Industrial Wales - Monmouthshire's Eastern Valley
The British, Abersychan
including Big Arch, Talywain Railway, the ironworks, quarry and the village
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The Industrial Archaeology and History of the Eastern Valley

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The Glyn Valley     Tirpentws and Cwmffrwdoer     Blaenserchan and Cwmnantddu
Abersychan and Cwmbergwm     The British and Big Arch     Talywain and Varteg
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Big Arch

Quick links to :-     Big Arch     The British Ironworks     Lower Navigation Colliery     Talywain Railway
    British Village     British Quarry

Big Arch - SO 2598 0350

The 'Big Arch' was built in 1878-79 when the MRCC, later GWR line from Pontypool met the LNWR line from Blaenavon at Talywain Station to form the high-level line. It is a substantial 50-yard long, 48ft wide tunnel beneath the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company embankment of 1879 when the LNWR and MRCC lines were connected. The earthworks are in progress but it hasn't been completed on the 1880 OS map which must have been surveyed c1876.

The ironworks closed as the new line opened so the area in front of the old furnaces became the base for the Talywain Railway which served the local collieries as far as Llanerch Colliery in the Cwmnantddu valley. Blaenserchan Colliery opened in 1890 and the railway was extended to serve that too. This was the site of the main loco shed and wagon repair shops, which closed in 1970. The last loco, 'Islwyn', was scapped here in 1975. A small level was open from 1975 to 1985 under the foot of the Navigation Colliery slag heap.

Big Arch loco shed and wagon works

The loco shed and wagon works was the main engineering facility for the Talywain Railway.

Big Arch Colliery - SO 2590 0380

Tranch Elled Colliery in Pontnewynydd was becoming difficult to work in 1975 so the 'Tranch Elled Colliery Co', owned by Victor Griffin, opened a replacement level at Big Arch. It accessed the Meadow seam under the foot of the Navigation Colliery slag heap. It seems to have stopped work in 1982 and was abandoned by 1985.

Griffin's Colliery - SO 2601 0320

Griffin's Colliery was owned by 'Griffin & Son (Pwlldu) Ltd', another Victor Griffin company, as a replacement for their Pwlldu Colliery near Llanelly Hill. The colliery was working from c1975 to 1983 and abandoned in 1986.

British Ironworks

Quick links to :-     Big Arch     The British Ironworks     Lower Navigation Colliery     Talywain Railway
    British Village     British Quarry

British Ironworks - SO 2573 0367

The 'British Iron Co' started work on the site in 1825, with production beginning in 1827. In 1843 the company became the 'New British Iron Co' being taken over by the 'Ebbw Vale Iron Co' in 1852. Pig iron production ceased in 1876 with all production stopping in 1881. 12 furnaces with coke and calcining ovens were planned but only 6 built. Parts of the back wall and coke ovens survive, along with the office block, now roofless, as does the beam engine pump house of 1845, and its chimney base, from the British Ironworks Colliery.

Blast Furnaces and Coke Ovens - SO 2571 0371

Little remains of the ironworks itself but the back wall of the blast furnaces and coke ovens can still be found.

The Engine House - SO 2582 0367

The engine house is probably the most promonent survivor of the ironworks site and dates from 1845. It contained the beam pumping engine for the drainage of the adjacent mine workings.

The Office Block - SO 2572 0361

The office block is slowly crumbling away but still contains some interesting relics. Experiments with a reverbatory air-furnace for re-melting cast iron and electrical apparatus took place and there appear to be the remains of WW2 defences, an anti-aircraft battery perhaps and what appears to be an air-raid shelter complete with metal bunks.

The Open-air Swimming Pool - SO 2585 0363

The open-air swimming pool was built by the local council in the 1920s just above the office block. It was still used up to the 1980s but now filled in. Look carefully and you will see the blue tiles of the edge of the pool.

Watercourses under the site

Underneath the ironworks site there are a number of watercourses and every so often they need inspection by Mines Surveyors. I've been given these photos of their inspections over the past few years. The air quality is very bad so these inspections are brief and irregular.

Lower Navigation Colliery

Quick links to :-     Big Arch     The British Ironworks     Lower Navigation Colliery     Talywain Railway
    British Village     British Quarry

Lower Navigation Colliery - SO 2560 0390

Originally known as Abersychan Big Pit, the colliery was sunk by 1873 or around 1880s. It closed for production on nationalisation in 1947 and completely in 1954 and then demolished. The once prominent tip behind it has been removed leaving an unuseable area of rough ground. The pumping station is a a few hundred yards away and still exists (just).

Lower Navigation Colliery pumphouse - SO 2537 0396

Around the site

Cwmsychan Colliery tramway tunnel - SO 2554 0387

This tunnel carried the tramway from Cwmsychan Colliery to the ironworks under the modern road

The Talywain to Blaenserchan Railway

Quick links to :-     Big Arch     The British Ironworks     Lower Navigation Colliery     Talywain Railway
    British Village     British Quarry

Up to Lower Navigation Colliery

Going past British Village

British Village

Quick links to :-     Big Arch     The British Ironworks     Lower Navigation Colliery     Talywain Railway
    British Village     British Quarry

British Village - SO 2544 0360

The building of British Village began in around 1825 to provide housing for the ironworks and surrounding collieries. There were grand plans to re-develop and modernise the village in the 1960s but only Elizabeth Row was completed, the rest of the village being demolished.

Walter Clough lived in Talywain whilst working at Girling in the 70's. His photos are from 1977 when he was just 29. He used to walk the dog over the British and became quite interested and tried to imagine what it would have been like in its heyday. The sketch of where the terraces used to be was from talking to older people in the pub on a Sunday lunch time.

Big Edge Hill and Edgehill Row - SO 2533 0343

John's Row, Kings Parade and Dublin Row - SO 2533 0372

Monmouth Row and Mount Pleasant Row - SO 2533 0380

Norfolk Row and Ty Ffynnon, originally Long Row - SO 2537 0354

Ty Ffynnon was a large three-storey property at the North end of Norfolk Row which may wekk have been the under-manager's house.

York Place - SO 2531 0355

Abersychan House - SO 2542 0382

Abersychan House may well have been the ironworks manager's house and in 1901 Llewelyn Llewelyn Esq JP lived here. Little remains now but the culvert under the house is a curious survivor. The original road to the village can be followed from the Llanhilleth Road junction, first crossing the Cwmsychan Colliery tramway which is now a stream. Then over a bridge over a watercourse which was the site of the original road junction, before passing the gates to the yard and stables of Aberychan House.

Oaktree Cottage and Whitehall Cottage - SO 2531 0369

Rose Cottage and Mount Pleasant Row - SO 2522 0389

British Quarry and incline

Quick links to :-     Big Arch     The British Ironworks     Lower Navigation Colliery     Talywain Railway
    British Village     British Quarry

British Quarry - SO 2515 0365

British Quarry connected with the British by an incline which can best be seen at SO 2535 0365 where there are two stone-built 'subways' (as their described on the OS map) underneath it. There's a story that the lower subway was low in height for the workers in their caps and the upper one was higher for the managers in their bowlers or toppers.

Acknowledgments, sources and further reading.

Thanks to :- Walter Clough, Andy Coldridge, Dennis Hopkins, Walt Jabsco, Richard Morgan, Steve Thomas and Dave Wilson for their photos.
Gwyn and Simon Jenkins and Jill Jones for their company.
Gwent Local History Journal Nos 42, 54 and 87

A Guide to the Website

All rights reserved - Phil Jenkins