Rees Llewellyn 1851 – 1919

of Cwmparc, Rhondda and Bwlfa, Aberdare, Father of Sir D. R. Llewellyn


Rees Llewellyn

The Llewellyn Family and Bwllfa Collieries

Few collieries in South Wales have undergone greater changes than those now owned by the Bwllfa and Merthyr Dare Steam Collieries (1891) Limited. From failures they have been turned into an amazing success, and this transformation has been brought about by the energy and determination of the late Alderman Rees Llewellyn and his distinguished sons.

The late Alderman Rees Llewellyn was the son of Mr David Llewellyn, Parc Isaf, Treorchy, and was born on June 20th 1851, at Cwmpark House, within 50 yards of the Ocean Colliery at that place. He was educated at the National School, Pentre, and afterwards at the Grammar School, Bridgend. The following are important dates in his career:

In the year 1866 he left school at Bridgend, and was articled as surveyor to Mr Leyshon Rees of Hirwaun, He remained with him for a period of three years, till 1869, when he was engaged as surveyor at the Ocean Colliery, Cwmpark.

In 1870 he was appointed Surveyor and Under-manager at Bwllfa and Merthyr Dare Collieries, and Manager in 1877. He became a member of the South Wales Institute of Engineers in 1878, Member of the Aberdare School Board in 1879 and of the Aberdare Local Board of Health in 1882. In 1891 the present Bwllfa Company was formed. He was appointed Director and Resident Colliery Agent. In 1897 he was President of the Colliery Managers Association and in in 1899, a member of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Coal Owners Association. In 1899 he became High Constable of Miskin Higher and a Justice of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan in 1909. He was made High Sherriff of Breconshire in 1916.During his long and busy life he also acted as Director of many Colliery Companies, He passed away at Bwllfa House, Aberdare in Thursday, 21st August 1919.

Character and Personality

He was a man of outstanding personality, who by sheer force of character overcame apparently, insurmountable obstacles. Possessed of great energy and foresight, he changed the history of the Bwllfa Colliery, and incidentally the upper portion of the Aberdare District. From repeated failure and hardship to success and prosperity, He stood quite six feet in height, and was possessed with all the qualities of a leader of men. His word was his bond, and those with whom he was associated never had cause to doubt his word.

To write a history of the Bwllfa Company, says Mr Issac Davies who knew Mr Llewellyn for over 20 years is tantamount to also writing the biography of the late Alderman Rees Llewellyn. The details of the one is linked with that of the other, and success of the Company coincides with the activities of its one-time Surveyor, then Manager, Agent, General Manager, and Chairman of the Company.

At the time of Mr Llewellyn’s introduction to the Bwllfa in 1872, the owning Company worked Bwllfa Colliery only now known as No. 1 Pit. The colliery had experienced difficulties and obstacles and had passed through the usual financial troubles generally associated with failure. If the truth were told Bwllfa at that time had a bad record and was looked upon as a risky financial venture.

Bwllfa Pits were sunk in 1854, the lease being taken in that year by Messrs Thomas Joseph (brother-in-law to Mr Samuel Thomas, Ysguborwen) and Ebenezer Lewis. Coal was struck in December 1856. The first manager was Mr James Jones, who was succeeded by Herbert Kirkhouse. At that time the colliery was sold to a firm named Merrychurch and Co. in 1872 Mr Kirkhouse left for Tylorstown and he was succeeded by Mr Leyshon Rees.   At this date equipment of the colliery was of a very elementary character indeed, and the number of men employed could not have been more than 250.

The customs prevailing were primitive, and the village of Cwmdare then consisted of about 60 houses. How many of those living today remember the great effort needed to bring the output of Bwllfa to 300 tons per day, and the “Footing” paid to the hauliers for that achievement. Such, however was the position of things when Mr Llewellyn took up duties as surveyor for the princely wage of £1 per week. It was little thought at that time the new recruit of 21 years of age was to ultimately transform the methods and build up the collieries to its present standing with an output if over 600,000 tons per annum, and employing 3,000 workmen. In those days such as achievement would have been dismissed as an absurdity, and ab impossibility. Yet this has been accomplished and in outlining the manner in which it was done, one must of a necessity outline the life’s history of the man who was responsible for such great progress.

