Welsh anthem - The background to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau

Memorial to Evan and James James, in Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd

Written by Evan James and his son James, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau has a rich history.

Last updated: 01 December 2008

The tune Glan Rhondda (Banks of the Rhondda) was composed by James James (Iago Ap Ieuan, 1833-1902), a harpist who often played in the inns of Pontypridd, one day in January 1856 as he walking along the river bank in his hometown.

On returning home he sang it to his father, Evan James (Ieuan Ap Iago, 1809-1878), asking him to write some words for it. By the following day Evan had completed three verses.

Some believe Evan James to have composed the words before his son wrote the melody, though this is far from certain. The original title, Glan Rhondda, follows a trend for hymnal music common at the time.

A week later, it was performed by Elizabeth John from Pontypridd, in the vestry of Tabor Chapel, Maesteg. Over time it gained popularity, initially in the locality but soon spreading across Wales.

The earliest copy of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau is found in a manuscript collated by James James, containing instrumental and choral work composed between 1849 and 1863. It is the only piece in the manuscript credited to James, although his adaptation of God Save The Queen with a verse in Welsh is also featured.

The manuscript today forms part of the collections of the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The song became better known still after the 1858 Langollen Eisteddfod. Thomas Llewelyn from Aberdare compiled a volume of unpublished Welsh airs for a competition entry. The adjudicator, John Owen, asked for permission to include Glan Rhondda in his 1860 collection, Gems Of Welsh Melody.

Alaw's collection gave the song its more famous title, and sold in quantities sufficient to ensure the anthem's popularity across Wales. At the Bangor Eisteddfod in 1874 it was sung by Robert Rees, one of the day's leading Welsh soloists.

Increasingly sung at patriotic gatherings, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau gradually developed into Wales' national anthem, although it is neither officially or legally recognised as such.

Memorial to Evan and James James
Memorial to Evan and James James

In London on 11 March 1899, singer Madge Breese sang Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau for the Gramophone Company. It was the first known recording made in the Welsh language. Lasting for one minute and 17 seconds, the recording was pressed onto a single-sided 7-inch disc.

Following James James' death in 1902, it was decided that a memorial should be erected to both the father and son. Designed by Sir William Goscombe John, the monument took almost 30 years to be completed, and was unveiled in Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd, on 23 July 1930.

The monument consists of two life size bronze figures representing poetry and music, with an inscription which reads: In memory of Evan James and James James, father and son, of Pontypridd, who, inspired by a deep and tender love of their native land united poetry to song and gave Wales her National Anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhdau.

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