William Haggar

By Peter Yorke


William Haggar


William Haggar was born on the 10th March 1851 at his great-uncle’s house in Dedham Essex, after a year his mother baptized him at Frating at the parish church, after this is mother left him; he was brought up by his grandfather James. He became a stage carpenter before joining a travelling theatre company and later forming his own troupe as an actor-singer and manager, performing with his wife Sarah, often in Shakespeare. He married Sarah Hemming in 1871 at a registry office at Fakenham Norfolk on the 31st March.

Children: Arthur William 1871, Fred 1873. George 1875-1879 (after being vaccinated against smallpox), Ellen 1877-1890, Jim 1879, Walter 1880, Archie 1882, Rose 1885, and Violet 1887. Henry 1889, Lily May 1891.

Ellen was reportedly drowned on the River Wye, Chepstow in 1890, and Archie died of diphtheria in 1894. The others grew up in the portable theatre.

Portable theatre

Their first portable theatre was built up from two living wagons, set apart with a small front stage or parade built between them. On each side of the living wagons were steps leading into the theatre known as the “walk up”, the sides and roof of the theatre were constructed of frames carrying wooden panels, the whole covered with a canvas tilt and pegged down firmly with guys and stakes.

The stage consisted of two flat trucks run together, with a proscenium built around them. Lighting was either gas or oil lamps, effects such as dimming were easier with gas-light, but with oil lamps dimming had to be done by passing semi-transparent paper in front of each lamp. The seating capacity was about two hundred, the seats being bare boards raked down towards the stage; there was a piano and a good stock of scenery.

They travelled a circuit from Kent up the east of Yorkshire and across to Lancashire and Derbyshire, Swindon and South Wales. There were other theatre companies, Jackson’s Victoria Theatre, Edward Ebley’s Palace of Varieties and John E. Noakes who had one time stayed in Aberdare for two years.

Travelling Cinema

In 1900 the Haggar’s took their travelling cinema show on the road opening at Aberdare in April, continuing to Pembrokeshire and returning to Aberavon and Neath Fairs and Llanelli during the autumn. During the winter of 1900-01, that Harry Scard, the manager of Wadbrook’s had sprung a march on the opposition by having the Welsh soccer internationals at Cardiff filmed and shown exclusively in his show. This decided William to venture into the business of topical film-making, so in June he bought a camera and tripod, with a roll of film, 350 feet, in those days a shilling a foot.

Later that year at Burry Port near Llanelli, William started to look for a suitable subject, he decided to film a train entering Burry Port, this was the first film he made. He had many success and failures during his career, with had zest he made a film called “A Phantom ride through Swansea”, which was taken on front of a tram;  with his family taking part, which they showed many others at the Swansea Gala in August that year. His first attempt at drama was called “The Dumb Man of Manchester”.

In March 1901, they opened in Aberdare with a double wagon show “Haggar’s Royal Electric Bioscope”. It had a central entrance at the back of which had double doors, with painted portraits of the heroes of the Boer War, General Roberts and Kitchener.  They also had an 87-key organ manufactured by Gavioli of Paris which stood on the left of the entrance, and the engine, with its extended funnel to keep smoke away from the customers, was on the right. A local census held that month found William, Sarah and Walter in their living van at the Navigation Ground in Mountain Ash.

Notable Films

1901: The Dumb man of Manchester
1902: The Maid of Cefn Ydfa
1904: The Poachers

While in Maesteg in 1904, they set out with some dogs, a coconut-shy net, a live rabbit, a camera and the actors from the portable theatre. With no permission they filmed “The Poachers”, (Did you ever see a rabbit caught in a coconut-shy), this film was a huge success.

At this time they had a very fine half-plate camera and two quarter-plate snapshot cameras on every available opportunity they were either taking films or taking snapshots of local scenes, events and personalities.

Haggar’s Bioscope Camera


Haggar’s Royal Electric Bioscope 1902
Haggar’s Royal Electric Bioscope 1902
The Haggars’ lantern accommodated the dual use of films and slides; at that time they could buy slides made to match almost any popular song. The slides were shown while one of Haggar’s girls sang the song standing at the side of the screen. They also had success making their own “newsreel” films on the Boer War, taking most of them on the hills above the Rhondda Valley. A few years later in 1905, when they were in Port Talbot, they repeated the process, taking fake newsreels of the Russo-Japanese War on the snow-clad tops of the hills of the Rhymney Valley.

When they set up their bioscope exhibitions on “Fair Day” they had 5 shows lasting about twenty minutes long, 2 exiting dramas, local interest, interesting subject and finishing off with a comedy.

