The earliest reference to coal in the Aberdare Valley Is found in a Survey of XI th. King James, A.D.16I4: “There is Coal within the Common called Hirwaun Wrgan.”
The first historical mention of the district is early in the eleventh century. The prince of Glamorgan Gwrgan ap Ithel Ddu, ascended the throne in 994, on which he sat for 36 years. His character was an admirable one. He sought to instil into the people the blessings of peace whilst the cultivation of the land received his deepest attention. Seeking to benefit his subjects, he granted unto them for a free and a public grazing-ground the land known as the Long Meadow “Y Waun Hir Hirwaun.” This meadow at that period reached from Blaengwrach, near Rhydygroes, to with a short distance of Mountain Ash, which would be a distance of about ten miles. After this grant from the Prince, the neighbouring farmers were accustomed to send their flocks to graze in the valley during the summer months, returning in the autumn laden with the butter and cheese made during the interval, Traces of this custom may be found in the names still existing which refer to the temporary huts or cottages that the farmers servants were accustomed to erect, such as Pont-lluest-wen “the bridge of the white hut”, y Lluestau Llwydion “the dark huts”, Tir-y-lluest, Llestau-y-craig-lwyd etc. The valet at this time was thickly wooded. So that (according to an old tradition) it was possible for a squirrel to hop tree to tree form the lower part of the valley to Pont-nedd-fechan, near Glyn Neath. Even so late as two hundred years ago a dense forest (mostly of oak trees) covered the whole of the eastern side of the river. Wild boars and wolves abound but have only left traces in the names of certain spots in the parish such as Cwm-nant-yr-hwch “the valley of the boar”, Ffynon-y-blaidd “the wolf’s well”. Many other names bear interesting evidence to the early characteristics of the place.
At that period the first Marquis of Bute was about 18 years of age, and his father John Earl of Bute, put forward a claim to the whole of the meadow being that he had married Charlotte Jane, the daughter of Herbert, Viscount Windsor and Lord of Glamorgan. In 1788 the first Marquis of Bute came of age, and the occupiers of the 35 farm-houses were ejected, the greater part of their houses being demolished. This caused two years of the parishioners to take up the cause of the people against the Marquis. These were Samuel Rees if the Werfa, and Rees Phillip of the Cwm. The trial came on at Hereford in the spring of 1790. The claim of the people of the parish to the meadow was fully established, and the Marquis compelled to pay full compensation for the injury caused. From that period until 1869, the meadow was common property, form the town of Aberdare to the lower part of Hirwaun.
In 1788 the first Marquis of Bute came of age, and the occupiers of the 35 farm-houses were ejected, the greater part of their houses being demolished. This caused two years of the parishioners to take up the cause of the people against the Marquis. These were Samuel Rees if the Werfa, and Rees Phillip of the Cwm. The trial came on at Hereford in the spring of 1790. The claim of the people of the parish to the meadow was fully established, and the Marquis compelled to pay full compensation for the injury caused. From that period until 1869, the meadow was common property, form the town of Aberdare to the lower part of Hirwaun.
In 1756 ar. Thomas Mayberry started a charcoal- burning furnace at Pontbren-llwyd, Penderyn which was transferred to Brecon in 1757. In 1760 John Mayberry became a partner with John Wilkins of Brecon in the Hirwaun ironworks. John Wilkins was the father of Walter Wilkins and Jeffrey Wilkins who commenced the Brecon Old bank in 1778 (Later Lloyd’s Bank). Indenture of Leases dated 22/11/1757, see (John Lloyds Early History of Old South Wales ironworks). In 1775 they leased the Bryngwyn Coal Works. On July 1st, 1780 they transferred all the works to Anthony Bacon, Esq., of Cyfarthfa who carried them on vigorously until his death in 1786. Anthony Bacon commenced the Cyfarthfa Works, Merthyr, in 1765.
Anthony Bacon’s sons, Anthony and Thomas, being minors, Court of Chancery granted a Lease of the
Hirwaun works to Mr Samuel Glover of Abercarne. On Oct. 1799 the brother’s Bacon, being, of age, took over the interest, by arbitration. But the brother’s had no great interest in iron manufacture.
“Anthony disposed of Cyfarthfa to Mr Richard Crawshay, and Plymouth to Mr Hill, and sold his share in the Hirwaun works to his brother Thomas for £3000. And his next step was, having purchased the Aberaman Estate of the Mathews family, to reside there as a private gentleman.”
