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Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful

- Total

- Water
Ranked 21st

111 km²

Admin HQ Merthyr Tydfil
ISO 3166-2 GB-MTY
ONS code 00PH

- Total ( )

- Density



/ km²
Ethnicity 99.6% White.
Welsh language

- Any skills
Ranked 15th


Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council

Merthyr Tydfil ( ) (often shortened to Merthyr) is a town in Walesmarker, with a population of about 30,000. Although once the largest town in Wales, it is now ranked as the 13th largest urban area in Wales. It also gives its name to a county borough, which has a population of around 55,000. It was formerly in the historic county of Glamorganmarker. It is often referred to simply as 'Merthyr'.

According to legend, the town is named for Saint Tydfil, a daughter of King Brychan of Brycheiniog. According to her legend she was slain at Merthyr by pagans around 480; the place was subsequently named Merthyr Tydfil in her honour. Although the usual meaning of the word merthyr (from the Latin martyrium) in modern Welsh is 'martyr', it is probable that the meaning here is "church (in memory of a saint or on his/her grave)." Similar examples, all from south Wales, include Merthyr Cynog, Merthyr Dyfan and Merthyr Mawrmarker. The Cornish and Breton language equivalents, in place names, are merther and merzher.

Merthyr Tydfil today


The current borough boundaries date back to 1974, when the former county borough of Merthyr Tydfil expanded slightly to cover Vaynormarker in Breconshiremarker and Bedlinogmarker in Glamorgan. Merthyr Tydfil became a local government district in the administrative county of Mid Glamorgan at that time, although it reverted back to a county borough again on 1 April 1996.

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council is the governing body for the area. It consists of 33 councillors representing 11 wards. During the local government elections of 1 May 2008, the long-ruling Welsh Labour Party lost its majority control of Merthyr council as a cohort of independents took seats and the Liberal Democrats also made a significant breakthrough. The present composition of the council stands at Independents 15; Labour 10; Liberal Democrats 4; Merthyr Independents 3 and 1 other. The authority is run under a committee system called the fourth option which in practice means no group has overall control, even if they have a majority of the councillors.

Despite being widely regarded as one of its traditional heartlands, support for the Welsh Labour Party has waned significantly in recent years; as indeed the local election results confirm. In the 2005 General Election there was a 3.9% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats and in the 2007 Welsh Assembly Election there was a massive 15.8% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats.

The current member of parliament for the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney constituencymarker is Dai Havard, while the Welsh Assembly representative is Huw Lewis AM.

Industrial legacy

Merthyr Tydfil has a long and varied industrial heritage, and was one of the seats of the industrial revolution (see history below). Since the end of the Second World War, much of this has declined, with the closure of long-established coal mining collieries, and both steel and ironworks. Despite recent improvements, some parts of the town remain economically disadvantaged, and there is a significant proportion of the community who are long-term unemployed.

In Britainmarker today, Merthyr:
  • Ranks 13th worst for economic activity.
  • Ranks 13th worst for life expectancy: women live on average 79.1 years, and men 75.5. This is lower than the average for Englandmarker but better than the Scotlandmarker and Northern England averages.
  • Has 30% of the population suffering from a limiting long-term illness.

A controversial Channel 4 programme rated Merthyr Tydfil as the third worst place to live in Britain in 2006 following areas of London.

However, in the 2007 edition of the same programme, Merthyr had `improved` to fifth worst place to live.


Merthyr is home to several well known, established and respected community choirs who perform regularly in the local area and throughout the rest of the world: Dowlais Male Voice Choir (, Ynysowen Male Choir (, Treharris Male Voice Choir, Merthyr Tydfil Ladies Choir, Cantorion Cyfartha, and the exciting mixed-voice choir Con Voce (, newly formed in 2007.

The town has held many cultural events. Local poets and writers hold poetry evenings in the town, and music festivals are organised at Cyfarthfa Castle and Park. With this in mind, Merthyr's Welsh Language and Initiative Centre are working on a new project to transform the Zoar Chapel and the adjacent vestry building in Pontmorlais into a community arts venue. The project, if successful, will provide a focal point for the arts in Merthyr Tydfil. Also recently opened was Merthyr Tydfil College's Theatr Myfanwy Theatre, where students perform dance, musicals, plays and instrumental and vocal concerts, and where students work with some of the best in the business, including members of the Welsh National Opera.

Despite Merthyr Tydfil's good history of young people getting involved in making classical music, such as in choirs, orchestras and brass bands, or as soloists, and despite the fact that many successful and talented classical musicians have come from Merthyr in the past and recently, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of young people actively taking part in high standard classical music, both in and out of school. The town has developed schemes to encourage young people to take an active part in society and develop the town in which they live. Merthyr Youth Forum was established for those between the ages of 11 – 25 wanting to make a difference to their own community.