In 1904 William Haggar purchased a new traction engine, which he christened “The Maid of Cefn Ydfa”. He had enough of the turmoil of getting the show about rail “horses being too much trouble”, and of the heavy old portable sinking in the mud.

His next acquisition was to improve his projection facilities by changing from Urban’s Bioscope “which replaced the Wrench tribunal machine”; to Gaumont’s ‘Chrono’. His next project was to update the film screen, lights, to show better pictures. Then one night a Mr Jim Wentworth went to see William, Jim was the agent for Charles Marenghi et Cie. Organ Builders of Paris, with him he had a drawing of a 44ft organ and show-front combined with a double entrance, within an hour William had placed the order and was delivered in 1905.

Haggar’s Royal Bioscope 1908”The Marenghi organ show-front”
Haggar’s Royal Bioscope 1908 ”The Marenghi organ show-front”
Picture National Library of Wales
In August 1909, after the death of his wife Sarah, William had continued to tour with the bioscope show for the rest of the season. The he returned to winter base which was the market yard at Aberdare, to live with his family vans at the back of the show with his youngest son Henry and his two unmarried daughters Violet and Lily.

During 1910 William started to build up a chain of cinemas:

Royalty Theatre Market St Llanelli     
His son Jim was put in charge of a programme combining stage shows and music halls turns with films.

Pontardulais skating ring
Converted to theatre and cinema.

Palace cinema Mountain Ash
New cinema

Castle Cinema Merthyr
New cinema

Kosy Kinema
Market Street Aberdare (New Cinema)

During this time controversy started around the effect of William and his cinema on the population on Trecynon; it was said that this started the emptying of the churches. This was played out in the columns of the local paper the Aberdare Leader, following the Welsh Revival of chapel going inspired by evangelist Evan Roberts in 1904, the voice of non-conformist ministers were still powerful, although they did not always got their own way.

Rev W. Cynog Williams minister of Baptist Chapel at Heolyfelin, on March 12th 1912, wrote to the paper to protest about a proposal by the Trecynon Public Hall Committee to let the hall for use as a cinema. He followed this by getting his Church Meeting to pass a resolution of protest, on the grounds that such entertainment would be harmful to the moral, religious and industrial welfare of the locality and that the miners would be without a place to hold public meetings.

Rev Cynog Williams held a meeting at the hall of the Non-conformist League, he there moved a proposition to take over the Trecynon Hall from the present committee and guarantors, dealing ‘at great length’ with the work of the hall committee.  His supporters howled down the hall committee members, who would have given their version of events, and soon the audience were in an uproar. Cynog’s motion carried, he got himself elected chairman of the new hall committee.

Not until 1913 William was able to buy the old Drill Hall opposite the Market yard in Aberdare, where he demolished the old building and built his new luxury cinema the “Kosy”.

In January 1912, his daughter Violet married Cyril Sydney Yorke at St Elvan’s Church Aberdare; he was William’s Bioscope lecturer and manager of the “Shanty”. Later on in August it was his daughter Lily’s turn to get married at St Elvan’s, her husband was Bert Richards, the new manager at the Palace Cinema Mountain Ash, late known at “Haggar’s”. Both weddings did not last.

Meanwhile William had decided to marry again to a girl called May Davies whose father Jenkin Davies was the landlord of the Bird in Hand Inn in Monk St Aberdare. They married at eight o’clock in the morning on the 19th March 1912 at Bryn Seion Chapel Cwmbach, Aberdare. He was 61 and she was just 28. None of his family attended the wedding breakfast. William and May left on the 10.37 on route to London and thence to New York, they tried in vain to obtain passage on the new liner Titanic. On their return from America William and May moved into their new house at Abernant called “Kinema House” where William took up gardening, his travelling days had finished.

William Haggar was by now well-known in Aberdare. During the 1910 General Election, a cartoon comic played on his name: “a canvasser is shown saying to Mrs Jones, ‘and you tell Mr Jones from me that if Fox-Davies isn’t in, it will be the ruin and downfall of the Empire!!’ Mrs Jones replies “it don’t trouble us ‘cos me an’ my husband always goes to Haggar’s!”.

William was praised for his generosity the proceeds of William’s Sunday concerts, held on special staging when the proceeds went towards the building of the first hospital in Aberdare, others to strike funds and the Railwaymen’s Widows and Orphans Fund.

