A Trail through Wales and Welshness
Merthyr Tydfil for most of its history was a majority Welsh language speaking entity before and during its industrialisation, which made it by 1840 the largest iron producing town in Wales.
Its population were in the majority born in Wales and therefore were Welsh speaking; the separate Welsh dialects were several and heard in different parts of the town. At Heolgerrig there was a different and distinct dialect compared with that of a Dowlais accent and again separate from the down-valley townships centred around the collieries, whose labour force was partly drawn from mid Wales. The Georgetown area, a sub-district under the patronage of the mighty Cyfarthfa Works, counted at the 1851 census over a third of its population migrating into the area from Carmarthenshire.
Follow our short trail around Merthyr Tydfil town centre to find examples of the Welsh language visible in the town’s art, architecture and public spaces.
Our starting point is obviously Canolfan Soar, the old independent Welsh speaking Capel Soar (1802), now a centre for all things Welsh, situated on High Street Pontmorlais and one of two mighty Welsh language chapels at this place. Opposite was Capel Pontmorlais, a Calvinistic Methodist Chapel known locally as Capel Pennsylvania, demolished in the 1950s.
Merthyr’s Iron Heart
It is a short walk down the High Street to the newly commissioned Iron Heart, a sculpture by artist David Appleyard accompanied by verse in both Welsh and English, composed by Gillian Clarke, a former Wales’ Poet Laureate.
The Iron Dragon
In Castle Street the former Taf Fechan Water Supply building, now The Iron Dragon, correctly uses the Welsh word for the local river: Taf.
Notice at ground level approaching the Celtic Cross war memorial a bilingual rendering from Scripture commonplace at many such sites.
Passing the site of Ynysgau Chapel, the first in Merthyr Tydfil dating from 1749 and mother building to Capel Soar, at Caedraw flats is a series of local artworks depicting in bilingual captions several historical feature points.St. Tydfil’s Parish Church grounds includes at least three Welsh language headstones, in the minority but understandably so in such a place before chapel burial grounds and public cemeteries were made available; and indeed here where English speaking businessmen and their families and at least one ironmaster name lie buried.
St. Tydfil’s Parish Church
St. Tydfil’s Parish Church grounds includes at least three Welsh language headstones, in the minority but understandably so in such a place before chapel burial grounds and public cemeteries were made available; and indeed here where English speaking businessmen and their families and at least one ironmaster name lie buried.
Statue of Johnny Owen
A town famed for its boxing prowess, the statue of Johnny Owen at the north end of St. Tydfil Shopping Centre has descriptive plaques in both Welsh and English.
In Market Square the Myfanwy benches, part of a series of urban seating areas through the town, contain the full verses of Joseph Parry’s famous hymn of unrequited love to his onetime love, Myfanwy.
Merthyr Tydfil Central Library
The Dic Penderyn plaque in Welsh and English was unveiled in the 1970s as a testament to the Merthyr Rising of May/June 1831 and facing the actual site of the rising on what is now Plas Penderyn.
On the entrance is a floor mosaic in the motif of the Welsh Dragon, the red dragon of Cadwaladr, with the verse: “Y Ddraig Goch A Ddyry Gychwyn”: “It was the Red Dragon that Inaugurated it All”- reputedly one of the first times that this nationalistic design and wording was utilised in public artwork.