The isolated hills of the Amman Valley provided the remote seclusion that inventor Harry Grindell Matthews craved in the 1930s. He had a private airstrip at Mynydd y Gwair near Clydach, so he could fly in on his light airplane to his mountain laboratory – Tor Clawdd. Surrounded by an electric fence, barbed wire and other elements of security Matthews had thought up, it’s hardly surprising that his neighbours talked of strange happenings! Having clashed with the government on many occasions, he may have been paranoid about the secrets of his inventions being stolen. Or he may have been a fraudster who just wanted to lie low! Either way, the story of 'Death Ray Matthews' is the stuff of legend. Was he a hero with ideas ahead of his time - or a fake?
He was the inventor of amongst other things the world's first mobile phone and a submarine detector. It was his idea to project images onto clouds and he worked out a way of doing this, which is still used in laser displays today. In 1921 he produced the world’s first talking picture - an interview with the explorer Ernest Shackleton just before he left for the Antarctic. Unfortunately, the British film industry thought that talking films would never catch on (the Americans knew better)!
What really captured the public’s imagination, however, was his claim to have invented the death ray – a terrifying secret beam capable of stopping an aeroplane engine and killing a man. He died at Tor Clawdd in 1941, taking his inventive secrets to the grave.
Where to Visit?
Take a trip along the Sustrans Clydach Glais cycle trail running alongside the canal and you will pass a steel sculpture commemorating Harry - at Coed Gwilym Park, Clydach.
Pop into the Clydach Heritage Centre in Coed Gwilym Park, Clydach, where you can buy a copy of Jonathan Foster's biography of Harry - 'The Death Ray'!
17 March 1880
11 September 1941