David Williams “Alaw Goch” 1809 – 1863

Mr. Williams was he eldest of three sons, and was born in a cottage called “Llwyn-y-Draen” in the parish of Ystrad Owain in the Vale of Glamorgan on the 12th July 1809. He was the son of a wheelwright who having been seized by a press gang had the honor of being at Nelson’s side when he was shot down on board the “Victory”. David Williams was he eldest of three sons, and was born in a cottage called “Llwyn-y-draen” in the parish of Ystrad Owain in the Vale of Glamorgan on the 12th July 1809. In 1821 he accompanied his father to Aberdare and afterwards settled in the neighborhood of Abernant. For two of three years young Williams and his father were occupied as sawyers at the works, and having thrown up the saw, the former was subsequently engaged for several years as a miner. At a happy moment he discovered a rich vein of coal at Ynyscynon and from that hour his fortune was secured. To how few the same remark may be applied that the friendships he had formed in the time of his adversity he preserved in all their pristine vigor throughout the riper years of his prosperity. Many a man who had plied the mandrill, side by side with him could claim as a close friend to the hour of his death. His son Gwilym later Judge Gwilym married Emma Williams of Aberpergwm House Glynneath. In partnership with Lewis Lewis of Cefn Coed he first opened the following pits. He lived first with his family at Ynyscynon House Cwmbach. Ynyscynon in Cwmbach 1843 (Lewis Lewis gave up doing this project) Treaman Pit later to be known as William’s Pit Deep Duffryn Pit Mountain Ash sold it to John Nixon in 1852 for £42000 He sunk another pit in Cwmdare in 1853 which he sold at a good profit, he then opened pits in the Rhondda and had villages named after him Williamstown and Trealaw.
David Williams the Bard
He was one of the prime movers in getting the National Eisteddfod to Aberdare in 1861. In January 1862 he was publicly presented with a medal and an illuminated address at the Temperance Hall (The Palladium) for his contributions to the Welsh Life and to Aberdare. As a bard, Alaw Goch occupied a position of considerable eminence and his generous hand will long be missed by the friends of Welsh literature. Throughout his busy live he appears to have made but few enemies whilst he was privileged to count his friends in every sphere of life by hundreds! Many of his generous deeds will be preserved in the recollection of a grateful posterity and he will long be spoken of as a man who died as rich in respect as he was in “worldly goods”. He part owner of many local papers in Aberdare such as the Cambrian Daily and Y Gwladgarwr a Welsh paper in which he encouraged local poets to poetry in the paper.
The obituary of Alaw Goch “Y Gwladgarwr”
Last Sunday morning, along with the day’s breeze, was borne the sad news that Alaw Goch had died. The news struck the feelings of the inhabitants with the same suddenness and fright as would a thunderbolt or the tremor of an earthquake. Half the day passed before half the people were able to convince themselves that the heartrending news was true. Their hope was that it was an unfounded rumour or, at least, that he had lapsed into a coma and that doctors and time would restore him to his usual good health. The previous Wednesday, Thursday and Friday he had been wandering around his worksites, conversing cheerfully and enthusiastically with scores of his workers. He had driven through the main streets of the town in his carriage, he had been making kind enquiries concerning how a number of his host of friends were faring and had spent considerable time in the office of the newspaper, ‘Y Gwladgarwr’ (The Patriot), on Thursday and Friday, discussing keenly and zestfully the poets and writers of his beloved land of his fathers. The apparent healthy glow of his face and his cheerful spirit had strengthened everybody’s hopes that many years lay ahead of him still.

On Friday afternoon he departed our town, driving his carriage to Meisgyn House, his beautiful mansion near Llantrisant, in Glamorgan’s beautiful and verdant vale. No one imagined that this would be Mr. Williams’ last visit to his beloved Aberdâr. And yet, it could well be that he himself feared that his end was approaching. As he left the ‘Gwladgarwr’ office he had said, ‘I shall write to you in a few days and I’ll see you in a fortnight’s time; but, my dear Lloyd, who knows, I may be dead before then.’

He had been far from well over the past eighteen months, giving serious concern to his friends that the end of his days was approaching, and cause for him, too, to think very often that the time for his final repose was nigh. It was this feeling which prompted him to speak as he did as he departed our office for the last time on Friday morning, 27th February. A morning full of woe for us and a morning we shall remember whilst there be life in our veins and breathe in our nostrils.

