Historic Landscape Characterisation
Merthyr Tydfil

Merthyr Tydfil Historical Processes,
Themes and Background

  • The natural landscape and geological background

    The historic landscape area of Merthyr Tydfil is located within the dissected plateau of the upland region of Glamorgan, the Blaenau Morgannwg. Merthyr Tydfil and the historic landscape occupies the natural basin at the head of the Taff valley, at the confluence of the Taff Fawr and the Taff Fechan rivers and extends southwards down the confines of the upper Taff valley as far south as Troed-y-rhiw.

    The northern boundary of the Merthyr Tydfil historic landscape generally follows the valley of the Afon Taff Fechan with its large tracts of Ancient Woodland; now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (area 027). The boundary of the area follows that of the northern limits of the County Borough, diverting slightly north of the Taff Fechan to include the Vaynor Quarry and Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer at the confluence of the Taff Fawr and the Taff Fechan and extending along Nant Ffrwd.

    To the west are the open slopes of Mynydd Aberdare (457m), including Bryn-y-Badell at its northern edge extensively altered by 18th and 19th century extraction. Mynydd Aberdare forms the ridge of Mynydd Merthyr with the now extensively forested summits of Twyn Gwersyllfa (420m) and Twyn Ddisgwylfa Fawr (471m) and the eminence of Mynydd Gethin (49lm), the latter includes the spur of Pen-y-lan Hill. The summits and upper slopes here are cloaked in forestry plantation, while the middle and lower slopes retain pockets of Ancient Woodland and extensive areas of natural regeneration; the area now forms the Gethin Woodland Park.

    The eastern side the historic landscape takes in the open-mountain, and moorland ridge of Merthyr Common, again extensively altered by industrial extraction, including opencast and reclamation. At the north are the opencast and reclaimed slopes of Twyn-y-Waun and Trecatti, rising to c. 450m. This area includes a small portion of Gelli-Gaer Common, west of Blaen-carno. The ridge of Merthyr Common continues south at altitudes in excess of 376m with its highest point of Mynydd Cilfach-yr-encil, 445m. The actual eastern limits of the historic landscape take in Cwm Golau and Cwm Bargoed to the east, the head of the Bargod Taf River valley, which retains remnants of Ancient Woodland. The Bargod Taf River flows south to eventually join the River Taff (Afon Taft) south of Treharris.

    The sources of both the Taff Fawr and Taff Fechan lie north of the historic landscape within the south-facing slopes of the Brecon Beacons; the Taff Fawr emerging below Corn-du, south west of Pen-y-Fan, while that of the Taff Fechan originating below the south east face of Pen-y-Fan. Both rivers are now harnessed by reservoirs, north of the historic landscape boundary: Beacons, Cantref and Llwyn-on reservoirs on the Tall Fawr and the Upper Neuadd, Pentwyn and Pontsticill reservoirs on the Tall Fechan.

    Upon entering the historic landscapes, that of the Taff Fechan valley is more deeply entrenched, than the Tall Fawr. South of river confluence at Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer, the Taff valley the landscape broadens out with the confluence of the Nant Morlais tributary to form a basin; south of Upper Abercanaid the valley narrows once again.

    The landscape of the area was altered during the Pleistocene period, approximately 18,000 years ago, by glaciation to create the landscape we know today. The principal glacial collecting point in South Wales was the Carmarthenshire Fans and the Brecon Beacons, the northern face of which was the source of numerous corrie glaciers.

    The geology of the study area comprises deposits of the Upper (Pennant), Lower and Middle Coal Measures, which include Shales, Sandstone and reserves of coal and ironstone; partially overlain in places by deposits of Boulder Clay. Overlying the solid geology are generally poor, shallow, and in the main acidic "gley soils" and blanket peat, creating poorly drained moorland conditions (Gillham 1981). The deposits of the Lower Coal Measures were particularly important to the industrial development of the area, these comprise grey silty mudstones with a few sandstones predominate (Barclay 1988). Also contained within the Lower Coal Measures are ironstone deposits comprising bands of ironstone nodules (Blandford 1981).

    While limited pollen analysis has been carried out on archaeological sites in the area, these have concentrated on the analysis of material associated with the Bronze Age, and later periods. As a result, local evidence of the earlier environmental conditions and indeed during the immediate post-glacial period is limited. It is assumed that as climatic conditions gradually ameliorated following the last glaciation, dense native woodland gradually extended over the area, which included species such as hazel-hazelnuts were recovered from Neolithic contexts at Mynydd Cil-Sanws. The effects of man on this woodland is fairly dramatic; with progressive felling implied at least from the Neolithic, supported by finds of axes of the period from the region. Pollen analysis from the Bronze Age sites to the west of the historic landscape indicates a contemporary environment of heathland, with an open tree cover dominated by oak. Evidence suggests that by the end of the Bronze Age, the upland areas of the Merthyr were typically covered by extensive blanket peat (Casledine 1990).

    It is evident that, despite the effects of man, the area retained its extensively forested nature throughout the medieval and early post medieval period, until at least the beginning of the 18th century. The Ordnance Survey maps of 1812 and Colby's map of 1833, demonstrate the luxuriously wooded nature of the Merthyr area at the time, corroborated by the contemporary descriptions of English visitors to the area, from John Leland to Thomas Roscoe. Further indication of the wooded appearance of the landscape survives in its place-names; many 'coed' (wood) names, such as Coed Meurig, and Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer; 'coedcae' (woodpark) names, such as Pen-coedcae, Coedcae together with numerous 'coed cae' field names, bordering the open uplands and commons of the area.

    However, with the opening up of the area to the iron industry during the 18th century, the wooded nature of the Merthyr landscape was altered. The valley bottom and sides were rapidly denuded of their forests to produce charcoal for smelting purposes and for the production of pit props, leaving only the small remnants visible today, now substantially added to by 20th century Forestry Commission plantations.

  • The agricultural landscape

    The present day landscape is largely a product of the late 18th and the early-to-mid 19th centuries. The direct affect of rapid industrialization during the period, evidenced by extensive extractive and urban settlement landscapes is only part of the process of landscape formation activity. Another important factor was agriculture or more specifically related improvements in agriculture often instigated by the leading industrialists of the area such as the Crawshays and the Earls of Plymouth; the latter necessitated by increased demand from the area's industrial towns.

    Piecemeal remnants of the agricultural landscape survive in areas away from the valley bottom, primarily on the steeper slopes, where industrial incursion has been less intense. While the traditional agriculture of the Merthyr area was based on a system of mixed farming, it is the pastoral element, the rearing of livestock, which has always been predominant and the archaeological record reflects this.

    The earliest direct evidence for the area's pre-industrial agricultural base dates to the late prehistoric period and includes settlement and related agricultural features. Examples are the hillfort of Gwersyll, just beyond the bounds of the historic landscape, the potential hillfort site on Morlais Hill (obscured by the medieval castle), with its associated extensive relict field system, and the enclosures and hut circles on Garn Ddu. It is quite likely that upland settlement and associated agricultural enclosure during the late prehistoric period was far more extensive within the area than the distribution of known surviving sites would suggest, with much of the landscape irrevocably masked and altered during the post-medieval and modem period. The majority of settlements of the late prehistoric period in the area were associated with a pastoral cattle-based economy. The settlement site of Garth Fawr (PRN 043 1 3m) provides an interesting example of a late prehistoric agricultural settlement. This site comprises above ground remains of at least three hut circles, a number of scoops, platforms, a hollow way, associated enclosures and wandering walls.

    Earlier evidence for agriculture is sparse for the area and is based primarily on finds indicative of general human activity. These include a flint scatter (PRN 00880m), of Mesolithic date found south of Abercanaid, and the find of a 'thin butted axe-head of siliceous ash' (PRN 00478m; GCH 1984, 438) from near Twynyrodyn, Merthyr, which indicates continued activity into the Neolithic period.

    Whilst the margins and boundaries of the unenclosed moorland (i.e. the northern extent of Merthyr Common), which rises from 320m-430m, have to an extent shifted over time, the general character of the area would appear to have originated during the Late Neolithic (2,500 BC). It is during this period that inroads into the extensive tree cover of the region were first made, and, by the end of the Late Bronze Age (1,300 BC), the now familiar open landscape of the open common or mountain with its generally poor degraded soils, would have been established. The character of this moorland remains recognisable despite wholesale transformation during the industrial period.

    The effect of human activity on the natural vegetation of the area is clear from pollen analysis carried out in the locality; this is at its height at the end of the Bronze Age. It is unsurprising that the first major impact of human settlement on the physical environment of the area dates to the late prehistoric period.

    The evidence for Roman agricultural activity in the area is again slight. Almost all evidence is for military activity (the fort at Penydarren) or related work (the road from Gelligaer to Brecon), though presumably, settlement and associated agriculture was continuous with occupation spanning both the Iron Age and the Roman period. A cattle-based pastoral economy, which probably dictated a dispersed and mobile settlement pattern is considered, by analogy, to have been characteristic of the period.

    The extent of early medieval settlement in the area is unknown; however, it is likely that some measure of continuity of native settlement carried over from the late prehistoric/Roman period. The only definite indication of early medieval occupation comes from the early medieval dedication of the church of St. Tydfil at Merthyr and place-name evidence indicating early Christian church/monastic settlement (Cil or Church of Sanos, the sister of St Tydfil), in the area of Cil-Sanws. The industrialised and urbanised nature of the valley floor throughout the area of outstanding historic landscape has probably resulted in the significant loss of earlier settlement features.

    It is likely that continuity rather than change would have been true of agriculture during the prehistoric-medieval period. The unenclosed moorland of the area, such as Merthyr Common (on average between 340m OD and 450m OD) would have provided upland grazing, in which cattle, rather than sheep, was the dominant economic base.

    By the medieval period, this pattern had begun to change, with the enclosure of the valley bottom and lower slopes to form enclosed fields around isolated farms; the upland areas remained an important resource, however, for use as summer pasture for the stock, based on the 'hendre-hafod' system of agricultural transhumance. The common areas are dotted with Deserted Rural Settlements (platform houses), probably seasonally occupied for the most part, as part of this pattern of transhumance.

    The cartographic record and place-name evidence affords some indication of the location of medieval settlement along the valley floor, as on the higher ground, ie hendre and hafod place-names, eg Hendre-Fawr. The surviving settlement features of the period are exclusively known from the higher upland areas. The settlement features would have been predominantly platform houses, longhuts, typically in set out pairs; these upland dwellings or hafodau appear to have been occupied on a seasonal basis and were associated with pastoral agriculture, chiefly based on the rearing of cattle. The platform house sites are typically situated at the upper break of slope of the valley side along the periphery of the extensive upland pasture, the location frequently reflects the upper extent of the post-medieval enclosure and encroachment. Further study of the cartographic evidence may allow a correlation to be made between the distribution of known upland settlement with that of valley bottom settlement. The scheduled 'pillow mound' at Bryn-y-Gwyddel, an artificial rabbit warren is also thought to date to the period.

