History and Heritage

Manchester House - Grocers


Pre 1930's and one would expect to find quite a few grocery businesses dotted throughout Ystalyfera and the district, but whether it was true or not, and I have no way of really knowing, except from what has been written, the oldest establishment appears to have been run from the premises known as Manchester House, Commercial Street Ystalyfera.

Back in the 1860's Mr William Davies was the gentleman who ran this grocery shop. He and his wife Catherine had several children, daughters Jane a dressmaker, Dinah a milliner, Margaret and Mary E Davies and sons David E and George E Davies. In 1891 an assistant by the name of Joseph Davies had joined them.

Joseph was the son of David and Sarah Davies of Ddolgam Farm Cwmllynfell and he had a sister, Sarah Annie and his brothers were William, John, Thomas and Benjamin Davies. Benjamin, who began preaching in 1885, will always be remembered today as the Rev Ben Davies of Pantteg Chapel. When Ben Davies and his wife first (Mary Elizabeth) arrived in Ystalyfera in 1891, their furniture had not yet been forwarded on, so they stayed with Ben Davies' cousin - Mr William Davies at Manchester House.

It is unclear at what age but probably around 20, Joseph went to Pennsylvania U.S.A. and here in Mahanoy he married Jane Davies, the daughter of the grocer from Ystalyfera and the couple settled down to life in Philadelphia. They had two sons, both born in Philadelphia, David William in 1897 and Joseph Milton Davies in 1899. The family returned to Wales sometime in the year 1906 and they were registered in 1911, as living in Commercial Street Ystalyfera with both boys and a general domestic servant by the name of Janet Jones. I have tried to discover why they returned and the only clue may be contained in an article printed in:


A singular experience befell Mr William Davies, of Manchester House, Ystalyfera, during the week-end. Mr Davies, who was a convalescent, went for a walk on Friday afternoon, and was last seen passing the headquarters of the Cwmtawe Silver Band. Mr Davies failed to return either that day or on Saturday, and his family in consequence was thrown into much anxiety. Search parties scoured the Cwmrhyd Mountain, but in vain, and on Sunday the water in the canal was let out. On Sunday morning a party of young men, whilst examining the wood near Groisygronol Farm, called out the missing man's name, and heard a faint reply. Looking further, they found, to their joy, Mr Davies. He was up to the knee in boggy ground, into which he had strayed during his walk, and had suffered from exposure chiefly, not feeling the loss of food. He said that he had lost his way and strayed into the bog, and knowing its nature, had feared to move from where he was found. He snatched a little sleep by holding on to the tree branches, and remained there all Saturday. He heard the searchers, but was too weak to shout for help. He had intended to try to find his way out on Monday. Mr Davies was taken home, and though very weak, was able to walk with a little aid.

One can only imagine what Jane must have thought when she received this news of her father, stuck in a bog for a weekend, but the next year they had returned and took on the running of the grocery business at Manchester House. Jane, herself a dress maker, prior to emigrating to the U.S.A. had been in partnership in a drapery business with one of her sisters, probably Dinah who was in the millinery trade but now with her husband she carried on a very successful business, which was eventually handed over to their youngest son Joseph Milton Davies.

With an address given as Commercial Street I am almost sure that their shop could have been situated where the Funeral Premises run by Roger Castle and Daughter stand today, at 84-86 Commercial Street.

Commercial Street today - possible former site of Manchester House

As recorded, one of the sons took over the business but unfortunately tragedy struck the family in 1916 and it is not known from the details in his obituary, if David William Davies, the other son, had suffered any effects of ill health in his early childhood or in fact how long he had actually been suffering problems. A former pupil at Ystalyfera County School, he had left at the end of 1915 to begin working at the age of 19, at a bank in Bridgend. The strain however, of a close and long confinement, proved too much for his strength and his health broke down after a few weeks. He developed tuberculosis and two months later was taken for special treatment to the sanatorium at Cimla near Neath. He died on Saturday 2nd June 1916, just 19 years of age and was buried at Holy Trinity Churchyard on the 8th June - later to be joined by his mother Jane in 1956 and father Joseph in 1961.

