Gareth Jones

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The Western Mail 5th March, 1934

Craftsmen of Wales



The Wheelwright’s Collection


I have seen harps on Eisteddfod platforms as thousands listened to some shy Welsh girl from the countryside; I have seen harps in the Queen’s Hall, London, and in other dignified concert halls; I have seen harps in the streets of London with a poor woman standing by with a hat while the husband played, and I have even seen a harp in Jack Hylton’s Dance Band - but I have rarely seen a harp in such strange surroundings as in Bridgend, the most famous town in Wales for harpists.

It stood in a large wheelwright’s shed beneath the shadow of the railway.  All around stocks of wheels, bodies of coaches, a wheel horse, planks, blocks of wood stared at the effeminate and dainty invader, which had haughtily retired to a corner, refusing to be associated with the rough-and-tumble objects.

As Roy Saunders sketched her I warrant that she posed with as much effect as a Society model, and that the wheels around turned green with envy.


Alas! her owner, Mr. T. H. Phillips, gave her age away and revealed her past life when he said to me “That harp was made in about 1846 by Bassett Jones, and was once the instrument of David Jenkins, shoemaker, of Bridgend, who used to play in the ‘mabsant’ or concerts and at festivities.”

What merriment that little harp had seen in the Ogmore Valley!

I admired the harp.

“You wait till you see my other two harps,” remarked Mr. Phillips, and he took us through the streets of Bridgend until we arrived at his house, where we were greeted by two still more dignified instruments.  The first was a Schwieso harp.

“About 100 years old,” exclaimed enthusiastic Mr. Phillips.  I bought it many years ago from Mr. Barker, schoolmaster at Caerphilly, father of Tom and Fred Barker, the harpists.”


Another, however, was the gem of the collection, for it had been played by none other than John Thomas (Pencerdd Gwalia).

“I bought it,” explained Mr. Phillips, “from Mrs. Roberts, Bridgend, who was very friendly with John Thomas.  It was her wish that the harp should remain in Bridgend.  John Thomas once played it at a concert in Kenfig Hill, and Tom Bryant played it, too.”

We had, therefore, a link with the greatest of Welsh harpists in the town where he was born on St. David’s Day one hundred and eight years ago. That harp had been played by a man who had been harpist to Queen Victoria, had given in 1862 a concert of Welsh music at St. James’s Hall, London, with a band of twenty harps and a chorus of four hundred voices, and was famed in America.

There must be many harps with historic associations hidden away in Wales.  Where can they be?

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