19th Century Merthyr

Map of Merthyr areaMerthyr Tydvil is a market town and parliamentary borough, in the extensive and populous parish of its name, hundred of Caerphilly, county of Glamorgan; 176 miles W. by N. from London, 40 S.W. from Hereford, 64 N.W. from Bristol, and 24 from Cardiff; situated on the Taff Vale railway, which line communicates also with the South Wales railway, and is a terminus of the Vale of Neath line. Its ancient name was Merthyr-Tudfyl, or Tudful, said to be derived from Tudvyl, the daughter of the martyr, Brychan Brycheiniog, a Prince, or Regulus, of a district then called Garth Mathrin, who, according to the Welsh chronology, was sacrificed by the Pagan Saxons in the sixth century; and a well, called 'Tydvil's Well' in the neighbourhood, is supposed to be the spot where she was murdered.

The town lies in the midst of bleak and barren hills, on the banks of the river Taff, which falls into the sea about a mile below Cardiff - the port for the manufactures of this place. Here and there, prodigious heaps of cinders are formed from the accumulated refuse of the mines and furnaces. This heat of this spent fuel causes it to smoulder until ignition ensues, when flickering flames of different colours may be seen in the night-time issuing from these mineral mounds. The transmission of the productions of this district is facilitated by the Glamorgan Canal, extending from hence to the port, upon which craft of twenty-five tons burden are freighted; and the Taff Vale railway to Cardiff and the South Wales to Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Milford Haven, are other efficient modes of conveyance, both for passengers and the productions of this valuable mineral district.

From an inconsiderable village, this place has risen to one of great commercial importance, owing to the prolific mines of iron-stone and coal abounding in the neighbourhood. The iron-works, which are upon a vast scale, furnish, when in activity, employment to many thousand persons. The 'Cyfartha', the 'Dowlais', the 'Gadly's', and 'Aberdare' Company's establishments are of great consequence, and there are others of great magnitude, of which the directory of the town furnishes the names. The Cyfartha works have no fewer than eleven furnaces, and in 1845, made 45,760 tons of iron, at an average of eighty tons per furnace weekly, and requiring four hundred men, including colliers, miners and labourers, to each. The Dowlais works has seventeen furnaces, and made in 1845, 74,880 tons, at an average of eighty tons for each, weekly. The quantity of coal in these works averages one thousand tons daily. These works constitute by far the largest establishment of the kind in the world. In 1847 the Grand Duke of Constantine of Russia and suite were conducted over the works by the late Sir J. J. Guest, Bart., who was then the principal proprietor. It has been estimated that at least one million sterling was paid in one year (1847) for wages to the men employed in the principal Iron establishments of Merthyr. The greater portion of the metal from the works here, and from furnaces a few miles distant, is converted into bar, and other malleable iron, by machinery of the most approved construction, chiefly worked by water. Besides the iron trade, there are local branches of some consequence - among which may be mentioned the manufacture of woollen cloth and brewing, &c.

The principal civil authorities are the chief constables of the hundred, and the parish constables - the latter elected annually, and a stipendary magistrate. Merthyr is included in the thirtieth circuit of towns under the County Court Act, for the recovery of debts to any amount not exceeding 50; this court is held monthly. The borough returns one member to parliament; the gentleman at present sitting is Henry A. Bruce, Esq. The limits of the borough, as defined by the Boundary Act, comprises the whole of the parish of Merthyr Tydvil; the parish of Aberdare, in the hundred of Miskin; and the hamlet of Coed-y-Cymmar, in the hundred of Penkelly, and county of Brecon. The union comprises nine parishes, viz. Aberdare, Gellygaer, Llanfabon, Llanwonno, Merthyr Tidvil, Penderyn, Rhigos, Vaynor and Ystradyfodwg, with a total population in 1851, of 76,813 inhabitants. The Court-house and Market-house, forming a handsome building, well adapted to its purpose, was erected at the joint expense of William Meyrick, Esq. and William Thomas, Esq.

The places of worship are, the parish church of Saint Tydvil; a chapel of ease, erected some years since at Dowlais, a populous part of the parish; and several commodious chapels for various religious denominations. There are several public schools in the parish for educating the humbler class of children, including two, each conducted upon the National and British plans; and a free school. The country around here, until lately, was too rough and wild to admit of much arable tillage; but, with the auspices of the wealthy iron-masters, some of whom have elegant residences in the neighbourhood, it has arrived at great perfection, and the crops from the land in the vicinity of the town are nearly equal to those obtained in fertile districts.

The market days are Wednesday and Saturday - the latter the principal one. Fairs, March 18th, July 18th, September 2nd and 24th, the second Monday after October the 10th, and November 17th. The parish of Merthyr Tydfil comprises the hamlets of Forest, Garth, Gellideg, Heolwermood, Taff and Cynon, containing collectively; according to the returns of 1841, 34,978 inhabitants; but according to the census of 1851, the population had increased to 46,378.

Transcribed by Phil Mustoe

For lots of photos of Old Merthyr, go to Alan & Geoff's  Old Merthyr Tydfil



18th Century Glamorgan

"The County of GLAMORGAN is 112 Miles in Circumference, contains about 540000 Acres, 10 Hundreds, 9 Market Towns, 118 Parishes and 9644 Houses. It had formerly 25 Castles and 3 Monasteries most of which are now demolished. The Air is various, sharp on ye Mountains, covered with Snow but very Mild & Warm on ye Seavern Coast. The Soil in ye North Part is full of Steep, High & Barren Hills, abounding with Woods, in ye South more plain rich & fertile, feeding multitude of Cattle & Sheep; it is called for its fruitfullness ye Garden of Wales. It is plentifully stored with Fish, Flesh, Fowl, it also has many Coal Pits, The Cheif Comodities are Corn & Cattle."

Emanuel Bowen, Britannia Depicta, 1720, from Slaters Commercial Directory, 1858-1859.

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