The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.


Historical Processes, Themes and Background


The area around Blaenavon is one of the finest surviving examples in the world of a landscape created by coalmining and ironmaking in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The parallel development of these industries was one of the key dynamic forces of the world's first Industrial Revolution, and South Wales was among its leading centres. The development of the main components of the site has been described in detail below.

For over a century, the natural landscape of Blaenavon was changed and scarred by ironmaking, coal extraction, settlement and related activities as the entire area of the Historic Landscape and the World Heritage Sites was turned to the demands of a single new industrial enterprise and the radical transformation of land and society which followed in its wake.

From at least 1675, and probably earlier, iron ore was extracted on the mountains of Blaenavon. The Hanbury family, ironmasters and tinplate manufacturers of Pontypool exercised the mineral rights over the common lands of the lordship of Abergavenny to supply their charcoal fired furnaces. However, the area was virtually unsettled and used only for small-scale iron mining and grazing.

In 1788 Lord Abergavenny leased the common lands, 'Lord Abergavenny's Hills', to Thomas Hill, Thomas Hopkins and Benjamin Pratt. These three entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to build a major new ironworks at Blaenavon, putting into practice the latest technology and organisation of the Industrial Revolution in a new and resource-rich setting. By 1789 the Ironworks consisted of three blast furnaces utilising steam power. It was immediately the second largest ironworks in Wales and one of the largest in the world. From within the Company's own mineral properties were drawn iron ores, fireclay, coal and limestone. By 1796 the furnaces were producing 5,400 tons of iron a year. Houses were built beside the company's ironworks, mines and quarries for key workers, and a dense network of primitive railways was created to carry raw materials to the works and products towards markets. Population grew rapidly through the migration of workers from rural areas of Wales, from the industrial Midlands, Ireland, Scotland and rural England. A rapidly created industrial landscape grew up of iron ore patches, coalmines, limestone quarries, iron forges, brickworks, tramroads, watercourses, and workers' houses, all controlled by the Blaenavon iron company.

By 1812 there were five furnaces capable of making 14,000 tons of iron a year. New primitive railway connections were made with the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal through the 2.4km long Pwll-Du tunnel, the longest ever built on a horse drawn railway. The Garn-Ddyrys Forge to convert pig iron to wrought iron was built on the mountain north of Blaenavon in 1817. Adit mining for iron ore and coal developed on a larger scale, replacing surface scouring, and shaft mines were introduced, with sophisticated drainage, haulage and ventilation arrangements. New sources of limestone were explored and larger quarries opened. During the 1840s and 1850s the scattered housing of the workers and the works' school, church and chapels were complemented by the evolution, on land outside the company's ownership, of a town with a variety of urban functions.

In the 1860s, the Company brought into production a new steelworks across the valley at Forgeside, making the old ironworks increasingly redundant and protecting it from redevelopment. In 1878, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Gilchrist invented at Blaenavon the 'Basic' or 'Thomas' process, which was of world-wide importance in permitting phosphoric iron ores to be used in bulk steelmaking. The scale of production expanded, with consequent growth throughout the mineral operations of the company, and the iron products of Blaenavon and the skills of its workforce continued to be exported throughout the world. Big Pit was sunk to serve the new works, and the company built the new settlement of Forgeside. Blaenavon parish had a population of 11,452 in 1891, which had grown from almost nothing since the Ironworks was constructed. The social development of the area had by now created a thriving urban culture with many chapels, schools, pubs, and tradesmen, and a Workmen's Hall and Institute was built in 1895 to provide social and educational facilities.

Relative decline of steelmaking from around the turn of the century permitted the growth of coal production for export. Demand for the high quality steam coals of South Wales continued to grow, and the industry reached a peak in 1913, at which time coal mining employed directly 250,000 people in Wales, or one in four of the adult male population. Big Pit was enlarged, and after the Nationalisation of the British coal industry in 1947 it was further expanded. Nevertheless, employment in the area was falling, and the population has declined continuously since its peak in 1921 of 12,500. There are now 6,000 inhabitants. Steel production ceased in 1938, and Big Pit, the last substantial working colliery, closed in 1980.

Economic and social decline has meant that much of the fabric of the town is in need of investment, but the development of new industries, the opening of Big Pit as a Mining Museum in 1983 and the conservation of Blaenavon Ironworks have contributed to economic regeneration. The town and the surrounding landscape have survived little altered to represent the story of their past. The recently formed Blaenavon Partnership is implementing a Heritage and Regeneration Strategy, which will both conserve the historic assets of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and contribute to its continued economic and social revival.

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Pre-industrial Landscape General Themes and Processes

The Geological, Natural, and Agricultural Landscape

The historic landscape area of Blaenavon, some 3,911.59ha in area, is located at the head of the Afon Llwyd valley in one of the more exposed areas of the Gwent uplands. The lowest part of the town, where the river enters the narrow valley floor, is at 300m OD. The valley sides rise fairly steeply to the surrounding moorland ridges of Cefn Coch, Coity Mountain and the Blorenge, which reach almost 600m OD. The Pwll Du area, to the north of the town, occupies the plateau forming the watershed between the Afon Llwyd valley and the Clydach gorge to the north.

The solid geology of the area is generally Carboniferous sandstone characterised by thick massive feldspathic and micaceous sandstones and grits. Also present are Coal Measures, Millstone Grit and Carboniferous Limestone. The topography of the landscape of the area was altered during the Pleistocene period, approximately 18,000 years ago, by glaciation to create the landscape we know today. The principal glacial collecting point in South Wales was the Carmarthenshire Fans and the Brecon Beacons, the northern face of which was the source of numerous corrie glaciers. The glaciation process modified the valleys of the area, including the Afon Llwyd. The drift geology of the area is generally sparse and comprises poor, grey shaley soil types.

While limited pollen analysis has been carried out on archaeological sites in the region, these have concentrated on the analysis of material associated with the Bronze Age, and later periods. As a result local evidence of the earlier environmental conditions and indeed during the immediate post-glacial period is limited. It is assumed that as climatic conditions gradually ameliorated following the last glaciation, dense native woodland gradually extended over the area. The effects of man on this woodland are fairly dramatic; with progressive felling implied at least from the Neolithic, supported by finds of axes of the period from throughout the area. Pollen analysis from the locality indicates a contemporary environment of heathland, with an open tree cover dominated by oak. Evidence suggests that by the end of the Bronze Age, the upland areas of the Blaenau, like most of the uplands were covered by extensive blanket peat (Caseldine 1990).

It is likely that the higher less precipitous slopes, including the ridge plateaux of Mynydd Coity, Mynydd James, the Blorenge and Mynydd y Garn Fawr, had been extensively cleared of woodland from an early period; at least by the early Bronze Age, given the concentrations of funerary and ritual features, mainly cairns, on the Blorenge and Mynydd y Garn Fawr in particular, within the boundaries of the historic landscape. The regeneration of woodland was prevented through established and prolonged use for stock rearing (cattle) during later prehistoric period; this is evidenced by the presence of 'fortified' enclosures along the periphery of the upland plateaux, just outside the historic landscape.

The extent of Ancient Woodland is demonstrated by cartographic sources; the Ordnance Survey maps of 1814, 1832 and the 1st edition 6 " OS maps 1891. It is evident that by the post-medieval period the effects of man had had a fairly drastic effect on tree coverage within the area with woodland surviving in restricted localities, a direct result of the need for charcoal for the furnaces within the area during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, much regeneration has occurred and the lower valley sides, in particular HLCA018, are now extensively wooded.

The traditional agriculture of the Blaenavon area would have been based on a system of mixed farming, however it is the pastoral element, the rearing of livestock, which has always been predominant in the Blaenau.

Generally the surviving enclosure within the Blaenavon area is predominantly an evolved landscape characterised by a patchwork of small and medium-sized irregular fields, as depicted on 1st edition OS maps, with the steeper slopes, to the south of the area formerly densely covered by woodland. Boundaries marking the extent of late medieval and early post-medieval encroachment and enclosure on the slopes are mainly of dry stone construction, though cloddiau and hedged banks and hedges are also evident on the lower areas towards the eastern edge of the landscape. The majority of the field systems in the area were established by the 18th century, if not earlier, with only minor additions and some rationalisation of enclosure occurring during the period up to 1891 (OS 1st edition 6-inch).

