Printing at Aberdare 1854 – 1974

By Brynley F. Roberts
Aberdare would appear to be a valid epitomization of the nature of Welsh publishing, Aberdare printing history has its own value as a contribution to Welsh social and cultural history, for the town was one of the most important centres of Welsh printing and publishing until the twenties and thirties of the 20th century.

When Aberdare claimed in 1867 that “what we think today, Wales will think tomorrow”, she was not idly boasting, Aberdare had become a provincial capital and by this reason of ‘her’ presses and opinion-forming newspapers, by Professor Ieuan Gwyned.

Historian R.T. Jenkins, writing of ‘the almost proverbial activity of the printers of Aberdare’ and the neighborhood, drew attention to the second strand running through the history, the flow of religious journals, sermons, biblical commentaries, novels, and volumes of poetry, which suggests that one cannot divorce political developments too severly from religious and cultural life of late 19th century Glamorgan.  The majority of the pubishing was in Welsh, Aberdare took shape during the period 1845-65. The industrial town which sprang up caused social problems which in turn give rise to Friendly Societies and to radical working class movements.

The Glamorgan Union of Colliers was set up in Aberdare in 1850, the 1847 Report of the Commisioners of Inquiry into the State of Educaction in Wales “popularly termed Treachery of the Blue Books because of its unsymathetic and alien attitudes of Welsh life and a landmark in the growth of Welsh national consciousness”, eveoked a strong response which led to the setting up of new schools, and also to the envolvement  of a new class of civic leader, ministers of influential nonconformists chapels.  Literary and cultural societies, meeting in taverns and inns, were springing up, each holding an annual eisteddfod, and offering aspiring poets the criticism and education which comes from discussion and formal teaching.

In 1850 the Rev. Dr Thomas Price minister of Calfaria Baptist Church, looked back at his feelings five years earlier when he accepted the call to the pastorate: Aberdare was going to grow very quickly the population was increasing many newcomers were flocking to the area. It was an important time for a church and a minister, to sieze the opportunity or to lose it for ever. Dr. Price was not alone in his ability to read the signs of the times.

The Rev Josiah Thomas Jones, who had long regonized the importance of the press as a means of spreading his radical ideas. He had set up uncompromisingly radical newspapers in Merthyr Tudful in 1836 but he had been forced out, so he claimed by opposition of the iron-masters and moved to Cowbridge and then to Carmarthen. In 1854 he moved if printing office to Aberdare town centre where he resurrected one of his earlier weekly newspapers, Y Gwron Cymreid a chyhoeddydd cyffredinol I Dywysogaeth Cymru “The Welsh Hero and general advertiser for the Principlity of Wales” and announced his intention of publishing it very fortnight as 3 1/2d.

The first editorial article the editor Rev. William Williams “Caledfryn” asserted ‘We shall attack nothing except oppression, deception and disorder’, understood by many readers to be journalese for Toryism and the Established Church. The numbers contained home and foreign news, parliamentary reports, and the tone was consciously anti-Tory, anti-coalowner, anti Established Church.

At the end of 1855, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Price a baptist minister and local politician and the Rev. John Davies a rather cantankerous radical Congregationalist, had become Editor and Assistant Editor of the Gwron.The paper had now become a weekly, following the repeal of the duty on newspapers.

In 1857 a new Assistant Editor was appointed, Lewis William Lewis ‘Llew Llwyfo’, a colourful individual, singer, poet, novelist, eisteddfodic leader and most significantly a professional journalist. J.T. Jones’s himself was a man of great energy and of wide interests. The world of his press had an obvious social and poltical aspect seen on the poltical pamphlets it produced and in the work carried out for the Friendly Societies, but it also brought out a number of collections of poetry “among J.T. Jones’s workmen were to be found not a few popular poets”, religious works and substantial volumes written and edited by J.T. Jones himself.

The most notable being his two-volume 680 page Biographical Dictionary published in parts during 1867-70. Apart from these there were scores of ballads, popular songs, topical poems on pit accidents, murders and humorous verses and also other newspapers to which reference will be made later.

J.T. Jones attempted to counter the style of journalism by changing the format of Y Gwron to tabloid form, then he set up his own popular penny newspaper, Y Gweithiwr “The Worker”, a lighter version containing new features, serialized novel, Family corner, aiming ‘to enlighten, instruct and entertain the working class’, and which he himself edited. But this was not J.T. Jones’s style, and he amalgamated his two newspapers in 1860 and by the end of the year he had given up his weekly newspapers, leaving the field to The Gwladgarwr.

