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THE INDUSTRIALIZATION OF A GLAMORGAN PARISH (Llangiwg)

By Hugh Thomas, National Library of Wales journal Winter, 1975, Vol XIX/2

The complete article has been extracted by Gareth Hicks for Genuki with the permission of the NLW.

This is the first part of a series of three articles.

See also Part II

See also Final Part

Although it is strongly recommended that the whole of this article is read as set out by the author, to assist the reader I have inserted these arbitrary bookmarks (which may be within paragraphs)


The transformation of the old county of Glamorgan during the nineteenth century was one of the most significant factors in the shaping of contemporary Wales. So dominant has been its role in the Welsh economy, so powerful its impact upon the Welsh social scene that, until the expansion of the tourist industry in our own day, it projected its own image of Wales upon the imagination of outsiders. The process of this transformation, despite its apparent uniformity, derives particular interest from the variety which it produced. While the county contained the largest of Welsh towns, its characteristic growth occurred in the settlement of its valley communities: those towns and villages which, stretching along the length of the valleys and, though separated by no clearly visible demarcation lines, were jealously protective of their own identities. This growth was not the exclusive concern of the county's own inhabitants, for the whole of Wales, though more especially the South, participated in it. The sons and daughters of rural Wales migrated to the valleys in their thousands and wove their own cultural heritage into the social patterns of the emergent communities. They contributed to the lack of uniformity within the overall growth pattern of the county which was reflected in the differences, some obvious others more subtle, to be observed between the communities. Significant, of course, in this context were the differences in the timing, the pace and the scale of industrial expansion in the various parts of the county. But of prime importance initially was the fact that the proportions of the places of origin of immigrants from outside the county differed substantially from one community to another. The complete story of the transformation of the county must await the detailed study of its individual communities. It may be profitable, however, to record the conclusions of an attempt to analyse the change which occurred in one of the county's parishes, that of Llangiwg in the upper Swansea Valley.

The parish, situated in the north-west corner of the county and neighbouring upon the counties of Breconshire and Carmarthenshire, covered an area of some 12,550 acres most of which are over 500 feet above sea level. It is almost entirely bounded by rivers from whose valleys the land rises sharply to the upland centre of the parish, reaching its highest points at Mynydd Alltygrug near Ystalyfera and Penlle'rfedwen overlooking Gwauncaegurwen and Cwmgors. It contains four hamlets: Alltygrug, Blaenegel and Parcel Mawr, all of which were formerly part of the lordship of Gower, and Caegurwen which until the early eighteenth century was a manor in the possession of the earls of Pembroke. Although the economy of the parish was until the nineteenth century based almost exclusively on agriculture there had already been some indication of its mineral potential. Coal had, for instance, been worked on a small scale for centuries. There is clear evidence of this in the surveys of 1610 and 1650, while the custom of the manor of Caegurwen laid down that the tenants had the right to the coal which lay under the land they held. This early coal getting can, however, have involved little more than working the outcrops for local domestic use and for lime burning. Not until the completion of the Swansea Valley Canal in 1798 could there be any significant expansion in a district where land transport was notoriously difficult.

The change from an agrarian to an industrial economy took the best part of three-quarters of a century to accomplish in its entirety, from the late years of the eighteenth century to the 1870s. Though it was coalmining which figured prominently in the early stages of the 'take-off', the transition was in very large measure the product of expansion in the iron and tinplate industry. After the collapse of the largest ironworks of the district in 1885 the economic activity of the parish took another direction but by this time its commitment to industry was irreversible. It had already assumed the features which characterised it during the first half of the twentieth century, features which have incidentally undergone a dramatic change since World War II as a result of the termination of tinplate manufacture and a radical reorganisation in coalmining.

