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   PENTYRCH AND CREIGIAU

 

Population: 7,230

 

The Parish of Pentyrch, which includes the hamlets of Creigiau and Gwaelod-y-Garth, was first inhabited more than 3,000 years ago. Bronze Age burial mounds on the Garth Mountain, a cromlech in Creigiau, together with tools and bones discovered in the Lesser Garth Cave, are evidence of the time when Neolithic and Bronze Age farmers scratched a living from the light upland soil.

            When St Cadoc of Llancarfan entered this lonely valley in the sixth century, he found a small community clustered around a “magic well”, now known as Ffynnon Catwg. For many years it was the only source of water in the village and Cadoc built his church near this well. St Catwg’s has been rebuilt from time to time and the present Victorian Gothic church replaced a simple structure consisting of a nave and chancel.

            The powerful Mathew family began to exert their influence over Pentyrch in the 15th century. One branch of the family lived in Creigiau where Robert ap Mathew built Castell-y-Mynach. Eleven generations of the Mathew family lived there from the 15th to the 18th centuries, though initially the lands they held in the district were modest. It was their more wealthy kinsmen in Radyr who built up an estate in Pentyrch and established a profitable iron industry.

Initially, the works produced plate iron but Edmund Mathew courted controversy when he turned his attention to the manufacturing of cannon and became involved in gun-running. The works produced cannon of a high quality but profits were jeopardised when an embargo was placed on exports, as England’s relations with Spain deteriorated. In 1574 Edmund was accused by the Privy Council of illegally exporting guns from Cardiff. He weathered that storm but, untroubled by patriotic scruples, continued his illicit trade.

In 1602 the Privy Council again voiced its concern ordering, “that especiall care be had to put down Edmund Mathew esq., for casting any ordnance at his furnace near Cardiff, because from that place very easily it may be carried into Spain”. Between 1582-1600, as the “port officers were poor and dared not displease him”, Mathew illegally exported 150 tons of ordnance from Cardiff

By the early 17th century, Edmund was in financial difficulties and leased his works to a kindred spirit, Peter Semayne. As late as 1614 the Privy Council was still accusing Semayne of “arming all the world with our artillery against us”, but on this occasion action was taken and the furnace destroyed. In 1625 the Mathews of Radyr sold their lands in Pentyrch and now it was the turn of the Castell-y-Mynach branch of the family to prosper.

Thomas Mathew was Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1613 and, taking advantage of his office, he added considerably to his estate. Known as “Mathew Tew”, he was a bully who terrorised the area. He appeared before the Star Chamber and was accused of, “perjury … use of false measures in buying barley … refusal to licence ale houses that did not sell his ale … other misconduct in office”. Some might say that the painful death he suffered was justice. According to legend, he sat on a shoemaker’s awl placed under the cushion of a bench where he always sat. It had been put there by a cottager bearing a grudge and until recently the bench was preserved. Cecil Mathew was the last member of the family to live at Castell-y-Mynach and, when she died in 1720, the estate passed to her husband, Lord Talbot of Hensol.

Though agriculture was the basis of the local economy, Nicholas Price from Caerphilly and Thomas Lewis from Llanishen leased land from Lord Talbot in 1740 to re-establish the iron industry in Pentyrch. Drift mines in the area provided high quality steam coal, nearby quarries produced limestone and there was an abundance of timber. Iron ore was transported to the furnaces by pack mules and donkeys from the mines in Little Garth and Fforest Goch. As the population increased, most of the miners and iron workers lived in or around Gwaelod-y-Garth, formerly known as “Lower Pentyrch”, while the farming community centred around the old village and Creigiau.

A bright future appeared to beckon, as production trebled between 1829 and 1846, following a merger with the Melingriffith Company in Whitchurch. However, the Pentyrch works declined as it lacked the capital to compete with steel produced by the Bessemer Process. After a bitter strike, workers accepted a 10% cut in wages which only caused severe hardship and delayed the inevitable. By 1888 the furnaces of Pentyrch had closed and now the only industry found in the district is quarrying. 

Until 1896, Creigiau, named after Criga Farm, was virtually unknown apart from its limestone quarries. When the Barry Railway Company built a station, the district became popular with ramblers and cyclists and soon Creigiau was being hailed as one of the healthiest places in Glamorgan. “Everyone who goes to those beautiful slopes below Pentyrch comes away singing its praises”, wrote a South Wales Echo reporter in 1901.

An American military hospital was built at Rhydlafar during World War Two in preparation for the casualties expected after the Normandy landings. Trainloads of American soldiers, some with horrific injuries, were brought to Creigiau Station where they were met by volunteer ambulance drivers, usually women, who transported them to the hospital. After the war, Rhydlafar served the National Health Service for many years. The hospital was recently demolished and a housing estate is now being built on the site.

Welsh remained the first language for most people in Pentyrch until the 1920s and even now the district has a higher proportion of Welsh speakers than elsewhere in Cardiff. When Pentyrch became the city’s newest suburb in 1996, the boundaries of Cardiff reached the edge of the coalfield on which its prosperity was based. Yet Pentyrch and Creigiau still have a rural appearance and there are few scars from its industrial past. The population is rapidly rising, as the district acts as a dormitory suburb for Cardiff and Pontypridd, and the extensive housing developments of the last 20 years suggest that the countryside separating Pentyrch from the city may soon be a thing of the past.

 

Further Reading:

 

Pentyrch and District Local History Society Pentyrch, Creigiau and Gwaelod-y-Garth(Chalford Publishing Company 1997)

Davies J.B. The Parish of Pentyrch in Glamorgan Historian Vol.I (Stewart Williams 1963)