Tag Archives: Cynon Valley History Society

A Bard Case of Typesetting

In which The Author spots a thirty-year old typo

Last night, driven indoors by torrential rain and high winds, I decided to do a little bit more work on the Street Names Project. (Look, it’s got capital letters now – that means I’ve started to take it seriously!)
Without access to the Internet at home, I decided that I’d plunder my own stash of books for useful material. One of them was my 22nd birthday present from Dad: Aberdare: Pictures from the Past, published by the Cynon Valley History Society in 1988. At the time, I hadn’t long finished working on the Cynon Valley Profile, which is where I met Ross D., Rob H., Kathleen and Frank M., among other friends whom I see once in a blue moon. The project had whetted my appetite for local history, and Dad guessed (correctly) that the book would be to my tastes. It, and the second volume, have lived on my shelves ever since. I’ve spent many hours browsing through the evocative photos from bygone days.
Last night, I was looking through its glossy pages for biographical information which I could adapt for our current Project. That was where the fun started.
I knew that there was a street in Cwmbach called Tre Telynog. I also knew that Telynog was a bardic name used by a noted poet who had lived in the village in the Victorian era. That, however, was the full extent of my knowledge.
(Incidentally, on Xmas day I had a pint with Olly, and we talked about our current diversions from signing on once a week. He mentioned that there’s a blue plaque (see Signs and Wonders) in Cwmbach, not far from his parents’ house. I wondered whether it was Telynog’s house, but he couldn’t remember the details, so the conversation ran out of steam at that point.)
I still haven’t covered Cwmbach for my Vanishing Valleys project, or for the second half of my examination into public transport in the Cynon Valley (see my other blog Is Your Journey Really Necessary? for more details.) It’s only a couple of miles from my house, but it’s a large place with strange bus routes. I keep putting it off without any reason other than the obvious: it’s a pain in the arse to get to.
As it was a bright crisp morning yesterday, I toyed with the idea of exploring with the camera for a couple of hours. Fortunately I got waylaid in Aberdare Library, as it pissed down lunchtime and didn’t really stop raining for the rest of the day. (The weather forecast is the same for today, so don’t hold your breath for those photos.) I’m still none the wiser on the blue plaque. However, I knew that Telynog’s photo was in the CVHS book, so that was a decent place to start.
I flipped steadily through the pages (an apologetic note from Geoff in the foreword to Volume 2 points out that they’d remembered to include an index in that one!) until I found the photo I wanted. I started typing a brief entry about Telynog, and then stopped in my tracks. This is what it said:


Have you spotted the non-deliberate mistake yet?
I read the caption through a couple of times, just to make sure I hadn’t misinterpreted it, then texted Geoff straight away:
I’m on the typo trail again! Have a look at Pics From the Past v 1, caption to 132A. That’s one mighty beard for a 15-year old boy
I waited for about twenty minutes (presumably while he was looking through his own copy) until Geoff texted me back:
Something in the water perhaps! Bet that hasn’t been spotted by anyone else since the book was published. I had no part in vol 1 but put my hand up to countless other typos. Well spotted. You can put it right in your entry on Tre Telynog.
It must have taken a couple of years to compile the book, and then put all the copy together to accompany the photos. Then, presumably, it would have been checked over by one or more of the CVHS committee before going to the printers. I estimate that the typo’s been lying in wait for me for something in the region of thirty years, in fact – within my lifetime, certainly, but long before my alternative identity as the Stealth Proofreader was born.
Anyway, this morning I came across (amongst numerous online adverts for Tylenol and other possible mis-spellings) a very detailed biography of Telynog on another blog named Cardigan Through the Ages. It’s a fascinating story of a prodigious Welsh talent cut down in his prime. I’ve used some of the information in my entry on Tre Telynog, and we’re going to give their blog a mention in our bibliography.
I’m sure you’ll be relieved to learn that Thomas Evans didn’t grow that amazing beard in his early teens. In fact, he died in 1865, not 1855, aged just 24 – still tragically young, of course, but not before he won eighteen awards at eisteddfodau across South Wales. If the blue plaque near Olly’s parents’ house isn’t in his honour, I’ll be very surprised.
This morning, my old friend Mark W. suggested on Facebook that Cwmbach should be renamed ThomasEvansTown in his memory. I think he’s got a point; all across the South Wales Valleys there are communities with names like Williamstown (see Up and Down the Streets and Houses), Tyntetown, Morganstown, Hopkinstown, Thomastown, Griffithstown, and more besides – not to mention Robertstown, with its (in)famous bridges which I’ve told you about previously.
I replied that we should try and revive some of the old names as well: instead of Trecynon, let’s return to calling it Heolyfelin; Llwydcoed could become Tregibbon; we could even reinstate the old spelling of Hirwain with an i instead of a u. Mark thinks we should write to the Cynon Valley Leader with this radical proposal. I might take him up on that, actually. It’s been a little while since I’ve had my name in print, after all.