But J.T. Jones’s convictions were too strong for him to yield completely, and it soon became obvious that Y Gwron a’r Gweithiwr was to appear in a new dress.

In 1861 he began to publish The Aberdare Times, not a local paper as its name my suggest, but an English successor  to Y Gwron which aimed at a wide circulation as the subtitle makes clear, Merthyr, Hirwaun, Mountain Ash, Pontypridd, Vale of Neath, Rhondda Valleys, Cardiff and South Wales general advertiser. This was a four-page 1d weekly, wholly serious in tone, and devoted to parliamentary reports (or Metropolitan News), foreign and British news, the state of the markets, and offering comments on foreign affairs, and topics such as the Radical Reform League, the disestablishment of the church and miners pay and conditions. It retained these characteristics even after J.T. Jones’s death in 1873 but thereafter one sees increasingly the lack of his single minded commitment to social questions.

Advertisements begin to occupy more and more space, the leader, or Metropolitan News becomes local intelligence and by 1896 The Times is almost a wholly local paper. In 1900 the front page carried the sad advertisement ‘You know that the Aberdare Times contains more local news than any other paper’, far removed from the founder’s intentions, and at the end of 1902, the newspaper was taken over by the newly established local weekly, The Aberdare Leader.

J.T. Jones’s religious convictions were ate one with his politics, in 1870 he established  Y Twy (The Tower), ‘ religious and family fortnightly paper’, eight pages, 1d, Its aim, it was claimed, was ‘to counteract attempts made these days to bring Wales under the yoke of Popery and Ritualism, and to revive vain sports and corrupt practices amongst the young’. The familiar names on the editorial board would ensure that this would be yet another vehicle for J.T. Jones radical views, particularly as the paper was to contain lessons on ‘politics, domestic economy and general morals’ and would look at the times from the ‘standpoint of politics, society and family’. The venture, however, was short lived and after becoming a monthly in 1872, it came to an end in 1873. As far as can be judged from J.T. Jones’s account books at the National Library of Wales Aberystwyth, its circulation was between 450 and 800 during 1807-1872.

Another businessman came from Carmarthen, Walter Lloyd, who opened an office in 1856 and then in 1858 by the local postmaster William Morris. May 1858 a new weekly newspaper appears, Y Gwladgarwr: “The Patriot: recorder of literature, politics, foreign and domestic news”, ‘Printed by William Morris for the sole Proprietor Abraham Mason and published by the said Abraham Mason. This weekly eight page 1d paper, it gave ample space to foreign and domestic news, supported radical nonconformist movements and was popular in appeal. It is this last feature which distinguishes it most sharply from Y Gwron, for it contained and features of general interest, the Worker College, Biographical Corner Literary News, Poetry Column, Notes from America, Patagonia, South Africa, News from London, Liverpool. It was obviously casting its net wide and aimed to capture those readers who though interested in current affairs, did not want the uncompromising detail of Y Gwron, and who wished t relax, to be entertained and taught lightly by means of their newspaper. The battle for the new readership soon opened.

In 1858 Llew Llwyfo It will be recalled that “Llew Llwyfo” became the first editor of Gwladgarwr. The Rev. John Davies also changed his allegiance after making an unsuccessful bid to take over Y Gwron in 1858 and he left J.T. Jones complaining that he had not received any payment for his editorial work in 1857.

Y Gwladgarwr was found in 1858 by Abraham Mason, a prominent businessman and a leading supporter of the Anti-Truck Association and of Temperance Movements. The first numbers refer to him as ‘sole proprietor’ but Llew Llwyfo gives a rather different picture in his autobiography, he says that J.T. Jones invited him, when he was on a concert tour, to stay in Aberdare to undertake the editorship of Y Gwron. He fell out with the proprietor over attitudes to the miner strike of 1858 and was helped by the coal owner David Williams “Alaw Goch” to found ‘Y Gwladgarwr’. After establishing it and making a success, instead of keeping hold of it and making a fortune from it. In Y Darlunydd ‘The Illustrator’ Llew Llwyfo again claims that he had established the Gwladgarwr with Mason’s help.

