Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Noel Thomas Lecture : Gwyrosydd – “ puddler, miner and genius”.

Daniel James "Gwyrosydd".
This year’s Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture was given by Mrs Rhian Rees of Pontyberem (though a former resident of Melincwrt), who took her husband’s great grandfather Daniel James “Gwyrosydd”, as her topic.  Daniel James’s famous composition of the words of “Calon Lân”, is universally known both in Wales and beyond, and is more likely to be heard in a pub or rugby ground these days than a chapel.  This thought may well have appealed to the mercurial character that was Daniel James. Mrs Rees described him as an “ordinary working man”, though he evidently had extraordinary qualities.

He was born in LLangyfelach in 1848, and was named as the third Daniel James in his family after his father and grandfather. It was evident that his family were literate from the marriage certificate of his parents which gave him a start in life. However, the lower Swansea Valley at the time was a dangerous place to live and was described as a sulphurous hell, being the eminent centre of copper smelting as well as other heavy and polluting industry. Infant mortality was very high, and young Daniel was fortunate to survive the cholera epidemic of 1849 which was brought on by the insanitary domestic conditions of the time. There were two schools in Llangyfelach at the time and it is probable that he attended  J.H. Vivian’s Hafod Copperworks school. Howver, he left at the age of thirteen and began work as labourer in a local tinworks.

He married Ann Hopkins at the age of 23, and soon found that he had a talent for writing which he used to his advantage composing odes for his friends and getting paid for it. Now working as a 'puddler', in Morriston Ironworks, the intense heat from the furnaces gave rise to a huge thirst which was usually slaked with weak beer. It is this period which probably gave rise to the not uncommon paradox of a literary genius with a dependency on alcohol which lasted his whole life. He was a friend of the bard David Watkin Jones  “Dafydd Morgannwg”, who  taught him the strict metre of Welsh verse and also persuaded him to adopt the Bardic name “Gwyrosydd”, for his writing. This resulted in the publishing in his first book of verse “Caneuon Gwyrosydd”.

Bust of Gwyrosydd originally placed on Mynyddbach Community Centre
In 1887, Gwyrosydd’s first wife died of pneumonia and he was left with two daughters, however he quickly married Mrs Parry the widow next door who already had five children. Now working at Landore tinplate works, the Mckinley tariff of 1890, badly affected the tinplate industry in south Wales and Gwyrosydd was laid off from his employment.  This caused him, and his now large family to move to the Blaengarw area where he worked as a collier. He continued to write for the Mid Glamorgan Gazette and also founded a Welsh literary society in the area. His next collection of writings “Caniadau Gwyrosydd”, included the famous verse of “Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus”, which is usually sung to the tune “Calon Lân”a tune that was inspired by the words of the song. The circumstances regarding its composition are rather murky, and they could well have been written on the back of a cigarette packet in the pub. However, it had become a firm favourite with Welsh congregations by the time of the religious revival in 1904. As well as writing, Gwyrosydd also enjoyed playing the harp, pennillion singing and competing successfully at Eisteddfodau. Tragedy, was not far away however and his second wife ,Gwennie, died of cancer leaving him once again with the task of coping with a large family on a meagre income. By 1901, the family had dispersed and returned to Swansea including Tawe (Mrs Rees’s husband’s grandfather).

Calon Lan Park, Blaengarw, opened in 2008.
Gwyrosydd then went to live in Mountain Ash, where he took a labourer’s job in the Nixon Colliery and worked there for a further fifteen years until aged 68. He was still too young however, to receive Lloyd George’s new Old Age Pension and was forced to work for a further two years for the local council.  During this time he also had an episode of skin cancer which he survived thanks to the herbal remedies of Mr Howells of Brynaman. In his declining years, Gwyrosydd went to live with his daughter Olwen in Swansea where he received a pension of ten shillings per week!

His life had been a hard one in terms of his work and experiences, however, he was also famous throughout Wales as a writer. O.M. Edwards, a towering figure in Welsh public life at the time  described  him as the country’s greatest bard. He is commemorated by the names of two schools in Swansea, a Calon Lân park exists in Blaengarw and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams visited his bardic chair in Swansea and also chose his famous song for “Desert Island Disks”.

Gwyrosydd died in 1920 and is buried with his first wife in Mynyddbach Chapel cemetery. The chapel closed some years ago but has been reopened as a community centre with the graveyard now cleared of knotweed.  He is also immortalised on the terraces of sports grounds thoughout Wales and beyond. Mrs Rees finished her lecture by commenting that the sentiments expressed in Calon Lân largely epitomised his character and philosophy on life.

“Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,aur y byd na’i berlau mân.

  Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,Calon onest calon lân.”

[I ask not for a luxurious life, the world’s gold or fine pearls.

   I ask instead for a happy , clean and honest heart ]

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mrs Rees for a very thorough and enjoyable talk.