Jenkin Howell Miscellanea (contd.2)

The Brocks
For many, many years a group of ponies known as Hirwan Brocks had been reared on Hirwaun Common. Their appearance was an equal mixture of black and white or yellow and white. They were bigger in size than ‘Cadair Arthur’ ponies or ‘Pantywern’, which I mentioned in my first letter; and they sold for more money on market day, at more than a pound each. I haven’t seen any of them for years, and I don’t know whether or not they are still reared here. They were also large, hardened and lively animals. They could be trained, with tenderness and care, to become very useful animals. The local inhabitants were sometimes called ‘Hirwaun Brocks’, and if, over fifty years ago, a person did not have a black eye, he only had to visit a Hirwaun tavern on Saturday pay night and shout out ‘Brock’ at one of the locals, and he would soon have one!

Morgan Rhys Meurig and the Ghost.
Morgan loved running in races. There would never be a race, and there were many races taking place at that time, that Morgan had not witnessed; and he would spend much of his time and money in the taverns close at hand. He was found one morning, following one of Aberdare’s fairs, on Hirwaun Common, frozen to death, close to being naked, with his clothes placed tidily on the roadside around half a mile lower down. People at the time said that he had he had met a ghost, and that he (the ghost) had challenged him to a race. He took off his clothes and ran around a hundred yards; then he lay down and fell asleep, in which he died, as it was a bitterly cold night. This was the age of ghosts, apparitions and body candles although it happened in the first twenty years of this century (19th. DJ). And although the spectral funerals and body candles did not have the right – according to local folk lore – to go from the diocese of Llandaf to the diocese of St, David’s – from the parish of Aberdare to the parish of Penderyn, both in the Cynon Valley – superstitious local people believed that the rule was continually broken. The writer heard an old butcher from the area saying that he had witnessed such wrongdoings. He stated that he had followed a procession from afar, to be sure, ‘and that his hair’ (the butcher’s) ‘had stood on end from one parish to the other’. And the shocking way in which he told the tale had made the young writer’s hair stand on end as well!

Hirwaun Cakes
In the heydays of Hirwaun Works, the place was famed for its ‘bran cakes’. The most well-known, 55 years ago, for making those cakes – the writer knew them well – were ‘Mari Gi Tân’, ‘Mam Dai Dew’, ‘Betti Crafn’ (Craven), and ‘Mari Dwm Rhys’. The most popular cake to celebrate a birthday or a wedding in Hirwaun, was one soaked in cream. That was an expensive item, because one had to pay a ransom to the local farmers for the cream. ‘Mam Dai Dew’ was the leader of the band for making a clelebration cake. That old lady’s recipe was three quarters of a pound of lard into one pound of flour; currants, raisins and lemon peel etc. to taste; and that old artist’s taste was usually quite exotic. ‘Mari Gi Tân’ was quite well known for her skills in making pancakes. One time, Mari invited the other three old dears to spend ‘pancake day’ afternoon with her. In order to show her skill and expertise, she soaked the flour in rum and cream. She poured the first mixture into a pan placed on the fire; and somehow or other, the fire engulfed the pancake and oh – ‘mountains of lead’ it disappeared in a cloud of dust up the chimney!

Religion in Hirwaun
The Established Church had been very negligent regarding religion for the people of Hirwaun from the restart of the Iron Works there in 1763 up to 1869 when the works was past its days of glory. The nearest churches to Hirwaun were Penderyn, nearly three miles away and Aberdare, a full three miles hence. Care for the spiritual welfare of the inhabitants was left solely to the ‘four honourable denominations’ – the Methodists, Independents, Baptists and Wesleyans; and it was good that these denominations were in existence there, otherwise the moral state of the place would have been pitiful. Hirwaun’s religious history gives a good example, and firm evidence of the success of the religious denominations and the failure of the Established Church, on the mountains of Gwent and Glamorgan in the first three quarters of this century (19th DJ).
Mr Overton, the Work’s owner at the end of the previous century, tried to unite the four denominations, and with that in mind, he converted two workmen’s houses into one, made them into a small chapel so that the people could hold all their meetings there. They worshiped there together for years but the move ultimately failed and in 1823 the Methodists and Independents built chapels, similarly the Wesleyans in 1824 and the Baptist in 1825. At the present time, those chapels have been rebuilt, and some have been thrice built. The independents have two Welsh Chapels there and one English; the Baptists, one Welsh and an English one under construction. Many able and famous ministers have served in (on) Hirwaun, and the place was renowned, long before the writer’s days, for its orderly and superior Sunday Schools. This shows that Christian religious principles, irrespective of the man or denomination that taught them, are able to bring order to the world, when taught properly. Hirwaun village (an industrial village, containing, depending on the economic situation at the time, around five thousand people, with only one constable (Hywel Bryncarnau) and afterwards one policeman, albeit without an Established Church within three miles) can show four full congregations of devoted worshipers, and four of the most bright and educated Sunday Schools in ‘Gair y Bywyd’ (the word of life DJ) as may be seen anywhere in the kingdom. I have not the least intention of speaking unkindly about the Establishes church and its respected ministers, but I maintain, in the face of their assertions, that the hands of a bishop or a Government licence is not essential to make a man or a denomination qualified to teach the principles of the New Testament. After the Crawshays bought the Works in 1818, the place improved economically, but religious matters were left completely in the hands of the workers and the few traders who lived there. Although the Crawshays did very little for religion in the neighbourhood of their vast works in Hirwaun, Merthyr and the Forest of Dean, one must say, to their credit, as far as I know, they did not prevent the good cause from proceeding. The few that I’d met knew very little about religion; amassing wealth and enjoying this world in the way they believed it should be enjoyed was their main aim. The present owners of the Merthyr Works’ grandfather lived in Caversham Park, near Reading. His palace there was burned to the ground many years ago and his managers went to London at once to inform their master of the disaster. “Don’t worry” said the master “I will build a house that no one in the world will be able to burn; I will build it of iron” (and so he did). “But a time will come master” said the managers “When the substances will melt under extreme heat”. “Silence fool” said the master, “you and I will not need it by that time”!
Perhaps I should note that the Independents had another chapel in Hirwaun near Heolyfelin in the parish of Penderyn, called ‘Capel Split’, built by the late Joseph Harrison, who also built Salem in Aberdare. Hirwaun ‘split’ did not have much success, and it is no longer a chapel. Henry Price from Penderyn kept a school there for a term, and that is where the writer learned his ‘A, B, C’. There were many graves around that old chapel. They are not to be seen today.

DMJ. Translated from Y Geninen courtesy of Aberdare Library.


Please excuse my ignorance but what is Y Geninen and from whence did it/them originate?

Y Geninen (The Leek) was a quarterly Welsh literary magazine first published in 1883 and edited by John Thomas. Many prominent writers contributed to the magazine including Jenkin Howell who wrote short articles on the older history and customs of Aberdare and district.

Y Geninen (The Leek) 1883-1928, was a Welsh language magazine devoted to literary, political and social subjects. It was edited by John Thomas. Jenkin Howell contributed articles on the older history and folk-lore of aberdare.