The vast majority of the area remains open upland common. Here the process of encroachment along the boundary between the established enclosed land and the unenclosed land is noticeable with examples of intake, eg Blaen-Cwm-celyn (HLCA020), together with discrete areas of encroachment within the common itself (eg Tir Abraham-Harry, and Pen-ffordd-goch within HLCA009, Pen-rhiw-Ifor, Pen-y-galchen and Carn-y-gorfydd HLCA011, and Twyn Blaen-nant, HLCA020). This encroachment appears to have been well established prior to the early 19th century.

Although predominantly pastoral, a limited, though sufficient, amount of arable production was maintained, chiefly oats, barley and wheat and also the traditional root crops, later supplemented by potatoes. The high plateau itself was seldom cultivated, and only then during times of extreme hardship. Cereal production was carried out on valley-side terraces, where the farms were generally located, while oats were frequently cultivated in the valleys.

Farming as practiced in much of the area appears to have continued along traditional lines until at least the early 19th century; the usual form of plough in the uplands during the 18th and 19th centuries was the primitive breast-plough. The main agricultural transportation of the period was by packhorse, or car llusg, primitive sleds used on mountains. The poorer upland agricultural holdings and likewise the small-holdings of the workers along the southern (HLCAs 005 and 006) and western fringes of the historic landscape area appear to have been little affected outwardly by the improvements brought to agriculture from industrialisation.

The state of agriculture on the larger farms on the lower-lying areas at the eastern edge of the historic landscape area appears to have improved with the industrialisation of the valley, and the landscape reflects this: a number of farms along the periphery of the area gained 'industrial' farm buildings during the 19th century, eg Company Farm (HLCA003).

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Pre-industrial Settlement Landscapes and Building Traditions

The earliest evidence of human settlement in the Blaenau area is represented by a small mixed assemblage of flint tools dating to the Mesolithic (10000-4400BC), Neolithic (4400-2300BC), and early Bronze Age (2300-800BC) periods, so far located beyond the historic landscape boundaries. A small amount of Neolithic evidence, in the form of isolated axe finds comes from the general area (GGAT 66: Lithics Survey 2000), though it is considered that this evidence of human activity represents temporary upland hunting camps, occupied by hunter-gatherer groups as part of a seasonal migration pattern between the coastal lowlands and the upland Blaenau.

There is significant evidence for activity in the vicinity of the historic landscape Mynydd Llangatwg area, and the immediate ridges to the south, during the Bronze Age; however this is predominantly related to upland funerary monuments. The whereabouts of settlement is largely based on stray finds of flint tools, the distribution being similar to earlier periods. The effect of human activity on the natural vegetation of the area is clear from pollen analysis carried out in the locality; this is at its height at the end of the Bronze Age, and it is perhaps no surprise that the first major impact of human settlement on the physical environment of the area dates to this and the following period, the Iron Age. While settlement/agricultural/defensive sites of the late prehistoric period are evident in the area, the available evidence on settlement development during the late prehistoric, Roman-British, and early medieval periods is largely untested. The most visible remains in the area are relict prehistoric settlement/agricultural features with a defensive aspect. These are the impressively sited Iron Age hillforts, which guard the natural route up the gorge: Craig-y-gaer (PRN 02499g) and Twyn-y-Dinas (PRN 02474g).

The evidence for medieval settlement in the area is almost non-existent, though it is likely that the process of encroachment on the open mountain had been initiated during the latter part of the medieval period and that the later post-medieval farmsteads may have medieval precursors. These may have been temporary seasonally occupied dwellings or hafodydd associated with migratory farming practices evidenced elsewhere in upland Wales.

The pre-industrial post-medieval settlement landscape formerly consisted of scattered farmsteads set within their own agricultural holdings, frequently dispersed, as evidenced by 18th century estate map evidence. While buildings of the pre-industrial period survive, most have been altered to varying degrees and, masked by settlement features of industrial origin, no longer form the dominant built element in the landscape. It is to the industrial period (see section 6.5, below) that the settlement in the area extensively belongs; largely characterised by ribbon development (eg HLCAs 001, 002, and 003), and scattered 'squatter' type (see HLCA006) patterns. The latter settlements were often established around the earlier post-medieval agricultural landscape, frequently on common land or waste, and usually at the margins of the enclosed land, which continued in production. The earlier industrial settlement is frequently associated with plots of land or allotments; the resultant pattern is typically one of smallholdings (HLCAs 006 and 005).

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Industrial Landscape General Themes and Processes (after the World Heritage List Nomination Document)

The Cultural Resource

The Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, which is located at the head of the Avon Llwyd and also on the southern flank of the Usk Valley, lies at an altitude of between 70 m and 581 m above sea level. The site is about 24km from the sea at Newport, which is visible in fine weather from several parts of the historic landscape, and about 40km from Cardiff, the Welsh capital. Blaenavon is at the northeastern corner of the South Wales Valleys, at a point of abrupt landscape change. The traveller approaching Blaenavon from the east passes from the patchwork of fields and farmsteads, which comprise lowland Monmouthshire to a dramatic landscape shaped by ironworking and coalmining. Memories of the journey from rural mid-Wales to the industrial Valleys remain in the collective memories of families whose ancestors migrated southwards in search of employment in the nineteenth century. 'There was smoke for miles' was a phrase repeated from generation to generation of one family. The Blaenavon area was only sparsely settled before the 1780s, although some minerals were worked on a modest scale by the Hanbury family of nearby Pontypool in the seventeenth century and the eighteenth century. The structures, sites and landscapes, which justify the importance, accorded to the area all date from the period after land was leased for a wholly new scale of industrial development between 1787 and 1789.

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Blaenavon Ironworks

The Ironworks is the focus of the industrial landscape of Blaenavon and the raison d'être of the mineral workings and settlement.

In 1787-89 Thomas Hill, Thomas Hopkins and Benjamin Pratt, the first partners in the Blaenavon Company, leased an extensive area of land for an ironworks, with all its necessary sources of raw materials, from Lord Abergavenny. The partners proceeded to construct three blast furnaces, with casting sheds and a blowing engine built by Boulton and Watt. They followed the most up-to-date practice of the time, in that they used steam power rather than waterpower to operate the furnace bellows. The first works in the world to do this, at Snedshill in Shropshire, had been built only a decade previously. The partners were confident enough of the new technology to locate in a mineral rich hillside site where only steam power could practically be used. They also had sufficient confidence in their ability to provide coke, iron ore and limestone to construct three furnaces at one works. Few contemporary works had as many, and these had grown from an initial single furnace. By 1796 the works was producing 5,400 tons of iron a year making it already one of the largest in the world. By 1812 there were five furnaces capable of smelting 14,000 tons of iron a year.

The establishment of Blaenavon Ironworks represented the comprehensive application of several generations of developments in the British iron industry. Hill, Hopkins and Pratt came from the English Midlands, where techniques of working iron with coal rather than charcoal had been introduced during the eighteenth century. In order for the new methods of the Industrial Revolution to be applied to their true revolutionary effect they required a new location rich in all the sources of raw materials. The realisation of this potential by ironmasters, at Blaenavon and elsewhere in South Wales, was crucial to the achievement of the phenomenal growth in output of iron which took place in the following years.

In 1709 the first Abraham Darby had successfully smelted iron ore with coke made from mineral coal. In the 1750s his son, also Abraham Darby, developed means of smelting with coke, which produced pig iron suitable for forging into wrought iron, and established a pattern of vertical integration in the industry. This involved forges as well as furnaces, mining and quarrying, the sale of lime and domestic coal, brick making, mechanical engineering and even farming. In 1776 John Wilkinson used a steam engine directly to power a blast furnace, thus enabling furnaces to be built away from sources of waterpower. Richard Wright and Richard Jesson in 1772, and Henry Cort in 1784, demonstrated that coal could be used in forging wrought iron from pig iron. By a process of symbiosis the technology of mining was developed alongside that of ironmaking. Steam engines, whose essential parts were made at ironworks, were applied to drain mines of water, and to operate winding mechanisms by which minerals were raised from, and miners given access to, underground workings. This range of technology, and these distinctive patterns of company operation were brought by Hill, Hopkins and Pratt to the head of the valley of the Afon Llwyd (ie HLCA006).

