Y Cor Mawr

Presentation of the National Flag of Wales at Aberdare

“Aberdare, Monday July 7th 1873, Aberdare witnessed today a scene which will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. The Welsh national feeling was at fever heat. No better illustration of the great interest felt in South Wales Choir by all classes of the people of Wales could be adduced than the remarkable fact that a troupe of Welsh Americans left their homes in distant America and braved the world of waters to represent at this rehearsal the thousands in that great country who regards Wales as their beloved fatherland. No wonder that the moment they made their appearance on the great platform in front of the choir, and before the immense assembly, they were received with an enthusiasm which was positively thrilling in its effect. They presented several addresses all expressing heartfelt loyalty to the old land of heroes; but what was confirmatory that their words were sincere was the important fact that they had brought with them to assist the choir hundreds, of the article known as the ‘almighty dollar!’ These had been collected, in many instances, by small choirs of Welsh people, who had found each other in America, and formed themselves into musical schools based upon the model which has been so successful in the Principality. One enthusiastic Welsh lady was heard to express regret that African Stanley, of St Asaph, did not accompany them. But another pointing to the choir, said emphatically, ‘These are one Stanley’s’.

Soon after two o’clock the crowd started pouring into the market place (now rebuilt and totally different to the old one which was burnt down), and by half-past three the place was crammed by a crowd numbering between 7,000 and 8,000 composed chiefly of workmen and their families. Also in attendance were a large number of upper classes who were seated on the front benches, which covered the whole breadth of the market place. A great many in the throng had music books in their hands, and were following the singing, indicating how great knowledge of music had extended among all classes in Wales. It was most interesting to watch ladies of aristocratic bearing looking at the same kind of books as were in the horny hands of miners who earn their daily bread in the depths of the Welsh mountains.

The South Wales Choral Union Officers

The South Wales Choral Union Officers
(Picture kindly given by Museum of Welsh Life)

Bustling about the platform were Rev Canon Jenkins, Dr Price, Brythonfryn, Eos Morlais, W. Davies, Rees Evans, and the elite of the neighbourhood. Who exerted their utmost to carry out the arrangements successfully, in which, it may be added, they succeeded admirably. Good judges of music expressed unbounded satisfaction at the performances of the choir. The singing of ‘I wrestle and Pray’ and the Requiem mass’ was simply marvellous, and the effect of such words as, ‘Hear me praying, lowly bending, Conscious guilt my bosom rendering, Guard me through the solemn ending,’ wedded to such wonderful music was seen upon the audience who listened and watched with interest and extreme pleasure.

At the end of the first part of the programme the presentation took place, two of the Americans delivering speeches in Welsh, and both expressing admiration of the children of Dick Shon Dafydd, and wishing the Choir God-speed. After this the presentation of the colours took place.

Mrs Lewis, Green Meadow near Cardiff, had agreed to present them, and she was led to the platform by Canon Jenkins, who wore his college uniform, accompanied by her son, the young squire of Green Meadow. It was then handed to Mrs Lewis, and the moment the Red Dragon was seen a tremendous burst of cheering broke forth from the audience, renewed over and over again.

Mrs Lewis then very graciously handed the Flag of Wales, with the assistance of Mr Lewis, to Canon Jenkins, who received it on behalf of the choir amid utmost enthusiasm.

The flag was a very beautiful one, made of thick blue silk, and about seven feet in length by four in width. The top figure is the Druidical name of God, representing the sun’s rays. Underneath were the Welsh mottoes; “Yn nwdd Duw a’i dangnef” and “Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Gychwyn” in the old Welsh alphabet and in the centre the Red Dragon represented on the wing. The fringe at the bottom represents the three bardic colours, blue, white and green. The pole was capped by a golden acorn at each corner. The flag was warmly received by the vast crowd.

Memorial Cup presented to the South Wales Choral Union by the London Committee of the Welsh Choral Fund

Memorial Cup

The cup was exhibited before their Royal Highness the Prince and Princess of Wales at Marlborough House on July 14, 1873, when the S.W. Choral Union, by special request appeared and sang before them, as previously mentioned in a prior contribution, and who expressed great admiration of the Cup as a work of art.

