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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

31 July 1917, Sergeant Rees Actions Won Him The Victoria Cross

On 31 July 1917, Sergeant Ivor Rees of the 38th Welsh Division, South Wales Borderers, stormed an enemy machine-gun position. His action won him the highest military award for gallantry in the face of the enemy – the Victoria Cross.

The citation that was published in the London Gazette on 14 September, read:
“At Pilckem, Belgium, on 31 July 1917, an enemy machine gun inflicted many casualties when it opened fire at close range. Sergeant Rees, leading his platoon, gradually worked his way round the right flank, by making short rushes, to the rear of the gun position. At 20 yards from the machine gun, Sergeant Rees rushed forward towards it, shooting one of the crew, and bayoneting the other. He bombed a large concrete emplacement, killing five of the enemy and taking 30 prisoners, including two officers and capturing a machine gun, undamaged.”

Ivor Rees was born in Felinfoel, Llanelli, in 1893. He joined up in 1914, leaving his job as a steelworker, and quickly rose up to the rank of sergeant. He survived the war and returned home to Llanelli, but was unemployed for some time. Eventually he found work with the local council, where he once again rose through the ranks and became a head of department.

In the Second World War he joined the Home Guard, serving as a Company Sergeant-Major.
Rees was a fairly common surname in the district, and the locals used to refer to Rees the Postman, Rees the Baker, and Rees the VC.

He died at Tyisha, Llanelli, on 12 March 1967, and was buried at Morriston Cemetery. He has memorials at Havard Chapel, Llanelli Town Hall, Brecon Cathedral, and there is now a garden, dedicated to his memory, in his home town.

His Victoria Cross is proudly on display at the The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh, Brecon (South Wales Borderers Collection).

By Medwyn Parry

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru: Sir Gâr, 1–9 Awst

Y Maes yn edrych yn ysblennydd wrth baratoi ar gyfer digwyddiad yr wythnos nesaf.
Yr wythnos nesaf, bydd y Comisiwn Brenhinol yn ymuno â chyrff treftadaeth eraill Cymru yn yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yn Llanelli. Drwy gydol yr wythnos, bydd staff wrth law i ateb cwestiynau a sgwrsio ag ymwelwyr. Dewch i’n gweld ni yn rhes dreftadaeth (stondin 601-603), lle byddwch hefyd yn dod o hyd i Cadw, Amgueddfa Cymru ac Ymddiriedolaethau Archaeolegol Dyfed a Morgannwg-Gwent. Bydd ein harddangosfa newydd eleni yn canolbwyntio ar ganmlwyddiant y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf ac ar Brydain oddi Fry, y prosiect cydweithredol llwyddiannus. Bydd yr uchafbwyntiau’n cynnwys sgwrs gan Dr Eurwyn Wiliam, Cadeirydd y Comisiwn Brenhinol, ar Ddydd Gwener 8 Awst am 10.30am ym Mhabell y Cymdeithasau 2, ar Darganfod hanes Dyfed: darganfyddiadau diweddar Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru ac eraill. Mae Cadw wedi trefnu cwis ar y cyd sy’n gofyn i ymwelwyr ateb deg cwestiwn wedi’u seilio ar wybodaeth y gellir ei chael yn rhwydd o stondinau’r pedwar corff treftadaeth. Y wobr fydd aelodaeth Cadw i deulu cyfan am flwyddyn. Dewch i roi cynnig arni!

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Community Archaeologist works with YAC

I have been involved with the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) for a few years now as an assistant leader. The recent work and training I have been doing with the Royal Commission has allowed me to put all these skills into practice with YAC.

YAC is the only UK-wide club for young people aged up to 17 interested in archaeology. The club is run by the Council for British Archaeology; an educational charity working for over 65 years to promote ‘Archaeology for All’. YAC’s vision is for all young people to have opportunities to be inspired and excited by archaeology, and to empower them to help shape its future.

YAC was started 40 years ago in August 1972 by Dr Kate Pretty. Its name then was Young Rescue and it was the junior branch of RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust. Initially it was just going to be based in Cambridge but after publicity in The Times it was launched as a national club.

Last week I led a session for the Swansea YAC on oral histories and I thought you might like to see what we got up to.

I started the session with a presentation on Oral History, which included interview techniques and how to use the recording equipment. We then put this into practice by interviewing grandparents, parents and each other about growing up and living in Swansea.

