William Haggar was a travelling showman who in the late 19th and early 20th century toured with his theatre company, ‘following the coal’ across the Valleys. His fortunes followed those of the miners whose livelihood depended on the market for coal. One of his daughters was actually born in a coal yard near Brynmawr and nicknamed ‘Coalyard Lily’.
Quick to innovate William introduced a bioscope exhibition at Aberavon fairground in 1896 and took £15 on the first day alone. But success was short lived - a six month pit strike hit hard as miners’ families struggled to feed themselves let alone spend money on entertainment.
In 1901 William began making his own films to show at fairground. He hit on a winning formula. He took local folk tales that people knew and loved and made them into silent movies. One particularly successful film was The Maid of Cefn Ydfa, the 18th century tale of Ann Thomas who loved a young poet called Will Hopkin, but was forced to marry another man. She died of a broken heart aged just 23. Will wrote a song declaring his love for Ann called Bugeilio’r Gwennith Gwyn or The White Wheat. (This hauntingly beautiful song has since been recorded by singers as diverse as Tom Jones and Mary Hopkin.)
Hagger began producing newsreels too, often using local locations instead of far flung destinations! One newsreel of the Boer and Russo-Japanese wars was filmed on the hills of Rhymney Valley!
After his wife died in 1909 he settled down in Aberdare, buying buildings and sites to set up a chain of cinemas across south Wales including The Palace in Mountain Ash, The Shanty Cinema in Aberdare and The Royalty Theatre in Llanelli. Many of these cinemas remain today, but with different uses!
Where to Visit?
William Haggar features in Rhondda Cynon Taf’s Aberdare history trail and plaque scheme
The site of The Shanty Theatre, Market Yard, Aberdare
The site of The Royalty Theatre, Llanelli
Aberdare Heritage Trail
Explore the heritage of Aberdare - even the house where King George V and Queen Mary took tea in 1912.
10 March 1851
04 February 1925