The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Character Areas


001 Blaenavon Urban Core

King Street, Blaenavon: view to the north from Queen Street

HLCA001 Blaenavon Urban Core

Nineteenth century urban settlement associated with the development of the Blaenavon ironworks and related extractive industries. Built environment predominately Characterised by industrial terraced housing and planned street pattern with associated civic buildings, chapels and commercial centre; important historic associations.Back to Map

Historic Background

The historic landscape area of Blaenavon Urban Core represents the main settlement area as established by 1880 (based on the 1st edition OS map). The boundary follows original roads and field boundaries where possible. This area contains the majority of a conservation area established by Torfaen County Council.

Prior to the development of the ironworks in 1788-9 the area comprised a rural landscape of farms and cottages. Today at least one farmstead survives in the area, Ty'r Godwith (just off Charles St), c1600; this retains massive stone fireplaces. The growth of urban Blaenavon, developed partly on land belonging to Blaenavon Iron Company and its partners but also on land belonging to The Earl of Abergavenny, Francis James and John Phillips among others, was gradual, occurring largely well after the establishment of the ironworks itself. The initial settlement developed in the early to mid-nineteenth century; and by this date comprised of ribbon development along King Street and Queen Street and a haphazard pattern in the south of the area near St Peter's church, (1804 by Thomas Hill and Samuel Hopkins). At this date the land at centre of the area remained in agricultural use.

The early industrial settlement associated with the industrial development of the area comprised terraced housing, cottages and places of worship. Other important buildings of this period included Ty Mawr, an ironmaster's residence, built by Samuel Hopkins in 1800, St Peter's school (1816), the earliest ironworks school in Wales.

Most of Blaenavon is of mid-nineteenth century date and it was only recognizable as a town by the 1850s, the streets were named in the 1860s. The majority of the present planned street layout with regularized rows was established from the 1840s onwards and finalized by the 1870s. Broad Street forms the main thoroughfare, where the majority of commercial properties were, and still are, located. The development expanded slightly to the southeast to include Morgan Street, James Street and New William Street, as shown on the 1st edition OS map. A number of other buildings such as churches, chapels, a Workman's Institute and numerous pubs had also been built in the area by the end of the nineteenth century. Between 1880 and 1920, infilling along the existing street frontages occurred, in particular Rhydynos Street, but also elsewhere.

Other features of interest include a nineteenth century brick works and coal level at Rifles Green (1st edition OS map); this area has remained largely undeveloped and buried remains may survive.

Historic Landscape Characteristics

Blaenavon Urban Core retains a large number of original nineteenth century domestic and commercial buildings; some are intact with original features. An important building group is found in the formal early nineteenth century ironmaster's estate with its associated religious and educational buildings located along Church Road. These include the old ironmaster's mansion (Blaenavon House or Ty Mawr, Listed Building: Grade II); now known as The Beeches nursing home, St Peter's Church (Listed Building: Grade II*) and St Peter's School (Listed Building: Grade II*).

The main original settlement core, however, lay along Queen Street and King Street, where older housing can still be found. Queen Street retains a disparate variety of building styles and building date; characteristically, the buildings, now mostly rendered, display a variety of size and form ie both double and single fronted cottages and terraced houses. The variety reflects the less formal development of this area over a period of time. The variety of the buildings extends to building and roofing materials including slate and replacement reproduction slate. There is a limited survival of original chimneystacks, mainly having been replaced with flues. Similarly, most windows and doors have been replaced, although a few retain sash windows. The frontages exhibit a mixture of different finishes, including unrendered and rough render, which probably reflects the original finish, with the more recent addition of later pebbledash, some with cement detail to the windows. An interesting survival of an early nineteenth century workers cottage is number 44 Queen Street; this double fronted cottage retains 'ashlar effect' render and four-pane sash windows. Of slightly later date (pre-1843), numbers 14, 15 and 16 on the opposite side of the street, though now pebble-dashed; retain sash windows and large linear stone stacks.

Surviving early nineteenth century housing is also evident in King Street; this displays a similar variety of form, style and date to Queen Street, suggesting piecemeal development. This may be a result of the diversity of property ownership in this area during the early nineteenth century. Interesting buildings include the post office and adjacent property, which retain tripartite twelve-pane sash windows and brick stack, also The Fountain Inn a rough rendered building originally two separate properties.

