A  Report on the March Meeting of Resolven History Society

March has proved a busy month for the History Society thus far. On the 8th, the Society held their annual dinner at the Angel, Pontneddfechan, attended by twenty three members and a good time was had by all. On the following Monday, a good attendance awaited Mr Huw Williams of Dowlais at the Church Hall.

Mr Williams has visited Resolven many times and used to conduct a WEA History group at the Community Centre. Last year, he spoke on the Cynon valley and such was the scope of his talk that he was invited to give a second course, by discussing the culture of Aberdare and district in the 19th century.

He began by revisiting several of the industrial themes which gave rise to the society which spawned the culture. Reference was made to the industrial rivalry with both Merthyr Tudful and later the Rhondda valleys in terms of coal production. Powell Duffryn’s access to the 4’seam had sparked huge production of coal and the spawning of a dual parliamentary seat between Merthyr and Aberdare.

In essence the culture of Aberdare could be focused through the prism of four distinct themes. Firstly the chapel culture of the valley, nicknamed “Sweet Bêr Dâr”, produced meeting places and became the venues for cymanfaoedd canu ( singing festivals) and Eisteddfodau. Some chapels even ran sports teams though this was rather diminished in the revival of 1904. Central to this was the discipline of “adroddiad” ( formal recitation) which was a common feature of Welsh society, where children and adults would learn scripture by rote in order to repeat in chapel ( a tradition familiar to many of those present,Ed). This showed itself in the minister style public speaking style, so evident in the politicians of the period with its clear enunciation.

The second theme was that of the choirs. Aberdare had Male, Female and mixed choirs. Most famously was the Côr Caradog which famously sang for Queen Victoria at the Crystal Palace and was so large that the Male Voice Choir that it was counted in hundreds and travelled in its own train to London. The innovation of Curwen’s modulator and the tonic solfa produced a society which could read and perform music and was indicative of the fact that by 1870 the population was more literate and educated. Indeed in 1878, Henry Richard the famous pacifist from Tregaron,( Apostol Heddwch ) was elected as MP for Aberdare.

The third theme was that of the growth of the printing industry in Aberdare in the nineteenth century. The valley was the centre for the printing of religious tracts and newspapers in both English and Welsh. “Tarian y Gweithiwr”, a Welsh language newspaper written  for the working man was produced there . The main company performing this work was Stephens and George, a company which still produces programmes for the Welsh Rugby Union. Even though, the area ironically became a hotspot for Rugby League in Wales in the early twentieth century.

The final theme, which is often overlooked today was that the Society operated almost entirely in Welsh. By 1900, Abedare had a population of 14,999. The Society was fueled by Calvinistic Methodism which gave the population a sense of confidence and drive.

Mr Williams finished his highly entertaining talk by musing as to the meaning of the term “popular culture”, but was still no wiser. He stated that the valleys needed a cultural revolution fueled by a renewed sense of community and citizenship.

Following a lengthy question and answer session, Trefor Jones deputisng for Chairman Gwyn Thomas, thanked Mr Williams for his illuminating talk. He stated that in essence, each valley community was similar in tradition, but were also unique in other ways.