In 1760, forty years before Richard Trevithick came to the Penydarren
ironworks, the village of Merthyr Tydfil had consisted of only a small
cluster of houses and a few inns near to the ancient church. This was
dedicated to the memory of Tydfil, the martyred daughter of Brychan, ruler
of this area in the fifth century. One of the few dwellings of any size was
that known as the Court House. Built in 1717, on the site of the original
twelfth century courthouse, it was the home of Lewis of the Van. On the
valley sides above the village were numerous farms. Caedraw, the Welsh name
for the area behind the church, where the blocks of flats can be seen, ‘
means the field outside the village’ and reminds us of the rural character
of the area before the development of the iron industry.
By 1804 many new cottages had been built to house the ironworkers, but these
in the main had been built near to the sites of the works. The town itself
though, was also beginning to grow, with streets stretching west from the
High Street towards the River Taff. One of the earliest maps of Merthyr made
in 1830 shows that there was little development in the area where we are
standing and the view from this spot in 1804 would have bourn no resemblance
to what we see today. The church and Court House (now the Labour Club)
remain, but even these building are considerably altered.
The road that runs south from Penydarren, alongside the Tesco store, is
still called Tramroadside and travels behind the former Glove and Shears
public house, towards the site of the Plymouth ironworks. It was in the
1840’s that this district of Merthyr began to see very many changes, first
in 1841 when the Taff Vale Railway Company completed their railway between
Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil.
The line was opened with great celebration on the 12th of April.
“On Tuesday evening the bellman went round the town and announced that that
the railway was to be opened the next day, the shopkeepers would not open
their shops and the townspeople had resolved to make it a special holiday.
On that day the first train was to start at twenty past eight in the
morning, and long before that
time crowds of people directed their steps to
the terminus or mounted the cinder tips, from which they could obtain an
excellent view of the trains for a scape of two miles. Flags were flying in
all directions. When all had taken their seats and everything was ready the band played ‘See
the Conquering Hero comes’, and at twenty minutes past eight exactly the
signal was given and away we went, amidst the sound of the cannon, the music
and the cheers of thousands of spectators”.