In October 1858 the musician-journalist-minister, John Roberts “Ieuan Gwyllt” was appointed editor followed a year later by a board, the Rev David Saunders, William Edwards, John Davies and the coal owner ‘Alaw Goch’. In spite of the suspicion that the paper tended towards the coal owners, the editorial policy was liberal and broadly working class, through politics was not its prime interest. It never aspired to become an influential political instrument, but rather achieved its wide circulation in South Wales on account of the prominent place it gave to cultural events and literary developments. Nevertheless, the names associated with this paper are not without significance and is worth noting that Calvinistic Methodists are venturing, through with a lower degree of militancy, into spheres previously monopolized by Unitarians, Baptists and Congregationalists. The Rev. David Saunders was the minister of the young but influential Bethania church and had already opposed the Rustic Sports. Mason the paper’s syndicate, ‘Ieuan Gwyllt’, and also Walter Lloyd and John Mills, were all members of his congregation.

In September 1858 the paper was printed by Walter Lloyd, and a year later he is named as proprietor. The paper and printing office are Walter Lloyd and Son in 1882, but though the office continued under this print after the father’s death in 1883, the newspaper ceased publication more or less immediately, Why a highly successful weekly should suddenly have been closed down was a mystery to contemporaries and though there are a few vague suggestions of ‘confidential family reasons’, there has been further light on the matter.

Newspapers like Y Gwron, Y Gwladgarwr, The Aberdare Times and others which appeared with the abolition of the paper and stamp duties in 1855 and it was an important element in the creation and formation of radical public opinion in the second half of the 19th century. Welsh nonconformity in the industrialized area had always been essentially working class in character and even before 1851 the majority of iron workers had connection to the chapels. Down in the 1870s this public opinion had its roots in a unified body of thought nurtured in the chapels. After the effects of the Religious Revival the press attained a new importance, because one of the effects of the revival was to strenghten chapel life and missionary endeavours.

An intelligent working class was being formed which needed to be taught in Welsh “as the 1870 Education Act was ensuring they were to be taught English”, which required theological reading matter and Sunday School textbooks and teaching aids, and which were eager for cultural and general improvement. “These chapels were not only centres of spiritual influence, but real cultural centres as well, as strongly fortified by the vigorous denominational literature which flourished in those days. Poets moved their meetings to the vestries from the taverns, and eisteddfodau became an established form of popular entertainment requiring, as did the equally popular choirs and singing festivals, a constant output of pieces and award-winning compostitions. Poets were eager to see their work published and there was enough vigour in the local society to ensure plenty of buyers. This is the golden era both Welsh publishing and of the cultural life of these valleys.

D.J. Thomas opened an office about 1861 and for the next ten years printed all the major Welsh Baptist journals, the Baptist College annual reports as well as Baptist sermons and polemical literature. His successor, one of his former apprentices, had, however, more varied interests, though he was an eqully ardent Baptist. Jenkin Howell was a remarkable man, in the best tradition of the cultures printer with strong convictions. He was a poet and a musican, a local historian, and a social reformer. He himself founded and published ( and often editied) a number of Sunday School and religious journals in addition to others which he printed, including significantly, the Campbellite Arweinydd “Guide”, and the Unitarian Ymofynydd (Inquirer). Jenkin Howell’s press produced sermons, translations of Scripture, hymn books, denominational works, offical Baptist reportsm and Sunday School teaching aids, but its role in the field of Welsh culture is equally important, for here were printed the 532 page Hanes Morganwg (History of Glamorgan), complete with maps and statistical tables, and two of the most popular and most reprinted instruments of popular education, Dafydd  Morganwg’s Ysgol farddol which taught the intricacies of traditional Welsh metrics to hundreds of working men, and Ysgol Gymreig, or Welsh grammar. Jenkin Howell translated the published works with a social aim, e.g. explanations of laws affecting workers payments or the Friendly Societies. This interest led him to set up his own newspaper (eight page 1d) in 1885, Y Gweithiwr Cymreig “The Welsh Workman”, a popular liberal weekly which paid more attention to literature than polotics, through espousing the workers cause, and which he himself edited.

A new paper appeared in 1875 Tarian y Gweithwr (The Workman’s Shield) the most important and longest running non-local newspaper to emanate from Aberdare. This eight page penny weekly was set up by three workmen from Lloyd’s office; they then opened their own ‘Steam Printing Works’. Two founders ‘one resigned after a few years’ concentrated on the jobbing and book publishing trade, while the other, John Mills, who arquired the sole proprietorship in 1887, was responsible for the paper. He was born in Llanidloes in 1834, and after completing his apprenticeship went to Y Gwladgarwr in 1861. He was an influential elder at Bethania Chapel ‘the history of which he wrote in 1917 and set up home, taking the type to a local offive to be printed’, a local historian, and an authority on place-name. He died shorlty after his marriage in 1925.

The Tariany y Gweithwr newspaper was set out in the first leading article.