In October 1913 William put his name forward as a candidate for the election as a Poor Law Guardian. His election address, reported to the Leader, assured the townspeople that he valued their appreciation, goodwill and patronage. Knowing from his experience, what the poor had to undergo. His opponent was Mr D.P. Jones who emphasized for the strictest economy: the other districts had been profligate and sent their “professional tramps” in Aberdare. Also he said that Haggar could not attend Standing Committees which were invariably held in the evening, and that William could not speak Welsh was of vital importance in all meetings of the Board, despite this William won. During that winter he became very ill and could not engage in his new public duties for a time, but late he recovered.

In 1914 William stood for the Aberdare Urban District Council, in the Town Ward. The Leader noted it would be an interesting contest between him and Mrs Maria Richards, the sitting candidate with twenty years’ experience as a Poor Law Guardian and six years on the Education Committee behind her. Mr J.H. Bruton who was treasurer of the Trades Council, would be the Labour nominee. Mr Richard Morgan also stood, as a “stop Haggar” candidate, thus ensuring an exciting four-sided election.

There was much interest in the contest; the World’s Fair was so exercised by William’s candidature that it sent its own reporter to cover the election. Under the headline, ‘Mr William Haggar elected to Aberdare Council by substantial majority’, it reported.

“Mr William Haggar, the popular South Wales showman has been elected by a substantial majority to the Aberdare District Council, Four candidates contested the election for one seat, and excitement as may be expected, was very great unfortunately, personalities were indulged in by some of the candidates, and the following remarks could be heard whilst the polling was taking place; ‘He is too old. What does he know about business, etc.’ One of the candidates thought it great shame and a disgrace that they should have to sit at the same table as an old showman. Mr Haggar refused to be drawn, and when spoken to, remarked ‘I am leaving this election to my agent, committee, and above all, to the goodwill of the electors if they want me, I know that I shall lead the poll.”

William topped the poll with 438 votes, a majority of 74 over Mr Morgan, with the Labour candidate third and Mrs Richards the sitting candidate last. In his adverts he put “Councillor Haggar”, but this venture was not a success either as a councillor or Guardian. After his death the Leader’s gossip columnist ‘Chatterbox’ recorded that the work of guardian did not appeal to him, and on the District Council he was out of his element and he never attempted to master the details on the subjects under discussion, “Mr Haggar was a showman first and last”.

World War I

In World War I, William was helping the war effort in various ways. On October 8th 1914 he held ‘under the auspices of the Aberdare Chamber of Trade, in conjunction with Councillor W. Haggar’ a Benefit Concert in Aid of the Prince of Wales’ National Fund. Billed as a “Monster Entertainment”, the programme included solos by local singers, items by a boys’ choir and Mr Haggar’s specially selected pictures “Mr Haggar has kindly consented to close his own place of entertainment for this evening”. Stage manager: Mr W. Haggar, prices for this occasion were reserved seats 2 shillings, front seats 1 shilling and gallery 6d.

A few days later Aberdare Chamber of Trade was discussing whether businesses should close for a dinner hour. After a lengthy debate, it was agreed not to proceed with the matter, but not before Councillor Haggar had suggested ‘getting the Kaiser here to tell us how they do it in Germany’.

Also at this time William was busy preparing for the first screening of the family’s Welsh Epic. “Coming shortly” the great Welsh Story the “Maid of Cefn Ydfa” which appeared on the front page of the Leader on the 17th October 1914.

In the summer of 1915 the Kosy Kinema was opened in Market Street Aberdare, balconied, ornate and grandiose. The talking apparatus gave way to a six-piece orchestra, throbbing out a soulful accompaniment to the wonderful silent of those days. Haggar was a man of vision he installed two-seaters in the back rows of the balcony. Many are they who occupied them and never saw the film! Memories return too of the uniformed commissionaire shouting to the passing crowds “seats at 3, 6 and 9- pence of course.

This is the grave of William Haggar at Aberdare Cemetery (background), the gravestone in front is of his father-in-law Mr Jenkin Davies who once kept the Bird in Hand public house, Monk Street, Aberdare.
This is the grave of William Haggar at Aberdare Cemetery (background), the gravestone in front is of his father-in-law Mr Jenkin Davies who once kept the Bird in Hand public house, Monk Street, Aberdare.
After the War William could now rest, he relinquished his seats on the Board of Guardians and the Urban District Council claiming pressure of business, in reality he was slowing down. He bought a farm at Castle-Martin in Pembrokeshire. William Haggar died on the 4th February 1925 aged 73 at his son Walter’s house,”Maesyrhaf” Elm Grove Aberdare.

