It was felt that Troedrhiwfuwch deserved its own page, because this village, where a number of Fosters lived - and where the site-author's great-grandfather spent his final years - has now virtually disappeared. Only two houses remain inhabited, and the once-thriving community - with its houses, shops, schools, and places of worship - is in danger of being erased not just from the landscape, but from the memory as well.

THE BEGINNING

The Rhymney Valley has a main road - called High Street along this stretch - that runs the entire length of the valley, and on which most population centres are situated. Driving north, the road runs on a narrow terrace laid on the steep valley side, with the terrain rising on one side and falling sharply away on the other, providing spectacular views. As Troedrhiwfuwch is approached, that terrace broadens naturally, and it becomes clear why - in addition to the presence of nearby coal seams - the village would have been sited at this point.

Up to the middle of the 19th Century, the stretch of road between Tirphil and Pontlottyn passed by just two properties - Craig Rhymney Farm, and Troedrhiwfuwch Farm - but around 1853 the commercial development of the area commenced in earnest. The Troedrhiwfuwch Level, and other, smaller coal Levels, begin to be worked, as well as a number of stone quarries. Two lines of houses, to accommodate the miners and their families are built facing each other on either side of the High Street, and the village begins to take shape.

1870 - 1880 

By the 1870s, the village has 38 households with 198 inhabitants, and we can see the first Fosters living there, in the form of David Jones, a Colliery Overman, his wife Ann (nee Foster - daughter of Lewis and Harriet), and Thomas Foster, aged 9. Living with them is 24 year-old School-mistress Mary Davies. Thomas was probably less than thrilled to have his teacher boarding with them, as it can be very difficult to claim that the dog ate your homework when your teacher lives in your house and knows that you don't have a dog.

The deadly disease of Cholera was still rife throughout the world, and only five years previously, an epidemic had struck Glamorgan, killing many in Merthyr, Rhymney, and Tredegar. What wasn't quite yet fully understood anywhere, was that all that was required to prevent the disease was to boil water before using it. Coincidentally, that was precisely what was done in the manufacture of beer, so a pub provided healthy drinking as well as sociability. In Troedy's case, the pub is the 'Troedrhiwfuwch Arms', run by widow Eleanor Thomas, assisted by her daughter Margaret, as bar-maid.

Meanwhile, plans are being drawn up for a beautiful new church, St. Teilo's, to be built close by the 'Arms' - and these were approved in 1874.

1880 - 1890 

By the end of the decade the village has grown considerably, with 51 houses along the High Street, containing 283 inhabitants - and a further row of houses has been built a few hundred yards down the valley, and called Rising Sun Row. Here there are ten houses with 60 inhabitants, and a Pub, called, unsurprisingly, the 'Rising Sun', run by Moses Rowland and his family.

Eleanor Thomas has meanwhile retired, and handed over the running of the 'Troedrhiwfuwch Arms' to her daughter, Margaret.

There is now a Grocer in the village, William Thomas, at number 27, High Street, with his wife Mary, and family. Their son, Francis, is an Undergraduate at Cambridge University - so certainly a family with aspirations.

Although David and Ann, with young Thomas Foster, have moved away from the village to Porth, other Foster families have moved in. Lewis and Harriet have moved up from Tirphil, and are living at 23, High Street, whilst next door, at number 24, lives their daughter Mary with her husband Eginton Jones, and family.

Lewis and Harriet's son, Joseph, and his wife Catherine, (great-grandparents of Geri Foster Thomas, who took many of the photographs in the accompanying gallery) and their children, are all at number 18.

A rough sketch of Troedrhiwfuwch in the mid-1880s when a number of our Foster ancestors lived and worked in the village.

 

1890 - 1900

The village remained pretty stable over the previous decade, with just 7 houses and 12 inhabitants added. Rising Sun Row has been extended with 5 of those houses, and a Shoemaker is now in residence at number 10. The 'Rising Sun' pub is run by Moses Thomas, while The 'Troedrhiwfuch Arms' is in the same hands - with Margaret Thomas' daughter Lucy acting as bar-maid.

William Thomas is now running his Grocers from number 30, assisted by his son Octavius - but he has serious competition from David Davies and his two sons at their larger shop at numbers 14 & 15.

Meanwhile, Dressmakers Jane Jones at number 28, and Elizabeth Rawlings at number 6 are vying with each other to make dresses for the ladies of the area.

Tragedy has, however, struck the Foster related families in the village, with Ann's husband Eginton, and her father Lewis - the patriarch of the family - both dying. Eginton in 1884, and Lewis four years later. Lewis' wife Harriet has moved three doors down to number 26, to live with her daughter Celia and son-in-law David Davies, who have recently relocated to the village. Joseph Foster and wife Catherine have moved with their family from Troedrhiwfuwch to Tirphil, a short distance down the valley.

1900 - 1910

By the turn of the century the village is still growing, with a new row of houses, called Lawrence Terrace, being added behind the High Street. The population has also grown of course, and now stands at 499. The school has moved to larger, new-built, premises a matter of yards away from its previous location, and a Baptist Chapel stands in its place between Lawrence Terrace and High Street. Levi John is the Baptist minister - living at 13 High Street.

