Park and Dare centenary: 'Cultural heart' hits 100 years

Park and Dare auditorium The Park and Dare was considered the jewel in Treorchy's crown

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When the miners of two Rhondda collieries agreed to contribute to a working men's library and institute, little did they know their pits would be long gone 100 years later.

But while the mines have closed, the Park and Dare theatre in Treorchy continues to thrive.

The popular venue celebrates its centenary this year and the role of those miners has not been forgotten.

As centenary patron Max Boyce said: "It is our duty to recognise the debt we owe to those proud people and celebrate the legacy that was left in our care."

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Treorchy was perhaps the most culturally rich town of a culturally rich area at that time and, of course, the Rhondda coalfield was the best known in the world”

End Quote Alun Morgan Historian

They funded the building by donating a penny from each pound of their wages to create a venue - which featured a bar and a library - where they could socialise.

The Park and Dare was built to the designs of architect Jacob Rees as Treorchy became, according to historian Alun Morgan, a town noted for its varied cultural life.

Mr Morgan, an expert on the south Wales coalfield, said: "It was one of the most famous institutes and the most spectacular because of its size and design.

"It was recognised as over and above the norm. It would stand out as one of the most well known miners' institutes. It was a big statement.

"Treorchy was perhaps the most culturally rich town of a culturally rich area at that time and, of course, the Rhondda coalfield was the best known in the world.

"Treorchy was at its heart with the choirs, the brass bands - an area where the Welsh language was strong at that time.

"If Maerdy was the political heart, then Treorchy was the cultural heart."

Mr Morgan said the institute was something of a rival to the many chapels in the area, although the two institutions largely managed to rub along.

Chapels would not only be busy for services on Sundays, they hosted a variety of events - but the world was changing.

Sophie Evans Those whose careers started at the Park and Dare include performer Sophie Evans

"The chapels went into a gentle and gradual decline after the First World War," said Mr Morgan.

"There was a younger generation, politically and culturally, for whom the institutes were more appealing."

Life in Treorchy was good with stable, relatively well paid work available in the mines and a social life that many parts of Britain could only envy.

People flocked there from other parts of Wales and south west England.

"There's letters home from people living in Treorchy who had moved from rural west Wales and they said 'you're mugs' [for not moving too]," said Mr Morgan.

Residents appreciated what was on offer on their doorstep, particularly the jewel in the crown - the Park and Dare.

Cennard Davies, who represents Treorchy on Rhondda Cynon Taf council and was born and bred in the town, recalls the huge demand for tickets for big events.

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Although Churchill was at the height of popularity during the war, the whole audience would rise to their feet and just boo”

End Quote Cennard Davies Treorchy resident and councillor

"It was very, very difficult to get tickets for some of the events - almost like getting tickets for rugby international matches," he said.

"I used to go and queue early in the morning while my mother was getting my father ready for work, then she would come and queue so we could get tickets for the drama week."

The venue moved with the times as fashions fluctuated, with one of the most noteable additions being the cinema.

"The cinema was extremely popular during the war and after the war," said Mr Davies.

"There was no TV and Pathe News was extremely important.

"Although Churchill was at the height of popularity during the war, the whole audience would rise to their feet and just boo.

"In 1910 he was accused of sending in the troops to break up the miners' strike in Tonypandy and they never forgot that."

1912 sketch of Park and Dare The workers at the collieries paid for the building by donating a penny from each pound of their wages

Mr Davies also recalls political meetings, musicals, billiards and sitting on the back row of the cinema with his now wife Mary.

"We tend to take things for granted but I think we all realise how lucky we are and how important the Park and Dare is," he said.

The venue, now run by Rhondda Cynon Taf council, may not quite play the pivotal role in Rhondda life it once did, but it remains a focal point for the community.

Its centenary is being celebrated in some style and features arts projects and collaborations throughout the year in song, dance and theatre.

Those who have been taking part include West End star Sophie Evans, who started out there, and she said it was somewhere still close to her heart.

Others are also grateful for its contribution.

"The Park and Dare Theatre is such a part of the story of Wales - people working together to create something world class," said musician and presenter Mal Pope.

"It is a tribute to their vision and hard work that 100 years on, it is still going strong."

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