A Brief History of Pontypridd
Glamorgan County, Wales, United Kingdom
This page was originally written by Rob Hartill, but thanks to some
excellent reasearch by Terry John, and the cooperation of the Pontypridd
Historical Centre, it is far more complete. It has since been expanded by Larry
Kraus after a visit in 2001. Last updated on
06 July 2003.
Pont y Pridd, late Newbridge, is a small market town in the hundred of
Miskin, county of Glamorgan; 13 miles S. from Merthyr Tydvil, and the same
distance NNW from Cardiff; situated on the line of the Taff Vale railway, for
which this place is a station. The town is mainly supported by the extensive
iron and coal works in its vicinity, which furnish employment to a large number
of the industrious class; there are besides two chemical works, and the
manufacture of flannel is carried on by a few others. The name may come from a contraction of Pont-y-ty^-pridd,
bridge of the earthen house in Welsh, or the Welsh for "bridge of
earth", since in earlier centuries, people took advantage of the
shallowness of the river Taff here to cross it.
Pontypridd marks the confluence of the rivers Taff and Rhondda and at the
junction of the Cardiff to Rhondda and Merthyr railway lines and thus has a
fascinating historical and cultural background.
The development of Treforest and Pontypridd as commercial centres began with
the opening in 1795 of the 25 mile long Glamorganshire canal, between Cardiff
docks and Merthyr.
At the same time, William Crawshay opened a new forge and nail works and
coal was discovered by Dr. Richard Griffiths in Gyfeillion in 1790. Another new
industry which thrived with the excellent transport now available was the
original Newbridge Chain Cable and Anchor Works founded in 1818 - now Brown
Lenox. Later, collieries were opened in the areas of Graig, Hopkinstown,
Trehafod and Cilfynydd.
Treforest, with Francis Crawshay's tin works and Roland Fothergill's
railworks became important. Francis Crawshay lived in Forest House now part of
the site of the new University of Glamorgan and Roland Fothergill in Hensol
Castle. Rhydyfelin and Upper Boat both grew because of the connection with the
In the centre is Mill Street Theatre in 1890, and in 1905 the Municipal
lived. Evan James and his son James James lived in Ty'r Factory, next to their
cloth factory - and they composed the words and music of the Welsh National
Anthem 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau'. A commemorative plaque marks the site of the
factory and statues, representing Poetry and Music designed by the Architect Sir
Goscombe John were unveiled in 1930 in Ynysangharad Park. Mill Street derived
its name from various mills in the vicinity, such as the Rhondda Flour Mill. An
important landmark in Mill Street is the stone railway viaduct, the work of
Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Taff Vale Railway. Nearby St. Catherine's Church
with its fine spire was built in 1868, the Town Hall and Market Buildings in
1885, the Public Library and the Town Hall Theatre in 1890, and in 1905 the
Municipal Building with its fine Council Chamber. In the middle of town is a
charming Victorian Fountain erected in 1895 for Sir Alfred Thomas MP, who later
became Lord Pontypridd.
Many of the old buildings in Pontypridd are decorated with fine stonework and
constructed mainly from locally quarried stone. One quarry - the Graig Yr Hesg
Quarry - is still producing the distinctive blue pennant stone, which, with its
granite-like hardness, will ensure that many of our best buildings will survive
for many years to come.
The celebrated Pont y
Pridd (from which the town now takes its name), a bridge here which bestrides
the Taff river, is an object of great curiosity: it was erected at the expense
of the county in 1750 by a William Edwards, a self taught mason, who, having failed
twice in his project, still persevered, and at length succeeded in completing
the present admirable structure. The first attempt, a wooden bridge was washed
away by floods, the second, of stone, collapsed during construction because of
its weight. The third design was also stone, but much lighter because it had 6
large holes in it, 3 on each side, of diameter 9, 6 and 3 feet. Edwards was paid
50 pounds to maintain it for seven years. "Ponty" as it's known to the
locals was, when built, the longest single spanning bridge in the world (45m /
140 feet span). The bridge is a perfect segment of a circle,
the chord of which is one hundred and forty feet, and amount thirty-five feet
above the level of the river. It is more ornamental than useful however, as from
its immense height, no vehicle could pass over it. Another matter of interest
connected with the bridge, is an extraordinary echo that multiplies the sound
several times. A new three-arch bridge has been erected by the side of it, in 1857, by
public subscription, designed by Robert Hughes, to make it easier for traffic to
cross the river.
