In Desire Lines I reproduced an old map of a fairly small part of Aberdare town centre and mentioned the pubs which were marked on it. I promised myself then that I’d try and flesh out the rest of the picture. In fact, I’ve spent several months on and off doing just that, drawing on the extensive information compiled by former Aberdare librarian Richard Arnold and published by the Cynon Valley History Society (Arnold, 1982).
In his article, Mr Arnold states that
The oldest inn in the Parish of Aberdare, according to the author of one of the essays published in ‘Gardd Aberdar’, was the Cap Coch at Abercwmboi (not the present establishment there). In Aberdare itself the oldest inn is said to have been the Bon-y-Groes, which stood where the Town Hall is today in High Street … The last landlord of the Bon-y-Groes was W. E. Phillips, who died there in 1826 aged 104 years (Arnold, 1982: 107).
Fair play to him – and I thought the old landlady of the Temple Bar in Aberaman was knocking on a bit!
It’s quite frightening to realise just how many watering holes there were in and around Aberdare at the height of the Industrial Age, but given the way the population grew exponentially in such a short time, it’s hardly surprising. Look at the census figures: in 1821, the population of Aberdare Parish was 2,063; in 1831, 3,961; in 1841, 6,461; in 1851, 14,999; and in 1861 a staggering 32,000.
In 1793, it is said that the Parish of Aberdare could boast of two shops and five inns … Scammel’s Directory of Bristol and South Wales for 1852 lists fifty-five inns and hotels, and forty-eight beer retailers in Aberdare and district, a total of 103 houses (Arnold, 1982: 107-109.)
Even the smallest settlements had at least one pub, and some of them, like the Halfway House – on the mountain track between Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil – were isolated to say the least.
This was by no means unrepresentative of the rest of the country at the height of Britain’s industrial boom. In 1830, the government of the day introduced the Beerhouse Act. It was originally intended to cut the number of gin shops which were taking a huge toll in terms of public health and social disorder. It sort-of worked, insofar as people stopped drinking gin. The only trouble was, they started drinking beer instead!
The Act allowed anyone to sell beer only, merely by obtaining an excise licence, which could be obtained on demand, by the payment of two guineas [two pounds, two shillings] … Often collections were made to get the required amount in order, for instance, to set a widow up in business as a beerhouse keeper. (Arnold, 1982: 109.)
By 1836, forty-six thousand new beerhouses had opened in England and Wales. By 1869 the figure had reached fifty-three thousand, with two thousand new ones being added annually. Even the increased cost of a licence (to three guineas in 1834) and various other measures designed to limit growth seemed to have little effect.
To counter this upward trend, the 1872 Licensing Act restored the power of magistrates to grant licenses, and this seems to have worked. Between then and 1900, twenty-four public houses in Aberdare and district closed, and only one opened – the Rhos Wenallt, in 1881. After two unsuccessful attempts, the Aberaman Hotel was granted its licence in 1906.
Mr Arnold refers to the earliest surviving register of licences, for 1872, which lists 71 beerhouses and 129 fully licensed houses. In addition,
if we include the two hundred alehouses and beerhouses … and the seventy-three known houses that disappeared before that date, at least two hundred and seventy-three alehouses or beerhouses existed or had existed in the area from Hirwaun to Abercwmboi.((Arnold, 1982: 110)
It’s little wonder, then, that the Temperance Movement tried to make substantial inroads into Wales around the turn of the last century. The Aberdare Leader ran a regular series of articles entitled ‘Temperance Topics’ throughout 1902 and 1903. Even twenty years ago, when my pal Baz was the best man at a wedding in Llandysul, it was impossible to get a drink on a Sunday in the borough of Dinefwr.
The prohibitionists had their last fling as recently as 1997, believe it or not, when a referendum into whether to allow Sunday drinking throughout Wales was held. The ‘anti’ lobby was defeated by an overwhelming seven to one – possibly the last time an election issue really exercised the people of this small country.
However, the law and economics won out where religion had failed. The 1904 Act allowed magistrates to close pubs where they considered that there were too many in the same vicinity. Prior to this, public houses could only be closed because of the licensee’s misconduct. In 1906, the new law claimed its first victims, when four public houses were declared redundant. The following year, seven houses were closed, and ten the year after that.
In all, between 1906 and 1941, ninety licensed premises were closed because of redundancy in Aberdare and the surrounding districts. No applications for the renewal of another four licenses were made (Arnold, 1982: 111).
This took the number of licensed houses from 177 to just 83. It marked the start of an inexorable downward trend, interrupted only by the war and, rather oddly, the subsequent austerity years. The Plasterers Arms closed in 1950, but the next closure took place a decade afterwards. Between 1960 and the publication of Mr Arnold’s research, another twenty-four pubs closed.
There was a brief flurry of pub and club openings during the 1980s, when a number of enterprising people established new premises in Aberdare town centre. For a short period, it became known as ‘the Las Vegas of the Valleys’, and there were no fewer than six late-night clubs aimed largely at the youth market. Most didn’t last, though, and the story since has largely been the continuation of the downward trend.
The pub names themselves are fascinating. They reflect the area’s development from its rural beginnings (the Lamb, the Farmers Arms), through its growth as an industrial town (the Engineers Arms, the Puddlers Arms, numerous Colliers Arms), and into the present era of gimmicky or plain daft names. I recall reading somewhere that pub names were originally pub signs – in a time before widespread literacy, an easy to recognise picture would be used as a sort of early ‘corporate logo.’ This would certainly explain why so many names are duplicated from district to district. The names of the iron and coal owners were commemorated in the pub names, too: Crawshay, Fothergill, Wayne, Scales. They’re all gone now.
