cwmbwergwm
Industrial Wales - Monmouthshire's Western Valley
Cwmcarn and Pont-y-waun
Tramroads, quarries, collieries and lost farms
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The industrial archaeology and history of Cwmcarn and Pont-y-waun

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Pontywaun

Coed Mamgu Quarry - ST 2239 9219
Coed Mamgu Level - ST 2229 9218

Coed Mamgu Quarry was a surprisingly large quarry active between 1880 and 1920. An impressive face remains but little else. A small level unsuccessfully tried to find coal around 1957 - 58. The adit and some slight, rough tips are beside the lower footpath. 'Coed Mamgu' means 'Grandmother's Wood' incidentally. Rob Southall says 'There were two little levels around Marsh’s (Gelli Unig farm and Marsh’s Quarry). A man called Dicky Rowe was responsible for sinking the level in the 1950s. Linda Terrell’s father, Nye Jenkins, who lived in Pontywaun also worked there. Dicky Rowe had about a yard of coal in there. The entrance eventually collapsed. Dicky Rowe took a big digger in there and dumped all the waste down over the bank. Local people were concerned about this as it was above the canal and railway line.'

Granville Pitman adds "The level on the lower path just passed the Spout /Well which used to supply water via a pump house installed by Ernie Perkins when he lived at Gelli Unig Farm in a caravan. It was worked in the late 50's early 60's by Ellis Thomas and his two sons Gerald and Keith. I actually went inside with them when I was younger not a viable seem with lots of water."

Gelli-unig Quarry - ST 2232 9271

This quarry was marked 'old' on the OS map from 1879 to 1920. After this, it sprung back into life and become much larger but by 1962 was 'disused', finally being used as a coal yard and rubbish tip. As well as the quarry face and the 'raft' for the coal bins, some out-buildings lie between the quarry and the lane, along with an unusual two-storey tower believed to be an electricity generator or sub-station. Opinions vary as to whether it was for the quarry or just the Manager's house next to it but it seems rather big to be just for the house. There's a similar tower next to Machen Quarry.

Pontywaun Level or Gelli-Unig Farm water supply - ST 2223 9233
Pontywaun Garden Suburb Quarry - ST 2229 9318

A very small level working briefly around 1900, reported to be at the end of Gelli-Unig Lane (where ever it ended then). The small brick building and some foundations in the middle of the field are the remains of a barn that burned down in the 1980s. The brick building has no visible access so could be the base of a water tank. A number of people say that these also relate to the water supply for Gelli-Unig Farm.
Active by 1879, Pontywaun Quarry kept on going into the 1920s, by which time it possessed a short tramway down to the new 'Garden Suburb' site. Slight traces of the tramway can be made out if you've a good imagination.

Halls Road Tramroad viaduct - ST 2185 9290

The first viaduct was built in 1827 for the tramroad, crossing the valley at right-angles. It was replaced by the steel railway viaduct in 1887 on an easier alignment. The modern viaduct awaits some practical use or other, there are tentative palns for using it as a cycleway and footpath to Newbridge. The original tramroad with it's right-angle bend slumbers in the undergrowth Further up the line various parts of the trackbed and engineering can be explored.
A comprehensive five-part article on Halls Tramroad appeared in 'Archive' magazine, Issues nos 55, 56, 59, 60 and 66 with loads of original photos and the 1840s tithe maps. Fascinating reading!!





York Place and The Spiteful

GWR Chapel Bridge Halt - ST 2155 9365

Trains to Ebbw Vale scream through Chapel Bridge Halt at speeds of up to 20 mph once again but they don't stop here any more! However, in 2016, they are busy doubling the line! The postcard view of Cwmcarn Drill Hall and the Spiteful dates from c1920 and shows the GWR line with a passenger train and Halls Road Tramroad behind it.

Pont Hall Quarry, Cwmcarn - ST 2157 9281

Pont Hall Quarry operated from before 1880 to 1935 when it was owned by Edward Marsh. The loading bank was on Halls Road and it looks like a three-part incline ran up to the quarry, getting progressively steeper. Between the second and third stages a tramway followed the contours to some trial workings and it looks as if it went under the incline through a low bridge.

Halls Road, York Place and Spiteful Row

Halls Road

York Place - ST 2132 9399

The original tramroad was straightened up here to avoid the 'U' bend across Nant-y-crochen.

