Rhondda Cynon Taff

As part of our current project, ‘Framing Jewish Histories: towards best practice in rescuing a fragile heritage’, we are working closely with the museums of Rhondda Cynon Taf (Pontypridd Museum, Cynon Valley Museum and Rhondda Heritage Park).

Our volunteers at each of these museums are searching their catalogues to enhance the description of those items already identified as having a Jewish connection. They also trying to find items that are Jewish-related but have not been labelled as such. All the material they find is digitised and will be catalogued and uploaded to the People’s Collection Wales website.

We have begun a series of Open Days at these venues which include talks and interaction with our volunteers, board members and staff, where we present the rich local heritage of the historic Jewish communities. We encourage people to share their memories with us and bring along any relevant items they may have.

We have created a series of online exhibitions, hosted by Cynon Valley Museum; there are links to these in the Online Exhibitions section.

Open Day at Cynon Taff Museum

Cynon Valley historians have been at the van of commemorating its Jewish Heritage, having nominated the setting-up of a heritage blue plaque on the former Synagogue in Seymour Street, Aberdare. The recommendation was accepted, and the Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council placed the plaque on the premises early in 2015.

 

Members of the valley’s history society and other volunteers have recently added to the memory of the once thriving Jewish community by researching the heritage held in the collection of the Cynon Valley Museum, the Aberdare Central Library and the online editions of the Aberdare Times and Aberdare Leader, and other periodicals. The latter resources revealed a rich vein of material, particularly in their advertisement pages. An old-fashioned card index data base of the Jewish families who lived here has been started and well over one hundred names recorded. In addition, the town has been surveyed for the sites of the former businesses of the community. Happily, most of these survive and photographic records have been made.

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The earliest recorded date showing the presence of Jews in Cynon Valley so far discovered is 1857, when the Aberdare pawnbroking firm of Lyon and Hyam contributed the sum of £2.2.0d (£2.10p.) towards a clock and a peal of bells for the newly erected Anglican church of St Elvan in the town centre. An unusual donation you may think; an acknowledgement to a community from which they derived their income perhaps, or the fact that they were not exclusively church bells but parish bells to be rung in celebration for all?

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From The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian Glamorgan Monmouth and Brecon Gazette, 1 August 1857, p.1.

Image credit The National Library of Wales.

The outcome of the research thus far was put on display by JHASW and Cynon Valley Museum at an Open Day held at the museum on Saturday, 29 February 2020.

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The event was very well attended and in addition to the artefacts displayed by the museum, JHASW brought a wealth of interesting items with them adding to the success of the day.

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The highlight of the event was a lively and informative lecture given by Mr Stanley Soffa on the history of Jews in England and Wales from the reign of William I to the present, highlighting migration into South Wales and Cynon Valley in particular. This was well received by an attentive audience whose many post-talk questions reflected their understanding of and interest in the subject.

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The highlight of the event was a lively and informative lecture given by Mr Stanley Soffa on the history of Jews in England and Wales from the reign of William I to the present, highlighting migration into South Wales and Cynon Valley in particular. This was well received by an attentive audience whose many post-talk questions reflected their understanding of and interest in the subject.

 

Written by Geoffrey Evans, JHASW volunteer.