    During the early post-medieval period, it is thought that the 'hendre-hafod' system was gradually superseded through a change in pastoral practice. The main aspect is a transition away from the seasonal movement of kinship groups with the cattle to communally organised individual shepherds. It is considered that lluest sites belong to the latter system (Locock 2000). The Welsh clan system with its particular customs, legal system, land tenure and inheritance survived longer in Uwch Caeach, than the areas further south, which had been subject to early Norman domination; the effect this had on the development of post-medieval agriculture and the agricultural holdings themselves is of interest. Most of the freehold farms within the Merthyr area had been established by the 16th century; though the processes behind their development and the date at which this occurred are as yet not fully understood, and require further detailed study.

    The settlement of Garth Fawr (area 043) was the site of Castell Madoc, a fortified manor known to have been abandoned by the 14th century; the site is associated with remnants of possible medieval strip fields, or quillets, fossilised within the later enclosed landscape. An unlocated monastic grange associated with Cistercian Abbey of Margam, that of Gardino, or Garth has been tentatively placed at Laleston, near Bridgend (Williams 1990); place name evidence (Garth, Pant Cerddinen), however, makes the settlement at Garth a possible contender among several other potential locations.

    The majority of field enclosures of the area are not closely dateable, but were probably established by the late medieval/early post-medieval period. Irregular, evolved patterns of enclosed fields, chiefly drystone banks or cloddiau, and embanked hedges, such as those which survive on the upper reaches of the Taff, Cwm Golau and Nant Gyrawd and the northern side of the upper reaches of the Bargoed Taf, above Cwm Bargoed Farm, are likely to have been in part established during the period.

    Parts of the main outer boundary bank, the boundary between the upland moor, or common, and the lower enclosed pasture (the upper limits usually demarcated by the Coedcae, defining the outer tier of enclosure survive. These enclosures are not closely dateable, but they were probably established in the early post-medieval period; the Coedcae name-element appears elsewhere in marginal enclosures of the 15th-16th centuries. This outer boundary bank is thought to reflect pre-existing, if slightly less rigid agricultural (pastoral) arrangements between lower winter pasture and higher summer pasture established during the medieval if not earlier periods. Boundaries, marking the extent of late medieval and early post-medieval encroachment and enclosure on the slopes, are mainly of dry stone construction, though cloddiau and hedged banks are also evident.

    The boundary between the upland unenclosed mountain or common and the enclosed land of the valley bottom is known elsewhere to be a feature associated with of the change-over to sheep farming, frequently associated with the establishment of landed estates during the 15th-17th centuries. The latter appears to have remained static thereafter, despite minor squatter incursions during the 18th and 19th centuries, such as at Ochr-y-Mynydd, Winch Fawr, Heolgerrig and Ffos-y-fran. Agriculture remained the main industry in the parish of Merthyr Tydfil during the 16th century with sheep and cattle farming predominating. Over half of the tithe for the Parish of Merthyr Tydfil in 1535 was derived from livestock, with corn accounting for less than a quarter (GCH 1974. 3); the presence of a fulling mill, Melin-ganaid, is again indicative of the importance of the woollen industry to the area. Physical reminders of post-medieval agriculture include sheepfolds, sheep shelters, beast-houses and lluest sites. The latter were upland shelters probably used by individual shepherds on a seasonal basis; and indeed a tradition exists which supports this. Although cattle production continued during the post-medieval period, sheep farming became the mainstay of agriculture, in Merthyr as elsewhere in the Blaenau region.

    Industrial and urban expansion has removed many of the area's former post-medieval agricultural settlement. An exception is the early 18th century farmhouse at Garth, which belongs to the hearth passage group of sub-medieval houses, and is of the three-unit chimney backing on entry type with hall between heated outer and narrow inner rooms, typical of the Blaenau. The building also retains a characteristic lateral stone stairs built within an out-shut. Other early post-medieval farmsteads, once more characteristic of the locality displaying vernacular features include Graweth a long house of chimney-backing-on-to-entry type, with outside cross passage and fireplace stair, and Blaencanaid Farm.

    The vernacular style was described in 1848 (Clarke 1894. 16) as: "The custom of whitewashing cottages, villages, and farms, and extending even to stables, barns, and walls of yards and gardens, has prevailed here from very remote ages". It is notable that the evidence for whitewashing of buildings today is minimal; most farmhouses are stone-built, often with a catslide extension at the rear, probably of 19th century date, although a few longhouses do occur.

    Prior to the arrival of the powerful ironmasters, several of whom migrated from Sussex as early as the 17th century (Thomas 1981, 275), the other major industries of the area were all closely related to agriculture, such as lime burning, corn-milling and leather tanning. The reliance on dairy farming continued into the 17th and 18th centuries; it is known for instance that during the period 1688-1725 farmers in the Merthyr area each on average owned 15 cows (GCH 1974, 323). In 1696. Merthyr is described as 'a village of about 40 houses' and a population of 110 inhabitants has been conjectured; by 1801, the population of Merthyr had increased to 7,700, making it at that time the largest town in Wales.

    Post-medieval farming continued to exploit the range of resources, including woodland, arable and enclosed pasture, but the industrial possibilities also became recognised, initially through the combination of water power, iron ore and wood for charcoal-fired iron smelting on the valley sides in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the late 18th century, the change to the use of coal led to a different distribution of iron working, further up the valley to Merthyr itself, where the limestone, ironstone and coal could be obtained from exposures on or near the surface

    From the last quarter of the 18th century, agriculture itself became heavily influenced by the industrial and urban development affecting the Merthyr region. This is evidenced by large-scale industrial agricultural reorganisation by the dominant industrial landowners, ie the Crawshay family, and the Plymouth Estate. Gurnos Farm, for example, is remodelled between 1814 and 1826 to form an industrial agricultural landscape of large regular enclosures and stands of trees associated with a 'model' farm; remodelling included the removal of the former settlement of Pantton (which survives as a relict agricultural landscape). The form of the later industrial Castle Farm (Plymouth Estate) was also developed during the same period.

  • Military and defensive landscapes

    The medieval stronghold of Morlais Castle (SAM Gm 28) within the historic landscape area of Morlais Hill and Castle (area 045), provides the most visibly impressive military and defensive element in the Merthyr Historic Landscape. The dominant hill top site of Morlais Castle was a natural choice from its strength of position overlooking the river valleys of both the Taff Fechan and Taff Fawr, and controlling traditional north-south and east-west communication routes. It was initially a stronghold of the native lords of Senghennydd, and later reconstructed by Gilbert de Clare in c. 1270. Despite being reduced largely to rubble the site is of considerable archaeological, architectural and historical interest and the remains comprise two baileys surrounded by a curtain wall with five or six round towers (the bases of which survive), all set within a bank and ditch (LM 10 RCAHMW 2000). The Welsh chieftain, Ifor ap Meurig, particularly known for holding William Fitzcount, the Earl of Gloucester and his family hostage over a land dispute, held sway over Senghennydd during the mid 12th century. The descendants of Ifor ap Meurig retained power in the area until the last quarter of the 13th century. Subsequently the area became part of the demesne lands of Gilbert de Clare, the Earl of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan (Watkins 1981, 172-7).

    The other major visible defensive site to be found within area 045, ie Castell Morlais, is a univallate hillfort of Iron Age date, comprising an almost rectangular enclosure of c. 1.6 ha, partly obscured by the later medieval castle. The area also contains an associated relict field system, and prehistoric enclosure.

    The Roman fort at Penydarren, which lies in the vicinity of Penydarren Football ground (area 003) was established in c. 75 AD and abandoned during the 2nd century AD. A civilian extramural settlement or vicus has been located by excavation and traces of a cemetery have been uncovered extending to the northeast. The fort provided a link between the fort at Cardiff and that at Brecon Gaer (GCH 1984, 438; Jarrett 1969, 106; RCAHMW 1976,84-6; Haywood 1991). Due to their buried condition, however, the fort and its associated vicus and cemetery have no discernable influence on the character of the current landscape.

    Other defensive/military sites include 19th century firing ranges at Penygarnddu and Mynydd Cilsanws and the site of the Dowlais Barracks, now Barrack Row.

  • Funerary and ritual landscapes

    The main funerary and ritual landscape element within the historic landscape is provided by Bronze Age cairns or burial mounds; these range along the high ground to the west, north and east of the Taff basin at Merthyr, and indicate the importance of the area as a place of settlement during the Bronze Age. Area 077, along the eastern side of the Taff valley, contains the largest concentration of these features and is characterised accordingly as an important relict pre-historic funerary and ritual landscape. Over ten cairns or burial mounds (primarily ring cairns and round harrows), six of which are Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM Gm222), are located within area 077. The location of large numbers of cairns along the ridges of Mynydd Cilfach-yr-encil and Cefn Merthyr in particular might also indicate some claim to cleared land, perhaps focused on a settlement within Cwmcothi to the east during Bronze Age.

    The other notable concentration is along the ridge of Mynydd Aberdare-Mynydd Merthyr (area 073 and area 074) to the west; here the funerary monuments are ranged along the crest of the high ground along the western boundary of the historic landscape area, perhaps indicating a traditional boundary of some antiquity. Sites here include the scheduled Bronze Age round cairn of Cam Tyle Hir (SAM 402b; area 073), and currently sited within dense forestry plantation (area 074), the scheduled site of Gain Las (SAM Gm236) on Twyn Gwersyllfa and Cam Castellymeibion (SAM Gm586) to the south, a good example of a ring cairn.

    To the north of the historic landscape area at the head of the Taff basin closing the gap between the western and eastern groups is the Morlais Hill Ring Cairn; a circular bank of limestone rubble with a possible entrance to the south (SAM Gm563; area 045).

  • Parkland and picturesque landscapes

    The main surviving examples of parkland or picturesque landscape in the Merthyr Historic landscape are those associated with the 19th century residences of local ironmasters. These included: Penydarren House (area 003) built by Samuel Homfray in 1786, later housing the Merthyr Proprietary School (1876-1888), and demolished in 1966; nearby Gwaelod-y-Garth, surviving, used temporarily by the Crawshays before the construction of Cyfarthfa Castle; Dowlais House (area 008) re-built in 1818 for 3 J Guest (1785-1852), demolished c. 1960; Pentrebach House (listed grade II; area 020) and Lodge, built for Anthony Hill owner of the Plymouth Ironworks; and Cyfarthfa Castle.

    The historic landscape area of Cyfarthfa Castle and Park (area 013) is a nationally important 19th century historic park and garden, representing a mature designed landscape, graded as II* (Cadw/ICOMOS UK 1999, 95). The castle is an important example of an ironmaster's seat (a Grade I Listed Building) within its parkland setting, with important historic and artistic associations. The house was commissioned by William Crawshay in 1825, and was designed by Robert Lugar as a mock castle.

    The area is also characterised by its historical connectivity with the adjacent Cyfarthfa Ironworks and the wider extractive landscapes beyond, strongly demonstrated by the paintings of Penry Williams and photographs of the mid 19th century. The house overlooks grounds dropping to the southwest with views over the Fish Pond Reservoir, and Cyfarthfa Ironworks on the far side of the River Taff

    Initially, the surrounding parkland was Romantic and informal, but by the late 19th century a more formal layout as a landscape park had developed. There were two entrances, the southwest entrance originally had lodges but these had gone by 1873. The areas behind the house, to the east and north, have developed as mixed woodland. The 1875 6-inch OS map indicated an Ice House adjacent to the boundary wall of Castle Wood, north of the house.

