Abernant House

The house was built on the site of Cynon Farm. When the Abernant ironworks opened in 1800 its owner James Birch demolished the farm and in 1806 built a larger house on the site.

Fothergill Dynasty

Mr Rowland Fothergill, J.P. (1794-1871), was the third son of Richard Fothergill I, he was an able, energetic and forceful ironmaster, and soon on the with drawl of the Tappenden’s became chief director of the Abernant Works and later acquired a controlling influence in that of Llwydcoed Ironworks, often at cross purposes with the Scale’s family. After a costly lawsuit, the whole works were put up for auction in 1846. His brother Roland Fothergill acquired the whole of the works, and with his able management soon amassed considerable riches, he retired to Hensol Castle near Cowbridge. He had been elected as one of the three representatives from Aberdare of the first Board of Guardians for the Merthyr Union in 1836 and was the Sheriff for Glamorgan in 1850. In addition to the above works, he had also erected the Taff Vale Ironworks in the Parish of Llantwit Fardre, near Pontypridd, which was for its size, very successful in the manufacture of iron rails, to which he attached a Company’s shop, similar to those established at Llwydcoed and Abernant (Truck shops).

Mr Richard Fothergill III, son of Richard Fothergill II, succeeded his uncle as the manager and later proprietor of the Aberdare Ironworks and Abernant Ironworks, and Taff Vale Ironworks and collieries.

Picture of Abernant House

Abernant House picture courtesy of RCTCBC

Mr. Richard Fothergill III was elected first Aberdare Board of Health in 1854, and on Merthyr and Aberdare becoming entitled to two members of Parliament in 1868, Mr Henry Richard and he were elected, ousting the former member Mr. H. A. Bruce (later Lord Aberdare).

Picture of Abernant House Well

Picture of well at Abernant House which was kindly given by G. Evans, which was when Abernant House was demolished

This noble residence, the seat of Mr Richard Fothergill, Esq., is now drawing towards completion. The truly palatial style, in which its suites of apartments are decorated, renders it an ornament to the Principality. The decorations, both in paint and piper, have (with little exception) been entrusted to the Messrs. Cotterell’s, of Bristol and Bath and the skill and taste displayed, particularly in the ornamental ceilings, do great credit to the taste of that enterprising and talented firm. The furnishing of the house, we are informed, is under the superintendence of a London firm, and will be in a style of splendour and luxury rarely equalled. The interior arrangements may be briefly described as follows: In the centre of the building is a principal hall and staircase of grand and lofty proportions. This is approached by lesser halls communicating with entrances at the north and south fronts. The whole of these halls and passages are tessellated with Mintorn’s tiles. From these open a drawing-room and dining-room en suite, each about 36 feet long, by 18 feet wide and proportionate height. Also, a library and billiard-room of almost equal dimensions, then there is a ladies’ drawing-room of smaller size, most unique and elegant, being richly decorated in a purely Alhambra style, the ceiling of which displays what might be termed the very music of outline and colouring. A broad and easy staircase conducts from the hall to corridors extending right and left, which communicate with the bedroom, bathrooms, &c. This corridor is separated from the staircase by arches, supported by massive pilasters of Sienna marble. The combination thus produced, heightened by the decorative details, is extremely grand. We hope the worthy proprietor, his accomplished lady and family, will live long to enjoy this beautiful residence.

The gardens were quite splendid and were admired throughout the County. They were formal gardens similar, to those at Versailles. The house (basically the same as the Aberdare hospital but shorn of its exterior architectural decoration and large portico) was built in 1862 by a Bristol firm. The grounds were stocked with peacock, pheasant and even deer!

19th July 1873

Dr Price said he had omitted to mention one or two matters of interest. He then referred to the criticisms on the Welsh choir in the London papers. That the Times of Monday, he said, was by Mr Hullah, one of the ablest composers of music in the land. During the proceedings at the Crystal Palace, they were glad to see several Welsh M.P.’s were present and amongst the number their own two Representatives. Mr Fothergill very kindly enquired as to the state of their funds and intimated that if necessary, he would double his subscription of £10. He (Dr Price) was glad to inform him that they were not in need of further help. The hon. gentleman appeared to have got into a through hwyl, and afterwards determined upon having a medal struck, and presented to each member of the choir, the expense of which would amount to something like £150. Mr Fothergill was exceedingly kind and was also present at Marlborough House. In the evening he took Caradog to the House of Commons, and afterwards to the Italian Opera. The Marquis of Bute was also with them on Monday morning, and he too proved himself to be a “jolly good fellow.”

