About the Society
Historical Notes






Industrial Revolution. The managers of the theatres left the old Market Towns and took over Movable Theatre Establishments in the new centres of population. Venues in Aberdare were the Old Market House or Market Yard. The theatres themselves consisted of tents or collapsible wooden booths with canvas tops. The more ambitious used gas for lighting purposes. Performances were usually on the lines of ‘London Penny Gaffs’, and they were called by that name locally. They were plays characterised by an honest and healthy rudeness. Violent action was essential to the success of a play. Hot potatoes and chestnuts were on sale during the performances. The most successful and celebrated managers were Mrs. Charles Herman and W.S. Woodin. These two were well known throughout South Wales.


The Holloways had a theatrical circuit in Warwickshire and came to Glamorgan this year. Their company played at Aberdare and their particular attraction was their famous brass band. There was a spate of theatrical performances in 1866. Warren and Mange were presenting ‘Tears and Smiles’ and ‘The Broken Hearted Father’ at the Old Market House. They were patronized by an immense concourse of respectable tradesmen. An opera company performed ‘The Bohemian Girl,’ (at the Music Hall), and Poole and Young displayed their Panorama to large crowds at the Temperance Hall.


The Jennings Brothers paid frequent visits to Aberdare with ‘The Colleen Bawn’ and ‘The Honeymoon’.


The Gorgeous Pantomime, ‘Richard Coeur de Lion’.


Early in this year Hamlet with Julia Jennings in the leading role. This Company left the South Wales circuit in 1877 and returned to England but the man who played the clown, one Noakes, stayed behind and set up his own circuit. One of his more successful enterprises between 1877 and 1900 was at Llanelli and it was at John Noakes’ theatre that performances of Sospan Fach were first rendered.


Welsh plays or perhaps English Plays with Welsh themes were becoming popular.

1870 Apr 21

A man called Peter Warren staged an entirely new Welsh historical drama in 3 Acts at Aberdare. This was the ‘Maid of Cefn Ydfa’, by J.C. O’Dowd. The stage newspaper of the time, “The Era”, reports, “Warren Model Theatre Workmen’s Hall Mountain Ash shows acting far above the average”. Plays presented by the Warrens were wide in the catholicity of their interest: “A Mother’s Dying Child”, “The Druid’s Curse”, “East Lynne”, “Llewellyn the Last Prince of Wales”, “Ten Nights in a Bar Room” and “The Hands of the Avenger”. The Company declined at the end of the 70s. The non-conformist conscience frowned on these performances and there were frequent letters in the press against them. The theatre managers who were most closely associated with Aberdare were Haggar, father and son. They were both well known from Abergavenny to Haverfordwest. William Haggar senior had been a carpenter and he brought the skill of carpentry into his theatre called The Castle Theatre. During the last years of the 19th century, he produced a series of plays of all sorts. The repertoire included plays with a Welsh flavour: ‘Maid of Cefn Ydfa’, ‘Maid of Sker’, and ‘Margaret Williams’, who had been murdered at Cadoxton near Neath in 1821.

William Haggar junior was the first in South Wales to turn from plays to cinema shows. He got in touch with the Gaumont firm and it was his company that made the film “The Sign of The Cross”, and processed by Bromhead Brothers. He reserved the display rights in South Wales to himself.


The well-known Bioscope Exhibitions.


Haggars establish their Electric Palace. The outbreak of war in 1914 and the break up of theatre companies hastened the development of cinemas.

1845 Apr 16

Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian: “Many hundreds of people from Aberdare went this day to Brecon to witness the public execution of Thomas Thomas”.

1857 July 27

The foundation stone of the Temperance Hall was laid by Mrs Williams of Ynyscynon.


The Royal Silk Circus at Aberdare for two days only.


Assembly Rooms for one night only W.S. Woodin’s ‘Oleo of Oddities’.

1861 June

Edmunds’ Menagerie visits Aberdare. Many visited this collection of wild animals.


For three nights only, Dec 28/30, Mr. H. Box Brown on Mesmerism and Electro-Biology. Prizes were given away at every performance.

1865 Jan

Mr. W.S. Woodin of worldwide fame will give his new and startling entertainment, “Elopement Extraordinaire”.

1872 Jan

Tom Thumb himself walked the boards at the Temperance Hall with his wife and Commodore Nutt. “The proceedings gave much satisfaction”.

1881 May

The Royal Osbourne Bell Ringers gave two performances at the Temperance Hall.

1889 Dec/Jan

At The Temperance Hall, December 31 to January 2:
Enormous Attraction, Mrs. Charles Herman presents, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, and the cast contains 20 real freed slaves.


At Ynys Fields: Four Paws Gigantic Circus and Hippodrome. The motor-car or horseless carriage will be on view daily on the field.


Christmas: Ada Alexander’s Novelty Circus and Variety Show at the Ynys Fields.