    More recently, following the sale of the park to Merthyr Tydfil Council in 1910, the area has been developed for a range of later recreational and educational uses; including tennis courts, and a bowling green; while the eastern part of the park has been converted to school playing fields. Cyfarthfa Castle now performs the dual function of school and museum.

  • Industrial landscapes

    Iron Industry General

    The present appearance of the landscape within the historic landscape area is largely due to the rapid growth of the iron and coal industries in the region during the 19th century. Most of the sites are directly associated with coal and ironstone extraction and the transport system which developed alongside it. While there is significant evidence of earlier industrial activity from the surrounding region dating back to the Middle Ages, such evidence appears to have been largely removed or obscured by the later intensive industrial land use. As manorial accounts elsewhere indicate, rights to mineral extraction on the commons were not a general liberty in the later middle ages, but a valued manorial preserve, from which the Lord of Senghennydd would expect to derive a profit. By the 17th century, parts of the outcrop in the Merthyr area may have been leased out, on a yearly or longer-term basis. Certainly, by the later 18th century, when ironstone extraction came to be undertaken on a larger scale for the furnaces of Dowlais, Cyfarthfa, Penydarren and Plymouth, the locations of the most accessible portions of the outcropping seams must have been fairly well established, and represented in the landscape by bands of early workings.

    The economy of the study area, although basically rural in outlook until the mid 18th century, was already partly based on the extraction industries of coal and ironstone and it is likely that the extraction of coal and ironstone during the 17th and 18th centuries was far more extensive along the upper reaches of the River Taft than hitherto thought. It is known that the early iron industry flourished on the west side of the Taff during the 17th century; while a grant of 1619, giving a certain Phillip Williams 'the right to dig coal and quarry stone in all the common lands or forests in Senghennydd Supra...' (Richards 1981, 218-9). A lease of 1696 granted William Edwards of Eglwysilan "all coal veins" in the parishes of Merthyr and Gelligaer from "Dowlais to Nantybwch and the heath market (Marchnad-y-Waun) to the village of Kelligare", suggests that small-scale workings were commonplace at the time. The latter lease, which included the house known as Marchnad-y-Waun, was transferred in 1748 to Thomas Morgan of Ruperra.

    The development of the coal and ironstone workings within the historic landscape is associated with the resurgence in the iron industry seen during the latter half of the 18th century, a direct result of the technical innovation the Cort puddling process, which enabled coke to be used in iron smelting, in place of the traditional charcoal.

    Dowlais (PRN 1615m, area 008) was the first ironworks using the new puddling process to be established in the Merthyr region; initially set up after 1757, when Thomas Lewis acquired the mineral rights at Dowlais. In 1759 John Guest, a Staffordshire ironmaster took over the management of the Dowlais Works (later called the Old Works). Iron production increased under the Guest family and Dowlais remained at the forefront of technical innovation within the industry. The Dowlais Iron Works was the first to adopt the Bessemer process and steel making at Dowlais commenced in 1865. Dowlais was to become the biggest ironworks in the world and at its peak it employed 9,000 people. The Ivor Iron Works (area 029) begun in 1839 as an extension of the Dowlais Iron Works, initially with four blast furnaces, was operating to capacity by 1842 (Thomas 1981, 284). This works survived into the second half of the 20th operated as a foundry by British Steel; its closure in 1987 ended Merthyr's association with the iron industry; an association which had lasted more than 200 years. In 1901, the company merged with the Patent Nut and Bolt Company of Birmingham, and in 1902 became Guest, Keen and Nettlefold (later GKN).

    The second ironworks to be established in the area was that at Cyfarthfa (PRN 01 169m area 012), constructed by Anthony Bacon in 1765. The works at Cyfarthfa traditionally drew its raw materials from the coal and ironstone workings on land leased from the Dynevor estate. Belonging to the early period of Cyfarthfa is the Cyfarthfa Canal, of which some remains survive (PRNs 02412m/024l3m, area 014), built in the late 1770s to transport coal direct from levels to the ironworks. The ironworks at Cyfarthfa, together with the coal and ironstone workings, began a rapid period of expansion under Richard Crawshay, who leased the works in 1786; this early success was in part due to the construction in 1794 of the Glamorganshire Canal (area 014). The Ynys Fach Iron Works (area 010) opened as an extension to Crawshay's Cyfarthfa works in 1801 and despite being the second in the area to employ steam-blowing engines, after Dowlais, it generally played a secondary role to Cyfarthfa. When steel production started at neighbouring Cyfarthfa in 1884, the four blast furnaces at Ynys Fach were relined and kept in reserve, though probably never put back in blast.

    The Plymouth Iron Works (within areas 0l9 and area 15) were founded in 1763 by Isaac Wilkinson and John Guest on land leased from the Earl of Plymouth and two years later sold to Anthony Bacon following an initial lack of progress. Control of the works fell to Richard Hill (d. 1806) following Bacon's retirement in 1783. The works remained in the Hill family until the death of Anthony Hill in 1862, when bought by Messers Fothergill, Hankey and Bateman. The Plymouth Works relied on water power, long after it had become obsolescent elsewhere, and in order to re-use the water supply the works was forced to expand into three separate plants, the Pentrebach Forge and Dyffryn furnaces (see area 0l5A) being added. Steam power was finally introduced, leading to a dramatic increase in output, following the dry summers of 1843 and 1844. During the second half of the 19th century, obsolete technology and economics combined to the disadvantage of the Plymouth Iron Works. The lack of capital to convert to steel production finally led to closure in 1880; though the company continued to mine its vast reserves of coal.

    The other major ironworks within the historic landscape was the Penydarren Ironworks established on the banks of the Morlais Brook. Relatively late for the area, this works was established by Francis Homfray and his three sons, Jeremiah, Thomas and Samuel from 1784. The location was far from ideal and the works also experienced difficulties with water supply, a direct result of the control already exercised by the Dowlais Ironworks over the area's water catchment; indeed, to resolve the problem, an arrangement had to be made between Homfray and John Guest, allowing alterations to be made to a watercourse. Similarly, Dowlais held the coal rights to the Pwll-yr-Hwyaid area and Homfray was forced to negotiate rights to mine coal from John Guest. Despite these difficulties, the company had far-reaching influence and succeeded in securing large and profitable contracts; by 1796, the works were producing 2,000 more tons of iron than Dowlais. The ironworks at Penydarren closed in 1859, following boom-bust years of the first half of the 19th century and the death of William Thompson, the company's most influential partner. The company's works and mineral holdings were bought by neighbouring Dowlais.

    Ironworks-specific mineral extraction

    Mineral extraction before the latter half of the 18th century is considered to have taken the form of small-scale levels and patch workings; it is, however, unlikely that these features will have survived in a recognisable form, given the intensive exploitation of the later 18th and 19th centuries. A will of 1697 mentions the existence of 'coale-works, pitts, and veins of coale, together with limekilns and quarries of stone situated within a place called Tule Dowlais'; the area, south of Pen-y-waun Fawr, saw intensive later reworking and tipping. Other potential foci of early extraction are the small valley or cwm at Ffos-y-Fran on the western slopes of Merthyr Common and that Nant Ffrwd beyond Ty'n-y-Coedcae farm; where natural stream courses crossed the outcrop. Such mineral outcrops of coal and iron ore would have been exposed and easily accessible; the exposed minerals might have been processed by a form of semi-natural scouring.

    Coal and ironstone workings in the area from the latter half of the 18th century came under the direct control of the major iron producing companies of the region; the owners holding the mineral leases. The mineral leases of the ironworks, cartographic, and other documentary evidence, enable the identification of the individual mineral holdings associated with the various the ironworks.

    The mineral holdings of the Dowlais Iron Company were located along the west facing slopes of Merthyr Common to the north and east of Dowlais's two ironworks. These mineral holdings lay chiefly within two of the present historic character areas, area 039 and the reclaimed area of area 078 which included the Dowlais Great Tip, and the extensive workings around Pwll-yr-hwyaid, Trecatti, Trehir and Twyn-Y-Waun. The following historic landscape areas encompass the remainder of the Dowlais workings: area 031; area 032; area 035; and area 041. Limestone for the works at Dowlais was supplied largely from three associated quarries to the north and northeast at Twynau Gwynion (area 042), Morlais Castle (area 044), and Bryniau (area 046).

    Cyfarthfa was associated with coal and ironstone workings, 'the Cyfarthfa mines', on land leased from the Dynevor estate, which were ranged along the western side of the historic landscape area along the eastern slopes of Mynydd Aberdare. These workings provide dominant characteristics for several historic landscape character areas, including: area 064 Winch Fawr, Pen-Yr-Heolgerrig, Cwm Du, and Upper Cwm Glo Workings; area 066 Waun-Y-Nant Goy Tips; area 067 Pencoedcae and Brynteg; area 070 Cwm Glo: Tramroad, Plateway and Incline Corridor and to a lesser extent area 069 Cwm Glo, North. The lower workings of Cyfarthfa also extended into area 014 River Taff Canal and Railway Corridor, to include the workings at Gethin, and area 011 Llwyn-Celyn and Ynys Fach, and workings adjacent to Ynys Fach Ironworks. Limestone for the works at Cyfarthfa was provided initially by the Gurnos Quarry (area 012 Cyfarthfa Iron Works) and later during the 1870s from Vaynor Quarry (area 051).

    The mineral holdings of the Penydarren Iron Company were small by comparison and were located close to the works (area 004 Penydarren Iron Works Area) at Incline Top and Penyard (HLCAs 040 and 036 respectively). Limestone for the works came from the western quarry at Morlais Castle (area 044).

    The Plymouth Iron Works (area 019 and area 015) obtained its raw material from ironstone and coal workings located along the east facing slopes of Mynydd Cilfach-yr-encil from Cwm Blacks southwards including Clyn-Mil, Pencoedcae and Trebeddau and workings at Bwllfa, while the workings at Gethin and Graig, which straddled both sides of the Taff Valley were also part of Plymouth mineral holdings.

    Though the early period of mining (ie pre-1850) in the area is poorly documented, extraction techniques of the time largely depended on surface workings using a mixture of patching (a process which scours the land of its topsoil), small pits, including bell-pits, and where the topography allowed levels driven into the hillsides (Osborne 1976, 41). Although deep pits had been sunk during the I 820s and 1 830s at the Cyfarthfa Mines (eg Robbins Pit, Glyndyrys Pit, and Colliers' Row Pit) levels continued to provide the main means of coal and ironstone extraction in Merthyr until around 1850. At the Dowlais workings, for example, levels accounted for 75 per cent of coal output; though the Dowlais Iron Company had sunk 19 pits between 1837 and 1857, including Cwmbargoed Colliery and the Penydarren New Pit. Other ironstone and coal pits within the Dowlais mineral field sunk prior to 1860 included Buxton's Pit, No.1, No.2, No.4 Pits, No.6, and No.7 Pits, Penydarren Old Pit, Pen-y-Waun Fawr Pit, the Soap Pit, and Tyle Dowlais Pit, among many others. All attest to the continued exploitation of mineral reserves to satisfy the demand of the neighbouring ironworks.

    The main means of haulage within the shafts was the water balance system, which depended on a plentiful and constant supply of water (Thomas 1981, 306-308); several of the reservoirs in the study area are likely to be relict features associated with this system.

