Gwilym Thomas “Glanffrwd” 1843-1890
(Thomas Evans 1950)
William (or Gwilym) Thomas was born March 17th 1843, in a small cottage, one or two thatched cottages called “Y Ddau Glotch” in Old Ynysybwl. The cottages are now occupied by modern houses, about thirty yards below the village school. William was the eldest son of seven children their father being John Hywel Thomas, who had married Jane Jones of Cwmclydach. The family name appears to have been Hywel, and according to Glanffrwd (as William Thomas later came to be known in literary and eisteddfodic circle) the family were descendants of two monks or lay brothers who lived at Mynachdy, which was a farm or grange, from where cultivation of crops and rearing of sheep was supervised for the benefit of the monks of Margam Abbey.
During dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign, one settled on the other side of Darren y Foel, at Ynysferrig, on the banks of the Cynon, This place after numerous changes of name became Abercynon. In course of time, this ancestor of Glanffrwd became the owner of much land around Mountain Ash to Abercynon, and it was not until comparatively recent time (late 18th Century) that the land passed to other hands, as a result of a sale made under the influence of drink. Glanffrwd’s grandfather was quite a wealthy man, but somewhat too found of the delights of alcohol. It was during one of these bouts that the land was sold for £20, land today worth many thousands of pounds. That is the story as given by Glanffrwd in this book, “Plwyf Llanwynno” Thus the family fell on humble days, and at a very early age, after a short term in Bethel School, Glanffrwd was helping is father at his work, wood cutting in the woods of Llanwynno Parish. The schoolmaster at that time was Joseph Davies, who was somewhat deformed, and apparently a long way below the standard of erudition required by modern schoolmasters. Joseph Davies is mentioned in the1847 Enquiry into Education in Wales, and the school in that year had 18 on the books, nine boys and nine girls. The salary paid to this schoolmaster was £13 per annum, while the children’s pence amounted to £13.

Ministry

While still in his teens, Glanffrwd started work as a minor in the Rhondda Valley during the early years of the coal rush, but this he soon give up and was persuaded to open a school in the village of Ynysybwl. He proved to be a very good teacher and later accepted a post at an “Ysgol Gwaith” in Llwynypia. Here he developed into an able and popular speaker, taking an active interest in social welfare. His eloquence brought him to the notice of influential people, who encouraged him to go in for ministry.
He then began to preach with the Calvinistic Methodists, and for about twelve months was pastor of Gyfeillon Chapel in the Rhondda Valley, and it was during this ministry here that he married Miss Mary Davies, Brynllefrith, Nelson. He afterwards joined the Established Church, after a very successful career at St. Aidan's College, Birkenhead, and Oxford, being ordained in 1875. After serving as curate at West Carnforth; County Durham. Here he became immensely popular with all sections, but especially among the little Welsh colony if ironworkers there. And at Mold, during this period his wife died, cast a gloom of the parishioners. Later he moved to the Cathedral of St. Asaph, as vicar-choral, being afterwards appointed senior vicar, where he married a second time to Miss Lizzie Williams "Llinos y De" a well-known singer
His only two published works are “Sisalon y Frwd” a collection of pastoral poems and his famous “Hanes Plwyf Llanwynno” in 1874 both now out of print. No doubt there are many manuscripts somewhere containing poems and notes on life in our valleys during the 19th Century. Enquiries are being made amongst his descendants for many papers he may have left, when death over took him at the early age of 47.

Eisteddfods

Even at a very early age, Glanffrwd had shown a leaning for things literary, for he won the recitation at an eisteddfod in the Ynysybwl village inn while just in his teens. At the age of 17 he shared a prize with Islwyn at Aberdare (1860). During the next few years he added to his laurels by winning chairs, medals and money at eisteddfodau up and down the country. In 1887, at the London National Eisteddfod, he took the honours for the Pryddest. Apart from the competitions, Glanffrwd took great interest in local history, archaeology and music, and in addition was a speaker of renown in English and Welsh.
During his life he delivered, before the Cymmrodorion Society, an able lecture on "Welsh Hymnology" which was published in their transactions. He won the bardic chair at Liverpool for a poem on "Bethlehem": at the London National Eisteddfod he took the gold medal and 40 for a poem on "The Welsh Language," and a few weeks afterwards, at Portmadoc, he was awarded a gold medal and 20 for a poem on "Queen Victoria" His poetry is of a very high order, and during the latter years of his life he was in frequent request as adjudicator and conductor.There is no doubt that excess of zeal for his work and the constant demand for his services as eisteddfod conductor brought about his illness which finally led to his death. His wit and learning brought him into company of such national figures as Lord Aberdare, Mathew Arnold, John Rees, Viriamu Jones, and Henry Reichel.
The end came during the National Eisteddfod at Brecon, in 1890, where he was one of the conductors. He had previously had a slight seizure, from which he had apparently recovered, but a second more severe attack caused his collapse on the platform, from where he was rushed to his brother’s house at Pontypridd. At 11 o’clock on the night of October 2nd 1890, Glanffrwd passed away, to join the great number of his contemporaries in the little graveyard of his beloved Llanwynno.