Evan James 1809 – 1878

Ieuan ab Iago
Evan James was a weaver and wool-merchant, who kept the Ancient Druid Inn, Argoed, in the parish of Bedwellty near Blackwood, Monmouthshire. It was here that his son James was born. The family soon afterwards removed to Pontypridd, where he occupied a woollen factory in Mill Street, on the banks of the Rhondda, assisted by his sons.

Here the father developed his love for Welsh poetry, and was often successful at local eisteddfodau, and at times acted as an adjudicator of poetry. A few of his poems have been published in the “Gardd Aberdar, 1854”; “Cymru 1918”, but the majority remain in M.S., and are all forgotten except the memorable words of “Hen Wlad fy Nhadau”.

“The circumstances under this came to be composed are as remarkable, even romantic, as interest in the song is widespread. There can hardly ever have been a more striking instance of two minds working in complete harmony over a single project that what occurred in this connection in the Glamorgan town of Pontypridd.”

James James died 1902
James James died 1902
Aberdare Cemetery
Many version been given as to why it was composed. Some claimed that the father first composed the words, which were then set to music by the son, but according to the late Mr Taliesin James, the son of James James, the music was first composed by the latter while taking a stroll along the banks of the Rhondda River, “Returning to my grandfather’s house, but a few doors from his own, he said to him, ‘Father, I have composed a melody, and which is, in my opinion, a very fitting one for a Welsh patriotic song. Will you write some verses for it?

“Let me hear it,” said my grandfather. My grandfather then sand the melody, and my grandfather then said, “Fetch your harp, James.” My father brought the harp to the factory house, and played the air on that instrument. My grandfather was greatly struck with it, and at once took down his slate, which always hung by the side of his armchair, and in a few minutes the words of the first verses were written. My father was singing the words of his melody, accompanying himself on the harp, when my grandmother returned home from evening service at Carmel Baptist Church, where she was a zealous and devoted member. She reprimanded my father severely for desecrating the Sabbath by playing the harp, he replied to her, ‘Mother, remember King David playing his harp’, the 2nd and 3rd verses were written the next day. This occurred in January 1856.

Mr Thomas Llewellyn “Llewelyn Alaw”, of Trecynon, Aberdare and now Mountain Ash, included the song in his collection of unpublished Welsh airs for a prize at Llangollen National Eisteddfod of 1858, under the name of “Glan Rhondda”. The collection was awarded the prize. The adjudicator Owain Alaw, was so much enamoured of ‘Glan Rhondda’, that he harmonised its and included it in his 3rd volume of “Gems off Welsh Melody”, 1860. It immediately became very popular. It was sung at the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod of 1865, by Miss Kate Wynne, and at Chester National Eisteddfod of 1866 by Llew Llwyfo.

What a thrill Welsh people experience when singing “Hen Wlad fy Nhadau” at the National Eisteddfodau with several hundred exiles from all parts of the world gathered on the platform. It is “in very truth, the medium by which our national aspirations and hope, find united expression”.

Evan James died on September 30th 1878, and was buried at Carmel Baptist Church Pontypridd.

James James kept public houses at Walnut Tree Bridge, The Cats and Fiddle Mountain Ash, and lived for a time with his son at the Swan Hotel, Aberaman. He composed many other songs, but like his father, he is only known by this one great work. He died at 5 Hawthorne Terrace, Aberdare in January 11th 1905 and his buried at Aberdare Cemetery.

N.L.W. Journal, III Summer 1943.