    The development of the landscapes of the mineral holdings is complex and lengthy, and varies slightly between the various ironworks, however a general sequence can be recognised and phases of industrial landscape development have been established as a result. The four identified major industrial phases are:

    Phase 1: early period: late 18th to early 19th century
    Phase 2: mid 19th century: l820s to 1880s
    Phase 3: late 19th to early 20th century
    Phase 4: mid 20th century to present day

    The proposed industrial landscape development model is based on the lay-out and morphology of the surviving surface remains, together with the late 19th and early 20th century OS map evidence; no attempt is made here to examine the parallel development of the extensive underground workings, though these are of comparable interest.

    Phase 1: early period: late 18th to early 19th century

    Given the accessibility of the outcrop, particularly the ironstone, it is likely that some mining activity was carried out during this period. Most outcrop mining was still undertaken on a contract basis at the time (indeed, throughout much of the 19th century), with individual miners taking out a sub-lease on a section of the seam, organising and paying for all the works involved and selling the coal or ironstone to the Company. This process is very apparent in the names of individual levels in the archival mining records (William Morgan's Level; J Morgan's Level; JL Jones' Level; Baynon's Level; Jenkin's Level and D Rees' Level), which reflect the miners concerned (GCRO DD/HSE 1/1 1). What we see today is not simply an agglomeration of stereotypical levels and tips undertaken by the Iron Companies, but the remains of a series of individual family ventures, in which boys (and sometimes girls) as young as seven or eight would work alongside their fathers and elder brothers.

    The initial stage of working appears to have been by quarrying or patch working, small levels and pits, which for example at Dowlais produced the scarped face along the crest of the north west west-facing slopes north of Ffos-y-fran, possibly on the line of an existing erosion bench. Further patch working or open ore quarrying continued south towards the iron ore miners' settlement at Ffos-y-fran; this area also contains surviving examples of contemporary 'crown pit type workings' (area 039). Workings of this type were formerly more in evidence, and much has been lost to late 20th century reclamation including extensive linear patch workings in the area between Longtown Cottages (Tre-hir), and Twyn-y-Waun; (1st edition OS map of 1879; area 078). The intensive late 18th/early 19th century ironstone workings associated with Anthony Hill and the Plymouth Iron Company situated at Cwmblacks and Pencoedcae (OS surveyor's drawing 1813) were also largely of this type.

    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 operation of the system is rather less certain, and there seem to be several modes of using water. The basic idea is that a substantial dammed-up body of water is released and allowed to flow over a section of the exposed outcrop, stripping away the clay/shale overburden and revealing the ore or seam. In some cases, this appears to have been undertaken partly by quarrying (i.e. patch working), so that the hydraulic action scoured the exposed surface and removed the waste. Elsewhere, the ore was first won from adjacent sources (levels or open patches), deposited within the scouring course, and then washed of its lighter shales and clays (Osborne 1976).

    Workings of this period are characterised by evidence in selected areas of scouring, (b) by evidence of initial working by shallow patching (surface quarrying) and (c) by clusters of distinctive small conical tips immediately downslope of the patch. In practice, the early patching, scouring and level workings were probably undertaken simultaneously, but it is difficult to identify contemporary associated features. Evidence for all of these operations is to be found among the surviving extractive remains associated with Cyfarthfa, where scouring operations were directed to the ironstones of the Lower Coal measures, between the Garw and Five Foot coal seams (predominantly within area 064). Further examples of patching and shallow pits of the crown-pit type remain at Ffos-y-fran (area 039) associated with Dowlais, and at Clyn-Mil within area 023 associated with the Plymouth Ironworks.

    Very similar features can be found at other locations on the coalfield outcrop (Bick 1994), including an extensive group to the north of Blaenavon, where deep linear channels are associated with ponds and leats (Wakelin 1996). At Blaenavon and Abersychan/Pontypool, the system had become disused by about 1814, and, in general, scouring on the coalfield, though well-documented in the 18th century, seems not to have continued much beyond the early 19th century. The operation of the system is rather less certain, and there seem to be several modes of using water. The basic idea is that a substantial dammed-up body of water is released and allowed to flow over a section of the exposed outcrop, stripping away the clay/shale overburden and revealing the ore or seam. In some cases, this appears to have been undertaken partly by quarrying (ie patch working), so that the hydraulic action scoured the exposed surface and removed the waste. Elsewhere, the ore was first won from adjacent sources (levels or open patches), deposited within the scouring course, and then washed of its lighter shales and clays (Osborne 1976).

    Not all these features are unique to the early 19th century; patch working continued, on a rather larger scale, into late Victorian times. There is, however, a clear distinction between the remains of this mode of shallow outcrop working and the extensive ironstone levels of the mid 19th century with their well-defined lobed tramming tips, which became the dominant extraction method in the application area, probably by the 1820s.

    Phase 2: mid 19th century, 1820s to 1870s

    The development of the coal and ironstone workings of the area closely parallels the fortunes and developments affecting the ironworks that they supplied. For example, during the 1830s, the Dowlais Iron Company began to benefit from the growth of the railways; under the management of Josiah John Guest the Big Mill was opened in 1830 and in 1839, a new works, the Ifor Works was started and brought into production. In 1842 both works were operating to capacity and by 1845, Dowlais with a workforce of over 7,000 and with an annual production of 88,400 tons of pig iron could claim to be the greatest ironworks in the world. It is to this period that the majority of workings belong.

    Again, the initial stage of working would have been the continuation of open ore quarrying or patch working, small levels and pits, with additional levels driven into the worked faces. The main feature of the middle period of outcrop working was the considerable expansion of level and shaft activity, which replaced the older methods of shallow surface workings at slightly differing rates.

    At Cyfarthfa's ironstone workings on the Upper Yard Seam and the Upper Black Pins (area 064) surface working continued later than elsewhere, being eventually succeeded by levels driven into the worked face. The main expansion of ironstone workings at Cyfarthfa occurred between about 1806, when Cyfarthfa with its six blast furnaces was the largest ironworks in the world, and the 1850s, when the ironworks, in decline, was importing iron ore from elsewhere.

    At Dowlais, in addition to numerous levels, later, extraction appears to have concentrated on a number of pits (shafts) set on the lower slopes west of the outcrop area, such as Dowlais Pits 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7, and the Pen-y-Waun Fawr and Tyle Dowlais Pits (area 039 and formerly area 078), while 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.

    Relatively early examples of lobed-tips survive at Cwm-glo and Bryn-y-gwyddel within area 064 and also to the southeast of the Tre-hir Pond within area 041 associated with ironstone workings, specifically shaft 85558 and the Soap Pit Ironstone Level 85986. More extensive versions of 'finger' or 'fan-tips' were frequently associated with shaft workings, at Dowlais examples of these dominant and highly visual features survive within area 039 and include No. 1 Pit, No. 2 Pit, No. 4 Pit, and No. 6 Pit. Dowlais.

    The workings associated with the Plymouth ironworks, specifically those in the area between Cwmblacks and Clyn-Mil (HLCAs 021, 022, 023 and 048), also developed along similar lines progressing from predominant patchworking to levels and pits. By 1826 a network of tramroads and inclines, including the main Coedcae Incline, had been established throughout the area connecting the Plymouth Iron Works with various workings; these included ironstone levels and patch workings throughout the area around Cwmblacks (area 021, area 022 and 023 and area 048. The Clyn Mil Pond, serving the Iron Works is also a feature of the period.

    Cartographic evidence indicated that an upsurge in mining activity had occurred by the period 1850-1875, if not before on the Plymouth mineral holdings. Here (ie area 021), like elsewhere, the pits were in operation before 1860 and included Clyn-Mil Pit (No. 1; coal and ironstone), its associated water balance reservoir, Graig Pit (Wern-las No. 1), Wern-las Pit, Ellis Pit, Clyn Mil Pit (No. 2). The area had been intensively worked by the publication of the 1875 6-inch OS map, which indicated ironstone and coal levels, shafts, various small 'lobed' and linear tips, and other surface workings, such as quarries, or 'patch workings', and reservoirs and leats arranged along the eastern bank of Nant Cwmblacks. The Plymouth workings on Mynydd Cilfach-yr-encil, with their impressive inclines to the Dyffryn furnace date to the period (1850-1875), as do the Bwllfa Levels.

    By 1879, the current form of tipping was by parallel tramlines in close-set blocks, which had the effect of 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 at Dowlais (area 039); the tips at the latter two were extensively remodelled during the latter part of the 20th century.

    While many of the levels and pits associated with Dowlais (including the former Penydarren workings) and Cyfarthfa were still named on both the 1873 and 1879 OS surveys, the vast majority appear to have become disused soon after.

    Coal was probably being worked from both the Garw and the Upper Yard seams, from a relatively early stage. Pwll-y-mynydd pit at Winch Fawr, one of the earliest of the Cyfarthfa Company's shaft mines along the northern edge of the mineral lease, was sunk for coal in 1828 (Thomas 1981). When ironstone workings were generally abandoned during the 1870s, coal continued to be extracted, in particular from the extensive Plymouth mineral holdings for the domestic and lucrative steam coal markets (see below)

    Haulage was a central concern for the practicalities of level working on this scale, particularly given the remoteness of the ironworks from the ore workings. The increasing distances of the underground became an inevitable drain on human and animal labour (and in the mid 19th century, the levels were still essentially private undertakings). Although most of the waste material remained underground, the substantial surface tips represent a considerable proportion of unpaid effort in driving new headings; the form of the tips, with individual lobes marking each tip line, were becoming as efficient as possible. The main horse-drawn haulage tramroads, which had become common feature of the Merthyr outcrop landscape by the early 19th century, were an important element of the workings, allowing increasing volumes of ironstone and coal to be moved to the stockyards of Cyfarthfa, Dowlais, Penydarren (part of the Dowlais concern from 1859), and the Plymouth ironworks.

    Phase 3: late 19th and early 20th centuries

    By the end of the 19th century. the outcrop workings throughout Merthyr were clearly in decline. This was a direct result of the conversion to steel production of the main associated ironworks at Dowlais, and Cyfarthfa. Coal was also being won in far greater quantities elsewhere from mid l9th century and later deep shaft mines.

    Under the management of William Menelaus during the 1850s, the Dowlais Works (HLCAs 008 and 039) underwent reconstruction and conversion to the production of steel. Bessemer produced steel was first rolled at the works in June 1865 and by 1880 the works had switched entirely to steel production using a combination of acid Bessemer converters and Siemens-Martin open hearth furnaces. Similarly, Cyfarthfa converted to steel production in 1884. Iron ore was being increasingly sourced from northern Spain during the second half of the 19th century, the local ore, rich in phosphorous and sulphur being no longer suitable for the new processes introduced. 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 historic landscape character areas containing workings associated with Dowlais and Cyfarthfa, in particular, were for the most part already defunct (first edition of the OS 25" map, surveyed in 1879). However, limited level activity of apparent short duration is a feature of the late 19th/early 20th century for example at Cyfarthfa on the Five Foot and Seven Foot, and Nine Foot seams. Few levels, though, appear to have been intensively worked during the period (2nd and 3rd edition OS 25" maps, published in 1905 and 1918).

