense of £4000, by the power of which the operations were greatly accelerated. This wheel was set in motion by a stream of water brought from a considerable distance by an aqueduct eighty feet above the bed of the river ; but, after being used for a considerable time with great effect, it was at length superseded by two steam-engines, one of eighty and the other of seventy horse power.
The principal establishments in the iron trade are, the Cyvarthva works, belonging to Messrs. Crawshay and Sons; Dowlais, belonging to Messrs. Guest, Lewis, and Co.; the Plymouth works, to Messrs. Hill; and the Pen y darren, to Messrs. Thompson and Forman. In the year 1830, the two first had each nine furnaces in blast, exclusively of others out of work or under repair ; the third had five furnaces in operation, and the fourth had four ; making a total of twenty-seven furnaces in blast. The average quantity of pig iron produced from each furnace per annum is two thousand five hundred tons. In the same year the quantity of iron manufactured at these works collectively was sixty-six thousand five hundred tons, in the making of which were consumed five hundred thousand tons of coal, two hundred and eighty thousand tons of iron-stone, and more than one hundred thousand tons of limestone ; and the number of men employed, including those in the mines and quarries connected with them, was, at Cyvarthva, three thousand ; at Dowlais, three thousand five hundred; at the Plymouth works, one thousand five hundred ; and in the Pen y darren works, one thousand; making a total of nine thousand persons.
The stratum of coal found is of excellent quality for smelting the ore, and is accompanied with parallel veins of argillaceous iron-ore, which penetrate the mountains to a great depth, and yield upon an average about thirty-five parts of metal out of a hundred : the mines are worked by levels. The limestone is not so strong as that found in some parts of England ; but it varies in quality, and in colour from a deep black to a richly variegated marble of all colours. Stone of excellent quality for millstones is also found in abundance in the mountains in the neighbourhood.
The home trade of this place, consisting chiefly of the importation of shop goods and manufactured articles for the supply of this populous district, is also very considerable; these are brought to the town by the canal from Cardiff, chiefly from Bristol. The canal from Merthyr-Tydvil to Cardiff, better known by the name of the Glamorganshire canal, was projected originally by Mr. Homfray, while connected with the Pen y darren iron-works, as related above, and was commenced under an act of the 30th of George III., and completed under another act of the 36th of the same reign, in 1796. It begins at the Cyvarthva iron-works, is carried over the river Taf by an aqueduct, and over a line of country singularly difficult from the hilly nature of the ground, and terminates at Cardiff, a distance of twenty-five miles, having in its whole course a total fall of six hundred and eleven feet. About two miles and a half from the town, opposite to Troed y rhiw mill, is a powerful steam-engine, constructed by Messrs. Bolton and Watt, for raising water from the river Taf, for the supply of the canal. There are several tram-roads from the iron-works, mines, and collieries in this rich mineral district. The Merthyr Tydvil rail-road takes a course parallel with the canal from Merthyr to the aqueduct, but on the opposite side of the river, a distance of about ten miles, by which means any interruption to the conveyance of the mineral produce during dry seasons, when the canal is scantily supplied with water, is obviated by forwarding it on the rail-road, in waggons constructed for the purpose.
The value of land has increased in a ratio corresponding to the improvement of this place in commercial and manufacturing importance. One farm in the neighbourhood, which in the year 1775, the time when the first furnace was erected, was let at £ 2. 10 per annum, now produces a rental of £ 50; and another, which at the same time was let for £ 5 per annum, has since been advanced to £ 100 per annum.
The increase in population has been also equally progressive : the return according to the census of 1801 was seven thousand seven hundred and five; in 1811, eleven thousand one hundred and four; in 1821, seventeen thousand four hundred and four; and in 1831, twenty-two thousand and eighty-three. Since this last return, a petition addressed to parliament for an extension of the representative franchise to this place states upon oath the number of inhabitants to be twenty-six thousand five hundred and fifty.
The market days are Wednesday and Friday ; and there are three market-places. A fair for cattle is held annually on May 14th; and at a place called Twyn y Waun, on a neighbouring hill within the limits of the parish, are fairs on the first Monday in July, and the first Monday in August, also for cattle.
Merthyr-Tydvil has, with the parish of Aberdare, and the village of Coedycymmer, in the adjoining parish of Vainor, county of Brecknock, been constituted a borough by the late act for amending the representation of the people, with the privilege of returning one member to parliament : the right of voting is vested in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of at least ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering as the act demands : the number of such tenements within the limits of the borough, which are correctly detailed in the Appendix to this work, is about eight hundred and thirty in Merthyr-Tydvil and Coedycummer, and one hundred and thirty-five in Aberdare : the returning officer is to be annually appointed by the high sheriff for the county. It has also been made a polling - place in the election of knights for the shire.