In about 1810 two more furnaces were added, with a second engine house. The first five furnaces were constructed of stone and brick, on a square plan. One was converted to hot blast operation about 1852. A sixth furnace was built in 1860 following the characteristic form of that time with a masonry base, above which was a circular structure of firebrick.

All the furnaces were built against a high stone-walled bank cut out of the hillside in the characteristic manner of South Wales. No 2 furnace, which is one of the original structures dating from 1789, is largely intact. It was kept in operation until 1902 making high-grade cold blast iron. Furnaces 4 and 5, added in 1810, are substantially intact. The lower section of furnace 6, the circular furnace of 1860, represents a very rare survival of this evolutionary form of furnace. Furnace 4 and 5 were altered in 1881 to cast ingots which were used in steelmaking at the Company's Forgeside Works (HLCA005). The rail tracks leading to the furnaces remain in situ, and ingot moulds found during excavations are displayed nearby.

The furnaces (HLCA006), in their completeness and diversity of form, provide a better impression of eighteenth century and nineteenth century ironmaking technology and its development than any other group in Britain. At the top of furnace 5 remains 'throat-armouring'; strips of iron which directed material tipped into the furnace towards its centre, thus protecting the firebrick lining. The removal of exterior cladding from some of the furnaces makes it possible to understand their complex structures. The ashlar gritstone of the outwork of the furnaces is of high quality. Around the furnace hearth, stone and firebrick has been reddened by fire. The cast house of furnace 2 is intact, demonstrating the characteristic arched form of such structures, to provide shelter yet permit ventilation. Foundations of the blowing engine house have not yet been excavated, but the base of its massive chimney from which Stack Square takes its name, is clearly visible, as are the cast iron pillars and brackets, which carried blast pipes to the furnaces. In furnace 5 there are still water-cooled tuyères through which air passed to its fiery interior. The output of blast furnaces was substantially increased from 1828 by heating the air charged from their bellows, the hot blast process invented in Scotland by James Neilson and adopted at Blaenavon Ironworks in the 1850s. The base of the firebrick structure of a hot blast stove in the western corner of the site can be seen, and there are many examples of the honeycomb firebricks used inside such stoves. The retaining wall behind the furnace is riddled with large ducts for hot blast air to be carried around the site.

The Blaenavon Company was reorganised as a joint stock company in 1836, when James Ashwell was appointed managing director. He came from Nottinghamshire, had been a pupil of the great engineer, Bryan Donkin, and had directed ironworks in Derbyshire and Scotland. Ashwell was responsible for an extensive programme of improvements to the company's furnaces and forges, to its transport systems and to the houses provided for its workpeople.

The most impressive monument to Ashwell's work at Blaenavon Ironworks (HLCA006) is the water balance tower at its northern end, which was built in 1839. This form of lift technology using water to counter-balance loads was used in the mineshafts of south east Wales and at several ironworks. This site is the best-preserved example. The lift tower was linked to high ground behind by a wooden bridge, which was quickly replaced by the stone bridge, which remains. Its winding gear consisted of a cast iron frame with Classical detailing, on which was mounted a pulley wheel over which a chain linked a pair of lift cages, each incorporating a wrought iron water tank. By piping water in or out of the tank, wagons could be lifted or lowered as required. The stonework of the tower is of high quality, and it is topped by the remnants of the cast iron frame, which has the appearance of a ruined Classical temple. One of the lift cages and water tanks is conserved on the site. Evidence that the system could accommodate wagons of two different gauges, and some dual gauge cast iron track, survives at the foot of the lift. The lift had probably passed out of use by 1879. An adjacent building, which runs into the bank, was used at one stage in its history for storing chains for the lift but is believed originally to have been a pair of coke ovens.

A large building, well-ventilated by open arches, was constructed on the site of the original Boulton and Watt blowing engine house, some time after 1860. This was a foundry, which eventually employed 170 people. Iron was melted in the cupola furnaces, one of which remains, and moved in ladles around the buildings by means of swivelling cranes whose anchorage points can readily be identified in the walls. The remains of two core drying kilns lie next to this, in which sand mould boxes were prepared for casting objects.

Above the furnaces is a range of ruined kilns in which iron ore was calcined, or roasted, thus separating dross, which contained little iron from a concentrate that was charged to the furnaces. Other buildings remaining on the site include a pay office, a storage shed and a chimney, all of which date from before 1880. The important range of workmen's homes built in 1788 and which included an office, managers house and company shop are described below.

In the 1870s, experiments in ironworking technology which had world-wide repercussions took place at Blaenavon Ironworks. In 1856 Henry Bessemer had for the first time made mild steel, which combined the properties of cast iron and wrought iron, and which, unlike the latter, could be made in bulk by blowing air through a vessel containing molten iron. By chance he had used iron, which was free of phosphorus, but when the process was tried using cast iron made from phosphoric ores it proved unsuccessful. In the mid-1870s the Blaenavon Ironworks chemist, Percy Gilchrist, and his cousin Sidney Gilchrist Thomas, who had studied metallurgy at the University of London but worked is a police court clerk in London, carried out experiments at their own cost at Blaenavon, developing linings for Bessemer converters that would absorb the unwanted phosphorus. Sidney Gilchrist Thomas announced the success of the experiments in London in March 1878, and in the subsequent scientific paper paid tribute to the assistance he and his cousin had received from the Blaenavon Company. By 1882 fourteen ironworks in Great Britain, Russia and the Habsburg Empire had invested in converting to the Gilchrist-Thomas process. andrew Carnegie, the great American steelmaker paid 250,000 dollars for the right to use the process in the United States, and remarked that: 'These two young men, Thomas and Gilchrist of Blaenavon, did more for Britain's greatness than all the Kings and Queens put together. Moses struck the rock and brought forth water. They struck the useless phosphoric ore and transformed it into steel.' A pink granite memorial with a relief bust of Gilchrist Thomas, which was originally erected at the Forgeside works, now stands adjacent to Blaenavon Ironworks, while the hearths of furnaces 4 and 5, adapted to cast ingots for steel making by the Gilchrist Thomas process, and the ingot moulds displayed nearby, are evidence of Blaenavon's most significant single contribution to metallurgical technology.

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Big Pit

Big Pit (HLCA005) is a museum of coalmining of international significance. In the context of Blaenavon it provides evidence of the ways in which the coal used in smelting iron ore at the Ironworks was obtained. The supply of coal was one of the engines of the Industrial Revolution and the central element in the transfer from organic to mineral technology. Coal at Blaenavon provided fuel for roasting, smelting and forging iron, for steelmaking for burning lime, for making bricks, for powering steam engines, and in export for fuelling locomotives and steamships. It was vital to domestic settlement in an inhospitable climate with little timber.

The first shaft at Big Pit was sunk in 1860 or before and was linked below ground to workings dating from the 1830s for iron ore and coal. It was one of several collieries operated by the Blaenavon Company, initially to produce coking coal for the blast furnaces, but later to extract coal for sale for other purposes. Big Pit was the last deep mine to work in the Blaenavon area, and the surface buildings remain almost exactly as they were when coal production ceased in 1980. They date from between the late nineteenth century and c1970 and are characteristic of the surface structures of a modest-sized South Wales colliery. They are without architectural pretension, and are exceptional in their completeness

The winding engine house was built in 1952 as part of improvements following nationalisation of the British coal industry, when an electric winder supplied by The Uskside Engine Company from nearby Newport was installed. The stone base of a nineteenth century winding house remains visible. The present steel headgear dates from 1921 and was used until 1973 for winding coal and until 1976 for men and materials. The system by which wagons carrying coal from the underground workings were unloaded from the cages in the shaft and discharged their coal remains intact. Other surface buildings include a fan house, a compressor house, a haulage engine house which provided power for moving wagons in a drift mine, a welding and fitting shop, a smithy, a stable block, an electricians' workshop, a sawmill for pit props, the offices of the manager and under-manager and an isolated powder house. On the hillside above the main mass of the buildings are the miners' baths and canteen, opened in 1939. Like almost all such buildings at British collieries, they are built in the International Modernist style derived from precedents in the Low Countries, which was favoured by the architects of the Miners' Welfare Committee from 1924 onwards. It is the only pre-War baths building in Wales which retains its hot air lockers for drying clothes, its shower cubicles, its automated boot brushes, canteen and medical room. It is regarded as one of the best examples anywhere of this important building type.

