Historic Landscape Characterisation
Merthyr Tydfil

039 Ffos-y-Fran

HLCA 39 Ffos-y-Fran Nationally important Industrial landscape associated with the Dowlais Ironworks; industrially altered upland Common: intensive area of extractive features predominantly early to mid 19th century coal and ironstone workings along mineral outcrop, primarily levels and pits, also early remains of crown pit workings, and patch workings; transport networks; industrial and public rail, drainage features: the Dowlais Free Drainage System; industrial settlement: includes scheduled Ffos-y-fran Iron Worker's settlement.

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(Photo: GGAT Merthyr 039)

Ffos-y-Fran character area: extensive and nationally important landscape of industrial sites.


An extensive and nationally important landscape of industrial sites associated with the Dowlais Iron Works, mainly comprising features associated with iron ore extraction and, to a lesser extent, coal, and in use between the late 18th and early 19th century. The area is characterised by extractive features (mainly waste tips), the Dowlais Free Drainage System associated with the Dowlais and later the Ivor Iron Works, and mineral railways and tramways as well as public rail (now disused).

Historical background

The historic landscape area of Ffos-y-fran comprises an important industrial extractive landscape; the area is dominated by coal and ironstone workings along the western outcrop of Merthyr Common, associated with the Dowlais and Penydarren Ironworks. It should be emphasised that while most of the surface remains in the area are 19th century coal and ironstone outcrop workings associated with the main period of operation of the Dowlais, and the Penydarren works (the latter closed c 1859), outcrop workings in the area span most of the century. These start in the late 18th century and end with some residual activity in the early 20th. Today's landscape is essentially the product of a succession of 19th century extraction phases (including re-working of earlier areas).

The accessibility of the outcrop, particularly the reserves of ironstone make it likely that some mining activity occurred during late 18th to early 19th century. The initial stage of working would have been by quarrying or patch working, in addition to small levels and pits. These activities have produced a scarped face almost 1 km in length, curving around the crest of the NWW facing slopes to the north of Ffos-y-fran, possibly on the line of an existing erosion bench (the area has been subject to some reworking in later periods). Further patch working or open ore quarrying. some 9.5 ha in extent, in conjunction with surviving areas of crown pit type workings, continues south to the iron ore miners' settlement. Overburden removal for the patch working may have been cleared by a process known as scouring although surviving evidence in the area is now inconclusive. Scouring on the coalfield, though well documented in the 18th century, seems not to have continued much beyond the early 19th century.

The Dowlais Free Drainage System, an ingenious system of reservoirs and leats, fed by gravity, and which formerly provided water to the Dowlais Ironworks and the water balance systems of its associated workings, was also a feature of the area (though the largest concentration of surviving features are now found in the adjacent area HLCA 031). The system, which in part dates to c 1818, was crucial to the expansion of the ironworks at Dowlais and indeed Penydarren. It supplied water to the coal mines and ironworks of Dowlais via an extensive above-ground network of leats and reservoirs and underground U-shaped channels, built to the 'Dowlais pattern' within various levels, such as the Brew House Level, and Buxton's or the Purple Level. The system acted to drain a variety of coal seams including the Lower Four Feet seams of the Cwmbargoed, Trecatty and Trehir area and the Upper, and Lower Four Feet, Big Coal, Red, Blue and Spotted Vein in the Pantywaun, Rhaslas, and South Tunnel areas. It eventually drained into a water pit at Tyle Dowlais Pit, from where water could either be pumped back to the surface system or allowed to drain to the charging levels of the Penydarren furnaces (Owen 1977, 67-8).

Considerable expansion of level and shaft activity was the main feature of the mid 19th century (1820s to 1880s) outcrop working in the area and entirely replaced the older methods of shallow surface workings, as accessible sections of the outcrop became exhausted. Despite the Dowlais Iron Company having sunk 19 pits between 1837 and 1857, levels continued to provide the main means of coal and ironstone extraction in the area up to 1850, and accounted for 75 per cent of coal out put from the Dowlais workings. After this date, however, extraction of ironstone and coal appears to have concentrated on a number of pits (shafts) set on the lower slopes immediately to the west of this area. These included the Dowlais Pits 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7, the Pen-y-waun Fawr Pits and the Tyle Dowlais Pit, the latter two at the extreme northwest corner of the application area. Further reworking of the area along the crest of the west-facing outcrop with at least two additional levels driven into the worked face during the period was evident as was a series of levels driven along the base of the slope at the western boundary of the area.

