Giclee printed on 305gsm off white coloured archival paper with a subtle texture. A4 297mm x 210mm, A5 148 x 210mm.

SKU: YMC Category:


Elevated above the main road on a pedestrian promenade and crumbling into the hill from which it springs, sits the forlorn ruin of the former YMCA building. For me it has always marked the entrance and exit to the town of Merthyr. The Young Men’s Christian Association founded in 1894 by George Williams began as a bible and prayer group, eventually culminating in purpose built places of learning throughout the UK in the early years of the twentieth century. The Merthyr Tydfil YMCA originated from a 1909 RIBA competition winning design by Sir Percy Thomas and Ivor Jones, which provided a place where young men could go for ‘healthy amusement, recreation and health giving exercise’. Planned as three buildings (front, middle and rear), the front and middle buildings were completed in 1911 and incorporated two shops and a café animating the glazed colonnaded ground floor. Above on the mezzanine floor was a lecture hall and billiard room, the first floor contained a lounge, reading room, games room and library on the first floor and on the second floor were further games rooms and a gym. A rifle range was located on the third floor in the attic space on account of the close links at this time between the YMCA and H.M. Volunteer Forces.

Subsequent to being a YMCA it became a dance hall, boxing gym (managed by local boxing legend, Eddie Thomas in the 50s), offices for the Board of Trade and Ministry of Labour and from 1974 to 1989 was used as the District Education Offices for Mid-Glamorgan County Council. Following this, the council sold the building and it passed through a succession of private owners. Failing to find a viable use it quickly became derelict, a serious fire in 2003 gutted what remained of the interior and further hastened its decay. Nevertheless, despite coming perilously close to demolition the YMCA endures; emergency works were undertaken in 2014 to stabilise the structure and currently there are plans afoot to inject new life into it as offices.

The principal elevation facing the street is four stories comprising seven bays with a dramatic central element made up of a two storey oriel window above a semi-circular entrance, subtly recessed via a concave moulding and topped with a large keystone.

Although more elaborate the design reminds me of the roughly contemporary blast engine house in Dowlais being built of mainly red brick with window surrounds and pilasters highlighted in yellow (brick in the engine house and terracotta in the YMCA). With its extensive rustication and exaggerated voussoirs it could be described as “Edwardian Baroque” although it also has elements of Art Nouveau in the foliated decoration and the panel below the oriel. Within the panel one can still read the Young Men’s Christian Association lettering in relief.

I would like to remain optimistic and see the building rejuvenated – it is a rare surviving example of a purpose built YMCA and idiosyncratic work of architecture by a prominent Welsh architect. However it has been in a parlous state for over three decades and the monies required to repair it staggeringly large so lets keep our fingers firmly crossed.