Industrial Wales - Monmouthshire's Eastern Valley
Blaenavon Town to Garn-yr-erw
The Ironworks, Garn Road and Pwlldu tunnel, Hill Pit, New Pit
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The Industrial Archaeology and History of the Eastern Valley

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Blaenavon Town

Quick links to :-     Blaenavon Town     The Ironworks     Garn Road and Pwlldu Tunnel
Hill Pit     New Pit     Garn-yr-erw and Canada tips

Engine Pit shaft - SO 2441 0896
Engine Pit level - SO 2475 0894

Engine Pit was the first shaft mine in Blaenavon, probably sunk around 1806. By 1819 it had become the key to the water-balance operated drainage system throughout the area. A single unlined shaft was drained by a waterwheel and pump rods to a beam below the ground. A second offset shaft at the bottom acted as a sump. Later, beam engines were installed both on the surface and at the top of the lower shaft, I've heard that the lower one is still down there somewhere. Photographs taken in 1976 show that the shaft was still in good condition. The level comes out on the Forgeside Road and was one of the emergency exits from Big Pit.

River Arch Level - SO 2442 0895

River Arch Level is the current emergency exit from Big Pit. It is an extension of the older Forge Level which was covered by tipping.

Blaenavon Ironworks

From 15 May 2012 to 18 May 2012 Blaenavon World Heritage centre organised a series of events, one of which was an exploration of Blaenavon Ironworks and Hill's Tramroad. These, as they say, are the photos to prove it.

Under the excellent tutelage of John Van Laun and Frank Olding, aided and abetted by Elaine Knight, we thoroughly investigated Blaenavon Ironworks before moving on to Pen-fford-goch where John demonstrated the difference betwen ironstone and coal tips (ironstone tips are covered with grass, coal tips with bracken). We moved on to explore Pwlldu and Tyla quarry,followed by a walk from Keepers Pond down to Garnddyrys, past a leat that I certainly hadn't noticed before.

Quick links to :-     Blaenavon Town     The Ironworks     Garn Road and Pwlldu Tunnel
Hill Pit     New Pit     Garn-yr-erw and Canada tips

Blaenavon Ironworks - SO 2496 0928

Blaenavon Ironworks before restoration

Blaenavon Ironworks - SO 2496 0928

The Ironworks after restoration and conservation

Garn Road and Pwlldu Tunnel

Quick links to :-     Blaenavon Town     The Ironworks     Garn Road and Pwlldu Tunnel
Hill Pit     New Pit     Garn-yr-erw and Canada tips

Old Coal Pits, Garn Road - SO 2439 0955

These two shafts were probably dug in the 1790s but became ventilating shafts for Cinder Pit in 1863. As there are two circular shafts, the winding gear was probably powered by a waterwheel, rather than as a balance pit. There's a dry reservoir on the other side of the road to the north-west. The shafts are lined in stone, with the last few feet being brick. Mike Doyle recalls "Inside the walls which could easily be climbed were 4m open shafts, 80m to water and 100+m to the bottom! There was quite a collection of footballs in the space between the shaft linings and the walls. We filled the shafts in c2005"

Powder Magazine - SO 2466 0962

This stone-built magazine to the North of Garn Road dates from the 1850s, possibly when the shafts were actively used.

Pwlldu Tunnel , Southern portal - SO 2485 0983

When I finally found the Southern entrance in 2010, it was buried to the top of the arch and is marked by a line of breeze blocks just showing above ground, at a slight angle to the approach. The course of the approach is clearly defined as are the foundations of various buildings around it. During 2011, 'The Forgotton Landscapes' project has cleared the entrance down to the trackbed and rebuilt the entrance arch so now there are some 'after' photos to go with the 'before'.

Meadow Vein level or Peggi's level - SO 2480 0990

Behind the tunnel entrance are the spoil tips and sites of coal, clay and ironstone levels. From them the course of two tramways head back towards the brickworks and ironworks. The tunnel under the road is one remaining feature .

