ADMIRERS of Llantrisant's colourful past would be mistaken in their belief that the town was filled with only virtuous and God-fearing folk. A succession of vicars feared the entire town would fall foul of atheism. Their fears were hardly unfounded either for Llantrisant's reputation as a wild, tough town during the middle ages and right up into the early part of the 20th century was well known.
So too was its notoriety as an unhealthy town, prone to widespread epidemics of cholera and smallpox. In 1764 the diarist William Thomas blamed the death of 40 residents in less than 14 days on the vapours emitting from the nearby coal mine. A century later and an entire street of houses, called Glyn Terrace, at the rear of Swan Street was set ablaze after its inhabitants became diseased with smallpox.
Welsh-speaking, but largely uneducated, this typical working class community was home to an every growing population of paupers, thieves and even prostitutes, who operated close to the Cross Keys.
Cross Keys, c.1910
A murder took place in the cobbled tunnel linking Swan Street to George Street. Thomas Harrison, the 20-year-old son of Dr Harrison of Swan Street was shot by Edward Barber of Llantrisant House in 1851.
The solution to the problem of paupers was found at a vestry meeting on December 5 1783 to 'consult in regard of establishing a workhouse for the poor.' On May 5, 1784 it was unanimously resolved to open at workhouse in a block of adapted cottages in Swan Street owned by Rev Gervase Powell of Llanharan, and for a short time in the Black Cock Inn on Yr Allt.
It was decided to borrow money from Rev Rickards and his trustees to pay for the costs. They agreed the sum of £120 but workhouse treasurer Joseph John took £430. Terrified by John, the vicar appealed to the Court of Great Sessions for protection and claimed that John had tried to 'induce various people to blow him up, run over him with a wagon, startle his horse, or otherwise dispose of him.' John was sentenced to transportation and died in 'the hulks' in Portsmouth.
By the late 19th century the Union Workhouse was opened on the Bull Ring.
When those large, feuding families were not battling it out in the streets after dark, they were standing side by side in one of the town's great institutions 'the public house'. Llantrisant enjoyed a dubious reputation of drunkenness and in 1854 some of the locals petitioned for Sunday closing.
A journey from Southgate through the town would give a idea of just how many pubs existed at different times. In 1871 an astonishing 27 pubs were open all at once. Maltsters, brewing and retailing ale was the most prosperous business in a market town where farmers were also pub landlords. Many of the inns were little more than cottage beer houses and would trade on fair and market days, but little during the week.
Malt for the beer was obtained from the Malthouse on Heol Las, but the majority of pubs received their supplies from the brewery adjacent to the former Post Office on Commercial Street. The first pub to be found on entering the town was along Heol Sticil y Beddau. Ironically a Red Dragon Temperance Hall was opened by Vicar Joshua Pritchard Hughes there, but at the same time the Greyhound Inn operated in the adjoining building.
Greyhound Inn c. 1915
Wheatsheaf Hotel c 1920
Following High Street we have the Wheatsheaf Hotel.
In 1815 it was inherited by Anne Harris from her father, Howell Harris. The property passed to her son, Rev David Watkin Williams of Eglwysilan who sold it to Roderick Lewis in 1857 for £450.
Lewis, a close friend of Dr William Price and Executor of his Will, died a bachelor in 1897 and the pub was inherited by his sister, who sold it in 1910 for £1,310 to Edward Morgan.
Morgan was a relative of James Taylor, a Freeman of the Town and later to become the Lord Mayor of Cardiff. In 1925 it was bought by the Fern Vale Brewery Company Ltd and was later home to Llantrisant rugby club and a rifle club.
A few steps away was the Fox and Hounds. In 1851 the occupant was 25-year-old Daniel Parry of Merthyr Tydfil, a coal miner.
Opposite was the Horse and Groom Hotel, next to the Gwalia Stores. Originally called The Boot, during the 1830s and 40s the tenant, Morgan Evans, operated a malt house off High Street.
The Mount Pleasant pub was on Commercial Street opposite the Cross Keys. Before the magistrates' court system was held in the Town Hall, petty sessions took place in the Cross Keys on alternative Fridays. Many years later it was best remembered for closing time, when its landlord Edwin Garr played the trumpet to signal drinking up time!
The Fox & Hounds Inn c 1911
The pubs on the Bull Ring included the White Hart and the Irish Harp. In the centre of the present main road which leads to the Common was the Star buildings, including the Star Inn.
The set of buildings were basically in the middle of the road, providing an island effect for traffic. It was originally home to attorney Henry Morgan, portreeve in 1745. His son, Joseph John, inherited it in 1801 and in 1841 the tenant was stonecutter Joseph Davies.
Adjacent to the Star was the Bear Inn. Built in 1780, the pub was next to a blacksmith's forge, both run by John (Jack) Williams. 'Jack the Bear' married Rachel Williams, who owned the Star shop and their son Henry (died 1908) later became the landlord. In later years the Bear was home to Welsh boxer Syd Worgan.
The Bear c. 1906
Also on the Bull Ring was the Rock and Fountain pub, which became the home of the original Llantrisant Workingmen's Club in May 1953. The club had something of a difficult beginning, especially when the local magistrate required 12 signatories of people without criminal records to open the establishment.