Richard Morgan, y teilwr bach, 19th century


Richard Morgan (1828-1903) and Gwenllian Walters (1827-1918)

Richard Morgan, born in 1828, grew up mainly at Cerig-y-dwr, just south of  Trecastle, on the other side of the Black Mountain to the Dulais Higher area.    

At Trecastle, the young Richard would have gleaned a good idea of the outside world from the various drovers, commercial travellers and peddlers who travelled up and down the coaching route that ran right outside the farm he grew up on with his mother and stepfather.  The road ran from London to Fishguard and no doubt the young Richard met some of these interesting voyagers as they stopped off in Trecastle.  His ambition may well have been nurtured by these glimpses of the world beyond the Carmarthenshire borders.  However, he lost his father (Richard Morgans, 1797-c1832) at a young age and may have been keen to strike out on his own, earlier than most.  Undoubtedly, Richard was intelligent.  He was literate - probably, later in Coelbren, one of the few people in the village to be so.  He shows a fiery independence of spirit in various aspects of his life, all apparently governed by a strong non-conformist Baptist faith allied with staunch Liberal credentials - what passed for the radical politics of the day.  Nonetheless he was also a small businessman and appears to have done well for himself.  He escaped the mines and built his own quite substantial house in cash. Different aspects of this very strong character appear in some of his many descendants.

Extract from OS Map 0f 1905, six inches: one mile.  The small settlement of Cerig-Dwr can be seen on the road south of Llywel.

In 1851, it is very likely that Richard Morgan is shown on the census as a single man, aged 20 (it should really be 23), at Llwyncelyn, in the Parish of Llanguicke, near Pontardawe in the Swansea valley.  He has left home quite young – and in those days relatively unusually - and we may consider the fact that his father is either missing or dead.  We can also surmise that he probably wasn’t forced to move to find work – the Trecastle area was an important textiles area with opportunity in all stages of the process right through to finishing. Members of the Morgan family in this area thus figure repeatedly and confusingly (for the family historian) as tailors.  Richard’s elder brother, Morgan, is recorded in all censuses as a tailor, together with numerous other Morgans around Llywel at various times so there would probably have been plenty of scope for Richard and indeed it was from this brother Morgan that Richard learned his trade. We know this from his 1903 obituary, written by CJ Pipe of Nantyyffin Chapel. Nonetheless, supporting his identity at Pontardawe in 1851 is his given occupation, “Tailor” - he is working as a “Servant” in the establishment headed by John Evans, also Tailor.  Secondly, in this 1851 census Richard gave his place of birth as "Trecastle, Breconshire", which although not very far from Pontardawe, was nevertheless out of the area.  At this time, migration from county to county was understandably well pronounced in the more easterly coal field areas but was still less common between more rural areas.  Again this helps us to pin him down in this census and thus makes this the most likely record for him in the 1851.   

By 1854 Richard Morgan had married well – to Gwenllian Walters of Pentwyn Farm, Pen-y-Cae.  Their marriage is both recorded in the Parish Church of Ystradgynlais on 3rd October 1854, and in Gwenllian Walters’ Bible - which she starts with the proud details of her marriage.  Richard’s occupation is given as Tailor and his residence at the time of marriage Pen-y-Cae.  The Walters family appears to have been well established in this area and Richard and Gwenllian settled here and had their children, all again carefully recorded in Gwenllian’s family bible..    The Walters family appear to have worshipped at the (established) Callwen Church – as the numerous Walters burials there appear to indicate – but at some point the young Morgan family began to attend the small Baptist Chapel at Nant-y-Ffin, up the back lane from Pen-y-Cae to Coelbren.

The family would have combined small-scale farming at Pentwyn with Richard’s earnings as a country tailor – as well as all the farms, there were plenty of men working at nearby Penwyllt Quarry who would have needed to regularly replace their working clothes.  Richard now seems to have found some stability and the growing family is recorded at Pentwyn in both 1861 and 1871 censuses.

