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Industrial Wales - Monmouthshire's Western Valley
Pontymister, Risca and Crosskeys
Including Ochrwyth, Danygraig and Darren
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The Industrial Archaeology of Monmouthshire's Western valley - Pontymister, Risca and Crosskeys

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Pontymister

The Britannia Foundry, lying beside the Ebbw Vale line at ST 243903, opened in 1854 under the ownership of Charles Jordan, making iron and brass castings. In 1891 it is listed as Henry White & Co and was in production until quite recently, but is now housing.

Pontymister gasworks was at ST 243899, had one gasholder according to the OS map for 1886, two by 1902, three by 1922 but back to two by 1953. It was served by sidings off the tinplate works railway. It probably closed in the 1960s with the coming of North Sea gas and is now a car park.

An iron-founders blacking factory at ST 246903 producing the lining for the foundry moulds is on the OS map for 1886 but isn't on the 1902 version. Another blacking factory existed by the Britannia Inn, Pontymister. It seems they both became flannel factories - black flannel perhaps?.

There were two corn mills, Risca Mill near the Britannia Foundry and Maesiter Mill near the Pontymister ironworks.

Pontymister Iron and Tinplate Works - ST 2430 8970

The Pontymister ironworks were established in 1801, being connected to the canal and Sirhowy Tramroad by a branch tramroad across the River Ebbw. Unfortunately the works appear to have seriously unsuccessful, going from bankrupcy to bankrupcy. It became much more successful as a tinplate works from 1845 and the tramway became a railway in 1850 with the mainline. Another bankrupcy hit the works in 1896 after an acrimonious strike, a merger with the adjacent Pontymister foundry and more changes to ownership followed. The building of the Llanwern steelworks ended steel production in 1962 with Broads Foundry finally closing in 2004 as part of the Birds scrap merchants operation. From the Commercial Street level crossing, the railway went through the right -hand gate past the gasworks to the ironworks and the site is currently occupied by a number of small industrial units and derelict land, now a Tesco supermarket. In the other direction, the line crossed the main road to pass the Rolling Mill pub and up Maryland Road to the Ebbw Vale line.





Ochrwyth

Ochrwyth leadmine - ST 2355 8955

I'm not certain about the exact location of Ochrwyth leadmine which may date back to Roman times as it worked the same seams as those in the Machen area. There have been proposals to re-open it as a tourist attraction. In 2007 there were old coal drams in the yard of Castle Farm just below it (still there in 2015).

Ochrwyth Quarry - ST 2334 8980

Ochrwyth limestone quarry worked from 1954 but was classed as dormant in 2003. Later it was described as disused and 'no workings have taken place for some considerable time'. There are quite extensive remains of the concrete tipping docks are on the opposite side of the access lane, but very overgrown, and what appears to be two 'sentry boxes' at either end of the lane, the one close to the entrance is complete, the other at the top has collapsed. There's a small brick building between them, possibly the magazine? Ochrwyth quarry is sometimes referred to as 'Pontymister' or 'Ochr Chwith' quarry.





Danygraig

Danygraig (Southwood Jones) Brickworks and the 'Long Bridge' - ST 2355 9075

The Union Copper Co opened the Danygraig copper works in 1807 on the site of Roman lead mines, becoming a chemical works run by David Morris in 1816. A further change of use occurred in 1895 saw it become Edwin Southwood Jones' brickworks. This is still in operation in 2015 for pre-cast concrete products. There is a very derelict double limekiln deep in the undergrowth at the North end of the site.

Stewart Campbell lived in the cottages in the 1950s, where this photo from c1895 was framed over the mantelpiece. The door and window in the end elevation were used as the weighbridge office where a tank loco passed regularly with the pick-up goods train. Sam Munn, who lived at Buck farm, adds "My Dad used drive the tractor to pull the Danygraig Brickwork trucks out from the yard to to railway sidings for collection. I spent many a Saturday morning in the weighbridge house and I knew Mrs Campbell next door (called Campbell's corner) ".

