South Wales, The Rhondda Valleys and Graveyard Visits

Rhondda Valley 2

“The town of Merthyr Tidfil was filled with such unguided, hard-worked, fierce, and miserable-looking sons of Adam I never saw before. Ah me! It is like a vision of Hell, and will never leave me, that of these poor creatures broiling, all in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits, and rolling mills” – Thomas Carlyle

The Rhondda Valleys are punctuated at regular intervals with old mining villages and towns, the pits all gone now of course, for better or for worse, depending upon your point of view and as we drove north we climbed through Treorchy and Treherbert.

If Port Talbot is known for actors then Treorchy is sort of famous for footballers being the birthplace of three Welsh internationals, Noel Kinsey, Wayne Jones and Geraint Williams as well as the World Cup referee Clive Thomas.  I can’t find evidence of anyone famous who came from Treherbert  except my Landlady Vi Elliott from my University years in Cardiff and she was a very fine host.

Travelling North, Treherbert is the last of the villages in Rhondda Fawr and shortly out of the town the road eased its way around the top of the valley and provided us with a succession of stopping places where we could pull-up and simply admire the jaw-dropping views.  At one stop there was a curious collection of memorial stones and crosses and we finally deduced that it was a sort of do-it-yourself graveyard where people have their ashes buried or spread in a place with an eternal memorable view over the Brecon Beacons.

Rather odd I thought.  There must be tens of thousands of places in South Wales with equally grand views where people could have their ashes spread, why not find somewhere unique and solitary? I wouldn’t want to spend eternity with a bunch of strangers  but for some reason a hundred or so had come together in exactly the same spot next to a high pressure gas pipe line with a functional concrete sign in bright orange that I suppose is there to warn family not to dig too deep or else they may be all prematurely scattered together!

Odd Wales cemetery

From this elevated position it reminded me that only six months previously I had enjoyed equally spectacular views from the top of the gorge at Ronda in Spain.  Two Rhonddas  in the same year!

Leaving the valley we reached the A465 which is a road not just with a number but also a name – The Heads of the Valleys Road, so-called because like a curtain pole it joins together the northern ends (or ‘heads‘) of the South Wales Valleys and now we drove west towards Merthyr Tidfil and to the south of us the valleys were the folds in the drapes.  I like roads with names – The Great North Road, The Fosse Way, TheWatling Street, The Cat and Fiddle and the Brian Clough Way, so much more romantic than just a number.

During the Industrial Revolution Merthyr Tidfil was the principal town in South Wales, based on the industrial muscle of iron works and coal mining it was far more important than Cardiff, Swansea or Newport and my pal had brought me to tell me a story relating to its industrial heritage.

Not quite Merthyr Tidfil as it happens but a nearby village of Vaynor on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and we drove north towards a small village and a country churchyard where there is a grave of a famous industrialist – Robert Thompson Crawshay who was the last owner and manager of the Cyfarthfa Iron works and sometimes called the  ‘Iron King of Wales’.

During the 1870s there was considerable industrial unrest at Cyfarthfa as steel began to replace iron in value and importance and the business was badly affected by falling demand and prices.  Even as standards of living (such as they were, I imagine)  collapsed all around Crawshay refused to give way to the demands of the unions and one by one authorised the extinguishing of the furnaces.

A fact about foundries is that once an iron smelting furnace has been allowed to go cold there is no way of starting it up again, it is cracked, flawed and useless and as many as five thousand workers lost their jobs and fell into hopeless poverty as a consequence.

Anyway, the story goes that just a short time later he died a broken man and on his death-bed, racked with terminal guilt, he uttered his final words “God Forgive Me”.  This may or may not be true but what is fact that under a giant slab of granite said to weigh an estimated ten tonnes*, brought all the way from Cornwall in the South West of England lies the body of Robert Thompson Crawshay and inscribed in the stone is a simple inscription which records the name, the years of birth and death and his alleged final words “God Forgive Me”. 

about-1962-with-stan-gardiner

A churchyard somewhere in Norfolk.  Sandals with socks.  Not my dad but my Godfather Stan Gardiner and my sister Lindsay.  I assume that Dad took the picture.