Then Thomas Bacon leased the Hirwaun works to Jeremiah Homfray of Llandaff (and Pendarren), Francis William Bowser, Simon Oliver and Lionel Oliver at a rental of £1,500 for the first 20 years and £1000 for residue of term of 55 years. Jeremiah Homfray retired and his place was taken by Mr George Overton.
In 1814 Messrs Bowser, Overton and Oliver became bankrupts. We hope to continue the story of the
Hirwaun Ironworks and of its transfer to the Crawshay’s of Cyfartha and’ Treforest in the next volume.
The ‘Level Fawr’ was opened on Hirwaun Wrgan c. 1786.
The parishes of Aberdare, Llanwynno, Rhondda (with bridges over the Rhondda, chapels, Hirwaun Wrgan, chief landowners, etc. are mentioned with p.23 under Ruthney, (Ruthin?) “was given to the sons of Iestyn called cab Justine, Yt hath but 2 tenures namely free tenant and Demesne lands now granted by indenture for 3 lives, and in the same Lordship are 2 forests, the one called Arthmaylwg and the other Allgriffith. The wooddes are resould to the ironworks”.
Hirwaun Wrgan was a large tract of land stretching from Aberdare right up to Rhigos. This, according to tradition, was given by Prince Gwrgan, the father of Iestyn ap Gwrgan, to the people of Glamorgan to graze their cattle, sheep and horses freely forever. Very little is known of Gwrgan but his name has been preserved in Hirwaun and Gelli Wrgan near Ynysybwl. The Common was gradually encroached upon but, up to about 1860, a considerable area was still open, free and unenclosed. The remaining 3370 acres was enclosed by an Enclosure Act of 1857. 49 acres were allocated for the Aberdare Public Park, which was opened on 29/07/1869, and about 30 acres for the Aberdare Cemetery, which was opened on 1860, 30 acres for a recreation ground at Hirwaun, 20 acres for Bryngar Cemetery, opening July 1914, the site of the British School of the Vicarage at Hirwaun. The remainder of the Common was divided in 1869 among the surrounding landlords. Park School is generally called Ysgol y Comin because it was built on the Common, as was the Aberdare Boys’ County (Grammar) School.
The Battle of Hirwaun Wrgant
Rhys ap Tewdwr was supposedly to have been the last king of South Wales (Deheubarth), his then death in 1093 was clearly the beginning in history when Welsh independence disappeared.
There was a deep-seated grievance between Iestyn ap Gwrgant, Lord of Glamorgan and Rhys ap Tewdwr who became the ruler of Deheubarth in 1077 regarding the lordships of South Wales. Also the death of Caradog ap Gruffydd who was Lord of Morgannwg a relation to Iestyn who died with Trehaearn ap Caradog at Mynydd Carn in 1081 against Rhys ap Tewdwr and Gruffydd ap Cynan. In 1088, it appears that the sons of Bleddyn ab Cynvyn raised a rebellion against Rhys ab Tewdwr in Ceredigion; they were assisted in their nefarious plot by Iestyn ab Gwrgant. Rhys fled to Dublin in Ireland and returned in the same year with strong forces and munitions. He gained a victory over is enemies at Llychryd Bridge in 1090. Iestyn ab Gwrgant carried on his intrigue against Rhys, and engaged, by specious promises, one named Einion ap Collwyn to go the court of the English king, Iestyn promised Einion his daughter in marriage and a portion of land in Miskin if he could procure the help of the king and to solicit the aid of Norman soldiers. Rhys had been hunting Einion for the part he had played in the rebellion at Llychryd Bridge, and he had set a price on Einion’s head. He offered 300 head of cattle and much land for Einion dead or alive. It was on this account that Einion fled to his uncle, Iestyn, and participated with him in the scheme to secure Norman help to destroy the forces of Rhys ab Tewdwr and subjugate his territory.
Einion ab Collwyn, who was known to the principal officers at the court of King William Rufus 11, was successful in his enterprise. His request was granted, and he returned to Wales accompanied by Sir Robert Fitzhamon and twelve knights who were de. Londres, Grenville, Turberville, St Qeintin,Seward, Umphreville, Berkerolles, Sully, Le Soer, Le Fleming, St John and Sterlin and 24 shield bearers with an army of 3000 men, 2000 men led by a Welsh prince, they landed at Port Kerry. Cedrych ab Gweithfoed (Lord of Cardigan), augmented this force; Einion had 1000 and in addition there was an army of Glamorgan soldiers led by Iestyn.
