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Aberdare shown within Rhondda Cynon Taf
|OS grid reference|
|Principal area||Rhondda Cynon Taf|
|Ceremonial county||Mid Glamorgan|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|UK Parliament||Cynon Valley|
|Welsh Assembly||Cynon Valley|
Aberdare shown within Rhondda Cynon Taf
|OS grid reference|
|Principal area||Rhondda Cynon Taf|
|Ceremonial county||Mid Glamorgan|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|UK Parliament||Cynon Valley|
|Welsh Assembly||Cynon Valley|
Aberdare (// ab-ər-DAIR; Welsh: Aberdâr) is a town in the Cynon Valley area of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, at the confluence of the Rivers Dare (Dâr) and Cynon. The population at the 2001 census was 31,705 (ranked 13th largest in Wales). Aberdare is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) south-west of Merthyr Tydfil, 20 miles (32 km) north-west of Cardiff and 22 miles (35 km) east-north-east of Swansea. During the nineteenth century it became a thriving industrial settlement, which was also notable for the vitality of its cultural life and as an important publishing centre.
Aberdare dates from the Middle Ages. It was originally a small village in an agricultural district, centred around the Church of St John the Baptist, said to date from 1189. By the middle of the fifteenth century, Aberdare contained a Water Mill in addition to a number of thatched cottages, of which no evidence remains. At the beginning of the 19th century, the place grew rapidly in population owing to the abundance of coal and iron ore, and the population of the whole parish, 1,486 in 1801, increased tenfold during the first half of the 19th century.
Two major industries supported the main growth of the community, first iron, then coal. To provide an avenue for export, a branch of the Glamorganshire Canal (1811) was used, then the railway became the main means of transport to the South Wales coast. From the 1870s onwards, the iron industry was represented only by a small tinplate works, but by this stage the economy of the town was dominated by the coal mining industry. There were also several brickworks and breweries. During the latter half of the 19th century, considerable public improvements were made to the town, which became, despite its neighbouring collieries, a pleasant place to live. Its institutions included a post-graduate theological college (opened in connection with the Church of England in 1892, until 1907, when it was removed to Llandaff).
With the ecclesiastical parishes of St Fagan's (Trecynon) and Aberaman carved out of the ancient parish, Aberdare had 12 Anglican churches and one Roman Catholic church, built in 1866 in Monk Street near the site of a cell attached to Penrhys monastery, and at one time had over 50 Nonconformist chapels (although several of these lay in surrounding settlements such as Cwmaman and Llwydcoed). The services in the majority of the chapels were in Welsh. Most of these chapels have now closed, with many converted to other uses. The urban district includes what were once the separate villages of Aberaman, Abernant, Cwmaman, Cwmbach, Cwmdare, Llwydcoed, Penywaun and Trecynon. There are several cairns and the remains of a circular British encampment on the mountain between Aberdare and Merthyr. Hirwaun moor, 4 miles to the north west of Aberdare, was according to tradition the scene of a battle at which Rhys ap Tewdwr, prince of Dyfed, was defeated by the allied forces of the Norman Robert Fitzhamon and Iestyn ap Gwrgant, the last Welsh prince of Glamorgan.
Aberdare, little more than a village at the end of the eighteenth century, grew rapidly in population owing to the abundance of coal and iron ore, and the population of the whole parish, 1,486 in 1801, increased tenfold during the first half of the 19th century. The most significant growth was witnessed during the 1840s and 1850s; during both these decades the population of the Aberdare District, centred on the town, doubled from 9,322 to in 1841 to 18,774 in 1851. It more than doubled again to 37,487 in 1861. During these years population growth, as a result of the growth of the steam coal trade (see below) was increasingly concentrated in the previously agricultural areas of Blaengwawr and Cefnpennar to the south of the town. The 1851 and 1861 censuses demonstrate that in-migration during these yard was increasingly focused on these areas. A large proportion of the migrants came from the rural parts of west Wales which had been affected by an agricultural depression. Population levels continued to increase over the next forty years, albeit with a small decline in the 1870s. The first decade of the twentieth century saw a further sharp increase, largely as a result of the steam coal trade, reaching 53,779 in 1911. It has since declined owing to the loss of most of the heavy industry.
