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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 canal.

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.

Ponty_bridge.gif (157271 bytes) 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 traditional style.

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. Catherine's Street.

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.

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Compiled by Larry Kraus