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Extensive Definition

Merthyr Tydfil (lang-cy Merthyr Tudful) is a town and county borough in south Wales, with a population of about 55,000. It was formerly in the historic county of Glamorgan.

Merthyr Tydfil today


The current borough boundaries date back to 1974, when the former county borough of Merthyr Tydfil expanded slightly to cover Vaynor in Breconshire and Bedlinog in Glamorgan, it becoming a local government district in the administrative county of Mid Glamorgan at the time. The district became a county borough again on April 1, 1996. The area is governed by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. During the local government elections of 1 May, 2008, the long-ruling Welsh Labour Party lost its majority control of the local council, with both Independents and the Liberal Democrats making significant gains. The MP is Dai Harvard, and the Welsh Assembly representative is Huw Lewis AM.

Industrial legacy

Merthyr Tydfil has a long and varied industrial heritage, and was one of the seats of the industrial revolution (see history below). Since the end of the Second World War, much of this has declined, with the closure of long-established coal mining collieries, and both steel- and ironworks. Despite recent improvements, some parts of the town remain economically disadvantaged, and there is a significant proportion of the community who are long-term unemployed.
In Britain today, Merthyr:
  • Ranks 13th worst for economic activity.
  • Ranks 13th worst for life expectancy: women live on average 79.1 years, and men 75.5. This is lower than the average for England but better than the Scotland and Northern England averages.
  • Has 30% of the population suffering from a limiting long-term illness.
A controversial Channel 4 programme rated Merthyr Tydfil as the third worst place to live in Britain in 2006 following areas of London. However, in the 2007 edition of the same programme, Merthyr had `improved` to fifth worst place to live.


The town has held many cultural events. Local poets and writers hold poetry evenings in the town, and music festivals are organised at Cyfarthfa Castle and Park. With this in mind, Merthyr's Welsh Language and Initiative Centre are working on a new project to transform the Zoar Chapel and the adjacent vestry building in Pontmorlais into a community arts venue. The project, if successful, will provide a focal point for the arts in Merthyr Tydfil.
The town has also developed schemes to encourage young people to take an active part in society and develop the town in which they live. Merthyr Youth Forum was established for those between the ages of 11 - 25 wanting to make a difference to their own community.
Merthyr Tydfil's Central Library, which is in a prominent position in the centre of the town, is a Carnegie library.
Until recently it was twinned with Clichy-la-Garenne, France.


The town is located in a valley environment just south of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and this, along with the town's rich history, means it has huge potential for tourism. National Cycle Route 8 passes through the town. The Brecon Mountain Railway is easily accessible by cycle and car.



Road improvements mean the town is increasingly a commuter location and has shown some of the highest house price growth in the UK.

Public transport

Regular rail services operate from Merthyr Tydfil railway station to Cardiff Queen Street and Cardiff Central. Public transport links to Cardiff are being improved.


Modern-day Merthyr relies on a combination of public sector and manufacturing and service sector companies to provide employment. The Welsh Assembly Government has recently opened a major office in the town near a large telecommunications call centre. Hoover (now part of the Candy (company) Group) has its Registered Office in the town and remains a major employer.

Sports and leisure

The local rugby union club, Merthyr RFC, is known as 'the Ironmen'. Merthyr RFC was one of the twelve founding clubs of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1881.
Merthyr Tydfil hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1881 and 1901 and the national Urdd Gobaith Cymru Eisteddfod in 1987.
The football club, Merthyr Tydfil F.C., or 'The Martyrs', play in the Southern Football League. The town was once home to a fully-professional Football League club, Merthyr Town F.C., but it folded in the 1930s. Both clubs have played their games at Penydarren Park.
Penydarren Country XI Cricket Club were founded in 1971 and currently play at the ICI Rifle Fields Ground.
Merthyr Tydfil also hosts regular wrestling events at the town centre's Studio Bar, run by Wales` premier professional wrestling promotion Celtic Wrestling.
Merthyr is particularly known for its boxing competitors, both amateur and professional boxers. Some famous professional pugilists from the town include: Johnny Owen, Howard Winstone, and Eddie Thomas.