    At Dowlais, a similar picture emerges with the majority of the coal and iron ore workings disused by this date (eg Pits 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7, Dowlais); limited level activity may have continued at Pen-y-Waun Fawr and Tyle Dowlais pits (area 039).

    The cartographic evidence indicates that mining activity at Cwmblacks and Clyn-Mil, the intensive mineral extractive area of the Plymouth Ironworks, changes radically in the area between 1875 and 1905, probably with the closure of the Plymouth Ironworks in 1880. By 1901 the levels of the area were disused and the associated inclines are described as 'old': a new incline has been constructed, directly serving the South Dyffryn Pits. The main aspect of the period leading up to 1915 was a renewal of coal extraction brought on by World War One. This included the construction of a new incline between one of the Bwllfa levels and the mineral railway serving the Graig (No. 2) and the South Dyffryn Pits. Apart from later reworking, there is continued coal extraction elsewhere on the extensive Plymouth mineral holdings, ie at Graig and at the Bwllfa Levels where coal was worked, chiefly for the steam-coal trade. During the following period the Bwllfa levels were expanded with the creation of substantial tips, dominant visual characteristics features above Pentrebach. A coal level to the south of the Troed-y-rhiw, periodically worked from at least the mid 1870s, showed evidence of being reworked during the period; again connected by incline to the mineral line of the South Dyffryn Pits.

    The decline of the area's workings is reflected in the state of the area's industrial haulage system. By 1906, most of the minor haulage Tramroads associated with the Dowlais workings had already been removed. The main Dowlais Iron Company Tramroad connecting the works at Dowlais with Cwm Bargoed Pits and the incline to Pen-y-darren Pits remained intact until the outbreak of the 1st World War in 1914; the latter in partial use as a mineral railway line between Pen-y-Darren Incline Cwm Bargoed pit until the 1920s (OS provisional edition, 19 14-15). Elsewhere, such as at Cyfarthfa most of the haulage tramroads had already been removed by this date.

    Later development continued at a few select colliery sites such as that of Cwm Bargoed Pits (area 032), which closed in 1923/24. By the end of the 1920s, the workings of the Merthyr area were largely derelict (Thomas 1981, 330), though there appears to have been a brief period of mining activity during the Second World War.

    Phase 4: mid 20th century to present day

    Between the early 1950s and the l980s, opencast mining operations and reclamation schemes altered large areas of the industrial landscape of Merthyr. Casualties included the extensive area encompassing Longtown, and Trecatti (area 078) subjected to opencast and reclamation, while the Dowlas Great Tip (area 078) was removed in advance of the construction of the A4060(T) by-pass. Landfill and domestic waste tipping has again altered the character of the landscape, in particular within the western part of the north Merthyr Common (area 078 and small areas within area 039). While the extensive workings associated with the Plymouth Ironworks were subject to opencast and reclamation schemes during the 1970s (area 015, area 019, area 021), the workings associated with Cyfarthfa (mainly area 064) survive better than elsewhere, despite limited opencast at Bryn-y-Gwyddel (early 1950s), and road construction (area 079), which has removed the lower colliery sites associated with Cyfarthfa (Gethin No.2 Pit, and Castle Pit site).

    Coal washing activities have buried and removed early to mid-l9th century mining and transport remains associated with Cwm Bargoed Pit (area 032).

    Non-ironwork-specific extraction

    The early development of the trade in 'steam coal', coal specific to the needs of the steamship and navigation companies, began in the Merthyr area in 1828 with the sinking of Robert Thomas's level at Waunwyllt (area 072), and later the workings of Lucy Thomas at Graig pit near-by (area 017). These exploited the 'steam' coal of the Four Foot seam. The main ironworks also tapped into this lucrative market exploiting their workings south of Abercanaid area. Cyfarthfa had workings at Gethin opened in the 1850s, and Castle Pit, Troed-y-rhiw, sunk in 1866-1869 (area 079 and area 014). The Plymouth Iron Company later expanded the workings at Graig, and Cyfarthfa developed the workings at Gethin during the 1860s to take advantage of the increasing demand for steam coal. Further expansion would appear to date to close of the 19th century when workings along Nant Graig to the South of Pen-y-lan and Waunwyllt Colliery (area 072) were further developed. Coal extraction in the area to the south of Merthyr survives longer here than on the ore fields to the north, east and west; the collieries of Gethin and Castle Pit saw further activity during World War II, though were finally closed in 1947, the year of nationalisation.

    Water Supply

    Water supply was fundamental to the industrial processes carried out at the ironworks and their associated workings, for example for water balance haulage within the pits and for powering inclines. Merthyr boasted a number of industrial waterpower systems associated with the ironworks of the area, usually operating on the principal of gravity-fed free drainage; preservation of the systems and their individual elements is extremely varied. The problems of water supply that affected the ironworks is well recorded, for example at Dowlais "There were difficulties with establishing a consistent water supply to power the 'air engines' … overcome in 1798 when Dowlais became the first works in Wales to install a Boulton and Watt double acting steam engine to supply air for the furnaces" (Thomas 1981, 282-3). "Penydarren ironworks experienced difficulty with its water supply. This resulted from the fact that the Dowlais works was sited nearby on higher ground and was able to control many local streams at will" (Thomas 1981, 295). The Plymouth Iron Works, which relied on water power, long after it had become obsolescent elsewhere, was forced to expand into three separate plants, Plymouth (area 019), the Pentrebach Forge and Dyffryn Furnaces (area 015A) to maximise its water supply's efficiency. Steam power was finally introduced following the dry summers of 1843 and 1844.

    Perhaps the most extensive and well preserved of the area's industrial drainage is that associated with Dowlais, despite large sections having been removed by 20th century opencast and reclamation. The 'Dowlais Free Drainage System', dating in part to c. 1818, was constructed and embellished over a period of time to supply water to ironworks of Dowlais, and also appears to have supplied the associated coal and ironstone mines. The supply of water to the Dowlais ironworks was provided by an elaborate network of reservoirs, ponds, leats and culverts; this 'free drainage system' (relying on gravity rather than pumping) extended well to the north, south and east of the ironworks. Surviving drainage features are particularly characteristic of area 031 Merthyr Common, Central, including the scheduled Sam Howell Pond and Water Course (SAM Gm494); area 035 Pengarnddu; area 039 Ffos-Y-Fran; and area 041 Merthyr Common, North; while buried culverts are known to survive within area 008 Dowlais Iron Works Area. The Dowlais system was first identified as an entity by John A Owen in his 1973 book The History of the Dowlais Iron Works, 1759-1970 (pp. 67-68) (1st edition; 2nd edition 1977). There has been no detailed account, though limited field survey has been undertaken by the RCAHMW in 1993, which identified many surviving drainage features, including those feeding into the ironworks and those draining to the south (Malaws and Wakelin, unpublished).

    The technology involved was not particularly complex or radical: ponds, sluices and leats had been mastered for milling purposes in the medieval period, and were widely employed elsewhere for similar industrial purposes. The scale of the enterprise is exceptional, however. The construction of the culverts is perhaps the single most notable feature, although the elaborate construction of aqueducts to maintain the water flow through the leat system as new roads, tramways and railways were built also reflects clear-sighted design. The system, fed by gravity, employed 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 latter still extant and in good condition as late as the 1960s. The system acted to drain a variety of coal seams including the Lower Four Feet seams of the Cwm-Bargoed, 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). The lists of mains and culverts of Dowlais Works (1920) gives an idea of the extent of the undertaking which totalled 12.7 km of mains (the longest being the Rhaslas Main, just over 2 km in length), while the total length of culverts amounted to 11.3 km. The list of 'Reservoirs and Watercourses at Dowlais Works' mentions approximately 28 mile of watercourse (42 kin), presumably referring to the open leats connecting the various ponds.

    While Owen describes 'the Dowlais "Free" drainage system' as a single system, one that had been "perfected by the year 1868" (Owen 1977, 67), this assertion has been questioned by further examination of documentary and cartographic evidence. It is not clear from the documents whether the drainage features of the area were conceived as a single system, or were considered as a group of related features. It is also ambiguous as to whether its purpose was solely to provide water to the ironworks, or whether the removal of unwanted water and the supply of water to mines for balance pits were part of its function (Malaws and Wakelin, unpublished). The supply of water was critical to the operation of an ironworks: the supremacy of Dowlais and the Cyfarthfa works (on a riverside site) over the rival Plymouth and Penydarren complexes is largely explained by this factor. A recent examination of documentary and cartographic sources concludes that the documentary evidence for drainage activities of the Dowlais Iron Company is poor and no single account of a 'system' is evident. Documentary evidence reflects continuing modification; from a few isolated ponds in 1847, to an integrated complex in 1868, with further additions in 1870, and numerous later changes, over a period of more than 70 years (Locock, pers comm.). The examination of cartographic sources and map regression undertaken for the present study supports this analysis.

    Water management associated with Cyfarthfa (area 012) is also of great interest; the works at Cyfarthfa drew its water supply directly from the Taff Fechan via a leat fed from a weir (possibly that built in 1766-77). Surviving features include Pont-y-Cafnau Iron Bridge c. 1793, which conveyed water to the plant across the River Taff via a culvert and high level launder (depicted in painting of c. 1819/20 by Penry Williams) from the surviving Cyfarthfa Feeder Canal and the Fish Pond Reservoir within the grounds of Cyfarthfa Castle (area 013). The need for both water and limestone at the Cyfarthfa Ironworks had necessitated the construction of a combined packhorse or plateway bridge and aqueduct, Pont-y-Cafnau. During the 1770s, this would have been of wood; sketches by JMW Turner in 1797 depict the elevated wooden aqueduct, which formerly fed a massive Æolus water wheel (1793-96) driving the blast for the Cyfarthfa Furnaces. The present Pont-y-Cafanau (Pont-y-Cafnau Iron Bridge SAM Gm 424) was re-built in cast-iron c. 1793 almost certainly to designs of local engineering prodigy Watkin George to carry the newly constructed Gurnos Tramroad. The structure is important as the first recorded iron Railway Bridge and viaduct (Hughes 1990).

    An extensive network of interrelated leats and reservoirs existed in the area of the workings, the 'Cyfarthfa Mines' to the west and south of the ironworks, (ie HLCAs 014, 064, 066, 067, 069, and 070). In this area, the water management features also supplied the canal systems of the Cyfarthfa and Glamorgan canals (eg Glyndyrys Pond), and the water balance systems of the area's numerous pits.

    Little apparently survives of the water management features associated with Plymouth and Penydarren ironworks, beyond the Plymouth Feeder Canals (HLCAs 006, 015 and 020).

  • Transport and communications

    There is comparatively little evidence for transport routes pre-dating the post-medieval period. The Roman road between the fort of Brecon Gaer and that at Penydarren is known to have passed through the area; it is thought likely that it crossed the Taff Fechan at Pont Sam (area 027) and continued south to Penydarren via one of two possible routes. One possibility is that it followed a route now used by the lane to Gwaelod-y-garth, the other that it took a route via Pantton (deserted rural settlement), and Gurnos farm to skirt the south-facing slopes below Cyfarthfa Castle. The Roman Road between the forts of Gelligaer and Penydarren is thought to pass along the western edge of the historic landscape area, on the line of an existing minor road (NL152 and PRN A62: Wilkins 1900, 70-73; Margary 1965; RCAHMW 1982, 152).