This revolution in the affairs of the colliery was not obtained without hard work, and the untiring energy and inborn personality of Mr Llewellyn were all required for this task. Indeed these qualities alone would not have been sufficient, and had not Mr Llewellyn also possessed qualities of mental foresight and a thorough knowledge of mining conditions his task would never have been accomplished. Added to these qualifications was his almost uncanny knowledge of men which enabled his at all times to surmount the obstacles in his way.

Stop Pay at Bwllfa

There ar many still living who remember the time in December 1880, when Bwllfa could not pay the workmen. Old workmen have a hard task to convince the younger generation that at one time there was “stop-pay” at Bwllfa. Such, however is the fact, but it is not generally known that when he “stop-pay” was subsequently paid the wherewithal was provided by Mr Rees Llewellyn, the Manager of the colliery, from his personal savings, although he was not a shareholder at the time.

Following Mr Llewellyn’s appointment in 1877, as Manager, the records show considerable improvement in the equipment of the colliery, the old flue system ventilation being superseded by the erection of a steam driven ventilating fan. New screens and washeries were erected and modern workshops and offices followed in their turn. Never was capital more wisely spent, and indeed few in those days could find justification therefor. One of the few was the Manager who by now realised the possibilities of the undertaking. His optimism was nevertheless founded on more than hope, he knew- and was prepared to make sacrifices to prove his optimism. And sacrifice he did. Who can measure his services to the undertaking? Can they be counted in time alone? All his waking moments were spent in work, added to which were his ever increasing responsibilities.

In his task of modernising the colliery he was restricted by the mability of the owners to finance the undertaking and the progress of the Company suffered a set-back, During this period the ownership of the Bwllfa was vested in the person of the late Mr George W.H. Brogden (whose father’s firm, Messrs John Brogden and Sons, owned the Llynvi, Tondu and Ogmore Coal and Iron Works now known as “North’s Navigation”). Ere long the inevitable happened, the restriction in capital outlay and the resultant inability of the concern to compete in the market, which at that time was very depressed, culminated in the failure if the Brogden Co, in 1890. Mr Llewellyn was still a young man on the bright side of 40 and the disaster must have temporarily given him much anxiety. The responsibility was not his, had his advice and enterprise been utilised, as subsequent events proved, they could have saved the situation. But evidently the optimism and faith which had characterised him still continued, and it was he who was foremost in urging the formation of a Company to take over the concern from the old owners.

Mr Llewellyn’s belief in the ultimate success of the Company was unshaken, and this first step to rally around him friends who were able to join him in financing a new Company which was destined to become the present Bwllfa and  Merthyr Dare Steam Collieries (1891) Limited. Those friends have never regretted their confidence and belief, which was not generally shared in those days.

The new Company which was formed in 1891, with capital of £130,000 made it possible to embark upon the development of the undertaking on a more ambitious scale. Here and from this date, was Mr Llewellyn’s long-sought opportunity. He was soon appointed a Director, and the romantic rise of the Company is still remembered in the Coalfield. To call an undertaking a “Second Bwllfa” was and still is the highest recommendation which can be given. Improvements and judicious outlay of Capital in the right direction was soon followed by increase in output, and the enterprising spirit which Mr Llewellyn was now able to give full scope to soon resulted in the extension of the Company’s activities. In the years which followed Mr Rees Llewellyn’s activities must have been tremendous, and it is only a few who are endowed with the mental and physical constitution which was his.  The small village of Cwmdare in a few short years, grew to the respectable size it is today, a large number of the houses being erected by the Bwllfa Company and Mr Llewellyn and his colleagues.

