Battle Blaen Rhondda

Traces of Massacre and a Great Battle and Victory

Romans verses Britons
Rhyd Y Cyllill, or Bayonet Ford, Blaen-Rhondda

Running down the eastern mountain, through many stone cabins, lying right and left, is a swift watercourse, bearing the significant name of Rhyd y Cyllill. The literal meaning of the name is, Ford of the Knives, but, in a military sense, it may signify, either Ford of the Spears or Bayonets. We are uncertain as to what was the name the Ancient Britons gave to a spear. In later Welsh, a spear is called Gwaewffon. That signifies Rod of Agony. Rhyd is the Welsh name of a Ford. It is clear the name Rhyd y Cyllill given here to insignificant mountain brooklet, whose surroundings are teeming with traces of a great battle., relate to some crucial, fierce episode in the course of the said engagement. The sloping hillside across the deep glen bears the name Ysgwyd: the most ancient Welsh name for the shield of a soldier. It bears a curious affinity to the Latin for a shield, namely, Scutum. In Welsh, Ysgwyd signifies to shake, and when two opposing armies were in conflict, and each soldier with a shield fastened on his left arm, the motions of innumerable shields in motion, must have been a terrible sight to behold. A few years ago, while a tramway was being cut along the bottom of the hillside, near where the brooklet empties itself into the Rhondda River below, an elaborately made spear-head, about a foot in length, dropped among the workmen, from the foundation of one of the ruined circular little cots so plentiful on that hillside.

The late Mr Williams, M.E., manager of the local colliery, presented it to the late Col. Wilkinson, Risca. A model of it is to be seen at the Cardiff Museum. This appears to have been one of the Cyllill, or “knives,” which gave the name to the brooklet. It is in all respects a spear, such as a warrior of a kingdom would carry, and far above the workmanship of a rustic. Along its border is a beautifully carved floral design. The place the spear-head was discovered lead to the conclusion that the fierce engagement was fought from top to bottom of this hillside. What we can conjecture took place it as follows. Those familiar with the early history of Britain are aware that, while the Romans respected the native religions of other nations, Claudius Caesar, who died in A.D. 54, issued two Imperial Edicts, ordering the Roman regiments in Britain to try to exterminate the priests of the Britons.

They had declared Mars, the Roman God of War, was Satan, and the Romans, as an Imperial people believed, they were descended from Mars. Thus the Britannic priesthood had proclaimed their God was the Devil, and they his children. Thus a religious element had been introduced into the enmities of Romans and Britons towards each other. To carry out Caesar’s orders, the commanders of the Roman forces had, by means of spies and scouts, to discover the places where the priests and worshippers, in accordance with the native creed, assembled in vast numbers. Their great Cymmanvas on the highest mountain tops, assembled on Sylgwyn Day. This was on the longest day of June, then supposed to be June 25th. Another name they gave to the festival was Alban Hevin, or High Sun Point of Summer Weather. There are abundant traces left, indicating that this locality had been, during rolling centuries, devoted to Sylgwyn, or Pentecost, festivities:

1. Close at hand is the highest pinnacle of the mountains of Glamorgan, being 1791 feet above the level of the Severn. Nearly all South Wales, with its high hills and lovely valleys, are seen from this highest point.

2. The name of the locality, a name apparently underlying later ones, is Caer Moesau, or Circle of Urbanity.

3. At the back of the highest point is a deep glen, having a large sacred lake. In the native tongue is called Llun Vawr. We know that, in the native religion of old Britain, the Crescent Moon is called Llun, or Image, Image of what? Of the sacred Ark, or Galley, which on great occasion, floated upon each sacred lake, as was the case in Egypt, where the Royal emblem is still the Crescent Ark, with the Sun, as a star, is shown rising from it in the morning. It thus appears that the name of the Ark of the Lady of the Lake, the Spirit-Goddess Cariadwen, Queen of Heaven, came to be retained here and elsewhere, as the name of the sacred lake itself. The Welsh for a lake is Pwll, or Pit. Pwll is from Pwyll, or slowing as of a river at a deep part in the current or flow.

4. It is a tradition that no man throwing a stone from the heights can hurl it into the lake, it being believed invisible fairies watching over the sacred Ark, catch the stone before it can reach the waters.
5. It was an article of Faith among the old farmers and families of these valleys, that early in the morning, the Lady of the Lake, the lower half, fish-like, was occasionally seen, seated on a stone on the border of the lake, combing her abundance of golden tresses into the lake. But the moment anyone came in view of her, she instantly dived out of sight. These tales made people dread the locality.
6. West, over the mountain, is Y Twyn Coch, or Crimson Hill, and the brook below, called the Altar Brook.

Now, we take the other later names, as we believe them to be:

1. Cevn Cad Fernol, or Ridge of the Infernal Battle
2. Reg Oes, or Execration of an Age.
3. Cevn yr Esgyrn, or Mountain Hillside of Bones.
4. Rhyd y Cyllill
5. The ruins of an immense number of circular stone cots, such as were called, Cytiau Gwyddelod, or Cots of Literary Men
6. A great boulder under a waterfall. It bears the name, Y Garreg Lwyd, or Holy Stone.

What happened, we think, was the following. The Roman spies and scouts had ascertained that this High Place, or Llan, was the principal resort for assembly in dreaded Siluria, on June 25th. That the Roman regiments, by forced marches, from the via Julia and Aberavan, reached the sacred heights while the numerous priests and priestess were asleep in the temporary habitations, the cots, while the general congregation were lodged in tents on the heights on the Eastern side. That the Roman regiments, as on the Menai Straits, rushed in and massacred the entire defenceless ones, those who failed to escape. The Romans knew well the Silurian army would soon arrive on the awful scene of murder. For the news would fly over the hills and dales.