Beyond the Railway

In which The Author brings you some century-old satire

I’ve spent this very wet afternoon in Aberdare Library, working my way through the indexes to the 19th Century census returns. They were compiled by the former borough librarian and keen local historian Richard Arnold, and must have taken him months. In these days of online genealogical resources and subscription websites, it’s easy to forget that things were different in the comparatively recent past. Where today’s researchers have DVDs, we had microfilms and microfiches as our mass-storage devices.
Apart from unearthing (virtually) the lost streets of the Cynon Valley, Mr Arnold would have been up against the highly individual writing of the census-takers. I spent an afternoon spooling through the microfilmed returns from the 1871 census back in the spring. Halfway through one reel, I remember joking to Steven G. that I’d found one job which neither of us would ever be able to do: Victorian census enumerator. His handwriting is even worse than mine; unlike Franz Kafka’s, our notebooks won’t have to be burned after we die, as no bugger would ever be able to decipher them.
To add to the confusion, the clerks who were charged with knocking on people’s doors seem to have had little, if any, working knowledge of the Welsh language. Mr Arnold did his best to make sense of the phonetic attempts to write down ‘Ynysboeth Isaf’ and other traps which we Celts laid for the English colonists, presumably as a fiendish form of non-violent direct action.
It’s fascinating to scroll through these records and ponder the demographics of the area a century and a half ago. I might do another entry to highlight some of the more intriguing data which will live on for ever. I’ll just tell you one of them for now: in Market Square, Aberdare, the census logged two inhabitants of a ‘fairground booth.’
Anyway, this afternoon I got as far as the 1861 census before calling it a day. While I was scanning the index, I came across a lovely reference under ‘Aberdare Parish, Aberdare district’: Beyond the railway. That was enough for the census, apparently. Straight away, I put a status on Facebook, saying, ‘You don’t want to go into them parts, young master…’
It ties in nicely with a piece of local history which Geoff E. and I were trying to unravel a couple of days ago. I was going through Geoff’s 6″ x 4″ cards, transcribing them into my framework for the book, when I spotted a discrepancy. In fact, it was more than just a discrepancy. I’d go as far as to call it a howler. Luckily, I found it long before our book hits the shelves – although it has been mentioned in a previous edition of Hanes, the Cynon Valley History Society’s quarterly publication. Let me explain…
There’s a long terrace of houses in Robertstown called Bridge Street. It runs roughly east-west across Wellington Street, with one end near the Gadlys Arms and the other end overlooking the railway line. There’s also a footbridge between Bridge Street and Thomas Street, linking Robertstown to the foot of Tudor Terrace. It would be reasonable to assume that Bridge Street was named because of its proximity to the bridge, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, while I was typing up Geoff’s notes on Bridge Street, I decided to look at the old Ordance Survey map, which I’d already scanned to my hard drive. I got as far as Robertstown, and spotted the clanger almost immediately. Bridge Street was there long before the footbridge was built.
Part of the 1875 map. Bridge Street and Thomas Street are immediately east of the railway line. Look, no bridge!
Part of the 1875 map. Bridge Street and Thomas Street are immediately east of the railway line. Look, no bridge!
I emailed Geoff the following day to tell him what I’d found. I suggested that the ‘bridge’ in Bridge Street is actually the one at the other end, which crosses the River Cynon and connects to the old tramroad south of Cynon Side. Geoff emailed me back to say he agreed with my analysis of the situation; not only that, but his date of 1892 for the construction of the footbridge was wrong as well. In fact, it seems unlikely to date from much before World War I.
Geoff did some more digging, and eventually sent me a link to the old Aberdare Leader from 15 August 1908. It’s a superb piece of satire, so I thought I’d share it with you here.
At last the worm has turned. Un-get-able and un-get-outable Robertstown has tired of its “insularity”—to cite the Rev J. D. Rees; and, as Mr Ogwen Williams put it, has uttered a Macedonian cry of appeal to the Aberdare District Council for help. Robertstown is in the same position as a besieged city. Those who are within the village cannot get out, and those who are without cannot get in, and both have joined in asking the local authority for a bridge which will connect the town of Roberts—or according to the old name, which should never have been changed, the town of Salem—with the world outside. This quiet hamlet is in as isolated a position almost as any island in the Pacific. It is encircled with insurmountable barriers to passage in the form of two railways, a river and a tramroad. The only consoling unction which a Robertstonian may lay to his lone soul is that he is safely barricaded against the invasion of the road hog. However the people of Robertstown are unanimous in their cry for a bridge to join their deserted village to the mainland. At the last meeting of the Aberdare District Council was read a petition praying for a bridge. The petition had been signed by practically all the adults in Tresalem. Besides, a deputation in boots representing those within and without the gates appeared before the municipal fathers in conclave assembled, and pleaded eloquently for a bridge. The surveyor stated that there were no engineering difficulties. The only likely obstacles are lodged in the feared obstinate hearts of the directors of the G.W.R, and T.V.R. [Taff Vale Railway], and also in the heart of Capt. Roberts, who is annoyed because a false rumour has been circulated regarding a grant of money from the G.W.R. which the gallant captain nor his esteemed father never received. It is truly a wicked habit to spread untrue rumours, but it is hardly fair that the innocent people of Robertstown should suffer for the actions of irresponsible gossipers. It is hoped that the present agitation will culminate in Robertstown securing a proper and respectable approach.