On leaving Aberdâr, he had a good journey, arriving at Meisgyn House quite early and entering the house looking healthy and in good spirits. He was somewhat more talkative and sociable than usual. His happiness pervaded the hearts of everyone in the house. As was his custom, he read his correspondence and scanned through the daily newspapers and went for a rest, apparently happy and in good health. On Saturday morning he woke up cheerily and the greenery of the park, the multi-coloured flowers of the garden, the sweet music of the birds, the balmy breezes of spring and the joyful gamboling of the lambs were cause for the tender feelings of his heart to be tuneful like the strings of a harp.

Little did he, let alone his friends, think that this fine morning would be Alaw Goch’s last morning on this earth. He enjoyed his breakfast as usual and spent the earlier part of the day in and around his house. At dinner time he went to the table full of joy, dispersing innocent witticisms, filling every heart with joy and giving rise to a beautiful smile on everyone’s lips. Seeing the cheerful rays of the sun, and nature appearing so encouraging, he felt the desire to catch a train to spend a few hours in the ancient town of Bridgend. He had for many years been fond of this town and its beautiful surroundings. Nearby is the resting place of Iolo Fardd Glas, who was a relative of his, and on whose grave he placed a column which is worthy of both Iolo Las and Alaw Goch. On this occasion Mr. Williams didn’t go to Bridgend with trade or adventure in mind; but to enjoy himself. Everybody who met him felt that he had really revived and, as it were, repossessed of a joy greater than the joy of his youth. But, oh! it was nothing more than the excessive glow of a dying ember. The cheerfulness, vivacity, wit, keenness and amiability of his best days emerged in Alaw Goch last week – to be extinguished forever in this life.

He never complained of any ailment to anyone last Saturday afternoon in Bridgend and it appears that his great soul departed this house of clay without so much as a twinge of pain. He was seen emerging from the market, crossing the road towards a shop on the other side; he placed his hand on a pile of goods outside the door, he leant on it and he died without so much as a groan. Within a fraction of a second every kind of assistance had arrived and, within four minutes, two experienced doctors: but there was nothing they could do; life had escaped completely – there remained only an empty tent, the occupant having left without trace. Death accomplished its work in a trice, since it appears that our beloved Alaw had died on his feet, before he even fell. The tragic and long to be remembered event occurred between five and six o’clock on the evening of the last day of February, 1863. His beloved family was informed as gently and delicately as possible. Very soon his eldest son, Gwilym Williams, Esq., was at his side; and should it be possible for the hiraeth and love of a son to restore the life of his father, that would have happened when Ab Alaw was anointing his own cheeks and the cold face of his father with his tears. It would be presumptuous on our part to seek to portray the feelings of Mrs. Williams or to set out the intense anguish of Mrs. Rosser, her only and dearest daughter. Things such as these are too sacred to be brought before the public and to be soiled by a writing pen. Let us draw down the curtain and allow them to experience the silent solitude and the still, mystic retreat which truly longing hearts would wish to encompass them. May He, in whom both mother and daughter have put their trust from their earliest days, be a retreat and a shelter at this sad time? Let Him conceal them in the sanctuary of His tent and protect them with the shadow of His wings.

