Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 104

Iron and Coal — The Martyred Princess — Cyfartha Fawr — Diabolical Structure.

MERTHYR TYDVIL is situated in a broad valley through which roll the waters of the Taf. It was till late an inconsiderable village, but is at present the greatest mining place in Britain, and may be called with much propriety the capital of the iron and coal.

It bears the name of Merthyr Tydvil, which signifies the Martyr Tydvil, because in the old time a Christian British princess was slain in the locality which it occupies. Tydvil was the daughter of Brychan, Prince of Brecon, surnamed Brycheiniawg, or the Breconian, who flourished in the fifth century and was a contemporary of Hengist. He was a man full of Christian zeal, and a great preacher of the Gospel, and gave his children, of which he had many, both male and female, by various wives, an education which he hoped would not only make them Christians, but enable them to preach the Gospel to their countrymen. They proved themselves worthy of his care, all of them without one exception becoming exemplary Christians, and useful preachers. In his latter days he retired to a hermitage in Glamorganshire near the Taf, and passed his time in devotion, receiving occasionally visits from his children. Once, when he and several of them, amongst whom was Tydvil, were engaged in prayer, a band of heathen Saxons rushed in upon them and slew Tydvil with three of her brothers. Ever since that time the place has borne the name of Martyr Tydvil. 21

The Taf, which runs to the south of Merthyr, comes down from Breconshire, and enters the Bristol Channel at Cardiff, a place the name of which in English is the city on the Taf. It is one of the most beautiful of rivers, but is not navigable on account of its numerous shallows. The only service which it renders to commerce is feeding a canal which extends from Merthyr to Cardiff. It is surprising how similar many of the Welsh rivers are in name: Taf, Tawey, Towey, Teivi, and Duffy differ but very little in sound. Taf and Teivi have both the same meaning, namely a tendency to spread out. The other names, though probably expressive of the properties or peculiarities of the streams to which they respectively belong, I know not how to translate.

The morning of the fourteenth was very fine. After breakfast I went to see the Cyfartha Fawr iron works, generally considered to be the great wonder of the place. After some slight demur I obtained permission from the superintendent to inspect them. I was attended by an intelligent mechanic. What shall I say about the Cyfartha Fawr? I had best say but very little. I saw enormous furnaces. I saw streams of molten metal. I saw a long ductile piece of red-hot iron being operated upon. I saw millions of sparks flying about. I saw an immense wheel impelled round with frightful velocity by a steam-engine of two hundred and forty horse power. I heard all kinds of dreadful sounds. The general effect was stunning. These works belong to the Crawshays, a family distinguished by a strange kind of eccentricity, but also by genius and enterprising spirit, and by such a strict feeling of honour that it is a common saying that the word of any one of them is as good as the bond of other people.

After seeing the Cyfartha I roamed about, making general observations. The mountain of dross which had startled me on the preceding night with its terrific glare, and which stands to the north-west of the town, looked now nothing more than an immense dark heap of cinders. It is only when the shades of night have settled down that the fire within manifests itself, making the hill appear an immense glowing mass. All the hills around the town, some of which are very high, have a scorched and blackened look. An old Anglesea bard, rather given to bombast, wishing to extol the abundant cheer of his native isle said: “The hills of Ireland are blackened by the smoke from the kitchens of Mona.” With much more propriety might a bard of the banks of the Taf, who should wish to apologise for the rather smutty appearance of his native vale exclaim: “The hills around the Taf once so green are blackened by the smoke from the chimneys of Merthyr.” The town is large and populous. The inhabitants for the most part are Welsh, and Welsh is the language generally spoken, though all have some knowledge of English. The houses are in general low and mean, and built of rough grey stone. Merthyr, however, can show several remarkable edifices, though of a gloomy horrid Satanic character. There is the hall of the Iron, with its arches, from whence proceeds incessantly a thundering noise of hammers. Then there is an edifice at the foot of a mountain, half way up the side of which is a blasted forest and on the top an enormous crag. A truly wonderful edifice it is, such as Bos would have imagined had he wanted to paint the palace of Satan. There it stands: a house of reddish brick with a slate roof — four horrid black towers behind, two of them belching forth smoke and flame from their tops — holes like pigeon holes here and there — two immense white chimneys standing by themselves. What edifice can that be of such strange mad details? I ought to have put that question to some one in Tydvil, but did not, though I stood staring at the diabolical structure with my mouth open. It is of no use putting the question to myself here.

After strolling about for some two hours with my hands in my pockets, I returned to my inn, called for a glass of ale, paid my reckoning, flung my satchel over my shoulder, and departed.

21 Hanes Crefydd Yn NGhymru.


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