What we now know as the Rhondda Valleys was once called the Parish of Ystradyfodwg, with its Parish Church being St. John the Baptist at Ton Pentre [near to the railway station], there having been a religious settlement on this site since the 6th century B.C. The former Borough of Rhondda takes its name from the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach rivers which meet at Porth and run into the Taff at Pontypridd. The boundary of the former Borough, as set by the Local Government Act of 1972, is identical with the boundary of the prior Urban District Council, which became a Borough Council in 1955, replaced by the Borough Council in 1974, and replaced yet again by the County Borough Council of Rhondda Cynon Taff in 1996.
The name ‘Rhondda’ is thought to derive from a very old Celtic word ‘rad’ (speak, recite) which gave a later Welsh word ‘rhawdd’. The second element would have been ‘gneu’ meaning ‘to give birth’. The two elements became Rhoddna and, by a sound-change, Rhondda. There seems little doubt that the original meaning was a kind of ‘babbling brook’.
In geographical terms the Rhondda Valleys are called ‘conurbations’, meaning a series of villages running one into another [so much so that even the people living in them sometimes do not know where they start or finish]. Listed below are the meanings of some of these villages of Rhondda.
BLAENCLYDACH Literally ‘the head of the Clydach’, though the village is really below Clydach Vale, near Tonypandy.
BLAENCWM ‘At the end of the valley’, in this case Cwm Selsig at the head of the Rhondda Fawr valley.
BLAENLLECHAU The village takes its name from the old farm which still stands alongside the road to Llanwynno. There is a stream here called Nant Llechau, so the name means ‘head of the Llechau stream’. The word ‘Llechau’ suggests a river flowing over slabs or flat rocks, though ‘llech’ could be a cognate of ‘llwch’, meaning ‘pool’.
BLAENRHONDDA ‘The head of the Rhondda’. Originally a farm name, the settlement developed on the former farm land. It was Blaenyrhondda in one of the first Ordnance Survey maps of 1813/14.
CLYDACH VALE The river name ‘Clydach’ occurs several times in Wales. Here, the Clydach flows into the Rhondda Fawr at Tonypandy and the place was called ‘Duffryn Clydach’ in the 17th century, ‘duffryn’ meaning ‘vale’.
CWMPARC A medieval park, probably a hunting reserve, was called ‘Parc Cwm Brycheiniog’. In Tudor times, it was made into four farms, two of which were ‘Parc Uchaf’ and ‘Parc Isaf’ (Upper and Lower Park). The area came to be called ‘Cwmparc’ and the stream here ‘Nant Cwmparc’, and so the name was adopted for the mining village that grew up here in the 19th century.
CYMMER The word is the Welsh ‘cymer’ (confluence) and refers to the spot where the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach meet at Porth. The full name was ‘Cymmer Glyn Rhondda’.
DINAS The first colliery village in the Rhondda Valleys, this grew up after Walter Coffin sank his first pit here in about 1812, on the lands of Dinas Uchaf Farm. The name ‘Dinas’ means ‘hill-fort’ and there are historic remains on the nearby hill, ‘Craig-y-Ddinas’. It is said that, early in the 19th century, the village was called ‘Dinas y Glo’, meaning ‘the coal city’.
FERNDALE This is a direct translation of the Welsh name ‘Glyn Rhedynog’. The English name was adopted either by David Davis, Blaengwawr, who sunk the Ferndale Collieries, or by his chief Cashier, Delta Davies. This happened about 1862. ‘Ferndale’ is a County Borough Council Ward name today.
GELLI Another village name adopted from that of a farm, the word ‘celli’ meaning ‘grove, copse’. There were two farms here, Gelligaled and Gellidawel.
LLWYNCELYN A district of Porth near Llwyncelyn farmhouse. It means ‘holly bush’ or ‘holly grove’.
LLWYNYPIA ‘The grove or bush of the magpie’. This was the name of an old farm, occupied by the Bevan family in the 19th century.
MAERDY It has been suggested this name means ‘lord’s house’, but the real meaning here was probably ‘house held on lease from the lord or chieftain’. The village is named after the old farmhouse.
PENRHYS Now the name of a Council Estate, formerly with some 950 or so dwellings, situated at about 1,000 feet above sea level, Penrhys is one of the Rhondda’s mystery names. It means ‘head of Rhys’ and tradition associated it with the killing of Rhys ap Tewdwr by the Normans in 1090. Modern historians have show, however, that Rhys was killed near Brecon. Penrhys was the name of two farms, Penrhys Uchaf and Penrhys Isaf, and of a tiny hamlet associated, perhaps, with the monastic settlement here, in medieval times.
PENTRE The word means ‘village, homestead’ but here it is taken from an old farmstead and its associated buildings, which were large enough to be styled ‘Y Pentref’ long before a real village grew up due to the coal industry.
