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Historical Notes







The importance of Religious history in general:— to a large extent Church History includes all other history. There are three methods of approaching Church History from the historian’s point of view.

He can study:—

1 A special aspect of Religious History or of Christian Doctrine

2 A special Period

3 The particular importance of some personality


Excavations were carried out in the early summer of this year in connection with the Rhondda Water Supply. The contractors came across a number of Bronze implements buried in a 50-foot peat bed below the lake. The find consisted of sickles, axe heads, cauldrons and some bronze ornaments which it was believed were used by priests in the performance of religious rites. These are the oldest tangible traces of civil and religious life in the district.

In the Parish not far from the summit of the mountain between Aberdare and Merthyr there are the remains of encampments of probably early Celtic origin e.g. Y Werfa (Tir y Gwersyllfa). There are suggestions that there are old druidic circles but this is probably no more than conjecture. There are also numerous cairns such as:—


Carn Gwersyll y Meibion

Carn Pentyla Hir

Carn y Frwydr

Carn Buarth Maen

Carn y Ffwlbert

Carn Eiddil

Carn Gwenllian Dociar



This latter was so called after Gwenllian, the daughter of Hywel Gwyn, who lived at Pant-y-Gerdinen. This Hywel Gwyn was the great grandfather of Edward Ifan of Ton Coch. During the days of the Civil War, Hywel Gwyn who was one of the owners of the old Dyffryn Furnace is said to have taken a bowl full of gold coins and hidden it under a heap of stones. His daughter married a man called Dociar at Cowbridge and after the marriage they are said to have walked back to Aberdare and to have found the money safe under the heap of stones, hence the name given to the Cairn.

These cairns belong to widely separated periods and most of them are probably burial places dating from the early Christian era and the turbulent period of the Welsh Princes. Some are possibly Bronze Age, when the dead were cremated and the ashes placed in earthen urns and deposited in graves. Some contained coffins or cystfaen and they were usually constructed of five large stones, four of them erected at right angles and the fifth placed horizontally on top. Within these, the dead were buried in crumpled state with the knees up to the chin, which was also like a foetus in utero. This suggests some expectation of rebirth and is a method associated with the early Christian Era. Many of these were discovered in the 18th C on the mountain between Aberdare and Merthyr. (In 1798 Carn Buarth Maen was discovered by two farmers whose hope of treasure was, however, unfulfilled.)

A number of inscribed stones were found from time to time. These are dated during and after the age of Saints 400–700 AD. There were monasteries at Llantarnam, Llantwit Major and other places. There was once at Fedw Hir an ancient stone with Ogham inscription and an incised cross. It was said to come from Pen-y-Mynydd near Ystradfellte. It is now at the Merthyr Museum at Cyfarthfa. One name on this stone was Gluvoca. The discovery of this stone is part of the decisive evidence of the Goidelic Occupation of South Wales prior to the lasting supremacy of the Brythons.

On the mountainside above the Dyllas, there is a great mound in the form of a cross 30 yards long and 20 yards wide, its origin is mysterious, there are two traditional tales as to its origin. One of these is that Brychan, Prince of Brycheiniog who was of Irish stock came to, visit one of his daughters who lived in the vicinity. The Irish slew the aged Brychan and he lies buried there, hence the name it bears Bryn-y-Gwyddel. There is another name Bryn-y-Cawr for which the story is somewhat different. It is that there was a skirmish there between the Irish and then the newly come Normans during which the Giant leader of the Irish was slain. Place names indicate a strong Irish element.


Another relic of early Christian Era was discovered above Mountain Ash, this was another incised stone found at Penwaun Pwll Gwellt. It was roughly quadrangular of local Pennant Stone some 4 feet 5 inches long and with an average width of 7 inches and an average thickness of 5 inches. The surface of the stone is regular probably because of the grain of the stone. It is incised with a plain Latin Cross except that the 3 upper terminate in a crosslet enclosed in a half-circle. This led archaeologists to believe it to be decadent and therefore they date it as probably 850 to 950 AD. (Arch Cab. 1925).

Burial rites at cairns were probably administered by monks from Llantwit Major. The Danish incursions between the 9th and early 10th Centuries severely restricted the missionary activities of these monks into the hinterland. There is very little to indicate the religious life of the district until the coming of the Normans.