The words ‘inn’ and ‘hotel’ seemed to be fairly freely interchangeable in the old days, which may have proved rather confusing when Mr Arnold was compiling his list, and certainly didn’t do me any favours when I was researching the photographs.
Obviously, the earliest entries on the list didn’t leave any photographic evidence behind. When you’re walking along a street, a raised roof-line or suspiciously wide frontage might suggest the previous incarnation of an innocent-looking private house. Otherwise, there’s often nothing to reveal the rich history behind the front door.
Mr Arnold’s original list is prefaced with this caveat:
Included in the list are the licensed premises of all types, which were actually licensed in January, 1982. The area covered extends from Abercwmboi in the south to Rhigos in the north, and also Penderyn. As the public houses of Penderyn and the former Breconshire part of Hirwaun did not come under the jurisdiction of the Aberdare magistrates until 1974 [when the county boundaries were redrawn], early information on them has not been available, nor are their closing dates known in most instances, indeed, some may not be included at all. Houses listed as ‘Before 1872’ are those whose names survive from various other sources, but are not included in the Licensing Registers for 1872 (the earliest still in existence) or any subsequent register, and are therefore presumed to have closed before that date (Arnold, 1982: 120).
When he concluded his study, there was a total of seventy-three ‘licensed premises’ in Aberdare and District. Obviously, things have changed considerably in the last thirty years, so I’m going to try and adapt the original information for a contemporary survey of the scene.
Although he says that he’s included ‘licensed premises of all types’, for some reason, Mr Arnold decided to ignore the large number of social clubs throughout the area. I’ve also chosen to omit them, for a couple of reasons. I know that they’ve been an integral part of Valleys culture for many decades, but as private ‘members only’ establishments they don’t fill the same role as pubs did (and still do.) Furthermore, a large number of clubs have closed or merged in the past couple of decades, and it would be very difficult to find accurate information about them.
I’ve also made no attempt to list the many off-licences which have sprung up in the past three decades. Along with the supermarkets, they have made massive inroads into our Valleys communities. They have undoubtedly had an impact on the pub trade, and it could be argued that their burgeoning presence in our towns and villages have led, directly or indirectly, to a fair number of pub closures. At the time of writing, Aberdare town centre has no fewer than seven off-licenses, with a similar number within a mile radius. It would be beyond the scope of this entry to try and catalogue all of them, so I won’t even try!
Mr Arnold marked the pubs which were open in January 1982 (when his article went to press) with a *. I’ve transferred them to my adapted list. I’ve also marked the pubs which are still open today (and even a few later additions) with a †.
To gather my information, I’ve worked my way through Mr Arnold’s list, cross-referencing it with the Ordnance Survey maps kept at Aberdare Library, which date back to the 1870s. They’re works of art in themselves, hand-coloured on sheets of linen, and now encapsulated in plastic to protect them. Each one contains a wealth of historical information, and I’ve come across a few surprises, as you’ll see.
I’ve raided the Rhondda Cynon Taf Digital Archive for many of the old photos, and added some of my own to give a sort of ‘then and now’ feel. My old pal Dave Workman took a fair number of them, and I’ve marked them as DPW. Others were taken by the local photography pioneer J. Lendon Berry (JLB), a chap named Glyn Davies (GD), or are otherwise uncredited on the RCT website. Unfortunately, many pubs vanished before photography became widely accessible. The only traces they’ve left behind are faint footprints in the trade directories of the time.
Without access to older maps, some locations are a complete mystery. Mr Arnold’s information was limited to the Aberdare Urban District, which meant that details of some of the outlying places were sketchy at best. Even the OS maps (and a substantial amount of legwork) have failed to pinpoint some of them, but it was still a good way to while away countless wet afternoons in Aberdare Library.
Mr Arnold listed his findings in alphabetical order, which is handy for reference. However, I’ve taken the liberty of starting at the foot of the Glynneath Bank (just within the county line) and worked my way south, with a few detours so that you can stop for breath. It’s the first Virtual Valley Pub Crawl. Make sure, as Mams always advised us, that you drink a pint of milk before you set out ‘to line your stomach.’ After all, this could take some time.
Ready? Okay, let’s wet our whistles at …
* The Butchers Arms, Pontwalby 1872 – 20?
This one closed a few years ago. I went in there just once, on my way back from Swansea after the connecting bus from Rhossili had buggered up. I ended up travelling back in several stages, and caught a taxi home from the terminus of the X5 route – which was the Butchers. (I even got my taxi fare back after complaining to First Bus.) It’s now a private house.
* † The New Inn, Rhigos Unknown – Still open
I haven’t been in here for ages. They used to do fantastic meals when I was younger.
* † The Plough Inn, Rhigos 1851 – Still open(-ish)
I’ve been told that there’s some sort of legal covenant in effect, which means that it can’t be changed from a pub, and must remain open in perpetuity. Having said that, I’ve never seen it open. Gaz had a pint there once, but it’s a complete mystery how he managed it.
It’s time for some vigorous exercise to work up a real thirst. Let’s take a brisk walk down Halt Road, over the Foel into Penderyn, and stop at everyone’s favourite country retreat …
* † The Red LionUnknown – Still open
Another one which keeps odd hours. It tends not to open during weekday afternoons, but the evenings make up for it. Its key features include open fires, real ales, and a building project which seems to have been in progress since my first visit thirty years ago.