The Davies grave in Holy Trinity Cemetery, Plot 05, Row 02, Grave 19

In April 1956 Mr and Mrs Joseph Davies celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary but at the age of 84 this 'gentle and charming lady' passed away on 21st July of that year. She had been a lifelong member of Gurnos Chapel, where Joseph Davies was now a senior Deacon. In 1951, the Sisterhood of Gurnos Chapel had held a social evening in the Chapel Vestry to honour two of the chapel's oldest members, namely Mr A Morgan of St David's Road Ystalyfera and Mr Joseph Davies, as both had recently celebrated their 80th birthdays. On this occasion the gathering was in way of a birthday party and after the tables were cleared, an impromptu programme was contributed to by the following: Mesdames R A Morris, Alice Cronin, S Ball, Sarah Evans, Nurse Thomas, with Mrs Ben Evans presiding and Mr D R Jones was at the organ.

When Jane and Joseph had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1946, an evening's reception was held at Ty'r waun Ystalyfera, the home of Doctor Lewis and Mrs Lewis and a report of which was published in:

During the evening a reception was held at the house for members of the family and a few friends. The happy couple received numerous gifts and telegrams of congratulations, and shortly before the reception they were thrilled to take part in a phone talk to Australia with Mrs Kathleen Woodhouse (nee Williams), daughter of Mr and Mrs Johnny Williams, Darren Road.

At the reception the couple were the centre of an admiring and happy gathering. The toast was proposed by the gracious lady of Ty'r waun, Mrs (Dr) W J Lewis. Everyone joined in wishing Mr and Mrs Davies health, long life and happiness. The couple to whose kindness and co-operation members of the family referred suitably responded. Among those present was the Rev Aman Jones, who read lines of poetry. Appropriate verses were also read by Mrs Gronow Thomas Brynamman, sister of Mrs Davies. A friend, Councillor David Thomas Cwmllynfell, also attended and spoke. There was a short musical programme in which Madame Robert Jones Cwmgorse, another sister of Mrs Davies, took the leading part.

The evening's proceedings were in the capable hands of Mr and Mrs J Milton Davies Brynheulog Ystalyfera.

Mrs Lewis, 1954

It was when I was researching her husband's death I was saddened to realise that in fact their only son, Joseph Milton Davies, had actually died before his father, in 1959. The report served as the obituary and funeral notification and again if it were not for the reporting of such, details of his life would not have been able to be noted:

The funeral of Mr Joseph Milton Davies, Brynheulog Commercial Street Ystalyfera, took place on 2nd June.

Mr Davies, who was 60 years of age, was the husband of Mrs Marjorie Elizabeth Davies, and son of Mr Joseph Davies, now in his 88th year.

The Rev Ben Davies, formerly of Pantteg Ystalyfera, was a brother to Joseph Davies. Mr Milton Davies was a member of the English Congregational Church. He was greatly interested in music.

During the war he served as a Post Warden.

He had suffered a long illness and for a considerable period had been a patient at the Adelina Patti Hospital Craig y Nos.

Born in Philadelphia U S A, Mr Milton Davies carried on a grocery business in Ystalyfera, retiring about 12 years ago.

Cremation took place at Morriston. Officiating ministers were Rev Maldwyn Mundy English Congregational and Rev T Arfon Jones Soar.

Mourners were: Mr Joseph Davies father;

I am not sure what happened to the grocery business when Milton retired around 1947: who bought the premises or whether another business was set up, I may come across that answer in my travels throughout Ystalyfera but only two years later, in 1961, the 3 people connected to the Grocers of Manchester House had all passed away.

Joseph Davies of Brynheulog Commercial Street, died aged 90 years on Whit Monday 22nd May 1961, his obituary ran in:

THE VOICE 26th MAY 1961
A native of Cwmllynfell and a brother of the late Rev Ben Davies Pantteg, he himself was as well versed in the art of poetry as his more famous brother and right to the end, his mind was as sharp as ever, the 'penillion'* coming easily and fluently from him.

Married to an Ystalyfera lady who passed away about 5 years ago, they both went to live in the U S A, where their only son, the late Mr Milton Davies, who with his wife, passed away two years ago, was born.

A faithful member of Gurnos Chapel, Mr Davies was also senior deacon and was very highly respected in the district.

The funeral took place yesterday Thursday) and burial was at Holy Trinity Church yard Godreírgraig. Ref Cadfan Phillips (Gurnos) officiated.

* Penillion = The art of Vocal Improvisation

Perhaps if anyone has old photographs of the business and they would not mind sharing, or knows exactly where it was situated in Commercial Street Ystalyfera, I would be most grateful for any extra input.

Val Trevallion YEARGROUP


Mr Joseph Davies, centre, with two assistants in the shop doorway.

Joseph Davies was a deacon of Gurnos Chapel, seen here on the left rear.
Complete Cleaning company, Ystradgynlais

Cofion Cynnes, newsagent and bookshop, Ystradgynlais