Vocational training providers

Secondary schools

Top performing secondary schools in Merthyr Tydfil, based on 5 GCSE passes, grades A-C, according to the latest inspection results from Estyn:

Primary schools/nurseries

  • Caedraw Primary School
  • Ynysowen Primary School
  • Gellifaelog Primary School
  • Gwaunfarren Junior School
  • Gwernllwyn Junior School
  • Heolgerrig Junior School
  • Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Santes Tudful
  • St. Illtyd's R.C. Primary School
  • St. Mary's R.C. Primary School
  • Edwardsville Primary School - a school keen to promote environmentally friendly attitudes and make a fun and creative environment for all our pupils
  • Troedyrhiw Junior School
  • Abercanaid Junior School
  • Ysgol Rhyd y Grug - primary school; teaches through the medium of Welsh but does also teach English; accepts children from 3 to 12 (KS1, KS2)
  • St. Aloysius R.C. Primary School
  • Goetre Primary School
  • Ysgol Y Graig Primary


In 2006, a large open cast coal mine, which will extract 10 million tonnes of coal over 15 years, was authorised just east of Merthyr Tydfil as part of the Ffos-y-fran Land Reclamation Scheme.



Various peoples, migrating north from Europe, had lived in the area for many thousands of years. The archaeological record starts from about 1000BCE by the 'Celts' ( although the 'Celtic Movement' may be seen as a gradual spreading of ideas rather than an invasion of a particular people) Celt, and from their language, the Welsh language may have developed. Hillforts were built during the Iron Age and the tribe that inhabited them in the South Wales area were called the Silures according to Tacitus the Roman historian Roman invaders.

The Roman invasion

The Romans had arrived in Wales by about 47-53CE and established a network of Roman forts, with Roman roads to link them. They had to fight hard to consolidate their conquests, and in 74 CE they built an auxiliary fortress at Penydarren, overlooking the River Taff (Taf). It covered an area of about 3 hectares, and formed part of the network of roads and fortifications. Remains of this fortress were found underneath the football ground where Merthyr Tydfil FC play. A road ran north–south through the area, linking the southern coast with Mid Wales via Brecon. Parts of this and other roads, including one known as Sarn Helen, can still be traced and walked on.
The local tribe, known as the Silures, resisted this invasion fiercely from their mountain strongholds, but the Roman armies eventually prevailed. In time, relative peace was established and the Penydarren fortress was abandoned by about 120CE. This had an unfortunate effect upon the local economy which had by this time come to rely upon supplying the fortress with supplies of beef and grain, as well as imported items such as oysters from the coast. Additionally, intermarriage with local women had occurred and many auxiliary veterans had settled locally on farms
The Roman empire eventually disintegrated with the legions being withdrawn around 380CE . By 402 CE, the army in Britain comprised mostly Germanic troops and local recruits, and the cream of the army had been withdrawn across to the continent of Europe. Sometime during this period, Irish Dalriadan (Scots) and Picts attacked and breached Hadrians Wall. During the 4th and 5th Centuries the coasts of Cambria (Wales) had been subject to the raids of Irish pirates, in much the same way as the south and East coast of Britain had been raided by Saxon pirates from across the north sea. Around the middle of the 5th century, Irish settlements had been established around Swansea and the Gower as well as in Pembrokeshire, and eventually petty kingdoms were establish as far in land as in Brecon. Later, by about 490CE, hordes of Saxons invaded and settled in the east or in "lowland" Britain and the locals were left to their own devices to fight off these new invaders.

The coming of Christianity

The Latin language and some Roman customs and culture became established before the withdrawal of the Roman army. The Christian religion was introduced throughout much of Wales by the Romans, but locally, it may have been introduced later by monks from Ireland and France who made their way into the region following rivers and valleys.

Local legends

After the departure of the Romans, minor kingdoms slowly developed in the area. Welsh legend describes a Romano-British leader who repelled Saxon invaders, and through conquest and diplomacy, united several small kingdoms to create a sizable kingdom that included South Wales and much of western Britain. This grew into the legend of King Arthur. More legend than fact is known about this man. Some scholars suggest that he may have been Ambrosius Aurelianus. If so, he would have spoken Latin and maintained some aspects of Roman culture, possibly including at least nominal devotion to Christianity, the official religion of the Romans at the time. Aurelianus may have been of Roman birth, and there are some implications that he may have been related to a Roman Emperor.
Another local tradition holds that a girl called Tydfil, daughter of a local chieftain named Brychan, was an early local convert to Christianity, and was pursued and murdered by a band of marauding Picts and Saxons while traveling to Hafod Tanglwys in Aberfan, a local farm that is still occupied to this day. The girl was considered a martyr after her death in approximately 480CE. “Merthyr” translates to “Martyr” in English, and tradition holds that, when the town was founded, the name was chosen in her honour. A church was eventually built on the traditional site of her burial. Images of that church can be found on the Merthyr History website.