Mr. Williams’ mortal remains were taken to his mansion in Meisgyn around two o’clock on the Sabbath morning and, before break of dawn, the sad news had reached his relatives in Aberdâr and – as he was so well known amongst all and held so dearly in the eyes of his workers, merchants and gentry – a cloud of sadness fell upon every congregation; and every family felt such emptiness and strangeness as if one of their own family had died. The shock and the fright had the entire population feel impotent. It was felt as if a mighty cedar tree had fallen and that a void had been created which would not be filled for a very long time. Without resorting to hyperbole, we would say that it appeared as if Aberdâr had lost its very heart; and no wonder, because Alaw Goch was one of those few men who had elevated a tiny and insignificant village into a beautiful and vital town containing some forty thousand souls. Just as in his life, so also in his funeral, Alaw Goch, although a gentleman as regards wealth and manners, is a man of the people. Every shop is shut, every mill and forge is silent, and all commerce rests as one of its princes is being carried to the cemetery. Not a song is heard in either house or road – there ar no fingers to play the noble harp – the thousands who follow his remains to their long lasting home are heavy of heart and somber in appearance. The funeral is the best explanation one could have of Alaw’s character. His sympathy was so wide-ranging and his heart so warm and generous that he liked everybody and he was liked by everybody. At his funeral we see poets and authors, ministers of religion and priests, merchants and gentry, workers and overseers, walking sadly ahead of the coffin which contained the one they loved and behind it. He was taken in a hearse, followed by a host of other carriages, to Aberdâr and in the middle of town the coffin was taken out of the vehicle and his workers and neighbors were allowed that which they wished – an easing of their hiraeth by putting their shoulders under the bier to carry his coffin.
Never before was there such a scene in Aberdâr the roads were filled with people and the length of the procession was enormous. He was buried in the new cemetery and in that section which is designated for the Non-conformists. Should a little superstitious prejudice have lingered in the hearts of some people towards the cemetery at the time, that is no longer the case for in it, peacefully, lay the remains of Alaw Goch.
Let us satisfy the eagerness of our readers with the gift of a little of the story of his life. He was born in Ystradowen, near Y Bont-faen (Cowbridge) in the Vale of Glamorgan, in the year 1809. He was therefore only fifty four years old. He moved at an early age to Aberdâr and he took a great likening to the place. Here he married and it was here also that he started out on his important ventures in the coal trade. He set up his works on the land of Ynys Cynon in the year 1842 and from then until the hour of his death providence smiled upon him. He sank deep mines at great expense in Mountain Ash and Cwmdare: but he then sold those to other people, so as not to add excessively to his own responsibilities.
He turned his attention to poetry around 1830 when he was 21 years of age, using the bardic name, Alaw Goch, for the first time in one of the eisteddfodau of Mynwent y Crynwyr (Quakers’ Yard). Little did he think then that the bardic name he adopted would become so well known and loved throughout the whole of Wales. Mr. Williams was one of the founders of the newspaper, Y GWLADGARWR, and seldom did our little newspaper appear between then and now without some of the fruits of his thoughts gracing its columns. He edited the poetry content for many years and he took great delight in encouraging and supporting young poets. In our last issue there appeared his emotional series of englynion (verses in strict metre) on the death of Eben Fardd; and this week it falls to us to consecrate his respected memory. In that great meeting held in Aberdâr a little over a year ago to honor Alaw Goch, and in an address on behalf the nation and the state, the poetic and sonorous Ceiriog Hughes said,

O flaen dy wyneb Alaw Goch, To your face, Alaw Goch
Canmoliaeth nid yw weddus; Praise is not appropriate;
Ond yn dy gefn di, dyna’r fan But behind your back, that is the place
Mae mawl yn anrhydeddus. Where praise becomes truly honorable.

At that meeting Mr. Williams’ presence and modesty was an impediment to the poets and those who gave speeches; but that impediment no longer prevails because ALAW GOCH is no longer with us. As a man, Mr. Williams was strong minded, most knowledgeable, warm hearted, of open disposition, cheerful of appearance, tender of feeling and forgiving in spirit. As a neighbour, he was quiet, sensible, gentle and kind. As a merchant he was faithful to the very letter, punctual to the very minute, open concerning the quality of his goods and proverbially honest. To deal with him once ensured trust in him forever. He conducted everything in an orderly and regular manner without fuss or bother and an effortless consistency characterised every task he undertook. As a merchant, ALAW GOCH was as quiet as the river, as light as the breeze, cheerful as the sun and as productive as autumn. As a master he was organised, expansive in his plans and adventurous of spirit. He used to speak to his workers as if he were one of them. Both master and worker knew their place; and yet each knew that the other was his friend. Wherever there was dissension between master and workers, he and his people were always on good terms. If workers felt that they had just cause to complain he would encourage them always to express so to him. Should sickness or death strike the homes of some of his workers, and they were at the time impoverished and in dire straits, just to go to him and say so, he had the heart to sympathise, a helping hand and a gentle word to raise spirits. He himself would visit those who were victims of accidents and would not depart without leaving evidence of his tender heart and generosity. For many years he used to meet his workers once a year to have supper together to formulate friendships and allow each one to gain trust and affection between each other. He assisted many of his workers to become homeowners; he rejoiced in their success and took great delight if their earnings were good come payday. At times he would tell the best earners, “You are the best man for me, for, if you are the one who earned most for himself, you are also the one who earned most for me.” Whilst there be coal cut in the Aberdâr valley, and whilst there be one coalminer living in the parish, Mr. Williams of Ynys Cynon will be remembered as a good master. As a poet, Alaw Goch was always ready with a verse and full of emotion. He had the ability to compose both merry and humorous poetry; but his best compositions were on themes of tenderness, sympathy and sadness.

The number of calls on his time, both at home and away from home, had prevented him from having the time to study the strict metres to perfection; yet there was not one of them whose characteristics were unknown to him and he could compose on each one of them. He was of a poetic nature and poets were close to his heart. It would have been a hundred times easier for a mother to deny a starving child than for Alaw Goch not to give assistance to a poet of a poor standard, whatever his circumstances. The word ‘BARDD’ held an enchantment for him and everything pertaining to a poet was either the object of respect or pity.