To be honest I am not so keen on visiting graveyards as my friend.  I think this is because when I was a boy I remember family holidays where my dad always wanted to visit churches.  I believe that this had something to do with the fact that they were free to enter.  Dad would be disappointed to discover that today you can’t just wander freely  into churches anymore because generally they are kept locked as a result of vandalism and theft and if you really want to visit then you have to find the key holder and fill out a five-page application form.  It is harder to get into a country church now as a tourist than it is to get NHS treatment!

We left Vaynor and headed south now and my companion told me there was one more important place to visit today on our way back to the caravan park.  “Is it a churchyard..?”, I demanded to know “…because you know that I don’t like church yards!”. 

He was suspiciously reticent about answering so I knew instinctively of course that it would be a churchyard!

Vaynor Church Yard South Wales

* so unpopular was Crayshaw with the local people who had lost their jobs that it is said to be deliberately so heavy so that his body could not be exhumed and desecrated!

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28 responses to “South Wales, The Rhondda Valleys and Graveyard Visits

  1. Good story about Crawshay. I bet he was a relative of Clive “The Book” Thomas. He also plans to be buried under a giant slab of granite with “God Forgive Me” inscribed on it.

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  2. Andrew, Pretty darned good. Loved your joke about cutting the gas line and scattering…!

    The footballers from Treorchy you mention mind you were all nonentities, even by Welsh international standards.

    And it is of course a town world famous for The Treorchy Male Voice Choir…for many years the pre-eminent Welsh male choir…but not right now.

    Missed the chance to bring in John Hughes and Hughesovka (the modern day Donetsk) with Merthyr. That is some story..!! Dx

    David “Dai” Woosnam

    https://about.me/daiwoosnam

    “I’d get out more, but I’ve torn my anorak.”

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  3. Enjoying this trip round south Wales. Partner often mutters about the heads of the valleys toad. I mean road.
    That furnace fact was interesting.

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    • I am no expert on furnaces but as I understand it once they are allowed to cool they crack and collapse and then need to be rebuilt from scratch.
      The Heads of the Valleys Wode (oops that is Scotland) is a functional dual carriageway now, before it was upgraded I imagine that it was once much more romantic!

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      • Told partner about the dc and he was gobsmacked. Apparently, travelling up the HOTVR, if you look to your left, there was (may no longer be there) some goat track and a few farmhouses. Seems the lairy young men from the valleys chose to drive that route. Much more fun. Innocent pastimes of the past?

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      • He will in for a shock when he sees it next then. All dual carriageway now, they were just finishing the stretch east of Merthyr when we drove back and I don’t remember many goat tracks!
        A sad part of the route was near Rymney where the taxi driver David Wilkie was killed when taking striking miners to work. Two strikers threw a slab of concrete from a footbridge and hit his car. You probably remember the story, I know I did.

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  4. Sounds a bumpy trip, Andrew. As for the furnaces, you’re right. Once they’re turned off, that’s it baby. I live in a steel town. 😀

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  5. I drove on the heads of the valleys road in the summer – some great views, but shocking roadworks! I like the A39 in Cornwall, a.k.a The Atlantic Highway.

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  6. Well who knew that the dead like to gather together? It is a magnificent view and far finer than many a graveyard I’ve seen.

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  7. So much life stirred in old graveyards, love them – a stark reminder of life gone by, shame modern graves don’t look as individualised as the old ones. Loved the article, Andrew

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  8. The opening photo is beautiful, Andrew. Doesn’t really match my own experiences of Wales but it’s nice to see. 🙂
    Quiet Christmas at Home? (well, as quiet as you can be with the grandies!)

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  9. Once again, Mr. Petcher, thank you for puting up with me. If you feel that I’m disrupting something with my inappropriate comments, or making your other regular commenters uncomfortable – feel free to tell me to stop. I will comply immediately. You can even ban me altogether to be on a safe side.

