Historic Landscape Characterisation
The Rhondda

020 Blaenllechau and Ferndale

HLCA 020 Blaenllechau and Ferndale
A composite colliery settlement area comprising two closely associated 1st phase 'pithead' settlements associated with a single colliery; rare example of early pithead colliery-built settlements in the Rhondda Fach; Ferndale: planned, compact nucleated 1st phase settlement of linear terraces, grid-pattern and ribbon layouts, with mostly 2nd phase additions; Blaenllechau: a 1st phase linear terraced hillside settlement, originating as isolated rows, with ribbon development and 2nd phase additions; residential settlements retaining typical housing and converted commercial properties, including colliery built housing, building-club and speculative housing; interesting 19th century buildings, i.e. Tre-Rhondda Chapel and Workmen's Institute; large cemetery serving surrounding area; moderately developed commercial centre (Ferndale only).

Click here for character area map

(Back to map)


(Photo: GGAT HLCA020)

Ferndale from Blaenllechau, view from northeast.
Historic background

The historic landscape area of Blaenllechau and Ferndale comprises two closely associated 1st phase colliery settlements, Blaenllechau and Ferndale (Glynrhedynog). The former was built on the southwest facing slopes of Blaenlleche farm, owned by Thomas Evans at the time of the tithe survey (Llanwonno 1841), while Ferndale was built on the opposite side of the river on the farms of Rhondda Fechan and Dyffryn Sarfwch, then the property of the Graydon and Saunderson families respectively. Rhondda Fechan (or Fach) farm is characterised as belonging to the Renaissance group: houses with stair in rear projection.

In 1857 David Davies leased the mineral rights to 500 acres of Blaenllechau land and bought a small, disused level on the farm, and began sinking operations. Finally in 1862 the four-foot seam was struck at a depth of 278 yards within Ferndale No. 1 shaft, later deepened to 400 yards. In 1870, following two explosions, one in 1867, which cost 178 lives, another in 1869, resulting in the death of a further 53 miners, Lewis Davies son of David Davies, sank No. 2 shaft to improve ventilation. David Davies and Son sunk No. 4 shaft three-quarters of a mile further north in 1876 (No 3 was in the Rhondda Fawr at Bodringallt) and No. 5 shaft in 1889, near Blaenllechau village. Welsh Associated Collieries took control of the Ferndale Collieries in 1927, and Nos. 2 and 4 shafts were subsequently closed. Prior to nationalisation they became part of the Powell Dyffryn Associated Collieries in 1935. The collieries became one of the largest suppliers of good quality steam coal in the South Wales Coal Field. The colliery was closed by the National Coal Board in 1959, the shaft sites and the well known Banana Tip landscaped during the 1980s, at the site of No. 1 pit a Memorial Park was created in memory of the miners who died as a result of the 1867 and 1869 disasters, the remainder of reclaimed land has been turned over to business and leisure uses.

The sinkers of 1857, approximately 40 in number, were housed en mass in a single hostel, while the first miners at Ferndale and their families were accommodated in a large number of wooden huts called the 'Barracks'. The Times in 1867 reports a population of c. 800 living in crudely constructed wooden huts 'like American log huts'. While many were taken down when migration to the area increased in the 1870s and replaced by long terraces of stone houses built by the colliery company (Lewis 1959), even as late as 1906-1908 Davies and Son's Ferndale Coal Company were replacing 55 wooden huts at Blaenllechau (Fisk 1995). By 1875 the initial cores of Blaenllechau and Ferndale are in place.

Blaenllechau, probably the earlier development of the two, comprises isolated terraces and cottages, principally Baptist Square, Club Row, Double Row, Long Row, Mountain Row, Pit Row (George Street 3rd edition), Tirbach, Underhill Cottage, and Upper Row, and includes post office, school, and two chapels, Carmel Chapel (Calvinistic Methodist) and Nazareth Chapel (Welsh Baptists). The settlement is ranged along and to one side of a crossing point centred on the Glyn-rhedynog Inn (Hotel from 2nd edition), on tracks (Commercial Street, Aberdare Road and Blaenllechau Road 2nd/3rd editions) leading out of the valley to Merthyr, Aberdare, and Llanwonno, to the north and east. It is perhaps no surprise that many of the miners who pioneered the settlement and colliery came here from the neighbouring area of Aberdare. By 1862 the Taff vale Railway had been extended to Ferndale with a station below Blaenllechau.

