Griffith Rhys Jones "Caradog" 1834 - 1897

Griffith Rhys Jones

Griffith Rhys Jones was born at the Rose and Crown Inn, Mill St Trecynon, Aberdare, is father’s name was John Jones who was a carpenter by trade, he was the grandson of  a well-remembered “blind vicar” of Llanishen Church near Cardiff, and was regarded as a very intelligent man. His mother name was Margaret daughter of the Rev. David Hughes Rhigos, Pontneathvaughn. She was well educated and a very shrewd woman. In addition to the gifted Caradoc they had two other sons John and David, Caradoc being the youngest, John the oldest is celebrated as a violinist and is one of an exceedingly able mathematicians. As evidence of his great talent it may be mentioned that he was engaged by the Russian Government to solve some problems which had confounded all others, but which he succeeded in explaining. After this he was engaged as mathematician at one of her Majesty’s dockyards, where he remained for some years, but at present he is employed at Dawson’s great foundry in Sydney Australia. It is interesting to trace this elder brother’s “hours of ease” after his day’s labour at Abernant as a pattern maker, to which trade he served is time, with his violin in hand amusing himself, and giving at the same time an impulse to the spirit of his little brother “Griff” (Caradoc) which not only has had the effect of distinguishing his own family, but of adding luster to wild Wales, the country of his birth.

It is asserted by those that know the family well that from 6 to 7 years of age Caradoc manifested remarkable aptitude and fondness for music, and his brother John taught him at that early age to play the violin, but he was so short at the time that the violin had to rest on the floor, a la violoncello and people who are not yet old remember with what delight they would visit ”the Crown” to hear John and little “Griff” playing the violins together. The father died when Caradoc was very young, and to this may be attributable the fact that the youthful prodigy did not obtain  a technical musical education, which it was intended that he should have had, but misfortune had ne barriers for Caradoc; he mounted over all obstacles. It is said of him that his great hobby as a boy was concerted music, if he could associate himself with those who could play musical pieces in concert with him he was extremely happy. His chief associate of course was his brother, but one or two brothers joined him now and again.  It would not belong in the society of those who know with what consummate skill he can relate a story without being met with the request to give the company a “story fach”. The stories of “Griff o’r Crown” as he is familiarly known to his friends, are the public property of Aberdare Valley, and are frequently repeated.

His brother ultimately went away and “Griff” commenced the earnest business of life learning a trade of a blacksmith, and earning what is known in Wales as bara a chaws “a crust or bread and butter” for himself. But it is pleasant to remember that the roar of the forge did not destroy his fine ear for music, and that he still under all difficulties was an earnest disciple of Apollo, and that his beloved art was his chief solace in his spare moments, after the hours of labour. After his brother went away he, without the aid of any master, studied the works of the great masters in the world of music, hoarding his pence, then “Y pris yn fawr a’r pris yn fach” (the price is small’ meaning that some were expensive, while others ones are cheap) to purchase the works of Handel, Mozart and others., He gradually became to be distinguished at those nurseries for intelligence and mental culture-our eisteddfodau and is today one of the chief ornaments.

The prizes he has won at eisteddfodau for excellence in music are by far too numerous to be mentioned here. Wherever he competed he invariably carried away the trophy, twenty years ago he formed his first choir, which is the model upon which the South Wales Choral Union as formed. It was composed of picked voices from the choirs of Aberdare and district and was established to compete for the chief prize for the best rendering of “Hallelujah to the Father” (“Mount of Olives”) at Aberavon Eisteddfod. The choir had been formed and was prepared to enter the list, but when the time came to send in their names as competitors they were in some perplexity as to what name to adopt.


Caradog was apprenticed to the trade of a blacksmith, but his musical genius early asserted itself, and as a boy he became celebrated as an expert violinist. His ambition, however, was to become a choir leader, and when 19 years of age a choir under his conductorship won a prize at the Aberavon Eisteddfod in June, 1853. That choir was given the name of Cor Caradog and from that time out the leader himself became known as Caradog. Thus was commenced a musical career which proved to be one of the most remarkable in the annals of Welsh music. After this victory the young black smith experienced no difficulty in the formation of choirs, for musicians from far and near eagerly rallied to his support.

