The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Character Areas


HLCA 018 Cwmavon Industrial Transport Corridor

Aerial photograph over Cwmavon showing main road A4043 (middle), courtesy of RCAHMW.

HLCA 018 Cwmavon Industrial Transport Corridor

Major transport corridor, also characterized as a rare surviving medieval and post-medieval agricultural landscape with areas of woodland, scattered post-medieval farmsteads, and industrial processing at Cwmavon forge with associated industrial housing.Back to map

Historic Background

The historic landscape area of Cwmavon Industrial Transport Corridor encompasses the extent of the enclosed landscape between Mynydd y Garn-fawr and Mynydd Varteg Fawr from Blaenavon to Cwmavon.

In the late medieval period the area closest to Blaenavon town formed part of the core settlement for which rental increment was charged this is thought to be a survival of the early medieval gwestfa rent. Elsewhere in the area the land belonged to other freeholds. Agricultural settlement in the area comprised a number of scattered farmholdings (as it does today) on manorial lands. Capel Newydd, erected in the late medieval period (SAM: MM212) was demolished in 1863. Many of the areas farmsteads are now ruinous and are in areas given over in the twentieth century to forest plantation; an example is Dan y Capel farm, of known seventeenth century date.

Farmsteads of eighteenth century date are Coed Afon Farm and New Road Farm; all have been extensively altered. The former has been converted into four separate dwellings, while the latter was originally a one and a half storey the farmhouse, although altered retains an interesting eighteenth century barn, probably originally thatched.

During the early nineteenth century (c1804) a forge was built at Cwmavon with puddling furnaces, which was initially linked with Blaenavon ironworks. In the 1820s the forge was linked to the Varteg ironworks to the west. Associated with the forge is the exceptional terrace of workers' housing (numbers 1-12 Forge Row, Listed: Grade II*) built between 1804-06 but rebuilt in the 1820s when the forge became associated with the Varteg ironworks, also at this time Cwmavon House (Listed: Grade II) was built for the ironmaster. Quarries were located in the area near to the forge and other terraced housing associated with these and the railways were constructed. The Historic Buildings Trust carried out repair works to Forge Row in the late 1980s.

The area features important transport links: a tramroad, engineered by Thomas Dadford in 1796, ran close to the Afon Llwyd from Blaenavon ironworks terminating at Pontnewynydd; this providing access to the Monmouthshire Canal. This route was superseded after the construction of the Eastern Valley Section of the Monmouthshire Railway (MR), in 1854. The latter came to be known as the 'low-level railway' to distinguish it from the LNWR Blaenavon-Brynmawr Branch line, opened in 1868 further uphill on the west side of the valley. In 1877 the LNWR Abersychan extension to the Blaenavon-Brynmawr line was completed; this line survived until its closure in c1953, while the MR line finally closed in 1962.

Some early to mid-nineteenth century tramroad inclines served small quarries in the area and provided links to the Blaenavon ironworks tramroad, for example those at Gallows Green and Graig quarries; some remains associated with these survive. A substantial tramroad incline built in 1861 linked the Varteg Hill Colliery with the MR Eastern Valley Section line at Cwmavon station; the incline was later replaced (c1878) by a line of the LNWR, linking the colliery with the LNWR Blaenavon-Brynmawr Branch.

A turnpike road was constructed in 1847 from Pontypool to Blaenavon, over Varteg Hill; this is the current Varteg Road or B4246. The other main road route from the south is the Cwmavon Road (A4043); this route, well established by the end of the nineteenth century, appears to follow the route of the early tramroad between Blaenavon and Pontnewynydd, which connected with the Monmouthshire canal.

In 1900 Westlake's Brewery (Listed: Grade II) was built by leading brewery architects George Adlam and Sons for Charles Westlake; this superseded that opened in Blaenavon in the 1880's. By 1907 the brewery had a chain of pubs and its beer was medal winning, however, in the 1920s business declined and brewing ceased in 1928. In 1936 the buildings were taken over by The Eastern Valley Subsistence Production Society with the objective of helping the problem of mass unemployment in this area. The former brewery has now been converted into a plastics factory. Cwmavon Industrial Transport Corridor is chiefly characterised by transport and communication features, including tramroad networks, industrial and public railways, roads, tracks and lanes. There are also a number of bridges in the area.

The area is also strongly characterized by the surviving evolved/irregular field pattern with traditional boundaries of dry-stone walls, hedges augmented by post and wire fences. Other features related to agriculture typically include agricultural buildings, sheepfolds, quarries and limekilns. A dominant visual characteristic is represented by the presence of woodland/forestation, comprising a mixture of replanted ancient woodland, other broadleaf woodland and twentieth century plantation.

Scattered farmsteads were formerly the dominant settlement pattern in the area, however, while some later nineteenth century farmhouses survive, most of the earlier examples are now in a ruinous condition. Dan y Capel was a one and a half storey, rubble stone, two-window cottage. The area's industrial housing mostly comprised two-storey cottages, rendered with slate roofs, usually single-fronted and paired.

Cwmavon House and the adjacent cottages at Forge Row represent an important historic group; Forge Row comprises of twelve single-fronted houses of rubble stone in reflected pairs with segmental-headed openings, boarded doors and twelve pane casement windows, now converted to six houses. The roof is mainly of stone tile, with some slate replacement, and stone stacks. Cwmavon House is a U-plan two-storey, four-bay house of late Georgian style with scribed render front, hipped slate roof, roughcast stacks and horned sixteen-pane and four-pane sash windows.

The Westlake's Brewery building is a striking feature in the landscape, it was acclaimed by the Brewers Journal saying that 'the construction of the building is of the most substantial character in every way' and 'the plant will be of the most modern description, both scientifically and practically.' It is a tall, five-storey, tower brewery flanked by lower offices and ancillary ranges, constructed in local stone with red brick dressings including quoins, band courses and jambs; slate roof with offset hipped clerestory. The third and fourth floors have segmental headed windows with keystones and the top floor has a band of eight square-headed windows. The gable ends have similar segmental headed windows; to the north end there is a Diocletian type window created by a central semicircular arch and the south end is rendered. Most of the glazing is of small-pane metal-frame type. Stepped down at north end is the hipped-roof two-storey office block; this is distinguished from the main brewery by the use of freestone rather than brick dressings. Old views of the brewery and evidence in the masonry show that the present gabled roof to the porch replaces the original Jacobethan detail with swept-up parapet and pedimented doorcase. These views also show that the former chimney to south end and a further smaller and moulded chimney on the north gable have been lost.

Otherwise the site of the early nineteenth century Cwmavon Forge, across the road from Forge Row, is the most obvious indication of industrial processing activity in the area, though a number of minor limekilns and quarries also remain.