Before the growth of industry the land was the economic base of the parish. The farmers, most of whom were tenants, and their dependants constituted the bulk of the inhabitants while the remainder were either employed as labourers or servants, or were engaged in crafts which were closely associated with farming. The greater part of the land of the parish was owned by six substantial landowning families whose Llangiwg properties formed a part only of their estates. Not one of them was resident in the parish, though with one exception they lived in close proximity to it. Their associations with the district varied considerably. The Awbrey family of Ynysgedwyn, the largest of the parish proprietors, had been acquiring lands there since the sixteenth century, while Madam Turberville, the last of the Herberts of Cilybebyll, Griffith Price of Penlle'rgaer and Philip Williams, younger son of the Dyffryn Clydach family, could in 1770 boast long established connections with the parish. More recent were the interests of Herbert Mackworth of the Gnoll, Neath, who, among much besides, inherited from his father, Sir Humphrey, the manor of Caegurwen, bought by the latter in the early years of the eighteenth century. Finally, the Shewens brothers, William and Joseph, had gained a foothold in the parish through marriage during the 1730s and had added considerably to their properties during the course of the subsequent half century. Between them these six families owned eighty-two of the one hundred and twenty holdings in the parish: the remainder were shared among thirty-three lesser landowners of whom six only were owner-occupiers.

There are two interesting features to be noted in the landownership pattern of the parish. Only the Awbreys owned land in all four of the hamlets, though their main strength was concentrated in Alltygrug where they owned all but two of the twenty-seven holdings in 1772 and were soon to acquire the remainder; in Blaenegel Griffith Price and the Shewens brothers were the largest proprietors; in Caegurwen the latter shared this honour with the Mackworths, while in Parcel Mawr the farms were much more evenly divided among five of the six families. Then, again, there was a marked difference in the relative strength of the major land­owners as compared to the lesser in different parts of the parish. Whereas in Alltygrug the Awbreys monopolised landownership and in parcel Mawr all but six of the thirty-eight holdings were shared among the major landowners, in Blaenegel and Caergurwen the lesser landowners were very much more prominent -- in the former they owned ten of the eighteen and in the latter twenty of the thirty-seven holdings. 1

During the 'take-off' phase the major holdings remained intact, though there were changes in ownership. In the case of the Ynysgedwyn properties this was nominal only for the family abandoned the old Awbrey name and assumed that of Gough. The Cilybebyll farms passed from Madam Turberville to John Herbert Lloyd of Cilmaenllwyd, then from his daughter, Jane Bassett, to Henry Leach whose son assumed the Lloyd name when he inherited the Cilybebyll estate. The Mackworth holdings passed to Capel Hanbury Leigh as a result of his marriage to Herbert Mackworth's young widow in 1797. The Griffith Price properties passed via his widow to a John Wall and then came into the possession of Josiah Rees, while those of Philip Williams were shared among members of his family. 2  Only in the case of the Shewens holdings was there a radical change, for during the first decade of the nineteenth century James Davies Berrington, a Swansea solicitor, acquired these until in 1814 William Shewens surrendered the remainder of his property in Caegurwen to Berrington in return for a sum of £5000 and an annuity of £350.   3   Much more substantial were the changes which occurred in the case of the smaller landowners. Many of their farms changed hands more than once during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Some in Blaenegel and Caegurwen were divided, others were bought by tenants and as a result the number of freehold occupiers in the latter hamlet had increased by eight in 1812.   4

The largest single source of revenue of the major landowners was the rents which they received from their tenants. Of only marginal account in the late eighteenth century were the lands farmed directly and the profits from the coalmines and quarries on their estates, although the latter were increasing as the century came to a close. This is clearly reflected in the accounts of the Ynysgedwyn estate for 1798 where the revenue is listed thus:

 

   £.  s.  d.

Lands occupied by me

  63  3  9

Lands, etc. in occupation of  Tenants at Rack Rent.

118   5  0

Lands demised to Tenants in consideration of Rents.

552   8  8

Cottages demised to Tenants at Rack Rent 

    3 17  0

Cottages demised to Tenants under lease

    7   9  0

Profits of Mines

  92   1  0

Annuity by Rev. R. Davies

  90   0  0

 

 

 

927   4  5       5

This indicates that over 70% of the annual income off the estate was derived from the rents received from land let in one way or or another. It would appear that the Llangiwg properties of the estate yielded a revenue, in money rents and payments in lieu of services to be performed by the tenants, of some £300 a year.