Big Pit is one of only two mining museums in the United Kingdom where visitors can be taken underground. After depositing contraband, tobacco, matches, and any electronic devices, visitors are taken in the cage down the shaft of 1860 to a range of workings, some dating from the 1830s. It is possible to see the ventilation system used in the mine, and the kinds of ventilation door worked by children of less than ten years of age until their employment was made illegal in 1842. A large twentieth century haulage engine used for wagons along the roadways, the system of communication from workings to pit bottom by means of wires, the substantial outflow of water from the mine, the nineteenth century stables for the ponies which once worked underground, and evidence of the methods of extraction used in the last years of the mine's operation can also be seen. Access is also possible for specialists to River Level, which affords emergency access to the mine from near the Afon Llwyd River, an underground steam engine house of the early nineteenth century, and other workings.

This is an exceptionally complete colliery site. It lacks the scale of a very large pit like Lady Victoria at Newtongrange, and the architectural flamboyance of such mines as Zollern XII in Essen, but its compact size combines with its completeness and representativeness to make it one of the best places in the world to gain an understanding of historic mining processes and of the human experience of coal-mining.

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Sources of Coal, Iron Ore and Limestone: the Landscape North of the Ironworks

The landscapes to the north of Blaenavon Ironworks comprise one of the area's most precious historical monuments. It is possible within this area to gain an understanding of the ways in which all the raw materials necessary for making iron were obtained - coal, iron ore, fireclay and limestone. The areas around Garn-yr-erw, Pwll-Du and Pen-ffordd-goch appear at first sight to be wholly disordered, to be nothing more than random dumps of spoil (eg HLCAs 006, 008, 009, 010, 011). However, closer examination reveals evidence of the earliest periods of mining and quarrying in the area, phased relationships, and patterns of mineral extraction over several generations. Coal, fireclay and iron ore nodules were found together in the coal measures of the Afon Llwyd valley and the mountaintop (eg HLCAs 003, 005, 006, 008, 009, 010, and 020). Limestone was brought from the escarpment on the north side of Pwll-Du and the Blorenge (chiefly HLCA011).

One of the best-preserved areas of coal measure workings, at Pen-fford-goch, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument of 40 hectares in extent (HLCA009). There is much evidence of hushing or scouring, the process of impounding water with dams and then releasing it to expose veins by removing overburden, or to wash piles of ore extracted from adits. This was probably carried out before the seventeenth century and expanded in the first two decades of the Blaenavon Ironworks. However, it is known that scouring ceased by 1817 when the nearby reservoir was built, thereby securely dating the surviving features to before that time. One particular scour that has been recorded follows the southern outcrop of the coal measures southeast from the Llanellen road through Cefn-y-lan to the Abergavenny Road. There are the remains of ponds at its head, and throughout its length it was fed with water from adit mines. It was probably used over a long period for washing ore from levels. Map evidence from about 1812 shows numerous adits, or horizontal mines going into the hillsides in this area, many of them named after individual miners. This individualism is characteristic of the development of coal and iron mining throughout South Wales. To the south of Pen-ffordd-goch are numerous bell pits, examples of the most primitive form of shaft mine, of which the surviving evidence is usually a saucer-shaped depression, indicating the site of the shaft, surrounded by the spoil which was dumped around it. The remnants of hushing ponds, leats that supplied them with water, crowsfoot-shaped tips of waste materials, the collapsed entrances to adits, the abandoned earthworks of primitive railways, subsidences indicating the presence of pillar-and-stall mining systems beneath, and the site of a weighing machine can also be observed in the area.

A number of sites of coal and iron mining throughout the area show the method and condition of working at primitive open cast workings, adits and shaft mines. Surface digging of the outcrops and the use of bell pits probably continued until the 1860s when AJ Munby, the commentator on Working Women, wrote of the robust and fearless girls who work at those mountain mines'. The best-documented and most easily identified of the adit mines of the early nineteenth century which took their names from the miners who worked them is Aaron Brute's level between the Furnaces and Forgeside (HLCA003), which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The entrance to the level is known to survive, and near to it stands an iron bridge dating from before 1832 which carried the primitive railway which led from the mine to the Ironworks. The significance of the many early nineteenth century bridges carrying primitive railways in South Wales was acknowledged in the TICCIH/ICOMOS study of bridges edited by the chief of the Historic American Engineering Record and published in 1996. Aaron Brute's Level was typical of many workings in Blaenavon, but rather more is known of Aaron Brute than of most miners. He was a stonemason and building contractor, and a Calvinistic Methodist preacher. He dug the level sometime between 1812 and his death in 1818, and also constructed houses along Brute's Road, on his own freehold land. The level had ceased to produce iron ore by 1843.

Remains exist of the earliest shaft mine in Blaenavon, Engine Pit of c1806, recently scheduled as an ancient monument (HLCA0021). The substantial remains of Hill's Pits at Garn-yr-erw (HLCA009), sunk between 1839 and 1844 to provide both coal and iron ore for the Ironworks and operated until 1893, provide evidence of later, more advanced mining technology. The outstanding monument is the stone chimney, which survives to a height of 6m and served the boilers of the winding engine. Surrounding it are the remains of the engine house and plots of land associated with the miners' cottages. The Hill's Pits complex also includes the cast iron frame of the brake engine of a primitive railway incline, constructed at about the time the colliery came into operation, as part of a route by which coal was conveyed to the Blaenavon Ironworks. There are substantial remains of the braking gear. Inclines of this type were common in the South Wales Valleys in the nineteenth century, but this is the only example in the region which retains parts of its horizontal winding and braking mechanisms.

The area to the north of the Ironworks also provides evidence of how limestone, used as a flux in the ironmaking process, was obtained. The main quarries were at Pwll-Du at the head of Cwm Llanwenarth, and at Tyla to the west. There were also other smaller, earlier, quarries on the Blorenge (HLCA011). The Pwll-Du quarry was operating in roughly its present shape by 1819, and is exceptionally well-preserved. Its principal industrial monument is the shaft of a water-balance lift system, through which wagons loaded with limestone were raised to a primitive railway at a higher level. A horizontal tunnel links the shaft to the quarry floor, and evidence remains of a system of watercourses and reservoirs, which supplied the lifting gear with water. Limestone from the Pwll-Du quarry was supplied to limekilns along the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal as well as to the ironworks. Cast iron boundary markers can still be seen on the quarry floor. Extraction of limestone ceased before 1860 and the form of the quarry, its railways and its tips, reflect its use in the early nineteenth century.

The Pwll-Du quarry is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Tyla and Blorenge quarries also have extensive and interpretable remains of quarrying from the late eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries.

The open hillsides provide much other evidence of the industrial past. There is a mid-nineteenth century rectangular powder house, where explosives for use in quarries and mines were stored. On the top of the mountain is a stone marked with a 'B' and 'M' on the boundary between Breconshire and Monmouthshire, which was a vital marker of the limits of the Blaenavon Ironworks lease. There are also remains of brickmaking establishments on the hillside above Blaenavon, as well as countless reminders of the products of the brickmakers in the firebricks of the blast furnaces, the walls of the cottages and public buildings, and boundary walls constructed from mis-shapen bricks and other waste material. Brickmaking was the principal employment for young women in Blaenavon in the mid-nineteenth century.

In parts of the landscape, particularly near Pwll-Du, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century workings are overlain by tips of waste from surface workings for coal of the 1940s. Open cast extraction of coal using large-scale earthmoving equipment was unknown in Britain before World War Two, although it was commonplace in Germany and the United States, and similar methods were used for quarrying iron ore in many places in the English Midlands. Surface mining began in November 1941, utilising machinery from the United States and some, which had been brought from Panama. An output of 1.3 million tons was achieved in 1942, which rose to a peak of 8.65 million tons in 1944. This was almost 5% of the total output of coal in Britain, and was judged to have been a 'vital part in balancing the national coal budget during the later years of the war' as it allowed rapid supply of essential steam coals compensating for the loss of production in those coal types during the 1920s and 1930s. The early development of open cast working was considerably aided by troops of the Canadian army based in Britain who provided diamond drills and the expertise needed to work them. Some of the waste deposits at Pwll-Du are significantly known as the 'Canada Tips'. The open cast operations at Blaenavon were memorably recorded in 1943 with a series of paintings and drawings by Graham Sutherland in his role as an official War Artist. The land affected by open cast mining in the 1940s was never restored, as it would have been had it been worked after World War Two, and the crude trenches and tips are themselves evidence of that particular phase in British history. These are believed to be the only early opencast workings in Britain to survive unrestored, enabling the process of overburden removal and the contrast in scale with earlier workings to be understood.

