Gelligaer—A Rural District Area.
Until the Local Government Act of 1894, the Gelligaer area had formed part of the Rural Sanitary Authority of Merthyr Tydfil and had been administered under that Authority since 1875. By the 1894 Act the Authority was divided so that Vaynor and Penderyn formed one part, while the other part became the Rural District of Gelligaer and Rhigos.
At the time of the re-arrangement it was considered that these two latter areas were so similar in rural characteristics that they formed a convenient local government unit, in spite of the fact that they were divided from each other by the Urban District of Merthyr Tydfil, a separation, as the crow flies of approximately 15 miles. Needless to say, great difficulties were experienced in convening Council meetings and great distances had to be travelled by the few full-time officers administering areas so far apart. Moreover, the development of the two showed no resemblance.
Whilst Rhigos retained its essentially rural nature, Gelligaer expanded so rapidly that by 1903 a Local Government inspector could describe it as "a collection of urban districts put together". By that date the population of Rhigos remained as low as 937 whilst that of Gelligaer had risen to more than 18,500.
The Rural District comprised six wards : Pontlottyn, Tirphil, Fochriw, Bedlinog, Gelligaer-Bargoed and Rhigos. The effect of industrial expansion in transforming these wards from rural to urban areas is shown by the fact that in the ten years from 1891 to 1901 the population of Gelligaer increased by 35 per cent.
Although great areas of Glamorgan were undergoing similar industrialisation, the increase in the county population was 28 per cent. By 1902, the number of people in the various Gelligaer wards was : Pontlottyn, 4,145 ; Tirphil, 3,515 ; Fochriw, 2,764 ; Bedlinog, 3,122; Gelligaer-Bargoed, 4,453—numbers soon to be greatly increased, especially in the Bargoed area.
The problems of local government raised by such a situation were extremely serious. To all intents and purposes Gelligaer had become a large urban area. Its area was larger than at its inception, when it was, on an acreage basis, one of the largest urban districts in England and Wales. Yet it had only the powers of a rural district council, powers severely limited in comparison with those of an urban district.
From 1900 onwards continual pressure was brought to bear to secure additional powers. In 1905 an officer of the Council could speak of the " important urban communities which demand, and cannot long be denied, urban powers for securing that this rapid development takes place on proper lines ". The efforts were unavailing until 1908, largely because of the difficulty of what to do with Rhigos. Until that date the work of the few administrative officers employed must have been frustrating, if not heart breaking. It is a tribute to their tenacity of purpose that so much was accomplished by 1908.