The battle started at Aberdare and ended up on Hirwaun Common a distance of seven miles this battle which involved a tremendous loss of life, particularly among the natives forces of Iestyn, Einion and Cedrych, as the Normans seemed to have occupied the rear of the fighting line, and therefore in an unfavourable position to assert their strength. It appears that Rhys ab Tewdwr’s army was considerably smaller and quite unequal to the task. Consequently he and his men were driven to the upper reaches of Rhigos/ Penderyn, where there are still vestiges of this great conflict in such places as Cwm Cadlan and Bodwigiad. In the Cadlan Valley there are numerous mounds or carneddau, several of these are reputed to be memorials of the men who fell in the battle between Iestyn ab Gwrgant and Rhys ab Tewdwr “Carn y Frydwr” (Battle Cairn) & Maes y Gwaed which changed over the years to Maes y Dre (Field of Blood). On the Rhigos side, there is a brook called “Nant-yr-Ochain” which tradition tells, is associated with the groans of men mortally wounded in battle. Aberdare Town have similar traces in the word Gadlys (The hall of Battle), the upper and lower Gladys which is considered to have been the respective headquarters for a time of the contending forces of Iestyn and Rhys. Other suggestion to where the battle on the mountain between Aberdare and Merthyr called Bryn-y-Beddau.
The Battle eventually went completely against Rhys, who then raised the white banners in a place called Bryn Gwyn they tried unsuccessfully suing for terms of peace, was compelled to flee with his enemy afterwards he pursued his men, and slaughtered them cruelly, and took Goronwy, son of Rhys, and beheaded him. Many of his men; on which account the place is a bastard son of Rhys, called Cynan, a stout and valiant man, returning towards the Yale of Tywi, after the slaughter of his father and his men, was pursued so hard and severely, that he was obliged to attempt to escape through a lake called Cremlyn between Britain Ferry and Swansea a marsh now, where he was drowned now called ever since the Pool of Cynan. He was followed by Iestyn over the mountain to a place about seven miles from Hirwaun, between the rivers Rhondda Fach and Rhondda Fawr, now known as Penrhys (Rhys’s head).
Rhys actually met his death in a conflict against Bernard de-Newmarch in the vicinity of Brecknock at a place called Battle. Bleddin ap Maenarch Prince of old Brycheiniog (Brecon) and brother in law to Rhys ap Tewdwr who both died in the battle in 1093. There is a well was named after him “Pen Sir Rhys” or the well of Sir Rhys’s. Iestyn rewarded his Norman auxiliaries conformably to his engagements, paying them in gold, on a common three miles west of Cardiff, which has ever since been called the Golden Mile (Y Milltir Aur) near Cowbridge. They then started to march towards the coast, with the view of going back to England. Iestyn refused his promise of marriage to Nest and lands to Einion who the looking for Fitzhamon Norman commander. Einion, son of Collwyn, went to lestyn to require his daughter and the portion he had promised with her; but lestyn refused, and laughed at Einion, and said he would do better with his daughter than bestow her on a traitor to his country and lord. At this Einion was greatly enraged, and in his fury and anger he went after Robert Fitzhamon and his company, and related to them the insult he had met with from lestyn, and likewise represented to them the great dislike of the principal men of that country to lestyn, the fertility of the country, and the ease with which it might be wrested from lestyn, who, on account of his treachery and deceit, would not meet with assistance from any prince in Wales. The strangers joyfully listened to Einion, and willingly took his advice. Then Einion went to Rhotpert, son of Seisyllt, and related the whole to him and he brought others of the nobles who disliked lestyn to the same measures. These nobles having collected their men together, and joined the strangers, went against lestyn; and the action of Mynydd Bychan, near Cardiff, took place, where lestyn was put to flight. Cadifor, son of Cedrych, son of Gwaithyoed, lord of Ceredigion, joined the strangers against lestyn. He had before that assisted lestyn against Rhys, son of Tewdwr; but lestyn would not fulfil his promise with him, according to agreement. Cedrych, son of Gwaithvoed, lord of Cibwyr “Kibbor”, was originally from Morganwg, and went to Ceredigion in company with Rhydderch, son of Iestyn, where a dominion and territory were given to him; and for affection to lestyn, he and his men came to Morganwg, and having seen his treachery, deserted him, and joined the party of the strangers. lestyn being put to flight and despoiled of his country, Robert Fitzhamon and his men took for themselves the best of the vale and the rich lands, and allotted to Einion the uplands and the roughest and least fertile parts of the country; and so the Francs possessed that country, driving out every partisan of Iestyn’s, and taking their lands. These are the names of the French strangers and the places they appropriated to themselves.