The area north of Blaenavon Ironworks comprises a landscape of unfettered exploitation, where men and women used crude hand tools to scratch from the earth the materials, which were fed to the furnaces. The landscape of Blaenavon is a memorial to a particular phase of human history; and one from which there is much to be learned, especially applicable perhaps in those countries that are undergoing large-scale industrialisation. We can utilise the area to recreate the experiences of the first phases of large-scale ironmaking. We can admire the imaginative insights of the entrepreneurs at Blaenavon, and empathise with the suffering and stoicism of their employees.

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Transport Systems: Canals and Primitive Railways

The improvement of transport systems was a key component of the Industrial Revolution and was vital to the success of the coal and iron industries with their bulky goods and requirement to exploit new regions. The development in particular of dense industrial canal networks and the evolution of integrated primitive railways were central to the Industrial Revolution in Britain, especially in the period from the 1780s to the 1830s. Much evidence remains in the landscape of the transport systems by which Blaenavon Ironworks was supplied with raw materials and its products were conveyed to the coast. These superseded a series of primitive trackways whose remains can still be seen, and continued to evolve over several generations.

The prospect of a link with the port of Newport by way of the Monmouthshire Canal was doubtless one of the factors which led Hill, Hopkins and Pratt to establish the ironworks in such a location in 1789, and within a few years the canal had been built to within 6km of the works, providing cheap bulk transportation for most of the distance to the sea. Hill was a significant investor in the canal, which was completed to Pontnewynydd in the early 1790s and was linked directly to the Ironworks by a primitive railway operated by horses in 1795. Abridge of this railway and many identifiable parts of its route survive within the area.

In 1792 the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal was promoted with the intention of providing inland navigation to the upper parts of the Usk valley, just to the north of Blaenavon, linking with the Monmouthshire Canal at Pontymoile. Construction of the canal began in 1797, in which year the first section was completed. The canal's northern terminus at Brecon was opened for local traffic in 1800, and that west of Govlion in 1805, but it was not until 1812 that the section through Llanfoist (HLCA015) to the junction at Pontymoile was finally completed. The canal offered a cheaper route to the sea and became an important part of the associated landscape of Blaenavon Ironworks. The Company leased land for two wharves on the section of canal, which lies nearest to the Ironworks at Llanfoist and Govilon. The canal fell out of use in 1930, but has now been revived as a popular waterway for holiday cruising, although it has no connection with other parts of the inland navigation network in Britain.

The outstanding feature of the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal within the Historic Landscape and the World Heritage Site is the basin at Llanfoist, situated on the side of the mountain, and approached up a steep track. It was the terminus of the primitive railway built by Thomas Hill and completed in 1817. By this means, the Blaenavon Company hoped to avoid the high tolls charged by the Monmouthshire Canal, and to reach markets for their coal in the upper Usk Valley and to the east across the English border in Herefordshire. There is a substantial warehouse for storing pig iron and wrought iron bars and blooms before they were loaded on to canal boats. The warehouse is on two stories with direct rail access from the tramroad. There is a tunnel under the canal, some 33.6m long, to accommodate the old parish road. The canal is crossed by a bridge for Hill's Tramroad built of cast iron plates carried on cast-iron T-section girders. The wharf went out of use in the 1860s and is now a base for cruising boats. All the principal structures at the wharf are listed, and the international significance of the site in waterways history as an early example of a canal/railway interchange was acknowledged in the report on Canal Monuments prepared for the World Heritage convention by TICCIH and published in 1996.

Thomas Hill of Blaenavon also leased land on the canal for the Ironworks a few years earlier, in 1815, at Govlion (HLCA014) where the road from Blaenavon to Abergavenny crosses the canal. He gained permission for a warehouse to be built, and a small building on the canal bank, now listed, is believed to be this structure. After Llanfoist wharf was built, Govlion wharf became the terminus of Bailey's Tramroad, a primitive railway built by the ironmaster Crawshay Bailey in 1821 to link his ironworks at Nantyglo with the canal. Bailey's three-storey rubble stone warehouse of about 1821 is listed, and it is possible to see evidence of how the railway was accommodated at the wharf with an archway into the building. In the woodland south-west of Govlion is a single-arched rubble stone bridge built to carry the railway across Cwm Llanwenarth brook, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. An important group of limekilns also stands next to the canal.

In addition to the buildings at the two wharves, all the principal features of the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal within the Historic Landscape and the World Heritage Sites are protected by listing. They include bridges (Nos 95-99), all of rubble stone and dating from the early years of the canal's existence, several sections of embanked aqueduct, a dry dock, and the remains of three limekilns.

Blaenavon Ironworks was served by a dense network of railways, which developed from the l780s onwards, carrying limestone, coal and iron ore to the works, and connecting it to the canals. South Wales played an important part in the evolution of the railway at this time, between earlier timber railed precedents and the public railways of the 1830s and later. Developments took place in civil engineering approaches, the design of track and its bedding, haulage methods and administrative organisation. Many of these are reflected in the physical survival of railways at Blaenavon.

The primitive railway built by Thomas Hill in the years after he began to manage Blaenavon Ironworks in 1812, known as Hill's Tramroad (HLCAs 011 and 013), provides many insights into an important period of technological development, as well as evidence of the history of the Blaenavon Company. Not only did the railway establish a link with the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal, it improved the means by which ore and limestone could be conveyed to the Ironworks from the north, and enabled pig iron from the furnaces to be carried to the forge opened at Garn-Ddyrys in 1817, where it was converted to wrought iron (HLCA011). To follow the footpath along the course of the primitive railway, on daringly constructed and almost level terraces on steep mountainsides, is a thrilling experience.

On most stretches the stone blocks on which the rails were mounted remain in situ. The route includes connections to the limestone quarries at Pwll-Du and Tyla and to the forge at Garn-Ddyrys. A series of counter balanced inclined planes take the railway down the mountain to Llanfoist. The 2,400m long tunnel under the mountain at Pwll-Du was the longest ever constructed for a horse-operated railway in Britain. It was developed from an earlier mining level which was already about 1,000m long in 1800. The southern approach to the tunnel is known, ironically, as Marble Arch, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. A Blaenavon Company cast iron boundary marker remains in situ near to one of the two northern portals, which have been blocked with stone walling. It is believed that most of the tunnel survives intact below ground and an exploration and survey is planned. Most of Hill's Tramroad fell out of use in the 1850s when the main line railway links were established between Blaenavon and Newport. The significance of Hill's Tramroad was recognised by its inclusion on a list of railways of international significance drawn up as a result of a year's research at the University of York and confirmed at a meeting of experts from a variety of countries at the National Railway Museum in the spring of 1998.

There are many other remains of primitive railway systems in the Blaenavon area. Stone blocks, cast iron sleepers and wrought iron and cast iron rails can still be observed from track beds and waste tips. Many of these artefacts have been removed and conserved as important evidence of railway evolution. Bridges of stone and cast iron survive and the location of perhaps the world's first multi-arched railway viaduct, built c1790, has recently been identified. The route of many railways can be followed and the density of the network that was developed can be appreciated. The Blaenavon Company's primitive railway system was largely reorganised by the manager Richard Johnson in the 1850s. Two steam locomotives replaced sixteen of the Company's hundreds of horses, and cast iron L-shaped railways mounted on stone blocks or cast iron sleepers were replaced with rolled wrought iron rails on wooden sleepers. A steam hauled double incline was built c1850 across the mountain to replace Pwll-Du tunnel (HLCAs 006 and 011). The remaining railway network within the Blaenavon Ironworks retains much trackwork of mid-nineteenth century date, and provides valuable evidence of the railway technology of that period.

From the mid-1850s, Blaenavon, like most towns in Europe, came to rely for both passenger and freight transport on standard gauge, steam-powered railways. It is fitting that the operation of such railways is demonstrated on a short stretch of preserved line (HLCA008) located between Blaenavon Ironworks and Big Pit.

