Historic Landscape Characterisation
The Rhondda

001 Porth: Gateway to the Rhondda Valleys

HLCA 001 Porth
Significant commercial and service centre; composite colliery settlement; early industrial settlement area with contemporary housing and early colliery development; characteristic built features, mostly late 19th/early 20th century, include terraced housing, chapels, churches, public buildings, shops and workmen's institutes; the current settlement is a nucleated conurbation centred on a later commercial core; transportation/distribution focal point; early centre of non-conformist Christianity.

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(Photo: GGAT HLCA001)

Porth, view east from Dinas with Mynydd-y-Glyn in the background.

Historic background

The historic landscape area of Porth: Gateway to the Rhondda Valleys, with its satellite settlements of Dinas, Cymmer, Trebanog, Ty-newydd and Glynfach is not typical of the Rhondda. Its geographical position at the confluence of the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach makes it unique among the settlements of the Rhondda, as does its relative antiquity in the industrial development of the area. Porth and its neighbouring settlements all originate with and are dependent on a fairly tight cluster of early collieries: Cymmer Colliery (1847-1940); Dinas Lower (1812-1893) and Dinas Middle (1832-1893) Collieries; Glynfach Colliery; New Cymmer Colliery (1855-1940); Upper Cymmer Colliery (1851-1940); and Ty-newydd Colliery (1852-1901); with Hafod Colliery (1850-1983); Llwyncelyn Colliery (1851-1895) slightly further east. Cymmer and, in particular, Dinas represent the initial phase of colliery settlement in the Rhondda, and in fact remained largely residential thereafter. Porth, which is slightly later in date, is radically transformed, however, as a commercial and distribution centre at the start of the 20th century, in hand with the industrial development of the Rhondda Fach; its unique position allowed it to serve both the Rhondda Fawr and the Rhondda Fach. This is facilitated by its location at the junction of the Taff Vale Railway branches, which served the two Rhondda Valleys. The tight cluster of collieries and communities at the convergence of the two Rhondda Valleys expanded rapidly to their present-day extent, merging to form a single entity of valley bottom and lower valley-side urban development, centred on the commercial core of Porth.

Porth, itself, first appears on the 1st edition 6-inch OS plan of 1875 and no urban settlement appears on the Tithe map of 1841, which depicts only the post-medieval farm of the same name, then in the ownership of a Thomas Jones. The Taff Vale Railway, constructed c. 1856 had a station at Porth; the line itself effectively bisected the farm on a northwest-southeast alignment. The 1st edition 6-inch OS plan also shows, that initially the settlement comprised three main areas, primarily housing. America-fach, an area of terraced housing, built in part by the colliery proprietor George Insole (Fisk 1996), with its Weslyan Chapel and school is shown northeast of the farm of Porth, adjoining the woodland waste of Graig-rhiw-gwynt along York Street. Porth Terrace with Bethlehem Chapel (Calvinistic Methodist) is depicted along the western fringe of the farm bordering Pontypridd Road and the Afon Rhondda near Cymmer Bridge, and finally to the south a group of terraced houses near Salem Chapel (Baptist). At this time the farm of Porth survives, by 1898, however, the entire farm to either side of the Taff Vale Railway had been subsumed by settlement with terraces of houses rising up the hillside. It is at this point that Porth takes on the mantle of a significant urban centre and graduates from village to town. Hillside terraces of the period include Birchgrove Street, Charles Street, The Parade and Primrose Terrace (2nd edition 6-inch OS map, 1900/1901, revised 1892). The commercial heart or nucleus of Porth near the Railway Station is also being developed during this period. The 1921 edition 6-inch OS map, revised in 1914-15 records further significant urban expansion, such as Coronation Terrace, additions to Charles Street, the construction of Lewis, Gethin and Nyth-bran Terraces, below Nyth-bran Farm, Llwyncelyn. Much of this construction is interesting as late examples of colliery-built housing; the Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Ltd built 214 such houses in the Llwyncelyn area between 1890 and 1902 (Fisk 1996). The nearby Church of St. Luke and the schools at Llwyncelyn were also constructed during the period.

The colliery settlement of Dinas predates the mid-late 19th century industrial development of the Rhondda and is the earliest industrial settlement in the Rhondda. The Tithe map of Llantrisant (1842) depicts the settlement as a linear scatter of cottages with a chapel, Ebenezer, built 1830, the first Methodist Chapel in the Rhondda (Lewis 1959), arranged along the southern bank of the Rhondda Fawr under the ownership of a Morgan David. At least two of these groups of cottages, one of which was a terrace of six dwellings, were leased to Walter Coffin, who was first to exploit the coal of the Rhondda. His Dinas Lower Colliery (Dinas-isaf), sunk in 1812 was the first pit to be sunk in the Rhondda, and soon was at the forefront of 'sea-sale' coal production in Glamorganshire (Carpenter 2000). By 1841 Walter Coffin is known to have had 41 houses in his possession in and around Dinas (Fisk 1996). Two surviving examples of the type of housing built at the time in Dinas are Penygefnen and Ty Mellyn. The first edition 6-inch OS map of 1875 shows a slightly expanded linear ribbon settlement with a bridge crossing to Pandy Station (Taff Vale Railway) on the north bank of the Rhondda Fawr. The settlement of the time has a Post Office, at least three Inns/Public Houses and two chapels: the Methodist Chapel and Bethania Chapel (Independent). Depicted in addition to the Dinas-isaf pits mentioned above is the Dinas Middle Colliery with an extensive area of coke ovens served by rail (first edition 6-inch OS map surveyed 1875); this colliery which opened in 1832, was notorious for being the site of the first major colliery explosion to occur in the Rhondda, with the death of 12 men and boys on 1 January 1844. Despite the opening of a new shaft in 1869 to improve conditions and increase production ten years later disaster struck again, this time the death toll was sixty-three. The second edition 6-inch OS map of 1901, (revised 1892) shows only minor settlement development, comprising two parallel terraces, the concrete houses, owned by the Dinas Steam Colliery Company, named on the 1921 edition (now demolished), and a school all at Graig-ddu to the south of Dinas. The pits at Dinas closed in 1893; the remaining major colliery in the area being the Upper Cymmer Colliery (see below).