    Late 17th and 18th century maps depict a number of ancient routes through the area (John Ogilby's map of 1675 and Emanuel Bowen's map of South Wales, 1729). These included the ancient ridgeway route that ran along the west bank of the Taff Fechan, crossing at Pont Stickel (Pontsticell), to pass east of Morlais Castle and Garth Farm. This route followed the ridge of Merthyr Common thereafter, continuing via a crossroads with the track to the medieval Marchnad-y-Waun fair site, and following the crest with its numerous Bronze Age cairns (area 077) south towards Llancaiach. A low-level north-south valley route followed the east banks of the Taff Fawr and the Afon Taff south from Pont-y-Capel to Pont-y-Gwaith and beyond. Other traditional routes included an east west route via Pont-y-Capel (Cefn Coed-y-cymmer) to the head of the Rymney (Rhymni) Valley, and the old road from Merthyr Tydfil to Aberdare via the village of Pen yr heol (Penyrheolgerrig).

    Road bridges of the pre-l9th century period are scarce given the history of flooding, exemplified by Pont-y-Capel, Cefn Coed-y-cymmer, built in wood in 1650, rebuilt in stone between 1775-1780, and rebuilt again in 1858, following its destruction in the flood of 1853 (Davies 1992). The 18th century Pont -y-Cefn (1775-1781; listed grade II; area 055), again with an earlier wooden precursor, survives though was superseded in 1909 by the current bridge of reinforced concrete, repaired 1949 and 1989.

    Late 18th century cartographic sources indicate a dramatic alteration and upgrading of the transport network of the area. Additions included the Cyfarthfa Canal (late 1770s) and the Glamorganshire (or Cardiff) Canal (c. 1794), while the Dowlais Tramroad to the canal head of the Glamorganshire Canal, and the Turnpike Road from Brecon, via Merthyr Tydfil also appear on late 18th century maps (Dadford's map of the Glamorganshire Canal, 1790; and Yates' Map of the County of Glamorgan, 1799).

    Road improvements followed the Turnpike Acts of 1767 and 1787, first the Turnpike Road from Cefn to Cwm Taff in c. 1802 (HLCAs 055 and 061), and the Plymouth Toll Road, (eg area 006) created under the auspices of the Glamorganshire Turnpike Act of 1771 and instigated by Anthony Bacon. Later, in 1831, the Merthyr to Brecon Turnpike was made; much improving transport links (Lewis 1958; Bowen 1992).

    The Cyfarthfa Canal and Glamorganshire Canal are two nationally and internationally important canals; remains include embankments, cuttings, bridges and other features. These features survive in area 014 and represent the earliest industrial transport landscape within the Merthyr Tydfil Historic Landscape. The earlier, Cyfarthfa Canal (SAM Gm467), built in the late 1770s, allowed the transportation of coal direct from the levels to the Cyfarthfa ironworks using small iron boats or 'buckets' which entered the adit mouth. The main impulse to the industrial expansion of the area was the construction in 1794 of the Glamorganshire Canal, which enabled the rapid expansion of the Cyfarthfa ironworks and its associated coal and ironstone workings under Richard Crawshay, who leased Cyfarthfa in 1786. A good surviving portion of the Glamorganshire Canal is the canal head at Chapel Row (listed grade II; birth Place of Dr. Joseph Parry; area 014), George Town and the site of the re-erected iron canal bridge from Rhydycar (Gm486).

    Perhaps the most well known and justly celebrated of Merthyr's early tramroads is the Penydarren (Merthyr) Tramroad (area 019); constructed 1799-1802 between Penydarren and Abercynon by the renowned early railway and mining engineer George Overton, who was also responsible for the first survey of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The impetus behind the tramroad was disagreements over the high tariffs charged on the Glamorganshire Canal between Richard Crawshay of Cyfarthfa, and the other ironmasters of the area. The Penydarren Tramroad is of international importance as the site of the first ever-recorded journey on rails made by a steam locomotive (one of Richard Trevithick's steam engines), undertaken in February 1804.

    The Plymouth Works' Tunnel (or Trevithick's Tunnel) survives under the site of the charging bank of the Plymouth Iron Works Furnaces; this was likewise the first recorded railway tunnel used by a locomotive.

    By about 1800 the development of a complex transport network was well under way; horse-drawn haulage was in use by the late 18th century, with cartographic evidence (Yates 1799). for "waggon ways" such as that in area 039 (area 004, and 039). Other notable early tramroads include the Gurnos Tramroad (SAM Gm478; area 012C), constructed in 1793 and retaining stone sleeper blocks; the Gurnos Tramroad crossed the River Taff to the Cyfarthfa works via the nationally and internationally important Pont-y-Cafnau (SAM Gm 424).

    The Morlais Tramroad of the Penydarren, Dowlais and Plymouth Iron Works was constructed 1793 to serve the Morlais Castle Limestone Quarries (area 044), while a Tramroad of c. 1805 connected Dowlais with the Twynau Gwynion Limestone Quarries (area 042) and passed through area 035. The Rhymney Mineral (Limestone) Railway replaced the latter in c. 1864, when the quarry became associated with the Guests' Ironworks at Rhymney.

    The industrial transport network of the Merthyr Tydfil area was largely established by the first quarter of the 19th century, as can be seen on surveyor's drawings of 1814, and 1826. One example is the industrial tramroad networks of Cyfarthfa (areas 063, 064, 066, 067, 068, 070), which served the extensive workings along the east facing slopes of Mynydd Aberdare. The main Cyfarthfa Tramroad ran north-south from Cyfarthfa Ironworks via Coedcae and Cwm-glo pits to the quarries and level at Upper Black Pins Level (south), and the east-west Cwm-glo-Upper Wern Incline to the Cwm Pit Railway. Other tramroads of the area include the Mynydd Aberdare - Cyfarthfa Tramroad, a scheduled section (SAM Gm 495, area 067), the Cwm-glo-Cyfarthfa Tramroad, the Pen-yr-heolgerrig Tramroad and the Cyfarthfa - Clwyd-y-Fagwyr Tramway. A similar picture is visible at Dowlais, Plymouth and Penydarren where further industrial tramroads were in existence by the same period, such as the Dowlais Iron Company Railway, which connected various levels and pits (shafts) with the main routes to the stockyards via a system of inclines.

    In 1821 the rails for the Stockton and Darlington Railway were produced at the Dowlais works heralding the rewards to come of the railway boom years. From about 1840 a complex network of railways was developed, first transporting coal and iron ore and later serving wider markets; remnants of industrial railways include the Gethin (Castle Pit Railway; 1850s), Cwm Pit, and Ynys-fach Railways, remnants of which survive within HLCAs 014, and the Dowlais Railway incline (1851; area 040).

    The first major rail development within the Merthyr area occurred in 1841 with the opening of a branch of the Taff Vale Railway (area 028); engineered by IK Brunel; the TVR was the first public locomotive railway to serve Merthyr. Increased profits to be won from transportation of coal and iron had stimulated increasing interest in the area from a number of railway companies. Between 1853 and 1886 four major railways companies had constructed lines to the Merthyr area: Vale of Neath 1853 (see area 028), Brecon & Merthyr (Dowlais 1863, Merthyr 1868), LNWR (Dowlais 1873, Merthyr 1879), and the Great Western & Rhymney Joint (Dowlais 1876, Merthyr 1886). The extension of the Brecon & Merthyr Railway from Dowlais to Bargoed in c. 1860 allowed the mines of the Fochriw area to be developed and expanded. The Great Western & Rhymney Railways' Taff Bargoed Joint Line, a prominent feature of areas 031, 039, was projected eastwards (e. 1876), to sidings at Fochriw Junction and westwards to the Dowlais Zigzag Lines Junction. It then divided, one line proceeding to Ivor Works, the other, leading via two reversing junctions (Furnace Tops and Ffos-y-fran; area 039) to the Dowlais Works. In 1877, the Great Western Railway opened the branch line known as the 'Merthyr Curve' in co-operation with the Taff Vale Railway, giving the GWR access to the Taff Vale Terminus in Merthyr. Later development included the LNWR's mineral branch to the Cwmbargoed Pits (opened 1881, closed 1937) from Cwmbargoed Junction, while in 1884/85 the GWR and Rhymney Joint Line (Merthyr & Quaker's Yard Branch) was constructed along the western side of the Taff Valley (largely removed by the construction of the A470(T).

    Important landscape features are associated with the later public railways such as the impressive and nationally important viaducts carrying the B&M and L & NWR Joint Line: Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer Viaduct (listed grade II; area 055); and the Glais Viaduct at Pontsarn (area 027), both by Savin and Ward 1866. Other distinctive features are the ventilation towers of the Morlais Tunnel. Further north, northeast of Pant Junction, the line of the Brecon and Merthyr Railway is partly re-used by the current Brecon Mountain Railway.

    The only surviving operational main line railway to Merthyr is the former Taff Vale line; this now terminates at the former Vale of Neath Terminus.

    Other well documented transport features, no longer visible in the landscape, were the area's electric tramways, such as the Merthyr Tydfil Light Railway's electric tram, which ran along the High Sweet, Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055, area 002, etc); it was constructed in 1899 and opened in 1901.

    More recent transport development includes the construction of the A465 (T) Heads of the Valleys Road (area 056), the east-west road link constructed in 1964. Important features include the three contemporary road bridges, one of which has been subsequently altered. These were built by Rendel, Palmer and Tritton (consultant architects Alex Gordon & Partners), of contrasting design in reinforced concrete, two with twin parabolic arched ribs and one of three spans cantilevered from two piers, these won civic awards in 1968. Road improvements have been continued with the construction of the A470(T), area 079, and the dualling of the A4060(T) Road (see area 079).

  • Industrial urban landscapes

    Background and development

    The industrial and urban growth of Merthyr Tydfil is, in many respects, unique; and given the speed at which it developed, perhaps unequalled elsewhere. This dramatic growth is most apparent in the population figures for the parish of Merthyr Tydfil. Following the industrial revolution, c. 1765, the population figures had increased dramatically, reaching 7,700 in 1801, and by 1851 the population had swollen to 46,000. During the corresponding period, meanwhile, the number of dwellings in the area had increased from 1404 to 8354. The industrial urban element of Merthyr Tydfil was more or less complete by 1860 (Gross 1989; Bowen 1992).

    Before the Industrial Revolution Merthyr Tydfil comprised a small nucleus (area 001 A) of a church, a few inns and the cottages of rural artisans; this settlement served the agricultural hinterland of the Taff Valley (Gross 1989). The two main houses in the village of the period were the Maerdy (cartographic references; the residence of the medieval reeve) and the Court House, or Neuadd. By the end of the 19th century a school had replaced the former; the area, subsequently cleared, is currently in use as a car park. The Court House on the other hand survives. The latter is reputed to date originally to 1150, and is known to have been one of Edward Lewis's possessions in Merthyr Tydfil, though by this date his main residence was at Y Fan, Bedwas. The earliest structural remains comprise a northern unit of a rectangular two-storey block of 16th century date with a lateral chimney on the east and a possibly cross-passage to the south, under an open roof of four bays. Reused 17th century roof timbers in a four-bay unit added to the south indicate re-building during the early 18th century. Victorian additions included a cross-wing (RCAHMW, MH33; Gross 1989).