Welsh was the language of the pre-industrial population of Aberdare and of the majority of those who migrated there in the early nineteenth century. In his controversial evidence to the 1847 Education Reports, the vicar of Aberdare, John Griffith, stated that the English language was 'generally understood' and referred to the arrival of people from such anglicised areas as Radnorshire and south Pembrokeshire. The 1901 census recorded that 71.5% of the population of Aberdare Urban District could speak Welsh in 1901 and this figure fell to 65.2% in 1911. A more detailed analysis of the 1911 data shows that while Welsh was more widely spoken among the older generation compared to the young and amongst women compared to men, there was no evidence at that stage of the lanaguage shift which occurred in later decades. By the post-war period, however, English gradually began to replace Welsh as the main community language, as is shown by the decline of the local Welsh language press. This pattern continued after the Second World War despite the advent of Welsh medium education. Ysgol Gymraeg Aberdâr, the Welsh-medium primary school, was established in the 1950s with Idwal Rees as head teacher.
Ironworks were established at Llwydcoed and Abernant in 1799 and 1800 respectively, followed by others at Gadlys and Aberaman in 1827 and 1847. The Gadlys works, now considered an important archaeological site, originally comprised four blast furnaces, inner forges, rowing mills and puddling furnaces. The development of these works provided impetus to the growth of Aberdare as a nucleated town. The iron industry was gradually supserseded by coal and all the five iron works had closed by 1875, as the local supply of iron ore was inadequate to meet the ever-increasing demand created by the invention of steel, and as a result the importing of ore proved more profitable.
In the early years of Aberdare's development, most of the coal worked in the parish was coking coal, and was consumed locally, chiefly in the ironworks. The iron industry began to expand around 1818 when the Crawshay family of Merthyr purchased the Hirwaun ironworks and place them under independent management. In the following year Rowland Fothergill took over the ironworks at Abernant and a few years later did the same at Llwydcoed. Both concerns later fell into the hands of his nephew Richard Fothergill. In turn, the Gadlys Iron Company was established in 1827 by Matthew Wayne, and although small in comparison with the other ironworks it became significant as the Waynes also became involved in the production of sale coal. their activity led directly, in 1836, to the exploitation of the "Four-foot Seam" of high-calorific value steam coal began, and pits were sunk in rapid succession.
A number of local capitalists now became involved in the expansion of the coal trade, including David Williams at Ynysgynon and David Davis at Blaengwawr, as well as the latter's son David Davis, Maesyffynnon. They were joined by newcomers such as Crawshay Bailey at Aberaman and, in due course George Elliot in the lower part of the valley. This coal was valuable for steam railways and steam ships, and an export trade began, via the Taff Vale Railway and the port of Cardiff. The population of the parish rose from 6,471 in 1841 to 14,999 in 1851 and 32,299 in 1861 and John Davies described it as "the most dynamic place in Wales". In 1851, the Admiralty decided to use Welsh steam coal in ships of the Royal Navy, and this decision boosted the reputation of Aberdare's product and launched a huge international export market. Coal mined in Aberdare parish rose from 177,000 long tons (180,000 t) in 1844 to 477,000 long tons (485,000 t) in 1850, and the coal trade, which after 1875 was the chief support of the town, soon reached huge dimensions.
The growth of the coal trade inevitably led to a number of industrial disputes, some of which were local and others which affected the wider coalfield. Trade unionism began to appear in the Aberdare Valley at intervals from the 1830s onwards but the first significant manifestation occurred during the Aberdare Strike of 1857–8. The dispute was initiated by the depression in trade which followed the Crimean War and saw the local coal owners successfully impose a reduction in wages. The dispute did, however, witness an early manifestation of mass trade unionism amongst the miners of the valley and although unsuccessful the dispute saw the emergence of a stronger sense of solidarity amongst the miners.
Steam coal was subsequently found in the Rhondda and further west, but many of the great companies of the Welsh coal industry's Gilded Age started operation in Aberdare and the lower Cynon Valley, including those of Samuel Thomas, David Davies and Sons, Nixon's Navigation and Powell Duffryn.
In common with the rest of the South Wales coalfield, Aberdare's coal industry commenced a long decline after World War I, and the last two deep mines still in operation in the 1960s were the small Aberaman and Fforchaman collieries, which closed in 1962 and 1965 respectively.
On 11 May 1919, an extensive fire broke out on Cardiff Street, Aberdare.
As a small village in the upland valleys of Glamorgan, Aberdare did not play any significant part in political life until its development as an industrial settlement. It was part of the lordship of Miskin, and the ancient office of High Constable continued in ceremonial form until relatively recent times.
