Thomas Howells “Hywel Cynon” 1839-1905

Collier, printer, poet, preacher, and musician
13 Lewis St Aberaman
He was born at a farmhouse in Glynneath on the 12th October 1839, being one of five children. When at the age of six, his parents moved to Rhymney where he worked as a collier’s boy, and thence to Aberaman, where his real nursery in music and matter of general culture was formed. His scanty education was received at the crude and old fashioned school conducted at Saron Hall by the Rev John Davies then pastor of Saron Chapel Aberaman.

In 1858 a gentleman named Mr John Roberts “Ieuan Gwyllt” came to Aberdare and Thomas Howells benefited by association with him and with the musicians who lived in the district.

When he was a young man working underground, he came in contact with TafalawBencerdd “Thomas Gruffydd Jones”, who then owned the printing works at Lewis Street. The printing office and machines were subsequently bought the business in 1866, which he then devoted his whole attention to the business.

This connection with the printing trade not only helped to gratify his natural ambition and to wet his appetite for higher culture, but gradually established him as a publisher of not little importance. During all his time he devoted his whole-hearted energies towards perfecting himself in the four spheres in which he always excelled viz. (1) as soloist; (2) composer; (3) conductor; and (4) as a preacher. His accomplishments as a bass soloist may be judged from the fact that he was selected three times in succession by the Aberdare United Choir on their renderings of “Judas Maccabeus”, “Elias”, and “Twelfth Mass”. He was also winner at important Eisteddfodau on many occasions his favourite solos in competition being “The Prodigal Son” (J. Ambrose Lloyd), “Cadwni“(Tanymarian), and “Y Lleidrar y Groes”. He was one of the best of his day for composing anthems and hymn-tunes, his tune “Aberaman”, being one of the most popular in the Congregational hymn book of Stephens and Jones. He was also the author of an important book, entitled, “Handbook on the Theory of Music”, published in the vernacular. As a conductor of “CymanfaoeddCanu”, his services were requisitioned very often, whilst his ability as choral conductor in competitions was also great as witness his success in the Abergavenny, Aberdare and Neath Eisteddfodau. His sitting room at one time contained over 80 Eisteddfodic trophies.

Porth Examinations 16.03.1872

Misses Catherine Jane and Jessie Williams of this place, sisters to Mrs. Jenkins, Dunraven (late Miss M. A. Williams), have been examined and passed by Hywel Cynon, Aberdare Eos Dar, and Mr. Tom Williams, Pontypridd, as sopranos to take part in the forthcoming musical competition, which is to be held at the Crystal Palace in June next.

The Death of Hywel Cynon

After a long and lingering illness Mr T. Howell, Aberaman, known far and wide as Hywel Cynon, entered into his rest on Sunday last. He was 66 years of age. Industrious and versatile as he was, Hywel was a typical representative of the many sided Welsh genius.

He applied his hand to many things, and excelled in them all. He bore a good reputation as a choir leader and a conductor of cymanfaoedd, and was also an ardent eisteddfodwr. His ability as a musical litterateur is well demonstrated in his dictionary of musical terms known as “Y GeirlyfrCerddorol.” He was also a local preacher and was attached as member to Saron Congregational Church. The deceased carried on an extensive printing business in Aberaman. He leaves a widow, a daughter and 2 sons, Mr H. A. Howells, who assisted his father in the printing business and Mr J. H. Howell, London, who is well-known as a professional vocalist. Musical talents appears to be a hereditary element in the family, for Gwynalaw, the famous soloist, is a brother to the deceased. The funeral takes place to-day (Thursday) at Aberdare Cemetery.

He published two collections of poems:
Awelon yr Haf and Cerddi

Gwnewch bopeth yn Gymraeg’ and a hymn-tune; the latter appears in Llyfr Tonau (Stephen and Jones). He published, in 1871, aGeirlyfr Cerddorol which proved very useful. He was a soloist in one of the concerts given by the Aberdare United Choral Union; he also conducted musical festivals and acted as adjudicator. He died on the 15thOct. 1905 and was buried in the Aberdare cemetery.

Following his publication stones in this world; (Hafrenydd), probably the next attempt to deliver stones in this world was owned by Thomas Welsh Musical Howell (Hywel Cynon), contains over four thousand ‘of different musical terms, and published in Aberaman in 1871.

This small booklet is unusual, as it has been designed, printed and published by the author, a former Hughes & Son company in Wrexham should be responsible for distribution to the public.

There are some very good summary of his life story in The Dictionary of Welsh Biography …, tt.348-349, but the publication of stones in this world background of Music in 1871, on a printing machine that once belonged to Thomas Burnham (Tafalaw brilliant) deserves special attention.