They swept to the revenge

The Silurian army, as the Roman designated the forces of South Wales from Gloucester to Neath River, appears to have come here very soon by forced marches, from the direction of Aberdare and Ferndale, directly after the awful tidings of the massacre reached it. They, doubtless, beheld lying in all directions “on the mountain cold,” great numbers of the aged priests, old and young, together with young priestesses, who had so recently been holding the religious rites of Whitsuntide, or Pentecost, always begun each year on the longest day. The fury of the Silurian army must have resembled that of the British army on reaching Cawnpore in 1857, after the massacre in the Indian Mutiny, almost uncontrollable. But self-protection needed discipline. One pictures savage jeering cries exchanged across the valley between the Silures and Romans, who had, we can still see by the traces of trenched there, already entrenched themselves along the Western mountain slopes. On the Roman left, there is a sweeping curve, extending along the top of the valley of Blaen Rhondda, to the parish road extending along the breast of the mountain side, over the ridge opposite the left wing of the Romans’ advance. This mountain road ran at right angles to the front of the Silurian army stationed on the Eastern side. The Romans dug in front of their left advance along the curve, a long deep fosse-it is there still, to protect their left wing with its serried ranks. Between this fosse and the sudden very steep fall in the ground, reaching down into the valley from the East Ridge, the distance is, say one hundred yards. This is the space called Rhyd y Cyllill, which name in modern English, can be translated Bayonet Ford. This would have been the only opening, owing to the fosse and the sudden steep fall in the ground between the two armies. It appears it was through this space the Silures charged the enemy position.

Battle Blaen Rhondda

Spear-head found at Rhyd y Cyllill (bronze 2300-1500BC)
(Now at Cardiff Museum)

We infer it was they who charged, by the fat the natives gave to the space the name Bayonet Ford, The author had the spear-head in his hands a few days after it was discovered. Singular to say, on visiting the locality with Mr William Morgan, J.P. Tynewydd, and Mr John Morgan, some years later, the author, by some curious good fortune, happened to address the very young workman who had discovered it. He pointed out the ruined hut above a tramway while cutting which the spear-head dropped from the foundation of the ruins. Probably many others are lying about there. The presence of the elaborately manufactured spear-head on that spot, proves one or two things, viz., either it was wrenched from a Roman by some stalwart Bard defending his own life during the ruthless massacre, or that the tug of war extended down the declivity to the Rhondda River below from the fosse, down to the river. It was necessarily a hand to hand conflict, and everything indicates the Britons conquered.

As already stated, beyond the said military fosse, if front of the right wing of the Silurian advance, the road dips towards the top end of the Rhegoes Valley, beyond and behind the left wing of the Roman advance towards the Siluries. The dip towards Rhegoes is narrow and is flanked on both sides by steep rising ground.

It appears that for some reason, doubtless because of being simultaneously attacked by the Siluries had front and behind, the Romans, after a desperate struggle, gave way, and attempted to break through the Siluries by rushing in the direction of the descent towards the Rhegoes top-end, beyond the ridge. But that they were hewed down in every direction by the Siluries, and so terrible was the slaughter of the Romans that, to this day, the spot is called Cevn yr Esgyrn, or the Ridge of the Bones. The Silures would have buried or burnt their own slain, and the fact this suggestive name was given to the locality, indicates exultation and derision over a cruel, fallen foe, who, by his barbarity towards a defenceless priesthood and other non-combatants, had incurred the wildest hatred of the heroic Siluries, and the names here have come down through the centuries on the tongues of each generation of Welshmen and Welsh women, as notes of derision and execration.

“The soil of Wales is the dust of patriots.”
Marie Trevellyan

It was though this same region the army of Rhys ap Tewdwr retreated in confusion after their defeat on Hirwaun Common in the summer of either 1087 or 1091. In an old deed, bearing 1626, the ridge is called Fotyn, or Hazardous Flight, implying the foe was at their heels. This name has never been able to overlap the former names; indeed it is unknown in the locality, and is only found on parchment.

So peaceful were those ancient Kimmerian bards that it was a criminal offence to take a sword out of its scabbard in the presence of any one of them. In a court of law the Bards, who were all ministers of religion, were not required to testify by an oath; the bare word of a Bard being deemed sufficient guarantee he was testifying truth. This peculiarity of the Bardic order in Britain was so well-known in Greece, that Homer in describing Ulysses landing in Britain, and meeting there with the Theban or Archdruid, describes the last named ordering him to sheath his sword in his august presence, and Ulysses obeying, as St Peter did on a memorable occasion.

The foregoing considerations lead us to conclude that the vast religious congregation, which slumbered in those numerous stone huts or cots, dotting the southern hillside and over the brow of the hill here, were on that murderous night, unarmed. In the dim moonlight the Roman regiment crept silently from the West, up the old parish roads, leaving Glyncorrwg on their right and then bounded, swords and spears in hand, into the midst of the sleeping multitude. Their swords, as on the Menai shore, were soon reeking with the life blood of aged priests, and others of all ages. The cries of the innocent echoed in the caves of the adjacent mountains. It was not a battle, but a Cawnpore massacre, and so atrocious was the deed in the eyes of the Kimmri that the names they gave to that mountain region are monumental ones.