In 1832, Aberdare was removed from the county of Glamorgan and became part of the parliamentary borough of Merthyr Tydfil. For much of the nineteenth century, the representation was initially controlled by the ironmasters of Merthyr, notably the Guest family. From 1852 until 1868 the seat was held by Henry Austen Bruce whose main industrial interests lay in the Aberdare valley. Bruce was a Liberal but was viewed with suspicion by the more radical faction which became increasingly influential within Welsh Liberalism in the 1860s. The radicals supported such policies as the disestablishment of the Church of England and were closely allied to the Liberation Society.
Nonconformist ministers played a prominent role in this new politics and, at Aberdare, they found an effective spokesman in the Rev Thomas Price minister of Calfaria, Aberdare. Following the granting of a second parliamentary seat to the borough of Merthyr Tydfil in 1867, the Liberals of Aberdare sought to ensure that a candidate from their part of the constituency was returned alongside the sitting member, Henry Austen Bruce. Their choice fell upon Richard Fothergill, owner of the ironworks at Abernant, who was enthusiastically supported by the Rev Thomas Price. Shortly before the election, however, Henry Richard intervened as a radical Liberlal candidate, invited by the radicals of Merthyr. To many people's surprise, Price was lukewarm about his candidature and continued to support Fothergill. Ultimately, Henry Richard won a celebrated victory with Fothergill in second place and Bruce losing his seat. Richard thus became one of the-first radical MPs from Wales.
At the 1874 General Election, both Richard and Fothergill were again returned, although the former was criticised for his apparent lack of sympathy towards the miners during the industrial disputes of the early 1870s. This led to the emergence of Thomas Halliday as the first labour or working man candidate to contest a Welsh constituency. Although he polled well, Halliday fell short of being elected. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, the constituency was represented by industrialists, most notably David Alfred Thomas. In 1900, however, Thomas was joined by Keir Hardie, the ILP candidate, who became the first labour representative to be returned for a Welsh constituency independent of the Liberal Party.
The Aberdare constituency came into being at the 1918 election. The first representative was Charles Butt Stanton who had been elected at a by-election following Hardie's death in 1915. However, in 1922, Stanton was defeated by a Labour candidate and the party has held the seat ever since. The only significant challenge came from Plaid Cymru at the 1970 and February 1974 General Elections but this performance has not since been repeated. Since 1984 the parliamentary seat, now known as Cynon Valley has been held by Ann Clwyd.
Until the mid-nineteenth century the local government of Aberdare and its locality remained in the hands of traditional structures such as the parish vestry and the High Constable, who was chosen on an annual basis. However, the rapid industrial development of the parsing resulted in the situation were these traditional bodies could not cope with the realities of an urbanised, industrial community which had developed without any planning or facilities. During the early decades of the century the iron masters gradually imposed their influence over local affairs and this remained the case following the formation of the Merthyr Board of Guardians in 1836. During the 1850s and early 1860s, however, as coal displaced iron as the main industry in the valley, the ironmasters were replaced by an alliance between mostly indigenous coal owners, shopkeepers and tradesmen, professional men and dissenting ministers. A central figure in this development was the Rev Thomas Price. The growth of this alliance was rooted in the reaction to the 1847 Education Reports and the subsequent efforts to establish a British School at Aberdare.
In the 1840s there were no adequate sanitary facilities or water supply and life expectancy was low. Outbreaks of cholera and typhus were commonplace. Against this background a Local Board of Health was established in the 1854. Its first chairman was Richard Fothergill and the members included David Davis, Blaengwawr, David Williams (Alaw Goch), Rees Hopkin Rhys and the Rev. Thomas Price.
It was followed by the Aberdare School Board in 1871.
By 1889, the Local Board of Health had initiated a number of developments which included the purchase of local reservoirs from the Aberdare Waterworks Company for £97,000, a sewerage scheme costing £35,000, as well as the opening of Aberdare Public Park and a local fever hospital. The lack of a Free Library, however, remained a concern.
Later, the formation of the Glamorgan County Council (upon which Aberdare had five elected members) in 1889, followed by the Aberdare Urban District Council, which replaced the Local Board in 1889, transformed the local politics of the Aberdare valley.
At the 1889 Glamorgan County Council Elections most of the elected representatives were coalowners and industrialists and the only exception in the earlier period was the miners' agent David Morgan (Dai o'r Nant), elected in 1892 as a labour representative. From the early 1900s, however, Labour candidates began to gain ground and dominated local government from the 1920s onwards. The same pattern was seen on the Aberdare UDC.
In 1974, following local government re-organization, Aberdare became part of the county of Mid Glamorgan and the Cynon Valley Borough Council. Labour members held a majority of seats on both authorities until their abolition in 1996. Since the latest re-organization, Aberdare has been part of the Rhondda Cynon Taff unitary authority. Once again, Labour has been the majority party although Plaid Cymru controlled the authority from 1999 until 2003.