Iestyn ap Gwrgant who was allegedly killed in north Rhiwbina near Cardiff in a battle with Robert Fitzhamon, there was so much blood shed at the battle that a nearby stream is called Nant Waedlyd or the “Bloody Brook”. He allegedly buried in a mound in Tympath near Rhiwbiana. It is also said that Iestyn, after his defeat, fled over the sea to Glastonbury; from thence he went to Bath, and finally to Gwent, where he died in the monastery of Llangenys.
Gruffydd, son of Rhydderch, son of Iestyn, collected a great army of the men that fled from the strangers, and defended Caerleon on the Usk, and the country of Gwent, and strengthened himself there against the strangers; and Caradog, son of Gruffydd, son of Rhydderch, son of Iestyn, became prince of the territories in Gwent and Gwaenllwg “Monmouth” and the stronghold of Caerleon on the Usk, which had formerly been the principal resort in Morganwg and Gwent for sovereignty and assembly of the country. Whilst this was acting in Morganwg, the sons of Cadwgawn, son of Bleddyn, son of Cynvyn, were ravaging Dyfed and Ceredigion, and Hugh Earl of Chester ravaging Tegeingl and Rhuvoniog as far as the river Conwy, taking the lands and possessions from the men of that country, and placing the Frenchmen in them; and this Hugh, while Gruffydd, son of Cynan, was intending to assist Rhys, son of Tewdwr, came to Aberlleiniog in Mona “Anglesey”, and made there a castle, and established himself in it to this day. And the Earl of Shrewsbury took, in despite of the sons of Cadwgan, son of Bleddyn, the greatest portions of the lands of Powys and Ceredigion, and his son Arnwlf took a deal of the lands of Dyfed, and Bernard Newmarch established himself in Bryncheiniog; and others took lands in other parts of Wales, and made castles and walled towns in every place to defend themselves against the men of the country, taking spoil from one and giving it as a reward to another, so deceiving the simple, and those that were not well affected to their nation and prince, thus the Frenchmen worked more by artifice than manliness, in the same manner as the Saxons did before them, in such a manner that they disfranchised the “Welsh of their governments, their territories, and their lands, and corrupted the men of the country with their gifts. Einion ab Callwyn took his army after the battle to the Gower and settled down (Port Eynon).
After Iestyn’s defeat the Duke of Gloucester “Robert Fitzhamon” ruled the Welsh lowlands. In reality the Normans never really controlled the area and allowed the Welsh to follow their traditions, customs, beliefs and religion, so as to keep the peace. Robert Fitzhamon, earl of Astremeville, in Normandy, came into England with William the Conqueror; and, by the gift of William Rufus, obtained the honour of Gloucester. He was wounded with a spear at the siege of Falaise, in Normandy, died soon afterwards, and was buried, A.D. 1102, in the abbey of Tewkesbury, which he had founded.
Robert Fitzhamon, their prince, took to himself the sovereignty and government of all the country and the castles of Cardiff, Trefufered “St Donats?”, and Kenfig, and the lands belonging to them.
William de London was given Aberogwr “Ogmore”, and the lands belonging to that lordship.
Richard Greenfield were given the lordship of the Glen of the Neath and the privileged town of Neath Castle and the lands belonging to it.
Robert de St. Quentin was given the lordship of Llan Vleiddan “St Quentin’s” the great, and the privileged town of Cowbridge.
To Richard Seward, Tal y Fan and its lordship.” The borough of Cowbridge”
Gilbert Humphreville, the lordship of Pen Marc. “Penmark”
Roger Berclos, the lordship of Llandathan. “St Athan”
Reginald Sully was given the lordship of Abersili. “Sully”
Peter le Soore, the lordship of Llanbedr in the vale. “Peterson”
John Fleming, the lordship of Llanyfelwyn. “St George”
Oliver St. John, the lordship of Aberbernant. “Fonmon”
William d’ Esterling “Stradling”, the lordship of Llanwerydd.
Pain Turberville the lordship of Coety came by marriage with Asar, daughter of Meurig, son of Gruffydd, son of Iestyn, son of Gwrgan.
Einion, son of Collwyn, obtained Senghenydd and Miskin.
Caradog, son of lestyn, had Aberavan and all the lands between the Nedd and Avan in the lordship of Rial.
Madog, son of Iestyn, had the lordship of Rhuthin.
Hywel, son of Iestyn, had Llan Tryddyd “Dinas Powis”
Rhys, son of Iestyn, had the lordship of Solven, between the Nedd and Tawe.
Nest, daughter of Iestyn, was given in marriage to Einion, son of Collwyn.
Rotpert, son of Seisyll, had the lordship of Maes Essyllt.