However, this bucolic idyll was not to last, because at some point in the mid 1870s Richard fell out with his landlord on the Gwyn Estate at Pentwyn.  There was a General Election in 1875 and it was perhaps in this that he wasn’t going to be pushed around into voting as he was told to – Tory.  At this point, voting was restricted only to landowners and tenants above a certain value of property, so individual votes counted for much more than they do now, and were highly sought-after.  In the Brecon constituency, for example, there were only 814 enfranchised voters in 1868.  Evans (1977) states that, elsewhere, “Onllwyn was very poor economically in those days…only two men having the right to vote in 1868.”   So, through a probable combination of principle and pig-headedness, the family was evicted and moved a few miles south to Coelbren.  In this important 1875 election, William Fuller-Maitland was elected as the first Liberal MP for Breconshire and perhaps this confirms how important the votes were in what seems to have been a knife-edge constituency.  Thus at this point, Conservative dominance here ended, although it was too late for Richard.  In                                                              Coelbren though, there were mines nearby and the railway junction had opened in 1873 – enough, the undoubtedly enterprising Richard thought, to support his tailoring business and give work to his children.  Richard Morgan’s journey from very rural Breconshire to what would very quickly become something of a minor industrial hub is something he probably did not fully foresee and would mirror the changes many people of his generation would see throughout the nineteenth century.    He himself escaped the mines - he was known in Coelbren as “Y Teilwr Bach” – the little tailor - and his very detailed account book still survives showing that while still at Pentwyn he had started what appears to be a thriving business with customers in quite a wide vicinity.

OS Map surveyed in 1877

Coelbren House was built in 1876 on leased land.  The account book shows that Richard Morgan paid various contractors about £300.  The map extract perhaps illustrates Richard’s foresight in building the house where he did.  This map was surveyed in 1877 and Coelbren House would just have been built, so we are lucky so to see it in its splendid isolation at the bottom of the map, almost opposite the Price’s Arms.  The railway junction is just off the map below the pub.  Other than the farms, the church (which had been here on its own for centuries), there was nothing here at this point that could reasonably be called a “village” and so Coelbren House can reasonably claim to be the first house built here for purely residential use.  Indeed, just as the Jones family over at Banwen was present at the start of the mining explosion there, our Morgan family here would be among the first witnesses to the small-scale but nevertheless rapid and interesting process of urbanisation and change in this last quarter of the nineteenth century.

This probable studio portrait of Richard and Gwenllian Morgan is undated (source: family photograph) and is perhaps from the early 1890s.  Richard probably made his clothes himself, although not those of his wife, which would have been made by a “dressmaker”.  We can’t unfortunately tell whether he is holding a Bible, his accounts ledger, or a random book sometimes provided as a prop by the photographer to suggest learning and distinction in his subject.

“Settle with Mr Isaac Mathias Mason to build a House near the Coelbren Station and that he is to find all materials including Grates and Oven also Slateing and Plastering and find all Materials for the said job…..£164.0.0.” Interestingly, the entire account book is in English.

“A Statement Relating the amount of Money Receiving by David Phillips, Rhydffosdu for Hauling stones and other materials towards the new House near the Coelbren Junction Station erected by Richard Morgan Paid by Isaac Mathias Mason……£20.0.0”

“Settle with Mr David Rees Contractor - Ystalyfera for all Carpinter work and that he is to find all materials necessary for the House to be built at or near the Coelbren Station…..sum of £108.0.0” 


In the latter quarter of the nineteenth century, the Morgan family would have been central figures in the village.  Richard’s work as a tailor would bring him into contact with all and his children would, bar one, all marry locally and have large families, further cementing their links. Richard took an active interest in religion, politics and public service. Literate and educated, in a small village he would have performed many smaller and larger services for his neighbours - letter-writing, representing them to officials and the like. An early unpublished “history” of Coelbren, set down in the early twentieth century, mentions Richard as “the first man to be considered a scholar…he became an insurance agent and the secretary of a Friendly Society, and everybody trusted his achievements, for better and sometimes for worst”, although we do not know to what circumstances the last statement alludes.  He features regularly in many local history and newspaper records as, for example, he was involved intimately with other local families in establishing the first primary school in Coelbren. He was the first “School Manager” – probably roughly equivalent to today’s Chair of Governors position.  He later managed to give himself the part-time job of Attendance Officer and was undertaking this responsibility just before his death, aged 73, in 1903.   

Various documents record Richard Morgan’s position as School Manager and, later on, School Attendance Officer. He is shown here in what is believed to be the earliest photograph of the “new” Coelbren Primary School, which was built at a cost of around £1000 between 1897 and 1898 (the school had been housed originally in the Baptist Vestry at the top of Station Road).   A much fuller account is given in the very detailed “Coelbren School” (Davies, 1994), from which this photo is taken.

The original “school managers” (akin to today’s Governing Body) were named as, amongst others, Richard Morgan, Coelbren House, Lewis Lewis, Coelbren Farm (brother in law to Margaret Morgan, Richard’s daughter), Daniel Jones, Coelbren House (Richard’s son-in-law), David Kemeys, Henryd Uchaf (whose son would marry Daniel Jones’ niece).  There were only two others unconnected with this family - a local JP and the vicar, Rev. John Williams.    All these men and their families also belonged to the Baptist chapel at Nantyffin and would also later be the prime movers in the 1910 construction of another piece of Coelbren infrastructure - Moriah Chapel.

