The Crystal Palace

Expanding industry in the Cynon Valley in the 19th Century brought young people from the more rural parts of Wales and the West of England to Aberdare in great numbers. With them came a great variety of tradition so that the lively local strain was enriched. Aberdare acquired fame in the valleys of South Wales as the source of periodical and book-publishing. It was an age when pot-houses and taverns abounded. Many of these became centres for musicians, poets and writers. Friendly Societies tended to share these premises, often with fruitful cross-fertilization.

These centres became frequent hosts to the eisteddfod, one these acquired was fame was “The
Stag In” at Trecynon but under its Welsh name Y Carw Coch. It was built in 1837 by William Williams; his and its memory is preserved in the volume of its eisteddfod proceedings in the Gardd Aberdâr.

The origins of the Choral Societies

The organisation of Choral music is largely indebted to the Temperance Movement; whence itwas adopted by Non-conformist chapels.In Aberdare unity was achieved in 1863, the stimulus was the Swansea National Eisteddfodof that year, Aberdare Choral Union was formed expressly in order to compete there and was conducted by Silas Evans, and Aberdare Choral won the first prize and great acclamation from the Swansea audience.

Silas Evans was born at Abernant and was the son of John Evans (Cymro Du) who was Richard Fothergill's mill-manager. In later years in Swansea Silas Evans' success as a choral-trainer was widely recognised justifying the earlier discretion of his selection for the task at Aberdare. But early after the National Eisteddfod success, Silas Evans went to America.

His place wastaken by Griffith Rhys Jones who was to follow the trail laid by his predecessor in office to great effect.For yearthe Aberdare Choral Union collected the scalps of numerous rival choirs. It is reputedto have suffered only two defeats. To the familiar "Griffo’r' Crown" another name was added. He won the pseudonym "Caradog"at an early age. At 19 he took a small party to compete at Aberavon. Self-styled "Cor Caradogap Bran", it took the prize and gained a new name for life.

Caradog

Born in 1834, Caradog's birth place is a matter of dispute. The Rose and Crown in Trecynonis honoured by some and others insist on Hen Dy y Graig, Hendre Fawr in Rhigos. His mother, born at
Rhigos, was a Rhys of Hendre Fawr; his father, JaciJac Jones, is said to have kept the Plough Inn, Cwm Hwnt.  In Trecynon the Hen Dy Cwrdd Chapel was founded in 1751 it was there Caradog's mother worshipped and hehimself formed a string-band and organised musical activity, later he joined the Unitarian cause at Cwmbach, where he became precentor.His father was employed at Llwydcoed Ironworks Caradog who himself was apprenticed as a blacksmith; he then moved Treorci in 1870 from there he moved to Llanybydder and at Cardiff he kept an inn. Hemarried a native of Hay-on-Wye at St. Tyfodwg Church, Ystrad-Rhondda in 1881.

Caradog died on December 4th, 1897, aged 62, and was buried at Aberdare Cemetery on the 9th of that month. A large congregation was present. The hymn-sheet bore the inscription

"Cambria mourns her noble leader."On July 10th, 1920 a bronze statue of the famous conductor, executed by Sir W. Goscombe John, R.A., representing Caradog at the age of 40, was unveiled at Victoria Square, Aberdare, by Lord Aberdare. In the assembled multitude were 120 members of the Choir.Crystal Palace 1872In 1872 the Directors of the Crystal Palace Company planned a National Music Meeting there from 27th June to 6th July, at which there would be competitions in music "open to the world." The existence and reputation of the Aberdare Choral Union was evident in the resulting reaction in South Wales to the advertising of the Meeting.On Monday, 12th, February of that year a meeting of the leading Musicians of Carmarthenshire,
Glamorgan and County of Monmouth was held at the Temperance Hall Aberdare. It wasdecided there to form a choir which would compete in Class I for Choral Societies, numbering amembership of not more than 500 voices. A committee was formed of which the:Chairman was Canon Jenkins
Treasurer Dr Thomas Price, the celebrated Aberdare Baptist minister; Secretary,
Mr. Brythonfryn Griffiths Conductor,
Mr. Griffith Rhys Jones, “Caradog” then aged 45 years and a publican in Treorchy, formerly a smith at Aberdare.It was agreed that choristers should be tested and selected in the following proportions:

Aberdare, Hirwaun, Mountain Ash - 150
Merthyr and Dowlais - 60
Swansea, Morriston, Neath, Llanelli - 100
Rhymney, Tredegar - 20
Pencae, Brynmawr, Blaenavon - 100
Pontypridd, Rhondda, Cardiff - 30
Total - 460

The sectional conductors were to be: Aberdare, Rees Evans; Mountain Ash, D. E. Coleman;
Merthyr, Lewis Morgan; Pontypridd, Richard Evans; Tongwynlais, Evan Bazley; Neath, W. Mathews;
Swansea, Silas Evans; Cwmavon, James Richards; Maesteg, Daniel Jenkins; Llanelli, W. T. Rees,
(Alaw Ddu)  Rhondda, Caradog.

One committee meeting decided that all choristers should pay one shilling at each rehearsal,but details of finance are sparse. It is safe to say, that over a period of two years, the choir's costswere in the region of £6,000. Dr. Price, the Treasurer, according to his biographer, the Rev. BenjaminEvans, left a great number of diaries, in which financial transactions were recorded meticulously.