The Cynon Valley Profile gang managed to gain access to it one lunchtime in 1987, when we were taking photographs around the area. We enquired about bar snacks, and were offered pies or pasties. Kathleen was a vegetarian, and when she mentioned this fact, the landlady replied, ‘Have a pastie, love, there’s not much meat in them.’ You couldn’t make it up!
* † The Lamb HotelUnknown – Still open
This is a quaint village pub, with an open fire and an odd range of beers. It’s old-fashioned and popular with the farming community. My brother and some of our mates used to play for their pool team years ago.
The last time I was there, they wouldn’t let Stella in. I assumed, as a country pub, they’d have been dog-friendly, but I was wrong. In the batch of old photos which Rowland gave me was a cracking shot of some of the regulars, probably taken by Leader photographer John Wright, but not dated.
* Butchers Arms, Pontbren Unknown – Closed 199?
I’m not sure when this one closed. Its most notable feature was a load of stuffed animal heads on the walls of the lounge. I remember that Trevor and the Sprouts played a storming gig there back in about 1985. I actually danced with a girl I fancied, but that was far as it went between us. Strange things happen in Penderyn, I tell ye…
This was another Cynon Valley Profile stop-off on the same photographic expedition. This time Kathleen decided she’d have more luck ordering ‘crisps and a roll’, and was given a sliced bread roll with a few plain crisps inside. Penderyn wasn’t exactly at the forefront of the Gastropub movement, as you’ve probably gathered.
Brecon Arms, Penderyn Unknown – Unknown
This one doesn’t appear on Mr Arnold’s list, presumably because it was in Breconshire throughout its lifespan. I found it by chance on the 1904 OS map. It’s right on the northern edge of this section. Aberdare Library doesn’t have old maps stretching further north. Once again, Facebook came to my aid. After I shared this map, my friend Mel C. put me onto the Penderyn Community Historical Society website. Their online leaflet about the village pubs filled in some gaps about this pub, and others which I’d never heard of. It was apparently still open until the 1940s; after that it became variously a dairy, a hairdresser’s, and the village Post Office. It’s now a private house.
Rose Arms, Penderyn Road 1867 – Unknown
I found this one marked (just!) on the Ordnance Survey map of 1885. It was tucked away in a little row of cottages beside the railway line, opposite to the entrance to Bryn-y-Gaer Cemetery. On the maps of 1904 and 1919, the cottages are still marked as ‘Rose Row’, but there’s no sign of the pub.
* Mount Pleasant, Hirwaun Road 1867-20?
This was where Lisa and I used to go, back in the autumn of 1983. It was near her house, but quiet enough that we wouldn’t get asked for ID (not that it happened very often in those days anyway.) The last time I was there was after Uncle Stan’s funeral a few years ago. I passed it a while ago and there was no obvious sign of life. I’ve since been told by a friend from Penderyn that it’s been converted into houses.
* † Ty Newydd Guest House1975 – present
It may be licensed, but it’s hardly part of a pub crawl. It’s the sort of place that caters for wedding receptions. It’s on the list just because it is. I’ve never been there, and probably never will.
Three OaksUnknown – Unknown
Another mystery. Mr Arnold’s list states only that it was ‘on railway line to Penderyn’; other than that I’m none the wiser. The Hirwaun Historical Society list names it as ‘Royal Oak’. However, I found it on the OS maps of 1870, 1904 and 1919, indicating that Mr Arnold was right. This section of the 1904 map has it marked as a ‘beer house.’ Only ruins remain, according to the Penderyn Historical Society. Intriguing, eh?
If you’re already feeling a bit unsteady on your feet, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Welcome to Hirwaun.
This is a bit of a problem as far as the historical records are concerned. Until 1974, a fair part of the village was in Breconshire and the rest was in Glamorganshire. For this reason, the information in Aberdare Library was rather sketchy in the early 1980s. It’s probably a lot easier these days, in this age of digital archives, but for the time being I’ll work through Mr Arnold’s list as best I can. I’ve also found a list compiled by Hirwaun Historical Society, which filled a few gaps on my database.
Some of the pubs have nothing but a name. Even with an up-to-date street atlas I’m at a loss to pin down some of them. I know my way around the place quite well, but so many old buildings were demolished during the 1960s that a map doesn’t really help.
Like many Valleys communities, the original village grew organically, with no rhyme or reason to the street layout. Its industrial origins are reflected in the names of some former pubs – for example, the Crawshays were a family of wealthy ironmasters who built Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr Tydfil.
This leg of the pub crawl is going to get a bit messy, so any people with experience of Operations Research should probably get on board now. It’s a perfect example of the Travelling Salesman’s Problem, as you can see from the following map.
I’ve reconstructed this as best I can, using Ordnance Survey maps dating back to the 1870s and Mr Arnold’s list as a guide. Even so, I can’t pinpoint a fair number of the older ones. Cross-referencing the list with the 1904 map has enabled me to mark twenty-two pubs. (There’s no guarantee that I’ve identified all of them correctly, mind you!) I’ve numbered it from approximately north to south, west to east, and the numbers appear in brackets before the pub name on the list below. Take a deep breath, here we go to …
(3)* Bodwigiad Arms, Station Road 1865 – ? Demolished 2010.
I only went there once, with Baz, after a Defcon gig in Hirwaun Church Hall. The gig itself was an odd one – a thrash metal band called Snakebite were headlining, and at about 10.00 Russell Chiswell, the vicar, came in to tell us our time was up. I don’t know what he thought about the inverted crosses on the drumkit, or the Satanic lyrics. He probably wouldn’t have minded, to be honest, he was a laid-back kind of guy.