In previous sessions we had been working on a First World War theme, which we then continued with in the second half of the session. I had brought in a First World War themed handling collection including letters, postcards and artefacts, which we scanned. I also brought in Ordnance Survey maps from the period and modern ones along with aerial photographs and they had a great time comparing everything. We finished the session by making poppy wreaths.

I’ve also been very busy preparing events for the Festival of Archaeology – you can find more details here: http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/whatson/results

By Sarahjayne Clements.

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sites and Monuments with links to the Great War

As part of its work programmes in support of events commemorating the First World War the Royal Commission has been enhancing the National Monuments Record in respect of sites and monuments with links to the Great War. David Leighton, Senior Investigator, and Medwyn Parry, the Commission’s expert on military history, have been taking a closer look at rifle ranges. These were established in significant numbers from the mid-nineteenth century onwards as local volunteer militias and rifle associations were set up. Dozens have been identified across Wales, usually located in fairly remote places such as the fringe uplands above towns and villages, old industrial workings, estuaries, marshes and sand dunes, but also on farmland.

Dolgellau rifle range (NPRN 419815): view of the still-intact target winding gear behind the revetted target mound. Rising ground to the right, on the opposite side of the road, acted as the stop-butt. Established in the mid-1890s the range was upgraded to its present form a few years later. (image: DS2014_090_001)

The County Series Ordnance Survey maps, which started to appear after 1870, depict many of these sites. They typically show a target, or a line of targets, which were probably portable, at one end of a firing line with shooting positions marked at 100 yard intervals up to a distance of 1000 yards, though usually shorter. More complex examples might include a ‘marker’s hut’ or a ‘mantelet’, a protective screen or bunker to shelter the markers, and perhaps several separate firing lines. Shooting positions were usually shown as points but were sometimes depicted schematically as ‘box’ features, which might indicate a wooden stand or perhaps something more substantial such as an earthen mound, examples of which still survive. Firing lines were often directed so that naturally rising ground behind the targets (e.g. NPRN 413309) or even an old quarry face or spoil tip (419602) might act as the ‘stop-butt’ to catch bullets. Elsewhere, earthwork banks were raised (420199).

By the later nineteenth century local militias were being drawn into the regimental system and a degree of rationalisation of training grounds took place. Some ranges were already shown as ‘disused’ on first-edition Ordnance Survey maps, but some new sites were established and many others were redeveloped as technology moved on and more powerful rifles became available.

It was not just technical advances that lay behind new developments. Safety concerns also came to the fore. War Office guidelines in the 1890s led to changes at many ranges and the closure of others. Rifle ranges, particularly the undeveloped ones, could be dangerous places and accidents, even fatalities, were not uncommon despite the use of bugles and warning flags. Such incidents were widely reported. In 1902, for example, a schoolgirl was shot dead at the Presteigne range while collecting wimberries in woodland behind the targets (420175). The Llangollen range was condemned in 1903 after a soldier was badly wounded there (413317). Markers were especially vulnerable at the older ranges where mantelets and shelter huts were placed close to targets. In 1890 a marker at the Cardigan range on the Pentwd Marshes was shot through the hand while repairing a target (413338). At the Haverfordwest range in 1896 a marker was seriously hurt when a bullet entered both his thighs and ‘passed out at the other side’. Nonetheless, the report adds, ‘the bullet struck the target…..and was registered as an inner just below the bull’s eye’. The following year the range failed a safety review and an alternative location was found (518723).

Rifle mound at the 600-yard shooting position on the Caldicot rifle range (NPRN 419523); 1 metre scale. The range was probably established just before or during the First World War and remained fully operational until the mid-1990s. (image: DS2013_511_002)

An example of upgrading is the range on Merthyr Mawr Warren near Porthcawl (415721). This was initially set up in the 1880s, or thereabouts, possibly when an earlier range at nearby Candleston was closed down (420030). It was laid out conventionally with a line of targets, markers’ huts between them, and firing positions shown as lines of posts over 600 yards. This was described as an ‘old rifle range’ in 1899 but by 1904 it had been completely remodelled with the creation (on the same site) of more permanent structures. Local newspapers described the new range and its patent design in reports of its opening. Targets were now mounted on a winding mechanism. This was set into a slit trench and allowed targets to be raised and lowered behind a revetted linear mound, which sheltered the markers under a roofed, open gallery. Beyond the targets Cog-y-brain, a massive sand dune, acted as the stop-butt. Control rooms were also built with communication cables to each firing point. Shooting positions were marked by linear mounds, which also appear on maps. The range remained in use during the Second World War and after and although some refurbishment was likely the structures visible there now are much as they were during the First World War. In developed ranges like this the massive nature of the earthworks, and their marginal locations, mean that many ranges – though long out of use – can still be traced on the ground today.