Aberdare, during its boom years, was considered a centre of Welsh culture: it hosted the first National Eisteddfod in 1861, with which David Williams (Alaw Goch) was closely associated. A number of local eisteddfodau had long been held in the locality, associated with figures such as William Williams (Carw Coch) The Eisteddfod was again held in Aberdare in 1885, and also in 1956 at Aberdare Park where the Gorsedd standing stones still exist. At the last National Eisteddfod held in Aberdare in 1956 Mathonwy Hughes won the chair. From the mid nineteenth century, Aberdare was an important publishing centre where a large number of books and journals were produced, the majority of which were in the Welsh language. A newspaper entitled Y Gwladgarwr (the Patriot) was published at Aberdare from 1856 until 1882 and was circulated widely throughout the South Wales valleys. From 1875 a more successful newspaper, Tarian y Gweithiwr (the Workman's Shield) was published at Aberdare by John Mills. Y Darian, as it was known, strongly supported the trade union movements among the miners and ironworkers of the valleys. The miners' leader, William Abraham, derived support from the newspaper, which was also aligned with radical nonconformist liberalism. The rise of the political labour movement and the subsequent decline of the Welsh language in the valleys, ultimately led to its decline and closure in 1934.
The founding members of the rock band Stereophonics originated from the nearby village of Cwmaman. It is also the hometown of guitarist Mark Parry of Vancouver rock band The Manvils. Famed anarchist-punk band Crass played their last live show for striking miners in Aberdare during the UK miners' strike.
Griffith Rhys Jones − or Caradog as he was commonly known − was the Conductor of the famous 'Côr Mawr' of some 460 voices (the South Wales Choral Union), which twice won first prize at Crystal Palace choral competitions in London in the 1870s. He is depicted in the town's most prominent statue by sculptor Goscombe John, unveiled on Victoria Square in 1920.
With the development of Aberdare as an industrial centre in the nineteenth century it became increasingly apparent that the ancient church was far too small to service the perceived spiritual needs of an urban community, particularly in view of the rapid growth of nonconformity from the 1830s onwards. Eventually, John Griffith, the rector of Aberdare undertook to raise funds to build a new church, leading to the rapid construction of St Elvan's Church in the town centre between 1851 and 1852. This Church in Wales church still stands the heart of the parish of Aberdare and has had extensive work since its erection. The church has a modern electrical, two-manual and pedal board pipe organ, that is still used in services.
John Griffith, vicar of Aberdare, who built St Elvan's, transformed the role of the Anglican church in the valley by building a number of other churches, including St Fagans, Trecynon. Other churches in the parish are St Luke's (Cwmdare), St James's (Llwydcoed) and St Matthew's Church (1891) (Abernant).
In the parish of Aberaman and Cwmaman is St Margaret's Church, with an old, but beautiful, pipe organ with two manuals and a pedal board. Also in this parish is St Joseph's Church, Cwmaman. St Joseph's has recently undergone much recreational work, almost converting the church into a community centre. However, regular church services still take place. Here, there is a two-manual and pedal board electric organ, with speakers at the front and sides of the church.
In 1910 there were 34 Anglican churches in the Urban District of Aberdare. A survey of the attendance at places of worship on a particular Sunday in that year recorded that 17.8% of worshipers attended church services, with the remainder attending nonconformist chapels.
The Aberdare Valley was a stronghold of Nonconformity from the mid-nineteenth century until the early decades of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of the 1847 Education Reports nonconformist became increasingly active in the political and educational life of Wales and in few places was this as prevalent as at Aberdare. The leading figure was Thomas Price, minister of Calfaria, Aberdare. Of the many chapels, few are still used for their original purpose and a number of closed since the turn of the millennium. Many have been converted for housing or other purposes (including one at Robertstown which has become a mosque), and others demolished. Among the notable chapels were Calfaria, Aberdare and Seion, Cwmaman (Baptist); Saron, Aberaman and Siloa, Aberdare (Independent); and Bethania, Aberdare (Calvinistic Methodist).
The earliest Welsh Independent, or Congregationalist chapel in the Aberdare area was Ebenezer, trecynon, although meetings had been held from the latter years of the eighteenth century in dwelling houses in the locality, for example at Hirwaun. During the nineteenth century, the Independents showed the biggest increases in terms of places of worship: from two in 1837 to twenty-five (four of them being English causes), in 1897. By 1910 there were 35 Independent chapels, with a total membership of 8,612. Siloa Chapel was the largest of the Independent chapels in Aberdare and is one of the few that remain open today, having been 're-established' as a Welsh language chapel. The Independent ministers of nineteenth-century Aberdare included some powerful personalities but none had the kind of wider social authority which Thomas Price enjoyed amongst the Baptists.
