About the Society
Historical Notes






There are few references to musical activities in Aberdare prior to the 18th century. Among the earliest are those relating to harp playing in connection with Edward Evan of Ton Coch.

In the latter part of the 18th century, an outstanding character was John Rees, ‘Siôn Llwyn y Moch’. His nickname derived from a small farm in the parish of Penderyn, (Cymru Nov. 1895 contains an article on him). He had two brothers Thomas and William. Siôn and Thomas were enthusiastic musicians and they were the first to introduce singing by book into the Aberdare neighbourhood and the adjacent Parishes of Brecon, Glamorgan, Monmouth and Carmarthen. They held numerous musical classes and as no printed musical books were generally available, they spent much of their time copying tunes in old notation. The singing was mostly unison singing.


William appears to have been completely unmusical. Thomas Rees taught music in the 1797 Parish Church in the time of the Rev Wynter, 1754–92, (See Hanes Plwyf Penderyn). By 1797, both Thomas and John were members of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, the former was Treasurer in 1803, but there is no further reference to him in connection with the church


after 1822. He died on January 5th 1832 at Nantymoel. Returning to John Rees, he was paid by Nebo Church to go to the Rhondda to teach the Chapel Choir how to sing. He crossed to the Rhondda once a week where he was entertained by the Davies family of Cwm Saerbron. He died in a snowstorm in 1832 when returning to his


home at Pontyflash, Glan Road from a singing school at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd.

Two other brothers resident in Aberdare who were noted for the making and playing of harps were Dai Siôn Siams and Dic Siôn Siams. Also Thomas David Llewellyn, (see notes on Eisteddfodau).

Thomas Lewis, (1829–1902), the Blind Harpist lived at the Welsh Harp in Trecynon. He was the pupil of another noted Aberdare harpist — John Williams of the Horse and Groom. Some confusion has arisen between Llewellyn and Lewis. Some authorities claim that Thomas Llewellyn was the Harpist to the Aberpergwm and Dyffryn Families, (The Welsh People — John Rees and Brynmor Jones). R.J. Jones, on the other hand, maintains that it was Thomas Lewis who was the Harpist at Aberpergwm and Cefnmabli, (see correspondence in the South Wales Daily News, January 1916).

Harp playing was accompanied by dancing. An advertisement in the ‘Cambrian’ January

1882 Jan

mentions the forthcoming visit of a Dancing Academy to Aberdare. Turning to the early years of the second half of the 19th century, mention must be made of John Roberts — Ieuan Gwyllt — a pioneer of Y Gymanfa Ganu. The groundwork for Ieuan Gwyllt was prepared by the Temperance Movement. This began in Liverpool in 1835 and spread rapidly throughout Wales, setting up musical and choral societies for the fostering of temperance.


A successful Temperance Festival was held in Hirwaun at which the Rev William Edwards of Ebenezer, and the Rev William Williams of Hirwaun, were prominent. There is too a


record of a successful Temperance Festival held at Aberdare on Monday July 28th 1845.


Formation of the Gwent and Morgannwg Choral Union whose objects were:

a. to support Temperance

b. to develop and foster musical taste

c. to encourage congregational singing

The Union held several festivals in South Wales during the 50s and 60s. It was in these meetings that a young man called Griffith Rhys Jones perfected his musical talents. The same period saw the beginning of choirs belonging to individual chapels.


Ebenezer Choir gave a rendering of the Messiah supported by an orchestra from Hen Dŷ Cwrdd.


‘Y Gwron’ for August 7th and 14th devoted 2½ columns to a description of the Gwent and Morgannwg Temperance Festival held at Trecynon on August 2nd and 3rd. Prior to the meeting a Census had been taken in Trecynon, and the following returns were announced during the meeting:

Population of the Village




195 had signed the pledge during the meeting.

There was a Public House for every 156 of the population. There were 6 Chapels, 1 Church and 2 Schools, i.e. one place of worship for every 900 of the population.


The Temperance Hall was built mainly through the efforts of the people of Bethania who were the chief promoters and shareholders. During the same year, the bells of St. Elvan’s were installed and the ‘Gwladgarwr’ was first published. The first editor was Lewis William Lewis, (Llew Llwyfo), 1831–1901, a noted eisteddfodwr. He was editor until replaced by

1858 Oct 21

John Roberts who lived at Aberdare until October 1859, when he moved to Merthyr. During this year, he was putting the finishing touches to his famous book of Hymn Tunes in which he adapted German Chorales and Welsh Folk Songs for the purpose of Public Worship. He became a member of Bethania, and lodged with William Morgan, ‘Y Bardd’.