Merthyr Tydfil's Central Library, which is in a prominent position in the centre of the town, is a Carnegie library.

Until recently it was twinned with Clichy-la-Garenne, Francemarker.


The town is located in a South Wales Valleysmarker environment just south of the Brecon Beaconsmarker National Park, and this, along with the town's rich history, means it has huge potential for tourism in Wales. National Cycle Route 8 passes through the town. The Brecon Mountain Railwaymarker is easily accessible by cycle and car. Merthyr is also on the fringes of Fforest Fawr Geoparkmarker designated in 2005 in respect of the area's outstanding geological and cultural heritage. The borough has recently been awarded European Funding as part of the Interreg Collabor8 project and will be working in partnership with the Brecon Beacons National Parkmarker Authority to promote the region across Europe.

The Taff Bargoed Valley is increasingly becoming an area for outdoor activities and is home to Parc Taf Bargoed and the Summit Centre (formerly Welsh International Climbing Centre). Settlements of interest include Bedlinogmarker and Treharrismarker.



Road improvements mean the town is increasingly a commuter location and has shown some of the highest house price growth in the UK.

Public transport

Regular rail services operate from Merthyr Tydfil railway stationmarker to Cardiff Queen Streetmarker and Cardiff Centralmarker. Public transport links to Cardiff are being improved.


Modern-day Merthyr relies on a combination of public sector and manufacturing and service sector companies to provide employment. The Welsh Assembly Government has recently opened a major office in the town near a large telecommunications call centre. Hoover (now part of the Candy Group) has its Registered Office in the town and remained a major employer until it transferred production abroad in March 2009, resulting in the loss of 337 jobs after the closure of its factory.

Sports and leisure


Penydarrenmarker Country XI Cricket Club were founded in 1971 and currently play at the ICI Rifle Fields Ground.


Merthyr is particularly known for its boxers, both amateur and professional. Some famous professional pugilists from the town include: Johnny Owen, Howard Winstone, and Eddie Thomas.


In sporting terms, Merthyr is not widely recognised for its soccer team, Merthyr Tydfil F.C.. 'The Martyrs' currently compete in the British Gas Business Southern Football League Premier Division — three promotions away from the Football League and play home games at Penydarren Parkmarker. The Club had their proudest moment in 1987, when having won the Welsh Cup and qualified for the European Cup Winners Cup, they beat Italian football giants Atalanta 2–1 at Penydarren Park.

The town was once home to a fully-professional Football League club, Merthyr Town F.C., which folded in the 1930s and Merthyr Tydfil AFC were founded in 1945. The year of 2008 marked the centenary of football having been played at Penydarren Park (1908 – 2008).


The local rugby union club, Merthyr RFC, is known as 'the Ironmen'. Merthyr RFC was one of the twelve founding clubs of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1881.

Rugby League

Merthyr Tydfil is home to the Tydfil Wildcats.


Merthyr Tydfil hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1881 and 1901 and the national Urdd Gobaith Cymru Eisteddfod in 1987.



Vocational training providers

Secondary schools

Primary schools/nurseries


In 2006, a large open cast coal mine, which will extract 10 million tonnes of coal over 15 years, was authorised just east of Merthyr Tydfil as part of the Ffos-y-fran Opencast mine.



Various peoples, migrating north from Europe, had lived in the area for many thousands of years. The archaeological record starts from about 1000BCE by the 'Celts' (although the 'Celtic Movement' may be seen as a gradual spreading of ideas rather than an invasion of a particular people) Celt, and from their language, the Welsh language may have developed. Hillforts were built during the Iron Age and the tribe that inhabited them in the South Walesmarker area were called the Silures according to Tacitus the Roman historian of the Roman invaders.

The Roman invasion

The Romans had arrived in Roman Wales by about 47-53CE and established a network of Roman forts, with Roman roads to link them. They had to fight hard to consolidate their conquests, and in 74 CE they built a Roman auxiliary fortress at Penydarrenmarker, overlooking the River Taffmarker (Taf). It covered an area of about 3 hectares, and formed part of the network of roads and fortifications. Remains this fortress were found underneath the football ground where Merthyr Tydfil FC play. A road ran north–south through the area, linking the southern coast with Mid Walesmarker and Watling Streetmarker via Breconmarker. Parts of this and other roads, including one known as Sarn Helenmarker, can still be traced and walked on.