To the south immediately opposite Ferndale Colliery on the west bank of Afon Rhondda Fach at Bryn Derwen, is the compact regular settlement of Ferndale. During the period this consisted of four parallel streets: Fountain Street, Maxwell Street, Pontypridd Road (later High street) and Wellfield Street (Lake Street 2nd edition) joined by Rhondda Road (the Strand 2nd edition). Ferndale has two chapels by this date: Bethel Chapel (Welsh Wesleyan); and Tre-Rhondda (Independent), the oldest chapel in the Rhondda Fach constructed 1867 and extended in 1878. The Rhondda Inn and a few terraces lie adjacent to the road leading south, and off which, is the Dyffryn Arms public house. Also in place is Ferndale Cemetery with its Mortuary Chapel to the north of the area (1st edition 6-inch OS map of 1884, surveyed in 1875).

By the end of the 19th century Blaenllechau has been extended to include Glyn Terrace on Aberdare Road, housing has been erected along Commercial Street and Aberdare Road, and a school has been built near Baptist Square. Pit Row (Old Drum, later George Street on the 3rd edition) has been extended, as has Mountain and Upper Rows with the addition of Prince's Street, while Baptist Row has been added upslope of Baptist Square. Southwest of the Taff Vale Railway near the station, Taff Road has been created. Numerous allotments and yards are now a characteristic feature of the urban landscape.

During the late 19th century Ferndale Colliery has been enlarged to include engine house, smithy, sawmills, and sidings, and Nos. 2 and 4 Ferndale Pits are shown as are Lower, Middle and Upper Fan Pits. The settlement of Ferndale itself has also seen expansion during the period to the south, north and to a small extent to the west of the earlier core again in a similar linear grid pattern. The southerly expansion comprises Ayron Street, Brook Street (named on 3rd edition), Bryn Hyfryd Terrace, Dyffryn Street, Hill Terrace, Irfon Street, Oakland Terrace, Pleasant View, Regent Street, Rhondda Terrace, and Victoria Street (an example of speculative building built 1897-8 by Thomas Owen Brown, later renamed Brown Street), to the north is Ardwyn Terrace, and North Street, off the latter are Elm, Oak, and Church Streets (named on 3rd edition), while to the west, Wood, Beach, Lime Streets and Frederick and West Streets (depicted but named on 3rd edition) on the slopes below Llyn y Forwyn. During the period Ferndale has acquired additional schools, chapels, and churches, the Maxwell Hotel public house, and a rifle range north of the cemetery (2nd edition 6-inch OS map of 1900, revised 1897-98).

While Blaenllechau sees little change during the early part of the 20th century, apart from the addition of Nazareth Chapel, George Street, Ferndale on the other hand continues to develop chiefly to the north and west. Darren Terrace, Llyn Crescent (a building-club development), and Tudor Street have been constructed on the west together with new schools, while to the north, Bryngolau Crescent, and Fir and Pine Streets together with a wagon works are evident. The ribbon development along the main road, i.e. Faldau Terrace and the Parade later extended by Hayfield Street (by 1945), has pushed northwest towards Maerdy (1921 edition 6-inch OS map, revised 1914-15). Interesting additions to the urban landscape of the period include: St Dunstan's church, Lake Street of 1905-6 in the Early English style to designs of EM Bruce Vaughan; Penuel English Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, High Street, with its simple classical facade of 1904-5 by Lewis & Morgan, a remodelling of the chapel of 1878; and the Ferndale Workmen's Hall of 1907, built in a Baroque style by T Richards of Pontypridd (Newman 1995).


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