In the Rhondda Fawr on Good Friday, April 10th 1903, the fifth Blaenclydach Chair Eisteddfod was held in the village’s Gosen Chapel.
Seventeen competitors took part in the ‘best poetical competition’, the prize being £1.11.6d and a handsome chair (The Rhondda Leader described it as ‘the most beautiful work of art’) given by Mr Joseph Jones of Blaenclydach. The competitors’ task was to write 120 lines on the subject of ‘Adgof’ (memory or reminiscence) and the adjudicator was Ap Ionawr of Llansamlet.
The competition was won by ‘Esyllwg’ (the ancient name for south-east Wales), the bardic name of Thomas Jones, a thirty year old collier from Mountain Ash. The Aberdare Leader announced that ‘… the first chaired bard of Mountain Ash is a young man with a promising career’ and went on to say that ‘it is intended to have a repetition of the chairing ceremony at Bethania Hall (Mountain Ash) sometime next month.’ Sadly, that ceremony never took place.
Thomas’s father, David Thomas Jones, was born in Brynaman in 1846 and came to work in Nixon’s Navigation Colliery in Mountain Ash. ‘Esyllwg’ followed his father into the colliery but was also well known as a teacher of Welsh classes in the Science and Art Department of the Continuation School at Mountain Ash, a faithful member of Bethania Welsh Congregational Chapel and a member of the Caegarw String Band.
On the 4th May, almost a month after his Eisteddfod success, Thomas was working in the 2’9” seam of Deep Duffryn Colliery when he was killed under a fall of roof. His Majesty’s Inspector of Mines Inspector’s Report for 1903 describes the incident as follows:-
“Fall of roof: no.42, Thomas Jones, 30, collier, 4 May 1903, 12.30pm, Deep Duffryn Colliery, Glamorgan, Nixon’s Navigation Co Ltd. “At face, cliff, 10 ft. by 4ft 8 ins. by 44 ins. thick. Deceased wanted to get this stone down, so commenced knocking the props out from under it, and, when he knocked out the last, the fall occurred. Its falling so suddenly was due to a “false slip” in the roof, which could not be seen previous to the fall. Two feet nine seam.”
The Aberdare Leader for the 9th May 1903 announced the death under the headline “Esyllwg’s Sad Fate” and described him as “The sweet singer of Pennar”. The article ends “The blighting of a budding genius by the grim hand of death is always distressing, but the tragic circumstances make the demise of our friend doubly pathetic. His relatives are the objects of the most sincere sympathy.”
In 1904 Thomas Jones’s sister Claudia dedicated a memorial stone on the outside wall of the, then, newly-built Soar Chapel in High Street, Mountain Ash. Although disused the chapel is still there but the stone is now so worn as to be almost unreadable.
The chair is now in the coal mining collection of Amgueddfa Cymru: National Museum Wales.