1859 Jan 4

He was married and on January 10th he led the Gwent and Morgannwg Choral Union at Bethania. This has been claimed to be the first Gymanfa Ganu in Wales.

1859 Apr 4

A much larger Festival was held at the Temperance Hall and many years later in “Y Cerddor Cymreig”, John Roberts claimed that this was the first Gymanfa Ganu. In the January meeting at Bethania, the proof sheets of Ieuan Gwyllt’s tunes were used for the first time. The book itself was not published until several months later. It completely transformed congregational singing in Wales. It contained 322 tunes, including 76 Welsh Airs and 21 of the Editor’s own compositions of which ‘Moab’ is probably the most famous. 17,000 copies were published before 1863. In the meantime, instrumental music had not been neglected.

1859 Jan 11

The Aberdare Philharmonic Society performed Mozart’s 12th Symphony at a concert at the Temperance Hall.

So far, the Gwent and Morgannwg Choral Union had been undenominational but now each denomination began to stage its own Gymanfa Ganu. When Ieuan Gwyllt moved to Merthyr he organised a singing festival for the Methodists. At the same time, Rosser Beynon started a similar movement for the Independents.


Formation of the Congregational Singing Union of the Aberdare Calvinistic Methodists. As the 60s wore on, denominational singing festivals tended to decline. The Gwent and Morgannwg Union ceased after 1867. But now a new star was rising at Aberdare in the person of Caradog with a new ideal in view which was to be realised in the Crystal Palace prizes of 1872–73.




Caradog: Miscellaneous notes on musical activities in Aberdare in 19th century.


It was reported in a local newspaper that an excursion had been arranged to listen to the Nightingale at Pontneddfechan. In the same year, the Aberdare United Choir won a Prize of £25 at an Eisteddfod at Llandeilo. Associated with the Aberdare United Choir was Griffith Rhys Jones, “Caradog”.


He was born on 21st December at the Rose and Crown, Trecynon. His father, John Jones, was an engineer employed at the Llwydcoed Iron Works. Griffith was apprenticed as a blacksmith. He showed an aptitude for music at an early age; he played the violin competently.

1853 June 23

When he was only 19 years old, he took a choir from Aberdare to an Eisteddfod at Aberafan. The choir, which went under the name of Côr Caradog, was successful. Griffith took the prize in the name of Caradog by which he was known henceforth.


Caradog was appointed choirmaster and conductor to the Aberdare United Choir, which during the ensuing years won many prizes in numerous eisteddfodau.


Caradog moved to Treorci where he established another successful Male Voice Choir.


A meeting was held at the Temperance Hall Aberdare with Canon Jenkins in the Chair to form a committee to choose a choir to compete at the Crystal Palace. Caradog was chosen as conductor and the choir numbered 456 voices drawn from all parts of South Wales.

The competition consisted of 8 set pieces made up as follows:—
3 Double Choruses
1 Item for 6 voices
3 Items for 4 voices
1 Madrigal

The competition was held on the 10th of July 1872. Two choirs competed - the other being the London Choir under Joseph Proudman. Aberdare won and was subsequently invited to sing for Royalty.

There appear to have been two cups - one that was kept at the Crystal Palace and a second, which was presented by the London Welsh. The latter was brought home and placed for safe-keeping in Aberystwyth University museum. The cup and a copy of the medal struck by Richard Fothergill of Abernant, and given to each member, are now on exhibition at the Welsh Folk Museum at St. Fagan’s.

1873 Aug

The Great Choir marched through Aberdare to Abernant House on the occasion of the coming of age of Captain Richard Fothergill. (In the following October, 10,000 Sunday School scholars also marched through town to present him with an illuminated address and chain).

After its Crystal Palace success, the choir received many invitations to undertake important engagements. In 1875, Caradog received a pressing invitation to visit the USA for the occasion of the Centenary of American Independence on July 4th 1876. Caradog subsequently moved to Llanybydder, thence to Cardiff, thence to Pontypridd, keeping an Inn at each place in turn. He died on December 4th 1897, and was buried in Aberdare Public Cemetery on December the 9th. A statue by W. Goscombe John was erected to his memory in Victoria Square.


A Brass Band was formed at Cwmbach. It consisted of 15 working men under one Daniel Jones. They practised at The Lifeboat Inn, near the site of the 1st Cwmbach Co-operative Society. The Landlord was Mr. Meurig Jones. The Band gave its first concert in March of the same year.


Joseph Parry took his Doctorate at Cambridge. Part of the examination consisted of an exercise — an original work to be performed by a choir. This was done at King’s College, Cambridge by the Aberdare United Choir under Mr. Rees Evans.

