Look Up In Merthyr
A Trail through Architecture
Here is a local trail with a slight difference; it is encouraging the walker to look UP and view what is above eye level and even at roof top level!
What is there will not disappoint; indeed it may well fascinate and inform with new views of the town and a different angle on its rich history. The town after all could afford the best in civic architecture – materials and designers.
Redhouse is the most iconic and artistically pleasing of any building in the town centre. Recently restored, this terracotta and brick building, commissioned in the mid-1890s, became Merthyr Tydfil’s town hall in 1905. The architect was Edwin Arthur Johnson of Abergavenny. A leaflet with further details is available inside but note the following features: the heraldic lions either side of the cantilevered balcony; the dragon mosaic on the floor at entrance; the double staircase with a Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee commemorative stained glass window above it; the wall tiles and plaster ceilings; and a newly created atrium. (Closed on Sundays).
New Castle Street
New Castle Street is a neo Georgian gentle hill of housing forming the northern limits of that area known as Thomastown. It was laid out in a formal gridiron pattern from the 1850s onwards as residence for the aspiring trading middle classes of Merthyr Tydfil. Several fine features of door frames, window surrounds and a lengthy communal alleyway are to be noted here.
The Synagogue at the top of Church Street commands some of the finest views over the town centre. This narrow imposing building dates from 1872 and was one of the first places of worship for the Jewish faith in South Wales. The local Jewish community formed an important trading and business element within the town until the 1980s; now no Jewish families remain and this building is the focal point for possibly a South Wales museum of Jewish history.
The Miners’ Hall, once Shiloh Chapel, dates from the mid-1850s and was designed, allegedly, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel who had also designed the Vale of Neath railway station nearby. From 1921, as the Miners’ Hall, it became a meeting place for trade unions and the local Labour Party until its demise and a ruinous fire in the 1980s. The facade is of interest; notice the inscriptions still visible.
115 High Street
The façade of the narrow 115 High Street is notable for its fine decorative glazed tiles, which local legend claims were left over from the construction of Harrods! Whatever the truth, note the very fine ornamentation on this Grade II listed building. Two doors up is 113 High Street, home to Thomas Stephens, one of the great Welsh literary figures and also in his later years, his friend Morgan Williams, a prominent local Chartist activist.
Lloyds Bank was once entitled the Wilkins Brecon Old Bank until its present name at the beginning of the 20th century. A redoubtable building from outside, the ceiling inside is very fine. Local legend has it that it was destined for the Brighton branch but after a mix up, Merthyr Tydfil had theirs and Brighton had the one meant for here!
Milbourne Chambers has atop the fine structure an even finer dome-shaped roof. Below there has until recently always been a high class jewellery business: first J. D. Williams, which set the clock on the top and then H. Samuel. Now largely empty, the town awaits what will happen next to this iconic building!
Formerly The New Inn, Woodfired is a gigantic, robust building of some four floors serving as the premier accommodation for those entering Merthyr Tydfil by rail out of the Vale of Neath station next door. Since its closure in the late 1970s it became a Berni Inn, then several burger franchises and now serves tasty woodfired pizzas, hence its new name.
Howfield’s Bakery was once the finest and most renowned confectioners and bakery in Merthyr Tydfil. The Howfield family lived above the shop with the bakery at the back. The loading bay for hauling flour can still be seen at the rear of the building. Note the fine stone work detail above the windows and the engraved metal work on the side gate.
The Conservative Club was designed by the same E. A. Johnson of the old town hall. It was built as the town’s first Masonic Lodge and with expansion in numbers, shared its premises here with a newly created Conservative Club at the beginning of the 20th century. Eventually the Lodge moved to Pontmorlais but Masonic Street with its two separate front doors still provides a link with the past, one door for the Lodge, one for the Conservatives.
Merthyr Tydfil Gas Company
Established in 1836 and incorporated in 1868, these were the offices of Merthyr Tydfil Gas Company as inscribed above the windows. Lower down this part of High Street were the town’s gasometers at Caedraw, providing power for the first lighting of the expanding town of Merthyr Tydfil after the 1860s.
The Crown Inn
The Crown Inn is the oldest public house within Merthyr Tydfil situated in the same location since 1785. It was once a coaching inn providing accommodation for passengers upstairs and stabling for horses and their charges at the back through the side gates and over the cobbled alleyway still remaining at this place. Now it is a thriving and energetic music venue serving Portuguese fare.