For many years he, with "unselfish devotion to his beloved art, taught at the singing classes at the Hen dy Cwrdd at Trecynon, and a little later he was found a prominent figure at the Eisteddfodau originated and carried on for many years at Trecynon by the late Carw Coch Eisteddfodau which in their turn led to the resuscitation of the National Eisteddfod of 1863. About that time the Aberdare Philharmonic Society was formed under the leadership of Mr David Rosser (afterwards of Pontypridd), and Caradog joined the orchestra as first violinist. The society subsequently became known as Cor Undebol Aberdar," and the conductorship devolved upon Caradog. This choir devoted the larger portion of its energies for many years to competitive singing at the various Eisteddfodau in Wales.  Their success was unparalleled. Choir after choir and leader after leader (including the late Dan Francis, Silas Evans, and Eos Morlais) came out against thorn, only to be vanquished and completely overthrown, and many tales are related of the strange power and effect of their singing.

In 1872, he was appointed conductor of the Welsh choir which competed for the one thousand guinea challenge cup, and a prize of 100, offered by the Crystal Palace Company.

After some consideration one of the members called out “Name it” Cor Caradog” (Caradoc’s choir). Be it remembered the leader’s name up to this time was simply Griffith Jones. The title was at once adopted, and Mr Jones has been known ever since as eisteddfodau as Caradoc. His choir went to the eisteddfod at Aberavon, and carried away the prize in the face of several choirs who competed. Straws thrown up into the air will indicate the direction of the wind current; a passing incident in some instances will effectually revel in the sentiments of a nation. There is a choir of the descendants of the ancient British people, of a people whom the Romans termed the Silurian’s in a moment of anxiety as to the name to adopt on the eve of a struggle for supremacy, but this time in music, receiving a name from, as it were, the echoes of their ancient mountains, the ever-glorious name of Caractacus (Welsh Caradoc). His choir was successful next at Carw Coch Eisteddfod, Aberdare Valley, again at four annual eisteddfodau at Aberdare, the pieces competed in being “Rise up arise” (Mendelssohn); “The heavens are telling” (Haydn); “The Earthquake” (Owen Alaw); “The kingdoms of the earth” (Lloyd).

The next  great eisteddfod was at Pontypridd, when his choir won the chief prize for the rendering of “Thanks to be God” (Mendelssohn), one of the chief events of his life was winning the one of the prizes at the great eisteddfod held at Neath on the 24th and 25th  of September 1860. The renown of his splendid choir, which was then known at the Aberdare United Choir, he retaining the old name, had stirred up the musical talent of South Wales, and no fewer than fifteen great choirs disputed the field with the Aberdarians, The Chorus was “The heavens are telling,” Caradoc was again the victor, receiving a heavy purse of gold and a silver medal. Then followed victories at Llanelli and Llandilo, the pieces being “Be not afraid,” “Worthy is the lamb” and the Amen Chorus” (Messiah). Again at Newport eisteddfod, the chief event during his last three years of his life in Aberdare, 1868, 1869 and 1870, were is successes at the Swansea eisteddfodau. In the first named year the prize was £20, with a baton; the second £25, with a beautiful metronome; third £30, with a medal. 

He has at all times been most generous in aiding every good cause with his great musical talent, as the people of Aberdare, Cwmbach and the surrounding districts can testify, generously giving his labours’ free of charge when the debt upon a chapel was to be cleared or any other good cause of a similar nature. Sometimes he would be thanked; at other times he would be treated as if the recipients them to receive, and probably they were not wrong.

Caradog the Blacksmith

He has worked as a blacksmith at Gadlys, Ysguborwen, Cardiff, Pontypridd (chain works), Abernant and Lletty Shenkin, which he left 5 years ago. As presenting a picture which will enable the world to judge of the difficulties he had to encounter in studying music, it may be mentioned that not long ago a friend asked him what was the nature of his work his work at Lletty Shenkin. “Well,” was his reply, “I worked with four other blacksmiths, and had to look after the water pipes underground. But the work was of such a nature that it destroyed a suit of clothes every couple of months and this did not pay. A friend told me that the Clarence Inn “33A Canon St Aberdare” was to let and I took it. From then I went to the Fothergill Arms “15 Victoria Square Aberdare”, and ultimately came to Treorchy.” His present wife is the daughter of the late Mr. John Williams the Manager of Letty Shenkin Colliery.