Baz and I were surprised to find Brian, the former guv’nor of The Carpenters, running the Bod, so we had a couple of late ones and made our way home via the minor roads. At one point we came across a ‘courting couple’ in a car. There was a highly embarrassing moment when Baz went over to investigate, thinking that it might have been stolen. Weird night all round!
(4) Rolling Mill Inn, 42 Station Road Unknown – Unknown
(5) Maesyrhidiau Inn, 31 Station Road Unknown – 1972
(6) Blacksmiths Arms, 4 High Street 1865 – 1906
(7) Railway Inn, Neath Road 1852 – 1908
I’d assumed that this would be further from the village than it actually was – maybe out towards the present Hirwaun Industrial Estate. Imagine my surprise when I found it clearly marked on the OS maps of 1885 and 1904, only a short stagger from the junction with the Penderyn road. Then again, I’d forgotten that there was a railway junction right beside the row of cottages which included the pub.
(8)* Globe Inn, Rhigos Road 1872 – 20?
This was opposite the old road junction to Penderyn. It was one of the few pubs in the northern part of the Cynon Valley which I never set foot in. It went through a variety of changes for a while, becoming Rasputin’s, The Hungry Horse and a restaurant in quick succession. Last time I passed there, in July 2014, it was a Chinese takeaway.
(9)* † Lamb Inn, 78 Brecon Road 1864 – Still open
I’ve never been in here either. It seems to be very sports-oriented, with big screens and Sky Sports advertised on big banners outside.
(10) Greyhound Inn, 81 High St 1865 – 1923
(11)* † Cardiff Arms, 33 High Street 1835 – Still open
I say ‘still open’, but I’m not actually sure whether it is. This was substantially tarted up in the early 1990s and became known locally as ‘The Dagmar’ (after the trendy wine bar in the BBC TV soap opera EastEnders. Since then, it’s seemed to slide gradually downhill. The last time I was there was the day Hirwaun Flats were demolished, in May 2004.
(12) Puddlers Arms, Trevenock Place 1841 – 1907
Belle Vue Inn, Davies Row Unknown – Unknown
Hiding somewhere in the side streets somewhere in the centre of the village.
Colliers Arms, Wind Street 1869 – 1907
Also tucked away in the same area, but not marked on the map.
(13) Beehive Inn, 44 High St 1844 – 1922
(14) Masons Arms, High Street 1844 – 1908
(15) Crawshay Arms, 53 High Street 1835 – 1919
The pub appears to be the building on the far left of the photograph. When I was growing up, Hirwaun Conservative Club, where Dads used to go on a Saturday evening, was on this same block, but I don’t know whether it was the same building. The club itself mutated into the Village Tavern a couple of years, but now appears to have died a death entirely.
(16) Bridgend Inn, Merthyr Road 1850 – 1971
(17)* † Glancynon Inn, Swansea Road Unknown – Still open
A big pub with a beer garden overlooking the river. Noted for real ales and good food.
(18)* Croesbychan1848 – 20?
This pleasant riverside pub on the minor road between Hirwaun and Llwydcoed is now a private house. It seemed to close under everyone’s noses, and took people by surprise when the news got out.
(19) Golden Lion, 45 Merthyr Road 1844 – Unknown
(20) Red Cow Inn, 61 High Street 1867 – 1908
(21) Patriot Inn, 66 High Street 1864 – 1928
(22) Cross Inn, 13 Cross Street 1865 – 1922
(23)* † Prince of Wales Inn, 1 Harris Street 1871 – Still open
My friend Martyn E. ran this pub for a while back in the day. I’ve only been there a few times.
(24) Royal Exchange, Tramway 1871 – 1927
Not on the map, but off to the east beyond the village centre.
Plus a handful which I couldn’t locate on the map:
Butchers Arms1869 – Before 1872
Farmers Arms, 1 High Street 1871 – 1920
Hirwaun Castle, Bethel Place 1830 – 1869
Holly Bush, Rhigos Road 1869 – Before 1872
Joiners Arms, Rhigos Road 1869 – Before 1872
Vulcan InnUnknown – Unknown
Welcome to TownUnknown – Unknown
I think we’ve probably lost some of the lightweights by this stage, but we’re going to press on regardless, to Penywaun …
Black Horse Inn1871 – 1933
* Colliers Arms1865 – 2014?
I’ve always been too scared to go in here. Last time I passed it, in July 2014, it was boarded up.
New Inn, 5 Penywaun Terrace 1841 – 1884
We’re going to take a little detour to Cwmdare now …
* † Tonglwydfawr Inn1854 – Still open
I’ve been in there for a couple of quizzes, but I’ve never bothered otherwise. Bit of a far-right hangout, apparently.
Castle Inn, Bwllfa Road 1866 – 1968
Colliers Arms, Dare Road 1853 – 1931
Dare Inn, Dare Road 1858 – Before 1872
And back down the hill to Trecynon. I’ve already explained the story behind some of the street names in Nooks and Crannies. The historical link to the Earl of Plymouth is marked in some of the pub names as well…
Railway Inn, 56 Cemetery Road 1864 – 1926
* † Llwyncelyn Inn, 51 Cemetery Road 1864 – Still open
Bear Inn, 27 (?) Hirwaun Road 1861 – 1871
Blue Bell Inn, 58 Mill Street 1826 – 1926
Now a private house.
* † Bridgend Inn, Harriet Street 1867 – Still open
This used to be our Sunday night local when I first moved to Llwydcoed, as it was an easy stroll downhill and back again. I haven’t been in there for ages. The house to the left in the picture was demolished when the Aberdare bypass was built.
