|(Thomas Evans 1950)|
|William (or Gwilym) Thomas was born March 17th 1843, in a small cottage, one or two thatched cottages called “Y Ddau Glotch” in Old Ynysybwl. The cottages are now occupied by modern houses, about thirty yards below the village school. William was the eldest son of seven children their father being John Hywel Thomas, who had married Jane Jones of Cwmclydach. The family name appears to have been Hywel, and according to Glanffrwd (as William Thomas later came to be known in literary and eisteddfodic circle) the family were descendants of two monks or lay brothers who lived at Mynachdy, which was a farm or grange, from where cultivation of crops and rearing of sheep was supervised for the benefit of the monks of Margam Abbey.
During dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign, one settled on the other side of Darren y Foel, at Ynysferrig, on the banks of the Cynon, This place after numerous changes of name became Abercynon. In course of time, this ancestor of Glanffrwd became the owner of much land around Mountain Ash to Abercynon, and it was not until comparatively recent time (late 18th Century) that the land passed to other hands, as a result of a sale made under the influence of drink. Glanffrwd’s grandfather was quite a wealthy man, but somewhat too found of the delights of alcohol. It was during one of these bouts that the land was sold for £20, land today worth many thousands of pounds. That is the story as given by Glanffrwd in this book, “Plwyf Llanwynno” Thus the family fell on humble days, and at a very early age, after a short term in Bethel School, Glanffrwd was helping is father at his work, wood cutting in the woods of Llanwynno Parish. The schoolmaster at that time was Joseph Davies, who was somewhat deformed, and apparently a long way below the standard of erudition required by modern schoolmasters. Joseph Davies is mentioned in the1847 Enquiry into Education in Wales, and the school in that year had 18 on the books, nine boys and nine girls. The salary paid to this schoolmaster was £13 per annum, while the children’s pence amounted to £13.Ministry
While still in his teens, Glanffrwd started work as a minor in the Rhondda Valley during the early years of the coal rush, but this he soon give up and was persuaded to open a school in the village of Ynysybwl. He proved to be a very good teacher and later accepted a post at an “Ysgol Gwaith” in Llwynypia. Here he developed into an able and popular speaker, taking an active interest in social welfare. His eloquence brought him to the notice of influential people, who encouraged him to go in for ministry.
Even at a very early age, Glanffrwd had shown a leaning for things literary, for he won the recitation at an eisteddfod in the Ynysybwl village inn while just in his teens. At the age of 17 he shared a prize with Islwyn at Aberdare (1860). During the next few years he added to his laurels by winning chairs, medals and money at eisteddfodau up and down the country. In 1887, at the London National Eisteddfod, he took the honours for the Pryddest. Apart from the competitions, Glanffrwd took great interest in local history, archaeology and music, and in addition was a speaker of renown in English and Welsh.