The Normans arrive

The valley through which the River Taff flowed was heavily wooded, with a few scattered farms on the mountain slopes, and this situation persisted for several hundred years. The Norman Barons moved in, after conquering England, but by 1093, they only occupied the lowlands and the uplands remained in the hands of the local Welsh rulers. The effect on the locals was probably minimal. There were conflicts between the Barons and the families descended from the Welsh princes, and control of the land see-sawed to and fro. During this time Morlais Castle was built.

Early Modern Merthyr

No permanent settlement was formed until well into the Middle Ages. People continued to be self-sufficient, living by farming and later by trading. Merthyr Tydfil was little more than a village. An ironworks existed in the parish in the Elizabethan period, but it did not survive beyond the early 1640s at the latest. In 1754, it was recorded that the valley was almost entirely populated by shepherds. Farm produce was traded at a number of markets and fairs, notably the Waun Fair above Dowlais.

The Industrial Revolution

Influence and growth of iron industry

Merthyr was situated close to reserves of iron ore, coal, limestone and water, making it an ideal site for ironworks. Small-scale iron working and coal mining had been carried out at some places in South Wales since the Tudor period, but in the wake of the Industrial revolution the demand for iron led to the rapid expansion of Merthyr's iron operations. The Dowlais Ironworks was founded by what would become the Dowlais Iron Company in 1759, making it the first major works in the area. It was followed in 1765 by the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The Plymouth ironworks were initially in the same ownership as Cyfarthfa, but passed after the death of Anthony Bacon to Richard Hill in 1788. The fourth ironworks was Penydarren built by Francis Homfray and Samuel Homfray after 1784.
The demand for iron was fuelled by the Royal Navy, who needed cannons for their ships, and later by the railways. In 1802, Admiral Lord Nelson visited Merthyr to witness cannon being made.
Several railway companies established routes that linked Merthyr with coastal ports or other parts of Britain. They included the Brecon and Merthyr Railway, Vale of Neath Railway, Taff Vale Railway and Great Western Railway. They often shared routes to enable access to coal mines and ironworks through rugged country, which presented great enegineering challenges. In 1804, the world’s first railway steam locomotive, "The Iron Horse", developed by the Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick, pulled 10 tons of iron on the newly constructed Merthyr tramway from Penydarren to Abercynon. A replica of this now resides in the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. The tramway passed through what is arguably the oldest railway tunnel in the world, part of which can still be seen alongside Pentrebach Road at the lower end of the town.
The 1801 census recorded the population of Merthyr as 7705, the most populous parish in Wales (however, the built-up area of Swansea, covering several parishes, then exceeeded 10,000). By 1851 Merthyr had overtaken Swansea to become the largest town in Wales with 46,378 inhabitants. By this time, Irish immigrants made up 10% of the local population, and there were substantial numbers of English, together with some Spaniards and Italians. The inventor Howard Stapleton, based in Merthyr Tydfil, developed the technology that has given rise to the recent mosquitotone or Teen Buzz phenomenon.

Natives of Merthyr Tydfil

Among those born in Merthyr Tydfil are:
Other notable residents included Esther Isaacs, mother of "Chariots of Fire" athlete Harold Abrahams; the grandfather of Rolf Harris also came from Merthyr. One of the first two Labour MPs to be elected to parliament, the Scot Keir Hardie, was elected by the Merthyr Tydfil constituency. The Osmonds are of Welsh descent and have traced their ancestry to Merthyr.

See also


  • A Brief History of Merthyr Tydfil by Joseph Gross. The Starling Press. 1980
  • The Merthyr Rising by Gwyn A Williams. University of Wales Press,
  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press,
  • People, Protest and Politics, case studies in C19 Wales By David Egan, Gomer 1987
  • Cyfres y Cymoedd: Merthyr a Thaf, edited by Hywel Teifi Edwards. Gomer, 2001
  • Civilizing the Urban: Popular culture and Urban Space in Merthyr, c. 1870-1914 by Andy Croll. University of Wales Press. 2000.
merthyr in Bulgarian: Мърдър Тидфил
merthyr in Welsh: Merthyr Tudful
merthyr in German: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Basque: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in French: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Italian: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Dutch: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Norwegian: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Polish: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Portuguese: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Romanian: Merthyr Tydfil
merthyr in Russian: Мертир-Тидвил
merthyr in Swedish: Merthyr Tydfil
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