The local tribe, known as the Silures, resisted this invasion fiercely from their mountain strongholds, but the Roman armies eventually prevailed. In time, relative peace was established and the Penydarren fortress was abandoned by about 120 CE. This had an unfortunate effect upon the local economy which had by this time come to rely upon supplying the fortress with beef and grain, as well as imported items such as oysters from the coast. Additionally, intermarriage with local women had occurred and many auxiliary veterans had settled locally on farms

The Decline of the Roman Empire eventually developed with the Roman legions being withdrawn around 380CE. By 402 CE, the army in Britain comprised mostly Germanic troops and local recruits, and the cream of the army had been withdrawn across to the continent of Europe. Sometime during this period, Irish Dalriadan (Scots) and Picts attacked and breached Hadrians Wallmarker. During the 4th and 5th Centuries the coasts of Cambria (Wales) had been subject to the raids of Irish pirates, in much the same way as the south and East coast of Britain had been raided by Saxon pirates from across the North Seamarker. Around the middle of the 5th century, Irish settlements had been established around Swanseamarker and the Gowermarker as well as in Pembrokeshiremarker and eventually petty kingdoms were establish as far inland as in Brecon. Later, by about 490CE, hordes of Saxons invaded and settled in the east or in "lowland" Britain and the locals were left to their own devices to fight off these new invaders.

The coming of Christianity

The Latin language and some Roman customs and culture became established before the withdrawal of the Roman army. The Christian religion was introduced throughout much of Wales by the Romans, but locally, it may have been introduced later by monks from Irelandmarker and Francemarker who made their way into the region following rivers and valleys.

Local legends

After the departure of the Romans, minor kingdoms slowly developed in the area. Welsh legend describes a Romano-British leader who repelled Saxon invaders, and through conquest and diplomacy, united several small kingdoms to create a sizable kingdom that included South Walesmarker and much of western Britain. This grew into the legend of King Arthur. More legend than fact is known about this man. Some scholars suggest that he may have been Ambrosius Aurelianus. If so, he would have spoken Latin and maintained some aspects of Roman culture, possibly including at least nominal devotion to Christianity, the official religion of the Romans at the time. Aurelianus may have been of Roman birth, and there are some implications that he may have been related to a Roman Emperor.

Another local tradition holds that a girl called Tydfil, daughter of a local chieftain named Brychan, was an early local convert to Christianity, and was pursued and murdered by a band of marauding Picts and Saxons while traveling to Hafod Tanglwys in Aberfanmarker, a local farm that is still occupied to this day. The girl was considered a martyr after her death in approximately 480CE. “Merthyr” translates to “Martyr” in English, and tradition holds that, when the town was founded, the name was chosen in her honour. A church was eventually built on the traditional site of her burial. Images of that church can be found on the Merthyr History website.

The Normans arrive

The valley through which the River Taffmarker flowed was heavily wooded, with a few scattered farms on the mountain slopes, and this situation persisted for several hundred years. The Norman Barons moved in, after the Norman Conquest of England, but by 1093, they only occupied the lowlands and the uplands remained in the hands of the local Welsh rulers. The effect on the locals was probably minimal. There were conflicts between the Barons and the families descended from the Welsh princes, and control of the land passed to and fro in the Welsh Marches. During this time Morlais Castlemarker was built.

Early modern Merthyr

No permanent settlement was formed until well into the Middle Ages. People continued to be self-sufficient, living by farming and later by trading. Merthyr Tydfil was little more than a village. An ironworks existed in the parish in the Elizabethan period, but it did not survive beyond the early 1640s at the latest. In 1754, it was recorded that the valley was almost entirely populated by shepherds. Farm produce was traded at a number of markets and fairs, notably the Waun Fair above Dowlaismarker.

The Industrial Revolution

Influence and growth of iron industry

Merthyr was situated close to reserves of iron ore, coal, limestone and water, making it an ideal site for ironworks. Small-scale iron working and coal mining had been carried out at some places in South Walesmarker since the Tudor period, but in the wake of the Industrial revolution the demand for iron led to the rapid expansion of Merthyr's iron operations. The Dowlais Ironworks was founded by what would become the Dowlais Iron Company in 1759, making it the first major works in the area. It was followed in 1765 by the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The Plymouth ironworks were initially in the same ownership as Cyfarthfa, but passed after the death of Anthony Bacon to Richard Hill in 1788. The fourth ironworks was Penydarren built by Francis Homfray and Samuel Homfray after 1784.

The demand for iron was fuelled by the Royal Navy, who needed cannons for their ships, and later by the railways. In 1802, Admiral Lord Nelson visited Merthyr to witness cannon being made.

