Walking in Glamorgan, South Wales. Guided walks, routes &
Last updated 29.1.07
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These two stokers at Bwllfa Colliery are holding extra large shovels. A number of these boilers were needed to provide steam for the winding engines, the fan and the haulages
Collieries: This area was important in the coal-mining boom of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The walk passes over or near several collieries, not that there is much evidence remaining, including Abercynon (also known as Cap Coch) colliery, Carne Park, Pentwyn Merthyr, Penrikyber, Cwmcynon, Forest levels, Deep Dyffryn, Dyllas (including the Old Drift and Mountain balance drift) and Abergorki.
Dyffryn House in the 1960s
Dyffryn House. You will notice that the trees around where the Lodge now stands are more typical of a grand Victorian estate than a modern school, for this was the site of Dyffryn House. There was a small farmhouse on the site in about 1400 which was enlarged and then passed into the hands of the Bruce family in 1750. The old house was replaced by this Gothic mansion in 1870. The building was sold to the Glamorgan Education Authority in 1926 becoming the new home of Mountain Ash County Grammar School. In 1986 after being declared unsafe it was controversially demolished.
Thunderbox: Defined as any primitive or portable toilet. Inside this one is a bench with two holes, side by side emphasising the social nature of this important element of daily routine. In Heligan ('the lost gardens of ..') there is a gardeners toilet or "thunderbox room" where, scratched into the plaster on the day that World War I broke out, is the message "Come ye not here to sleep or slumber". Below it all the garden staff signed their names.
Trevithick: The Penydarren tramroad was the setting for arguably the first steam-powered railway journey in the world. The impetus for the construction of the tramroad was the establishment of several ironworks around Merthyr between 1759 and 1784. The pig iron had initially to be transported to Cardiff docks by horse or cart but the building of the Glamorgan canal improved matters. However, this rapidly became congested and a tramway was constructed by William Taitt of Dowlais works, Richard Hill of Plymouth works and Samuel Homfray of the Penydarren works. It ran 9.5 miles from Merthyr to Penydarren, had an average gradient of 1 in 145 and was completed in 1802. Typically one loaded horse would pull five trams, a total payload of 10 tons of iron. Samuel Homfray had brought Richard Trevithick, a Cornishman and inventor of high-pressure steam engines, to his Penydarren works and a wager of 500 guineas was laid between Homfray and the ironmaster Richard Crawshay as to whether Trevithick could invent an engine to pull 10 tons of iron from Merthyr to Abercynon. On February 21st 1804 the epic journey took place and the train successfully hauled the ten tons, five wagons and 70 men the full distance. This was 21 years before the Stockton and Darlington railway and 26 years before the Rocket.
Blaenrhondda: Blaen means head, in this case of the Rhondda Valley. The Rhondda Fawr stream starts at around 1,800 feet, at first decending gently to 1,500 then plunging down a series of waterfalls to 1,000. The valley was carved out by a glacier in the last Ice Age with massive rocks and boulders scattered around. There were two local collieries - the North Dunraven (also known as Blaenrhondda) colliery, opened in 1859 and closed in the 1920s and the Fernhill Colliery, started between 1869 and 1871 and closing in 1978. Plants in the area include mat grass, heath rush, purple moor grass, sheep's fescue, sheeps' sorrel, heath bedstraw, heath violet, milkwort, tormentil, bilberry and woolly hair moss.
One of the last diesels to leave Blaencwm tunnel.
Blaencwm Tunnel: This rail tunnel linked Blaenrhondda and Blaengwnfi and was started in 1885. At 3,300 yards it was the seventh longest tunnel in the UK. The workmen dug in from both ends and met in the middle resulting in a slight kink where the two sides connected. It was closed in 1963 under the Beeching plans and the only sign of it today is a manhole cover in the side of the hill.
Boiler: This old boiler was from the railway engine which generated steam for the mine, the entrance to which was close by. There is some evidence of an old coal tram buried by a rockfall. There was once a bridge here across the stream and a large wooden beam stretching partly across is clearly visible. This was used to transport the coal down to Blaenrhondda.
Ffos Toncenglau: This is a cross-ridge dyke of around three quarters of a mile which runs from Craig-y-Llyn south to Garreg Lwyd. The date is uncertain but could have been around the time that Offa built his dyke and was probably defensive.
Pen Pych school pupils
Pen Pych Primary School: The modern building combined the original schools of Blaenrhondda, Blaencwm and Tynewydd. The photo above shows pupils of Blaenrhondda Junior School in 1910.
US Army: From May 1944, 4,000 American G.I.s were billeted in the Rhondda Fawr in preparation for D Day. The 186 Port Company of the 487 Port Battalion found themselves at the top end of the valley. They left the Rhondda on June 1st 1944 and on the 6th June were landing on Omaha Beach as part of the Normandy invasion. You can find more about this in Bryan Morse's book 'A Moment in History - the story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944'.
Troops from the 487 Battalion at the end of a 25 mile route march in the Rhondda, from Bryan Morse's book.