Place Names: Croes Bychan and Abernant-y-groes suggest that Celtic crosses stood at those sites during early Celtic times, so too the Hamlet of Rhigos spelt Regoes, Y Rygoes in old Mss. may have derived from Rhyd-y-Groes suggesting that at one time there may have been a Celtic cross there. The complete disappearance of these crosses may indicate the activities of the Cistercians who built wooden crosses. It has also been suggested that the prevalence of the word Llwyd in so many place names may bear a connection with the Greyfriars who came to Britain in the 13th century.

The earliest personal references in Christian tradition at Aberdare are associated with the Lucius Legend and the name of Elfan.

There are Two Traditions


1) Makes Elvanus a Roman and states that he was one of the four persons sent to King Lucius of Britain in the 2nd century to instruct him in Christianity.

2) Makes Elvanus a Briton. In the year 156 AD according to the Book of Llandaff, Lucianus or Lleurwg King of Britain sent his Ambassadors Elvan and Meudwy to Pope Eleutherius. They implored that by the Pope’s admonition Lucius might be named a Christian. Eleutherius promptly baptized the Legates, ordained Elfan a Bishop and Meudwy a Doctor or Teacher and on their return home they were joined by Dyfan and Ffagan and through the preaching of that four, Lleurwg and all the nobles of Britain received baptism. Iolo Morgannwg Mss. state: “Elfan was Bishop of Glastonbury where his Church and care are,” he is also said to have a Church in Glamorgan.


These early stories gained credence in Rome as early as the 7th.C though none of the historians of the first 500 years AD had ever heard of them. They first appear in the works of the Venerable Bede who unfortunately drew much of his information from unreliable Roman sources. All we know for certain is that Christianity had got a hold by the 4th Century.

That there was a monks cell at Plasdraw seems beyond doubt. Ynys Medwy or Meudwy may well be the origin of Ynys Meadow. Regarding the existence of religious foundation at Plasdraw , the Rev. Eilir Williams writing in the Aberdare Parish magazine in March 1885 states, “Most of the foundations of a church could then be traced together with portions of the walls where the chancel had stood”. He also states that up to the beginning of the 19th C the walls were several feet high. Gardd Aberdâr states that at the beginning of the last century parts of the ruins were still in use by Lewis Lewis of Plasdraw as a cowshed. Gardd Aberdâr also states that a few years previously, i.e. in 1853 gravestones could be seen on the site but inscriptions were indecipherable and close by was a well called Ffynnon Elfan. Wells were not usually called after Saints’ names except in the vicinity of churches consecrated in the Saint’s name, therefore there probably was a church close at hand. We know that it was not until after 1132 that stone churches superseded the old wooden oratories. Therefore, any stone remains cannot be dated earlier than the mid 12th century.


Foundations of the present Parish Church


It was founded at the end of the 12th century. The cell at Plasdraw and St. John’s probably stood together for some time, the monastery at Pen Rhys flourished until the end of the 15th century, therefore, the cell was probably in use during that period. The cell was probably pre-Norman. St. John’s has distinct Norman origins. The river Cynon defined the respective spheres of influence. The cell would cater for the spiritual needs of Pentrebach and St. John’s for the North Western side of the valley later the Village of Aberdare. Tŷ Fry was known earlier known as Tŷ’r Mynach, (Dafydd Morgannwg History of Glamorgan).


The earliest documentary evidence to Aberdare is the Agreement of 1203 between the Monks of the Cistercian Abbey of Margam and the Monks of Llantarnam. It concerned grazing rights on Hirwaun Common between the Abbey of Kaerlyun and Margam Abbey respecting pastures between the rivers Neth and Taph. The Text is in the Harleian Mss in the British Museum No 75 A 31. There is a copy in Clarks Cartae in the Aberdare Library.


Dispute flared up again in this year and a final settlement was arrived at in 1256 on August 27th. The significance of these documents is that they give the boundaries of Hirwaun Common. They refer to the River Cynon and Magna Pola for the first time in recorded history. The gist of the Agreements is that the Shepherds of Margam Abbey had rights to graze their flocks on the Common itself and those of Caerlleon on the Eastern side of the Valley and South into the Parish of Llanwynno. Llantarnam possessed Hendre Bailey and Tir Ergyd as well as some other farms. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, these two were the only farms to become the property of laymen. Caerlleon had the supervision of the Monastery at Pen Rhys whence monks came to visit farms at Llwydcoed over Cefn Rhos Fawr, (later Graig), giving name to Rhiw Mynach, (present Monk Street). On these journeys, they would rest a while at the cell at Plasdraw. (Dafydd Morgannwg Hist. of Glam pp 197–198) There is no known documentary evidence as to when Aberdare became a separate administrative unit in Church affairs or when the Church was built. Myvyrian Archaeology Vol.2, p 624.