Growth of Cwmdare

The upper part of the Aberdare Valley owes its rapid growth to the expansion of the Bwllfa Company’s undertaking, and the lot of the workmen changed from one of insecurity to comparative prosperity. The workmen knew to whom they owed their changed conditions, and his high place in their regard and the respect, almost reverence, in which he was held by them, seems unbelievable in these so called democratic days. Not that he courted their respect, rather the reverse, it cannot be said of him that he invited popularity; his demeanour really belied his true feelings. Rather abrupt and gruff manner, his first word was his worst; he thereby covered a fine and likeable nature, which won for him the loyalty of those who were privileged to work with him. Nor can it be said of him that he endeavoured to achieve success for the power it gave him. He used his power with mercy and justice. He was frugal in his habits from choice, and simple in his requirements. He was a living example during his period of success of the temperate and wise use of power. He achieved his purpose in life by perseverance and hard work, and retained the confidence and respect of all by a rare ability to keep in touch in thought and spirit with those around him.

The development of the Company consisted amongst other acquisitions in the purchase in 1896 of Nantmelyn Colliery (now known as Bwllfa No.2 Pit) from the Nantmelyn Colliery Co., in which Mr William Thomas, Brynawel, was largely interested. It is characteristic of Mr Rees Llewellyn that in this matter he again had to convince the sceptics as the volume of opinion was against this venture, but to him it was more than a venture, it was a certainty. Although it had previously not been successful undertaking, and had passed through very great difficulties, the wisdom of the acquisition was soon evident, when the property benefited from the successful supervision of the Bwllfa Company and its Manager. It was at this time the Mr Llewellyn was appointed Agent, and his new appointment brought the entire activities of the Company under his control. The Company’s output and prospects consistently increased, and in 1906 the Colliery known as Pwll Powell was acquired. This colliery now known as Bwllfa No. 3 Pit had been abandoned in 1888, and dismantled. Here again the expansion of the Company was in safe hands, and during the latter period of his life Mr Llewellyn obtained large extensions in the takings which ensured the life of this colliery for many years to come. Following upon the purchase of No.3 Pit, came the electrification of the whole of the Company’s Collieries, and the construction of modern machinery throughout. This was followed by the driving of the New Drift (Bwllfa No.4) in 1912.

Public Activities

Whilst engaged in these tasks, which would in themselves, seem sufficient to absorb his energies, he took a prominent part in the public life of Aberdare, and also extended his activities to other parts of the coalfield, being director of many colliery and industrial companies. He was also a prominent member of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal owners Association, and of the Conciliation Board. In 1899, as stated above, he was made High Constable of Miskin Higher; and in 1909 a Justice of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan. He was for many years member of the Glamorgan County Council, and subsequently an Alderman, He was made High Sheriff of Breconshire in 1916.

It would be impossible in this short biography to outline his many activities in industrial and public work during the whole of his life time, and of his interest in agriculture, an interest which he inherited from his father who farmed the Parc Isaf and Parc Uchaf Farms, Treorchy.

The tomb of Rhys Llewellyn’s & Family
The tomb of Rhys Llewellyn’s & Family
Aberdare Cemetery
Mr Rees Llewellyn was a large landowner, principally in Breconshire, and his love of the land was a passion with him throughout his life. Has his inclination had its way, he would undoubtedly have chosen the industry of agriculture.

Family history

He was married in 1878 to Elizabeth, daughter of Mr and Mrs Llewellyn, Goitre, Ystradfellte. There were six children.

1. Sir David R. Llewellyn, Bart., J.P., The Court, St Fagan’s. Coal owner and exporter. Director of      many companies.
2. Mrs Charles Edwards, wife of Mr Charles E. Edwards, solicitor, Cardiff.
3. Mr Walter P. Llewellyn (died 1922)
4. William M. Llewellyn, J.P. General Manger and Director of Bwllfa Colliery Co. and Director of       many other companies.
5. Griffith Llewellyn, Solicitor, Merthyr, Deputy Coroner, and Director of Industrial Companies