Rifle ranges were not just training grounds. They were often also venues for public entertainment. Competitions were held regularly with spectator facilities provided, usually followed by prize-giving events, and were reported in the local press. But they could also be a source of friction in communities. An example is the range on Park Common near Machynlleth, now the town golf course. An early range here had gone out of use before 1887 but in 1900 a new one was built on the same alignment as the old one (420131). Correspondence and reports of local authority meetings (1900–04) reveal the conflict this created. Objections centred on the firing line crossing the road to Llanidloes and there was also a perceived threat to common rights. However, this was the time of the Boer War and local volunteer corps numbers had increased sharply generating considerable demand for a new range. Despite the controversy the range successfully opened when it was reported that ‘shooting mounds, flag-staffs, target mound, buildings etc’ were built. The range went on to have a long history of use, throughout both world wars. The target mound and its revetment wall are still visible today, they are converted into an equipment shed.

After the First World War the number of ranges declined as fewer, larger, more centralised sites were developed. Legislation since the Second World War curtailing the ownership and use of firearms accelerated this decline. But the structural features of many ranges survive in the modern landscape and are a reminder not only of the character of local military training in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but also of what was once a popular recreational and social activity.

By David Leighton

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Monday, 14 July 2014

Pen-blwydd Hapus! Mae Coflein yn ddeng mlwydd oed

Ar 13 Gorffennaf 2004 cafodd Coflein – cronfa ddata ar-lein Cofnod Henebion Cenedlaethol Cymru – ei lansio gan Alun Pugh, Gweinidog Diwylliant, y Gymraeg a Chwaraeon Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru ar y pryd. Yn ei araith i gynulleidfa yn Nhŷ Crughywel, a fu’n gartref i’r Cynulliad cyn adeiladu Adeilad y Senedd, disgrifiodd y Gweinidog y gwasanaeth a’r bartneriaeth arloesol (SWISH – Gwasanaethau Gwybodaeth Gwe a Rennir ar gyfer Treftadaeth) a roddodd fod iddo. Mae’r bartneriaeth hon, rhwng Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru a Chomisiwn Brenhinol Henebion yr Alban, yn parhau i reoli Coflein, yn ogystal â gwasanaethau eraill megis Cymru Hanesyddol, a bu’n gyfrifol am ddatblygu’r wefan yn ystod y 10 mlynedd ddiwethaf.

Tîm gwreiddiol SWISH a oedd yn gyfrifol am ddatblygu Coflein yn 2004. Mae’r ffotograff yn cynnwys rheolwyr prosiect a datblygwyr cronfa ddata o Gomisiynau Brenhinol yr Alban a Chymru.

Fel fersiwn ar-lein cronfa ddata Cofnod Henebion Cenedlaethol Cymru, mae Coflein yn cynnig mynediad i’w gasgliadau ar archaeoleg, pensaernïaeth hanesyddol, a threftadaeth ddiwydiannol ac arforol Cymru. Pan gafodd ei lansio, roedd gwybodaeth ar gael am 64,000 o safleoedd. Yn y cyfamser, oherwydd gwaith cofnodi, arolygu a gwella data parhaus y Comisiwn Brenhinol, mae’r nifer wedi codi i bron 110,000. Mae’r ffigur ar gyfer y cynnydd yn hygyrchedd adnoddau digidol yr archif yn fwy trawiadol byth. Adeg lansio’r gwasanaeth yn 2004, roedd oddeutu 3000 o ddelweddau ar gael. Yn 2014 mae mwy na 105,000 o eitemau digidol yn hygyrch, gan gynnwys delweddau, mapiau a llawysgrifau wedi’u sganio yn ogystal â ffotograffau digidol. Mae hyn yn adlewyrchu’r pwyslais ar ddigido yn y Comisiwn a’r newid mewn arfer ffotograffig yn ystod y 10 mlynedd ddiwethaf, sy’n golygu bod ein holl ffotograffiaeth bellach yn ddigidol. Mae ein harferion gwaith yn sicrhau bod deunydd a gesglir yn y maes i’w weld ar Coflein yn gyflym iawn.

