HISTORY OF BREWING IN MERTHYR
There is a long history of brewing in this once industrial heartland of Wales, stretching back to the early 1800's.
As the industrial revolution took hold, breweries started to appear across the heads of the Glamorganshire valleys, producing beer to quench the thirst of the men working in the great iron works. By 1848 there where 12 breweries producing in Merthyr Tydfil alone.
This was beer brewed in the traditional way, using the finest malt and hops, to suit the taste of the local drinkers.
Sadly as the industry disappeared, so did the breweries, which where closed down or bought out by larger companies.
Breweries started to produce more lager and drinkers moved away from traditional British ale.
Breweries in Merthyr Tydfil
The history of many local breweries is linked with the successful and roaring history of the local iron trade. The furnace workers, dehydrated by the intense heat of their working conditions, worked up a right old thirst that needed a mighty number of pints to quench. The Dowlais Iron Company had a strange ambivalent attitude towards public houses and brewing. At one time the Company owned many public houses in Dowlais and rewarded the men for extra effort by awarding beer notes. However, John Guest ruled in 1831 that he would not employ anyone who kept a public house or beer shop. He also tried to close many public houses near the Works and employed solicitors to oppose applications for new pubs in the area. Dowlais was always a hard drinking town and the Temperance Movement made less headway here than in other places.
There was the Cyfarthfa Brewery at the top of Nantygwenith Street, a street that had 13 pubs on the way to the Cyfarthfa Works. This was what is known as a tower brewery, a substantial construction of quarry stone five stories high. The plant had several vats holding 40 barrels each. Owned by D. T. Braddick who lived at Penydarren End House near the Theatre Royal, the business closed down in 1920. Another Brewery was Meredith's Brewery, operating in Lower Vaynor Road behind the Rising Sun at the Stocks, Cefn Coed.
The Giles and Harraps' Brewery, Brecon Road
The Giles and Harrap Company of the Brewery Vaults in Brecon Road, also known as the Merthyr Brewery' was the oldest established business in the district. In addition to the brewing business, the firm carried on a large trade in wines and spirits. The Red Dragon brand of wines and spirits were bottled here and the special F.O.H.' Fine Highland Blend Scotch Whisky was an important feature in the business. It was a progressive firm up until the time of the depression of 1935. It operated more public houses than even Andrew Buchan's (Rhymney) or the Pont-y-Capel Brewery of Cefn Coed. There was a lot of money to be made in the brewing industry. Jimmy Harrap, the last surviving partner, provided Harrap's Park at the top end of the Walk, Merthyr Tydfil, for employees and tenants. When the depression hit the town very seriously in the thirties, the level of unemployed being well over 70 percent meant that few could indulge in the luxury of a pint after work, unfortunately not many men were actually working! It must be said that the most popular beer sold was quite low in alcohol and what is now sold as mild.
The Pont-Y-Capel Brewery
The Pont-y-Capel Brewery had a number of pubs in Cefn Coed, Merthyr Tydfil and Dowlais
It was taken over by Harraps and then operated by Walker 's of Cefn Coed, who also had the Angel Hotel at the bottom of town.
There was once a Brewery in old Caedraw and also one in the Clarence Hotel , Dowlais, kept by D.W. Huggins. Most of these smaller breweries had a brew capacity of about 30 barrels.
When times became really bad, Harraps sold out to William Hancock and Co., who ceased brewing in Merthyr, using the premises merely as a depot.
At one time all beer was delivered by horse-drawn carriages.
The Heolgerrig Brewery
Christmas Evans ran the Heolgerrig Brewery. The original Heolgerrig was founded in the 1840s. After the original brewery was completely destroyed by fire in 1888, Christmas Evans had new modern premises constructed.
One of the main rivals of Rhymney Breweries was D. Williams & Co., (Merthyr ) Ltd. Only a few miles apart the two breweries enjoyed a friendly rivalry for many years.
The Taff Vale Brewery, widely known as The Taff was the last local brewery in Merthyr of the six or so substantial brewery companies that had brewed in the nineteenth century. Founded in the 1840s in Georgetown, the Taff Vale Brewery moved to completely new premises on the hill above the Penydarren Road in 1904.
When this brewery was taken over by the Rhymney Brewery in 1936, there was an estate of 25 freehold and leasehold houses. By 1939 the Buchan estate numbered 362 hotels and inns, the vast majority in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire. In the post Second World War years, all breweries faced problems of high taxes and labour shortages. In 1951 Buchan's began an association with Whitbread and Co. and Rhymney was described as �an old fashioned brewery on the side of the hill which had had a shortage of water in a dry summer. The fabric is old and leaking, but on the whole the equipment is sales of keg beer.
Eventually the Rhymney Brewery was taken over by Whitbread and final closure came on April 27 1978, a sad day for all concerned. In the 140 years since Andrew Buchan had first built the Brewery, it had improved out of all recognition.
It is now time for a new Brewery in South Wales to follow the old traditions and create some new ones. There is a need to remedy the lack of good Welsh bottled beer for a large English as well as a Welsh market. Something that can make Welsh exiles think of home!
THE RHYMNEY BREWERY-DOWLAIS WILL DO THIS AND MORE!