The 1790s Viaduct - SO 2483 0955

Buried beneath about 50 feet of rubble is the viaduct illustrated by Sir Richard Colt-Hoare and re-discovered by the Channel 4 'Time Team' in 2001. It was built in c1790 and disappeared from maps in c1815, having been covered in ironworks and mine waste.

Hill Pit tramroad and incline

Quick links to :-     Blaenavon Town     The Ironworks     Garn Road and Pwlldu Tunnel
Hill Pit     New Pit     Garn-yr-erw and Canada tips

Hill Pit tramroad incline and brake house - SO 2428 0990

The Incline begins at the cottages at SO 2435 0966 and leads up to the brake house. This contains the remains of the brake band mechanism and the brakesman's shelter. In 2010 the site was being cleared of undergrowth and rubbish. The tramway from the top has many stone sleepers on the way to the Pit.

Hill Pit - SO 2390 1027

The stone-built engine house chimney is the centrepiece of the area, the engine house being adjacent on the West and the shafts to the North. The foundationsto the East are of a row of 4 houses called 'Hillpit Cottages', last occupied around 1962. The pits were sunk in the 1830s, closing in 1894. Two reservoirs are either side of the site. Another shaft is poorly covered and fenced to the North-East. The tramway continues Northwards to New Pit.

Dennis Hopkins writes :- "We've been doing some work on the site as part of the Forgotten Landscapes project in Blaenavon over the last year. We believe the wall visible [to the East of the chimney] is a part of a retaining wall at the back and sides of extensions added to a row of four houses (probably post 1880) [Hillpit Cottages]".

Ty Abraham Harry - SO 2411 1028

Just to the North-East off the tramway are the ruins of a farmhouse, occupied until the mid 1960s. There are remains of many coal, clay and ironstone levels and tips around the farmhouse.

New Pit and the Dyne-Steel incline

Quick links to :-     Blaenavon Town     The Ironworks     Garn Road and Pwlldu Tunnel
Hill Pit     New Pit     Garn-yr-erw and Canada tips

New Pit - SO 2307 1061

The filled shafts and remains of the headgear are at the foot of the Dyne-Steel incline. There is a small reservoir with a concrete dam just before you reach the site, A little further North is what I first thought to be a large earth-banked reservoir but, looking at the original OS maps, it was a tramroad embankment that gets lost in the opencast workings.

Dyne-Steel Incline - SO 2395 1094

The Dyne-Steel Incline was built to avoid the Pwll-Du tramroad tunnel and was a double track, standard gauge incline. The route is very clear as it crests the ridge. Towards the top the remains of the engine and brake houses can be seen.

Dyne-Steel Eastern quarry - SO 2424 1108

This ironstone quarry or level is not shown on the 1879 map but does not seem to be working on the 1899 map

Dyne-Steel Western level - SO 2397 1094

This old level or possibly a drainage ditch runs parallel with the incline does not appear to be active in 1879.

Carreg Maen Taro - SO 2382 1133

This is an ancient standing stone erected (according to tradition) in early British times to commemorate a battle which was fought here between two kings or chiefs, one of whom was named Ifor. It is inscribed "M", facing Monmouthshire and "B", facing Brecknocks.

Garn-yr-erw and Canada Tips

Quick links to :-     Blaenavon Town     The Ironworks     Garn Road and Pwlldu Tunnel
Hill Pit     New Pit     Garn-yr-erw and Canada tips

Garn-yr-erw - SO 233103

Canada Tips - SO 246110

The Canadian Army developed opencast workings here in 1941 using machinery from the United States and Panama. By 1944, output at the site was 8.65 million tons, almost 5% of Britain's total coal output. Between 1945-8 further opencast working took place at Pwll Du and Blaen Pig. These were the first opencast coalmines in Britain and the area is now known as the 'Canada Tips'.

Canada Tips buildings

All along the ridge and down in the mine workings are odd buildings and their foundations. Most of their purposes are unrecorded but there are magazines, shelters and power control rooms. So here they are roughly from West to East.

Acknowledgments, sources and further reading.

Thanks to Mike Doyle, Dennis Hopkins and Huw Wakefield for the use of their photographs

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All rights reserved - Phil Jenkins