A few of the farms for which these rents were paid were substantially over 200 acres but the large majority were much smaller, varying from 30 to 100 acres and there were considerable number which were less than 30 acres. 6  This is illustrated by the land tax assessments on the farms : one only was assessed at over £1, while fifty-one were assessed at between 5s and 10s and a further fifty-three at less than 5s in 1772.   7   It was not, then, a district of prosperous farmers. Moreover, farming techniques were backward, implements were antiquated and farm organisation followed the long established pattern whose primary concern was subsistence farming. The leases by which the farms were held were characteristic of a backward rural economy. There were a few tenants-at-will, but the majority enjoyed the security of leases for three lives or ninety-nine years. Current opinion had already moved against such long leases on the grounds that they were detrimental to efficient farming and were in part responsible for the poor condition of many of the estates in this part of Wales   8   It was John Herbert Lloyd who introduced the shorter leases into the parish when he inherited the Cilybebyll estate,   9  though his example was soon followed by the Ynysgedwyn estate despite the sympathy expressed by its owner for the smaller farmers in 1816.   10

Though the use made by the farmers of their land varied substantially and was determined by the quality of their soil and the location of their farms, they were all much more concerned with pastoral farming than arable. In 1782 the total acreage under the three main crops, wheat, barley and oats, amounted to no more than 503 1/2 acres which were apportioned as follows: wheat 97 1/4, barley 138 3/4 and oats 266 1/4.  11  The primary concern with the rearing of animals is reflected not only in the relatively small acreage under crops but also in the major crop, oats, which provided fodder for the cattle. This becomes abundantly clear if we examine individual farms. Betting Uchaf, one of the more fortunately situated, had 12 3/4 of its 101 acres under the three crops, of which barley was allowed 6 acres. Carreg Pentwyn, less fortunately placed, had only 3 of its 61 acres under the plough, all devoted to the growing of oats. 12   To confIrm the emphasis on animal husbandry in the parish the Tythe Composition of 1782 noted a total of 573 cattle and 333 calves on its farms. The record concerning sheep seems to have been rather more haphazard though a number of farms are credited with reasonably sized flocks -sixty sheep in the case of Gellilwca Fawr farm, thirty-seven and thirty-five in the cases of Llwynypryfed and Penygarn respectively.   13

Farm management was uncomplicated and traditional. Where a farm contained four or more fields the common practice was to allow one field to lie fallow every year - the summer fallow ( braenar haf). Oats, though losing favour further east, was still as we have seen the most popular crop. They were sown between mid­March and mid-April and after they had been harvested the land was ploughed and limed, then in the Spring of the following year it was ploughed again and allowed to lie fallow. The soil was kept clean with a dressing of hot lime until the Autumn when it was ploughed again and wheat was sown. This crop was usually sown in late November or early December, though some farmers did argue the case for an earlier sowing. In some cases the land under wheat was given a top dressing of lime in March or April to clean and feed the soil. The wheat was then harvested in September in the early seasons, in October in the late seasons. Yields varied but were usually some 15 to 20 bushels an acre. 14   Barley would then be sown in the following Spring, during late April or early May. There were two kinds in fairly common use, the long-eared Spring barley (Barlys) which was considered good for malt making and the square-eared variety (Haidd) which was suitable for bread making. One of the local farms, Gilfach-yr-Haidd, took its name from this last crop. The yield was usually about twenty bushels to the acre.   15  There were, however, local variations, for some of the farmers followed the wheat crop with another sowing of oats or with hay or clover.

More significant than the crops which the farmers raised were the livestock which they reared. It was on the sale of the animals, their wool and their dairy produce that the farmers relied for the little money which they used. The most popular breed of cattle in the district in the late eighteenth century were the small, light red-coloured stock with a white face similar to the Herefords, though much smaller. They were reputedly the ancient stock of the Vale of Glamorgan and were renowned for their milk yield.  16   In addition, there were a number of the black cattle of Carmarthenshire. The sheep were the small mountain variety whose short wool was well suited for making flannels, blankets and felt hats. The normal shearing time was the early summer, generally in June, and the average fleece weighed some 1 to 2 lbs. After the weaning period the ewes were milked throughout the Summer months for the making of cheese.  17