A survey of Wales was made in the reign of Prince Llewellyn ap Gruffydd who fell in 1282 according to which 6 parishes were said to constitute “County of Senghennydd” :— Eglwys Ilan, Llanvabon, Gelli Gaer, Merthyr Tudvyl, Llanwynno and Aberdare. The church was probably in existence several decades before this. There was an important church in existence at Llantrisant at 1132, (Book of Llandaff), dedicated to Illtud, Tafodwg and Gwynno and its sphere of influence extended to Rhigos and Hirwaun. It soon became necessary to establish chapelries under the supervision of the Mother Church and these were set up at Ystradyfodwg, Llanwynno and Aberdare.


“Taxatio Ecclcsiastica of 1291” refers to Llantrisant cum capelys without giving names. This was reprinted in 1802 by command of George III. There are other 13th century records which refer to these chapels.

From a study of the orientation of the building, the Rev John Griffiths of Llangwm, Mon calculated that the building was erected in 1189. This was confirmed soon afterwards by the Diocesan Architect, Mr. B. Halliday. The jambs and moulds of the South Door are built of Sutton Stone, (from Sutton near Bridgend now Ogmore-by-Sea). This stone was very much in use in Norman and 13th century periods and the moulds in the Church go down several feet below the vestry floor and this gave Halliday no doubt that they came from 1189. “I cannot say that it is the oldest but it most certainly is one of the very older foundations of South Wales.” It was built on Spur foundations and this is further proof that it belongs to a very early period.


About this time, the Despenser Family who were the new overlords of Glamorgan transferred the church of Llantrisant and chapelries plus tithes etc. to the Abbey of Tewkesbury.

The Abbot of Tewkesbury became “Rector” of Llantrisant and he appointed a “Vicar” there to look after the spiritual needs of this very scattered Parish. Services were conducted in Latin according to the rites and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Aberdare was firmly linked to Rome until the Reformation which itself did not reach Aberdare until its later stages.


Henry Tudor, after the Battle of Bosworth, gave lavish rewards to his supporters and there was none more loyal than his uncle Jasper Tudor whom he made “Earl of Bedford and Pembroke, Chief Judicier of South Wales and Lord of Glamorgan”. He in turn made rewards to the yeomen of Glamorgan and to the Bishop of Llandaff. He also made a gift of a Belfry and Bells to Llandaff Cathedral. He died in 1495. His gifts, however, suffered the same fate as others in 1536.


Probably, the clergy of the area subscribed to the Royal Supremacy Act of this year (Calendar of Letters and Papers F & D Henry VIII Vol.7 P396 signatures of 11 of Cathedral Clergy and of 234 Parish Clergy).


Henry VIII ordered an enquiry to be made to determine the precise Valuation of every Bishopric, Parish Church, every Chapel and Monastery in England and Wales, Valor Ecclesiaticus. This contains the first (known) reference to Aberdare Parish Church of St. John The Baptist as such. Commissioners for the Diocese of Llandaff were the Bishop, Justices of the Peace, Local Gentry including George Mathewe and Morgan Mathewe. There were 21 Commissioners. The Valor Ecclesiaticus was reprinted by Royal Commission in 1821.

The Parish of Llantrisant extended from Talygarn to the borders of Breconshire a distance of 18 miles and Ystradyfodwg, Llanwynno and Aberdare were chapelries of this Parish. Rectoral Tithes were due to Tewkesbury and were Llantrisant £15, Llanwynno £5, Aberdare £2.15.4.


John Leland (Leyland) in his Itinerary states that Hirwaun Wrgan was in the Parish of Aberdare.


Rectoral tithes of Llantrisant cum Capelys were transferred to the Dean and Chapter of the newly founded Cathedral of Gloucester on the 4th of September. The relationship of Aberdare and the See of Gloucester lasted for 400 years until the disestablishment. When the first houses were built on Maes-Y-Dre in 1854, it was necessary to obtain permission from Gloucester. Whitcombe Street was named after the Lawyer in charge of operations and Hall Street after the Surveyor.


PRO Mss. In the Reign of Edward VI valuable Communion Plate was stolen. Unfortunately this was not an isolated incident e.g. Lead of Margam Abbey had been stripped and sold in 1554–56 but no payment was received by the Treasury for the next 10 years. There were three Depots in South Wales for the recovery of Monastery Lead - Caerlleon, Carmarthen and Haverfordwest and the usual price for Lead was £4 a ton.

During the reign of Elizabeth I the Diocese of Llandaff was in a very sorry state.