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The Management of Water Resources

The blast furnaces at Blaenavon were some of the first anywhere to be blown by steam power rather than by the action of a water wheel. However, water was essential in the operations of the Iron Company and evidence of the ways in which it was used can be seen throughout the landscape.

In an upland setting like that of Blaenavon, which lies high on the watershed, the careful management of water was vital to provide sufficient and reliable supply, even in drought, to operate water balance lifts, carry out scouring, and feed steam engines. Surface and underground drainage was also of the utmost importance for mining operations. Water courses and drains can be seen in many places on the hills above Blaenavon, often with relationships to one another which allow relative dates to be determined. Near all the mineshafts are small reservoirs for water balance and steam engine supply, fed by many kilometres of watercourses, which also served to drain the surface.

Engine Pit (HLCA 021) used underground waterwheels and a steam engine to lift water to a drainage adit, thereby enabling the use of water balances at shafts higher up. The forges of Cwmavon (HLCA018) and Garn-Ddyrys (HLCA011) both had bellows and hammers operated by waterpower. The reservoir, which supplied water to Garn-Ddyrys, is a prominent feature of the landscape at Pen-fford-goch. The reservoir, which served Pwll-Du quarry balance lift, is also clearly visible and is part of the scheduled site. Above Big Pit, on the side of Coity Mountain, Coity Pool (HLCA004) was built in 1839 as a reservoir from which the boilers for the steam engines at Forge Side were supplied with water. Water also operated the counter balance lift at Blaenavon Ironworks.

The effective management of water was clearly one of the principal achievements of those who established and maintained the industries of Blaenavon.

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Vertical Integration: the Forging Side of the Iron Industry

The blast furnaces at Blaenavon Ironworks produced pig iron, a form of cast iron, which has a carbon content of about 4%, which can be cast in moulds, and is strong in compression but weak in tension. The principal demand in the early years of the nineteenth century was for wrought iron produced by further refining the product, a chemically pure form of the metal, which is weak in compression but strong in tension. Until the 1770s, processes for forging wrought iron from cast iron involved the use of charcoal. The first process which used only coal was the so-called 'stamping and potting' method, patented in 1772. The alternative method, puddling, by which cast iron was melted in a reverberatory furnace, then stirred and worked until it reacted violently giving off blue flames and taking on a putty like consistency, at which point it was shingled under a heavy hammer, was patented by Henry Cort of Fontley Forge in Hampshire in 1784. Cort's process was widely adopted in South Wales and was responsible for the success of the region in rapidly increasing production of wrought iron to become its leading supplier. There are substantial remains connected with three forges of varying dates in the Blaenavon area.

The forge at Garn-Ddyrys (HLCA011), alongside the primitive railway built by Thomas Hill to link Blaenavon with the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal at Llanfoist Wharf, came into operation in 1817. Pig iron from the Blaenavon Ironworks was taken through the tunnel at Pwll-du to Garn-Ddyrys to be forged into wrought iron, which was taken along the railway to the canal. The forge was making about 200 tons of iron a week in the early 1850s. It was closed in the early l860s after the establishment of the Company's Forgeside works. The forge stands on a bleak hillside at an altitude of some 400m. The principle features of the site are some extraordinarily sculptural blocks of solid ironworking waste, one of them 4m in height, remnants of the ponds which formed part of the forge's water power system, the ruins of a manager's house and workers' cottages, and traces of the primitive railway connections to the site, including an intact tunnel built to carry Hill's Tramroad underneath slag tips. An excavation by local archaeologists in 1970 uncovered the foundations of a puddling furnace and other underground remains, water wheel pits, furnaces and rolling mills, which are substantially intact. Garn-Ddyrys offers great archaeological potential to enhance understanding of the development of puddling and rolling processes in the early nineteenth century. The forge, together with a nearby section of primitive railway is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

To the south of the town of Blaenavon is Cwmavon (HLCA018), where there was a forge linked with Blaenavon Ironworks, probably employing the puddling process, which operated from about 1804. Its first phase of activity appears to have been quite short, but it was revived in the 1820s, from which time it was linked with the Varteg ironworks to the west. Forge buildings were usually insubstantial, and there are no remains above ground at Cwmavon, but the site has remained undeveloped and the remnants of the forge's water supply are intact. A terrace which originally consisted of twelve dwellings, built for the forge workers c1804, was repaired by the British Historic Buildings Trust in 1987-88, and has been described as the finest surviving terrace of early workers' housing in the South Wales Valleys. A more substantial dwelling, Cwmavon House, was built for the ironmaster who revived the forge in the 1820s. At this time the Varteg Company operated a foundry and engineering works on the site at Cwmavon capable of boring steam engine cylinders. The important beam engine displayed on the Pontypridd campus of the University of Glamorgan was made there in about 1840.

In the late 1850s the Blaenavon Company established a new ironworks on the opposite side of the valley from its original furnaces at a site, which became known as Forgeside (HLCA005). Forges and rolling mills were moved here from Garn-Ddyrys. The new works was able to make up to 500 tons a week of iron rails, tyres for railway wagons and carriages, and plates for boilers and ships. In 1868 the first of several blast furnaces on the site was blown in, and five years after this there were at the two sites ten blast furnaces, 89 puddling furnaces and eight rolling mills. In 1880 the Company began to make mild steel by the Gilchrist Thomas process invented at Blaenavon, which the Company was in the unique position of being able to use without royalty payments. The Forgeside works continues to operate on a modest scale in new buildings and parts of the original tyre mills. Others of the early buildings remaining are Coity House, probably built between about 1840 and 1860 for the works manager, a power station of about 1920, and most of the workers' housing.

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The Town of Blaenavon

The growth of population in the Heads of the Valleys region of South Wales, where most of the ironworks were located, was one of the most dramatic demographic movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Workers were initially housed by the iron companies where their labour was required, and the company shops were the main source of goods. Gradually a number of populous towns with centralised urban services and facilities developed. The characteristic form of these towns was chaotic, dictated by the axes of trackways and railways and the availability of land. Blaenavon is among the best examples of these emerging urban centres in South Wales. The Welsh poet Idris Davies summed up building in this chaos:

The daffodils dance in gardens

Behind the grim brown rows,

Built among the slag heaps,

In a hurry long ago.

Urbanism came long after the initial growth of industry at Blaenavon. The town of Blaenavon is largely of mid nineteenth century date. Its buildings reflect powerfully the distinctive culture that had developed in ironworking and coalmining areas of the South Wales Valleys. The only significant link with pre-industrial society in the area is the site of Capel Newydd, a tiny chapel first mentioned in documents in 1577 and demolished in 1863. The turf-grown foundations remain within a rectangular enclosure. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

While the town was totally dependent for its living on the Blaenavon Company, it was not a 'company town' in the usual sense of that term. It grew gradually, and did not follow a particular plan. Indeed, much of the town appears to have been constructed on land, which did not belong to the Company or to its partners. In the 1840s there were three principle clusters of buildings in the area now occupied by the town, one around the Ironworks (HLCA006), one along the east-west axis, now King Street (HLCA001), where any pre-industrial settlement was probably concentrated, and one around St Peter's Church (HLCA001). The spaces between the three nuclei were gradually filled with buildings, which evolved into a recognisable town by the 1850s. A significant development was the naming of the streets in the 1860s.

One group of buildings is closely linked with the first generation of ironmasters the ironmaster's mansion, church and school built alongside the Blaenavon Railway between 1800 and 1816 (HLCA001). The mansion, a substantial stone house known as Ty Mawr, in Church Road, was built about 1800 by Samuel Hopkins, son of the first resident manager of the Ironworks, and himself a proprietor from 1798. It was used by the directors of the Blaenavon Company as a hunting lodge until 1924, when it became a hospital supported by the subscriptions of local people. Its large garden at the rear is now a wood. The house is a nursing home and a Listed Building. Coity House at the Forgeside Works and Cwmavon House have already been mentioned as forge managers' houses. Govilon House was the home of the forge proprietor John Harries in 1819 and Llanfoist House was the home of one of the most important ironmasters in South Wales, Crawshay Bailey. The contrast between the housing of the ironmasters and managers and of the employee class can be clearly observed. Many terraces of workers' housing survive intact from the mid-nineteenth century growth of population at Blaenavon. In addition to 'the town of Blaenavon itself, there are long rows of houses from the l870s at Garn-yr-erw and other examples on the fringes of the town.