The area contains extensive versions of 'finger' or 'fan-tips' frequently associated with shaft, as opposed to level workings, and generally restricted to the lower western outcrop, above the area of the now removed Great Dowlais Tip. Examples of these dominant and highly visual features include those associated with No.1 Pit, No. 2 Pit, No. 4 Pit, and No. 6 Pit, Dowlais. While many of the levels and pits were still named in the 1873 and 1879 OS surveys, the vast majority appear to have become disused soon after.

By 1879, the current form of tipping was typified by parallel tramlines, in close-set blocks, producing smooth, level surfaces; the contrast between the old and new forms of tipping is clearly shown on the surface of the tip. The first edition OS map shows this method in practice in the area north and south of No.1 Pit and at the pits of Pen-y-waun Fawr and Tyle Dowlais; the tips at the latter two sites have been extensively remodelled during the latter part of the 20th century.

The haulage tramroad, a common feature of the Merthyr outcrop landscape by the early 19th century, was an important element of the workings, allowing increasing volumes of ironstone and coal to be moved to the Dowlais stockyards. A haulage tramroad, the Dowlais Iron Company Railway, skirted the line of the outcrop, connecting the various levels and pits (shafts) with the main routes to the stockyards via a system of inclines. Several large sections of haulage tramroads, including the latter, and inclines provided for the levels of the Dowlais, and the Penydarren workings survive in the area.

Others included the Pant-y-Waun Mineral Railway, extended and incorporated into the Dowlais Iron Company Railway at around the turn of the century. The principal line in the study area was the Great Western & Rhymney Railways' Taff Bargoed Joint Line (c 1876). This projected eastwards to sidings at Fochriw Junction and westwards to the Dowlais Zigzag Lines Junction, where it divided, one line proceeding to Ivor Works, via the passenger station at Dowlais (Cae Harris), the other, via two reversing junctions (Furnace Tops and Ffos-y-fran) to the Dowlais Works. The former mineral branch of the LNWR (opened 1881, closed 1937) from Cwmbargoed Junction, between Dowlais Top and Dowlais, to Cwmbargoed and the Cwmbargoed Pits passes through the area. Also located within the area is a section of the Dowlais Iron Company's Railway, together with remains of various associated industrial tramways and inclines, such as the Penydarren and Bargoed inclines at Tyle Dowlais, and the Penydarren Pits tramway/incline.

By the end of the 19th century, the outcrop workings of the area were in decline; the main product of these workings had been ironstone for the Dowlais furnaces, now given over to steel production, while coal was being won in far greater quantities elsewhere from the surviving mid-l9th century deep shaft mines. By this date, iron ore was being sourced from northern Spain, the local ore, rich in phosphorous and sulphur being no longer suitable for steel production. As a result, local ore production declined rapidly to such an extent that it had ceased altogether by the early 1870s. Most if not all the pits and levels within the area shown on the first edition 25" OS map (surveyed 1879) were probably already defunct.

Cartographic evidence charted the dereliction of the area's workings and associated transport network. The majority of the coal and iron ore workings in the area, in particular along the north west-facing slopes above Dowlais. were disused by this date, including Pits 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7, as were the ironstone levels (2nd edition OS, 1905). A possible exception of Pen-y-waun Fawr pits and Tyle Dowlais pit where the continued existence of tramway tracks might indicate some level (if limited) of continued working. Most of the minor haulage tramroads had also been removed, however, the main Dowlais Iron Company Tramroad connecting the works at Dowlais with Cwm Bargoed Pits and the incline to Penydarren Pits (HLCA 031) were apparently railed.


For further information please contact the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust at this address. Link to the Countryside Council for Wales website at www.ccw.gov.uk or Cadw at www.cadw.wales.gov.uk