History - It Happened Here

It happened here – so much history in one small area

Merthyr Tydfil’s colourful past takes a bit of absorbing. From Bronze Age pottery to Roman forts, a patron saint to a Norman castle and the mightiest ironworks the world has ever seen to the world’s first steam locomotive journey, the historic Merthyr Rising of 1831 and Wales’s first Labour MP to the election of a female Mayor before women even had equal voting rights...there’s quite a lot to learn. Here’s a snapshot:

7,000BC. Evidence of Neolithic activity, with Neolithic flints found across the county borough in recent years.

6,000BC Stone Age and Bronze Age people are living in the Morlais and Cilsanws hills - arrowheads and pottery found locally can be seen on display at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

800BC Hillforts are built during the Iron Age.

69-96AD Penydarren Roman Fort is home to a garrison of more than 500 soldiers.

480 Tudful, daughter of Brychan, King of Breconshire, is martyred during a pagan raid. The name of Merthyr Tydfil comes from this Christian tradition – remembered at St Tydfil’s Church.

1270 Morlais Castle –a ruin today - is built by an Anglo Norman marcher lord. Morlais Castle is destroyed following the battle of Maes Y Faenor and the burning down of the original Vaynor Church.

1759 Dowlais Ironworks is established. Three more ironworks - Plymouth (1763), Cyfarthfa (1766) and Penydarren (1784) – begin blast furnace operations. This marks the beginning of ‘industrial Merthyr Tydfil’.

1793 Pontycafnau - a cast-iron tramroad bridge and aqueduct thought to be the world’s oldest - is erected across the River Taff to carry water and supplies of limestone to Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The bridge, a few yards from the Taff Trail, can still be used by pedestrians today.

1798 The Glamorganshire Canal from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff opens. From Aberfan through Troedyrhiw and Abercanaid to Rhydycar, walkers and cyclists use the canal route today as part of the Taff Trail.

1801 The first national census shows Merthyr Tydfil is the largest settlement in Wales with a population of 7,705.

1802 Admiral Lord Nelson visits Cyfarthfa Ironworks, now the largest works in the world and important to the success of the Royal Navy in wartime because of the cannons and cannonballs forged there.

1804 The world’s first steam locomotive to run on rails hauls a 10 ton load of iron in wagons along the nine miles of new tramroad that links the Merthyr Tydfil Ironworks to the Glamorganshire Canal at Abercynon. This historic route is now a cycling/ walking trail named after the locomotive engineer and inventor Richard Trevithick.

1825 Cyfarthfa Castle is built for William Crawshay II.

1831 Merthyr Tydfil Rising. Protests by townspeople angry at harsh bailiff action and by workers angry at unsatisfactory conditions lead to demonstrations and the disarming of soldiers. A red flag is raised. Protesters gather round the Castle Inn, soldiers open fire and several members of the crowd are killed. Dic Penderyn was later hanged for allegedly wounding a soldier.

1841 The Brunel-built Taff Vale Railway opens, linking Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff.

1868 A railway is built from Merthyr Tydfil to Brecon. Its two graceful viaducts at Cefn Coed and Pontsarn are now part of the Taff Trail.

1870 At the Temperance Hall (now the Scala) Rose Mary Crawshay organises the first public meeting in Wales to discuss women’s suffrage.

1870 John Hughes from Merthyr Tydfil established the Russian town of Hughesovka, setting up an ironworks and coal mines. It is now the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

1876 Dowlais vocalist, Margaret Watts-Hughes becomes the first woman to present a scientific invention at the Royal Society. She was a pioneer in the science of sound and displayed images of the human voice.

1900 James Keir Hardie is elected ‘junior’ MP for Merthyr Tydfil Boroughs. In 1906, he becomes the first leader of the Labour Party.

1911 Merthyr Tydfil’s population reaches 80,991.

1918 The people of Merthyr Tydfil break records by raising over £1,000,000 for the war effort in June 1918, when a WWI tank visited the town.

1925 Fashion designer Laura Ashley is born in Dowlais.

1927 Even before women get equal voting rights, councillors elect Mary Ann Edwards to be Merthyr Tydfil’s first female Mayor.

1948 The Hoover factory opens at Pentrebach to build US-designed washing machines for the world. 350 people are employed – later the workforce is 10 times as large.

1957 Brecon Beacons National Park is created.

1989-93 Merthyr Vale, Trelewis Drift Mine, Deep Navigation and Taff Merthyr Tydfil Collieries all close.

1997 The three former colliery sites are reclaimed to create the scenic Parc Taf Bargoed. Merthyr Vale is now the site of a new housing development.

21st century Whereas heavy industry was once the town’s past, it is tourism, retail, light manufacturing, and the service and public sectors that are its present. Read on to discover more about the Merthyr Tydfil of today.

Last Updated - Mon - 28 / Oct / 19