The parish, together with the parishes of Aberdare and Gellygaer, is under the superintendence of a stipendiary police magistrate, appointed by act of parliament of the 10th of George IV., with a salary of £600 per annum, one-half of which is, under the provisions of that act, levied on the several furnaces in the three parishes, and the other half by a rate on the inhabitants of the parish of MerthyrTydvil alone : the present magistrate, I. Bruce Bruce, Esq., of Dyffryn, in the parish of Aberdare, was appointed to this office in 1829. The petty sessions for the upper division of the hundred of Caerphilly are held in the town. A court of requests for the recovery of debts not exceeding £5, under an act obtained in the 49th of George III., is held in the town, on the second Thursday in every month, before an unlimited number of commissioners, of whom, in giving judgment, the senior commissioner present has the casting vote. Its jurisdiction extends over the parishes of Aberdare, Gellygaer, Llanwonno, Merthyr-Tydvil, and Ystraddyvodog, in the county of Glamorgan ; the parishes of Llangynider, Penderin, and Vainor, in the county of Brecknock ; and the parish of Bedwelty, in the county of Monmouth.
The living is a rectory, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Llandaf, rated in the king's books at £20. 5.7 1/2., and in the patronage of the Marquis of Bute. It is in contemplation, on the death of the present rector, to subdivide this extensive parish into parochial districts, which are already marked out for that purpose, and of which Dowlais will be one. The church, dedicated to St. Tydvil, and entirely rebuilt within the last few years, is a spacious structure, in the later style of English architecture, with a low tower : it has recently received three hundred and forty-four additional sittings, of which number, two hundred and eighty-two are free, in consideration of which, the Incorporated Society for the enlargement of churches and chapels granted £150 towards defraying the expense. At Dowlais there is a church, erected by the proprietors of the Dowlais ironworks, at an expense of £3000: it is a neat and appropriate edifice, containing six hundred and fifty sittings, of which one-half are free : the living is a rectory not in charge, also in the patronage of the Marquis of Bute. There are three places of worship for Particular Baptists, and one for General Baptists, three for Independents, two for Wesleyan Methodists, and one each for Calvinistic Methodists and Unitarians.
A National school is supported in the town by subscription : the building is capable of accommodating four hundred children ; at present one hundred and fifty boys and eighty girls receive gratuitous instruction. John William, in 1735, bequeathed a rent-charge of £4, one-half of which he appropriated to the teaching of poor children of dissenters to read Welsh, and the remainder to the poor of the dissenting congregation at Merthyr.
The only vestiges of antiquity in this parish, worthy of notice, are the remains of Morlais castle, occupying the highest point of a lofty hill surrounded by a desolate tract of country now abounding with rabbits. The ruins of this ancient fortress, though inconsiderable, convey some idea of its original strength : the walls enclosed a pentagonal area of no great extent. The principal apartment of the castle, though almost buried in the ruins of the other parts of the building, is yet remaining : it is a circular room of about thirty feet in diameter, with a vaulted roof supported on a single central pillar; the inner wall is divided into twelve arched compartments, in which were originally windows : the entrance into this apartment is by a narrow gallery or passage, now so obstructed by the ruins of the walls as to be almost inaccessible.
Immediately below the ruins of the castle, the lesser Taf, impetuously rushing through its rugged bed to its confluence with the greater river of that name, is crossed by a bridge of picturesque appearance, called "Pont Sarn," thrown over a chasm in the limestone rock, thirty feet in width, the sides of which are fringed with underwood, and at the base are fragments of rock obstructing the channel of the river, which roars beneath. At a short distance above Pont Sarn is a hollow in the rock, called Dryford Cavern, into which a spring falls from above, and in times of flood, overflowing the brink, forms a cascade of interesting and romantic appearance. Several chalybeate springs flow from the mountains in various parts of the parish.
At a place called Gethin, between the river Taf and the canal, are the remains of a small but very ancient furnace ; and about two miles lower down, between Gethin and the engine for supplying the canal, are the ruins of a similar furnace, near which, in the river, are the oak stakes which anciently formed a weir, called Wattle Weir ; but of the origin or history of these works nothing has been recorded even by tradition.
Gwilym Tew, an eminent Welsh poet, is said to have been a native of Tavedale, in the vicinity of this town.
The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor of this extensive parish, for a few years preceding March 1829, amounted to £2896.2.: at present (1832) it is nearly £6000."