Old Characters of Gellinudd, Introduction


From Old Characters of Gellinudd by John E Morgan [Hirfryn] 1908.
Translated by Ivor Griffiths.

Here is the Preface and general introduction to the book.


Dear Reader,

With the approval and support of the Committee of the Eisteddfod of Bryn Seion, June 13th 1908, I wish to present this little treatise for your attention, not with the intention of making money on it, because it is seldom that sons of Wales see profit on a literary venture of this nature, but for the rising generation to have a picture of the old natives that trod the earth of Gellinudd in Wales past. Perhaps some readers will not approve of the manner I have taken to do this, but as best I can, with the stories I have collected from whoever I came in contact with, I have written it down without prejudice, and without trying to'make anyone worst or better than they were in the flesh.

They all possessed failings, excellence, and virtues, whatever their beliefs, and if any small tale happens to give offence to any reader, I shall kneel in dust and ashes for their forgiveness, as I had no intention of hurting anyone but to give only the truth as I received it; on the other hand,I trust that the reader will receive a certain amount of pleasure and edification in the reading of it. Some old natives that have been left out are fully as meritous as those included in this treatise, and I would have loved to have written about them; but, due to lack of information, space, and time, I have been compelled to leave them out. With this introduction I release it to the world, to be accepted or rejected, and weighed on the scales of opinion. I shall be grateful to every one who buys and reads it,and is sympathetic to my first effort.

Humbly yours,


I read the treatise "Hen Gymeriadau Gellinudd" with great interest This was the only essay entered in the competition that I considered hard to beat. The author has shown great skill in gathering old tales and setting them out in a pleasant and readable manner. To a certain extent, the work was incomplete in the competition, but I could say without hesitation at that time that it was worth the prize several times over. I understand that by this time, parts of it have been perfected, and the work completely revised, so there is no doubt in my mind that it is now a feast to the ones that will read it.

I would have been pleased to have more religious tales, and notes on the pious of the district. I am sure that the curates in the sacred neighbourhood of Alltwen would not be short of these, but as it is, or rather, as it was, in the competition on June 13th 1908, the old characters were shown true to life. The atmosphere of the old times is in it --- the murmurs of the original people that are fast disappearing --- the old folk's talent for mischief and fun --- is saved in this book for posterity.

Ystori dlos, dos i dy daith - a'th gyfoeth
O gofion ar ymdaith;
Hyf a rhwydd, mewn difyr iaith,
Rho hanes cewri uniaith.

Ben Davies
November 23rd 1908.



On my work of looking back over a period of forty years around the Graig and district of Gellinudd, I find to my sorrow and joy that many great changes have taken place, while many things that stood in the times of our fathers still stand. The old Graig still stands on its foundations as solid as ever without a sign of movement. Also facing in the same direction -- towards the beautiful Tawe valley -- stand several of the old white cottages on the hillside to this day, but not without signs of old age and decay, while others have fallen down and are level with the ground. Many of the old paths that our fathers walked along are still in existence today; others have been closed and bramble and weeds growing over them.

"Y llwybrau gynt, lle bu'r gan,
Yn lleoedd y ddallhuan."

It is difficult to go back to the old things without having to drink from the sweet and the bitter, and accepting the accents of the plaintive and the merry. There were very few cottages in the district in those days --- a few more in number than the sons of Jacob; as far as that goes, there are still only a few, but gradually increasing these days. In these cottages you would get a variety of characters and beliefs.

There you would find --- the amusing; the solemn, playful, and jocular; poets; literary men, and singers ; and as far as beliefs, no district ever had such a variety. Here there were Unitarians, Methodists, Mormons, Churchmen, Baptists, and Independents, and the strongest of these at that time (and still is) were the Independents. In those days they held their meetings such as prayer meetings and Sunday schools, in dwelling houses .They held their classes in various houses, and also in these they had some of the most heavenly services ever held, and I can appropriately say:-

"Llu y Nef yn llawenhau
Wrth eu gwyl nefol olau."

A song was composed some years ago on the meetings on Graig Gellinudd, which begins an follows:-

"Hen Graig Gellinudd,
Lle anwyl y sydd
Yng nghalon ugeiniau o bobl fy ngwlad;
Aeth llawer tywysog
Trwy'th lwybrau troellog
I'r bythod gwyngalchog mewn nef o fwynhad.

Hen Graig Gellinudd ,
Yn aros yn sydd,
Er gwaetha'r corwyntoedd fu'n taro ei phen;
Tra'r cewri twymgalon,
Letyodd angylion
Sy'n 'mhlith y nefolion balasau uwchben."

Some of the old natives had the privilege of seeing the Ark moved to the Board School in 1875, and their children , within another 21 years, also had the privilege of moving the Ark to their own temple, Bryn Seion, where the Independents worship to this day. There are churchmen in the place, and they go to St Johns. The few Unitarians walk to Trebanos today. There are Baptists here and a few Methodists; but the Mormons have disappeared from the place. It is not my work or wish to attempt to decide which denomination is right; I have my opinions, but I must keep them to myself for now, as it is characters and not beliefs that is under observation.

We must also remember that these characters have struggled with disadvantages, such as lack of education and opportunities, but today attempts are made to turn every stream of knowledge to the service of the multitude with the idea of raising worthy citizens. I am afraid that education, good as it is, has not succeeded in this direction in proportion to the advantages, and there are a great number who are ignorant -- in fact, more ignorant -- although they can read, than the old people who had to live without reading a sentence during their lives. Most of the ones that could read and write were 'self made' men --- these who had given up their time for bodily rest to improving their minds.

The time of the small beer and feasting has been banished from the district and country; many changes have taken place in trade. Collieries opened, and closed, such as Cwmnantllwyd, New Primrose, the drifts of Waun-y-Coed, etc. About thirty years ago the coal from Cwmnantllwyd was drawn by teams of horses along a double iron track. I remember that at that time William John Lewis was a young lad, and was one of the drivers along with several of his contemporaries, but they had to move with the times and obtain a steam engine (locomotive) in their place.

There was a great stir when the first 'train' came to the tram road, the one called "Mary Anne". Feminine in size and power, she went beautifully on the descent with eight full wagons; but, poor thing, it could not return with eight empty wagons, and many times they had to put four horses in front of her and the wagons to pull her back to the head of the pit. It happened at one time in "Mary Anne's" day that she was starting of with the empty wagons and moving slowly coughing and spluttering, a man, well known in the district today, leaped in front of her, and with his back against her, stopped her progress, amid laughter from the onlookers. But, the "Mary Anne" had to be set aside, and replaced with a powerful male engine. There was general talk throughout the land about a big elephant called "Jumbo" at that time, and to move with the times, this engine was called "Jumbo". In fact everything big was given the elephant's name.

But, in case poor 'Jumbo' leads me into the jungle, I must turn back to the text, which is "Old Characters of Gellinudd." I shall write of their various situations, beliefs, and habits, without prejudice, and the reader himself can form his own opinion as to the correctness or otherwise of their purpose, and the first we shall observe is ....... JOHN HICKS ...........

[This John Hicks was my gg grandfather, and John Morgan's grandfather, I have extracted the section that followed, relating to him, on my Hicks home page.  Gareth Hicks]

There is a name index to the book on Old Characters of Gellinudd