Gan mai partneriaeth sy’n parhau yw SWISH, mae’r safle wedi datblygu yn ystod y 10 mlynedd ddiwethaf. Yn 2008, oherwydd newidiadau i’r dechnoleg a dyluniad y rhyngwyneb roedd yn bosibl diwygio’r system yn sylweddol i gyd-fynd â phen-blwydd y Comisiwn yn 100 oed. Yn 2011, cyflwynwyd rhaglen fapio ddiwygiedig sy’n caniatáu cyfuno ymholiadau testun a map. Yn 2012, daeth yn bosibl chwilio’r catalog yn uniongyrchol, gan alluogi defnyddwyr i gasglu gwybodaeth o gasgliadau neu gyfranwyr penodol, yn ogystal â gwneud ymholiadau’n seiliedig ar safleoedd fel ag o’r blaen. Mae datblygiadau pellach sydd yn yr arfaeth yn cynnwys integreiddio system ymholi ac e-fasnach, a chynnwys mapiau hanesyddol yn y rhaglen fapio.

Mae’r rhaglen fapio newydd, a lansiwyd yn 2011, yn caniatáu i ddefnyddwyr chwilio am fapiau a thestun yr un pryd. Mae’r ffotograff hwn o Oleudy Santes Ann yn Sir Benfro yn un o fwy na 105,000 o eitemau digidol o CHCC sydd bellach ar gael ar Coflein.

Mae’r dechnoleg y tu cefn i Coflein wedi cael ei datblygu’n ddiweddar i ddarparu cynnwys ar gyfer gwefannau eraill. Mae Casgliad y Werin Cymru, gwefan sy’n dwyn ynghyd ddeunydd o gyrff treftadaeth, cymdeithasau hanesyddol ac unigolion ar draws Cymru, yn cynnwys bron 10,000 o eitemau a gyrchir yn uniongyrchol o Coflein. Felly gall gwybodaeth o’r Cofnod Henebion Cenedlaethol gael ei gweld ochr yn ochr ag eitemau o’r Llyfrgell Genedlaethol, Amgueddfa Cymru a chyfranwyr eraill. Mae gwefan Prydain oddi Fry yn defnyddio deunydd o Gasgliad Aerofilms Cofnod Henebion Cenedlaethol Cymru, ynghyd â deunydd cyffelyb o gasgliadau yn yr Alban a Lloegr, fel rhan o brosiect i’r DU gyfan sydd wedi’i seilio ar awyrluniau o 1919 i 1953 o’r casgliad unigryw hwn. Mae’r bartneriaeth SWISH ei hun wedi datblygu Cymru Hanesyddol, gwefan wedi’i seilio ar fapiau sy’n casglu ynghyd gofnodion gan gyrff sy’n dal gwybodaeth am amgylchedd hanesyddol Cymru, gan gynnwys Cadw, pedair Ymddiriedolaeth Archaeolegol Cymru ac Amgueddfa Cymru.

Bu’n bosibl chwilio’r catalog yn uniongyrchol ers 2012. Mae deunydd o Gasgliad Aerofilms wedi cael ei ddefnyddio ar wefan Prydain oddi Fry ynghyd â deunydd o’r casgliadau cyfatebol yn yr Alban a Lloegr.

Mae nifer y bobl sy’n defnyddio Coflein wedi cynyddu’n gyson ers ei lansio. Y llynedd edrychwyd ar fwy na miliwn o dudalennau gan fwy na 300,000 o ddefnyddwyr. Bu sylwadau defnyddwyr yn gadarnhaol fel rheol, ac rydym wedi derbyn llawer o wybodaeth ychwanegol am safleoedd ar hyd a lled y wlad, yn ogystal â rhai cywiriadau! Os ydych chi’n ddefnyddiwr rheolaidd, rydym yn diolch i chi am ddefnyddio Coflein, os nad ydych, beth am roi cynnig arni!