Hen Dre'r Mynydd: The circles on left and right of the path are the remains of cattle enclosures and cirular stone huts, the translation of the name meaning 'the old town on the mountain'. They are likely to have been roofed with turf and branches strengthened by a central wooden pillar. The age is unknown.
Artist's impression of Hen Dre'r Mynydd from leaflet, Blaenrhondda Waterfalls walk
Tunnel: The concrete building on the right conceals the entrance to a tunnel built by the Water Authority in about 1907 which takes water from this side of the mountain some 1.25 miles through to the Llyn Fawr reservoir.
Guto Nyth Bran. The gravestone at St Gwynno's church marks the last resting place of the legendary Welsh runner, Guto Nyth Bran, born Griffith Morgan. He lived at Nyth Bran farm, hence his nickname, and was so fast that he could outrun a hare and catch birds in flight. In races he beat all comers until he ran out of opposition but came out of retirement at the ripe old age of 37 to race against a new runner called Prince. Triumphant, as ever, unfortunately a congratulatory slap on the back from Sian-O-Shop, his trainer and sweetheart, caused Guto to collapse and die. He completed the 12 mile course in 53 minutes - the current world best time for 3 miles is about 12 minutes 12 seconds and that's on a level track!! His achievements inspired the annual Nos Galan races around Mountain Ash.
St Gwynno's Church. The presence of old Celtic slabs suggest that this was an ecclesiastical site at least as early as the 9th Century. The font is probably 14th century and the walls of the nave, south porch and chancel are mediaeval although much else was altered in the 1893 restoration by Halliday and Anderson. A notice indicates that the church is open for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon in the Summer months. More information and photos on this site.
Cloggers in front of a pile of alder blocks
Cloggers: These men travelled around the country using makeshift tents of hide stretched over branches and cutting down alders to make the clogs. Alder was used because it is resistant to water - it was used for the piles under the Rialto in Venice. It was also easy to carve. After the tree had been felled the wood was cut into four sizes; men's, women's, children's and young child's. The rough blocks were seasoned in piles but then shaped with a sharp knife to match the wearer's foot. (From Merthyr Boat Boy by Clive Thomas, Gill Foley and Josephine Jeremiah).
The Crawshays: Whilst it may be fashionable to demonise the Crawshays as oppressors of the working classes, a more balanced view will note their achievements as well as their faults. Richard Crawshay, 1739-1810, came from Yorkshire and worked with the then owner of Cyfarthfa ironworks, Anthony Bacon, to make it the largest in the world. He initiated road-building projects and was responsible for the Cardiff and Merthyr canal. His son, William Crawshay I, 1764-1834, took over, maintaining the success of the ironworks despite never living in Merthyr. His son, William Crawshay II, 1788-1867, built Cyfarthfa Castle and was, by the standards of the time, an enlightened employer. During economic slumps he refused to cut the pay of the workers and unlike most other major employers he never operated the 'truck' system of pay whereby workers received their pay partly in tokens which had to be used to purchase goods at company-owned shops at inflated prices. Whilst linked to the hanging of Dic Penderyn, who was accused of leading the 1831 uprising, the evidence indicates that he paid for an appeal against the conviction. And then there was Robert Thompson-Crawshay, 1812-1879, both popular and hated, founder of the Cyfarthfa Brass Band, keen on photography, but contributing to the decline of the ironworks by his refusal to invest in the more efficient Bessemer converters. At his request his gravestone bears the epitaph, 'God Forgive Me' and, whilst often quoted as indicating regret over his treatment of his workers, it more likely refers to bitter family divisions and his decision to disinherit his grandchildren. (Souce, official guidebook).
Cyfarthfa: The ironworks at Cyfarthfa were started in 1765 by Anthony Bacon and extended over the land visible from the steps of the current 'castle'. The two rivers, the Taff Fechan and Taff Fawr, sourced the power and the key resources used in the manufacturing process, limestone, coal and ironstone, were all available locally. At one stage the ironworks was the largest in the world before being overtaken by nearby Dowlais and attracted workers to the town making it the biggest in Wales by the middle of the 19th Century with more people than Cardiff and Newport combined. Key to the success of the ironworks and builders of the present castle was the Crawshay dynasty. The castle was built in 1824 and had its own dairy, brewhouse and icehouse with glasshouses in the grounds growing exotic fruits such as Pineapples, the museum logo. (Source, official guidebook)
Cyfarthfa ponds. The series of small ponds passed in the woods were holding ponds, built shortly after the construction of Cyfarthfa Castle. They supported the water level in the lake to the front of the castle. They took their water supply from Bryn Cae ponds to the north-east. (Information board on site)
Cyfarthfa Lake and Feeder. Stone troughs or feeders supplied water to the ironworks to run the machinery. The Taff Fechan to Cyfarthfa feeder still carries water to the Cyfarthfa lake - it enters the lake close to where you left the grounds. The lake, although ornamental, provided a reserve supply of water to the ironworks during periods of drought. (Information sign).