Picture of Cor Mawr

Picture of the Cor Mawr (Thank you to Cynon Valley Museum)

Picture of Dr. Thomas Price

Dr. Thomas Price

The Heir of Abernant 5th September 1873

The festivities in connection with the coming of age of Mr R. Fothergill, Jun., of Abernant, were carried out on Tuesday with a spirit but rarely witnessed on such occasions. At Aberdare, the streamers and flags intermingled with evergreens were suspended across the streets, and on the route from the railway station to Abernant Park. Flags were exhibited from almost every house. The bells of St. Elvan’s rang out merry peals, and salvos of artillery kept alive the excitement. The streets were thronged by the inhabitants of the districts, and by thousands of visitors from Merthyr and the neighbourhood. Nothing could be seen for some distance below Abernant Park, but an immense mass of human beings all dressed in their best attire men, women, and children seemed to have deserted their homes and taken up their abode in the streets. A large body of police was present, and the proceedings during the whole of the day were most satisfactory, and the people entered into them with a hearty will that showed the interest they took in the event and the esteem in which the family at Abernant House were held. The weather was admirable and added much to the enjoyment of the pleasure seekers.

Picture of Mr. Richard Fothergill III

Mr. Richard Fothergill III

The proceeding in the park

The crowd of visitors had assembled on the lawn in front of Abernant House, Mr Richard Fothergill III, amid loud cheers, stepped on to a raised platform, used by Caradog. He said Caradog and members of the South Wales Choral Union, I thank you very warmly for the honour you have done me and my family in attending here today and singing the beautiful selections of music you have just sung to us. I am exceedingly obliged to you indeed, I think I can scarcely find words to express to you my feelings better than the words used by our lovely and gracious Princess at Marlborough House when you favoured her with a similar, treat to that you have given us today. She said, “I never enjoyed a greater musical treat in my life.” We all say so today. It is true that at the Crystal Palace your voices never sounded to, a greater advantage, but I well recollect that besides listening to your charming singing there was a strong feeling of anxiety as to the result. We were well aware that there was an accomplished band of performers to succeed you a band of performers long practised and celebrated for their perfect execution; but yon beat them in the sweetness of your singing, and also in the feeling dis- played in your singing. The Welsh are remarkable for their religious feeling, and that feeling was shown in your singing of “We wrestle and pray.” The conviction was universal among the 12,000 assembled on that memorable day that there was not an individual member of the choir who was not giving expression to his feelings on that occasion. This is your great forte, and I exhort you to continue to be true to that feeling, and you will always succeed.

The drawback to your meeting at the Crystal Palace was the anxiety as to the result. I saw the anxiety expressed in the countenances of the men, and the anxiety was also felt by those fair ladies whose voices we have listened to with so much pleasure today. I then resolved that come what might I would give a. memorial of that remarkable day. I spoke to Dr Price, and he spoke to you, and you accepted it in the spirit it was offered. Each performer shall have one of the medals which have been prepared, and I only wish that they were more worthy of your acceptance. Your, excellent leader, is one of my old workmen, and I have great pleasure in shaking hands with him (Mr Fothergill then shook hands with Caradog amidst loud cheers). Mrs Fothergill will present him with a gold medal as a memorial of the noble struggle in which you have been engaged. Each of you shall have a silver medal, which I hope will be to you a never-to-be-forgotten token of your victory. I hope you will keep it and look back with pleasure to the occasion which suggested the presentation to you (cheers). Turning to the assembly Mr Fothergill said, I thank you all for coming here today. I have, to thank you on behalf of myself in the name of my wife and of my son for your attendance here in honour of his majority. It is most gratifying to my feelings. His heart is in Aberdare. He does not inherit broad acres. He was, connected with ironworks and collieries, and he knows that any value that is attached to these works depends upon the faithful co-operation of agents and workmen. I shall never forget a few years ago, during a whole fortnight, the working men would never let me put my horses in my carriage (a voice: And we will do it again, too “) And they drew my carriage over the mountain. I congratulate my son upon such a start in life. I never had so many friends when I started in life. I hope you will stand by him and he will stand by you, and work with you. I congratulate him upon this occasion and will only say one word more God bless you and God bless him.

