The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Character Areas


HLCA 014 Govilon

Govilon Canal: view to the west.

HLCA 014 Govilon

Small canal side settlement characterised by domestic housing, ranging in date from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century, vernacular buildings, industrial and social housing. Industrial transport/communication: associated with the canal and wharf. Other characteristics include industrial and agricultural processing ie milling.Back to map

Historic Background

The historic landscape area of Govilon is based on the extent of the present core settlement area. Here settlement remained small-scale dominated by its evolved agricultural landscape of small irregular fields until the twentieth century. It is probable that some form of settlement had been established at Govilon by the medieval period; this is supported by the location of an early holy well, St Patrick's, and by references of fourteenth century date to milling in the area.

Surviving settlement features are post-medieval in date, the earliest being Govilon House (Listed: Grade II) of sixteenth/seventeenth date with early nineteenth century alterations (CADW, Newman 2000), which was built by the Morgan family. In 1695, the first Baptist chapel in Wales (Listed: Grade II*) was built on what is now Station Road following the establishment of the Baptist cause in Abergavenny in 1652. This chapel was later largely remodelled during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Govilon, which possibly takes its name from the Gwentian Welsh for forges (Gefailion), has a history of industrial activity, which dates back to at least the eighteenth century, although may have earlier origins. This industrial activity, which included both agricultural milling, lime production and metal processing has its basis in both the availability of water power, in the form of the Cwm Siencyn Brook (Llanwenarth Brook), and of raw materials such as limestone, iron ore and coal from the vicinity. Post-medieval mills, a fulling mill at Upper Mill and a corn mill at Old Mill may have their origins in the medieval period (Rees 1938). A further mill is probably represented by the stream-side building attached to Mill Cottage.

The ironworks at Govilon was known to be in existence by the late eighteenth century when it was owned by the Harris family. In the mid-nineteenth century the forge drew its power from a large reservoir, it expanded in the latter half of the nineteenth century, resulting in the stream being culverted and the addition of a number of buildings including a brick kiln. At this time it was known as Wilden Wireworks and therefore, may have been related to the wireworks of the same name in the Stour Valley, Worcestershire. The works went out of use by the latter quarter of the nineteenth century.

In comparison to the scale of previous settlement, Govilon grew substantially in the early nineteenth century. Much of this is attributed to the development of the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal and the industrial development in the Clydach Gorge and surrounding areas. The wharf at Govilon was constructed in 1805, though the canal was not linked to Llanfoist until 1812. In 1821 Govilon wharf became the terminus for Bailey's Tramroad, (running from Nant-y-glo ironworks) among other transport routes and as such was a key location for trade of iron, coal and lime. Also constructed at this time was a bank of three limekilns, one of which made use of the canal for direct charging, and a warehouse on the wharf to store iron transported along Bailey's Tramroad (both Listed: Grade II). Other structures around the canal also listed Grade II are a dry dock and canal drain, along with an embanked aqueduct, which carries the canal over the stream and bridges numbered 96-98.

The Llanvihangel Railway, opened in 1814, ran between the wharf at Govilon and a point just north of the road to Llanthony in Llanvihangel Crucorney. In 1862 the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway line opened, this was built principally to provide railway between Merthyr and Abergavenny and ran through Govilon near to the canal, eventually replacing Bailey's Tramroad and the canal as the main transporter of material and goods to and form the area. The railway viaduct built to carry the MT and AR line over the canal is now a Grade II listed structure.

Nineteenth century settlement related to these developments include The Lion Hotel, a post office, smithy and houses at the Graig, Forge Row, Holybush Cottage, The Cottage, Tan y Bryn, Chapel/Alma Cottages (Listed: Grade II), Wilden Cottage (former Wilden Wireworks manager's house), Station House, Crossing Cottage, Greenfield Cottages, Troedyrhiw Cottages and Rose Cottage. Christ Church was constructed in the early nineteenth century and a school was erected in 1861.

Despite the industrial development of the area, including the construction of the canal and railway, the settlement remained essentially small scale and rural in character until the latter part of the twentieth century when fields and enclosures were lost to housing development.

Govilon is characterised as a canal-side settlement with important transport links with surrounding iron industries in the nineteenth century, however, it is now also characterised by twentieth century social housing estates; some with striking Mansard roofs (Dragon Lane).