The Cup was manufactured by Mr Streeter, of Conduit Street, London, from designs furnished by the London Committee of the Welsh Choral Prize Fund, and was placed in charge of gentlemen connected with the South Wales Choral Union, including Canon Jenkins, Dr Price, Brythonfryn, Mr Rosser, Caradog and others, and was finally places for safe deposit at The University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. (The Cup is now in the Museum of Welsh Life, who kindly gave me the picture).

It is richly chased with national emblems, in which the Leek is prominent. The Red Dragon of Wales from the handles; the cover is surmounted with a model of the ancient harp of the country. These were obtained from the Heralds College, and are therefore authentic. The motto on the cover is: “Iaith enaid ar ei thanau” (the soul of music is on its strings). On the shield are engraved the arms of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and on the reverse the arms of North and South Wales, and of the eight royal princes of Wales. Both the latter were obtained from Burke’s Encyclopaedia of Heraldry (the best authority extant). On the stem is the motto: “Yn nawdd Duw a’i dangnef.” (The Protection of God and His Peace), and on the silver plate on the base the following inscription

AP Brythonfryn July 12th 1873
The Son of Brythonfryn Griffiths

As the son of the secretary of the famous “Cor Mawr”; I have in my possession some interesting facts relative thereto, and though much has been written and recorded in various publications including several articles in the Leader, perhaps the following description of what took place at The Crystal Palace on July 1873, may not be unwelcome to your host of readers.The crowded state of the centre transept on Thursday; indicated the interest felt in the competition of the day. All the Liverpudlians and Welsh living in London, who could possibly be present, attended to support their fellow-citizens and countrymen who were entered for the two great contests of the day, and the Tonic Solfaists were well supported by the warm partisans of their propaganda. In fact the excitement during the whole day contrasted most strikingly with the apathy of the previous three days,  the palm being decidedly due to our brethren from the other side of Offa’s Dyke, who cheered and shouted so enthusiastically that we were all for the nonce ancient Cymru and imaginary wearers of the leek!

Next was the event of the day, the whole meeting viz., the contest for the Challenge Prize and accompanying purse of £100. Last year the South Wales Choir walked over for this prize that this year their supremacy was contested by the enterprising Tonic Solfa Association, and consequently there was great interest was left as to whether the trophy was to remain in Wales or come to London. In fact the excitement was not confined to the partisans of both parties but had extended to the acknowledged heads of the musical profession the elite of whom were present to witness the decision. The Welsh Choir was the first to assemble on the orchestra before Sir John Benedict, Sir J. Goss, and Mr Barnaby, and the natives of the Principality present in the centre transept who were evidently in the majority made their presence felt by the vociferous cheers with which they greeted every little incident which happened during the arrangement of the orchestra.

The two choirs sat one on either side of the orchestra, the ladies in Proudman’s choir being most artistically dressed in white, some with blue and some with red sashes while the Welsh ladies sported all the variegated colours of the rainbow, and in dress by no means up to date. The first piece selected was Bach’s motet, “I wrestle and Pray”, in which the breadth of the choir was well displayed. Next was “Hallelujah”, from the Mount of Olives, which was splendidly sung the various points being taken up with the utmost precision, and the upper notes being attacked with the greatest vigour and effect.  Mendelssohn’s beautiful chorus, “See what love”. St Paul the served to slow down the skill with which so large a body can be made to sing delicately: and the arduous and dramatic “Come with Arches” (Walpugis Night) was perhaps the greatest triumph of all, being given with voice and brilliance which we have never heard equalled and which would have made glad the heart of the passionate composer himself. In fact the way which the voices seemed to revel in the upper tones was simply astonishing, and made one wish that a few of the sopranos and tenors could be induced to remain and freshen up several of our Metropolitan churches. The altos too, were simply magnificent and all the parts were remarkably well balanced.

The Tonic Solfa Choir, under Mr Proudman, sand the same four pieces and performed them most admirably especially when it is considered that they numbered only 300. Indeed to point of accuracy and delivery there was little to choose the chief deficiency being in power and quality of tone. The contrast indeed between the attack of the upper notes was most striking the London Choir seeming to slink that in which the Bretons gloried.  We may remark took on passant that the Mount of Olives chorus was much hurried for full justice to be day to it by such a large choir.

The judges after a very short deliberation announced their award of the first prize to the South Wales Choir, at the same time giving the second prize, a harmonium (presented by Messrs Alexandre) to the Tonic Solfa Choir for their excellent performance. The award was received with terrific cheering, and headlong rush was made to the telegraph office, where a most extraordinary sight was to be seen for some time afterwards, the little box being completely taken by storm by the hundreds of eager Celts anxious to telegraph the victory to the Principality.