The London competition meant absence a week from home. On Monday, the day before theirdeparture for London, the choir devoted their time almost entirely to rehearsal. On Wednesdayand Thursday morning the choir rehearsed with the orchestra. But there was no competition, no other choir presented itself. It remained for the choir tojustify in performance its claim to the Challenge Cup of £1,000 value. The adjudicators were SirSterndale Bennett, Mr. John P. Hullah and Mr. Brinley Richards.

Let us borrow from the account of "The Tonic Solfa Reporter."

"The event of the day was the appearance of the South Wales Choral Union. The large body ofchoralists, as they sat in readiness for the conductor's signal to begin, were an object of great interestto the audience, numbers of whom were Welsh. Every lover of people's music, as he looked at the healthy and honest faces before him, could not but be stirred by the thought that they representednative art, and were chiefly miners with their families. When it was proposed to journey to Londonand throw down the gauntlet of choral fame, the first business was to collect the expenses. Here again all but those who know the Welsh zeal for music will be surprised to learn that the money was not gathered chiefly from the nobility and gentry-though these gave generously-but came by shillings,sixpences and threepences from the common people in all the country round."
"The promoters wisely resolved to take no more singers than they had money enough to journey, lodge and feed. The actual number that came to London was 349, but 500 could easilyhave been brought,"

"The choir was only rehearsed collectively six times a few days before leaving Aberdarethey gave a concert. Itwas announced for two in the afternoon. By that time the large buildingin which it was to take place was packed and as many more were outside, the conductor had topromise that as soon as the concert was over it should be gone through again for the benefit of thosewho could not get in.

"This was accordingly done at 4 o'clock, but still they came, and there was nothing for it but tosay that when the singers had had tea they should sing again. This they did at half past seven, andagain at half past nine, thus giving four concerts in one day to four different audiences, and raising£200towards their expenses. What a testimony to the musical enthusiasm of the Welsh people!"

"The singing of the Welsh choir was remarkable for its force and power. Comparingthem with the Londoners who are usually heard on the Handel Orchestra, we should say that a Welshvoice was about equal to three London voices. The effect which such fiery singing would naturallyproduce in a vast space like the Crystal Palace may be imagined. The mighty volume of soundpenetrated the farthest corners of the building, and made itself heard with ease in the grounds."

There was something so fresh and inspiring in the ringing mass of harmony that the audiencewere fairly carried away."

Still the "Reporter" could not wholly admire the Welsh singing; but there would not be generalacceptance of all the objections raised.
One may be allowed to interpolate a note on a contemporary occurrence.

The year 1872 was marked by another major event in the history of Wales-the opening of theUniversity College of Wales, Aberystwyth. The "Tonic Solfa Reporter" records a speech, on thatoccasion, of the distinguished Welsh musician, Brinley Richards, who had been involved at theCrystal Palace as one of the adjudicators.Inthe course of his address he said:

Iam bound to acknowledge, although I am a churchman, that if we want to hear hearty andearnest congregational singing we must still go to the chapels of our Non-conformist brethren. Butsurely the country which could produce the choir which sang at the Crystal Palace last season oughtto be the country above all others where we would naturally expect congregational singing."

At the I873 Music Meeting opposition was provided by the London Tonic Sol-fa Choir whichhad gained fame as a prize winner at the Paris Exposition. Ithad 300 voices, while Caradog's forcehad increased to 500. The Londoners excelled in a Bach Double Motet; but the prize came to Walesagain. This time special trains were laid on, and had helped to form four separate audiences for a public rehearsalat Newport, where a charge for admission was made. And a concert at Bristol had broken thejourney to London. Money had been sent from the U.S.A., and two gold batons had come fromoverseas Welshmen in Australia and California; London Welsh got together to present the choirwith its own cup. John Fothergill the Aberdare iron-master and M.P., presented each memberof the choir with a silver medal.

Australia Baton

Australia Baton

The above image shows a gold-mounted ebony baton inscribed ‘Presented to the South Wales Choral Union as a national memento of their success at the Crystal Palace by a few admiring countrymen in Australia, Ballarat, 1872’.

America Baton

America Baton

A gold-mounted wooden baton inscribed ‘Presented by the Welsh Cherokee Flat, Butte County, California, to the South Wales Choral Union to commemorate their success at the Crystal Palace National Musical Competitive Meeting, July 8th, 1873

In North Wales arrangements to compete in 1874 were far advanced and a great deal of moneyhad been expended. Although the Crystal Palace Board would not immediately admit it, theydecided not to hold the National Music Meeting in 1874 because it was financially unrewarding.

Still, the Welsh Choral Union Committee was in being in I877, deploring that the industrialsituation was too bad to allow immediate activity, but nothing that the constituent choirs were actively preparing oratorios etc., and applauding them for so doing.

The supporting column is inscribed:

Griffith Rhys Jones
1834 1897
Conductor of the renowned South Wales Choral Union

1872 1873
This statue was erected by his friends and fellow countrymen
in appreciation of his musical genius and as a tribute of admiration.

1920

The South Wales Choral Union composed of 500 voiceswon the chief Choral prize, valued at £I .000, in open competitionat the Crystal Palace, London in July 1872 and 1873.At the unveiling, Lord Aberdare said: -"Wales is taking its right place among the nations. Caradog gave a good lead. The time ofher eminence is coming and will come quicker, if you young men will take an example from the life of Caradog Jones.