The canal and wharf and its many original associated features provide, perhaps the most major characteristic of the area; the warehouse (Listed: Grade II), of three-storeys and built from rubble-stone with hipped slate roof, retains many characteristic features such as stone segmental-headed windows, a large triangular cast-iron frame which formerly supported the crane and external stair to first floor loading doors. Other characteristic transport features associated with the canal are the area's numerous bridges, these include single arch rubble canal bridges of the 'change-over' type (bridges 96, 97 and 98), with voussoired segmental arch and keystone and parapets which sweep outwards at both ends characteristic of 'change-over' bridges. Other bridges include the railway viaduct, single arched built of rock-faced rubble and aqueduct, a segmental arch with voussoirs and flat parapet with pilaster end strips.

The original settlement core has an irregular unplanned clustered layout around the junction of Church Lane, the county road (B4246) and the bridges crossing over the Cwm Siencyn Brook, with limited ribbon development elsewhere. The earliest surviving structures are of seventeenth century date, and include Derwen Deg (Listed Grade II with its associated barn); though rebuilt in the eighteenth century, it retains a strong Georgian character. It is a two-storey house with pebble-dashed walls and slate roof with added skylights. The symmetrical three-window front has sixteen-pane hornless sash windows under cambered heads. The central fielded-panel door is within a portico with iron posts. On the periphery of the original core was Govilon house (Listed: Grade II), a late-Georgian (early nineteenth century) remodelling of an early seventeenth century house. This is a two-storey, three-window building of Old Red Sandstone with painted roughcast elevations, tall slate roof with cement-rendered chimney stacks to the rear pitch. The building retains many original details such as coved eaves, small-pane sash windows and large six-panel door. Other farms of the period include Upper Mill Farm and Ty-clyd.

The small cluster of buildings near the Bridgend Inn appears to have initially developed from the end of the seventeenth century, benefiting from improvements in agricultural and the local road network. The buildings in this area mostly display characteristic eighteenth and nineteenth century features. Bethanfedw and Ty Fedw Cottage are stone built, with rendered frontage under a pantile roof. Surviving details include stone and brick stacks, four-pane sash windows, and late Victorian decorated fretted bargeboard to dormer windows. Brook House, a two-storey eighteenth century building, rendered elevations with nineteenth century additions retains massive stone gable-end stack, a pair of blocked windows either side. The Bridgend Inn, a two storey, stone built structure, is largely nineteenth century but may predate this; it has rendered double-fronted elevation with slightly offset entrance in the vernacular tradition, with brick gable-end stacks and slate roof, and retains original sixteen-pane lower and six-pane upper sash windows.

Llanwenarth Baptist Chapel, a relatively early foundation remodelled in the nineteenth century, has a distinctive half-hipped slate roof with rendered elevations, except to the west, which is slate-hung. It is two-storeyed, double fronted nineteenth century sixteen-pane sash windows, which are camber-headed at the ground floor. Offset entrance with recessed replaced doors. The associated burial ground retains a good collection of Georgian and Victorian tombstones, while the boundary wall retains an iron gate in ogee Gothic style.

Further development occurred to the settlement in the nineteenth century following construction the canal, its wharf and tramroad networks. This is characterised chiefly by ribbon development in the area around the wharf, and along the road to Llanwenarth Baptist Chapel (Grade II*) and Mill Lane. Characteristic of this are nineteenth century two-storey, rubble stone cottages, many of which have been whitewashed, with slate roofs with rendered stacks. Both double fronted and single-fronted types are present and in the majority of cases windows and doors have been replaced. A significant example is found in Chapel Cottages (Alma Cottages), a terrace of three cottages along Station Road, near the canal. These are two-storey, whitewashed cottages built of rubble stone with slate roofs and stone chimneystacks with red brick neckbands. Numbers 1 and 2 have two-window, symmetrical fronts with the stack aligned longitudinally to serve both cottages, while number 3 is single-fronted. They retain characteristic casement windows and boarded doors.

Other significant buildings of nineteenth century appearance include the Lion Hotel; modernized of unrendered, coursed faced stone with later rubble stone addition to the side, removed stacks, replaced doors and windows with new shutters but retaining a characteristic cast iron porch with elongated Doric columns, and the double fronted building opposite (now a post office), rendered with original shop window to the left, tile roof and brick stack.

Mills also form a fairly dominant characteristic of the area, and hint at the reason behind the settlement's original development. Upper Mill and Old Mill were both rebuilt in the nineteenth century. A single millstone has survived from Upper Mill and is set into the wall adjacent to the barn at Upper Mill Farm. Also of note is a former smithy situated on the junction of Church Lane and the B4246. Double fronted, this structure is of roughly coursed stone and with red brick lintels to the door and windows, and tiled roof.

Industrial remains are also characteristic of the area and include a forge/ironworks (later wireworks), limekilns and a few small quarries.