Saturday 19 March 2016

41 The hymn 'Calon Lan'

41. Calon Lân (photos John Hughes, Mynyddbach chapel, Daniel James memorial) - 19 March 2016

Calon lân yn llawn daioni,
Tecach yw na’r lili dlos:
Dim ond calon lân all ganu -
Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nos.

The tune of the Welsh hymn ‘Calon Lân’, which is sung on religious occasions and at Welsh rugby internationals, was written by John Hughes of Landore. 

Born in 1872, where a plaque hangs outside the cottage in Pen-y-bryn near Cardigan, John Hughes was just two when his parents moved to Swansea.  When his father died eight years later, he began working for the Duffryn Steel and Tinplate Works in Morriston, where he progressed from office boy to commercial manager.  A Welsh speaker and organist at Philadelphia Welsh Baptist Chapel in Neath Road, Hafod, he travelled abroad for the company, becoming proficient in six languages.  Living in Landore he was known as John Hughes (Glandŵr), to differentiate from John Hughes of Pontypridd, who wrote the tune ‘Cwm Rhondda’.  He composed tunes for the Welsh hymn-singing festivals - Cymanfaoedd Ganu - and at the request of Daniel James of Treboeth he composed the tune for his poem ‘Calon Lân’.  The tune can be set to other hymns which fit the metrical pattern, such as ‘I will sing the wondrous story’, and it became very popular during the 1904-05 Welsh Revival. 

Married with three daughters, John Hughes died suddenly in 1914 of a brain hemorrhage aged 42, at 3 Stockwell Villas, off Mount Pleasant Hill.  Colleagues from the Duffryn Works carried the coffin for his burial near his parents’ grave in Caersalem Newydd Chapel, Treboeth. 

The words of ‘Calon Lân’ were written by Daniel James, born in Treboeth in 1848 into a family that attended Mynyddbach Welsh Independent Chapel.  This was then the cultural as well as the spiritual centre of the area.  He began work aged 13 at Morriston ironworks, where he became a puddler - stirring the pig-iron to become wrought-iron - and later moved to Landore tinplate works.

Daniel James mastered the intricacies of Welsh poetry, taking the Bardic name Gwyrosydd, which can mean ‘truth will stand’.  Members of Mynyddbach Chapel encouraged him to write verses and pieces for recitation.  But to their dismay Daniel James enjoyed drinking beer, and used to sit on a particular high chair in the ‘snug’ of the King's Head, composing verses for those who bought him drinks.  That high chair is now in Gwyrosydd Junior School. 

In 1871 he married Ann Hopkin: they set up home in a thatched cottage at Plas-y-Coed Terrace in Llangyfelach Road, and had five children.

His verses were published in periodicals and newspapers, as well as in collections like ‘Canneon Cymru’, published when he was 37.  After Ann James died (on Christmas Eve 1887), he married Gwenllian Parry, a widow with five children of her own, and the family moved to the Cynon Valley, where he worked as a miner in Tredegar and Dowlais, before twenty years working in the colliery at Mountain Ash.  He wrote the words of ‘Calon Lân’, with sentiments that a pure heart is to be prized more than material wealth, while living in Blaengarw, where in 2008 Parc Calon Lân was opened at the top of the valley.  Towards the end of his life in 1918 he returned to Morriston to live with his youngest daughter Olwen, before he died two years later aged 73.  He was buried in Mynyddbach Chapel cemetery, and in 1936 a memorial tablet was placed outside Treboeth Public Hall.    

‘Calon Lân’ differs from popular Welsh hymns like ‘Cwm Rhondda’ (‘Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah’) in that no English language version is usually sung.  The first verse can be translated:

I do not ask for a luxurious life,
the world's gold or its fine pearls,
I ask for a happy heart,
an honest heart, a pure heart.

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