The importance of pastoral farming in the district is reflected in the prominent position occupied by the fairs in the local calendar. The most important of these were at Llangyfelach, Llandeilo, Neath, Alltwen and Y Gwter Fawr. They were highly organised and obviously geared to the farming year. Horned cattle, oxen and steers were usually sold at the Spring fairs of February and March, milk cows in the April and early May fairs and in the Autumn fairs the surplus stock, for which the farmers had no winter keep, were disposed of. The same kind of programme can be seen in the marketing of other animals. In the case of sheep, yearlings, two-year olds and couples were sold at the Spring and May fairs; weaned lambs and wool at the Summer fairs, and wedders from the hills and store ewes in October. Young horses were sold at the May and June fairs, hogs and fat pigs in October and fat hogs in December. Most of the dairy produce was marketed in the Autumn fairs and dried bacon in the Winter and Spring fairs.   18

The lower orders usually possessed sufficient land to keep a cow and a pig or two, and enough remained to provide for a vegetable patch which was used especially for potato growing. Some of them were employed as farm labourers, earning at the turn of the century some 8s to 10s a week, with rather more at harvest time. Others eked out a living with money earned from task work, reaping, harvesting and threshing, or hedging, ditching and fencing - when their wages were calculated by 'piece work'. Finally, there were the farm servants who received their food and board at the farms and could expect to earn between £5 and £7 a year. They were usually hired at the local fairs in October - November and their contracts were usually for a twelve month.   19

The early years of the nineteenth century were particularly difficult for the farmers of the locality. The squire of Ynysgedwyn attributed his difficulty in obtaining tenants for the farms of the estate to the prevailing distress which he explained by the drop in prices of farm produce, the heavy taxes and inflated poor rate and the circulation of paper money. Inefficient estate management may well have contributed also, for Walter Davies was certainly not favourably impressed by this aspect of the local economy. 20   Whatever the explanation, the squire saw little to comfort him when:

Such labouring poor as have employment are better off at 8s a week wages than our small farmers, whose lands present the melancholy picture of neglect and abandonment.   21

That this distress produced little of the expression of discontent which occurred in neighbouring areas to the west may well in part have been due to the accessibility of the local coal and limestone. Increasingly, however, the explanation is to be found in the opportunities of employment for the surplus labour force in the local coalmines and the metallurgical works lower down the valley. It was the opening of the Swansea Valley Canal in 1798 which released the mineral potential of the district. True, there was a long-established ironworks at Ynysgedwyn in the neighbouring parish of Ystradgynlais which had expanded considerably during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. It was still, however, a relatively small undertaking 22    and could find no use for the local anthracite. Coal had been worked in Llangiwg for centuries, usually at the outcrops by farmers for their own consumption. From the middle years of eighteenth century the scale of coalmining assumed more ambitious proportions. In 1752 William Awbrey, who had recently succeeded to the Ynysgedwyn estate, obtained from the Duke of Beaufort a licence to dig for coal under the waste land of Alltygrug mountain and at Cefn Gwrhyd. There does not, however, appear to have been any immediate move to take advantage of this.   23   In 1794 a level was opened at the Cyfyng, near the site of the later ironworks at Ystalyfera, and there is evidence that coal was being worked lower down the valley at Ynysmeudwy.   24   Three years later James Gough Awbrey of Ynysgedwyn cancelled leases which had been granted in 1795 for the mining of coal in various parts of the parish and himself invested in coalmining. In 1795 he spent a total of £252. 7s. 7 1/2d. on his collieries and their ancillary undertakings and obtained a revenue of £92. 1s. 0d. from them.   25