Spiteful Row - ST 2128 9414

The story of Spiteful Row relates how the Row was built vertically up the hill by Benjamin Hall to prevent Protheroe building his tramroad from his collieries in the Sirhowy Valley to the canal basin at Cwmcarn. When Hall came to build his own tramroad from Sirhowy he simply demolished one cottage and ran his trams straight through Spiteful Row.

Nant-y-crochen magazine - ST 2107 9415

Nant-y-crochen magazine, locally known as the gunpowder house, may well have been the magazine for the Prince of Wales Colliery. It first appears on the 1899 OS map.





Cwmcarn Village and the dam

The Canal, the Reservoir and Disaster - ST 2225 9355

The reservoir that flooded the lower Nant Carn valley was opened in 1792 as a feeder for the Monmouthshire Canal. It was retained by a substantial earth dam across the valley. On Wednesday 14th July 1875, not unusually for South Wales, there was a downpour, the Nant Carn overflowed and the dam failed, probably in the centre where the streambed would have been. This raced down the valley,sweeping away the upper flannel factory. One tale was that a haystack jammed into the culvert under the canal embankment which eventually gave way, taking the lower flannel factory with it. Tragically 12 people lost their lives in the chaos. The remains of the dam are over 30ft / 10m high and on the South side of the stream adjacent to the Cwmcarn Scenic Drive approach road. The outlet is nearest the road and appears to have crossed the valley to the North on a launder, then ran down to the canal beside Feeder Row.

Cwmcarn Aqueduct and Flannel Factories - ST 2195 9305

The site of the infamous Cwmcarn Dam Disaster in 1875. The replacement road bridge was originally separate from the aqueduct but road improvements have brought them together.

Two small coal levels existed close to the upper flannel factory (ST 2204 9310) prior to 1902 but have disappeared with the building of Cwmcarn Colliery branch and later reclamation work. The old cottages in the 'hole' give a flavour of what was here. The lower flannel factory was at ST 2192 9305 between the new bypass and the canal but, again, only the site remains.

Granville Pitman says "Until the early 70's the old flannel factory area had a house occupied by Arthur Rideout and his family. There was also access to an allotment under Halls bridge used until the Bypass was built, inhabited by Harold Prosser, Bill Maggs and Jack Lewis to name but a few. It was adjacent to the canal sluice gate".
There's an excellent book in the dam disaster :- 'The Cwmcarn Dam Disaster' by Tony Jukes, Danygraig Books.

Jamesville Quarry - ST 2192 9394

The site of the infamous Cwmcarn Dam Disaster in 1875. The replacement road bridge was originally separate from the aqueduct but road improvements have brought them together.

This quarry was operating by 1902 and after 1938. An incline with a half-way passing loop ran down to Park Street, Cwmcarn at SO 2220 9370. The incline can be walked up to the overgrown quarries where some cuttings and well-defined track formations can be found.





Cwmcarn Colliery and Nant Carn

Cwmcarn Colliery and corn mill - ST 2363 9342
Old Cwmcarn Pit or Beesom Makers Pit - ST 2360 9383

Cwmcarn Colliery began life in around 1876 as a downcast shaft for the Prince of Wales Colliery, Abercarn but was marked as disused by 1902. In 1912 it was revitalised by EVSIC as Cwmcarn Colliery and the upcast shaft was sunk in 1914. There was a small quarry on the hillside above with an incline down to the colliery. The colliery closed in 1968, being landscaped for the 'Scenic Drive' though a dram and half a winding wheel mark the site.

Cwmcarn corn mill and farm was working beside the colliery throughout it's existence, just above the present-day lake, and odd foundations can be found.

Old Cwmcarn Pit or Beesom Makers Pit dates from 1836 as a shallow shaft known as 'Abercarn No 6' and had been closed by 1880, later to be used as a cesspit. Recently the shaft was revealed during building work, appearing to be typical of the flat oval shape of water balance pits. From Stephen Lyons :- "Jack Hyde says that there were water channels which brought water along Forest View (as it is now) to the mine, drawn from the brook, and took it back the same way back into the brook. I have also heard that coal was illegally extracted during times of hardship - possibly in the 1930s? There is also an arched ingress/egress below one side of the shaft just visible in the photo". A small quarry, disused by 1901, is just a little North of the site.