Of the other Independent chapels in the valley Saron, in Davis Street, Aberaman, was used for regular services by a small group of members until 2011. For many years, these were held in a small side-room, and not the chapel itself. The chapel has a large vestry comprising rows of two-way-facing wooden benches and a stage, with a side entrance onto Beddoe Street and back entrance to Lewis Street. Although the building is not in good repair, the interior, including pulpit and balcony seating area (back & sides), was in good order but the chapel eventually closed due to the very small number of members remaining. In February 1999, Saron was made a Grade II Listed Building.
The Baptists were the most influential of the nonconformist denominations in Aberdare and their development was led by the Rev. Thomas Price who came to Aberdare in the early 1840s as minister of Calfaria Chapel. In 1837 the Baptists had three chapels, but in 1897 there were twenty, seventeen of them being Welsh. By 1910 the number of chapels had increased to 30, with a total membership of 7,422. Most of these Baptist chapels were established under the influence of Thomas Price who encouraged members to establish branch chapels to attract migrants who flocked to the town and locality from rural Wales. The chapels came together for regular gatherings, including baptismal services which were held in the River Cynon As a result, Price exerted an influence in the religious life of the locality which was far greater than that of any other minister.
By 1910 there were 24 Calvinistic Methodist chapels in the Aberdare Urban District with a total membership of 4,879. The most prominent of these was Bethania, Aberdare, once the largest chapel in Aberdare,but now a ruin. The Methodists were numerically powerful and while some of their ministers such as William James of Bethania served on the Aberdare School Board and other public bodies, their constitution militated against the sort of active political action which came more naturally to the Baptists and Independents.
The other denominations were weaker, including the Wesleyan Methodists who had 14 places of worship by 1910. There was also a significant Unitarian tradition in the valley and three places of worship by 1910. Highland Place Unitarian Church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2010, with a number of lectures on its history and the history of Unitarianism in Wales taking place there. The church has a two-manual pipe organ with pedal board that is used to accompany most services. The connected schoolroom is used for post-service meetings and socialising.
The state of education in the parish was a cause for concern during the early industrial period as is illustrated by the reaction to the 1847 Education Reports. Initially, there was an outcry, led by the Rev Thomas Price against the comments made by the vicar of Aberdare in his submission to the commissioners. However, on closer reflection, the reports related the deficiencies of educational provision, not only in Aberdare itself but also in the communities of the valleys generally. In so doing they not only criticised the ironmasters for their failure to provide schools for workers' children but also the nonconformists for not establishing British Schools. At the ten schools in Aberdare there was accommodation for only 1,317 children, a small proportion of the population. Largely as a result of these criticisms, the main nonconformist denominations worked together to establish a British School, known locally as Ysgol y Comin, which was opened in 1848, accommodating 200 pupils. Funds were raised which largely cleared the debts and the opening of the school was marked by a public meeting addressed by Price and David Williams (Alaw Goch).
Much energy was expended during this period on conflicts between Anglicans and nonconformists over education. The establishment of the Aberdare School Board in 1871 brought about an extension of educational provision but also intensified religious rivalries. School Board elections were invariably fought on religious grounds. Despite these tensions the Board took over a number of existing schools and established new ones. By 1889, fourteen schools were operated by the Board but truancy and lack of attendance remained a problem, as in many industrial districts.
In common with other public bodies at the time (see 'Local Government' above), membership of the School Board was dominated by coal owners and colliery officials, nonconformist ministers, professional men and tradesmen. Only occasionally was an Anglican clergyman elected and, with the exception of David Morgan (Dai o'r Nant), no working class candidates were elected for more than one term.
Aberdare Athletic F.C. were members of the Football League between 1921 and 1927 before being replaced by Torquay United after finishing bottom. The senior club folded a year later. They played their football league games at the Aberdare Athletic Ground and were known as the Darians. The reserve team carried on as Aberaman and Aberdare Athletic for one more season but are now known as just Aberaman Athletic F.C. They play in the Welsh League Division One at Aberaman Park.
With the decline of both iron and coal, Aberdare has become reliant on commercial businesses as a major source of employment. Its industries include cable manufacture, smokeless fuels, and tourism.
Notable current and former residents and natives of Aberdare include:
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