Daniel James was born on the 23rd of January 1848 in a cottage in Llangyfelach Rd, Treboeth, Nr Morriston Swansea. His parents were chapel goers and the young Daniel would attend worship with them at Mynnyddbach Chapel, Treboeth.
His formal education was minimal, but he did attend a local drama school for a short time. Daniel’s education was cut short when his father died suddenly and the boy became the family breadwinner. In 1861, at the age of 13, Daniel started work as a manual worker in Morriston Ironworks. He went on to become quite a skilled worker in this, rising to become a ‘puddler’ whose job was to estimate the correct amount of carbon that went into the mixture of iron and coal.
He was always seeking work which would increase his earnings and it was when he got a job at Landore Tinplate Works that he was invited to join the local Chapel and encouraged to study the intricacies of Welsh poetry. He took the Bardic name of ‘Gwyrosydd’. He was encouraged to write poetry and verse. It was while he was here that he met up with John Hughes a composer of hymns and also a fervent chapelgoer.
In 1871 Daniel, (23), married Ann Hopkin, (21) They set up home in Treboeth. By this time Daniel had been promoted to “Hammersman’ a job requiring a lot of physical strength. Daniel and Ann produced 5 children, Mary Hannah (1873), Margaret (Marged) Ann (1873), Catherine Mary (1878), William Hopkin (1882), and Olwen (1886).
Although Daniel always worked hard to support his family, he liked to drink and enjoyed the atmosphere of the local Hotels and Public Houses, this gave him a certain bad boy image with the local chapels. It was said by many, that he would have “Sold his soul for a pint of beer”. Even so he was always a keen member of the chapel.
His favourite haunt in Treboeth was the King’s Head where he could be found of an evening, sitting at the bar on a peculiarily high chair composing poems for pints.
One Saturday night Daniel arrived home drunk after spending the night in the King’s Head. His wife refused to let him in, and he bedded down in the pigsty in the garden!
Next morning he was woken by the sound of the congregation in the Chapel next door singing hymns. Daniel noticed that the singers did not end their hymn with the traditional Amen. Daniel rushed into the house demanding pen and paper at once, and wrote a poem entitled Ble Mae’r Amen? ( Where is the Amen?).
Daniel was known as a real ‘character’, always smiling with a ready sense of humour. This coupled with a love of nature and his strong sense of faith made his poems and verses strike a chord with all who heard them. He was able to get 3 books of his poetry published. “Caniadau Gwyrosydd”, 1892 (in which Calon Lan was included), “Caneuon Cymru” in 1885 and “Aeron Awen Gwryrosydd” in 1898.
His verses were given away often for beer money. Daniel tells of his wife giving him money to buy a pound of butter, finding the temptation to spend the cash on drink instead promptly spent the cash. Afterward he was remorseful and afraid to return home without the butter, he called in at a friends house and borrowed money, bought the butter and went home. The next day his friend got his money back and a beautifully composed poem of thanks as well. Another way of his obtaining ‘free beer’ was to turn up at local weddings and compose a poem to the happy couple on the spot. Often these wedding poems were considered quite ‘near the knuckle’. Much to the embarrassment of the Bride and Groom, and the enjoyment of the guests.
Tragedy was never very far away from Daniel’s life, as on Christmas Eve 1887 his wife Ann died aged 38. He was now a Widower at 40 years of age with 5 young children.
But by October 1888 he re-married. This time to Gwenllian Parry a widow with 5 children of her own, and they went on to have a further 3 children. Myfyr (1890), Gwenfron (1891), and Tawe (1893)*.
At this time Daniel was still working at the Landore Tinplate Works as a Traffic Manager/Weigher. In 1894 the Tinplate works closed down and Daniel and his family moved in search of work first to the Cynon valley, to Tredegar and Dowlais, and He spent several years working in a colliery at Mountain Ash, until moving once more to follow the work to the Garw Valley.
Daniel brought his family with him to No 8 Herbert St, Blaengarw, while they lived in Blaengarw, his wife Gwenllian gave birth to their last child, a son, Tawe James (1895) was born at No 2 Herbert Street. Sadly Gwenllian died shortly afterward, and the baby was sent to be brought up by Daniel’s sister Marged in Llangefelach.
Daniel was working in the Ocean Colliery as an underground worker, his love for poetry and rhyme was with him always, and he would often write comical verses on the sides of the drams in chalk to amuse himself and others. An example of his humour was recorded when after struggling to get a coal dram back on the rails Daniel chalked on the side.
Dyma fi o dan y ddaear
Yn scwto, scwto
Cael fy maesddu gan hen ddram
O damo damo.
Here I am underground.
Having been beaten by an old dram
Oh damn it, damn it.
It is not exactly clear when and where Daniel met up with John Hughes the man who put Calon Lan to music. I personally favour the story about Daniel seeing Hughes rushing home from Bethania Chapel one afternoon, showing him his poem and Hughes telling him that he had “No time for this as he was already late for his tea!” Something in that poem must have inspired John Hughes because when he returned to chapel for evening services he handed Daniel James the finished song, the rest is history as they say.
In 1903 Daniel’s son William Hopkin died of ‘lockjaw’ due to an accident in the International Colliery, Blaengarw. It was by all acounts just a graze, but medicine at that time was still quite primitive and blood poisoning set in very quickly and he died within in 3 days.
A coroner’s inquest was held at Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall and a verdict of accidental death was recorded. After the inquest Williams’ coffin was transported by special from Blaengarw to be taken back to Treboeth for burial alongside his mother.
By 1910 Daniel’s health began to fail him, he left mining and took up a job as a gravedigger in Mountain Ash where he lived in lodgings in Richmond Street for a time.
When his health worsened he left to live with his youngest daughter Olwen back in Treboeth, he did manage to get a pension of 7/6d a week and he lived with Olwen, until he died on the 16th of march 1920.
Daniel James was buried with his first wife Ann and his son William at Mynyddbach Chapel cemetary.
I must acknowledge the assistance of Treboeth History group, and specifically Mr Ivor Williams to whom I owe huge debt for the help in writing this article. He once stated that Daniel James ‘Was only remembered in Treboeth’. Well, I am happy to inform them that Daniel James has been taken into the hearts of the community of Blaengarw as well, having named our park, “Calon Lan Park” after his most famous poem.
Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,
Aur y byd na’i berlau mân:
Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,
Calon onest, calon lân.
Calon lân yn llawn daioni,
Tecach yw na’r lili dlos:
Dim ond calon lân all ganu-
Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nos.
Pe dymunwn olud bydol,
Hedyn buan ganddo sydd;
Golud calon lân, rinweddol,
Yn dwyn bythol elw fydd.
Hwyr a bore fy nymuniad
Gwyd i’r nef ar edyn cân
Ar i Dduw, er mwyn fy Ngheidwad,
Roddi i mi galon lân.