Bush Inn, Harriet Street 1869 – 1884
Butchers ArmsUnknown – 1870
Carpenters Arms, 11 Mill Street 1844 – 1939
Coopers Arms1864 – Before 1872
Corner House, Margaret Street 1835 (1811?) – 1908
Apple Tree Inn, 7 Hirwaun Road 1861 – 1917
* † Cross Inn, Hirwaun Road 1861 – Still open
* † Welsh Harp, Hirwaun Road 1861 – Still open
I’ve grouped these three together because they were apparently next-door neighbours. The Apple Tree is now a private house. However, the Welsh Harp and Cross Inn merged during the 1908s, when the landlord of the one married the landlady of the other. It even made the national media, and the pub(s) is (are) in the same hands today.
On the wall in the Welsh Harp you can see an old photograph of Thomas Lewis, a blind harpist who used to entertain the customers. In Victorian times the landlord was fined for serving after time and keeping a disorderly house. Perish the thought …
Cross Keys, 10 Bell St1835 – 1906
Earl of Windsor, 4 Mill Street 1854 – 1914
* Full Moon Inn, 60 Harriet Street 1844 – 200?
Now three private houses
Glancynon Inn1867 – 1870
Globe Inn, Harriet Street 1865 – 1870
Golden Lion, 1 Cynon Place 1848 – 1939
Not only has the pub gone – Cynon Place has long gone as well. My pal Graham remembers a pub which used to be on the tramroad, but it was obviously closed when he was young. I assume it must have been either this one or the Royal Oak.
Greyhound InnUnknown – Before 1872
Labour in Vain, Harriet Street Unknown – Before 1872
Masons Arms, 47 Bell Street 1861 – 1881
* † Mount Pleasant Hotel, Mount Pleasant Street 1835 (1811?) – Still open
This was the pub I wrote about in ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, after it closed for what seemed like the last time. To everyone’s surprise it reopened a couple of years ago, and I’m pleased to say it’s been a great success. It’s good to see Dad’s old local (and mine) back at the heart of the community.
New Inn, Mount Pleasant Street 1835 – 1882
Park View Inn, 17 Hirwaun Road 1867 – 1909
Patriot Inn1860 – 1872
Plymouth Arms, 49 Harriet Street 1844 – 1929
Rose and Crown, Mill Street 1833 – 1870
Royal Exchange, 81 Harriet Street 1864 – 1924
Royal Oak, Cynon Place 1841 – 1908
Scales ArmsUnknown – Before 1872
Six Bells, Margaret Street 1861 – Before 1872
Stag Hotel, 61 Harriet Street 1839 – 1914
I don’t know when this was demolished, but I’m pretty sure it was before my time. Stag Street is the lane behind Harriet Street, so the name still lingers on.
Star and Garter, 12 Mount Pleasant Street 1854 – 1908
This was a bit of a news item in 1984, just before I did my A levels. A row of houses in Mount Pleasant Street was being renovated. While they were knocking off the render, the builders uncovered the original pub name. It’s now a private house.
Swan Inn, 34 Bell Street 1860 – 1910
Wheatsheaf Inn, 12-14 Bell Street 1863 – 1871
Wyndham Arms, 24 Hirwaun Road 1861 – 1922
It’s time for another detour. From the bottom of Harriet Street we’re going to head uphill to Llwydcoed, taking in the hostelries there before coming back into Trecynon and carrying on where we left off.
* Corner House, Merthyr Road 1852 – 2014
Earl Grey,, Greys Place 1861 – 1920
Fox and Hounds1848 – 1910
According to the caption for this picture, this was ‘Dr Wilson’s house’ in 1972. I’ve absolutely no idea where it was (is?)
Masons Arms, Moriah Place 1861 – 1889
I found this marked on the OS map when I was rummaging through the drawers in Aberdare Library. It wasn’t where I thought – it was right on the main road, near the entrance to the new housing estate. If it still exists, it’s now a private house.
Miners Arms, Miners Row 1841 – 1928
* † Red Cow Inn, 6 Merthyr Road 1855 – Still open
Ysguborwen Hotel1976 – 198?
We’re going to take a quick sidestep into Robertstown for this next leg of the journey. This is probably a good time to duck onto the old tramroad and water some Japanese Knotweed.
Belle Vue InnUnknown – 1872
Britannia Arms, 8 Thomas Street 1861 – 1908
This used to be the village shop when I was young. It’s now the office of a local company with flats upstairs.
* † Gadlys Arms, Bridge Street 1852 – Still open
Right next to Salem Chapel, this has hardly changed externally since the old photo was taken. This pub has a reputation for its meals, although it’s been a while since I’ve been there. Shanara and I called in there on a Sunday afternoon a few years ago, because the dippy bint had got the train times muddled up. I could be wrong, but I think it was the first time some of the locals had seen an Asian person (apart from on TV).
Great Western Hotel, 28 Bridge Street 1871 – 1969
Back up to the main road and onto the Gadlys. The first stop is right opposite the park gates …
* † White Lion Inn, 56 Gadlys Road 1841 – Still open
* † Beehive Inn, 3 Gadlys Street 1870 – Still open
Very much a local pub for local people, I think. It doesn’t seem to have changed since Glyn Davies took his photo, apart from a lick of paint. I’ve been there a few times, but unless you’re a sports fan there doesn’t seem to be much on offer.
Farmers Arms, Cwm Place 1868 – 1870
I was lucky to find Cwm Place on the Ordnance Survey map for 1875. By then, the pub was closed. Cwm Place no longer exists.
