Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for MERTHYR-TYDVIL

MERTHYR-TYDVIL, a town, a parish, two subdistricts, and a district, in Glamorgan. The town stands on the river Taff, on the Glamorgan canal, and at a convergence of railways, 1½ mile SE of the boundary with Brecon, 4 W of the boundary with Monmouth, and 21 NNW of Cardiff. It takes its name from a noble lady, called Tudfyl, daughter of a Celtic prince, and said to have been martyred by Pagan Saxons in the 6th century. It adjoins tracts which abound in traditions, and where the ancient Britons and the Saxons were long in conflict; and it is supposed to have been known to the Romans, for purposes of mining in lead and iron ores. Yet it never was more than a mere village till the last century; and it had, at one period in that century, so remarkable few as only 7 houses. It owed its origin as a town, and has owed immense increase of population and immense prosperity, entirely to great wealth of minerals around it, together with the establishment and extension of iron-works. It began to emerge from obscurity about 1765, when Mr. Anthony Bacon established the ironworks of Cyfartha, which supplied the government with cannon till 1782, and which came to have seven furnaces, besides vast pudding and rolling mills, and passed through several hands into the ownership of Messrs. Crawshay and Hill; and it acquired additional import ance by the establishment of the iron works of Dowlais, Penydarren, and Plymouth, and by the working and export of mineral produce and of manufactured iron, till it became the greatest seat of the iron trade in Great Britain. It stands on ground about 500 feet above sea-level. with declivities suffificient for very free drainage, and with exposures abundant for the freest ventilation; and it is surrounded by lofty mountains, affording it considerable shelter, embosoming reaches of picturesque scenery, and inviting its inhabitants to athletic exercise. Both its site and its environs were naturally bleak and wild; and they have undergone vast artificial change, partly in the introducing of amenities, and still more in the features and accompaniments of iron-works and mines. The view of the place from neighbouring vantage-grounds, on a cloudy day or in the dusk, luridly emblazoned with the flames of the numerous furnaces, is both weird-like and sublime

The town grew in a very irregular manner, rather in detached groups of offices and of labourers' cottages around the several iron-works, than as a compact or continuous town; it lay, and in a measure still lies, in scattered pieces, with rambling branches, about the valley and on the hills; and it long was at once dingy, dirty, and unhealthy, without order, without drainage, and without so much as a fair supply of clean water. Disease was prevalent; fever, small-pox, and cholera readily broke in; and so few as 2.6 per cent. of the inhabitants reached an age of 80 or upwards, while 12.1 per cent. in some other parts of Wales reached that age. Great improveMents have latterly been made; many good dwellings have been erected; a suburb of neat villa-like houses, on the S, has sprung up; an ample supply of pure water was obtained in 1 865; and sewerage-works, at a cost of about £30,000, were constructed in 1866. The public buildings include a market-house, barracks, a theatre, four churches, about twenty-four dissenting chapels, a Roman Catholic chapel, a mechanics' institute, four public schools, and a workhouse; but they do not present any feature of interest. The parish church is a very plain structure; and has, in the outer wall, an inscribed slab, supposed to refer to a brother of St. Tudfyl. St. David's church was built in 1846, and is a neat edifice. The workhouse is a large building; and, at the census of 1861, had 310 inmates. The town has a head post office,‡ railway stations with telegraph, two banking offices, and two chief inns; and is a seat of petty sessions and county courts, and a polling-place. Railways go from it in four directions, toward Cardiff, Neath, Brecon, and Abergavenny; and give it ample communication with great seaports, and with all parts of the kingdom. The railway down the Taff to Cardiff was originally a tramway; and the first locomotive engine over run, was launched on that tramway from Merthyr in 1805, and went pretty well as far as Pontypridd, but there came to a stand. The Glamorgan canal is likewise of value to the town, and was long a highly important medium of conveyance. The aggregate trade is enormous, nearly all mineral, but has been fluctuating. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and fairs are held on 18 March, 18 July, and 18 Nov. Members of temperance societies are very numerous; fraternities of Odd Fellows frequently parade the streets in holiday attire; and there are several book clubs. A stipendiary magistrate superintends the police administration; and a local board of health manages the cleaning and the lighting. The town was made a parliamentary borough by the reform act of 1832; it got one representative then, and got another by the act of 1867; and, as a borough, it comprises most of Merthyr-Tydvil parish, all Aberdare parish, and chief part of Vainor parish, the last electorally in Brecon. Area, 45.1 square miles. Electors in 1833,502; in 1868,1,387. Amount of property and income tax charged in 1863, £13,104. Pop. in 1851, 63,080; in 1861,83,875. Houses, 16,114. Pop. in 1861, of the part in Merthyr-Tydvil parish, 49,119; of the part in Vainor parish, 2,457.