From “Seren Cymru”, 4/12/1885.

Seren Cymru - Welsh Star - was a Welsh language newspaper started in Carmarthen in 1851 and initially espoused radical causes.  It was later sold to a Baptist company and became the Welsh Baptists’ semi-official mouthpiece.  It was common practice for this and other “tracts” to be bound together and sold as  “books”.

Mr. Gol - We are grateful to the Seren for a little space in order to give a little history of the activities of the Liberal Party in this mountainous part of Breconshire.  A large and enthusiastic meeting was held on November 24th in the long room of the Price’s Arms, at the behest of W.F. Maitland M.P.  The Rev. D.H. James, Nantyffin, took the chair at 7.30pm.  He opened the meeting with a warm and cheerful speech which was accepted and highly appreciated by the crowd.  Then the Chairman called upon Mr. Richard Morgan, Colbren House, to give a note of confidence in Mr. Maitland.  Mr. Morgan gave some clear facts to demonstrate Mr. Maitland’s faithfulness to the cause since his election to M.P. and therefore he deserves our support.  This motion was seconded warmly by Mr. Herbert Kemeys, an old farmer.  There are too few people of this class speaking in our public meetings.  The old Welsh have said that we have been too long like little pups under our mothers without opening our eyes.  But they are now beginning to open them quite safely and recognizing their friends.  He said, “I am a Baptist and if I gave my vote to Dori, I would be forsaking my principles.”

Richard Morgan died aged 74, in September 1903, and a long obituary followed in Seren Cymru.   An initial rough translation is given underneath.

RICHARD MORGAN, COLBREN.

It is a very sad task to record the death of the last of the dear old brothers of Nantyffin Chapel, which occurred on the morning of Friday, January 30th, 1903, aged 74. This was a year and two days after the death of the Revd. DH Jones, his former minister. Although he was afflicted for a few hard and painful days we still did not think that his life on Earth was drawing to a close. We believed that he could see in a few more years to praise his God, to give his prayers in the chapel, and to teach and train his class in the Sunday School.  Alas, instead he went to meet his maker. 

On Monday, a huge crowd, from far and wide, came to the funeral to pay their respects to his mortal remains. He was buried in the churchyard of Nantyffin, a place which was his second home. His minister, CJ Pipe, officiated at home [ed. Coelbren House]. After this, a procession formed, and we joined our brother's funeral to another one; that of a young twelve-year-old boy from Onllwyn. It was very sad to see such a scene.

 In the chapel, the Rev. D. Rees read parts of God's Word;  the Rev DJ Davies, Ystradgynlais, gave an address as well as Rev John Thomas, Gelli, Rhondda, one of our dear brother Rees Lewis, Craigcefnparc; and B. James, Cwmtwrch.  These all gave equally lofty testimonies of the our brother Richard Morgan’s religious faith and zeal, his respect for the servants of the Lord, and his love of the blessed Lord’s message of gospel.

It was also seen at the funeral of Rev. D. Williams, priest, Col-coed, and notices were received from a number of the ministers of the district, expressing their regret that they could not be present, together with their admiration of our dear brother and their deep sympathy with the widow and the relatives in their grief.

Richard Morgan was born in a farmhouse called Gellfaen, Cwmdwr, near Trecastle, close to where the late Rev. Thomas Lewis of Newport spent his early career. His parents were Richard and Sarah Morgan.  His father was a responsible man, but he had no more attraction to his brothers, but he followed the steps of his elder brother, who was a tailor, and who taught him the craft.

 At the age of twenty he left Cwmdwr and directed himself to the Cwmtwrch area and although he was not a [ed. Baptist] member at this time, he faithfully attended  the meetings at Beulah church. He was there for three years, and then moved to Blaen-Cwmtawe, and soon afterwards he was baptized, a 24-year-old young man, by the Rev. Thomas Williams, minister of Cwmdar. He was henceforth a member of Nantyffin chapel, a faithful, diligent, and unwavering member of close to 52 years.

 During this time he worked much with the cause, encouraged and advised many of the young men of the church, and the fruits of his labour are seen in the lives and conduct of most of them until this day.

 He raised a large family, and he did his best to train and nurture them in the doctrine of the Lord. His soul desired to see the children as religious members, and he had his wish. When he had the privilege of seeing the children obey the ordinance of baptism, he said, “I will serve the Lord with my family”.

He was a deacon and secretary of the chapel for a time and undertook these responsible positions with great faithfulness and care, with the fellowship foremost in his mind, and thus nothing could thwart him. He had a long and heavy walk to the chapel, like many other of the members, but neither the road or the cold, nor the rain were any excuse for him to be absent.  The last meeting he attended was the communion on Sunday morning, and greatly was he rewarded for receiving it.