* † Glandover Inn, 98 Gadlys Road 1870 – Still open
This one seems to change hands quite frequently, which is usually a bad sign when it comes to pubs. It was popular with youngsters a few years ago, but is usually fairly empty whenever I pass it.
Kings Head Inn, 86 Gadlys Road 1858 – 1919
* † Mackworth Arms, 25 Gadlys Road 1867 – Still open
* Waynes Arms, 30 Gadlys Road 1864 – 198?
I can’t remember exactly when this closed, but it was our local for a while in the late 1980s. Defcon played a gig there, and local guitarist Pete Morley played the entire Sgt. Pepper set on the twentieth anniversary of the LP’s release. For a while during the Miners’ Strike, it bore the words REMEMBER 1984, THE YEAR OF THE SCAB on its side. Someone later altered the last word to read MINER. There’s now a tiny patch of land where it stood. It’s hard to believe it was once a pub.
And we finally arrive at Aberdare town centre. Only the die-hards are still going by this stage of the expedition, but we’ll press on regardless in Part 2. Watch this space …
In which The Author explores a space-packing exercise
This week I will be mostly delivering Plaid Cymru newspapers.
Actually, it took up a fair portion of last week as well, but I really didn’t mind. After over two months of torrential downpours, interrupted only by the occasional heavy shower, it’s been nice to get some fresh air and exercise.
We were the first political group in the Cynon Valley to declare our candidate for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections. Cerith Griffiths, a firefighter and union activist, fought the seat in last year’s general election, and accepted our nomination late last year. We’ve been able to get the drop on the opposition by starting our campaigning early. (Labour announced their candidate a little while ago; he subsequently withdrew, and they’ve only recently found someone else.) The party has set its sights on winning some Valleys seats, and we’re going all out to support Cerith.
At last week’s branch meeting we received the first tranche of our campaign newspapers. Cerith had somehow managed to get an impressive eighteen thousand papers (that’s ninety bundles, boys and girls) into his car, and walked into the room with a big grin on his face.
‘We’re going to need a bigger boat!’ he announced, to laughter all round.
We divided them up between the various districts, and at the end we went our separate ways, each with several bundles of papers and a designated area to hit over the next few weeks.
As I told you in ‘The Postman’s Burden‘, I decided to start counting the number of doors in each street as I made my way around Trecynon, Robertstown and the Gadlys. (Those three areas make up a fair chunk of the Aberdare West and Aberdare East electoral wards.) I knew from my previous leafletting expeditions (the first of which I told you about in ‘Nooks and Crannies‘) that I could expect to deliver somewhere in the region of two thousand.
However, two thousand eight-page newspapers occupy considerably more space (and weigh far more) than two thousand A5 leaflets. As a result I’ve been covering my area in short bursts, interspersed with visits home to restock. I jotted down the numbers as I went along and made a spreadsheet to track my progress, mainly to make sure I didn’t miss any of the back lanes scattered throughout Aberdare West. I failed to gain access to the sheltered accommodation at Maes Rhydwen and Cynon Close, and didn’t bother with the similar block at Pen Llew Court. (Elderly people almost invariably vote Labour anyway, as I noted in ‘No Future‘. There’s not much point in wasting time and effort on places like that.) Let’s assume I wrote off a maximum of forty doors there, for the sake of argument.
The numbers climbed steadily as I made my way through the areas I know well. After doing the five houses at Gelli Isaf, sandwiched between the old tramroad and the River Cynon, which pretty marks the northern limit of Trecynon, I made my way up a slippery footpath and emerged at the top end of Aberdare Cemetery. I included the big houses opposite the cemetery, but shied away from the caravan park a bit further down. There was a sign at the entrance which said ‘No canvassers without prior permission of the site owners’, so I decided not to risk it. I didn’t get as far as Dawkins Place (which may count as Trecynon – or even Cwmdare – depending on which source you consult). That can wait until we hit Penywaun a bit later on.
I finished off the large estate of Trefelin at lunchtime on Sunday, and was able to add 142 houses to my Trecynon total. And it’s an impressive total.
I’ve covered the entire area bounded by the A4059, the river Cynon, the link road by Tesco, St John’s churchyard, Aberdare Park, and the main road through Trecynon, and all the streets branching off the road as well. Even though I didn’t put a paper through every door (there are some commercial premises and a large number of obviously empty properties), according to my spreadsheet I’ve passed nearly 2100 letterboxes on my travels.
But the fun didn’t stop there.
On Saturday morning David Walters and I headed for the car park of the Ynyscynon Inn, at the northern end of Cwmbach. We were joined by Cerith and his girlfriend Alison (in one car), Pauline Jarman, Brian Arnold and Danny Allen from down the valley (in a second car), and Peter Fenner, Cerith’s election agent (in a third car). It was time to blitz the entire village.
Cwmbach is a very large area which I explored in some detail last summer, on one of my periodic tours in search of the Aberdare Local Board of Health street signs. There are remnants of the original settlement at either end, some old parts in the centre, and odd Victorian bits and pieces dotted here and there. Apart from those, virtually the entire place was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a sprawling council housing estate (known locally as ‘the site’).
Subsequently, private developments have completely swallowed the old heart of the community. Probably the best-known of these is Pant Farm, which covers a huge expanse north of the main road through the village. There’s another development north of the Ynyscynon Inn, and a rapidly spreading complex at the southern end, near the station. That’s not to mention the burgeoning estate across the river, near the large Asda supermarket. I almost feel sorry for anyone who’s bought a place there on the strength of its location. According to Google Maps, it’s only about three hundred metres from Cwmbach Station as the crow flies. In reality, it takes the best part of ten minutes to walk from one to the other. It’s right next to the river, too. After the winter we’ve had, would you want to live on a flood plain?