Caradog’s first wife grave, St John’s Church, Aberdare
Caradog’s first wife grave, St John’s Church, Aberdare

The Rhondda Years

In 1870 his faithful “did guards” the Aberdare United Choir, whom he had so often led to victory , heard with deep regret that he was about leaving them, but not to go in captivity, but into a land flowing with milk and honey-the Rhondda Valley. He had rented of Messrs. Insole and Son, who cannot fail to be proud of their gifted tenant, the Treorchy Hotel at Treorchy. He devoted himself almost exclusively to his business after his arrival in the Rhondda Valley.

He would now and then attend concerts and delight the audience with his old friend the violin. But the remnant of the “old guard” at Aberdare heard of the Crystal Palace prize and at once thought of their “old general” behind his counter in the neighboring valley. He was consulted, and expressed his willingness to lead the singers of South Wales to snatch away, if possible, the national prize from the center of England, and “out of the mine they came.” The result is well known. He has, with his choir, made Wales better known, and as astonished the world.

It was in the Treorchy Hotel where Caradog first met Tom Stephens (1856-1906), it was Caradog’s influence that   Tom Stephens musical technique more than anyone else. In fact it was Caradog who appointed him as one of the alto singers in Aberdare Choral Union.

During this time Caradog spent week after week in preparing the several contingents for the great contest, and some of the old members of the choir arc never happier than when they relate of his wonderful power as a conductor. The majority of the members of the choir were monoglot Welsh, and Caradog had to explain to them every line of the various oratorios in that language. On one occasion the section at Dowlais were singing the words "Rippling streams and pearly brooks" fortissimo. Caradog at once stopped them and advised the singers to go up on the hills and bend their ears to the trickling of the streams from the Waun Mountain. When next he came to Dowlais Caradog heard the line sung pianissimo. In June, 1872, the choir secured the cup at the Crystal Palace without a contest, but the following year the interest was greatly intensified when it became known that the choir would have to meet one of the crack choirs of London, known as the “Paris Prize Choir," under the leadership of Mr Proudman. Space forbids more than a reference to the departure of the choir from Aberdare on July 8th, 1873, when marshaled by Canon Jenkins and Dr. Price, the Five Hundred started for Bristol, where they held a concert that evening. Here they were presented by a number of American Welshmen (who, burning with the patriotic fire, had come over the Atlantic to be present at the contest) with several purses of gold contributed by the Cymry of America and with a handsome silk banner, bearing the emblems of Welsh nationality, presented by Messrs. James Howell and Co., the Cardiff drapers. Their concert at the Colston Hall that night was long remembered, one noteworthy feature being Eos Morlais's rendering of the aria Sound an alarm," which fairly electrified the usually phlegmatic Englishmen. On the following day, July 10th, the memorable contest took place in the central transept of the Crystal Palace, the adjudicators being Sir Julius Benedict, Sir John Goss, and Mr Joseph Barnby, The choruses rendered were I wrestle and pray, "Hallelujah to the Father," See what love hath the Father," and Come with torches." The scene when Mr Thomas Hughes, M.P., on behalf of the adjudicators, announced that the South Wales Choir was victorious was simply indescribable.