As a Cymro (Welshman), Mr. Williams was a patriot from the bottom of his heart and to say that is a major statement – for his was no shallow, superficial heart. His house, his children and animals all bore Welsh names. All his supervisors and closest workers were Welshmen. He educated his dear children in the leading schools of both England and the continent whilst ensuring they were truly Welsh – of speech and spirit. They all spoke their country’s language as well as he did; and he himself did so as well as the likes of the ancient poets, Taliesin or Llywarch Hen. During recent years he had devoted his aspirations and his heart to the National Eisteddfod. He felt that Wales was a small country and that Welsh people were comparatively few in number; and so he yearned to delete the perceived boundary between north and south and unite both regions of the principality in one Eisteddfod which would be large enough to be influential in the development of his country’s mental abilities and its patriotic spirit. We believe that for some time the Eisteddfod has been having more of his attention than all his industries. He had set his mind, heart and spirit on seeing this institution becoming the medium for a new awakening and a new life for the ancient nation and, as Ceiriog so aptly put it in his poem in his honour on the joyous evening of presentation in his honour –

Am garu’th iaith a charu’th fam, For your love of your language and of your mother
A charu’r hen fynyddau, And your love of the old mountains
Dyna’r rheswm, dyna’r pa’m That is the reason why
Y cara Cymru dithau.’ Wales loves you.

As a politician, Mr. Williams was liberal. He assisted in the campaign for the abolition of the church tax (tithe), in the establishment of a British School and in throwing back in their faces the contempt which the Education Commissioners sought to thrust upon our nation. He was selected time after time to every office of honour and trust which Aberdâr could bestow upon its sons; and in every circle and office he would give of his best. There is hardly one among the scores of Aberdâr chapels, to which Alaw Goch did not contribute generously and there is hardly an important venture founded in Aberdâr during the past 20 years in which he did not have a hand. Before his health started to fail, he was the chairman of almost every public meeting in the area and he always filled the rôle to each and every one’s complete satisfaction. We take great pleasure in recording his many virtues and good deeds; but the memory that he has traversed a journey over which he will not return causes our strength to fail and our writing pens to fall still. We must set aside our compositions and go to weep with the crowds, doing nothing further than to present to our readers the following powerful and characteristic englynion which Wales’ chief master of englynion composition, Caledfryn, sent us:

Wele arwyddion galar – a gyrchwyd: Behold the signs of mourning which have gathered.
Mae gorchudd anhawddgar, There is an unattractive cover
O dew gwmwl digymar, of incomparable thick clouds
A braw dwfn dros Aberdâr. and a deep fright over Aberdâr.

Wyla ei wraig o alaeth, – na welodd, His wife weeps from grief –of which
Un o’i ail, ran hiraeth; no one has seen hiraeth like it;
Ei blant a wylant o aeth, his children weep from sadness
O weled ei farwolaeth. on seeing his death.

Wylo am un o’r haelion – a welir: Weeping for one of the generous ones
Wylo wna y tlodion; is what we see:
Deau law yr ardal hon, the poor people weep;
O’i fawredd aeth at feirwon. the right-hand man of this entire district
from his greatness has joined the departed.

Wyla yr awen ddilon – am Alaw, The sad muse weeps for Alaw
A mil o gerddorion; and so do a thousand musicians;
Ar ei ôl ef a’i fydr lon, in memory of him and his cheerful poetry
Dde law’r bardd, wyla’r beirddion. the poets weep for their right-hand man

Pa ŵr, ie, pwy eroch, – yn ei oes, What man, yes who for you, during his life
A wnaeth gymaint drosoch? did so much for you?
Ar ei ôl, wedi’r eloch, After him, even when you’ve gone
Wylo geir am Alaw Goch. there will still be weeping after Alaw Goch.

Mr. D. Williams’ funeral procession assembled opposite the Boot Hotel, and set out at half past two on Friday the 6th through High Street towards the cemetery in the following order: –

1. THE BARDS AND AUTHORS, – organised by Mr. William Williams, (Carw Coch), and the Reverend H. Hughes, (Tegai).
2. CLERGY AND MINISTERS, – organised by The Rev. T. Price, Calfaria; The Rev. J. Davies, Saron, Aberaman; The Rev. D. Price, Siloa; and The Rev. J. Davies, Bethania.
3. THE GENTRY AND MERCHANTS of the town and neighbourhood, organised by Mr. David Richards and Mr. W. Lloyd, (of ‘Y Gwladgarwr).
4. THE WORKERS AND THE BEARERS, organised by Mr. John Williams, Agent.