The opening of the canal was the occasion for a much more extensive exploitation of the coal measures of the district. The geological structure of the valley, characterised by its frequent outcrops of coal, made it possible to work the coal without needing much in the way of initial capital investment. Awbrey opened a level at Cwmtwrch in 1798 and in the last years of the century a number of Swansea men began mining for coal in the parish. Thomas Sheasby and George Haynes opened a coal level at Brynmorgan, Cwmtwrch; Edward Martin, a mineral surveyor who was already involved in the industrial development of the lower part of the valley, worked levels near Gwys, and William Arthur and Thomas Walters opened a level at Cwmllynfell. The Ynysgedwyn estate papers for 1798 also contain reference to some seven other coal workings in the Ystalyfera district.   26   The possibilities offered by the canal were, it appears, appreciated by the enterprising landed family of the locality and the business men of neighbouring Swansea. Their lead was soon to be followed by men from widely differing backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the contribution which the coalmines could and should make to the local rates had already been noted. In 1783 a certain Elias Jenkins had alleged that certain coalmines were omitted from the rating lists. The question as to whether they should be rated for the Poor Rate was reserved for the opinion of the Court of King's Bench. 27  It was decided that they should be so rated and in 1802 the Llangiwg Vestry Rating Book records the valuations of various coal workings in the parish. Altogether, eight were rated, the largest at £20 the smallest at 2s.0d. 28  Meanwhile, Daniel Harper, a native of Tamworth in Staffordshire, who was to play a prominent part in the early coalmining of the district, had begun his undertakings. In 1801 he leased coal at Abercrave in the neighbouring parish of Ystradgynlais and was negotiating for collieries at Ystalyfera. In 1805 he opened a level which bore his name and took over the Cyfyng Pit, Ystalyfera. An indenture which he made with the Ynysgedwyn estate in 1808 gives some indication of the scale of his operations at the latter:

 

    £.  s.  d

For every barge of stone coal and culm and navigated along the canal to Swansea

    1   0   0

For every ton of coal not taken by barge 

         1   0

An annual rent of

500   0   0

Annual rent for five cottages occupied by four colliers and a mason

  14  14  0

Half yearly payments per statute acre for land used for buildings, canals, wharfs, railways,etc

    1    0  0

Harper also agreed that he would not raise more than 16,500 tons of coal and culm a year.   29  In 1816 he opened a new level at the Cyfyng and was also operating on quite a considerable scale in the Cwmtwrch district. Thomas Walters, a Swansea grocer, was also involved in working the coal in the Ystalyfera district at this time, notably at the Ynysceinon pit and at Pwllbach.

The early years of the century saw other men busy in other parts of the parish and its environs. In 1802 John Jones of Brynbrain, who pioneered industrial growth in the Brynaman district, became the proprietor of the Blaengurwen colliery. He was successful and extended the scope of his activities by opening 'Lefel yr Office' and the Gwter Fawr colliery in 1819. 30   1802 also witnessed the beginnings of J. D. Berrington's operations from two levels at Craigfelin, Cwmtwrch; five years later he opened his colliery at Bryn Morgan in the same district which worked profitably for a considerable number of years. The risks involved in coalmining led to frequent changes of ownership and this is well illustrated in the case of the Hendreforgan mine at Cwmllynfell. Early in the century a certain Richard Jenkins of Coity was working the coal here but late in 1812 he surrendered the workings to John Jones, Brynbrain, who four years later demised them to John Evans and James Cox, a native of Shaftesbury, Dorset. On the last day of 1818 the former relinquished his share and Cox became the sole proprietor. Under his control the works became the largest and most progressive in the area --- by 1831 a total of £33,500 had been spent on it and it had won the reputation of being 'the most complete and valuable colliery in the Principality'.   31  The nearby Cwmllynfell coal workings were re-opened in 1818 and three years later were taken over by Evan James & Co. which, though operating on a more modest scale, than its neighbour at Hendreforgan, were to become one of the most prosperous coalmines in the district by the middle years of the century. These were the largest of a considerable number of undertakings which got under way in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The overall progress is reflected in the quantity of coal transported along the canal from the upper end of the valley. By 1820 this had reached the substantial total of 66,104 tons a year. 32

A major change occurred in 1826 with the collapse of the Harper interest in the financial crises of that year. Daniel's son Thomas was made bankrupt and the Harper lease was carried on by the partnership of Sheasby and Trotter until it terminated in 1829. 33   It was during these years that Benjamin Treacher and Evan James of Swansea first made their impression on the neighbourhood. In 1827 they found two very rich seams of coal and in 1830 Treacher, with three other Swansea coal merchants, leased the Cyfyng Pit.   34   Two years later James replaced Treacher's partners and they agreed to pay R. D. Gough an annual rent of £350 and royalties of 11s. for every barge of coal transported to Swansea as well as 6d. per ton transported otherwise and a rent of 14 guineas for cottages attached to the pit. 35   By the mid-thirties, then, the parish was committed to coal­mining on a relatively substantial scale, though the major step forward in its industrialization had to await another development, the growth of iron manufacture.