He was very faithful to the Sunday School throughout his life, speaking a great deal about its goodness, and encouraged everyone to take part in it. He was a teacher of the young for many years; and when he explained the truth to them, he cared for the overarching purpose: that they should believe in the Son of God and be true children of Him. He always intended to devote himself to this, and ministered to tens of them during his life.  His prayer at rest was, that we shall live to see every night as members all.

On the last Sunday he lived, he found his grandchildren to recite the verses they had learned to say in the fellowship on Sunday night, and said to them, "I will learn, teach you each a fresh verse by next Sunday." He was very much of the Holy Scripture, he read much of it in his home, learned scores of its verses, and he gave many of them and many old hymns of Zion when he crossed the river. It is very empty in the family, in the church, and in the community: God's will be with the chapel, our dear sister, and the relatives in their grief.


In 1918, this newspaper extract from Llais Lafur (“Labour Voice”) recorded the funeral of Gwenllian Morgan.  She died on the 19th March and was 91. This was an impressive achievement for someone who had lived most of her life in the nineteenth century. Three of her children and their families attended: from the six children she had, three had pre-deceased her by now.  She also lost at least three of her grandsons in the First World War.     

Back over at Coelbren though, the newspaper goes on to record  that despite the funeral, there would no let-up in the Saturday evening entertainment at Moriah Chapel; the Eisteddfod continued.  Notable amongst the prize-winners are some of Gwenllian Morgan’s young relations in the Kemeys, Jones and Evans families.

Perhaps Richard Morgan was a classic exponent of what has been called the “gwerin” - this was a social construct posited by many, denied by others as a myth, that Williams (1981) defines as “the classless, Welsh-speaking and cultured ‘folk’…that made up the ‘Nonconformist Liberal Nation’” and it appears from the evidence that Richard Morgan would on the surface fulfil the criteria necessary for membership of this “Welsh-Welsh” construct which has so bothered and hindered discussions on Welsh national identity in recent decades.  Morgan was part of the “new mobilisation…against Anglican and English-speaking gentry and landlords.  This created a ‘nation’ which formed along a language line which was also a religious and a class line…[and] entrenched a Liberal middle class which, in  its new secondary schools, its university, its museums and eisteddfods erected the framework of a pseudo-nation” (Williams, 1981).  The way the Baptists led in the development of the primary school and seemed to dominate, for a time, the cultural life of the village seems to epitomise this phenomenon on a very small scale.  Ranged against this rather cosy new elite were of course the far greater numbers of non Welsh-speaking and often irreligious workers from everywhere in the new working classes in south Wales, who from the beginnings of the twentieth century would systematically start to reject the claim of the non-conformist Liberals to speak for “Wales”.  Just as now, the Liberals were caught between two stools: the original enemy of the  English establishment and the irreligious, and increasingly politicised proletariat.  The Liberals had metamorphosed into their own self-serving establishment and were thus powerless to confront either challenge any more.

Richard Morgan died just at the time when such Liberal dominance was starting to be questioned - although Lloyd George had still to come in 1906 - and we don’t know how Richard Morgan would have reacted to the new  and much more radical politics of the anthracite area that developed in the 1920s and 1930s.  We do know that one of his grandsons, John Walter Jones, benefitted enormously from his non-conformist Liberal heritage, mixing with the Welsh elite at Cardiff University, but by the time he was ready to take his place in the world, Labour was now the “hegemony in formation” (Williams, 1981) and JW Jones moved seamlessly into what became the next controversial Welsh establishment: that of the Labour Party in Wales.

Children of Richard Morgan and Gwenllian Walters

Richard Morgan was one of the founding fathers of Coelbren and his children grew up to participate fully in the life of the growing village.  A few of them had their own large families whose descendants still live in the area.    However, as we will now see, although Richard and Gwenllian Morgan had three sons, through a combination of tragic circumstances in the male Morgan descendants, it is now almost exclusively the female Morgans who continued the line, and thus the Morgan name descending from this particular family has disappeared in this area.

Sarah Morgan married Daniel Evans of the Price’s Arms

Margaret Morgan married Rees Jeffreys, Penygraig

John Ifor Morgan died in infancy (1857) Gwenllian Morgan’s bible records that John Ifor died aged only 10 days.

John Walter Morgan married Mary Ann Powell and later Anne Hopkins

Anne Morgan married Daniel Jones, of the William Jones family

Richard Morgan married Maria Woodley of Aston, Birmingham


© (the written content and authorial photographs) Gareth Jones 2015-19