According to the returns of Anthony Kitchen, Bishop of Llandaff, there were 177 churches and only 79 Resident Incumbents, 11 Parishes had no clerical ministrations whatsoever, but during the next two years things improved considerably.


108 Resident Incumbents and total Clerical Staff of 154. Aberdare mentioned as Chapel of Llantrisant with Christening and Burying as Parish Church.


Bishop Hugh Jones Returns - further references.


Rhys Meurig writing quotes John Leland “Paroch of Aberdayer in the Lordship of Mischen,” which again goes to show that Aberdare had not lost its Ecclesiastical Identity.


First Welsh New Testament.


Bishop Morgan translated the whole of the Bible into Welsh but there is no evidence that Welsh Bibles were in use in the 17th century. Little was done to implant Protestantism.


Religious Census
20,453 Communicants in the Diocese of Llandaff
182 Non-Communicants and 45 known Recusants.


There were 381 non-communicants and most of these were from influential yeoman stock. As the 17th century advanced an indigenous form of Protestantism developed throughout the Principality. Edmwnd Prŷs published “Salmau Cân”, Richard Vaughan “Practice of Piety”, Vicar Prichard “Cannwyll Y Cymry” and towards the end of the century Morris Kyffin published his translation of Bishop Jewell’s “Apology”. It is impossible to believe that these influences had not penetrated to Aberdare and inhabitants were becoming accustomed to the new ordinances. By the end of the 16th century, Protestantism had begun to take hold and increased during the 17th C. Development was enhanced and furthered by the increase in Puritan Dissent. Puritanism made very little headway in Glamorgan in the early 17th century.


Charles I re-issued the Book of Sports to re-start Sunday entertainments and there was no objection from Glamorgan. When the Civil war broke out Glamorgan adhered to the Royalist cause.


Battle of St Fagan’s in which probably Aberdare men fought on the King’s side. Arch. Cam. 1846 47. Cymru Fu.


Insurrection in Glamorgan. 8,000 Glamorganshire men rallied to the King’s cause and were engaged on his behalf in the Battle of St. Fagan’s. Meanwhile the local Parish Church had escaped the depredations of the more violent Puritans. Other Churches in the area were not so fortunate. Merthyr’s three bells were sold and Llandaff Cathedral had its organ stripped, (Thomas Richards The Puritan Revolution in Wales p.345 quotes Bodleian Mss. C4 Folio 65). The Bell in the turret of St. John’s escaped and continues to function, the same bell since 1637, the gift of William Mathews of Aberaman the wealthiest man in the valley who was worth £800 per annum in 1646. Churchwardens at the time were RT and WH. The bell was cast by John Palmer Bellfounder of Gloucester. The inscription on the Bell is as follows:—


It is also probable that the chancel, which is much later than the nave, was added at the same time as the new bell was installed.

The Parish was gradually increasing in importance. Survey of Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Miskin.


Parliament ordered the burning of the Book of Sports and this was done publicly by the Public Hangman. The Puritan Sunday became established in those areas where the Parliamentary Army was in control. This was NOT in Glamorgan. Some priests continued to read the Book of Sports and among them was the Vicar of Llantrisant cum Capelys, one Thomas Basset, but with the final victory of the Parliamentary Forces in 1648, Basset’s fate was sealed. Cromwell’s deputies came into each district to examine Minister’s of Religion to see if they were fit persons. The reasons for ejection were given as:

1 Inability to preach in Welsh

2 Continued use of the Book of Common Prayer

3 Scandal in his private life.

Basset was ejected on the first count though a kinder reason is given in the Walker Mss. “He was a great Pluralist and an eyesore to the ruling authorities because he was superior to them in the copiousness of his expressions and the strength of his arguments.”

By the Act for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales the pooled profits of the confiscated livings were in the hands of the Treasurers. Cromwell’s “Triers” or “Approvers”, as they were called, appointed the Rev Henry Williams as the new Vicar of Llantrisant and for a short time, he was supported out of these pooled profits. Samuel Butler, “Nonconformist Memorials” London 1803 Vol.3 p.502, includes an account by Ed. Calumny “an honest man but weak. He would take no tithes and so received £60 per annum out of the Exchequer”. He had been a Parliamentary Captain and was a monoglot Welshman. He accepted £60 only for the year 1651. Vide “The Sufferings of the Clergy” by Dr. John Wilkinson 1714. J.B. Tatham, “Dr. Walker and the Sufferings of the Clergy”, Cambridge 1911. From then on, he depended on the voluntary contributions of his Parishioners. There is no evidence that he was ejected after the Act of Uniformity of 1662 though later he was reported as being the “Leader of a congregation of Schismatics at Merthyr”.