PENYGRAIG ‘Top of the rock’. Another farm name applied to a village, but here the farm still exists. A hamlet situated by the Bridgend Hotel in the mid-19th century was called ‘Ffrwd Amos’, but the colliery here was called ‘Penygraig’ and this, naturally, came to be the name of the expanded community.
PONTYGWAITH It is known there was a bridge here at least 400 years ago. The name means ‘bridge of the works’ and probably referred to a small ironworks, of which no details survive.
PORTH The word means ‘gateway’ and, appropriately, describes the town’s situation at the entrance to the two Rhondda Valleys. An old house here was called ‘Porthycymmer’, referring to the ‘cymer’ or confluence of the two rivers. The house was shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps.
STANLEYTOWN This part of Tylorstown is built around the Stanley Hotel, though it is not known which Stanley this commemorates, unless it is H.M. Stanley, the explorer. The hotel was built in the beginning of the 20th century.
TON PENTRE Originally the farm and a few cottages clustered around it were called ‘Y Ton’, a word which means ‘meadow’. The village that grew up here was also called ‘Ton’, later ‘Ton Pentre’. To distinguish it from Tonypandy. There was also a Ton Colliery.
TONYPANDY ‘The meadow near the fulling mill’. The Pandy stood until the First World War and was a well-known fulling mill (to wash sheep wool) , dating back to the 18th century. The ‘ton’ was the side stretching from Cross Keys to the Clydach brook. The hamlet near the mill was long known just as ‘the Pandy’.
TREALAW ‘Tre’ or ‘tref’ is Welsh for ‘town’ and ‘Alaw’ was the bardic name of David Williams, Ynyscynon, a landowner and colliery developer on whose land the town or village of Trealaw was built. David Williams was the father of Judge Gwilym Williams, Miskin Manor, who died in 1906 and whose statue stands outside the Law Courts in Cardiff.
TREBANOG More than 400 houses, built by the former Rhondda Borough Council here, have made this place quite a town, justifying the ‘tre’ in this place name. ‘Banog’ (or ‘panog’) may have been a person’s name.
TREHAFOD The houses were built on what was formerly the land of Hafod Uchaf or Hafod Fawr Farm, the mineral rights of which were first leased in 1809. Trehafod is partly in the Taff-Ely area.
TREHERBERT The Bute Merthyr Colliery was opened here in 1855 in an area then known as ‘Cwm Saerbren’ or ‘Saerbren’. The name ‘Tref Herbert’ first appears in the Parish Registers in that same year. It commemorates one of the family names of the Marquess of Bute, whose Trustees opened the colliery and built the houses, naming one of the streets Bute Street.
TREORCHY The town is on the ‘Gorchi’ stream, which had given rise to the old farm name of ‘Aberorchi’ or ‘Aberoergy’. The stream flows into the Rhondda Fawr river at this point, ‘Gorchi’ was perhaps originally ‘Gorchwy’, suggesting a stream marking a boundary. ‘Treorchy’ (‘Treorchi’ in Welsh) is a Ward name.
TYLORSTOWN The village and Ward of Tylorstown were named after Alfred Tylor of Newgate Street, London, who bought the mineral rights of Pendyrus Farm in 1872 and sunk the Pendyrus Colliery in 1873/76. Tylorstown is the home of the famous Pendyrus Male Choir.
TYNEWYDD ‘The new house’. The village near Treherbert took its name from an old farm, which is still standing.
WATTSTOWN The National Colliery was sunk here in the early 1880s. Among the different companies that worked this pit were Messrs. Watts, Watts and Company, headed by Edmund Hannay Watts.
WILLIAMSTOWN The name is taken from the old farmstead, called ‘Hendre Gwilym’, though there was a protest about such an English name being adopted. The Welsh name ‘Tre-William’ was hardly used. It has been claimed that the village was named after David Williams, who also gave his name to Trealaw, but the first explanation seems the more likely.
YNYSFEIO The open space created here is on the site of the old Ynysfeio Colliery, but earlier there was a farmstead of this name. It is derived from ‘ynys’, meaning ‘riverside meadow’, and ‘feio’, which is probably the plural of the Welsh ‘fa’ or ‘ma’, meaning ‘place’.
YNYSHIR Another village name called after a farm. It means ‘long riverside meadow’ and the old farmstead was very close to the Rhondda Fach river.
YSTRAD The name means ‘vale’ and is presumably taken from the old Parish name of ‘Ystradyfodwg’. That means ‘the vale of ‘Tyfodwg’, who may have been a disciple of Saint Illtud of Llantwit Major. The site of the first church was probably where Tyfodwg had his hermitage.
There may be other interpretations of the above but the ones shown are most commonly believed correct.