The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #168654   Message #4075655
Posted By: Mick Tems
16-Oct-20 - 05:31 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Add: Pontypridd Collier in search of his wife
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Pontypridd Collier in search of his wife
My grateful thanks to Pavane and to Splott Man! I first heard the song from Walter Haydn Davies, who was born in the village of Bedlinog in 1903 and worked down the local pit as a miner. He left the pit and ended his days as headmaster in Bargoed Grammar Technical School. He wrote three books on his mining life: ‘Blythe Ones’, ‘The Right Place, The Right Time’ and ‘Ups and Downs’. He died in 1984.

Walter wasn’t a folkie, and he didn’t attend folk clubs – but he amassed many mining songs and verses. With Ifor Owen, he recorded a self-produced tape called Mining Ballads And Pieces in the 1980s, a marvellous collection of over a score of industrial songs. I took down ‘The Pontypridd Collier In Search Of His Wife’ from his books; however, he recorded the song very differently from his tape. Walter told me that ‘The Pontypridd Collier’ was a Smoking Concert song, the equivalent of a music hall ditty, and the list of villages varied depending on what valley it would be sung in. For instance, “Cwmmer, Caerau and Maesteg, on the ‘Garw made a raid” would be altered to “Cymmer, Cape, Maesteg…” In June 1885, The Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway hired South African workers from The Cape Of Good Hope to construct a tunnel through the mountain from Blaencwm in the Rhondda Valley to Abergwynfi in the Afan Valley, making it the longest tunnel in Wales. Abergwynfi was nicknamed The Cape.

On Mining Ballads And Pieces, Walter sang ‘The Miner’s Life’ to the approximate tune of the well-known Welsh hymn ‘Calon Lan’ – absolute proof that it was a Welsh song, going back to the six-month-long South Wales Sliding Scale Strike and lock-out of 1898. William Lewis, the owner of Trehafod Colliery in the Rhondda Valley and the Universal pit in Senghengydd, near Caerphilly (scene of the greatest mining disaster in the UK, where 439 men died when an explosion ripped through the mine on October 14, 1913) was the instigator of the strike; he became Lord Merthyr, and his statue stands to this day in Aberdare Park. The South Wales miners sang this chorus: “Union members, stand together, never heed the owners’ tale; Keep your hand upon your wages and your eyes upon the Scale.”

Re the mystery of the “piece of chalk” – I used to sing: “He lent me a piece of chalk so that I could walk to Pontypridd, that town of many charms...” – I always supposed that the piece of chalk acted as a soothing medicant for his weary feet! It was only six miles from Llantrisant to Pontypridd, anyway.

By the way, ‘Pontypridd’ is a shortened-down version of the old Welsh ‘Pont-y-ty-pridd’: ‘The bridge by the earthen house’.