Another description or narrative by a different correspondent of the closing scenes is as follows:-
“The result of the contest, though this necessarily lasted some time, was not long pending. Indeed it may be said to have been ascertained before the second choir had even been heard. Irrespective of their superiority of numbers, the members of the Welsh Choir, from their evident musical feeling as much as their power and quality of voice must, against any other of the same magnitude it has ever been our lot to hear, have been the victors. They have one excellence which is quite obviously, even to those who are not musicians.  Their utterance of English, to them a foreign language, is not only singularly distinct, but quite free from vulgarity and even provincialism as that of London. If we add that since last year they have undergone much careful training, and have attained to an approximately perfect accuracy of time, and save in a few instances, that of time, it will be easily believed that they carried with them not merely their judges, but even their opponents, and every Saxon as well as Celt among their audience. They take back to the Principality the Challenge Prize Cup (value £1,000), and they will have only themselves to blame if they do not keep it there.”

“A Trip to Wembley”
Lecture by Guardian John Prowle

It is intended to run a colliery excursion to Wembley on September 15th in connection with Bwllfa and Windber Collieries, and to help those who had not yet visited London and the Exhibition, Guardian John Prowle gave a most instructive lecture on Tuesday evening at the Public Hall, Trecynon, under the chairmanship of Councillor Idwal Thomas.

With the aid of a blackboard, Mr Prowle illustrated a suitable route round London showing the more important buildings, He took his audience on an imaginary bus and explained to them several places en-route. The speaker said that it was well worth going to London, even for a day. The journey from Aberdare was ready for pleasant sights, as they proceeded they would pass the wonderful Sutton’s flower gardens, Windsor Castle, and other notable places. Mr Prowle sprinkled his lecture with a good deal of humour and reminded those who had never before been to London, that the one requisite was “cheek”.

Dealing with Wembley he advised all intending excursionists to take some food with them, by all means. As they got closer to the greatest exhibition in the world, they would see scores of turnstiles, thousands of cars, charabancs and buses, bur, he asked them not to become embarrassed. Once inside the exhibition he advised them to get on the non-stop railway, which started in the amusements portion and took them to the other end of the ground. It was a splendid way of easing their feet. It would be very tiresome unless they availed themselves to the railway non-stop. The object of the Exhibition was to draw the attention of people to the products of our own empire, in order that we might trade as much as possible with our own colonies, etc., and as little as possible with foreign countries. The most interesting places in the Exhibition were the Palace of Industry and the Place of Engineering (which contained the most modern machinery and turbines). The largest pane of glass ever manufactured was to be seen in the latter place. It measured 24 feet by 18 feet. New Zealand and Australia were most wonderful representations. They showed to the visitors samples of ore, coal, etc., Considerable attention was paid to agriculture. Then there was the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, with the Pullman Cars, which were very wonderful. The jungle life of India was interesting and the wood-carving was most clever. One of the finest carvings known was that of a Temple, which was on view in that section. Hong Kong, continued Mr Prowle, was nothing but a glorified Woolworth shop. But concluding the lecturer said “I have tried to give you a programme sufficient for a day’s visit to Wembley. You need not spend a lot of money in Wembley”. Mr Prowle resumed his seat amidst cheering.

The Chairman observed that they had had a real treat and it proved to them that their friend Prowle kept his eyes open when in London. A hearty vote of thanks was accorded Mr Prowle for his lecture. Mr E. Stonelake added a few remarks and said that London would be always with us, but Wembley would pass away, and really it was too good to miss, He hoped that all who intended getting tickets, would do so without delay.

Looking Backwards
Aberdare Fifty Years Ago – Y Cor Mawr

There was great excitement and apprehension last week with the people of Aberdare and district regarding the result of the application for the Eisteddfod to be held in 1926. This feeling of excitement was nothing compared with that which swelled up during the two days visit of the “Cor Mawr” to London and home again after competing in the Crystal Palace in the year 1873 fifty one years ago.