    Industrial settlement in the area probably began on a small scale from at least the mid 18th century. This was initially confined to the area of the former village of Merthyr Tydfil centred on the medieval parish church (area 001) with dispersed outlying agricultural/industrial 'squatter' hamlets, for example at Gellideg (area 063), Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055), Heolgerrig (area 068) and also at Pencoed Ivor (Pant; area 030). The latter settlement is known to have been largely associated with neighbouring limestone quarries. From its location along the track to the mountain, it is possible that the settlement at Pentrebach (areas 015A and 020) may also have originated as a squatter settlement. These outlying settlements expanded as the numbers of incoming, initially migrant, workers and the corresponding demand for housing increased.

    The location of the early 'squatter' hamlets along the marginal agricultural fringes is no accident. During the early stages of industrial settlement expansion, agricultural land would still have been productive and at a premium; while the emerging population of workers would have been partly involved in agriculture as well as industry. Indeed there had been a traditional seasonal relationship between agricultural and industrial employment, especially concerning early coal and stone extraction, not to mention charcoal burning. It is likely that initially at least the marginal fringes, with their preponderance of Coedcae field names, were well-wooded, and prior to the conversion of the ironworks to the use of coke these areas supplied much of the ironworks demand for fuel. For example, demand for charcoal for smelting purposes from Anthony Bacon's first furnace at Cyfarthfa is thought to have lead to the denudation of the area around Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055) of trees, the squatter settlement initially developing in the cleared area, as scatters of temporary 'tai-un-nos' (Bowen 1992).

    The main development occurs following the establishment of the main four ironworks of the area (Dowlais from 1759, area 008; Plymouth from 1763, areas 015 and 019; Cyfarthfa from 1765, area 012; and Penydarren from 1784, area 004) during the second half of the 18th century. Between the mid 18th and mid-19th century, Merthyr developed as a composite iron town with urban clusters based around the ironworks of the area, and an urban commercial and business nucleus centred around the original village (area 001) and the parish church (Hilling 1973, Gross 1989). Further development was largely in the form of infilling between these initial settlement cores. Merthyr's development was largely unplanned; Malkin who visited the town in 1803 commented on the 'scattered confusion, without any order or plan' of the settlement layout of the period (Malkin 1804).

    Similar haphazard layouts are still visible in part at Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055); Clwyd-y-Fagwyr, Gellideg and Pen-Llwyn-Deri (area 063); Ochr-y-Mynydd, Winch Fawr (area 065) and Heolgerrig and Pen-yr-Heolgerrig (area 068), where squatter settlements were established at the junction of the open mountain and the enclosed agricultural land. The early parts of these settlements retain a semi-agricultural character, similar to those squatter settlements of disposed agricultural labourers, and probably sharing similar origins. These early 'village' settlements evolved along the fringes of the mineral fields of the iron companies; common characteristic were haphazard layouts, usually single or semi-detached dwellings within their own close, indicating a certain level of self-sufficiency, typical of early industrial settlement. Cartographic evidence indicates that the dispersed almost chaotic character of the early settlements of Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055); Clwyd-y-Fagwyr, Gellideg and Pen-Llwyn-Deri (area 063); Ochr-y-Mynydd, Winch Fawr (area 065) and Heolgerrig and Pen-yr-Heolgerrig (area 068), established during the 18th century, has had a strong influence on later development on these areas.

    Most of the early housing were typically small houses, probably similar to the cottages of the rural peasantry; as suggested by Malkin's description of 1803 'the first houses that were built were only very small and simple cottages for furnace-men, forge-men, miners and such tradesmen as were necessary to construct the required buildings' (Malkin 1804; Bowen 1992).

    By 1806 a major urban redevelopment of part of the area had occurred; wide, straight streets were now characteristic, and a regular layout had been imposed on the development of Merthyr Tydfil's core area (area 001A), notably the Glebeland area, 'many new streets have been built, which are sufficiently straight and wide, and more have been laid out. The new houses are in general good, and some older streets have been rebuilt on an improved plan. Nearly the whole of the Glebe has been laid out in regular streets for building...' (Malkin 1807). Cartographic evidence supports this development; by 1813-14 development of the core area (area 001A) included buildings to either side of High Street, particularly in the area of Pontmorlais, the laying out of Castle Street, Cross Street, Glebeland Street, Glebeland Place and Ynysgau Street. This development also caused a shift in the central focus away from the medieval church to the high street and market.

    Despite improvements to the urban core, the settlements of Merthyr retain an overall amorphous urban form or plan, a characteristic of early iron towns within the heads of the valleys area. There are striking differences in the layout and general character, however, between the various satellite settlements, which evolved to serve the ironworks, and later collieries of the area.

    The nature of the land where the settlements were constructed also had a strong influence on their layout, Cae-Pant-Twyll (part of area 002; now largely redeveloped) was confined by steeply sloping terrain and had an irregular layout. George Town (areas 009, 014), constructed on a more open site, developed an axial layout with comparatively wide streets, which according to Hilling gave it a 'Classical' appearance (Hilling 1973). The latter settlement saw wholesale redevelopment during the late 20th century, and the vast majority of the area's early industrial housing has been lost; a lone survivor is Chapel Row (grade II listed) within the adjacent area 014.

    Lines of communication were not only instrumental in initiating and facilitating the urban expansion of Merthyr Tydfil, but also to determined the manner in which the settlement later grew. It is noticeable that initial ribbon development frequently extends along the early roads, and toll roads (eg Plymouth Toll Road c. 1771, area 006), and later along the tramroad and rail networks. Examples of the later include development along the route of the Penydarren (Merthyr) Tramroad (1802 area 019) and along the Taff Vale Railway (1841, area 028) and the Vale of Neath Railway (1853, within area 028). Linear road-side or 'ribbon' development is a common feature of the main early iron industrial settlements of Merthyr, examples are along Twyn-yr-Odyn (area 001 B), along Brecon Road (area 002), both Dowlais and Penydarren (areas 007 and 005 respectively) and along Plymouth Road (area 006) towards the Plymouth ironworks site. It is only during the 1820s and 1830s with the increase in population that other forms of settlement layout become more common. The layout of Dowlais (area 007) is both irregular and regular, corresponding to land ownership, housing provision, and the date at which the development occurred. The settlement emerges during the latter half of the 18th century and develops as a loosely dispersed scatter of cottages, essentially ribbon development along the road to the Dowlais Iron Works furnaces and a core cluster immediately north of the furnaces, at the junction of the road from Upper Garth with Nantmorlais (the Cae-Harris area). It is only from the 1820s the characteristic grid system had been imposed on the settlement, with the Dowlais stables (1820) as its focal point, a visible indication of the influence of the Iron Company on town planning. Between 1832 and 1850 the settlement underwent major expansion. By the end of the period, the southern and eastern parts of the town were characterised by a grid layout and ribbon additions. The northwestern area (ie Cwm-Rhyd-y-Bedd) had developed along different lines and had developed in a more constricted fashion with a less regular grid street pattern; notably the layout here was characterised by a scatter of short rows and individual cottages. A fragmented pattern of landownership was a feature of the north western part of Dowlais during the mid 19th century, with several small landowners, including owner occupiers; this perhaps varying housing provision lead to the variation in layout and house type across the settlement the south part of Dowlais.

    An early attempt at planning, at least in terms of layout, provision of wider streets, is visible at Dowlais. Buildings, such as the Dowlais Stables erected in 1820 by Sir John Guest for company horses, the upper storey utilised as classrooms for Merthyr's first school. Public buildings also serve as a visible reminder of the philanthropic, if paternal, control exerted by the iron company over the development of Dowlais. Prominent Public buildings at Dowlais included Edward Haycock's market hall (1844; demolished), the Dowlais Central School erected in 1855 at the expense of Lady Charlotte Guest as a memorial to her late husband Sir John Guest, and the Guest Memorial Library (Charles Barry', 1863).

    A large proportion of houses were provided by the ironmasters for their workers; these were often of a higher standard than the majority of housing erected by private builders and property speculators (Gross 1989), for example are Chapel Row, George Town (area 014), and Cyfarthfa Row, Brecon Road (area 002).

    The village of Pentrebach (area 01 5A; now sadly demolished), was an example of a model village, an estate planned and developed for local ironworkers by the Plymouth Iron Company. Pentrebach Square ('The Triangle') consisted a group of five two-storey terraces built over a period of 40 years starting in 1814. The layout was essentially that of a triangular court, surrounded by terraces, and included Church Street and Long Row, the latter partly in existence by 1814 (Hilling 1973).

    Another company developed settlement is that of Abercannaid (area 018), here the settlement is again laid out in gridiron fashion with four parallel terraces between the canal and the river and three further terraces at right angles to these stepped down the hillside. Where rows of terraces were arranged parallel to the slope, as at Abercannaid, and formerly at George Town (eg Lower Nant-y-Gwenith Street, demolished), a common characteristic was pedestrian access between the houses and their front gardens.

    Company houses were generally graded to reflect social standing of the occupants. Social grading is a feature of the housing at Abercannaid; represented by a terrace of larger houses (north of the Abercannaid estate), and, within their own grounds, two substantial detached houses, probably built for the foreman and manager. A similar arrangement is found at Upper Abercannaid (area 016), an interesting example of a pre-1814 colliery pit head settlement, centred on Upper Abercannaid House, potentially the colliery manager's house.

    Housing styles and building materials

    A large portion of Merthyr's early industrial housing has now been removed by slum clearance. This began in the l960s, reaching a peak in the 1970s; 1,650 houses in total were demolished between 1971-1981. By 1981, some 400 houses had been demolished at Dowlais (area 007), 280 at Penydarren (area 005), 440 at George Town (area 009), 150 at Ynys Fach (HLCAs 010, 011 and 014), and 140 at Caepantywyll (area 002). The result has been to increase the historical, archaeological, architectural and social significance of the surviving remnants, though the effect has been to drastically alter the urban character of many areas.

    Building styles and materials, while not necessarily, providing the only basis on which one urban character area is differentiated from another, does contribute to the general character of the urban landscape. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, terraces were built predominantly from locally available rubble pennant sandstone with floors of flagstones and slate roofs; materials therefore could be seen to have provided a uniformity of character across the urban landscape and harmony with the general landscape itself.

    Much of the early housing stock, in particular those built by private speculators, was built without any regard to the disposition of neighbouring property, let alone regard to sanitation and health. In order to save space, close courts and narrow alleys predominated and many houses were constructed back-to-back without space between and without sufficient ventilation. Many people lived in cellars; 1,500 alone were reputed to have been living in such dwellings at Pont Storehouse, Dowlais. Lowe describes such cellar dwellings at Plymouth Street, Merthyr, with basements below street level constituting a separate dwelling, surmounted by a second dwelling consisting of two rooms one above the other (Lowe 1977, Gross 1989).

    A common type of early terrace house was a two-storey, single-aspect design with short roof trusses, narrow window openings and wide double frontages (two-up, two-down); the surviving company housing at Abercannaid represents an important group of such houses, typically having exceptionally small roof spans of between 4m and 5m. Short roof spans is thought indicative of the houses' having been constructed by masons rather than carpenters, as it is a direct result of keeping timberwork and jointing to an absolute minimum. Indeed, the stonework was usually of high quality (Hilling 1973, Bowen 1992).