A couple of the Plaid gang had hit the area around Rose Row and the new houses off Tirfounder Road earlier in the week. That was a nice big patch out of the way. We were at the other end, and needed to fill in the space in between. David had printed off some maps, and we started dividing up the streets into bite-size chunks.
Since I was on the spot, so to speak, I decided to take the area immediately surrounding the pub. Everyone else set off for Pant Farm, a few minutes’ drive away. I took a bundle of papers and set off into unknown territory.
When I was studying A Level Biology, many years ago, I came across a lovely word which has stuck with me to this day: Invagination. (It always used to attract titters from the boys in school, because it contains the word for lady bits – which may or may not be the reason I remember it.) It refers to the way that a piece of tissue can fold in on itself, creating a little pocket. Of course, these infoldings can give rise to further infoldings, allowing a very large surface area to be enclosed in a comparatively small volume. It explains how the human lungs are about the size of two clenched fists, but have a combined surface area roughly equivalent to a tennis court.
Invagination also seems to be the way that town planners and developers go about designing their estates. The street map shows a nice straight road, but the physical reality is very different. Let me explain …
I live on a nice straight road. There are no front gardens, driveways, steps, or other obstacles. All the front doors open straight onto the pavement. The postman can start at Number 1, blast through my side of the street, turn around at the far end and do the other side, and be on his way in a couple of minutes.
You can’t do that in a new-build development, no matter what you might think after glancing at the street map. On the ground you find yourself going in and out of little culs-de-sac and down mysterious alleyways, and in and out again, all the while having to negotiate a bewildering array of gates, driveways, gardens, or – worst of all – entrances which lead only to a side door (without a letterbox), and then having to make your way back to the pavement after visiting each and every house.
When I first did some leafleting for Dafydd’s election campaign in 2010, I came up with a suggestion for a policy which he could take forward. It was quite simple: if your front door is more than three metres from the pavement, you should be required by law to fit an external mailbox at the edge of your property. Dafydd agreed that I was on to something, and I stand by my original suggestion to this day. In fact, as I’ve got a bit older and the novelty of negotiating the mini-mazes between pavement and letterbox has worn off, the notional distance between the two points keeps getting smaller. It currently stands at one metre, and looks set to decrease as I get older.
Here’s a question for homeowners in these big estates: Is there really any point in fitting an external mailbox to the front wall of your bloody house? If the postman has to walk ten yards to get to your front door anyway, confronting him with an external box when he gets there is just taking the piss. Why don’t you just fix the damn thing to your boundary wall and have done with it? While we’re on the subject, attaching the mailbox to the inside of your boundary wall, so that it only becomes apparent when the delivery person is on his/her way back out, is really taking the piss!
According to the map David had printed off, there were (at most) six streets behind the Ynyscynon Inn. They average a dozen houses apiece. It still took me the best part of forty minutes to do them all. Then I headed for the main road, lined with fewer than a dozen big houses on one side, and it still took me nearly five minutes to polish them off. I’m not quite fifty, but Peter, Pauline and Brian are quite a bit older. If I was finding it hard work, how must they have felt by the time they’d exhausted their supply of papers? It’s no country for old men (or women), I can tell you.
It came as a relief to return to the terraced houses at Well Place and Ynyscynon Street (I found a Board of Health sign in Ynyscynon Terrace, too). I did a stretch along Aberdare Road and cut down to Scales Row (three lovely old cottages which once stood alongside the Aberdare Canal) before running out of papers and heading back to the car park.
We regrouped in the pub just after opening time, and were pleased to find that we’d broken the back of the work. Cerith and Alison headed off to Blaennantygroes Road, and David and I headed into ‘the site’ to finish off there. I was off my personal map again, so we made it up as we went along.
Tre Gwilym is a mysterious little cluster of houses with no obvious numbering scheme. The maisonettes in Pant-y-Cerdin didn’t take us long, with one of us taking the upper section and the other working below. Tre Telynog is a mixture of nice semi-detached houses and inaccessible flats. Rhiw Ceris is a bizarre place which neither of us could fathom out. It must make sense if you live there, I suppose, but it confused the hell out of us.
We made short work of Crown Row and Sion Terrace, then called it a day. We’d bypassed a fair number of flats in Tre Telynog and Timothy Row, but you’re up against the law of diminishing returns in places like that anyway.
After a little while roaming around the new estate, I realised why Dad had always hated canvassing in Glandare/Landare (I’ve never been sure which is correct. You say potato!) when he was a councillor. I’d only done a short burst there on Thursday afternoon before I ran out of papers.
Somewhere in my house I’ve got a copy of the ‘Local Plan’, drawn up in the 1970s. Landare Park was growing steadily, and was supposed to have boasted all sorts of amenities when it was first put before the planning committee. Needless to say, the shops, post office, pub, play areas, community centre, phone boxes and so forth all failed to materialise. (I think I’m right in saying that it was quite a few years before the place even had a bus service.) Anyone living on the estate had to travel to the Gadlys, Cwmdare or Trecynon to buy a stamp, never mind anything bigger. Then, as now, the general assumption was that people who could afford to live in a place like that would have access to at least one car.
As a casual glance at the original local plan will attest, the estate also wasn’t intended to spread nearly as far as it has. According to documents unearthed back in the days of the Cynon Valley Profile (1986–87), Landare Park was intended to consist of some 450 houses, although we noted that ‘unforeseen contractual problems will limit the actual number of houses to 220 by 1991.’