The commercial core along Broad Street, which developed during the 1840s-60s is characterised by ribbon development. This area was developed by independent developers, and this is perhaps to an extent reflected by the variety of different building forms, size and styles encountered in the area; the varied treatments to the building frontages is particularly characteristic. There have been attempts to update and restore "traditional" wooden shop fronts to commercial properties along Broad Street. However, this has been carried out in a uniform manner with use of standard mahogonised wood and does not accurately reflect the character of the original. Old photographs indicate that these would have originally been painted, displaying individual styles. Numbers 15-19 Broad Street (Listed Buildings: Grade II) are the best examples; these are in excellent condition and retain original features.

The vast majority of the character area is characterised by rows of single fronted, terraced houses, stepped in pairs up the street as seen in High Street. These are built from coursed or random stone; with brick chimneystacks and a mix of segmented stone and brick arched detail to windows and doors. Some commercial properties in High Street have been converted to houses; these are generally double-fronted. Other rows are single-fronted, brick built, for example Upper Waun Street. Some buildings, located at the ends of rows/streets, either retain or used to have angled corner entrances; indicative of pubs or other commercial properties. Buildings in the area display a mixture of treatments to their frontages including unrendered, rendered, rough rendered and pebble dashed as in Phillips Street; both brick and stone stacks are present. This variety extends to the treatment of door and window details (ie lintels); these include painted, rendered, brick, stone, some with exaggerated key-stones, some of these are replacements. Within the area most original windows have been replaced and only a few retain their original fenestration; eg six pane sash windows at the Market Tavern, Market Street.

A series of isolated rows around Rifle's Green, extend to the northern limits of the town; here the housing is largely similar in character to elsewhere, however, there are examples where the roof ridges of the houses rather than being stepped, follow contour of slope.

Old William Street and New William Street fall within the southern limits of the area. Old William Street retains characteristic single fronted terraced houses with paired arched doorways of stone and brick, now painted, though also has examples of houses with non-arched, segmented stone doorways. New William Street on the other hand has a variety of single fronted terraced houses, some paired with a triple door arrangement (ie one being an entrance to the back yards), an example of this is number 40. Others are single fronted but not paired. The East end of New William Street is characterised by later nineteenth century single fronted houses of roughly coursed stone with yellow brick detail to doors and windows which have incised roundels to lintel ends and key stones. Other detail includes yellow stringcourse four bricks wide below upstairs window.

The area is also characterised by a range of important civic and other buildings. These include the Workmen's Hall and Institute on High Street built in 1893 (Listed Building: Grade II), Municipal Offices (Listed Building: Grade II) on Lion Street and on Prince Street, the main Post Office (Listed building: Grade II) built in 1937 in the Neo-Georgian style, with hipped roof, sash windows and imposing central, pedimented stone doorway. Also listed (Grade II) is a war memorial to both World Wars, which stands on the corner of Church Road and High Street within the parameter of the Workmen's Hall and Institute.

Public houses remain a prominent characteristic of the area although much less so than during the nineteenth century when it was claimed possible to drink in a different pub every week of the year. Surviving pubs include The Rifleman's Arms, Lion Hotel (Red Lion Hotel), Rolling Mill, Castle Hotel, The Cambrian, The Fountain and The Queen Victoria. These were frequently purpose built structures at the end of rows but also included some converted domestic properties.

Chapels formed an important aspect of Blaenavon's culture and included chapels serving both Welsh and English speaking congregations. Some surviving examples include Horeb Baptist Chapel (Listed building: Grade II) built 1862, Bethlehem Congregational Chapel (Listed building: Grade II) built 1842, English Baptist Chapel built 1888 in the Italian Classical style, Bethel Baptist Chapel built 1887 and Blaenavon Evangelical Church (Moriah Chapel (Listed Building: Grade II).

Historic associations form an important characteristic of the area. Notable persons associated with the town include Thomas Hopkins and his son Samuel Hopkins, ironmasters; Thomas Hill, manager of Blaenavon ironworks; J.G. Williams; a local businessman who contributed to the development of the town, especially Broad Street and Howell Harris who erected the first Calvinistic Methodist Church in the town. Many noteworthy people are also buried in the church and churchyard of St Peter's perhaps the best known being Samuel Hopkins, Thomas Hill and Thomas Deakin (surveyor to the ironworks). Also associated with the town is Alexander Cordell who drew inspiration for his novel Rape of the Fair Country from Blaenavon.