Iron workers Cottages, Merthyr Tydfil 1800
(rebuilt at St. Fagan's Museum 1987)
courtesy of FreeFoto.com
Merthyr Tydfil, a town that lies around 20 miles North of Cardiff up the A470 was once the most populous town in Wales, but was never really renowned for its beauty because it has been ravaged by every type of industry since its more modern development in the eighteenth century. However, I still feel that Merthyr is well worth a visit especially if your imagination works as mine does when visiting a place with such a unique history.
The area surrounding Merthyr Tydfil was occupied from ancient times, by a tribe known as the Silures. Now this is very interesting because these dark-skinned people were thought to have been of European origin, possibly Spanish. I lived in northern Spain for a while, and learned to speak the language. And when my Welsh-speaking brother-in-law paid me a visit one day, we were talking about Spanish and he remarked on the strong similarity between the Spanish language and the Welsh language. So had the Silures travelled up from Spain bringing their language with them that later evolved into the Welsh Language? It's quite possible. Anyway, back to the town of Merthyr Tydfil...
Some time around 48 AD, after a lot of fierce fighting with the Silures, Merthyr was conquered by the Romans who then being true to their reputation as Romans, built a network of roads putting the area on the map, so to speak. However, the Brecon Beacons, that are just North of MerthyrTydfil served as a great protection to these Welsh tribes who knew it far better than any invading army who often got hopelessly lost and perished at the hands of the Welsh during surprise ambushes. Even to this day, the Brecon Beacons are known to be dangerous and unpredictable to the unprepared traveller. However a Norman castle was established in the town of Brecon around the 12th Century in the far north corner of the Beacons, but that didn't help the Normans to suppress the Welsh either.
Another claim to fame that Merthyr has is that it was here that the first steam locomotive in the world conveyed five wagons, full or iron and steal from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon a journey of about 9 miles. The engine was built by 32 year-old Richard Trevithick from Cornwall and took this maiden journey in 1804. The engine had a brick chimney stack that was knocked off by a bridge but was rebuilt during that first journey! The engine didn't last much longer either, because on the return journey the entire engine totally collapsed unable to negotiate the twists and steep incline.
Merthyr Tydfil (old townhall)picture from FreeFoto.comAdd caption
As we travel forward through time, it can be said that poor old Merthyr Tydfil was never much loved. A novel written by Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), describes how a young curate faints when he learns he is be sent to merthyr to work! Also later in the 18th century, Merthyr was described by Thomas Carlyle as "a vision of hell", when he witnessed the men toiling and sweating in the furnaces and coal pits.
Through its history up until the conflicts over the coalmines closing as recent as the 1980s, Merthyr has had its fair share of riots and back in the 1930s, it was suggested that the town be abandoned and its citizens re-housed elsewhere.