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Galw am Wirfoddolwyr yn Ardal Abertawe!

Dydd Sadwrn 12 Gorffennaf, 2014

Mae Sarahjayne Clements, Archaeolegydd Cymunedol y Comisiwn Brenhinol dan nawdd Cyngor Archaeoleg Prydain, yn chwilio am wirfoddolwyr i’w holi ar gyfer prosiect hanesion llafar y mae hi’n ei gynnal gyda Chlwb yr Archaeolegwyr Ifanc. Hoffent gofnodi atgofion am y ddinas a sganio unrhyw hen ffotograffau sydd gennych. Mae ganddynt ddiddordeb hefyd mewn unrhyw atgofion, ffotograffau a gwrthrychau a all fod gennych sy’n ymwneud â’r Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf. Os gallwch helpu gyda’r prosiect cymunedol hwn, cysylltwch â sarahjayne.clements@cbhc.gov.uk  Ffôn: 07817575005. 

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Aerofilms: Prydain oddi Fry yn dod i Faes Awyr Caerdydd

Francis Lewis Wills, y peilot Jerry Shaw a Claude Friese-Greene mewn awyren ddwbl DH9B, Gorffennaf 1919 
© English Heritage. Casgliad Aerofilms AFL03/Aerofilms/C12930.
O nawr tan 7 Tachwedd, 2014

Mae Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru wedi dod â’i arddangosfa hynod ddiddorol o ddelweddau hanesyddol i Faes Awyr Caerdydd. Mae’r maes awyr modern prysur hwn yn lleoliad priodol iawn ar gyfer yr arddangosfa Aerofilms: Prydain oddi Fry sy’n dangos awyrluniau hanesyddol a dynnwyd ar draws Cymru. Mae’r lluniau’n cael eu harddangos drwy’r maes awyr a bydd teithwyr yn dod ar draws delweddau syfrdanol o archif unigryw Casgliad Aerofilms, sy’n dyddio o 1919 i 2006. Cafodd Aerofilms ei sefydlu yn nyddiau cynnar hedfan gan gyn-awyrenwyr beiddgar o’r Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf. Arloeswyr yr awyr oeddynt a gychwynnodd fusnes ffotograffiaeth awyr masnachol cyntaf y byd. Gan ddwyn ynghyd grŵp o anturwyr, siewmyn a selogion hedfan, cyfunodd y cwmni dechnoleg newydd hedfan â disgyblaeth ffotograffiaeth. O’r cychwyn cyntaf, tynnodd Aerofilms luniau o bron pob anheddiad a thirwedd yr hedfanodd drostynt. Cafodd y casgliad ei brynu yn 2007 gan English Heritage, Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru a Chomisiwn Brenhinol Henebion yr Alban gyda chymorth ariannol Cronfa Dreftadaeth y Loteri. Ceir ynddo fwy na miliwn o ddelweddau ac mae’n cynnig darlun unigryw o’r newidiadau mawr yn nhirwedd gwledydd Prydain yn ystod yr ugeinfed ganrif.

Yn gyfochrog â’r arddangosfeydd cenedlaethol sy’n cael eu cynnal yng Nghaeredin, Hendon a Birmingham, bydd arddangosfa Cymru ym Maes Awyr Caerdydd yn cynnwys: cyflwyniad i Gasgliad Aerofilms wedi’i ategu gan gyfoeth o luniau, cyflwyniad eang ei gwmpas ar Caerdydd Ddoe a Heddiw, a ffotograffau eiconig o safleoedd Cymreig, gan gynnwys y cestyll Edwardaidd sydd bellach yn Safleoedd Treftadaeth Byd. Lle bu modd, mae golygon hanesyddol wedi cael eu cyplysu ag awyrluniau modern i ysgogi myfyrio ar ystyr ac effaith newid, lle a chof.

Aerofilms mewn digwyddiad hyrwyddo yn Arddangosfa’r Diwrnod Hedfan Cenedlaethol yn y 1930au
© English Heritage. Casgliad Aerofilms AFL03/Aerofilms/B5794.