The parish includes the hamlets of Forest, Garth, Gellideg, Heolwermood, Taff, and Cynon; several of which meet in the interior of the town. Acres, 17,744. Real property of Forest, £4,678,-of which £900 are in mines; of Garth, £48,976,-of which £31,670 are in iron-works, £2,854 in quarries, and £400 in railways; of Gellideg, £11,410,-of which £2,328 are in quarries, and £75 in railways; of Heolwermood, £99,859,-of which £10,752 are in mines, £51,595 in iron-works, £422 in railways, and £1,400 in gas-works; of Taff and Cynon, £2,275. Pop. of the whole in 1801,7,705; in 1821,17,404; in 1841,34,977; in 1861,49,794. Houses, 9,855. Cyfartha Castle is the seat of R. Crawshay, Esq.; stands above Cyfartha iron-works, in a good position, backed by wooded hills; is a modern edifice, in the castellated style, with a very fine round tower; and has neatly kept grounds. Dowlais House was formerly the seat of Sir John Guest, Bart., and is now the residence of G. Clarke, Esq. Morlais Castle is traditionally said to have been built by Ivor Bach, a famous chieftain of the 12th century; was the scene of a singular legal dispute between the Crown and the lords of the Welsh marches in the time of Edward I.; stands on a lofty limestone cliff, overhanging the lesser Taff, near the boundary with Brecon; is now a shattered ruin, comprising portions of several towers; and includes a chamber, cleared out in 1846, and about 90 feet in circumference, with a groined roof supported by a central pillar. The coal, in the worked Mines, is of excellent quality; and the iron accompanies the coal strata in veins of argillaceous ore, so rich as to yield about 35 per cent. of its weight in metal. The living is a rectory, united with the chapelry of St. David, in the diocese of Llandaff. Value, £675.* Patron, the Marquis of Bute. The chapelries of Cyfartha and Pentrebach are separate benefices. The first dissenting congregation in Wales was formed in this parish in 1620; two Presbyterian congregations were formed in 1749 and 1821; three Independent, in 1810 and 1831; a Baptist, in 1807; and two Wesleyan Methodist, and a Calvinistic, in 1812. Charities, £44.

The two sub-districts are Lower Merthyr-Tydvil and Upper M. T. Lower M. T. consists wholly of part of M. T. parish, and comprises 15,244 acres. Pop., 25,300. Houses, 5,028. Upper M. T. contains the rest of M. T. parish, and all Vainor parish, the latter electorally in Brecon. Acres, 9,097. Pop., 27,478. Houses, 5,476. -The district gave off the parishes of Llanfabon and Llanwonno, and all the parish of Ystradyfodwg, except Rhigos hamlet, in July 1863, to form part of the new district of Pontypridd; and, till then, it comprehended also the sub-district of Gelligaer, containing the parishes of Gelligaer, Llanfabon, and Llanwonno; and the sub-disdistrict of Aberdare, containing the parishes of Aberdare, Ystradyfodwg, and Penderyn, the last electorally in Brecon. Acres, 112,886. Poor rates in 1863, exclusive of the Pontypridd portion from July, £32,625. Pop. in 1851,76,804; in 1861,107,105. Houses, 20,408. Marriages in 1863, exclusive of the Pontypridd portion from July, 952; births, 4,254,-of which 239 were illegitimuate; deaths, 2,641, - of which 1,337 were at ages under 5 years, and 36 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-0,10,062; births, 39,955; deaths, 26,311. The places of worship, in 1851, were 17 of the Church of England, with 4,896 sittings; 26 of Independents, with 9,451 s.; 30 of Baptists, with 12,928 s.; 2 of Unitarians, with 461 s.; 16 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 3,961 s.; 4 of Primitive Methodists, with 702 s.; 2 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 120 s.; 15 of Calvinistic Methodists, with 6,841 s.; 1 undefined, with 305 s.; 7 of Latter Day Saints, with 1,760 s.; 1 of Roman Catholics, with 300 s.; and 1 of Jews, with 400 s. The schools were 22 public day schools, with 2,956 scholars; 51 private day schools, with 1,466 s.; 97 Sunday schools, with 15,716 s.; and 6 evening schools for adults, with 258 s.


(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, a parish, two subdistricts, and a district"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Merthyr Tudful AP/CP       Merthyr Tidvil PLU/RegD       Glamorgan AncC
Place: Merthyr Tudful

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