When the news came that the Cor Mawr had won, the children in all parts of the district (boys more especially) decorated themselves with various coloured ribbons paraded through the streets,  beating tins to the tunes played on tin whistles. Flags and bunting were put out through windows and on buildings. It was considered by us boys to be a choir belonging specially to Aberdare. Wasn’t the leader an Aberdare boy? And were not the secretary and committee real Aberdare men? Yes and most of the members of the choir were people from Aberdare. Who could say then that it was not a “Cor Mawr” from Aberdare? I remember well seeing Watkyn Wynn’s great song to the “Cor Mawr”, being published in a diary for the year 1874. That song confirmed the idea of the “Cor Mawr” being an Aberdare Choir. Snatches of that song have clung to my memory ever since.

“Yn Aberdar y ganwyd y Cor Mawr
Yn Aberdare y magwyd y Cor Mawr
A Doctor Price fel crotyn
Yn ceisio gwneuthur pobun
I demlo’n nhre am dipyn
Y Cor Mawr”

I considered these lines very comical when I heard them read at the time.

When the Cor Mawr returned, all Aberdare went to meet it at the railway station. I remember going down Commercial Street. The crowd was coming from the station, headed by a Brass Band, and the Cor Mawr following. The moving mass surged its way up towards the Black Lion Hotel. The leaders went in, but were soon out again on the porch above the doorway, I do not remember who the speakers who addressed the crowd were, but the speeches were complimentary to the Cor Mawr, its conductor, and officials.

Picture of The Black Lion Hotel

The Black Lion Hotel
(Picture courtesy of RCTCBC)

A photo plate of the officials, Caradog the conductor, and the prize cup were sold by the hundreds at that time. I dare say many of these are preserved to this day in houses in the district.

Aberdare was the “Queen of the Hills”, in those days. The blazing furnaces of the Llwydcoed, Gadlys, Abernant and Aberaman Ironworks, had not been damped down then. Fothergill was the hero of the puddler; Mr Wayne the hero of the collier; Canon Jenkins the favourite parson of all.  Dr Price the prince of Nonconformists, with Brythonfryn, and William Davies as right and left hand supporters, while Caradog was hailed as king of all.

The services of Caradog were much in demand after this. I remember a concert being held in Hen dy Cwrdd, Trecynon, where he was to take part. A large number could not get in. but they lingered around the building by the opened windows, until they had heard Caradog giving the “Farm Yard” on the violin. I heard him another time at Ebenezer Chapel playing “Boni crossing the Alps” and “Farm Yard” as an encore. At this concert Eos Morlais was the tenor artiste, and I think it was the first concert for Master Davies, the Late Lord Rhondda (Viscount Rhondda), to preside over in Aberdare.

Y Cor Mawr August 23rd 1924
AP Brythonfryn

The final incident of the eventful day was a meeting at the Opera House for the purpose of presenting to the Welsh Choir a Memorial Cup in honour of their last year’s (1872) success, which had been subscribed for by their fellow-countrymen resident in London. The testimonial would have been presented that evening, whether the contest had resulted in victory or defeat, but we may readily imagine how the enthusiasm was enhanced by the success of the Welsh in the competition. The stage was crowded by ladies and gentlemen connected with the Principality amongst whom we noticed Mr Henry Richard, M.P., Mr R. Davies, M.P., Sir T. Lloyd, M.P., Canon Jenkins, Rev Dr Price, Aberdare, Miss Edith Wynne, Mr Brinley Richards, the secretary Brythonfryn Griffiths (My father), and others. The choir occupied the reserved space immediately in front of the stage.

Mr H. Richard was unanimously voted to the chair, and commenced the proceedings by congratulating his countrymen on their splendid victory of that day. He said that last year some people had grudged their success on the score of ignorance as to the existence of such meetings, they said, the Welsh had stolen a march. This did not apply, however to the English people nor to the English Press, who had most cordially and thoroughly recognised their merits (cheers). In fact, they had spoken of their performance in such terms as showed that they were beginning to understand the Welsh; they did not know, as whether to look upon the Eisteddfod as something disaffected, but has learned that it was an endeavour to keep up the memory of the history and antiquities of the nation, and that no subjects were more loyal to the Welsh (cheers). In fact these meetings showed that the English were beginning to have Eisteddfodau of their own. The object for which they had met was to present a Cup to the Choir in honour of last year’s success. This was due to the patriotism of Mr Brinley Richards (terrific cheering), to whose talents and high character the Principality owed a deep debt. He concluded by calling on Mrs Richards to present the Cup.