Picture of Griffith Rhys Jones (Caradoc)

Griffith Rhys Jones (Caradoc)

The choirs then marched off to the East wing of Abernant House, where Mrs Fothergill, amid the cheers of the assembly, presented Caradog with a gold medal, and after the choir passed in front of the windows, they were each presented by the members of the family by Mr Fothergill, and Mr Fothergill, Jun., with a silver medal, In this way the whole of the 500 received a medal, which they attached to their breasts, and in their next appearance on the lawn, they were such so decorated. The medal is nearly the size of a crown piece and has on one side a Welsh harp and on the obverse a statement of the special object of its presentation. The next piece sung by the choir was “Ash Grove,” a piece in which the choirs excel in the execution. It was given with marvellous effect, and at the close, the applause evinced the enthusiasm of the assembly. The next piece given was “Come with Torches” (Mendelssohn), and was loudly applauded also.

A deputation of about 100 tradesmen of Aberdare, wearing white rosettes, and preceded by two of the Committee bearing an address in a massive gold frame, then approached from the outside to the centre of the lawn. Young Mr Fothergill appeared in front, and Mr Phillips, solicitor, of Aberdare, the secretary of the Aberdare Committee, then read the address, which had been beautifully illuminated, (This address represented the kindly feeling of the inhabitants of Merthyr and Aberdare towards Mr Fothergill, senior, and referred to his successful enterprises as an ironmaster and coal proprietor in both valleys. It also assured Mr Fothergill, Jun., of the profound esteem which he had already earned amongst those who were most intimate with him, was concluded by an earnest prayer that God might vouchsafe to him a long and useful life, and an inheritance hereafter of the just made perfect) The address was signed by Dr Price and Mr Shapton, the chairmen of the two committees, and Mr T. Phillips, the general secretary.

Mr Shapton came forward to present to Mr Fothergill, Jun., a diamond ring. He said My dear Sir; The sentiments expressed in the address which has just been read to you I fully endorse, having known the progress of the works with which your family has been concerned for a period, of nearly forty years. It now becomes my pleasing duty, on behalf of my fellow-townsmen of Merthyr, and also on behalf of the inhabitants of Aberdare, to present you with this diamond ring, and to beg your acceptance of it as a token of our esteem and regard, and as a harbinger of our good wishes on your entering upon the responsible duties of life. You will in all probability be called upon to assume, under your respected father, the management of those gigantic works, a task of no mean magnitude, and one requiring skill, energy, and judgment. May you prove equal to the occasion and may the recollection of this day stimulate you to follow with energy, zeal, and rectitude the path which your father has successfully trod before you. May you, by your acts, live in our affections, and may you, by moral rectitude and kindness of manner, cultivate that good feeling which exists between the employer and employed, so that the name of Fothergill may continue to be a blessing to the people in your employ, and all connected with the trade of the district. Mr Shapton then presented Mr Fothergill with a massive diamond ring, of the value of two hundred guineas, supplied by Mr D. Thomas, Commercial Street, Aberdare.

Mr Fothergill, Jun., on ascending the platform, was loudly cheered. He said Gentlemen, I feel that I am quite unable adequately to express to you my deep sense of gratitude for your great and undeserved kindness in presenting me with this beautifully illuminated address and the magnificent diamond ring with which it is accompanied. I thank you very heartily for the cordial expressions made use of in this address if for nothing more than for the expressions of your good-will and your kind sentiments towards myself and my family, which I cannot but think I do not deserve. The great intrinsic value of the ring is as nothing to me in comparison with the evidence it gives of the friendship you feel towards me, and it proves Ito me that though I am at present unworthy of it, yet if I am ever able to earn for myself your esteem, it assures me that you will freely give it.

The choice of a ring for your generous birthday gift is especially gratifying to me, for I look upon it as emblematic of the union and mutual regard which I trust may always exist between myself and the inhabitants of the town of Merthyr and the people of Aberdare. Gentlemen, if I have been unable to thank you properly for your magnificent gift, I trust you will ascribe it to my overwhelming sense of the undeserved generosity you have shown towards me (loud applause). This was followed by three hearty cheers from the immense assembly for Mrs Fothergill and her family.  At the conclusion, the National Anthem was sung, the proceedings then terminated.

A large marquee had been erected to the south of the lawn, and here refreshments were distributed around the invited, guests, and after a stroll in the grounds about Abernant House, the thousands of persons who had been admitted slowly dispersed.

Rustic Sports

While the proceedings in the park were being carried out an amusement of a different character was being witnessed by a far greater number of persons. The Ynys meadow had been fitted with all the paraphernalia of a gala. Shows, swing-boats, gymnasts, and other amusements were provided in abundance, and a number, of rustic sports, drew together between 20,000 and 30,000 people. Prizes were given for 100 yards race three-legged race, mile race, half-a-mile race, &c., all of which met with numerous entries. In the evening, a brilliant display of fireworks brought the joyous day to a close, a day that will be long remembered in Aberdare.

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