John Frederick Mear
Civil Servant & Local Historian

John Mear

John Mear (ABGS 1945 - 1952)

John Mear worked for most of his career as a civil servant but he will be best remembered for his pioneering work with the Cynon Valley History Society, especially for the many well-respected Society publications for which he was largely responsible. He was an editor, writer and tirelessly encouraged others to chronicle the history of the town that fascinated him and in which he lived.

John was born in Cwmdare on 9 January 1934 to Edwin J. Mear and his wife Catherine, née Morgan. John spent his early life in the village with his younger sisters Margaret and Elizabeth, and attended the local primary school. His father was the village shoemaker who worked on the square in Cwmdare just across from the family home in Dare Road. Edwin Mear was the choir master at St. Luke’s, and John inherited his father’s love of music, being particularly fond of Bach and Purcell. His sister Elizabeth was well-known to Aberdarians as the Leader reporter Liz Mear in the 1960s, and later as Mrs Makin, a teacher of English at St John Baptist High School, Glandare.

John entered the grammar school just as WW2 ended. He very much enjoyed choral singing in the School Musical Society and sang in several concerts conducted by P.E. Phillips. In the sixth form he studied the sciences in the first year of the sixth form, but switched to English, French and Economics for the upper sixth year, passing all three within the year. He entered U.C. Cardiff but unfortunately was unable to complete his course due to family circumstances.

Directly following Cardiff, he was called for National Service and served as a radio operator in an air sea rescue boat in the RAF. He then worked in the Civil Defence until its disbandment, followed by some clerical posts in Aberdare. Finally, he joined the Welsh Office in Cardiff where he worked as a civil servant until his retirement.

John was a founder member of the Cynon Valley History Society, its secretary for eighteen years 1971-1989, Chairman in 1992 and in recent years a Vice President. During his long tenure as secretary, he was responsible for drafting constitutions, minute keeping, dealing with correspondence, finding speakers as well as keeping a watching brief on the surviving artifacts of the town’s historic heritage. Not only did he shape the Society, but he initiated and edited the first nine volumes of Old Aberdare, commissioned writers and liaised with printers. He was also, with the assistance of a team of Society members, responsible for both volumes of Pictures from the Past, the two albums of reproduction prints of the Bacon sisters of Aberaman House, a facsimile of the parish map that accompanied the Rammell Report, and the more recent celebrated volume which charts the history of the valley’s coal mining industry, Cynon Coal.

He also wrote two books, one about his cherished village of Cwmdare, The Story of Cwmdare (1991), and another about the complicated transportation network built for the coal and iron industries, Aberdare: the Railways and Tramways (1999). Indeed John was an expert on the early Barlow Rail, and on a visit to the National Rail Museum in York he enquired whether they had any information about it - only to be handed a pamphlet on the subject - which he had previously written himself ! A sample of Barlow rail, recovered by John, can be seen at the Dare Valley Country Park.

John played a significant role in the establishment of the museum situated in Aberdare. Over a period of years he persistently petitioned for such a facility, engaged in frequent correspondence with the local authority and finally saw its founding in 2001. The museum is housed in a refurbished building on the site of the nineteenth century Gadlys Ironworks.

JFM in his study

John in his study at home in Tudor Terrace

As well as his interest in the Industrial past of the valley, John was also a man of letters with a an extensive knowledge of literature. But he was also very enthusiastic about mechanical devices, particularly cars. He was founder chairman of Aberdare Motor Club, (even though he did not have a car at the time), and was active in the organisation of the local stages of the RAC and Nutcracker rallies. His practical skills encompassed car mechanics and building work. John would never throw a way a broken item if it could be repaired.

In 1966 John married Elaine (née Cole) whom he had met during his Civil Defence days. They set up home in Tudor Terrace where they raised their four children, one of whom Anthony J. Mear attended ABGS, 1970-1977. On his retirement John and Elaine bought a caravan, which gave them the freedom to enjoy extended holidays and for John to visit even more historical industrial sites throughout the UK.

Tragically John contracted a variant of Alzheimer’s disease in 2002 and his ability to pursue his interests soon became impossible. After an illness which lasted eight years, when he was nursed by his wife and a team of carers, John died on September 30th, 2010. His funeral service took place at Llwydcoed Crematorium on 11 October 2010.

JFM’s books

John Mear’s two books
The Story of Cwmdare, ISBN 0 9518524 0 X
Aberdare: The Railways and Tramways, ISBN 0 9518524 1 8
both books are out of print, but are sometimes available on the secondhand market