Ponty's train station was once able to claim to have the longest station
platform in the world.
Situated at the confluence of the rivers Taff and Rhondda, Pontypridd is the
business and administrative centre of the Taff Ely Borough, and thus has become
the largest town with a population of 33,500.
Famous singers Tom Jones, Sir Geraint Evans, Stuart Burrows and Gillian
Humphreys were born here. Tom still has a home nearby.
The town's main sporting team plays rugby in the National league of Wales.
The river Taff which flows through the town is now recovering from over a
century of coal mine pollution. Within 3-4 miles of the town there used to be
half a dozen or so coal mines, all of which have since closed.
Coal used to pass through Ponty en-route to Cardiff; initially by road, then
by canal, then by rail. Sadly, you're more likely to see coal being transported
up the valleys instead of down.
The Glamorganshire canal has long since vanished, with only a few lock gates
visible along a section of the Taff Trail.
Pontypridd has a thriving shopping centre, attracting many people from
outside the town, especially to its markets.
Of special interest to rugby fans, Ponty is home to the internationally known
Grogg Shop, owned by John Hughes.
A market has stood on the site of the present Market since 1805. The present
Market was built in the late 1870's following the incorporation of the
Pontypridd Markets Company.
In spite of the savage economic decline experienced by Pontypridd and the
Valleys in the 1920's and 1930's, the Market has survived in very much its
original format. The Market Company is proud to have resisted the temptation for
wholesale development, opting instead for gradual refurbishment of the original
buildings, thereby retaining both Indoor and Outdoor Markets in their
Since 1985, the Market has undergone considerable change. Colourful Coster
Barrows are now a feature. The Lesser Town Hall (now known as the Clothes
Market) was refurbished and opened as a Market Hall in 1988, and the Outdoor
Market was extended in 1988 onto a site adjoining Church Street and St.
One of the town's treasures lies to the east side of the River Taff -
Ynysangharad Park. It was opened in 1923 as a War Memorial for the town, and
purchased by public subscription. It is an area of extensive and beautiful
parkland with avenues of mature trees and colourful flower gardens as well as
many amenities. These include miniature golf, tennis courts, a children's play
area, bowling greens, a band stand and an open air paddling pool.
Pontypridd Common from which there are fine views over the town is a natural
open space on which can be seen many glacial boulders remaining from the Ice
Age. One boulder, known as the Rocking Stone, is the central point for the
Druid's Circle of smaller stones which was constructed in the 19th century by
Dr. William Price (the famous pioneer of cremation) and other like minded men
who performed druidic rites there.
Above the Common, towards Glyntaff, are the white washed Round Houses erected
by Dr. Price who, with his colourful dress, long hair and cap of a whole fox's
skin, was one of the great characters of Pontypridd.
He is best remembered for he outrage caused when he cremated the body of his
5 month old son in 1884. He was brought to trial at the Glamorgan Assizes, and
the case established the legality of cremation.
Situated centrally near the Old Bridge, the Pontypridd Historical Centre
offers the visitor a comprehensive glimpse into the historical and cultural past
of the area. The Centre is housed in the former Tabernacl Chapel built in 1861
and magnificently refurbished in 1910. Since ceasing as a place of worship in
1983 and being taken over by the Town Council, the building has been restored.
The ceiling, pulpit and organ are wonderful examples of the best chapel
interiors. The Centre is open Mondays to Saturdays 10a.m. - 5p.m. and further
information is available from the Curator, Pontypridd Historical and Cultural
Centre, Bridge Street, Pontypridd. Tel. Pontypridd (44) (0)1443 402077.