    But, if we are to continue our conversation which began waaaaay back many blogposts ago:

    “Thomas More wrote , “Anyone who campaigns for public office becomes disqualified for holding any office at all” (Utopia, 1516)”

    I read Utopia (and Companella’s “City of the Sun”) as a kid. Not because it was in the school program – just because. I re-read it in the University. By today’s (Western) standards, what Sir Thomas peddled as an “ideal” society would have triggered into catatonic state many so-called “Adorables”. I find it just a propaganda document full of not so subtle jabs and comments on the contemporary (to the Author) England.

    Sir Thomas More was a hypocrite. Sure, he didn’t campaign/stand for an office – he had his bud king Harry VIII to appoint him upper and upper on the hierarchical ladder. Good Sir Thomas, good Catholic Sir Thomas in his capacity as an office holder of a “monstrous Regime” (it qualifies, by your definition) of Henry the Tudor saw fit to execute people, who were (or were not) guilty of professing the Protestant Heresy. But he went off to the chopping block not for this, but for resisting his rather horny monarch on a question of matrimony.

    But, putting aside the advisability of really trusting words of a man of not exactly 100% pure personal record, let’s us not forget, that these words, that you were quoting, pertain not to us, but to a non-existent place portrayed in a work of fiction. We live in reality and reality is what it is.

    All politicians are potential monsters. Putin is the extreme example. Unaccountable, Self-elected and Tyrannical in the extreme.

    That’s news for me. I remember how we, Russians, voted for Putin – several times, in fact. And I will without doubt vote for him again come the 2018. Are you saying that, no – no one in Russia actually voted for Putin? That someone else had been elected all these years? Okay, in that case you’d have to concede the presidency to the second-place holder – i.e. to the chairman of the Communist Party of Russian Federation (KPRF) Gennady Zyuganov. It was him elected all these years instead of Putin, who, using, I dunno, a combination of the Dark Magick and forbidden science somehow changed the results, right? Don’t like the “dirty commies”, Mr. Petcher? Fine, let’s go to the traditional №3 placeholder of the elections – the candidate from the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), its timeless and tireless leader Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky! Would he, as the head of Russia satisfy you more? 😉

    Now – supposed “unaccountability”. For good or for worse, most of the countries subscribing to the “democracy” nowadays understand it, primarily, as a representative democracy. It is by no means the most perfect or, in fact, the only possible form of a democracy. What, do you really think that every single governmental official *must* send you, personally, the full account of his or her daily activities? Would you even comprehend what they are doing right or wrong? And, more importantly, where will you have time to read it? So you have to trust them – that’s called “to delegate”. Don’t like how representatives, whom you delegated to rule the country in your stead, work – fine! Take them accountable – don’t vote for them. Or go protest. Or complain on the Net. No one is forbidding you from doing this, really. And most of the people in Russia find Mr. Putin just fine.

    But you also call him “Tyrannical in the extreme”. Hyperbola that has nothing to do with the reality. In what instance is he “tyrannical”? Do you, Mr. Petcher, know what’s the function of the state? State, Mr. Petcher, any state anywhere on the planet does 3 (three) things for you: takes your money (“taxes”), saddles you with rules (“laws”) and makes sure that only it maintains the monopoly on the p. 1 and p. 2. Everything else is just bells and whistles. And you agree to that, because you understand that’s how it must be done. You give your consent. Because if you go past this 3 “violent” things that the State dares to do to your person, you will see yourself safe and sound, protected from unsanctioned violence, governed by laws and enjoying the state-provided services (paid from you pocket), that make your life better. So, when all is said and done, and you, obligatory, complain about the State, in the end of the day you support it. You give it legitimacy as is your due.

    The vast majority of Russians give Mr. Putin his legitimacy via their support. I’m not talking about the popularity rating alone – it’s just that, popularity rating. The matter is – Putin delivers. If he was, indeed, a blood-fisted Tyrant and suppressor of the Downtrodden Masses ™, he wouldn’t do anything for Russia. At all. He’d just take, take and take, channeling anywhere, but not into his country. We saw it in the 90s during the reign of the “democrat” Yeltsin. Now we see it in the Ukraine.