The progess of coalmining inevitably had its consequences for the parish. Population increased significantly from the 829 of 1801 to the 2,813 of 1841, largely as a result of immigration into the parish for by the latter year 946, nearly one-third of the parish's inhabitants, had been born outside the county of Glamorgan. There was a marked change in the occupational pattern of the parish --- between 1801 and 1831 the numbers of families dependent upon occupations other than agriculture had risen from 41 to 126.   36  This change is illustrated by the baptismal register of the three Independent chapels of Pantteg, Carmel and Alltwen. The last named is in the neighbouring parish of Cilybebyll, but it is possible to identify those parents who were inhabitants of Llangiwg. Between 1826 and 1837 the minister of these three chapels, Rev. Philip Griffiths, recorded the occupations of 190 fathers whose 325 children he baptised. The largest group among them were the colliers who totalled 96, although 21 of these were first recorded as labourers. It would appear that these latter either started their working lives or came to the district to work as labourers but during these eleven years changed their occupations to coalmining. The following are the parental occupations represented in the baptismal registers: Colliers-96#; Labourers - 48#; Farmers -- 43; Carpenters -- 5; Tailors -- 4; Weavers, Publicans, Cordwinders -- 3 each; Engineers, Hauliers - 2 each; Shopkeepers, Masons-- 1 each. (#Contain the 21 men who transferred from labouring to coalmining.)   37   While it cannot be claimed that this occupational breakdown is comprehensive it does indicate the changes taking place and agrees closely with the pattern which emerges from the enumerators' census return for 1841. 38  By this year the total population of the parish had grown to 2,813 of whom 946 had been born outside the county. Worthy of note also is the fact that the most significant growth had taken place in those parts of the parish which had witnessed the most mumerous coalmining undertakings, Alltygrug and Caegurwen. In the case of the former the 197 inhabitants of 1801 had grown to 1,078 in 1841, while the latter's 224 had increased to 843 during the same period.   39

This 'take-off' period was also one of substantial developments in the sphere of organised religion. Llangyfelach and its neighbouring parishes had from the seventeenth century been a district where Protestant Dissent had flourished. Inhabitants from Llangiwg had been haled before the Archdeacon's Court at Carmarthen more than once in 1662 to answer charges of recusancy. These and others were no doubt members of the church at Cilfwnwr and Tirdwncyn near Llangyfelach. By the late seventeenth century their numbers were sufficiently large to warrant the release of Llewelyn Bevan from his responsibilities at Cilfwnwr to take charge of the newly-established church at Cwmllynfell in 1701. This was the beginning of organised Nonconformist worship in the parish, although there appears to have been at least one group of dissenters worshipping together in private houses at the Gwrhyd. 40

Although Cwmllynfell remained the one Nonconformist church in the parish until the 1820s, others were established in neighbouring parishes which were more convenient for many of the inhabitants of Llangiwg. For years the church at Gellionen in Rhyndwyclydach was in partnership with that at Cwmllynfell until a split occurred as a result of doctrinal differences whereby the former became Unitarian whereas the latter remained orthodox Calvinist. In 1752 a dissenting chapel was founded at Godre'rhos in the parish of Cadoxton, Neath, two years after the chapel at Ty'n-y-coed in the parish of Ystradgynlais had been established and at much the same time the dissenters of Cilybebyll constituted themselves into the church at Alltwen. The controversy between Cwmllynfell and Gellionen apart, there was close co-operation between these congregations. They shared ministers and assisted one another in times of need. They were fortunate in their ministers, men of ability and character who exercised a decisive impact upon the religious life of the district. This, together with the interest in Bible reading aroused by the schools of Griffith Jones and the evangelising missions of the Methodists between 1736 and 1752, firmly established Nonconformity by the opening years of the nineteenth century. In 1807 the curate of Llangiwg complained of the difficulty he encountered in attracting children to the Anglican Sunday School and commented that  'The tracts most wanted are on the same subject as those sent by your Lordship, The Gospel Way of Salvation to confute the Calvinists of whom there are great many in my neighbourhood.'   41