Picture of Caradog

Special thanks to the Museum of Welsh Life Cardiff for the picture

“The ceremony was then gracefully performed by Mrs Richards the conductor, Caradog (Mr Griffith jones) responded at some length in Welsh”.

“The Rev D. Price then addressed the assembly stating that the Choir was made up principally of the working classes. In fact, with ten or twelve exceptions all its members were poor men and women, and they were also spread over a large area.  They had spent in rehearsals about £2,000, and he had paid himself a few days ago £2.000 for railway fares and expenses of their visit. Altogether the contest would cost the £4,374. There were to receive £100 from the Crystal Palace, but he thought they might well afford £1,000 (laughter). They would, however, come up again, and “in the name of God and the men of Glamorgan”, would hold the Cup (cheers).

“Canon Jenkins next spoke and said that day the highest musical authorities had pronounced their tone unsurpassed in the world. They were not merely a choir of 500 voices, but were the representatives of a great and old nation (cheers). He was proud to call them workmen in every sense of the word. Canon Jenkins went on to express his gratitude for the sympathy and kind treatment they had experienced in Bristol on their way to London, on their arrival, and from their fellow-countrymen even in America and Australia”.

“After a few words from the secretary, Mr Henry Richard apologised for the absence of Mr Osborne Morgan, M.P., whose interest in the Judicature Bill had kept him away, but half of whom, the better half, had, however, been present all day.”

“Mr Brinley Richards then called on the Choir for some music “The Men of Harlech” being given in response and the thundering applause as the close being followed by the beautiful “Ash Grove”. It may be imagined with what verve and splendid power the national songs were rendered by the fresh and bright voices of the Choir, the now rising swell, now dying fall of the latter piece having a most entrancing effect”.

“Mr Brinley Richards then remarked that that day was a red letter day for Wales. He described the enthusiasm with which they had been greeted at Bristol, where they had given two performances and where four shillings had been gladly paid for one shilling seats. Brighter intonation he had never listened to, and they had distinguished themselves not in the simple melodies of their native land, but in the elaborate works, of the great masters. As they had now done so much for themselves, it was but fitting that they should do something for their country, and he trusted they would turn their attention to the support of the projected University an Institution whose established  he regarded as was most important to the welfare of Wales. He had merely done his duty with referent to the Cup and had been worthily supported by Sir T. Lloyd”.

“After complimenting Mr Willert Beale, whose name was received with great applause, Mr Richards proceeded to give an account of his interview with Sir F. Knollys (afterwards Lord Knollys) at Marlborough House which led to an invitation from the Prince of Wales, (King Edward VII) for Monday next (tremendous cheering).

“The Choir then sang “God Bless the Prince of Wales”.

“In response to repeated calls, Mr Willert Beale ascended the platform and congratulated the Choir on their well-deserved success. His idea of the National Music Meetings was derived from the Welsh Eisteddfodau. They would however not have been possible without the co-operation of the Crystal Palace Directors, to whom he had, introduced the project (cheers).”

“After a few words from Canon Jenkins thanking their English fellow countrymen for their kindness the Choir sang Mr Brinley Richards spirited part-song “Let the Hills resound”.

“Miss Edith Wynne then sang in her charming style, F. Clay’s ballad “She wandered down the mountain side” and was most rapturously encored by her fellow-countrymen.”

“Mr H. Richard remarked that though they had done him the honour of making him nominal chairman, there seemed to be half-a-dozen chairmen, in fact, everyone seemed to do what was right in his own eyes (laughter), this was due to the impulsive character of his fellow-countrymen. Perhaps they would however, allow him to make a few announcements. Mr Fothergill, his fellow-member for Merthyr, had kindly signified his intention to contribute £100 towards striking a medal commencing the event as the day (cheers). The North Wales men to their honour had contributed £130 towards their expenses (cheers). There were several of their Parliamentary representatives present, and he was sure they would not like to separate without having a few words form them. Sir T Lloyd, M.P., Mr Holland, M.P., Mr R. Davies, M.P., and other gentlemen having briefly addressed the gathering, perhaps the most tumultuously enthusiastic meeting ever witnessed in the Crystal Palace was brought to a close.

“Thus ended the fourth and greatest day of the Music Meetings a day, which both in the exciting nature of its contests and in the popular interest evoked, did much to outweigh the depressing effect of the scanty attendance of the three preceding days. We trust that its brilliant success with be the avant courier of many such competitions in future years.”

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