Feeling Bushed Exploring Bush Houses, Clydach Vale


It is a couple of years since I first stumbled across Bush Houses as the place where my coal mining ancestors lived on moving to the Welsh valleys. I can still remember the confusion of trying to work out quite where Bush Houses was (were?).

From the 1891 census for the Osborne family I could track down the ‘hamlet’ of Clydach, recorded here as part of Ystradfodwg parish in the Rhondda. But where was ‘Bush’ –  seemingly having no road name? The only place which came up in a map search was Bush Hotel. Surely the whole family couldn’t have been living in one hotel room? (And then the Bush Hotel on Clydach Road was undoubtedly more of a pub.)

Later I found what must obviously be the same place in the 1901 census shown as ‘Bush Houses’, and I have since been told that Cwm Clydach Street in the 1881 census again refers to the same place. And now, having tracked down old maps on the People’s Collection Wales, I can see them shown as Cwm Clydach Cottages (Ordnance Survey series 1868 to 1892 – see Tonypandy page). My initial confusion can be forgiven, perhaps.

Living close to coal

This image {1} clearly shows Bush Houses’ position adjacent to the working area of Blaenclydach Colliery, and proximity to the railway with coal wagons to the front of picture.

Blaenclydach Colliery and Gorki Drift, 1915

I am indebted to my second cousin (twice removed) John Osborne, living in Clydach, who has provided more background to life here, specific details and a photo.  During our visit he talked about how people living in Bush Houses referred to the rest of Clydach (on the northern side of the brook) as ‘over’ (as in ‘over there’?), and the walk ‘over’ would cut through woods and past the old coke ovens. You can see from the map extract below, as well as the photo above,  that the Bush remained isolated from other housing.

It is difficult to imagine the lives of my ancestors in such small houses with many children, coal dirt all around, back-breaking, dangerous work and how they felt coming from rural south Somerset. At least the immediate Osborne and Scott families appear to have been lucky in not having strings of child deaths, unlike cousins and other relations.

“In memory of the seven miners who died in the Gorki Drift Disaster … 1941” Plaque outside the council offices.

Church and chapel

The photograph of the rather modest St Albans Church below is courtesy of John Osborne. The 1920 to 1932 Ordnance Survey (available on People’s Collection Wales) shows a St Alban’s Church a little to the north west of Bush Houses, but it doesn’t show in earlier maps.

St Albans Clydach Vale

Given that this photo says St Albans, and the rows of houses of Clydach Vale are behind, this must be it. I had thought at first it was instead a chapel, shown as Methodist on the 1920/32 map, close to the eastern end of the south row of Bush Houses.

Changing landscape

From the 1920/32 map:

Built in the 1860s, the Bush Houses were demolished in 1969. The whole area around there has been landscaped, with a new lake and houses on one side and council offices on the other. The offices are partly located on the Bush footprint. (Cwm Clydach Cottages can also be found on OS first edition map, 1868-92, see Tonypandy and Rhondda page.)

An extract from Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust page on historic landscapes provides more dates:

 By 1875 the ‘fragmented’ first phase colliery settlement of isolated rows had been established at Cwm Clydach (such as Cwm Clydach Cottages or Bush Houses), while three collieries are also in evidence at this time: Cwm Clydach Colliery and coke ovens, opened 1864 and closed in 1895; Blaen Clydach Colliery, opened by Mr Bush and Company in 1875 (earlier Levels had been opened by Frank James in 1863).

That extract does give a clue as why Cwm Clydach Cottages/Street became known as Bush Houses – presumably they were either built by or later acquired by Mr Bush and Company (and rented to his workforce). However, we also note that Wikipedia’s Clydach Vale page states that the coal mine named Lefel-Y-Bush opened in 1863, although there’s no source reference for this information.

Looking over Clydach Vale lake towards councils offices and where Bush Houses used to be. (Photo: Cathleen Parsons)

Community

Many families in Clydach today originate from the Bush, according to cousin John. A later article will relate how many Osborne relatives took up Bush property, and with a bit of luck give some idea of the close knit community. (See A community in the Bush.)