Several railway companies established routes that linked Merthyr with coastal ports or other parts of Britain. They included the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, Vale of Neath Railway, Taff Vale Railway and Great Western Railway. They often shared routes to enable access to coal mines and ironworks through rugged country, which presented great engineering challenges. In 1804, the world’s first railway steam locomotive, "The Iron Horse", developed by the Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick, pulled 10 tons of iron on the newly constructed Merthyr Tramway from Penydarrenmarker to Abercynonmarker. A replica of this now resides in the National Waterfront Museummarker in Swansea. The tramway passed through what is arguably the oldest railway tunnel in the world, part of which can still be seen alongside Pentrebach Road at the lower end of the town.

The 1801 census recorded the population of Merthyr as 7705, the most populous parish in Wales (however, the built-up area of Swanseamarker, covering several parishes, then exceeded 10,000). By 1851 Merthyr had overtaken Swansea to become the largest town in Wales with 46,378 inhabitants. By this time, Irish immigrants made up 10% of the local population, and there were substantial numbers of English, together with some Spaniards and Italians.

During the first few decades of the 1800s, the ironworks at Dowlais and Cyfarthfa continued to expand and at their peak were the most productive ironworks in the world. 50,000 tons of rails left just one ironworks in 1844, to enable expansion of railways across Russiamarker to Siberiamarker. At its peak, the Dowlais Iron Company operated 18 blast furnaces and employed 7,300 people, and by 1857 had constructed the world's most powerful rolling mill. The companies were mainly owned by two dynasties, the Guest and Crawshay families. One of the famous members of the Guest family was Lady Charlotte Guest who translated the Mabinogion into English from its original Welsh. The families also supported the establishment of schools for their workers.

The Merthyr Rising

The Merthyr Rising of 1831 were precipitated by a combination of the ruthless collection of debts, frequent wage reductions when the value of iron periodically fell, and the imposition of truck shops. Instead of using normal coin of the realm, some Ironmasters paid their workers in specially-minted coins or credit notes, known as "truck". These could only be exchanged at shops owned by the same ironmasters. Many of the workers objected to both the price and quality of the goods sold in these company-owned shops.

There is still controversy over what actually happened and who was to blame. It was probably more of an armed rebellion than an isolated riot. The initiators of the unrest were most probably the skilled workers; men who were much prized by the owners and often on friendly social terms with them. They also valued their loyalty to the owners and looked aghast at the idea of forming trade unions to demand higher wages. But events overtook them, and the community was tipped into rebellion.

The owners took fright at the challenge to their authority, and called on the military for assistance. Soldiers were sent from the garrison at Breconmarker. They clashed with the rioters, and several on both sides were killed. Despite the hope that they could negotiate with the owners, the skilled workers lost control of the movement.

Some 7,000 to 10,000 workers marched under a red flag, which was later adopted internationally as the symbol of the working classes. For four days, magistrates and ironmasters were under siege in the Castle Hotel, and the protesters effectively controlled Merthyr.

Even with their numbers and captured weapons, they were unable to effectively oppose disciplined soldiers for very long, and several of the supposed leaders of the riots were arrested. Some were transported as convicts to the penal colonies of Australia. One of them, Richard Lewis, popularly known as Dic Penderyn, was hanged for the crime of stabbing soldier named Donald Black in the leg, creating the first local working-class martyr. Alexander Cordell's novel The Fire People is set in this period. A serious political history of these events, The Merthyr Rising was written by the Merthyr-born Marxist writer Professor Gwyn A. Williams in 1978.

The first trade unions, which were illegal and suppressed, formed shortly after the riots. The rising also helped create the momentum that led to the Reform Act. The Chartism movement, which did not consider these reforms extensive enough, was subsequently active in Merthyr.

Many families had had enough of the strife, and they left Wales to use their skills elsewhere. Numerous people set out by ship to Americamarker, where the steelworks of Pittsburghmarker were booming. It only cost about five pounds to travel steerage.

The decline of coal and iron

The population of Merthyr reached 51,949 in 1861, but went into decline for several years thereafter. As the 19th century progressed, Merthyr's inland location became increasingly disadvantageous for iron production, and only the Dowlais works invested in steelmaking technology. Penydarren closed in 1859 and Plymouth in in 1880; thereafter some ironworkers migrated to the United States or even Ukrainemarker, where Merthyr engineer John Hughes established an ironworks in 1869.

In the 1870s the advent of coal mining to the south of the town gave renewed impetus to the local economy and population growth. New mining communities developed at Merthyr Valemarker, Treharrismarker and Bedlinogmarker, and the population of Merthyr itself rose to a peak of 80,990 in 1911. The growth of the town led to its grant of county borough status in 1908.