To care for the conscience of the worker as a SHIELD in the face of any attack upon it by rapacious Ecclesiasticism and a feudal dogmatic priesthood. In fact, the workers are the masters of the whole world. Were it not for the workers, all the wellborn idlers of the world would swiftly perish. Were there no workers, there would be no crowns, thrones, parliaments to sustain the luxury and pomp of all the world’s princes. The paper aimed to defend the worker’s rights, fight his battles, and educate him industrially and politically. The tone is to be unashamedly practical and materialistice, for the vigour of the working class is to be directed into the economic front and away from the field of culture. What is interesting is that the newspaper failed to fulfil this aim.

John Mills engaged radical ministers to write the leading articles and presumably to edit the newspaper. In 1889 he took a partner into the office, and he himself retired in 1895, though he retained his interest in the paper. The Tarian y Gweithiwr went from strenght to strenght, benefiting, no doubt from the closure of Y Gwladgarwr in 1883, and achieving a circulation of 10,000-15,000 copies weekly at the turn of the century.

There can be no doubt that the Tarian y Gweithiwr was one of the most influential organs of opinion in these areas. ‘An all important document for whosoever wishes to write the history of the growth of the Labour Movement in South Wales’. The press had a succession of proprietors after 1909, but it was sold in 1911 to Pugh and Rowlands printers and proprietors of The Aberdare Leader.

There was need for a local newspaper. The old Aberdare Times had become a local weekly by 1900, and the one and only number of The Aberdare Saturday Journal appeared in 1901 “2 pages 1/2d”. In spite of its uniqueness, these number of shows clearly the direction of the wind. A circulation of 2,500 copies and hoped for, and the editor claimed that the paper met ‘a long-felt want that of having the news of Aberdare and district printed in English’.
Two jouranlists, W. Pugh and J. Rowlands, attempted to by the Aberdare Times, and having failed, began to publish “and later to print” their own weekly The Aberdare Leader in 1902.  By the end of the year they had taken over the Times and had a circulation of 3,200 copies.

Rivals soon appeared the first was the shortlived Cynon Chronicle, fifteen numbers of which appeared in 1905. The proprietor and editor was its printer, a credulous eccentric who literally wrapped up parts of his machines overnight in cotton wool, and who printed accounts of imaginary accidents or results of football matches never played, brought to him by local authors, during the hign noon of the Welsh amateur theatrical movement. For the most part printers were neither publishers nor book sellers. J.T. Jones advertised himself as “Printer, Bookbinder and Stationer”, as did W.Wilcox at a later period (1884-1921) but these were exceptions. Offices in general were able to no more than staple pages: sewing and binding were sent to specialist firms. Book were normally produced for authors or for corporate bodies, societies, churches, denominations but there are many examples of offices undertaking the publication of popular lines, especially song and hymn selections and almancs and trade dirctories. Newspaper offices, however, Y Darian particular, printed and published a number of novels and other types of popular reading, but in most cases this involved no more than running of stapling extra copies form type already set up for the tried and proven serialized versions appearing in the newspaper. The cost was minimal and the risk was low as the readership was assured. The offices themselves were small, employing some five of six workmen and apprentices, with little of no distinction drawn between compositors and machinists, through by the 1920s the more complex monotype and linotype machines called for the specialist operators.

The quality of printing is, in general good and unpretentious, through naturally reflecting contemporary fashions amd usages. Printers were typographers in most cases, and undertook to turn any copy into a clear, well-laid out readable book or pamphlet to a degree which is not, perhaps, acceptable today.

What motivated men like J.T. Jones, Walter Lloyd and his associates on Y Gwladgarwr, the Baptist Jenkin Howell and John Mills of Y Darian, was it their religious and social benefits and principles. Even at the turn of the century the aim which inspired Watcyn Davies, and Pugh and Rowlands, was to establish a newspaper rather than a commercial press.

Gwreichion in 1893 was the last real attempt to appeal to a wider public than the local one. When the newspaper died, so did this aspect of work. The lack of succession explains why not a single one of Aberdare’s busy and well known offices developed into an important modern press and publisher as happened in other small towns.

The officers persisted over a long period, the ‘goodwill’ continued, but there is no family succession or continuity of committed Mountain Ash weekly post, founded in 1906 and edited by its printer Watcyn Davies who had taken over the Gwladgarwr office. In 1911 the Leader was able to claim , ‘guaranteed the largest circulation in the Aberdare Valley’, and in 1919 The Weekly Post by now split into two halfpenny papers, serving respectively Aberdare and Mountain Ash was bought up together with the printing office by the Leader.