    You talk about politicians turning into monster. Mr. Petcher, monsters belong to the fairy tales. Humans remain human. We are who we are.

    “The problem for Russia is now as it always was, it doesn’t know if it is part of the western world or the east. Personally I consider it to be an integral part of the west and it should come to terms with that just as the Tsars of the late nineteenth century tried to achieve.”

    You are wrong. Russia is *not* a part of the so-called “western world” and never will be. Your mistake, and mistake of those ideologists, who invented this idea in the first place, is to equate the whole of Europe with just Western Europe alone. Western European countries have no right to “accept” or “turn away” anyone in Europe – no matter what they think, they don’t own the place. Still, they try, and they always attempt to saddle Russia with conditions, norms and “universal values” ™ passing them as “European”. They have no such right and Russia shouldn’t acquiesce to the seemingly unending list of demands from the West. Again – we are who we are. It’s no use to re-made us into your own image. And, yes, this also means that Russian opinion on the “European Values” (as the integral and inalienable part of Europe) has the same weight as any other country. A concept hard to swallow for any Westerner, that’s for sure.

    As for the phrase – “just as the Tsars of the late nineteenth century tried to [to be an integral part of the west]” – that’s some news for me. Surely, Mr. Petcher, you will enlighten me about this incredible series of events, that are so maliciously not mentioned in Russian inferior history books, but which are known to anyone in the West. I know, though, that there was, indeed, a time, when Russia in the 19th century was considered an integral part of the Europe (the “West” didn’t even exist then). It was right after Viennese Congress of 1815 when Russian Empire not only took part in the re-drawing of the borders of the post-Napoleonic Europe (all of it), but was integral in the establishing the system of international relations, that would govern the relations between the Great powers of the time. And that’s not all! Russian Emperor did everything to see the formation of the Holy Alliance happening, a military Alliance of conservative interventionists, whose membership (granted – sometimes only nominal) later extended to ALL European powers bar three: The Great Britain, Papal State and the Ottoman Turkey.

    “In the west we remember the eastern barbarism of 1945 – invasion, murder, rape and occupation. You are an intelligent person, please do not try to deny it.”

    Once again you accuse me of being an “intelligent person” (not smart, though). If you insist – here are my response as the person of some “intelligence”. Don’t like it – very well, find data for yourself.

    You, Mr. Petcher, can not remember “eastern barbarism” of 1945. You were not born yet. Even if you were born prior to 1945, I have to ask you – on which side you are? I thought that you were a British citizen. Or your ancestors came to the UK from Germany somewhere after 1945? Because NO British citizen could’ve witness any amount of the Soviet Army’s soldiers in any significant number for the duration of the whole War on their territory. The same could be said about any country of the so-called “West” at the time period.

    Still, you claim to “remember” the “eastern barbarism of 1945”. The whole former Soviet Union then, can lay a claim to still remembering (and feeling the pain) of the WESTERN BARBARISM of 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944. Why should our plight mean less than supposedly “yours”? Are our lives less worthy? Why, are you simply, inadvertently, sub-consciously “allying” yourself with the Racially Pure Germans(whose supposed sufferings are real – they are White, after all!), and show complete disregard and indifference to the vastly bigger number of the Soviet citizens, who experienced the untold suffering, for real, at the hands of the foreign invaders as… insignificant? Because they were, ah, just “Untermenchen”?

    I’m honestly stupefied by your choice of words, Mr. Petcher. Are you even aware that we, Soviet People and the His Majesty’s Subjects, were on the same side during the war? That there were a series of international conferences between the so-called “Allied Powers”, which confirmed their resolution to fight to the victorious end, do not sign any separate peace agreements and accept only Germany’s total and unconditional surrender. Is this now absent in the history books in the Free West? If not – then what are you talking about? What “invasion”? Invasion of – what?