The steel and coal industries began to decline after World War I, and by the 1930s, they had all closed. By 1932, more than 80% of men in Dowlais were unemployed; Merthyr experienced an out-migration of 27,000 people in the 1920s and 1930s, and a Royal Commission recommended that the town's county borough status should be abolished. The fortunes of Merthyr revived temporarily during World War II, as war-related industry was established in the area. In the post-war years the local economy became increasingly reliant on light manufacturing, often providing employment for women rather than men.

In 1987, the iron foundry, all that remained of the former Dowlais ironworks, finally closed, marking the end of 228 years continuous production on one site.

Post-world war II

Immediately following World War Two, several large companies set up in Merthyr. In October 1948, the American-owned Hoover Company opened a large washing machine factory and depot in the village of Pentrebach, a few miles south of Merthyr Tydfil. The factory was purpose-built to manufacture the Hoover Electric Washing Machine, and at one point, Hoover was the largest employer in the borough. At the Hoover factory the Sinclair C5 was built.

Several other companies built factories, including an aviation components company, Teddington Aircraft Controls, which opened in 1946. The Teddington factory closed in the early 1970s.

The Gurnos housing estate was, at the time of its construction, the largest housing project in the world.

Cyfarthfa, the former home of the ironmaster Richard Crawshay, an opulent mock-castle, is now a museum. It houses a number of paintings of the town, a large collection of artefacts from the town's Industrial Revolution period, and a notable collection of Egyptian tomb artefacts, including several sarcophagi.

In 1966 a colliery tip slid down a mountain covering a school causing the Aberfanmarker disaster.

While testing a new angina treatment, researchers in Merthyr Tydfil discovered (purely by accident) that the new drug had erection-stimulating side effects. This discovery would go on to form the basis for Viagra. The inventor Howard Stapleton, based in Merthyr Tydfil, developed the technology that has given rise to the recent mosquitotone or Teen Buzz phenomenon.

Notable residents of Merthyr Tydfil

Among those born in Merthyr Tydfil are:

Other notable residents included Esther Isaacs, mother of "Chariots of Fire" athlete Harold Abrahams; the singer-songwriter Katell Keineg, whose mother is a native of Merthyr; the grandfather of Rolf Harris also came from Merthyr. Sam Hughes began his career as a noted player of the ophicleide in the Cyfarthfa Brass Band. One of the first two Labour MPs to be elected to parliament, the Scot Keir Hardie, was elected by the Merthyr Tydfil constituency. The Osmonds are of Welsh descent and have traced their ancestry to Merthyr. Also associated with the town are poet, journalist and Welsh Nationalist Harri Webb, and poet, author and journalist Grahame Davies.

References in art and literature

See also


  1. Farmer, David Hugh. (1978). "Tydfil". In The Oxford Dictionary of Saints.
  2. University of Wales Dictionary, vol. III, page 2436.
  3. WebPage
  4. 'Third worst place in UK' — but Valleys town disputes claims — icWales
  5. BBC NEWS | Wales | Ten reasons to love 'worst town'
  6. Merthyr Tydfil: Best and Worst Places to Live in the UK 2006 from
  7. [1]
  8. BBC NEWS | Wales | South East Wales | Merthyr named UK's house hotspot
  9. BBC NEWS | Wales | House price boom as market grows
  10. BBC NEWS | Wales | £19m for Merthyr-Cardiff trains
  11. BBC NEWS | Wales | South East Wales | Assembly building in valleys town
  12. The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2008.
  13. R Trevithick
  14. Trevithick2004
  15. Wired 14.03: START
  16. BBC NEWS | Wales | Firm's ringtone 'next Crazy Frog'
  17. BBC — South East Wales Merthyr — Donny Osmond Coming Home


  • A Brief History of Merthyr Tydfil by Joseph Gross. The Starling Press. 1980
  • The Merthyr Rising by Gwyn A Williams. University of Wales Press,
  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press,
  • People, Protest and Politics, case studies in C19 Wales By David Egan, Gomer 1987
  • Cyfres y Cymoedd: Merthyr a Thaf, edited by Hywel Teifi Edwards. Gomer, 2001
  • Civilizing the Urban: Popular culture and Urban Space in Merthyr, c. 1870-1914 by Andy Croll. University of Wales Press. 2000.
  • Methyr Tydfil A.F.C. 1945-1954: The Glory Years By Philip Sweet. T.T.C. Books. 2008
  • The Eccles, Antiquities of the Cymry; or The Ancient British Church by John Williams (1844), p116.

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