The 'Troedrhiwfuwch Arms' is now noted as an hotel, and is still run by the dependable Margaret Thomas. Her daughter, Lucy, also still lives here, but is now married with two children.

Next door but one is St. Teilo's Church, and these two establishments, along with the nearby Chapel, form the social nucleus of the village. A new Post Office is at 27 High Street, and the Post Master is William Thomas, who we last saw as a grocer at number 30. He is still described as a grocer, and it is possible that in addition to the Post Office he also runs the store at numbers 14 & 15. Next door to the Post office is a Drapers shop, where Catherine Jones employs a couple of girls from the village.

1910 - 1920

At some stage during the past few years, and after several decades of operation by the Thomas family, the Troedrhiwfuwch Arms changed hands, the new Publican being Benjamin Roberts - assisted no doubt by his family, but most notably by his 19 year-old son Thomas who works full-time in the business. They have expanded to include stables and a barn, in keeping with their status as an hotel - presumably for those travelling up and down the valley. Also in keeping with this status - despite the Census Enumerator referring to the establishment as the 'Troedrhiwfuwch Arms' - Benjamin states it as being the 'Troedrhiwfuwch Inn', and that is the name it was known by for some years until it later reverted to 'Troedrhiwfuwch Arms'.

A new school building has gone up next to the old, and the girls and boys of the village are now taught in separate schools. The village is still a thriving community, despite production coming almost to an end at the Troedrhiwfuwch mine. There are now only 7 men employed there - 3 above ground, and 4 below, and the most likely place for the miners of the village to be working is at the large Powell Duffryn Colliery, just a few hundred yards away.

The First World War struck Troedrhiwfuwch very hard, with 15 young men of the small community losing their lives. A number of them, including James Hillman, Arthur Panter, and George Ward, arrived in France with the 1st Battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment, in February, 1915, and three months later were all killed on the same day - the 8th of May - at Frezenberg Ridge in the Second Battle of Ypres. Of the 23 officers and 565 other ranks of the Battalion alive on the day before, only 3 officers and 126 other ranks survived 'till the next. Like many of their comrades, these three young men have no known grave, and are commemorated on the Menin Gate, where the Last Post is now blown every evening at 8pm.

THE FINAL YEARS

1929 begins on a celebratory note with the opening of a new Hall and Library on the 1st of January.

The picture blurs somewhat after this, but what is known is that decline set in over the following decades. Doubtless this was partially due to the general decline in the area's coal production, but in Troedrhiwfuwch's case a more ominous reason contributed heavily - the mountain was moving.

As early as 1935, even as far afield as New Zealand, the Wellington Evening Post was telling its readers that "Wales has a moving mountain - at Troedrhiwfuwch". There is no real consensus of opinion as to whether mining in the area played a role in this or not, as fault-lines and difficult geology had existed in South Wales since the glaciers retreated at the end of the Ice Age, leaving softer rock exposed on the steep valley sides. This is overlain by hard massive Pennant sandstone, and the softer rock beneath erodes easily, especially when wet, resulting in material sliding into the valley. This is particularly true of the mountain above Troedrhiwfuwch, and directly opposite on the other side of the valley. The economy of the village was anyway hurt by the closing of the Powell Duffryn mine in the fifties, and now fear of major landslips applied the coup de grace.

By the early 1980s the schools were closed, inhabitants moved out, buildings were bulldozed, and the Troedrhiwfuwch Inn also fell victim. Geri Foster Thomas was one of the last to enjoy the hospitality there, and tells of having a quiet beer from a cask (no pumps operating) by the light of a storm lantern, as the electricity had been cut off in preparation for the Inn's demise. A few days later, after 120 years service to the community, the Inn was gone - bulldozed - and the church, St. Teilo's, followed in 1985.

Rising Sun Row, with its pub, also went, but a replacement pub of the same name was later established a little further down the valley and on the other side of the road.

THE PRESENT

Just four houses now remain - only two of which are inhabited.

The mountain is still moving towards the river and the floor of the valley - at about 15 centimetres a year. This doesn't seem like much, but it is enough to disturb and move the railway line lying on a narrow formation just 30 metres above the river, necessitating constant repair and maintenance work. The line has suffered major landslips in the past, and for years, in this century, trains had to slow from 50mph to 10mph when traversing this stretch. There were only two options - close the line, and devastate the economy of the entire upper part of the valley, which was almost unthinkable, or stop the mountain moving, which was almost impossible. The latter course was chosen and, at vast expense, 432 piles of over half a metre diameter were driven up to 37 meters deep along a 200 metre stretch of track. Engineers predict that this massive 'wall' of steel and concrete reinforcement will support the mountain for the foreseeable future. Lesser landslips will still take place higher up the mountain, so this work probably wouldn't have saved Troedrhiwfuwch, but at least those towns like Pontlottyn and Rhymney further up the valley will not suffer stagnation and eventual decline as a result of the line being closed - and thus hopefully avoid a similar fate to poor 'Troedy'.

There is a Gallery of photographs of the village on the next page.