The two choirs sat one on either side of the orchestra, the ladies in Proudman’s choir being most artistically dressed in white, some with blue and some with red sashes while the Welsh ladies sported all the variegated colours of the rainbow, and in dress by no means up to date. Caradog came before his choristers and told them that when the singing was over and the adjudication came to be announced, they were not to get excited. If they lost let them take it coolly if they won let them take it just as coolly He repeatedly urged this advice upon them. When the singing was over, however, and Tom Hughes, alas that we must add the late Tom Hughes, the author of “Tom Brown's School Days”, announced the result, all Caradog's philosophic "coolness" went to the winds, and he jumped up on a seat, threw his hat in the air and cried, Ni pia hi, fechgyn," and needless to add the choir followed his example, and the scene that followed will never be forgotten by those who were present. Before leaving the Metropolis, thanks to the patriotic endeavors of the late Lord Aberdare and the late Mr Brinley Richards, the choir were presented to their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales at Marlborough House, where they sang God save the Queen," "Llwyn Onn" (in Welsh), Let the Hills resound (which was repeated at the special request of the Prince), and The March of the Men of Harlech." In addition to the Challenge Cup and the money prize, the former of which, however, was by the terms of the competition only to be held for one year, the choir was presented with a magnificent silver cup by the Welsh in London, and the leader with two gold batons from the Welshmen of Australia and California respectively. These mementoes as well as the banner of the choir are now deposited in the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Mr Richard Fothergill, M.P., also presented Caradog with a gold medal, and every member of the choir with a silver one, to commemorate the event, the medal bearing upon its obverse the following inscription:—Presented by Richard Fothergill, M.P., in commemoration of the victory of the South Wales Choral Union at the Crystal Palace, July 10th, 1873." and on its reverse a harp. Many of these medals are today highly treasured by the members of the choir and their families.

During his residence in the Rhondda Valley Caradog formed a choir which performed a number of oratorios, but shortly afterwards he removed to Llanybyther, and afterwards to Cardiff and subsequently to Pontypridd. He formed a choir at Pontypridd, which performed "The Creation," Mendelssohn's "Athalie and The Hymn of Praise," and afterwards Israel in Egypt at one of the concerts in connection with the National Eisteddfod at Pontypridd in 1893. He was twice married, his only son being a chartered accountant at Cardiff, and a partner in the firm of Messrs. Jenkins and Jones.

During his residence in the Rhondda Valley, he formed a choir for the purpose of performing oratorios and other works, but shortly afterwards he removed to Cardiganshire, and afterwards to Cardiff and Pontypridd. In the latter town, he formed a choir which performed, with much success, at the Pontypridd Eisteddfod in 1893.

Treorchy Hotel
Treorchy Hotel
(picture courtesy of RCTCBC)

The Prince of Welsh choirmasters a remarkable career

Caradog is dead! The news of the demise of Mr Griffith Rhys Jones, the world famed Welsh choral conductor, comas with great suddenness, and will be received with a thrill of sorrow by all Welshmen. Caradog had for some years retired from active business, and on the 11th of March, 1896, was stricken down with a severe illness, suffering from disease of the heart and dropsy. From time to time he improved, and last summer was able to go to the seaside for a change. It was, however, feared that his days were numbered, and the family were prepared for the end at any moment. He was under the constant attention of Dr. Jenkins, Pontypridd, and everything that medical skill could do was done, for he was visited on two occasions by Sir Richard Quinn and Dr. Broadbent, who journeyed from London to see the patient. Last Saturday evening a change for the worse occurred, and Dr. Jenkins was speedily summoned. Caradog remained unconscious for three-quarters of an hour, and he passed peacefully away at half-past six the same night in his residence, Brynhyfryd, Pontypridd, aged 63. Mrs Jones, the widow (Caradog's second wife), and only son, Mr John Griffith Jones (a partner in the firm of Messrs Jenkins and Jones, chartered accountants, Westgate street, Cardiff), Miss Price, a niece of Mrs Jones, and the nurse, Miss Pritchard, stood by the death bed.

The news quickly spread, and much sympathy was expressed with the sorrowing family. It may be mentioned that Caradog's only brother died in Australia a few years ago. Caradog, who was interested in the Rhondda Valley Breweries, was popular wherever he was known, and at one time after his brilliant victory with the Welsh Choral Union at the Crystal Palace in July, 1873 his name was a household word throughout the Principality. He was one of the most genial of men, happy and pleasant at repartee, generous of heart to a degree, and at all times a delightful companion, his fund of anecdotes and his inimitable way of narrating them, always keeping the company in a merry mood. Wales deplores the loss of the most famous of its choral conductors, who had done as much, if not more, than any living man towards the improvement and advance of choral music in Wales, and especially on the Eisteddfod stage. During his residence at Pontypridd, Caradog evinced a great deal of interest in musical matters, and formed the orchestra that took part in the National Eisteddfod at Pontypridd.