Castell Ystumllwynarth, Abertawe, 1947 Codwyd Castell Ystumllwynarth tua 1107. Yn y llun hwn mae’r castell dan dyfiant ac wedi’i amgylchynu gan randiroedd a sefydlwyd, mae’n debyg, ar gyfer ymdrech y rhyfel. Mae gerddi’r rhandiroedd yn dal i gael eu trin ac mae’r castell wedi’i adfer.
© Hawlfraint y Goron, CBHC. WAW007664, NPRN: 94508

Canolfan Ddinesig Caerdydd, 1920 Canolfan Ddinesig hardd Caerdydd ym Mharc Cathays. Llun sy’n dangos Neuadd y Ddinas a’r Llysoedd Barn. Yr oedd yr Amgueddfa Genedlaethol wrthi’n cael ei chodi ond ni chafodd ei hagor tan 1927.
© Hawlfraint y Goron, CBHC. WPW001008, NPRN: 401617

Canolfan Ddinesig Caerdydd, 2006Canolfan Ddinesig drawiadol Caerdydd ym Mharc Cathays. Yng nghanol adeiladau’r brifysgol, yr Amgueddfa Genedlaethol, Neuadd y Ddinas, y llysoedd barn a swyddfeydd y llywodraeth mae Cofeb Ryfel Genedlaethol Cymru.
© Hawlfraint y Goron, CBHC. AP_2006_1824
Parc yr Arfau, Caerdydd, 1947 Parc yr Arfau yng Nghaerdydd oedd Stadiwm Rygbi Cenedlaethol Cymru am bron i 30 mlynedd tan 1997, ond codwyd yr eisteddleoedd cyntaf ar safle’r maes rygbi hwn ym 1881.
© Hawlfraint y Goron, CBHC. WAW005393, NPRN: 3064 

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Friday, 27 June 2014

28 June 1914 - The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Saturday 28 June is a very significant date for the commemoration of the First World War. It will be 100 years to the day since the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his Czech wife Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg.

During that morning a young Serbian militant Nedeljko Cabrinovic, had thrown a small rudimentary explosive device at the royal motorcade. The bomb bounced off the intended target of the limousine carrying the Archduke, and exploded underneath the following car, inflicting only minor injuries to the occupants. Four other members of the gang lost their nerve, and melted into the crowd. They were all members of “Unity of Death”, a secret society that had connections at a high level within the government. Many knew the movement by the more colourful name of “The Black Hand”. The security team responsible for the protection of the Archduke were stranded at the railway station, but protocol demanded the tour should continue. At the next scheduled stop a very shaken Archduke commented “I come here as your guest and you people greet me with bombs”.

They were advised to cut short their schedule, but the couple insisted on a short detour to the hospital to visit those that had been injured during the earlier incident, but nobody told the driver of their limousine. When the car turned into Franz Joseph Street, one of the entourage, Oskar Potiorek instructed the driver to get back on to the intended route. The limousine, a Graf & Stift Double Phaeton, had no reverse gear, so the chauffeur got out and started to push the car backwards. By pure chance, standing only 5 feet away was another member of the Black Hand, Serbian revolutionary Gravilo Pricip. He seized the opportunity and tried to detonate a small bomb, without success. So he pulled out his FN Model 1910 semi-automatic pistol, stepped on to the running board of the Graf, and quickly fired two shots. The Archduke was hit in the neck, and his wife was hit in the stomach - she died almost instantly. The Archduke was heard to shout “Sophie, Sophie, don’t die – stay alive for our children”. Within a short while, he was also dead.

The following six weeks, known as the “July Crisis”, were probably the most complex sequence of political events ever experienced in European history, culminating in the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914.

The Royal Commission is supporting various initiatives to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Archive records relating to sites connected to the conflict can be searched on-line via our database Coflein, or through the National Monuments Record of Wales enquiry service.

By Medwyn Parry

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Friday, 20 June 2014

Community History Day at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Chapel, Trecynon

On Wednesday 11 June the Royal Commission and Addoldai Cymru (Welsh Religious Buildings Trust) held a community history day at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Unitarian Chapel (NPRN 8941) in Trecynon, Aberdare. The aim of the day was to gather memories, including photographs and documents, relating to the history of the chapel.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, established at Trecynon in 1751, is the oldest Nonconformist place of worship in the Aberdare district. Its origins extend back to the dissenting meeting houses at Cwmyglo and Blaencanaid Farm on the mountainside between Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil. The chapel was built on land donated by nearby farm, Gadlys-uchaf. At this time the chapel would have been relatively isolated, with the settlement of Trecynon only established after the opening of Aberdare Ironworks in 1800. The original cottage-like meeting house was demolished and replaced by the present chapel in 1862. Its design, by Evan Griffiths of Aberdare, was intended to be ‘simple and strong, reflecting Unitarian beliefs in liberty, tolerance and forbearance’.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Chapel, constructed in 1862.