The increasing hold of Nonconformity is shown in the founding of branches of the older churches, first as schools which were also used for various religious meetings but were later consecrated as places of worship. There had long been such a meeting place at Fforchegel farm in Blaenegel. In 1762 a schoolhouse was erected on the land of Cwmbach farm in Gwauncaegurwen by those members of Cwmllynfell chapel who lived in the neighbourhood. For sixty years it served the dual function of a school and for the holding of preaching and other religious meetings until in 1822 some fifty members of Cwmllynfell chapel left the older congregation to establish the new chapel at Cwmbach. 42   In 1785 a similar school­house was built at Craig Arw, Ystalyfera, where preaching and prayer meetings were held during the week as well as a school on Sundays. Those involved continued to attend Sunday services at Cwmllynfell until 1821 when it was decided to establish a chapel at Pantteg. This appears to have been the outcome of a religious revival in the district inspired by the two cousins, Daniel and Philip Griffiths, the latter of whom became the first minister of Pantteg in 1822. 43  At Cwmtwrch a Sunday School was founded in the late eighteenth century, though further developments were somewhat later here than at Cwmbach and Pantteg. 44  The membership of these new chapels increased rapidly as did that of the mother chapel of Cwmllynfell. This was in part the result of the more general revival taking place in religion at the time but the pressure exerted by the immigrants into the district, many of whom came from parts of Carmarthenshire where Independency was well established, was also an important factor. Two of the interesting features of the religious life of the district at this time are, first, that growth was confined to the Independents and, secondly, that the leadership of the new chapels was, despite the number of immigrants by the late twenties of the nineteenth century, almost entirely in the hands of the natives of the district, small tenant farmers for the most part. 45   Later developments were to modify the overall picture but the Independents retained their supremacy and the farming families continued to fulfil a vital role in the lives of the chapels.

The communities which emerged in the district during the nineteenth century evolved their own distinctive pattern of cultural activities. Within this pattern it is possible to discern three separate strands: the indigenous tradition of poetic composition, the influences brought into the district by its immigrants and the activities which sprang naturally from the new way of life in the emerging communities. Of particular interest in the early decades of the century was the first of these. Written in free verse, its literary quality was undistinguished but it possessed a vigour and frankness which compensated for its lack of aesthetic value. It drew the major part of its inspiration from the affairs of the locality. There were eulogies of prominent individuals, vivid accounts of local events, poetic dialogues on a variety of subjects and reports of the day to day happenings of the district. The poets and versifiers performed the functions of recorder of events, moraliser and social commentator. Though the most prominent feature of much of their work was its humour, it is possible to detect quite serious undertones in its general purpose. This, for instance, was one means whereby a peasant society could ensure the maintenance of a certain standard of social conduct among its own members at a time when there would be some reluctance to resort to the law, administered as it was by people who were considered outsiders by these closely knit communities. The most obvious instance of this is Y Cwrt Bach in which the poets constituted themselves into a court at which were heard and argued in verse a variety of causes which concerned the people of the locality. The court inspired a good deal of fear and respect among local wrongdoers because of the notoriety they suffered with the repetition of the rhyming arguments.

Inevitably the poets became involved in the religious controversy of the district, that between the orthodox Calvinists and the Unitarians. This had provoked much acrimony and had led to the separation of the two existing joint churches, Cwmllynfell which remained loyal to the Calvinist tenets and Gellionen which eventually became Unitarian. The best known of the bardic contributions to this quarrel was that of Owen Dafydd whose Duwdod Crist was published and gained a wide circulation throughout Wales. He carried on his argument in another of his poems, Ymddiddan rhwng y Bardd a'r Angel, in which be urged his brother-in-law and fellow poet, Sion Hywel, Gelli-gron, to abandon his association with the Unitarians, closing powerfully with:

Mi 'gwelaf, yn goleuo
Ar ddynion tywyll trist
A gamarweinir heddiw
I wadu Duwdod Crist ;
Cael  gwarant idd ei chario
Trwy ddyffryn angeu du,
A sel Duw'r nefoedd wrthi,
Siun Hywel, dyna ni.    46

His appeal seems to have had the desired effect for Sion Hywel wrote a violent condemnation of all that the Unitarians stood for:

A thyma un o demlau'r filen
Yw'r lle a elwir Gellionen,
Llefaru mae fel draig uffernol,
A chyrn fel oen i dwyllo'r bobol,
Gwadu haeddiant Crist! cywiddil,
Dyna i chwi nod y bwystfil ... 47

Other prominent themes in their poetry were the social distress of their time, their sympathy with the poor of the neighbourhood and their concern with social justice. Owen Dafydd resigned himself to selling his best pig and his cattle in order to meet his debts; Sion Hywel criticised the churchwardens of Llangyfelach for spending £10 on a new weather vane for the church tower when the money could have been better spent on the relief of the poor.   48  One of the most outspoken of the poets' social commentaries was contained in a song of praise composed by Ifan Gruffydd to an industrialist in the lower part of the valley whose undertakings provided a livelihood for many in the locality. This comes out very powerfully in the verse:

'Doedd mil o'n bro ond byw o'r braidd,
Och' oer oedd gwaedd y gweiniad,
Gwragedd, gweiniaid a gydgerdden
Dan law eisiau am elusen,
A gwyr a gweision yn o ddigalon,
Yn ffaelu er chwilio a chael gorchwylion:
A bonedd Cymru heb falio fawr
Am g'ledi mawr y tlodion ... 49

The relatively slow pace of industrial expansion in the early years of the century and the fact that so many of the early immigrants were drawn from the neighbouring areas helped to ensure two features. These were the continuation of the cultural traditions of the pre-industrial period and the opportunity which was given the inhabitants to absorb the new dimension of industrial experiences into their existing culture. It is not surprising that the poets responded in the traditional manner to the new subjects which were offered them by the emerging industrial communities. Mining tragedies, like the firedamp explosion at the Brynmorgan coalmine in 1812, were a natural subject for them. Owen Dafydd wrote an elegy on the five men killed at Brynmorgan and it is interesting to observe that in addition to the sympathy which he expressed for the men and their families, he recorded the details of the tragedy and the names of the victims. 50

Other aspects of the new life of the district attracted their attention. James Cox was busily making Hendreforgan into one of 'the most complete and valuable collieries in the Principality' but one feature of his enterprise, his over-many officials, prompted the following expression of disenchantment:

Mac Cox a'i Stiwardiaid
Mor aml a'r dail
John Tomos yw'r cyntaf,
Hen Walker yw'r ail:
Yna Wil Hendregyngen,
Jack Filler,Wat Llwyd­
Hen ffratsach mor shimpil
Na 'nillsant mo'u bwyd.    51

Coalmining was a highly speculative business during these years. There were violent trade fluctuations, demands on capital were frequent and the geological faults of the district added significantly to the risks involved. One of the largest of the local mines was the Cyfyng Pit at Ystalyfera and it, like the other pits, suffered periodic crises. It was one such crisis which prompted the following tale of woe:

Holl goliers Pwll-y-Cyfyng, mai wedi mynd yn ddrwg,
'Does yma ddim canwylle, na modd i wneuthur mwg,
Na chig, na chaws, na siwgir, na llafur o um rhyw,
Na sebon i ymolchi; pa wedd y byddwn byw?     52

Another grievance which received an airing among the poets was the high prices charged by the local shopkeepers. The district, like so many others undergoing industrial expansion, was very inadequately serviced by the retail trade. The shopkeepers' exploitation of their virtual monopoly did not pass unnoticed among their customers and one of them listed in verse the surcharges of one Morgan Morgan, proprietor of the Company Shop at the Cyfyng, Ystalyfera, expressing the wish:

Tai pawb drwy'r holl gymdogaeth
Yn cael cynhaliaeth lew
A pheidio dod mor fynych
I flino'r siopwr tew
Cael sistans bob pythefnos
A chyfri glan pob mish
Mi fentra deuai Morgan
I werthu beth yn ish.      53

That the local versifiers of the earlier decades of the nineteenth century continued to perform the traditional functions of the district's poets illustrates one of the significant features of the communities which emerged during the middle decades of the century. Despite the acceleration of industrialization from the 1840s, such was the nature of the accompanying growth that one powerful element in shaping the new communities was the survival of so much of the pre-industrial society of the parish.

HUGH THOMAS

Barry

NOTES;

 


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(24 Nov 2002 Gareth Hicks)

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