    Are you familiar with such concept, Mr. Petcher, as the “War”? The 3rd Reich occupied (military) a lot of territory of Europe. He refused to surrender. His enemies were fighting against it, striving to destroy its military and liberate occupied territory. The so-called “Allied Powers” did it by any means available. Say, Mr. Petcher, do the people in your West-of-Long-Memories remember the firebombing of Dresden as well – and many, many similar episodes of Allied “carpet bombing”? Still, it was the War. No use for crocodile tears there.

    Did the Soviet Army found itself, fulfilling the international obligations accepted by the Soviet Union, in the Heart of the Beast – Berlin? Yes, it did. Never forget about that. Did it have to fight the enemy on the way there and within the den of the Nazis themselves? Again – yes. Can you call an elimination of the enemy soldier a “murder”? No, not even by a stretch. It’s called “War”. Were there any episodes, when the troopers of the Soviet Army misbehaved themselves, which resulted in violence against the civilians? Yes, there were such instances. Good thing we have the NKVD troops and the commissars back then. The offenders faced swift and brutal military justice (does it make the “victims of the Regime” ™, Mr. Petcher?). Was the number of said incidents over the top, or even uncharacteristically bigger that in any other Allied army? Nope. You know which country’s Army, though, chased the Fraus and Frauleans to the nearest bushes most eagerly? Or will you find this data yourself?

    So, Mr. Petcher, I’d really like for you to stop this Nazi apology, think and read something on the subject. Unless, of course, you sincerely consider the loss of the 3rd Reich a true loss for the West.

    “On a lighter note, Russia has a monster and the USA has a clown!”

    You have no idea what a ruler-clown is. We had one – name Boris Yeltsin. Russians nearly universally hate him to this dame. Trump didn’t even start his reign and already persons of certain political persuasion (and no friend of Russia among them) hate him. This alone is promising.

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    • I appreciate your comment and would never ‘ban’ you as I believe in Freedom of Speech of course!

      Can I however ask you to make your responses more manageable, my WordPress Blog is not a good platform for lengthy debate and I try to avoid politics here. Try emailing me instead.

      I will just make one point. If, in your opinion, I am not qualified because of d.o.b. to have an opinion about 1944/5 then by the same rules you disqualify yourself as an apologist for the occupation of post war eastern Europe.

      Have a good day!

      Andrew

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      • “I will just make one point. If, in your opinion, I am not qualified because of d.o.b. to have an opinion about 1944/5 then by the same rules you disqualify yourself as an apologist for the occupation of post war eastern Europe.”

        No, you can have an opinion. Better yet for you to have an informed opinion. Instead you wrote, and I re-quote you:

        “In the west we remember…”

        I explained how *you* can’t remeber that. You see, Mr. Petcher, people can draw knowledge not only from their memories and personal experiences. I.e. – people can lear and study. There are sciencies for that. Which makes all the more interesting – how did you come to your opinion?

        And, no, I’m not engaged in the apologism – I’m simply stating facts, also welcoming you disprove them with your own evidence and proof. However, crying over Nazi Germany and whatver befall it (absolutly justly in *my* opinion, which share a lot of people – even, yes, in the West) while trying to portray the Soviet Union as “barbarous”, well, this is Nazi-apologism.

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  10. Prematurely scattered together! ha ha ha!! You are good for a laugh. Love that first photo, with all the colour splashed across the hills like someone dumped a watercolour palette.

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  11. Pingback: South Wales, Iron and Coal – Donetsk and Aberfan | Have Bag, Will Travel

  12. I know The Heads of The Valley Road well as we drive between Abergavenny and Swansea very often. Yes, the roadworks are a pain, but they are so going to help the region develop and become more accessible once they are finished. I don’t go into politics at all, Andrew, but the money to improve The Heads Of The Valley road came from the European Union. And, didn’t the majority of us Welsh people vote to leave the EU? I’ll get off my soap box quickly and leave it there.
    Very much enjoying your trip to Wales.

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