William Thomas “Glanffrwd” 1843 – 1890

William Thomas "Glanffrwd"
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. These 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.

The dissolution of the monasteries, in Henry V111’s time; 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.

Is first school was educational seminary, and though the principal, locally known as old Twmi Morgan, did not possess the accomplishments which would entitle him in these days to be regarded as a man of learning, he bad the knack of imparting useful information to those under his charge, and his name was famous throughout all the country side. He then went to Bethel school and 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.

Soon afterwards, Glanffrwd, with other Llanwynno boy crossed the mountains to the Rhondda, and there found employment as coal-cutter in the Cymmer Pit. He remained here for a length of time, and was afterwards similarly employed in the Darau Ddu Level, but evidently the hazardous work of the brave toilers of the deep was not to his liking, and here long we find him once more at his father’s side felling the tall timbers on the Llanwynno hills.

Meanwhile his bardic proclivities made themselves abundantly manifest, and though yet but in his teens he courageously competed in most of the eisteddfodau held in the neighbourhood, and more often than otherwise gained a prize.

Before he had seen his twentieth birthday, he had so far advanced in his home studies that his friends prevailed upon him to open a school at Ynysybwl, and this he continued to conduct with signal success for three or four years. His income from this source was barely sufficient to procure for him the bare necessities of life, but, with rigid economy and constant self-denial, he succeeded in putting by a small 8um with which he was afterwards enabled to attend a school at Cefn Coed, Cymmer, Merthyr, kept by a Rev Mr Evans, where he remained for three years.

At the end of this term be once more removed to the Rhondda Valley, this time as a schoolmaster at Llwynypia, and it was here that be commenced to preach with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. He was subsequently admitted as a local preacher to the East Glamorgan monthly meeting of the denomination, and on his removal to Gyfeillon, Hafod, he took sole charge of the Methodist church in that locality.

Glanffrwd remained here for about 12 months, and dating that period was married to Miss Mary Davies, the daughter of Mr William Davies, Brynmefrith, Llanfabon. Mrs Thomas, however, died about six years afterwards, leaving one child. While at Gyfeillon, certain events occurred which led Mr Thomas to sever his connection with the Calvinistic Methodists, and to apply for admission into holy orders in connection with the Church of England.

Having with this in view spent a year at Oxford University, Leaving Oxford after twelve months he went to Birkenhead, whence he emerged ready for his first curacy at West Cornforth, County Durham. Here he became immensely popular with all sections, but especially among the little Welsh colony if ironworkers there. Glanffrwd’s departure to Mold, then followed the loss of his wife two years later, the loss if his wife, cast a gloom over his parishioners. Later, he left for the Cathedral of St Asaph, where he became a second vicar, then the first vicar and also choirmaster. It was during his stay as St Asaph that he married a second time, the bride Miss Lizzie Williams, a well-known songstress from Neath, who was  well-known throughout the Principality as Llinos-y-De, by whom he has two children. In politics Glanffrwd is an ardent Radical, and in that capacity was elected a representative of one of the Denbighshire districts on the Council of that county.

He is undoubtedly one of the most successful bards of his age, and is credited with having gained more Eisteddfodic prizes than any of his contemporaries. He won the chair at the Carnarvon, and other National Eisteddfodau, and, in 1869, a public banquet in his honour and to celebrate his victories was hold at Pontypridd, when he was made the recipient of a purse of gold and a handsomely illuminated address of congratulation.

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.

His only two published works are “Sisalon y Frwd,” a collection of pastoral poems, and his famous “Hanes Plwyf Llanwynno” both now out of print. No doubt there are many manuscripts somewhere containing poems and notes on life in our valleys during the 19th Century. Enquiries are being made amongst his descendants for many papers he may have left, when death over took him at the early age of 47.

There is no doubt that the excess of zeal for his work and the constant demand for his services as eisteddfod conductor brought about his illness which finally led to his death. His wit and learning brought him into company of such national figures as Lord Aberdare, Mathew Arnold, John Rees, Viriamu Jones, and Henry Reichel.

Grave of William Thomas “Glanffrwd”
The end came during the National Eisteddfod at Brecon, in 1890, where he was one of the conductors, he had a second attack of paralysis.

He had long been ailing, and a few weeks ago was removed to a Liverpool institution, where he was treated for paralysis of the brain. Having slightly recovered be, on Monday night, was removed to Pontypridd, his native place, and for a few days appeared to gradually improve. Last week, however, he bad a relapse, and his wife, Mrs Glanffrwd Thomas, the eminent vocalist, was sent for.  Pontypridd. At 11 o’clock on the night of October 2nd 1890, Glanffrwd passed away, to join the great number of his contemporaries in the little graveyard of his beloved Llanwynno.