Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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DAVIS family, of Hirwaun , Aberdare , and Ferndale , coalowners .

DAVIS , DAVID , sen. ( 1797 - 1866 ),

son of William David Jeffrey and Margaret ( Lewis ) , was b. in 1797 at Llanddeusant, Carms. After serving as apprentice to his maternal uncle, Lewis Lewis , a grocer and draper at Merthyr Tydfil , he opened a shop of his own at Hirwaun , and soon afterwards m. Mary Lewis , who seems to have been a daughter of Thomas Lewis , another uncle of his. They did well, built larger premises, reared five sons and five daughters, and were the mainstays of the young Welsh Wesleyan cause at Hirwaun . As the family grew up, Davis was able to leave the shop to the care of his wife and children, and to tap another source of income by opening a small coal level on Cefn Rhigos ; this colliery (with its wharf at Briton Ferry ) was sold in 1847 , but long before that, Davis had taken a lease of valuable steam-coal seams on the Blaen-gwawr estate at Aberaman , and began sinking a pit there in 1843 , using first ( 1845 ) the canal and, afterwards ( 1847 ), the new Taff Vale Railway to get his coal down to Cardiff . Leaving the Hirwaun shop in charge of his second son, Lewis (below), he now placed his eldest son, David (below), in a shop at Trecynon ( Aberdare ); and as a number of his workmen had now migrated from Hirwaun to work at Blaen-gwawr , he promoted the erection, in 1850 , of the present Welsh Wesleyan chapel at Aberdare . So far, he himself had continued to live at Hirwaun ; but about 1851 he began sinking a new pit at Aber-cwmboi , lower down the Aberdare valley . He thereupon ceased to live at Hirwaun , and built himself a house at Blaen-gwawr , also giving up the Trecynon shop, and building a house (‘ Maes-y-ffynnon ’) for his son, David , who now joined him in the supervision of the collieries; soon, too, the Hirwaun shop was sold, and Lewis Davis was placed at Cardiff as sales agent for the coal .

David Davis , sen. , now turned his attention to the Rhondda Fach valley , hitherto not only unexploited, but almost trackless. After costly but at first unsuccessful sinkings, he finally struck a good seam at the place which is now called Ferndale — the colliery plant and machinery had to be horse-hauled over the intervening ridge from Aberdare . In 1865 , Davis and other coalowners , in protest against the heavy charges levied at the Bute (Cardiff) Docks , opened a new dock at Penarth . At the beginning of 1866 he brought his sons, David , Lewis , Frederick , and William , into the partnership ‘ Davis and Sons .’ He d. 19 May 1866 , aged 69, and was buried in S. John's churchyard at Aberdare ; his widow d. 11 Sept. 1877 .

After Davis 's death the firm opened more pits at Ferndale . In 1867 William Davis retired and, in 1876 , Frederick Davis d. The two surviving brothers carried the business on.

DAVID DAVIS , jun. ( 1821 - 1884 ),

was more of a public figure than his father had been. He took a prominent part in inducing Henry Richard (q.v.) to seek election as Member of Parliament for the Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare district ( 1868 ) and, like his brother, Lewis , was invited to contest the second seat there when Richard Fothergill (‘ III ’ , q.v.) retired in 1880 . A good employer, he kept the Davis collieries open throughout the ‘ lock-out ’ of 1875 , and subsequently became vice-chairman of the Conciliation Board , under H. H. Vivian (q.v.) . He had quarrying ventures in Merioneth , a county of which he became high sheriff — it was at his Merioneth residence at Arthog that his wife d. in 1880 . At Aberdare he took a leading part in local affairs, especially in education . He was a generous supporter of the University Colleges at Aberystwyth and Cardiff . Unlike his father, who adhered throughout his life to the main Wesleyan connexion , the younger David Davis was drawn into the schism which led, in the Aberdare district, to the short-lived emergence of the ‘Wesleyan Reform’ connexion (see under Jones , William , 1814? - 1895 ), and built the ‘ Reformers ’ a chapel at Aberdare which, eventually, became Congregationalist . Of his daughters, the eldest, Mary , m. the then vicar of Aberdare , the later dean H. T. Edwards (q.v.) , and the second, Catherine , m. Sir Francis Edwards (q.v.) .

LEWIS DAVIS ( 1829 - 1888 )

was intended for the law, but (as has been said) was soon drawn into his father's concerns. In 1867 he settled down at Ferndale . He was a deeply religious man, and a pillar of Wesleyanism at Ferndale and at Cardiff — see his biography, A Noble Life , by David Young (q.v.) . With his brother, and with David Davies ( 1818 - 1890 ) (q.v.) of Llandinam , he promoted the construction of the Barry Dock and Railway (Act passed in 1884 , Dock opened in 1889 ) to break the monopoly of the Bute Docks and of the Taff Vale Railway . He had, latterly, retired to Mumbles , where he d. on 1 Jan. 1888 . He was succeeded in the direction of his collieries by his son, FREDERICK DAVIS ( 1863 - 1920 ).


  • Elizabeth Phillips , A history of the pioneers of the Welsh coalfield (1925) , 1925 ;
  • C. Wilkins , The South Wales Coal Trade and its Allied Industries, from the Earliest Days to The Present Time (Cardiff, 1888) , 1888 ;
  • History of the Barry Railway Company, 1884-1921 (Cardiff, 1923) , 1923 ;
  • the files of Yr Eurgrawn Wesleyaidd (Dolgellau) (especially 1854-66 ), Tarian y Gweithiwr (Aberdâr) , Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian ( 1845 onwards), Aberdare Times , Western Mail , and South Wales Daily News ;
  • other scattered references.


Watkin William Price, M.A., (1873-1967), Aberdare

Published date: 1959