About the Society
Historical Notes







David Williams was born at Llwyndrain near Cowbridge in 1809. His father was a carpenter who started life as a wheelwright. He arrived in Aberdare with his family in 1821 and came to play an important part not only in the industrial but also in the social and cultural life of Aberdare.

He was quite typical of the early industrialist of Aberdare. He was a prime mover in getting the National Eisteddfod to Aberdare in 1861. In January 1862, he was publicly presented with a Medal and an Illuminated Address at the Temperance Hall now the Palladium for his contribution to Welsh life and to Aberdare life.

He collapsed and died while on a visit to Bridgend for an Eisteddfod Committee on Saturday Evening, 28th February 1863. He was buried on March 6th and over 6.000 people marched his funeral procession. His son Gwilym later Judge Gwilym Williams, married Emma Williams of Aberpergwm House, Glynneath. Two men died at the wedding as a result of accidental detonation of a cask of gunpowder, which was meant for fireworks.



David Williams had been warned that a colliery at Mountain Ash was unsafe due to poor ventilation. Nixon bought it for £42,000. With new winding machinery and new patented draught ventilation, output increased form 150 tons a day in 1862 to 1,000 tons a day in 1864. His success was due not only to his business acumen, (he was associated with John Cory in opening up foreign markets), but also to his personal inventive genius as a mining engineer.

1  Patent ventilation system for deep coalmines.

2  Introduced ‘Long Wall’ system instead of previous wasteful pillar and stall system.

3  Invented famous, (or infamous), Billy Fair Play: A machine for assessing proportions of small to large coal in the trams. The old method was by means of a ‘cropper’, an official who estimated quantities of large small and stones and rubble and it was chiefly by guesswork.

4  Introducing the double shift system that reduced the number of Colliery accidents.

Unlike his great contemporaries in Aberdare, John Nixon never aspired to political honours nor was he active in social and cultural life of the town.

In 1874, he left the valley to live in London and Brighton but kept managership of collieries until 1894 when he was succeeded by his nephew H.E. Gray, as he had no son. He died in 1899 at Brighton and lies buried in Aberffrwd Cemetery Mountain Ash.



A man of dogged industry, commanding personality, large and heavily built capable of remarkable feats of physical strength. He was a sharp customer but would distribute coal to the poor and indigent at Christmas time and at times of hardship. By 1862, he was the biggest exporter of coal in the World, viz. 700,000 tons.

He died on March 24th 1863 and had been at his office the previous day. He was three times married and had several daughters and three sons. By his will dated February 20th 1863 he left all his collieries to his sons Thomas, Walter and Henry St. John in equal shares and they carried on the business for some time as Thomas Powell and Sons but Walter soon sold out to his brothers.

April 1869, Thomas Powell of Coldra Hill, Newport, with his wife and small son were murdered while on a shooting expedition in Abyssinia.

Walter who was keenly interested in aeronautics was lost over the English Channel during a balloon flight.

Henry St. John who was a noted rider to hounds, famous for his skill and daring in jumping gates and palings, and known as “Timber” Powell, died form a paralytic stroke after a fall from his horse.

With the death of Thomas Powell in 1863, collieries in his name later became known as Powell Dyffryn chiefly through the instigation of Sir George Elliot with a capital of £500,000. At the time of his death he owned 16 pits and employed about 6,000 men.



One of the last to succumb to the PD.

On the 17th February 1837, the Mathews’ Estate of 1538 acres was transferred to by indenture to Crawshay Bailey of Nant-y-Glo.

In 1844, construction of the Taff Vale Railway began and at the end of that year, Crawshay Bailey went to live at Aberaman, and in 1845, he commenced the New Aberaman Colliery and Engine House. He patronized the Brass Band, which met at the Company Shop where the Band Institute is now.

In 1846, he promoted the Gas Company and was its first Chairman. St. John’s Church was first lit by gas in 1849. He was one of the twelve original members of the First Board of Health and had two public houses named after him, i.e. Crawshay’s Temple Bar and the Bailey’s Arms now Barclay’s Bank.

In 1841, he secured the second of Mineral Rights in the Aberaman Estate from William Curre of Itton Court.

In 1845, secured the lease of the remaining from J.P. Gwynne Holford and then in 1847 he leased part of the Estate to Alaw Goch to work 3 seams of coal in a pit that became known as Williams’ Pit.

He became High Sheriff of Breconshire in 1837, and 13 years after, in 1850, High Sheriff of Monmouth. From 1852 to 1868, he was Member of Parliament for Monmouth Boroughs. He died in 1872, aged 83.



Crawshay Bailey owned these Pits (with alternative names):—















High Dyffryn