Maesteg is a valley town in the County Borough of Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, South Wales. It is situated in the Llynfi valley. Surrounding districts are Nantyffyllon and Caerau in the upper part of the valley and Garth, Pontrhydycyff and the hilltop village of Llangynwyd at the lower end. The population of the whole area is about 19,000.
The source of the River Llynfi is on Caerau mountain and runs down through the town, joining the River Ogmore four miles from Bridgend. The English translation of Maesteg is fair field. It is well-named, as it is surrounded by green hills and in Garth there is a beautiful wooded valley, Y Darren, with a picturesque viaduct, which once carried the PTR (Port Talbot Railway Company) line across the Cwmdu valley.
In common with other South Wales valleys the Llynfi valley had a number of coalmines. The pit depths of collieries where shafts were sunk were as follows:
- Oakwood, Maesteg: 274m
- Gin Pit: 100m
- Garth Merthyr 341m
- Coegnant, Caerau 342m
- Caerau Seam Coal Pits 325
- Saint Johns Cwmdu North Pit 346m
- Caerau House Coal Pit 162m
They are all gone now. The last deep mine in the valley was Saint John's Colliery which closed in 1985.
Although the mines have gone, the choirs have remained. Maesteg has three male-voice choirs: Côr Meibion Maesteg a'r Cylch (Maesteg and District Male Voice Choir), Côr Yr Hen Blywf (the Old Parish Choir), and the Maesteg Gleemen, the oldest male-voice choir in the Llynfi valley. There is also a children's choir, Côr y Plant Maesteg, and a Ladies Choir, Côr Merched Cwmllynfi.
On a different musical note, the mother of Kylie and Danni Minogue was born in Maesteg. She emigrated to Australia with her parents in 1955. The family still have relatives in Maesteg and the sisters have visited the town.
Maesteg Town Hall
In the centre of Maesteg the Town Hall, built in 1881, is a multi-purpose arts and entertainment venue. The Maesteg Amateur Operatic Society performs an excellent annual theatrical musical, as well as other performances throughout the year; various productions are also staged there by the local schools. There are concerts, dinners, exhibitions and meetings, and it is now licensed for weddings.
There are several sports facilities in the Llynfi Valley. Maesteg has an indoor swimming pool, a squash club, a large sports centre and (on the hillside just above the town) an eighteen-hole mountain golf course. Maesteg Welfare Park and the Celtic Welfare Park sports complexes in Garth both have tennis courts and a bowling green. There are cricket, football and rugby pitches throughout the valley. Maesteg Cricket Club in the centre of the town was established over 150 years ago.
Maesteg Sports Centre
Maesteg Sports Centre stands on the site of the Cornstores and the Iron Works which were built there in 1826. It has facilities for several sports including basketball, badminton, table tennis, netball and squash. There is also a range of Fitness classes.
Visitors to Maesteg may be puzzled by the large sign of four figure sevens on the clubhouse of Maesteg Rugby Football Club. The team took the name 'The Four Sevens' because of a old legend. The story goes that a man in Llangynwyd village died at the age of 28. The coffin maker was unable to carve the curved figures of the man's age, but he knew that four sevens added up to 28, and (so it is said) this is what he is said to have carved on the coffin.
The 7777 was also the name of a Country Club which, for more than 30 years from the 1960s to the 1980s, stood opposite Llangynwyd School on the main road to Bridgend.
The hilltop village of Llangynwyd, two miles from Maesteg town centre, is more well-known than the town due to the story of the Maid of Cefn Ydfa.
The Maid of Cefn Ydfa
Anne Thomas (the Maid) was a young heiress who lived with her parents at Cefn Ydfa lodge in the early 18th Century. Although she loved a poor thatcher, Wil Hopkin1, she was forced into a rich marriage with Anthony Maddocks. The marriage ended tragically as, broken-hearted, Anne died two years later. Anthony Maddocks married again a few months later, to another young heiress. Wil Hopkin never married and died 14 years later, in 1741, at the age of 40. He and Anne are both buried at Llangynwyd church. Anne is buried in the family grave in the chancel, while Wil lies in the churchyard under the shade of a yew tree. The original gravestones have been replaced and taken to the bell tower of the church.
Wil was well-known as a poet and to show his love for Anne he wrote the love song 'Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn' - 'Watching the White Wheat' - which is still performed at choir recitals. It has also been recorded by Welsh rock singer Cerys Matthews and included on the soundtrack of the feature film Very Annie-Mary made in 2000.
Another famous choral song, 'Y Deryn Pur' was composed by Dafydd Nicolas (1704-1769) who ran a school at Llangynwyd.
The Welsh National Anthem, 'Hen Gwlad fy Nhadu' - 'Old Land of my Fathers - was written by Evan James, and was first publicly sung in 1856 in Tabor Chapel, Maesteg. It was later sung at an Eisteddford in Pontypridd in 1859.
Llangynwyd Church was founded in the 6th Century by Saint Cynwyd. All that remains of the original structure is the stone socket of a wooden cross, which can be seen in the wall above the entrance. The church was rebuilt in the 13th Century and has since been restored several times. The square tower dates from the 15th century and was completely restored in 1893.
The Mari Lwyd
The Mari Lwyd still makes a traditional New Year's Eve appearance in Llangynwyd. The 'Mari', a horse's skull fixed to a broom handle draped in a white sheet and decorated with ribbons, is paraded through Llangynwyd, Pontrhydycyff and Maesteg town by a company of songsters. They call at the pubs where, after singing traditional old Welsh rhymes, they collect for charity and are given 'cakes and ale' (Welsh cakes and a drink). On New Years Eve 2004 they collected £700 for the Tsunami Flood Relief appeal.
Many Welsh place names are descriptive of the area. The Llynfi valley is named after the river Llynfi which means 'smooth stream'. The 'll' sound is pronounced as 'thl'; so Llynfi is pronounced 'thlinvee'. Similarly, the first sound of Llangynwyd is 'thlan', and the last sound in Nantyffyllon is 'thlon'.
As mentioned earlier, Maesteg means 'fair field'. It is pronounced Mice-taig.
Many places are named after saints. Llangynwyd translates as the church of Saint Cynwyd, but also means the parish/village of Saint Cynwyd. It is pronounced Thlan-gun-oyd.
Cwmfelin means the valley of the mill and is pronounced Coom-vel-in.
Pontrhydycyff means bridge of the ford of the tree trunks and is pronounced Pont-reedy-keef.
Nantyffyllon was originally called Nantyfferling, the stream of the farthing2. The stream which runs through the village was believed to be holy and people would throw coins into it, in the hope that they would be blessed with good health. It is pronounced Nant-if-uh-thlon.