Although its congregation only ever numbered around 80 people, Hen Dŷ Cwrdd played a prominent role in the story of Unitarianism in Wales. From 1811–1833 its minister was the Rev. Thomas Evans (Tomos Glyn Cothi), renowned hymn writer and author of one of Wales’ first English-Welsh dictionaries. He was the first specifically Unitarian minister in Wales and pioneer of radical political, social and religious reform movements. He was reportedly invited to be minister whilst serving a sentence at Carmarthen Jail for composing a song in support of the French Revolution. Underneath the pulpit is a list of all the chapel’s ministers from 1756–1965.

Register of ministers at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd 1756–1962.

For over 100 years, Hen Dŷ Cwrdd was the only Unitarian place of worship in the Cynon Valley, until a chapel was opened at Cwmbach in 1859. Members of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd’s congregation included: Rees Hopkin Rhys (known locally as ‘Blind Rhys’, having lost his sight in an explosion at Dowlais Works), who was largely responsible for the development of Aberdare Park and the improvement of water and sewage schemes and other public amenities in the town; William Williams (known locally as Carw Coch), leading figure in the development of the eisteddfod movement and landlord of the Stag Inn, where he held the Carw Coch eisteddfod from 1841; Thomas Dafydd Llywelyn, famous harpist, who brought the newly written song ‘Mae Hen Gwlad Fy Nhadau’ to public notice at the National Eisteddfod in 1858 (before it went on to become the national anthem); Griffith Rhys Jones (known as Caradog), conductor of the South Wales Choral Union, who led them to victory in the 1882 and 1883 Crystal Palace Challenge Cup; and Evan Thomas, who patented important improvements to the Miner’s Safety Lamp in 1887.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd closed its doors to worshippers in 1995 and has since stood empty. The chapel is now in the care of Addoldai Cymru, which aims to restore the building and bring it back into community use.

The interior of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd today.

Working with local communities, The Royal Commission and Addoldai Cymru are developing an interactive virtual museum, which will tell the story of Nonconformity in Wales. Resources are to include the creation of virtual access to chapels in the care of Addoldai Cymru through laser scanning, gigapixel photography and computer visualisation. This will add to Addoldai Cymru’s wider project to create a Faith Trail linking Hen Dŷ Cwrdd and other Unitarian chapels across Wales, including Capel Pen-rhiw (from Dre-fach Felindre, Carmarthenshire, now in St Fagans National History Museum ) and Yr Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen (Ceredigion).

The Hen Dŷ Cwrdd community history day was held at the adjacent Mount Pleasant Hotel. We received a steady stream of visitors throughout the afternoon, including Hen Dŷ Cwrdd’s last minister, the Rev. Eric Jones, who brought numerous items to be scanned, including some of the chapel’s historic minute books.

The Royal Commission’s Helen Rowe chats to a local resident about his memories of the chapel.

We were also visited by Addoldai Cymru volunteer, Chris King, who has produced hand-drawn measured survey drawings of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd and other chapels in the area, a number of which he brought along to be copied.

The Royal Commission’s Susan Fielding discussing architectural drawings of the chapel with volunteer, Chris King.

Royal Commission and Aberystwyth University staff members were on hand to demonstrate survey techniques in the chapel grounds.

The Royal Commission’s Ross Cook, demonstrating how to survey a building using a total station.

Marek Ososinski of Aberystwyth University, explaining the process of laser scanning to the Rev. Eric Jones.

As part of the project, more community history days are to be held at other chapels during June and July, at:
  • Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen: 25 June, 2─7pm at Capel Llwynrhydowen, Pontsian, Llandysul, Ceredigion, SA44 4UB.
  • Peniel, Tremadog: 10 July, 2─7pm at Capel Peniel, Tremadog, Porthmadog, Gwynedd, LL49 9PS.
  • Bethania, Maesteg: 23 July, 2─7pm at Capel Bethania, Bethania Street, Maesteg CF34 9EX.

By: Nikki Vousden

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