The death of "Caradog." Arrangements for the funeral

Some alterations have been made in the arrangements for the funeral of the veteran conductor, "Caradog," and as the greatest interest is taken in the matter among what may be termed the musical community, it may be as well to explain in detail what is now proposed to be done. The funeral will leave the house at 12 o'clock noon on Thursday for St. Catherine's Church, Pontypridd, where one service will be held, from which the procession will wend its way by road to Aberdare, starting at 12.45. When Aberdare Cemetery is reached, the cortege will go direct to the graveside. There will be no service in the cemetery chapel, but at the grave. It should be added that a special train has been secured to run from the Rhondda Valleys to Pontypridd and Aberdare about fifteen minutes before the ordinary train.

Mr. Rees Evans, of Aberdare, wrote on Monday to Mr. J. G. Jones, the son, stating that the Aberdare choirs would be massed together to meet the funeral in Commercial Street, where they would sing "Lausanne" and other Welsh hymns. Mr. T. H. Maddox, Pontypridd, offered the services of the Pontypridd Ladies' Choir and the Glamorgan Choristers. Mr. Tom Stephens, Treorky, waited upon the family on Monday evening and offered his services, and to him was entrusted the whole of the musical arrangements, so that he on Tuesday went to Aberdare to consult with Mr Rees Evans.

"Caradog" Laid to Rest. National Tribute to his Memory
Representative Attendance of Musicians,
Impressive Singing by the United Choir

On Thursday the funeral of the renowned Welsh choir-leader, "Caradog," took place at Aberdare Cemetery. Everywhere at Pontypridd, en route to Aberdare, and at the latter town itself were evidences of the popular sympathy with the family of the deceased in their bereavement and the sense of loss all experience at the departure of "Caradog" from among the living.

The day was marked by lowering clouds and general gloom and a cold breeze blew, but, with the exception of a small shower which fell when the cortege entered Aberdare, the day was rainless. Punctually at twelve o'clock the coffin was conveyed from Brynhyfryd, Pontypridd, and placed in the hearse, drawn by four fine horses, and followed by many mourning coaches. Into those the family and invited friends entered, and the journey to St. Catherine's Church, Pontypridd, commenced. All business in the town had been suspended earlier than usual on that day, which is the day or the half-holiday. All the shutters were up and blinds drawn, as a token of the respect for the dead choir-leader. The streets en route to the church were lined with spectators, who mournfully viewed the coffin, visible through the glass panels of the hearse. It was carried into the church and placed near the choir. Contrasted with the usual floral wreaths which now generally are the accompaniment of the ark of the dead, as a coffin is called in Welsh, the absence of floral wreaths on this occasion gave an unusual appearance of severe and Puritanical simplicity to the senile.

This seemed enhanced by the somewhat cold appearance of the church, whose windows, even the chancel one, are without a bit of coloured glass of any kind. There were not many of the five hundred choristers of the Crystal Palace event of 1873 present. We noticed only two in the church, namely. Mr Richard Rogers, once a prominent tradesman of the town, now retired. He wore the commemorative medal of that event. The other was Madame Williams-Penn, who in 1873 was the very youngest of the "Cor Mawr" on that occasion. This popular vocalist was, to the end of his life, a great favourite as a singer with "Caradog." The coffin was met in front of the western door of the church by the Vicar of Pontypridd, the Rev. James Thomas (curate), and Precentor Lewis (vicar of Llantwit Fardre), and with them were other clergymen, including the Rector of Glyntaff, without their robes. The proceedings commenced by the singing of Cardinal Newman's wonderful hymn, namely, "Lead, kindly Light.” Prayers were read by the Rev. James Thomas, and Precentor William Lewis (vicar of Ystradyfodwg) read the usual chapter from the Corinthians. Then the hymn "Ever with the Lord" was sung, and the service then came to a close.