Awelon yr Haf and Cerddi Hywel Cynon, he also composed some pieces of music, e.g. ‘Gwnewch bopeth yn Gymraeg’ and a hymn-tune; the latter appears in Llyfr Tonau (Stephen and Jones). He published, in 1871, a Geirlyfr Cerddorol which proved very useful. He was a soloist in one of the concerts given by the Aberdare United Choral Union.

Notes from the history of Saron Chapel Aberaman

The Rev John Davies was a man of letters and was one of the editors of “Y Beirniad” (The Critic), “Y Gwron” (The Hero) and “Y Gwladgarwr” (The Patriot).  He was passionate about his country’s literature and established a Literary Society in Aberaman.  This society held Eisteddfodau of a high standard and the young people of Saron and the area were given the opportunity to develop their talents at a time of very few educational and cultural advantages.  Among those who benefited from these meetings were Hywel Cynon (Author, Cerddi Hywel Cynon [The Poems of Hywel Cynon]), J. P. Price (America), T. Phillips, D. Harries, Gwynalaw, Gwilym Cynon and others.

He elevated many young men to the ministry and was a great influence on the lives of the young.  It is good to read John Rees and Hywel Cynon’s evidence in his memoir and in song.  During Mr Rowlands’ time the chapel was completely renovated at a cost of £1,400.  It is said that the floor was lowered and that someone told Mr Rowlands “I see you intend to turn Saron into a cellar”, to which he replied “Yes, and by God we’ll keep the best wine there too”.  He was rewarded again and received a testimonial of £200 which friends outside Saron had also contributed towards.  A beautiful memoir was written for Mr Rowlands by the Rev Silyn Evans, Aberdare and I suggest all the young members of Saron read it.  It is obvious, from thememoir, why Mr Rowlands was so loved by the chapel, the area and the denomination.  He is still held dear by those who remember him in his heyday and they all talk of him with fondness and affection.  After a long affliction he died on June 3rd 1891.  It is said that his funeral was the biggest ever seen in Saron.  His remains were buried in the public cemetery at Aberdare.  Saron had much to thank him for.  As it neared the end of the nineteenth century Saron was a flourishing chapel.  His son Mr J. W. Rowlands and his daughter Mrs Morris are here at the time of this celebration and we would like to greet them in fond memory of their father

Rowlands! A happier man was never had
Or a more honest brother:
The lord will never have a more faithful servant
Than dear Rowlands.     (Hwfa Môn)
Grave of Thomas Howells (Hywel Cynon)
Grave of Thomas Howells (Hywel Cynon)
From the Memoir of Viscount Rhondda

How “D.A.” had infected his admirers and supporters may be gathered from the following popular election song which was composed by Thomas Howells, Aberaman, known in Welsh circles as “Hywel Cynon” born in 1839. He was a musician and adjudicator and choir-leader, he was quite a celebrity in his day, and his services were in great demand.

In the Election of July 6th 1892
By Hywel Cynon
Welsh air: “Forth of the Battle”
Sound the silver trumpets, ring the golden bells,
Let the valleys echo “Sguborwen excels”-
Excelsm excels in honours, “Excelsior” is the cry
Of Aberdare and Merthyr, their voices rend the sky;
Torches flashing in the gloom of night,
Cannons loudly roaring the vict’ry of the fight;
Sons of Cambria, come all hand in hand,
Send the Liberal chorus like wildfire o’er the land.True and honour’d patriot son of Gwalia Wen,
Your name is now distinguish’d among the names of men,
Sons of toil and labour in one united band
Sing you Liberal praises all o’er our dear old land;
Bold and brave your honour’d live may be,
Let “Old Cymru” know that you are her M.P.
Sons od Cambria, come all hand in hand,
Send the Liberal chorus like wildfire o’er the land.

True and honour’d patriot, O may your life be long,
In the case of justice, O may your arm be strong;
Listen to the voices of warriors brave and bold;
Follow, follow, do all the good you can,
And never turn your back on the “Grand Old Man.”
Sons of Cambria, come all hand in hand,
Send the Liberal chorus like wildfire o’er the land.

Let the “Liberal Party” in Parliament unite,
An army when divided can never win a fight,
The rotten “Paper Union” in fragments must be torn,
The Tory army conquer’d – the tyrants all forlorn:
Celtic hearts in friendship must be bound,
Gladstonian feats with vict’ry will be crowned;
Onward, onward! Do all the good you can,
And never turn your back on the “Grand Old Man.”

Side view of Grave
Side view of Grave

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