It is said that he was heart-broken on the death of his wife May who died in August 1924, she had been anaemic for two years. His first death notice said he was to be buried with his first wife Sarah in Carmarthen, but the following week the Leader reported that he was buried in Aberdare Cemetery.

Haggar’s Electric Coliseum “The Gavioli organ show-front
Haggar’s Electric Coliseum “The Gavioli organ show-front

The Films of William Haggar

Train entering Bury Port StationSkaters in Aberdare Park

Boer War sequences – Quickies filmed in the Rhondda Valley

Football and other topicals

Phantom ride through Swansea – Views from front of a tram

Patrick pinches poultry – Chase Film

The Dumb man of Manchester – Crime Drama


The Maniac’s Guillotine – Crime Drama

The Two Orphans – Period Duel Scene

The Wild Man of Borneo – Drama fight between a knight and a hermit

True as steel – Drama

The Maid of Cefn Ydfa – Drama

Ingomar the Barbarian – Drama

Twm Shon Catti – Welsh Drama

The Boer War – Longer film made in the Rhymney Valley

Kosy Kinema, Market St Aberdare
Thanks for the picture from Aberdare Library

Outside the Works/Haggar’s

Bioscope camera – Extant actuality in which William Haggar appears

Mumbles Funeral – The funeral of six life boatmen

Weary Willie & Tired Tim At the Races – Comedy featuring the two comic strip tramps

Weary Willie & Tired TimThe Gunpowder Plot – Tramps stick hot poker in barrel labelled beer but containing powder.

Weary Willie & Tired Tim Turned Barbers – They take over from an absent barber.

Weary Willie & Tired Tim A Dead Shot – Continuous farce from beginning to end.

Mirthful Mary A case for the blacklist – Comedy: Mary worse for drink, beats a policeman up with a stick. With the actress Mog.

Desperate Poaching Affray – Chase: Police chase poachers and catch them (In USA: The Poachers) after a gun battle in river.

The Tramp and the Washerwoman – Comedy: Tramp steals clothes from washerwoman and flees on bicycle.

The Effects of Too Much Scotch – Trick Film: Scotsman has trouble undressing.

The Tramp and the Baby’s Bottle – Comedy: Tramps steals milk from baby in park, and is cornered by a soldier.

A Dash for Liberty – Chase in 5 scenes: Convict escapes from quarry, steals cart, but is captured after fight.

Jack’s Rival – Comedy: Farmers daughter loves sailor and spurns mother’s choice of suitor.

Haggar’s Traction Engine
Haggar’s Traction Engine

Cook’s Lover’s – Comedy: Cook’s mistress lights copper in which policeman is hiding.

Revenge! – Chase Drama: Mechanic avenges wronged wife.

Whitewashing the Policeman – Comedy: Boys cause fight between tramp and gent in park.

Mirthful Mary in the Dock – Comedy: (distributed in USA by Biograph) Mary wreaks havoc in court, and attacking Policemen, the Clerk and the Magistrate

The Sign of the Cross – Roman period drama: play by Wilson Barrett: Prefect converted by Christian maid and they die in the arena. William Haggar Jnr as Marcus Superbus, Jenny Lindon as Mercia and James Haggar, Will Desmond and Kate Sylvester.

The Bathers Revenge – Comedy: Boy swimmers upset bench and throw lovers into water.

Brutality Rewarded – Comedy: Brutal man rebuffs beggar and is chased into stream

The Meddling Policeman – Comedy: An office is strung with sausages and pelted by eggs by two tramps.

Flynn’s Birthday Celebration – Comedy: A drunken Irishman throws his wife through the window.

The Biter Bitten – Comedy: Two tramps attack cyclist who set dog on them.

Snowballing – Comedy: Mog wins a snowball fight.

Chased by Dog’s – Comedy: An elderly couple flee savage dogs.


Russo-Japanese War – “Newsreel” Fight between Walter and Jim.

The Landing of the French – French invasion of Wales during the Napoleonic Wars: Filmed at Fishguard using local fisherwomen and a dozen men as the French army.

The Rival Painters – Comedy: A PC rages impotently as he is unable to stop a paint-slapping battle.

Auntie’s Cycling Lesson – Comedy: Spinster falls of cycle

Married Bliss – Comdey: Bedroom Melee

The Squire’s Daughter – Drama: With Fred Haggar, Lily Haggar and John Freeman.

The Life of Charles Peace – Crime Drama: From play based on the life of Charles Peace, who was executed in 1879, in 16 scenes and 11 titles.

DT’s or the Effect of Drink – Morality: With trick photo effects. A man returns from his club, sees visions, and reforms. His coat becomes a dog and the bed becomes a monster.