In fact, it seems to have trebled in size (at least) since its original footprint was established in the 1960s. The houses extend to the bottom lake of the Dare Valley Country Park, obliterating a huge area of recreational land. The first time I took Shanara there, I was able to wave a hand in the direction of the huge new houses and say (in all seriousness), ‘I remember when all this round here were fields.’
When I was in junior school, Landare was still quite new, so only a few of my friends grew up there. On the other hand, my brother had a fair number of friends there, and he used to go and see them quite often. I didn’t spend as much time in the area because most of my pals lived closer to my house. As a result, I never really got to know the place. On the handful of times I’ve walked to Cwmdare that way, or cut through it on ‘the line’ between Trecynon and the Country Park, I’ve rarely wandered off the main axis. For this reason, I’ve never really taken account of the culs-de-sac which contain most of the houses.
Take Willow Grove, for example.
On the map, Willow Grove appears to be a stubby little T branching off the main road. In reality, it contains no fewer than twenty-eight detached houses – each with its own gate, driveway, steps, and custom-built assault course which the unwary canvasser has to negotiate before finally reaching the letterbox.
On the other side of the main road, Fairoak Close lies in wait. The grand frontages which greet the casual visitor are just the prelude to twenty-three individual dwellings of varying sizes, shapes and styles, each offering a variety of challenging approaches.
By the time I reached Cedar Close, where my old friend Mike H. used to live, I had just two papers left. I called it a day and headed into town. Including the detached houses in Glan Road, I’d managed to deliver fewer than a hundred papers in just under an hour.
I decided to continue on Sunday afternoon, restocking my bag after finishing off in Trefelin. I cut across the line from Aberdare Park, walked through Cedar Close and arrived in Chestnut Close. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why one street should end and the next should begin, but that’s the way it is. There’s only a little raised kerb between the two. It simply seems to defy logic – as did much of what followed.
Having emerged from Chestnut Close, I crossed over and entered Birchgrove. Once again, the street map promised me a T-shaped cul-de-sac. Thirty-three houses later I arrived back at the main road – and here’s the next part of the mystery. The main road was Beechwood Avenue when I started out on Thursday afternoon. At some point known only to Goddess and the planning authorities, it had turned into Alder Drive.
I’d been jotting down the numbers as I went, to try and update my spreadsheet later on. It was a waste of time. I still don’t know how many houses there are in Alder Drive – the numbering seems to make no sense at all. I found a house with its front gate ostensibly on Alder Drive, which actually turned out to be in Fern Crescent. I think. If it really is, then there must be two Number 1 Fern Crescents.
Cypress Court was equally baffling – it’s a looping cul-de-sac of over twenty houses, with a further three on the main road. At one point a middle-aged chap came to his front door. He’d been alerted by his dog, who’d seen me coming down the driveway. I handed him a paper and explained that I was totally lost and making my way around the estate by dead reckoning.
‘It’s fairly straightforward from here,’ he assured me with a chuckle.
Remember how much I hate that word?
I think there are thirty-two houses in Sycamore Close. I’m not absolutely sure, because the odd-numbered houses are in the stem of a T, and the even-numbered houses are in the crosspiece. (Or was it the other way round? It was becoming increasingly difficult to tell.)
Camelia Close is about as far up as I’d ever been on foot before Landare ends and the road runs on into Cwmdare. I knew that the main road becomes Cherry Drive near the Welsh school. So far, so good. However, there’s a new street called Cherry Court, branching off to the left. The first house you come to is Number 16. There were just three houses – clearly I’d lost a bit somewhere. The rest of Cherry Court turned out to be about two hundred metres further down the road. I had a dozen papers left – I reckoned it would be just enough to finish that little cluster of houses.
I was wrong. Between two houses there’s a little alleyway leading to yet more houses. I’m assuming it’s more Cherry Court, but I can’t be sure. There’s certainly nothing else marked on the latest street map. I assume there’s also a short cut from there into Ashbourne Court. From there, I can make my way into the huge development that connects Landare to the new part of Cwmdare, and from there continue into the old village of Cwmdare – but that’s an adventure for another day. At least my updated street map shows the area in question, unlike the one in my memory, which I’d been trying to work from on Thursday afternoon.
On the day of Uncle Pat’s funeral, my cousin Katie and I were travelling to Llwydcoed Crematorium in our cousin-in-law Clive’s car. We were all talking about the way that people in Cardiff tend to perceive the Valleys. I told them that Jo R. in Dillons once asked me why I didn’t come to work on the same bus as Jeff.
‘Because Jeff lives at the other side of Caerphilly, and I live outside Aberdare,’ I replied. She’d assumed (like many Cardiffians, it seems) that everywhere north of Cardiff was just one long terrace stretching all the way from the Gabalfa flyover to the foothills of the Brecon Beacons.
‘Jo,’ I said, ‘this is going to come as a shock – but if you travel east of St Mellons, west of St Fagans, north of Whitchurch, or south of Penarth, you don’t actually fall off the edge.’
Katie told me a couple of similar stories from her experience, and she could relate to my conversation with Jo.
‘Have a look at the maps printed in Cardiff,’ I said. ‘Instead of having the Valleys drawn in, they just say “Here Be Dragons”.’
That reduced Katie to hysterics, and we always have a laugh about it whenever we get together.
Purely for Katie’s benefit, here’s a map of the area we’re going to try and polish off this week. Watch this space …
Being a Non-Linear Account of the Life and Opinions of The Author, Cross-referenced and Illustrated, with Occasional Hesitations, Repetitions and Deviations.