Cwm Clydach/Clydach Vale/Blaenclydach can be seen as a side valley extension to Tonypandy, which was one of the best-known coal mining towns in Glamorganshire.

Low quality B&W copy of a picture of Bush Houses in 1960s. Please do not reproduce.
Low quality B&W copy of a picture of Bush Houses in 1960s. Note: Cutlock&Co is stretching copyright here, please do not re-use.

Notes

1. Credits

Photo 1: Sourced with permission from Rhondda Valleys (previously a section of the Anglesey Info site). Also appearing on Rhondda Cynon Taf council’s heritage page.

Lake photo: thanks for the image Cathleen, hope you don’t mind the re-use!

2. Further reading

  • Clydach Vale page on Wikipedia has a little info on the Gorki Drift disaster as well as more about the area.
  • Local council ‘Our Past’ pages (aka ‘Heritage Trail’) have reappeared.
  • Our Valleys Heritage website has gone, at 2014. The piece ‘A fold in the hills’ (pdf) mentioned Bush Houses, as well as giving life to Clydach Vale in general.
    • “As children, my brother, sister and I loved to cross the little bridge over the railway to play.  Sometimes we took bottles to fill with water that came from the pump situated on the top of the street we called the Bush houses.  At the other end of the street was a drift mine called Gorky Colliery and a chapel.
      “Sadly this street was demolished to make room for the land reclamation scheme.”
  • The Cwmclydach website, which disappeared 2012, had a  history page giving a different opening date for Blaenclydach Colliery – 1863 – but that does match the earlier Levels noted above, and Wikipedia page.
  • Tribute to the Rhondda – Clydach Vale. Unfortunately this website has also gone, 2013.

On Cutlock & Co there are a number of other articles, on the people, living conditions and census data.

Updates

I have updated this article – a couple more photos, a bit of tidying up and reference notes. Further contributions/amendments from other people welcome. Two three four additional photos on the more recent article, Bush Houses viewpoints.

9 thoughts on “Feeling Bushed Exploring Bush Houses, Clydach Vale

  1. My dads Granny Bush lived here. I used to think that was her name but later found out it was because of where she lived. I can’t remember at this time if it was a Russell or an Ashford relative but they both lived here at the end of the 1800 and begining of 1900’s

  2. Good to hear from you Sue. I’ve done lists of 1891 and 1911 census for Bush Houses – no Ashford or Russell in 1891 (but there is an Ashman family from Somerset). 1911 Thomas John/Sarah Ann Ashford at number 19 – daughter Sarah Jane would have been 6 or 7 at time of 1910 riots.

    I still haven’t worked out where the middle name of Willie Ashford Holley came from – he married my great aunt Eurfron. Perhaps a connection!

  3. John Lewis living in number 5 Bush houses was my uncle, in the 1901 census he was living at number 37 with his parent’s and family having moved from Merthyr at some point.

    1. Thanks Brinley. But did you mean William Lewis is your uncle – he was at No 5 in 1911. Or did John take on this address later? William was living with his parents, James and Jennet, and siblings (including John age 16) at 37 Bush in 1901. Useful to know that – and note that Elizabeth Ann, William’s wife, was already at No 5 Bush in 1901 along with her parents George and Elizabeth Osborne.

  4. Hi in the 1911 census my great grandmother and great grandfather lived at no. 44 thomas and margaret lewis. My grandfather was William david lewis age 2 at the time. He moved to coventry in the 1940s. Thanks for all you’ve collated regarding the bush houses it’s been very interesting.
    Regards
    Deborah

  5. My grandparents Robert and Bella Osborne lived at no 44 bush houses. John Osborne is my uncle who sadly passed away this year. This has been a fascinating read thank you.

    1. Hi Lee, thanks for the comment, glad you liked the material. You must be a third cousin (once removed), then! I’d love to know which of John’s brothers is your dad – send me a message via the contact form if you prefer.

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