Henllys Colliery drainage level - ST 2495 9640

A level appears to have been opened here by 1879 as a free-standing venture but by 1900 there seems little doubt it connected with Henllys Colliery, Cwmbran, and was used as a drainage level. A steady stream of orange water shows it's still connected with the old workings. Next door is a small quarry probably used for the level's construction. This level is probably responsible for the story of a walkable connection between Cwmcarn and Henllys. There was certainly a borehole from Cwmcarn into the Henllys workings to relieve the water pressure but no more than that - unless you know otherwise...

Boundary stones - all over the place

These boundary stones abound... well, they would, wouldn't they? Many of them celebrate the dispute between Benjamin Hall (BH) of Blaenavon and Capel Hanbury-Leigh (CHL) of Pontypool. The inscription reads 'Boundary of Minerals Settled by Act of Parliament, 1839'. Others are much simpler.

Very old quarries - ST 2590 9550

An old quarry at the head of Nant Carn is shown on the 1882 OS map where earthworks and tips can be seen. The track leading away from it towards Pant Gwyn has all the engineering appearance of a tramway, level and easy curves through a cutting and down an incline but seems to be incompatible with the size of the quarries.

Rhyswg Fawr - ST 2280 9453

There's been a pond or 'water feature' here since at least 1880, a rectangular stone construction but the interesting bit is that it seems to be backed by cast or wrought iron panels. No water in it now but what was it used for?





The Lost Farmsteads of the Nant Carn Valley

Hollybush Cottage - ST 2290 9395

First on the list of Lost Farmsteads is Hollybush Cottage, found after snaking our way up the hillside, hidden away off the beaten track. But not so hidden that the local children hadn't found it and built their own den there

Cnwc - ST 2424 9396

Next is the Cnwc (pronouced Genook, so it seems), a much more extensive premises altogether. Once again it's been re-cycled as someone has installed a stainless steel barbecue in a suitable-sized slot. Brian Williams tells me that his parents lived at the Cnwc just after the war, however, one day the chimney caught fire, by the time Abercarn fire brigade were alerted and got there the house was well alight, his mother got his eldest sister and as much of the household goods out as possible, but, they pretty much lost everything, his father came home off days at Cwmcarn colliery to a smoking ruin. As my Uncle, Stan Olley, was Station Officer at Abercarn around that time, it could have been him who came up on the fire engine!

Pen-y-pant - ST 2384 9408

A beautiful stroll through a tunnel of gnarled, old beech trees dripping with moss, an ancient field boundary way before the conifers, brings us to a mystery, Pen-y-pant. Virtually nothing remains here but nettles and an old iron tank, not even clear foundations. But the mystery is that the ground seems to be colliery waste but no evidence of mining. However Brian Williams has the answer, he says "Pen-y-pant farm was worked by my grandfather Arthur Williams till he retired around 1968/9 then as the forestry commision owned the whole property they literally razed a beautiful house to the ground and planted the farm under the ubiquitous conifer, the coal waste you saw was brought to the farm yard to build it up on the one side to allow a storage shed to be erected, by a trick of fate this shed was also destroyed by a fire."

Rhyswg Fach - ST 2406 9412

Just next door is Rhyswg Fach, proper walls and a friendly lizard, home from home.

Pwll Tra - ST 2588 9488

We need a break but we have to suffer Rob's recitation of the legend of Pwll Tra before he'll let us rest. After lunch we find a modern hidey-hole from the 1970s, an eco-house complete with campbed and fireplace. Alright in the summer, I suppose, but those Cwmcarn winters???

Pant Gwyn - ST 2506 9432

Pant Gwyn is the last lost farmstead, a mix of old and not-so-old with the stark chimney still standing. Now we're on the downward trail past the only inhabited and working farm in the valley. So despite the modern forestry and leisure industries the much older traditions still survive - just!





Acknowledgments, sources and further reading.

'A historical tour around Mynyddislwyn Mountain' by Len Burland, Old Bakehouse Publications.
'The Cwmcarn Dam Disaster' by Tony Jukes, Danygraig Books.
'Halls Tramroad' by Foster Frowin - A comprehensive five-part article appeared in 'Archive' magazine, Issues nos 55, 56, 59, 60 and 66 with loads of original photos and the 1840s tithe maps. Fascinating reading!!
Thanks to :- Andrew Gadd, David Williams, Steve Davies, Rob Southall, Richard Terrell, Lin Bryant, Chris Bartley, www.drillhalls.org.


All rights reserved - Phil Jenkins