Mrs Jones, the widow, although a Kymric lady, not being familiar with the language of Wales, the service here was conducted entirely in the English language. The coffin, preceded by the clergy and the robed choristers, was now returned to the hearse, and the start was made by road for Aberdare. At the same time a special train left the station for the same destination. It had been intended for the local choir to sing through Pontypridd in front of the hearse, but this had to be abandoned, owing to want of time, and the town was traversed in silence, and everywhere were seen faces bearing expression of the deepest sorrow. The journey by road to Aberdare was uneventful, and the town was reached a little before three o'clock. Here the cortege came into first contact with, the genuine Welsh element in its native aspects. Here the, sound of Welsh music- Welsh hymnology was heard like the boom of the sea breaking on the Glamorganshire coast.

In front walked the ministers of various denominations, and then the Lodge of Foresters assembled at the Lord Windsor Inn, Mill Street, with which "Caradog" was associated, and with which he kept up his connection to the last. All the way to the cemetery, a distance or more than a mile from the centre of the town, the marvellous Welsh hymn singing continued. It occupied upwards of an hour to cover the distance, and on all sides blinds were drawn and shutters up. At just a quarter past four o'clock, literally "amid the encircling gloom," all that was mortal of "Caradog" was lowered into a new vault at the eastern end of the cemetery.

The body was enclosed in a massive shell of oak, the outer coffin being of panelled oak with heavy brass furniture, the inscription being:—

Griffith Rees Jones
Born November 21st, 1834.
Died December 4th, 1897.

Witnessing this sad episode was an immense concourse of people. (Lead, Kindly Light" was sung. On the right, hand side of the entrance to the vault stood, in their robes, the Vicar of Pontypridd, the Vicar of Glyntaf and the Rev. James Thomas (curate). The two vicars officiated, and this was succeeded by the singing of Welsh hymns and all present, appeared to join in the singing, so that the volume of music was a memorable one. This brought the proceedings to a close. The choral conductor was Mr Tom Stephens. The undertakers were Messrs. John Evans and Co., drapers, Pontypridd. The coffin was remarkably massive one of solid oak with an oak shell. It was panelled and heavily mounted with brass furniture. It was made by Mr David Griffiths, Pontypridd.

The hymn-sheet bore the inscription on the vault read "Cambria mourns her noble leader."

The grave of Caradog

A memorial to the departed leader

Directly after the funeral a meeting of the members of the Cor Mawr and others was held at the Long Room of the Temperance Hall, by invitation sent out by Aberdare members. It was somewhat of a coincidence that the meeting was held in the very room where it was first decided that a choir should be formed to compete for the Crystal Palace Challenge Cup, and where Caradog was selected conductor. Mr Daniel Griffiths, ironmonger, Aberdare, was elected chairman, and Mr. W. J. Evans, the conductor of the Aberdare Choral Union, was elected secretary pro. Tem.

Mr Rees Jones, Landore said he had asked the Aberdare friends to call the meeting because he thought it would be very nice to meet together once more. They belonged to an army that had done more than any other to raise the reputation of Wales as a musical nation. (Hear. hear). Before the Crystal Palace victory "Little Wales'' was "'Cymru Gwlad y Gan only on their own hearths, but today the lame of Welsh music was known throughout not only England, but the nations of the Continent—(hear, hear)-and the whole civilized world. They had had in Caradog a unique leader, one who, like the other Caradog (Caractacus,) had no equal, and music had sustained a great loss in his death.

Dr. Joseph Parry thought they should do something tangible to commemorate the memory of their lost leader. He thought Welsh musicians should fraternise more, (hear, hear).

Messrs. Tom Stephens, J. Jones (Ap Caradog; Landore; D. T. Sims, J.P. Neath; Taliesin Hopkins, John Thomas, Ferndale; Rhys, Evans, D. Davies, Swansea; M. 0. Jones, Treherbert; Dewi Alaw, Pontypridd; and others having spoken, a vote of condolence was passed with the family, and a resolution was unanimously passed to subscribe for a memorial to the lost leader. The question of the form the memorial shall take was left to another meeting, but the general feeling was in favour of a scholarship. The following were elected an Executive Committee: Messrs. Jenkin Howell, Aberdare Rees Evans. Aberdare; Tom Stephens, Rhondda: Eos Dar, Mardy; and W. J. Evans, hon. sec.

Caradog statue in Aberdare
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.