Merthyr Tydfil: The earliest remains from around Merthyr are Bronze Age burial cairns dating to around 1,700 to 1,200 BC, an example being Cefn Merthyr near Gelligaer. The first Celts appeared around 1,000 BC and with the Iron Age came the hillforts, for example the original one on Morlais Hill. The Romans established two forts between Cardiff and Brecon, one at Gelligaer and the other at Penydarren. Legend has it that St Tydfil was killed by marauding Picts around 480 AD and that he is buried on the site of the parish church. The area was essentially agrarian with sheep, cattle and pigs and typical mountain-side farms avoiding the thickly-wooded valley bottoms.
Millstones: Around the beginning of the 18th century there was considerable amounts of corn grown in the area with 4 grinding mills in the Taff Fechan valley at Pontsticill, Cwm, Glais and Gurnos. There were two sorts of millstone. French burr millstones were in sections bound by iron bands and these were used to grind wheat. The millstone by the riverbank is solid conglomerate and was used to grind oats and barley.
Morlais Castle: The castle was built within an area that had once contained an Iron Age hillfort. It was constructed from around 1287 by Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester but Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, took exception to this and fighting broke out between the two, requiring Edward 1st to march down to resolve matters. It was probably never completed.
Vaynor Church: The foundations of Church Tavern are believed to date from the 13th Century, that of a tithe barn, but this building is 17th Century. In the 1700s the local circuit court was held upstairs in a room divided off by three raisable oak panels fixed to the ceiling when the court was in session. 'New' Vaynor church was built to replace the old church (which is passed shortly) and was in danger of collapse. The cost of the building was met by Robert T Crawshay in return for the Vaynor congregation's contributions to the building of St John's church in Cefn Coed. (Sources: information boards on site). Worship on the site of the old church goes back over a millennium, with the first building here possibly 9th century. It is believed it burnt down in the 13th century with the building that is the current ruin dating from that time. Whilst the new church was consecrated in 1870 old sites were considered sacred and even after the roof of the old church fell in, weddings continued to take place there.
Bedford Park: This is the trackway of the former Duffryn Llynfi and Porthcawl railway, once used to transport coal and minerals between Caerau and Porthcawl, now a community route. It contains the Cefn Cribwr ironworks. Two centuries ago this was a hive of activity with an ironworks, a brickworks, collieries and mines, all developed by one remarkable man, John Bedford, who came to Cefn Cribwr from the Midlands in the early 1770s. After his death in 1791, some enterprises continued whilst others were abandoned. Iron was last made here in 1836 although a colliery and a brickworks were in use until after the First World War. During the 19th century access to the area was improved first by the building of the Duffryn Llynfi and Porthcawl railway from near Maesteg to a new dock on the coast. This was a horsework tramroad which was rebuilt as a broad gauge locomotive railway in1861 and converted to standard gauge in 1873 when the Great Western took over the line. The railway closed in 1963. The car park occupies the site of the kilns belonging to the brickworks and the ruins of other buildings can be found in the undergrowth.
Parc Slip: This colliery was opened by the Llynfi, Tondu and Ogmore Coal and Iron company, becoming North's Navigation Colliery Company Ltd. in 1899. Friday, 26th August 1892 was a momentous day in Parc Slip's history. It was the annual St Mary Hill Fair and the families of the colliers were looking forward to the day out. At approximately 8.20am a huge explosion occurred, the ground shaking for 4 miles around. 112 men and boys died with 39 coming out alive, some trapped underground for a week before being rescued. 60 women were widowed and 153 children left fatherless. James Bowen was one of the rescuers who was killed whilst leading men to safety. Two of his sons also perished. A third son, Levi, turned up on his mother's door-step like a ghost a week later. The mine closed in 1904. The Parc Slip memorial consists of 112 stones - one for every death.
Two pit ponies at the nearby Tondu Horse Hospital for pit ponies and horses taken in the 1950s. In 1930 there were approximately 11,500 horses employed underground in the South Wales coalfield, several with over 8 years service underground. The stables generally were warm, dry and comfortable with many lit by electricity. They were treated like family pets by the hauliers some even enjoying a chew of tobacco to keep the dust at bay. (South Wales Collieries by David Owen).
Parc Tondu: A scheduled Ancient Monument and claimed to be the most complete Victorian Ironworks in Britain. Started by Sir Robert Price around 1838, this first venture ended in bankruptcy. John Brogden and Sons took over in 1854 with an initially successful company based on coal-mining, iron-working and the railways. The company went into liquidation in 1878. Colonel North took over, concentrating on coal and surviving until nationalisation in 1947. The ironworks mainly produced rails and sheet iron which was used to make tin plate. On the site you can see Coke Ovens, Calcining Kilns, Engine Houses and more. Access to the site is limited so check first on 01656 727 800. The building you pass just after leaving the tarmac track is the Hub which is intended to incorporate Arts and Crafts exhibition space and meeting areas.