1879 Dec 26

Friday. Two performances at the Temperance Hall of Dr Joseph Parry’s Welsh Opera, “Blodwen” in ‘full character’. The part of Iolo the Bard was played by Llew Llwyfo, the conductor was Rees Evans and the accompaniment was provided by the Swansea and Aberdare String Bands. Owing to the large number of people who failed to get in to either performance, it was repeated on the following Saturday and Monday evenings.

1883 July

The Aberdare Volunteer Band inaugurated a series of Promenade Concerts on Friday evenings.


The D’Oyly Carte Company performed a series of Operas in Aberdare for one week.


The Aberdare Choral Union, which had started holding its own concerts in 1873, performed the “Messiah”, at the piano Mr. Richard Howells and at the Harmonium W.J. Evans, the conductor was Rees Evans.


Aberdare music suffered a great loss in the death of Mr. Charles Chew who was the leader of the Aberdare Orchestral Society and was regarded as the best violinist in South Wales.


Barter Jones was born at Aberdare. Educated for the Bar, he spent some months on the Aberdare County Court Offices. He also acted as organist at Tabernacle. In 1880, he emigrated to America where he organized an Orchestra. Later he became director of various leading musical societies after which he conducted tours of English Opera Companies in South America. Altogether, he spent ten years in the Western Hemisphere. He returned to Britain in 1891, and became Musical Director of The Garrick Theatre and The Gaiety.


Merlin Morgan, 1 Jenkin Street, won a 3-year Exhibition to the Royal College of Music and in 1896, this was extended for a further two years. During his stay in London, he was organist at Charing Cross Calvinistic Methodist Church. In 1897, he won the Challen Gold Medal for music, which was presented to him by the Prince of Wales. Later he became Musical Director at Daly’s.


W.J. Evans was for many years the successful conductor of the Aberdare Choral Union, and in this year, he was successful at Caernarfon National Eisteddfod with the Aberdare Male Voice Choir.


There were 8 Musical Clubs and Societies at Mountain Ash.

1 Mountain Ash Male Voice Society
5 Mountain Ash Orchestral Society
2 Mountain Ash Ladies Choir
6 3rd Volunteer Batt., Welch Reg. Brass
3 Rhos Juvenile Choir
7 St. Mary's Catholic Drum & Fife Band
4 Bethania Juvenile Choir
8 The Rechabite Drum & Fife Band


An advertisement in a local paper stated that Mr. J. Arkite Phillips, winner in 1902 at the Cardiff National Eisteddfod, is open to receive a few pupils.

1903 Feb 12

Thursday. A Grand Concert by the Phillips Orchestral Society. Artistes :—


1 Soprano
Mrs. Gertie Drinkwater
2 Solo Clarinet
Mr. Chas. Draper of H.M. Private Band
3 Solo Horn
Mr. Ralph Lindsay, late Coldstream Guards together with an Orchestra of 50 Players.


1906 Mar

Lovers of the Terpsichorean Art at Cwmbach consider forming a Dancing Class, (Meeting of devotees at the Lifeboat Inn).


Cynon United Male Voice Party conductor, Mr. William Gwynn, sang Homeward Bound and Men of Harlech effectively; they were well received.


Cwmaman Choral Union formed and began a series of concerts performing all the celebrated Oratorios. 1902 Judas Maccabeus.


Cwmaman Choral Union had given regular Annual Concerts for 30 years and Richard Howells had accompanied every one.


David Evans “Eos Dâr”, a regular adjudicator at the National Eisteddfod, died.

Musical Shop - Cecil Harmston who was actively connected with the Boy Scouts, Wesleyans, and Order of Moose.

Several Chapels started Orchestras

1904 Saron 24 members


Introduction of Pipe Organ.


Calfaria Organ installed at cost of £850.
Ramoth Hirwaun at cost of £350; half cost defrayed by Carnegie Fund.
Ynyslwyd Baptist Chapel at cost of £475.


W.J. Evans was the organist at Tabernacle, where there was one of the earliest pipe organs dedicated in 1893 and played for the first time by Mr James A. Phillips on May 13th. It cost £585 and a collection at the opening concert made £102.12.0 towards the cost.


First Concert at Ebenezer on Christmas Day.


Messiah performed at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd with orchestra.


First Harmonium at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd.

1863 Mar 10

Concert at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd: Symphony Benedictus assisted by

Griffith Rhys Jones


Edward Williams


Thomas Howell

Bass Violin

600 Tickets were sold. The proceeds were towards the purchase of a new Clock.

1904 Mar 10

Bethania Organ opened by a Grand Organ Recital by Mr. E.T. Davies of Dowlais. The organ had been built to his own specifications.