Fun at the Waxworks – Comedy: Two men take the place of wax dummies, and strike passers-by.

Bathing not Allowed – Comedy: A Bobby and Farmer are dipped in the briney by mischievous boys.

A Boating Accident – Comedy: Boating party ends up in river.

Two’s Company, Three’s None – Comedy: Dude fights rival both end up in stream.

The Salmon Poachers (A Midnight Melee) – Comedy: Miscreants dump two policemen in river before escaping with their catch. Later they escape from jail and repeat this. Walter Haggar as poacher: a tinted version was made.

Mary is Dry – Comedy: Mary enters a pub and gulps down a customer’s beer. On the resultant protest, she lays waste the pub.

A Message from the Sea – Drama: In 5 scenes, with Will Jnr and Henry Haggar. A shipwrecked sailor sends a message in a bottle to his wife, and is saved by a battleship.

Spaghetti Eating – Comedy: Eating by Walter and Violet.


Wreck of the “Amazon” on Margam Sands – Topical: shown at Newport Empire.

A Walking Match at Treorchy – Topical:

A Lady disrobing – Hand-coloured short.

Wanted a-Wife – Comedy: A line of girls interviewed.

Pongo the Man Monkey – Comedy: A family must mind a wild monkey to please a rich uncle.


Deep-sea Fishing – Topical: A trawler was chartered at Milford.

East Lynne – Scenes from a famous play.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Scenes from a famous play.

The Desperate Footpads – Drama: Starring Lily and two of her brothers: she was thrown into the river.

Penelope – Drama: The Return of Odysseus.


A Dash for Libert – Chase: Warders chase escaped convicts and shoot them in a gun battle.

Dick the Kisser – Chase: A flirtatious man is chased into a pond and tarred and feathered.

The Red Barn Crime (Maria Martin) – Drama: With Walter Haggar as William Corder and Violet as Maria: In 1826, Squire’s murder of pregnant mistress revealed by mother’s dream.

The Sheep Stealer – Chase: A starving workman steals a sheep and is caught at weir.

The Dumb man of Manchester – From a play by Barnabus Rayner, with Will Haggar Jnr, Jenny Lyndon and Will Desmond Crime drama: Lawyer locates locked and witness to save mute from murder charge.

The Maid of Cefn Ydfa – Crime: Wales. Lawyer tries to drown thatcher to prevent marriage to heiress.

A Message from the Sea – Longer version of the 1905 film


Welsh National Pageant – Shown at Brynmawr


Ship wreck at Burry Port – Topical: Made by Jim Haggar

Llanelli rail riots – Topical: Made by Jim Haggar

Labour demonstration Llanelli – Topical: Made by Jim Haggar

The Stepney Wedding in Llanelli – Topical: Photographed by William and Jim Haggar

Crowds at the Strady – Topical: By Jim Haggar

Llanelli Horse Show – Topical: By Jim Haggar


Opening of Parc Howard by Lord Howard – Topical: By Jim Haggar


The Women of Mumble Head – Melded together from previous footage already used as newsreel of the Titanic Disaster in 1912, and new shots using actors in boats of Fishguard about a real incident when a lighthouse-keeper’s daughters rescued men from a shipwreck.

Shop Assistants Outing to Ilfracombe – Topical: By Jim Haggar


The Maid of Cefn Ydfa – From play by James Haggar Crime: Wales. Lawyer tries to drown thatcher to   prevent marriage to heiress. With Will Haggar Jnr, Jenny Haggar and William Fyffe


Aberdare Civic Sunday Parade – Topical    

Haggar’s Sunday Concert 17th December 1910
Aberdare Leader
On Sunday evening last a most delightful concert was given at the Market Hall by Messrs Haggar of animated picture fame. The principle picture of the evening was the Vitagrapn Co.’s newest masterpiece, entitled, “Convict 976.” It shows the reformation of a dangerous convict. Mt Tom Sage played “Lead kindly light” while the picture was unfolded and the story related. Another picture entitled, “As the bells rang out,” was very thrilling and instructive. Pathe’s grand coloured production, “The Tragedy of Robert the Silent,” was next shown on the screen, Also “Marion’s Swan Song,” accompanied with violin by Mr Morgan Williams. “The Fire Chief’s Daughter” was greatly appreciated as were also the pictures entitled, “The Trimming of Paradise Gulch’ and Household for Three.” Capital selections were played by the band under the conductorship of Mr Tom Sage; Mr Cyril Yorke explained the pictures. Miss Lilly Haggar’s rendering of “Lead kindly light,” was very sweet.