Towards the end of the 17th century, this large parish was in the hands of a very capable priest Rev James Harries who played a very important and active part in the S.P.C.K. movement during the first quarter of the 18th century.


Vicars of Llantrisant Cum Capelys, including Aberdare


Rev. James Harries

died April 1728

Rev. Richard Harries

died October 1776

Rev. Robert Richards

died November 1810

Rev. James Morgan

died June 1816

Rev. William Michell

died February 1829

Rev. J.B. Williams

died June 1845

Rev. Evan Morgan



The oldest memorial inside the church is to a member of the Mathews family who died in 1680 and to one Mathew Armiger of Glan Caiach. The oldest decipherable date on a tombstone is 1685.

Aberdare and Llanwynno jointly had a resident Curate whose house was a stone building demolished in 1939 at the entrance to Green Street. The last Curate in Charge died in 1734. He was the Rev William Jones and was followed by the Rev Richard Nash Leigh, “who quitted this cure on November 9th.1735”. His successor was the Rev Roger Lloyd, 1735–39, and it was during his time that Aberdare first felt the impact of Methodism. The curate himself came strongly under its influence. Howell Harries was invited by James Davies of Cwm-y-Glo to visit the Parish, (History of Non-Conformity in Wales by T. Rees, 1833, p. 346). Harries visited the area on March 27th and November 28th 1739 and again early in the Spring of 1740. It is quite possible that Harries stayed with Roger Lloyd because Methodism at the start was a movement within the Church. From correspondence, it is evident that they were firm friends. Roger Lloyd left for Devynock in 1739 but retained his interest in his old Parish. He also continued his interest in Methodism indicated by the fact that his name appears in a list of ministers in H H’s own hand in the Trefecca Mss. There is no evidence that there was any Methodist Society until the end of the 18th century. Nor is there any evidence that Aberdare people had been captured by the enthusiasm that was notable of Methodism in other districts.

After Lloyd’s departure, Aberdare was left without a Curate until November 1743 when the Rev David Jones came to reside in the Parish.


Rev Joseph Jones was the Curate-in-Charge and during these Curacies, Griffith Jones of Llanddowror set up his Circulating Schools. A notable event in the Curacy of David Jones was the visit of John Wesley. He came to Aberdare twice.


Thursday April 6th: “We rode to a hard-named place on the top of a mountain ... at noon we came to Aberdare just as a bell was ringing for a burial. This had brought a great number together to whom I preached after the burial. I preached in the Church ... few could understand me, so Henry Lloyd, when I had done, interpreted the substance of my sermon in Welsh. We had almost continuous rain from Aberdare to the great rough mountain which overlooks Brecknock.”


Monday March 19th, Tuesday 20th: “Expecting to Preach at Aberdare 16 Welsh miles from Cardiff. I rode thither over mountains but we found no notice had been given so after resting an hour we set off for Brecknock.” The “hard named place” referred to could have been Pen-y-Coedcae on his way from Llantrisant.


There were only 11 Burials in the Parish Church so that the one Wesley attended must have been one of these. “Origin and History of Methodism in Wales”, Young (re Henry Lloyd). Rev Joseph Jones Curate died in 1759 and was followed by the Rev David Davies who remained for only 2 years. The next was the Rev John Evans 1761–1798, and he was to see not only important changes in the Status of the Church but also the beginnings of change in the social pattern with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.


Parish of Aberdare became a Perpetual Curacy (2nd Act of Annates). By this Act of 1534, payments that had previously been made to the Pope, e.g. the First Fruits of Bishoprics and beneficed clergy as well as 1/10th of each year’s income of Bishops and clergy were transferred to the Crown. At the beginning of her Reign, Queen Anne, in order to reconcile the Church to the Revolution, made over the tenth and the first fruits to a body of Commissioners who were to use them for increasing the means of poor clergy. Queen Anne’s Bounty Act 1703 2&3 Anne 1720 constituted under the Great Seal by Letters patent 17th November 1704. By Q.A. Bounty Act of 1714 (1 Geo. I Sect 2&10 Sect 3). Parliament declared that the curacy in receipt of the Bounty should henceforth be termed Perpetual Curacy. The capital sum of £200 was set aside, and the interest from this was to augment his income. During the next 60 years, Aberdare received £2,600 in grants from Q.A.B., in 1772–87–89–1810–11–12–38.