PENTYRCH AND CREIGIAU
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)