The settlement of Cymmer originated at the junction of two roads, that from Pontypridd running up the Rhondda Valley (later Glynfach Road) and the road from Porth to Llantrisant (later High Street). The area provided the earliest foothold of non-conformity in the Rhondda, in 1743 the chapel or Ty cwrdd was opened at Cymmer. By 1834 a new chapel had been built by the Cymmer Independents during the first of several 19th century religious revivals (Lewis 1959). It was around this chapel near the road junction, with its chapel house and cemetery, that the early settlement, a small organic, unplanned cluster of cottages and public house depicted on the 1842 Tithe plan of Llantrisant evolved; all under the ownership of one Evan Morgan.

Primarily responsible for the early industrial development of the area was George Insole, the early coal proprietor. In 1844 he had secured mineral rights at Cymmer from Evan Morgan of Ty'n-y-Cymmer Farm, by 1847 he had sunk his Cymmer No. 1 Pit, which gained world renown for producing the finest coking coal and 36 coking ovens were constructed on the site in 1848. Demand for the coal was so high that in 1851 Insole extended his mining operations, sinking the Upper Cymmer Colliery. In 1855 the New Cymmer Colliery was sunk adjacent to the Old Cymmer Pit (No. 1 Pit); this colliery was infamous for the explosion of 1856, which claimed the lives of 114 workers. It closed in 1940 and is now the site of a supermarket. Insole also constructed houses for his workers at Cymmer; an early example of industrial housing is No. 28 High Street, the sole surviving cottage of six formerly grouped around Cymmer Chapel (Fisk 1996). The growth of the settlement is clearly linked to the success of the area's collieries; by 1875 the settlement had grown considerably around its original nucleus with terraced housing spreading along the main roads from the junction, in ribbon fashion, together with a school, the Cymmer Congregational Chapel and the New Inn.

The linear ribbon 'roadside settlement' of Trebanog does not appear until the latter half of the 19th century; development is at first limited to a roadside terrace and the terrace of Windsor Row and two relatively isolated public houses, the Farmer's Arms and the Trebanog (1st edition 6-inch OS map, 1885, surveyed 1875).

The settlement of Glynfach dates to the latter half of the 19th century, previously the area was pastureland in the ownership of Evan Morgan farmed from Ty'n-y-Cymmer (1842 Llantrisant Tithe plan). The 1st edition 6-inch OS map (1875) shows the settlement lying east of its associated colliery, the Glynfach Colliery, and comprising a cluster of terraced houses, including Clifton Row and the Britannia Inn.

The rate of development of Cymmer, Trebanog and Glynfach is rapid during the latter years of the 19th century. By 1892 the community of Glynfach had expanded to its optimum size, encompassing Eirw Road and River and Morgan Terraces. Also notable is the fact that Glynfach Colliery had fallen into disuse (2nd edition 6-inch OS map, 1901, revised 1892). Expansion of the neighbouring communities noticeably continues during the period, with terraces beginning to climb up the hillsides above Cymmer and its recently enlarged colliery, paralleling High Street and Glynfach Road; these hillside terraces include Argyle Street, Lincoln Street, and Glyn Street (2nd edition 6-inch OS map, 1901, revised 1892). This process of vertical expansion is more or less complete by 1914 (6-inch OS map, 1921, revised 1914) with the addition of Graigwen Road, Richard Street, and St. John's Street, whilst further infilling of terraced housing in ribbon fashion had occurred along Trebanog Road, by this time with an additional detached ribbon development at the junction of Trebanog and Edmondstown Road. These communities thus expanded to almost their present-day extent, merging to form a single entity of valley bottom urban development. The only major addition to the landscape was the late 20th century hill top council estate at Trebanog.

In 1875 the area north of the confluence of the Rhondda Fawr and the Rhondda Fach, at Ty-newydd, was undeveloped beyond the Ty-newydd Colliery, Ty-newydd Station, and small groups of cottages and the Carpenter's Arms in the vicinity of the Aber-Rhondda Colliery, which had been in operation from c. 1845 as the Troed-y-rhiw Colliery (the first edition 6-inch OS map, revised 1875). Ty-newydd Colliery was sunk by James Thomas, Cope and Lewis of the Troed-y-rhiw Coal Company in 1852. In 1877 it was the site of a disaster and dramatic rescue, when water from the nearby Cymmer Colliery (Hindes Pit) inundated the workings trapping fourteen miners, five of whom lost their lives. The colliery closed in 1901. The urban development of the area is underway by 1892 (2nd edition 6-inch OS map, 1901, revised 1892), which depicts a ribbon settlement of terraced houses and a Hotel fronting Aber-Rhondda Road north of the Colliery of the same name, while development of the slopes north of Ty-newydd Colliery, Mount Pleasant, has begun with Oak and Fern Streets. A Cottage Hospital, and a school are also evident on the map. The present-day extent of Mount Pleasant and Aber-Rhondda is reached by 1914-15; the 20th century development being typified by linear terraces contouring the hillside (1921 edition 6-inch OS map, revised in 1914-15).


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