    These early terraces frequently display strong vernacular influences; visible for example in the asymmetrical arrangement of the central door, which was produced by the larger main chimney breast and circular stone stairs set within the thickness of the party 'gable' walls. Good examples of vernacular influenced two-storey four-room terraced worker's housing survive at High Street and Holford Street, Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055), which, by virtue of being part of Brecknockshire until relatively recently, has largely escaped the wholesale 20th century clearance and redevelopment typical of Merthyr itself.

    Two-storey double-fronted houses built of the local Pennant Sandstone, such as those surviving at Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055), Cyfarthfa Row and along Brecon Road (area 002) and at Abercannaid (HLCAs 017 and 018), are the most common early house type surviving in Merthyr. Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer (area 055), however, retains the largest variety of early worker's houses to survive in the Merthyr Tydfil area. These include lean-to or back-to-back housing, such as the late 18th century single storey dwelling at 83 High Street. Also evident were two-roomed cottages, such as that at 46 High Sweet, a two-storey 19th century house with a kitchen below, fireplace with bread oven, and, accessed by ladder, a small undivided upstairs room with a fireplace, and similarly 82 High Street, with traditional fireplace and oven, 'cwts dan star' and spiral stair giving access to a heated upper room.

    Three-roomed cottages were once a common feature of Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer, with until 1935 examples on High Street, and elsewhere in Merthyr. The addition of later back-kitchens, frequently as catslide additions, lead to the creation of three-roomed cottages; the usual arrangement is however, retained, a stone stair set in the thickness of the wall next to the fire in the front room, gives access to a bedroom on the first floor (Lowe 1977; Gross 1989; Bowen 1992). Another three-roomed type, found in the locality, was typified by a ground floor plan of kitchen, larder and small bedroom with access via a stone staircase at the side of the fire to an undivided room above. Similar to rural dwellings, many of these early buildings had oak roof structures, which would have originally been covered by stone slabs. Examples remain at Gellideg (area 063) and Upper Collier's Row (area 071), and formerly at Rhydycar (area 014). Another variation of three-roomed dwelling is found at Pond Street, Dowlais (area 007), where two small bedrooms were placed over the combined kitchen/living space. An interesting feature of both Dowlais and Penydarren were corner houses with rounded walls at the corner (Gross 1989; Bowen 1992).

    Most four-roomed houses have conventional plans with two rooms to each floor, the ground floor containing the kitchen, parlour and larder; the kitchen often providing the sole means of heat. Construction remains traditional with stone walls, oak beams and partitions. Plans also continuing traditional vernacular forms similar to agricultural dwellings of the area; partition walls between the houses between four and five feet thick to allow for the stone stair found on opposite sides of the chimney. The front entrance was usually to the kitchen, with rear exit made via the larder or through the rear wall adjacent to it. Additions that are more recent include back-kitchens built behind the kitchen and the building of a small bedroom with bathroom above the kitchen addition (Bowen 1992).

    Another form of housing, which developed initially from a need to deal with steep valley-side locations, was that of the 'house upon house' or basement dwelling; usually three storeys with a lower single-storey dwelling fronting the downhill side and a two storey dwelling fronting the uphill side. Such dwellings were once more common; most have now been converted by the insertion of internal stairs. Cefn Coed-y-Cymmer had numerous examples of the type at Well Street and Lower High Street and at Pontycapel Road; many of which have subsequently been altered or demolished (Bowen 1992). A good surviving example exists at Pond Row, Abercannaid (area 017).

    Terraces of single-storey cottages are rare; examples include Alfonso Terrace, Dowlais (area 007), were built at the end of the 19th century to house immigrant, Spanish labour.

    A large proportion of Merthyr's housing dates to the period 1830-1860, when the town experienced an enormous population increase. To this period belonged some of the most distinguished residential areas, in the centre of the town near the site of the former Market Hall (arcaded Neo-Classical structure by TH Wyatt, 1838) and in the area east of the High Street, Thomas Town (area 34). The area immediately in front of the market comprised an open square flanked by tasteful terraced houses; the market hall has been demolished and the square built over and the houses converted to shops or re-built. The area of Thomas Town (Church Street, Thomas Street, Union Street and New Castle Street), on the other hand, survives as an intact group with a unity of detail and stucco frontages to its two-storey terraces. The area is characterised by polite architectural design and unity of conception. To ensure the continuity of the street frontage, for example, architectural details such as window mouldings and individual arched porches are carried across the front of Capel Salem (1855) at New Castle Street. Church Street has a strong unified appearance; here arches provide access to back lanes, thus allowing the first floor of the street façade to be carried across as part of an un-interrupted design (Gross 1989; Hilling 1973; Bowen 1989).

    Gross, Sullivan, Green, and others document the developments in Merthyr's housing, placing it in its social and historical context. The visit of Commissioner of the Health of Town Commission, Sir Henry de la Beche to Merthyr and the ensuing enquiry of 1844, the Public Health Act of 1848, and the establishment of the Merthyr Local Board of Health in 1850, eventually led to improvements in sanitation. Merthyr finally gained a reliable water supply in 1861, while a system of sewers was developed by 1871. Building plans were first submitted to the Board of Health in 1860 for approval and in 1866, the first housing survey of Merthyr was carried out under the supervision of the Medical Officer of Health. The introduction of further social legislation during the 1870s, notably the Public Health Act of 1875, came too late for much of the housing in Merthyr; the effect however was to impose a strong uniformity of character, regardless of tenure or agency, on later urban development in the area.

    The agencies of housing provision in the South Wales Coalfield comprised the iron and colliery companies, speculative property investors, and building clubs of iron and colliery workers, and to a lesser extent, owner-occupiers, the land-owning estates. Later, especially in the period following the First World War Local Authorities became the main agencies of housing provision in the area.

    Gross (Gross 1989) identifies a noticeable upsurge in the activities of building clubs during the latter half of the 19th century. These included the Dowlais Mutual Benefit Society, which in 1867 proposed to erect 15 dwellings in Margaret Street Dowlais; No. 3 Dowlais Building Society, which in 1874 applied for gas lamps to be erected for 33 houses in Glandover Street; and the Gellifaelog Building Club, which in 1876 put forward proposals to build 18 houses in Upper Elim Street. Other building clubs identified in 1895 included Tydfils Well, and the Avenue Building Club (Gwaelodygarth).

    Private house-building by speculators, building clubs and individuals continued until the First World War. Large sections of the extensive Penydarren Park (area 003) were given over to urban development during the period 1870-1905. By 1919 the area had developed into Merthyr Tydfil's premier middle-class suburb with new streets built on a grid iron pattern to the north of Brecon Road. These ranging from the modest terraces of Dane Street and Terrace, Hanover Street and Norman Terrace, to the imposing Park Terrace and more substantial detached and semi-detached houses in the Walk, the Grove and West Grove. Development of the period included a school and general hospital, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary's (1893-4, JS Hansom, Early English style) and the imposing Edwardian public building such as the Baroque influenced YMCA (1909-1911, Ivor Jones & Percy Thomas) and the Classically influenced Masonic Temple (1910, CM. Davies of Merthyr Tydfil).

    As stated above social legislation had the effect of generally imposing a strong sense of uniformity on housing constructed from at least the last quarter of the 19th century. By this date a style of worker's housing, seen through out the South Wales had become established. Housing styles include two-storey terraced properties, both single and double fronted, and the less frequent single-storey terraces, during the later period characterised by brick-detailing, and later the use of brick and even concrete (examples were 5 concrete cottages built at Rocky Road, now demolished) in house construction itself. Good examples of late 19th and early 20th century housing are found throughout Merthyr, especially at Penydarren (area 005), Dowlais (007), Penydarren Park (003), Cae'racca, at Pant (area 030) and Dyffryn Road, Pentrebach (area 020).

    In 1895, the Merthyr Tydfil District Council was established; the Housing of the Working Classes Act had been previously passed in 1890 with the result that in 1896 the council considered the construction of 100 houses at Penydarren. The council had adopted the mantel formerly held by the iron companies, that of main provider of workers' housing; and by 1902, the earliest examples of council housing had been constructed at Urban and Council Streets, Penydarren (area 005).

    Perhaps the most significant recent impact on the urban landscape is the construction of the vast housing estates. These effectively begin with council houses in Penydarren, but it is perhaps the social ideals embedded in the semi-detached estates of Garden City Village at Penydarren (area 050), which left the greatest legacy. A little-known private development of 14 houses, Garden City, was started in 1913; interrupted by the First World War, it was subsequently adopted by the Council, and the estate was completed in 1920 to the original design. The Merthyr Tydfil Garden City Association had based its project on Ebenezer Howard's concepts of the ideal family home with gardens at front and back. Other similar schemes had been undertaken at Letchworth, Welwyn and Hampstead. Another 54 houses had been added by 1923 and another 36 followed by 1924, designed by Thackeray, the Borough Architect. The council developed five new sites under the auspices of the 1919 Housing Act, at Pant (area 030), Heolgerrig (area 063), Gellifaelog (area 007), Pentrebach (area 020) and Aberfan to the south of the historic landscape, some 350 houses in all. Council housing at Heol-y-Bryniau, Heol-y-Castell and Rhodfa'r at Pant (area 030), at Galon Uchaf (area 050), and at Brondeg, Heolygerrig (area 063) was also designed by Thackeray. By 1939, some 1,300 council houses had been constructed at Merthyr (Green 1978; Gross 1989 and Sullivan 1984).

    Following the passing of the Housing Act of 1946, council house building steadily increased to include immediately after the war a 44 house-extension (the Apprentice Scheme) to the Galon Uchaf site (area 050).

    An important example of social engineering is the Trefechan Estate (area 057), designed in 1947 by Arthur J Hayes & Gordon H Griffiths. This council estate was designed as an independent community with its own shopping centre. The development displays a formal road layout, and the houses, though homogeneous in design as semi-detached pairs angled to the contours, are built of variety of materials: brick exposed or roughcast, pre-cast slabs, and timber clad.

    Later the Gellideg Estate and Gregory Flats, Swansea Road (area 063) were built; and during the 1960s the Gurnos Estate (area 050), then the largest council estate in Europe, with its own shopping centre and church (cf Trefechan). Dominating the Gurnos are the formal modem structures of the Prince Charles Hospital, built 1965-75 by Sir Percy Thomas and Partners. High rise flats were also constructed on land made available by the clearance of earlier 'sub-standard' housing at Caedraw, Merthyr (area 001A) and at Dowlais (area 005), the latter now threatened with demolition, itself.

    It was only in the 1970s that the larger private developments once more became typical, with development at Shirley Gardens in Heolgerrig (area 068); Brecon Rise in Pant (area 030); and Castle Park on Swansea Road (area 063). More recent still is the spacious estate of large villas, Lakeside Gardens, built during the 1980s (area 054) and the recently constructed executive development at Beacon Heights, Swansea Road (area 063).

    In addition to housing estates, the provision of modem highways and bypasses, and the construction of industrial estates, factories, schools has had the effect of modifying the historic character of the urban landscape, enough, however, remains to distinguish the various settlement areas and allow an understanding their development.

  • 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