The church of St Peter was built in the Gothic style in 1804 by the ironmasters Thomas Hill and Samuel Hopkins. The body of the former was interred in an adjoining vault. Its interior and graveyard reflect the importance of the iron industry in Blaenavon. A cast iron font, bearing the date of the church's consecration in 1805, remains in use, while the galleries are supported by cast iron columns of the mid-nineteenth century. In the graveyard are five iron-topped chest tombs, among them those of the ironmaster Samuel Hopkins and Thomas Deakin, surveyor of the Ironworks. The first vicar of St Peter's, appointed by Hill and Hopkins, was Welsh-speaking, suggesting that many of the first generation of ironworkers had been recruited from the Welsh countryside.

Near to the church stands St Peter's School, built in 1815-16 in memory of the ironmaster Samuel Hopkins by his sister, Sarah Hopkins. A Latin inscription on the facade records its opening in 1815. It appears originally to have consisted of two large rooms, one for boys and one for girls. The adjacent Infants School was added in 1849, and St Peter's Boys' School (now the Ramfield Study Centre) dates from 1860, after which the original building was used just for girls. This is an unusually early company school building, the oldest known ironworks school in Wales. The Darbys of Coalbrookdale, the celebrated Quaker ironmasters of the Ironbridge Gorge, certainly took an interest in the education of their workpeople's children in the eighteenth century, but they did not take responsibility for constructing a school building until long after 1816.

The growth of Broad Street (HLCA001) as a retail and service centre north of the school and church took place in the 1840s and 1850s, taking up freehold land not controlled by the Blaenavon Company and being carried out by independent developers. Streets of new housing built by speculative landlords spread out on either side of Broad Street during the 1850s and 1860s. This building pattern can be clearly seen in the form of the town today, with its slightly more ordered pattern and slightly higher standard than the housing, which had preceded it. A particularly good example of a terrace of five mid- to late-nineteenth century shops is provided by Nos. 15-19 Broad Street; these remain in good condition. Many new service and retail functions were drawn to supply the growing population of Blaenavon from the mid nineteenth century onwards.

Blaenavon's many chapels provide much evidence of the town's culture in the nineteenth century. As in most industrial communities in South Wales the chapels were important educational as well as religious institutions, providing opportunities for lifelong learning as well as instruction in reading and writing for children. Chapels could also be an expression of ethnic feeling, of the identity of Welsh-speakers working for English entrepreneurs, or of political consciousness for workers willing or unwilling to worship with their employers.

The most venerable chapel building is the Bethlehem Chapel in Broad Street, whose congregation of Welsh-speaking Independents (or Congregationalists) first met (in an earlier building) on Christmas Day 1820. The present church, in the Classical style, with a gallery supported on eight cast iron piers, was opened in 1840. The Horeb Baptist Chapel was built in 1862 to accommodate a congregation whose origins went back to 1807. A baptismal pool remains below the floorboards, and the gallery, like that at Bethlehem, is supported on cast iron pillars. Moriah Chapel in Broad Street dates from 1888, and is also in the Classical style, but it has a more ornate interior. Iron columns with gold painted spiral decoration support a gallery with pierced ironwork balustrades, reached by twin staircases from the entrance vestibule. The chapel built in 1861 by the Bible Christians, a Methodist denomination with its origins in Devon and Cornwall, is now an ambulance hall. It is powerful evidence within the landscape of the feelings of identity of migrants who had moved to the South Wales Valleys from southwest England.

The use of the Welsh language in Blaenavon was largely confined to the chapels by the 1860s, and became a matter of dispute between and within congregations in the following decade. By 1900 thirteen chapels in Blaenavon were almost entirely English speaking, as indeed was the community at large. The census of 1901 recorded a population of 10,010, of whom 857 or 8% were Welsh speakers. Ten years later the population had reached 11,087, of whom only 616 or 5% were Welsh speakers.

Some of the social and educational roles of the chapels in the South Wales Valleys were taken over in the late nineteenth century by working men's institutes. Blaenavon's Workmen's Hall and Institute is the most imposing building in the town. It was designed by E A Lansdowne of Newport. The foundation stone was laid in 1893 and the institute was opened in 1895, although the building bears the date 1894. It was constructed by a local builder, John Morgan, and cost £10,000, which was raised by a halfpenny per week levy on the wages of miners and ironworkers, who reduced the cost of construction by contributing voluntary labour. The Institute, formally established in 1880, was a successor in Blaenavon to a Reading and Mutual Improvement Society which had a membership of 110 in 1860.

Institutes became widespread in South Wales from the 1890s, and some notable examples were built in the 1920s and 30s with the assistance of the Miners' Welfare Fund. Their culture was adult and male. The characteristic components of an institute building were:

The Blaenavon Institute is in architectural terms one of the best examples in South Wales, and a link with a distinct phase of self-improving working class culture, which was expressed in the second half of the nineteenth century by numerous voluntary associations, amongst them a choral society, several brass bands, a benefit society, a volunteer rifle corps and a cricket club. The town of Blaenavon retains many other buildings which relate to its history in the nineteenth century, including a Police Station and Magistrates' Court of 1867, and a number of historic public houses, whose number the Blaenavon Company attempted to restrict.

Almost all the principal buildings in the town of Blaenavon noted above are listed, and the core of the town is designated as a Conservation Area.

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The village of Llanfoist (HLCA015), part of which lies within the World Heritage Site, is included in the area of the Historic Landscape. The settlement contains several buildings linked with the iron trade, which are complementary to those at Blaenavon. The graveyard of the medieval church of St Faith includes a memorial to Crawshay Bailey (1789-1872), one of the most celebrated and indeed the most notorious of South Wales ironmasters, a determined opponent of legislation designed to ensure workers' safety. Bailey spent his last years at nearby Llanfoist House.

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Workers' Housing

A variety of workers' housing, some from the earliest years of ironworking, remains within the landscape at Blaenavon; the Blaenavon Company had of necessity to provide housing for its workpeople in the early years of its operation, since the area was only sparsely inhabited before the 1780s. The resultant settlement patterns are typical of the accommodation of workers at the ironworks of South Wales, which were among the fastest growing settlement of the Industrial Revolution. The population of Monmouthshire doubled in just ten years after 1810, and the majority of this growth was concentrated in new ironmaking communities such as Blaenavon. The Blaenavon Company usually built dwellings very close to its ironworks, mines, quarries or transport routes. An urban centre therefore developed only gradually. Whenever possible the Company seems to have attempted to construct houses outside the parish of Llanover, in which the furnaces were situated, so that it might avoid paying excessively high poor rates in periods of unemployment. The Company chose instead to build in Llanwenarth (HLCAs 013 and 014) or Llanfoist (HLCA015), where it had less rateable property.

Adjacent to the Ironworks stands Stack Square and Engine Row, a small group of solidly constructed stone cottages, incorporating patterns of building, notably door and window heads, characteristic of the West Midlands in England alongside more local building practices (HLCA006). The houses were probably erected in 1788 for the first skilled workers who operated the furnaces from the time they were built. Amongst the early inhabitants was Joseph Hampton from the Stourbridge area of Worcestershire, who was superintendent of the Ironworks for nearly 30 years before his death in 1832. The houses form a square into which a 50-metre high chimneystack for a new engine house was placed in 1860, the base of which can still be seen. The central range of the square was originally the Company office, shop and manager's house in 1788, and was converted to dwellings in the 1860s, which were of a much smaller size than the skilled workers' homes, which surrounded them. The whole square is a Scheduled Ancient Monument in the care of the state and has been carefully conserved.

The very primitive buildings which were contemporary with Stack Square, some of them single room back to back houses, no longer survive, but in most cases their locations are clearly visible and archaeologically intact. Between 1817 and 1832 the Blaenavon Company constructed about 160 single-fronted, three room, two-storey dwellings, which have been called Blaenavon Company Standard Houses. They were usually built in terraces, some with as many as 30 dwellings, but some with as few as five. The terrace at Cwmavon (HLCA018), probably rebuilt in the 1820s, is the best example of this type of house. The foundations, garden plots and middens of several demolished terraces are archaeologically intact, including those of the 30 dwellings which formed Lower Rank Cottages, near the northern portal of Pwll-Du tunnel (HLCA011), which are a Scheduled Ancient Monument and offer potential for further study of the social archaeology and living conditions of such industrial communities. Three of the five rows of rubble stone houses built for the workers at Forgeside (HLCA012) before 1860 and identified only by the letters 'C'. 'D' and 'E' rather than street names remain, rows 'A' and 'B' having been demolished in 1977.

