This week I am in south Wales and exploring the heritage delights in the area. I’m staying in Pont-y-pridd and am really impressed with the amount of interesting things I have found out about the town, especially considering I’ve only been here a couple of hours (following about four circuits of the town trying to find my accommodation due to the one-way system, oops…)
The town boasts loads of cultural connections, including being the ‘home town’ of Sir Tom Jones, the birthplace of the Welsh National Anthem and film set for Doctor Who and Torchwood as well as Wales’ very own ‘Belonging’ S4C show. Fireman Sam fans will also recognise the name meshed with nearby Tonypandy to create Sam’s home town ‘Pontypandy’.
Pont-y-pridd actually comes from the Welsh name ‘Pont-y-tŷ-pridd’, translating as ‘The Bridge by the Earthern House’, referring to the history of the crossing here of the River Taff. The Old Bridge, Yr Hen Bont, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and originally known as ‘the new bridge’, held the record for the longest single span stone arch bridge in the world when it was built in the Eighteenth Century. The bridge was so famous that it was used by Josiah Wedgwood on a dinner service design for Catherine the Great of Russia.
I’m staying in the ‘Blueberry Inn’ and ate in its sister restaurant ‘Alfred’s’, both on Market Street. Intrigued to know more about Alfred, I discovered that he was the late grandfather of the owners and also the founder of Pont-y-pridd Market. A number of interesting buildings line Market Street if you look up past the modern shop fronts. Look to your feet and modern art along the paving slabs provides the locals’ take on the town.
One of the most dominant features of the street, due to its location at a fork in the road, is the late 19th century drinking fountain. It was donated by Sir Alfred Thomas, the then MP for East Glamorgan and later Lord Pontypridd, to provide fresh drinking water for passers-by and animals. The inscription reads ‘Duw a Digon’, ‘Heb Dduw Heb Ddim’ – God is everything. Without God, without anything.
The town is also home to a Listed signal box of the former Taff Vale railway- the first major locomotive railway in Wales. The signal box once contained 230 levers and sits to the south of the two viaducts spanning the River Rhondda.
In more gory news, Pont-y-pridd has a really interesting link with modern cremations due to Dr William Price. Dr Price was fascinated with the ancient Britons and was passionate about reviving Druidism in Britain in the Victorian period. After cremating his dead son ‘Iesu Grist’ (Welsh for ‘Jesus Christ’) in 1884, the first modern cremation in the United Kingdom, he was arrested. He proved that cremation wasn’t strictly illegal as there was no legislation specifically about this, which prompted the Cremation Act of 1902. When Dr Price died, he was cremated publicly, in front of an audience of 20,000 people.
And I haven’t even mentioned coal or mining.
So the next time someone mentions the south Wales valleys, remember to dig a little deeper than your first perception. There are some really interesting stories lying between those hills and pockets of fascinating facts to discover. It’s not unusual, it’s the land of our fathers.