Industrial Wales - Monmouthshire's Eastern Valley
The British, Abersychan
including Big Arch, the ironworks, quarry and the village
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The Industrial Archaeology and History of The British, Abersychan

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British Ironworks

British Ironworks - SO 2573 0367

The 'British Iron Co' started work on the site in 1825, with production beginning in 1827. In 1843 the company became the 'New British Iron Co' being taken over by the 'Ebbw Vale Iron Co' in 1852. Pig iron production ceased in 1876 with all production stopping in 1881. 12 furnaces with coke and calcining ovens were planned but only 6 built. Parts of the back wall and coke ovens survive, along with the office block, now roofless, as does the beam engine pump house of 1845, and its chimney base, from the British Ironworks Colliery.

The Engine House - SO 2582 0367

The engine house dates from 1845 and contained the beam pumping engine for the adjacent mine workings.

The ironworks site - SO 2571 0371

Little remains of the ironworks itself but the back wall of the blast furnaces and coke ovens can still be found.

The Office Block - SO 2572 0361

The office block is slowly crumbling away but still contains some interesting relics. Experiments with a reverbatory air-furnace for re-melting cast iron and electrical apparatus took place and there appear to be the remains of WW2 defences, an anti-aircraft battery perhaps and what appears to be an air-raid shelter complete with metal bunks.

The Swimming Pool - SO 2585 0363

The open-air swimming pool was built by the local council in the 1920s just above the office block. It was still used up to the 1980s but now filled in. Look carefully and you will see the blue tiles of the edge of the pool.

Big Arch and the loco sheds - SO 2598 0350

'Big Arch' is now the main access to the ironworks site. It is a substantial 50-yard long, 48ft wide tunnel beneath the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company embankment of 1879 when the LNWR and MRCC lines were connected. It isn't shown on the 1880 OS map. The area through the arch was the main loco shed and wagon repair shops for the Blaenserchan Colliery branchline, which closed in 1970. The last loco, 'Islwyn', was scapped here in 1975.

Watercourses under the site

Underneath the ironworks site there are a number of watercourses and every so often they need inspection by Mines Surveyors. I've been given these photos of their inspections over the past few years. The air quality is very bad so these inspections are brief and irregular.

British Village

British Village - SO 2544 0360

The building of British Village began in around 1825 to provide housing for the ironworks and surrounding collieries. There were grand plans to re-develop and modernise the village in the 1960s but only Elizabeth Row was completed, the rest of the village being demolished.

Walter Clough's photos from 1977

Walter Clough lived in Talywain whilst working at Girling in the 70's. His photos are from 1977 when he was just 29. He used to walk the dog over the British and became quite interested and tried to imagine what it would have been like in its heyday. The sketch of where the terraces used to be was from talking to older people in the pub on a Sunday lunch time.

Abersychan House - SO 2542 0382

Abersychan House may well have been the ironworks manager's house and in 1901 Llewelyn Llewelyn Esq JP lived here. Little remains now but the culvert under the house is a curious survivor. The original road to the village can be followed from the Llanhilleth Road junction, first crossing the Cwmsychan Colliery tramway which is now a stream. Then over a bridge over a watercourse which was the site of the original road junction, before passing the gates to the yard and stables of Aberychan House.

York Place - SO 2531 0355

Big Edge Hill and Edgehill Row - SO 2533 0343

Norfolk Row and Ty Ffynnon, originally Long Row - SO 2537 0354

Ty Ffynnon was a large three-storey property at the North end of Norfolk Row which may wekk have been the under-manager's house.

John's Row, Kings Parade, Dublin Row and Monmouth Row - SO 2533 0372

Oaktree Cottage and Whitehall Cottage - SO 2531 0369

Rose Cottage and Mount Pleasant Row - SO 2522 0389

British Quarry and incline

British Quarry - SO 2515 0365

British Quarry connected with the British by an incline which can best be seen at SO 2535 0365 where there are two stone-built 'subways' (as their described on the OS map) underneath it. There's a story that the lower subway was low in height for the workers in their caps and the upper one was higher for the managers in their bowlers or toppers.

Lower Navigation Colliery

Lower Navigation Colliery - SO 2560 0390

Originally known as Abersychan Big Pit, the colliery was sunk by 1873 or around 1880s. It closed for production on nationalisation in 1947 and completely in 1954. The pumping station at SO 2537 0396 still exists (just).

Cwmsychan Colliery tramway tunnel - SO 2554 0387

This tunnel carried the tramway from Cwmsychan Colliery to the ironworks under the current road

Acknowledgments, sources and further reading.

Thanks to :- Walter Clough, Dennis Hopkins and Walt Jabsco for their photos.
Gwyn and Simon Jenkins and Jill Jones for their company.
Gwent Local History Journal Nos 42, 54 and 87

All rights reserved - Phil Jenkins