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Industrial Settlement

General Themes

The importance of the rural origins of the area's settlement: is reflected by the remains of farms in the rural hinterland (and pre-industrial buildings encapsulated within the urban area, as identified by RCAHMW, notably Ty'r Godwith (HLCA001), a pre-18th century farmstead located off Charles Street, retaining massive stone fireplaces of c1600). Examples of traditional pre-19th century agricultural dwellings, mostly of the regional long-house unit type, are also characteristic of the historic landscape, many, including Coity Farm, Shepherd's Cottage, Coity Canol, Ty Rheinallt, and Waun Mary Gunter, are located within HLCA004, though most now survive in a ruinous state. The development of settlement in the area can be broken down in the following way:

Transition from a rural economy to an industrial economy: the dual economy of smallholdings. There is some evidence for smallholdings, which look as if they may have been established as (legal?) encroachments; for example on the flanks of Coity Mountain (HLCA020), and the Blorenge (HLCA011), as well as in the Tumble and near Garn yr erw (HLCA009). Most seem now to be only fragmentary survivals, but they may represent an important dimension of early industrialisation. The continuing links between agricultural and industrial economies are also important, and it is worth noting the survival of the company farm buildings, Company's or Allgood Farm (HLCA003), on the opposite side of the river from the church in this context: the retention of rural-urban links is obviously important (and often overlooked in narratives of industrialization).

Early industrial settlement: while most has been lost, some archaeological remains have been identified in the course of the recent uplands survey (RCAHMW 2003, 67). Stack Square (HLCA006) is obviously highly significant in this context, though exceptional as planned company housing for key workers. Evidence for early-improvised housing, and other early housing provided by the company remains in documentary, and to some extent archaeological form. Apart from the immediate vicinity of the ironworks in North Street, earlier 19th century cartographic evidence show development in Ivor Street and James Street and along King Street (all within HLCA001), and also to some extent along Queen Street (Earl of Abergavenny Survey 1828; RCAHMW unpublished report by Jenkins, OM, 2002).

Olwen Jenkins RCAHMW in her study notes that 'with its short lease, the Company does not seem to have envisaged a planned town for its workers, so much as planned blocks of accommodation for key workers largely on its leasehold land', and that these were workplace specific (Lowe). A key surviving example, for instance, is Stack Square, a square of double-fronted, four-room houses, which was built opposite the furnaces to house key ironworkers from the Midlands, such as the Superintendant or Ironworks Manager, and also initially to provide a company shop and perhaps a manager's house and counting house. Other industrial settlement of the early period comprised back-to back houses, such as the row in the Furnace Yard demolished before 1880, which had probably been intended for furnace men. While Stable Row, a group of houses built by 1813-14 around a stable yard initially housed the grooms and ostlers who looked after the horses and mules (RCAHMW unpublished report by Jenkins, OM, 2002).

Much of the early industrial settlement expansion appears to have been unplanned and improvised. Queen Street (HLCA001), for example, displays a disparate variety of building styles and building date; with variations in 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 extends to building and roofing materials, chimneystacks, carpentry, and elevation finishes. 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. Surviving early 19th 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.

Other examples of urban development displaying an irregularity of plan and straggling arrangement along the street, considered to have been the result of 'individual uncoordinated construction' include company houses on the East side of North Street occupied continuously since the 18th century by the generations of men working at the cold blast furnaces; these houses were built on leasehold land set into the hillside without a back door (Jeremy Lowe; RCAHMW unpublished report by Jenkins, OM, 2002).

Urban industrial settlement: Blaenavon, however, best exemplifies an urban industrial culture of the mid-late 19th century, since it is this period that is most fully represented in the surviving building stock. The majority of the present planned street layout of Blaenavon with regularized rows, centred on the commercial thoroughfare of Broad Street (HLCA001), was established from the 1840s onwards and finalized by the 1870s; indeed Blaenavon only became recognizable as a town by the 1850s. The extent of survival potentially enables a virtually complete reconstruction of the social structure of the town during the period through the nuances of its architecture. The work of the RCAHMW has shown the phases of its development relative to patterns of landownership, and these can still be traced clearly in the architectural character of different blocks of land (eg the company housing on Upper and Lower Waun Streets, and Park and High Streets, and the units of development which reflect blocks of ownership or leasing). What is of particular interest, however, is how this can be nuanced even further by looking at the precise details of architectural language, to show not only the phases of development, but also their social character.

It is therefore particularly important to highlight the kinds of features, which are significant. These might include the following:

Developments in house planning, from a vernacular linear form (some examples of King Street, Queen Street; HLCA001) to an urban industrial deep plan (such as along Upper and Lower Waun Streets). The latter became ubiquitous, mostly in single-fronted form. Distinction between houses, which directly front onto the street, and those, which have front gardens is obviously important. After about 1900, some different building forms were introduced, most obviously in the larger detached and semi-detached middle class villas east of the town (HLCA002).

The scale of units of development is worth noting, with some streets representing quite coherent planned blocks (eg, Upper and Lower Waun Streets, and Park and High Streets), others assembled in more piecemeal fashion from much smaller units. Broad Street, which was developed during the 1840s-60s, is a prime example of the latter, but other residential streets display parallel variations as units of development reflect the size of plots developed under freehold or leasehold.

The orientation of development is also something, which lends strong character to the town, as in the contrast between the rows, which run uphill (mostly with distinctive stepped roof-lines, though there are some examples of sloping roofs), and those laid out along the slope.

Particularly within HLCA002, there are some interesting examples of 20th century public or social housing, not least the garden village-like estate at the northeast of the town, and then various mid-20th century housing estates further east and south. These illustrate very well the changing standards of planning (eg in relation to the provision of open space, gardens etc, as well as spatial planning for individual houses).

Variations in construction

The use of locally derived materials appears to have prevailed, but stone from different sources is clearly utilized, and there is a lot of variety in the way that it is handled (while it would be interesting to draw up a hand-list of this variety, it was considered beyond the immediate scope of the current exercise). Locally manufactured brick was also used, again sometimes with a decorative intent, exploiting the pattern and texture produced in the clamps (see Upper and Lower Waun Street (HLCA001), for example, which were company-built). There are also variations in the combination of brick and stone - the use of brick of different colours to provide the architectural detail, for example. Render appears to have been used to add architectural detail (eg architraves), and in combination with brick to articulate facades in a more architectural way in late 19th-early 20th century building. The extensive use of render in modern renewal work is changing the character of the town in regrettable ways, since it is obliterating some of these fine distinctions. Not enough attention has been devoted to identifying the architectural language in which industrial towns, such as Blaenavon, have been built. Original architectural detail in an urban context is of enormous significance for the proper understanding of the intricacies of social and economic structure in the prime periods of urban development, and for this reason any loss to uninformed and unsympathetic renewal is all the more regrettable:

Minor detail is also worth noting: where early mortar survives, it often has an intermixture of coal dust, giving it a characteristic dark appearance.

Carpentry and architectural detail: not much original joinery detail survives, but there does remain a good vocabulary of other detail, eg the rendered surrounds to windows and doors, some tile-work, etc. This architectural detail becomes much more significant in development from about c1900 - there are some good examples of terracotta work in the east of the town (north-east of Cwmafon Road; HLCA002). Also of significance are traditional shopfronts, such as those extant at numbers 15-19 Broad Street (Listed Buildings: Grade II); whilst there has been some attempt to renew "traditional" wooden shop fronts to commercial properties elsewhere along Broad Street, this has been carried out to a uniform pattern with use of standard mahoganised wood and does not appear to accurately reflect original character.

Walls and Railings: cast-iron railings define the front gardens of the socially more superior houses primarily within the east part of the town (HLCA002). These features are highly significant components in an 'iron town'; however in spite of this many of these are in process of being removed under the renewal scheme and replaced with standardised substitutes. Further renewal should seek to conserve original ironwork, replacing authentic 'like with like' component substitutes as necessary. There are also some examples of slag walls, especially to garden boundaries and back yards; again these are a significant characteristic of an ironworks-generated settlement and should be maintained.

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