The Sirhowy Tramroad crossed the Ebbw valley from the copperworks to the appropriately named 'Bridgend Inn' on the solidly-built 32 arch viaduct built in 1805. It lasted for 100 years, being superceded by the LNWR Sirhowy branch embankment, and was demolished in 1905. The western bank has been completely disappeared under the Risca by-pass.

Danygraig Leadmine - ST 2347 9078

Dave Bryant and friends explored and mapped the Danygraig lead mines in 1986 just before they were sealed up. These are the photos they took and his description of the exploration is :-

Plas Turton quarry - ST 2290 9057

Plas Turton is believed to be a public house in the 1840s, well situated beside the high road down the Sirhowy Valley. In the 1890-1900s a long narrow 'quarry' was dug from the roadside in a Southwesterly direction./ A tramway with a distinct dog-leg to avoid Plas Turton itself connected the workings to Danygraig Quarry. The good members of OHIHS think it is more likely to be an exposed lead vein as why have a quarry of such an unusual shape. Whatever it was, it had all gone by the 1920s leaving the 'quarry' and a concrete base opposite the entrance but no real trace of the tramway.

A little to the East appears to be a small stone-banked reservoir of unknown purpose and shy of all maps, it seems to well-built to just be for livestock

Colliery Place - ST 2310 9133

Colliery Place was the setting of 'Man of the Valleys' by Mary Paget. There were two rows of cottages and a Primitive Methodist Chapel known as 'Ebenezer'. The chapel dates from the mid-1840s and was demolished after the floods of 1891, the same fate which befell the original and later bridges. It was across this bridge that the inclines seen by Archdeacon Coxe in 1797 ran.

Sun Vein Colliery - ST 2310 9125

Sun Vein Colliery, Brass Vein level, Red Vein level and Old Blackvein level were small collieries and fireclay levels working the Southern end of the Blackvein complex. These were some of the original Blackvein workings, possibly dating back to the mid-1700s. All have disappeared under the Risca bypass but the drainage level still pours out orange water.





Risca

Risca outdoor swimming pool - ST 2366 9076

Tom Cowlin, Deputy Chief Clerk U D C wrote 'Your Town' in the August 1958 1000th edition of The Advertiser "Longbridge Recreational Ground puchased in 1923 provides a football pitch, open space and swimming bath. The council maintains the swimming bath which opened in 1929." Interesting Cowlin refers to 'bath' and not pool or lido. Also Tredegar Park and Ty Isaf Rec Ground were 'presented to the district' by Lord Tredegar in 1897 and 1923, while Wattsvile Rec Ground, Longbridge and the Stores Field were purchased by the council in 1932, 1923 and 1922, The Stores Field was then leased to Risca Rugby Club. From 1920-1937 many relief schemes were constructed to provide work for the unemployed The recreational projects above were included in these schemes as was the work to construct Waunfawr Park, which commenced in 1921 At that time 700 people were drawing unemployment benefit, which included 270 ex sevice men'

Sirhowy Tramroad long bridge - ST 2386 9071

The Sirhowy Tramroad crossed the Ebbw valley from the copperworks on the Western bank to the appropriately named Bridgend Inn next to Halls Road Tramroad on a heavily-built 32 arch viaduct in 1805. It lasted for 100years, being superseded by the LNWR Sirhowy branch embankment and was demolished in 1905. The LNWR embankment has, in turn, been completely removed leaving just the bridge and viaduct abutments next to the Inn. The inn itself is now a private house, three-storey on the main road side but only two-storey on the lane side as this was the working frontage. It's reached by a narrow, overgrown flight of steps from the foot of the abutments on the main road to a lane which is the course of the tramroad from here to ST 2397 9051. Next to the inn is the site of Risca station, the junction of the LNWR branch, the tramroad and the existing Ebbw Vale line.

Risca Brewery - ST 2389 9096

Risca Brewery was up and running by 1883 and still up and running in 1920 but the site appears to have been cleared by the 1960s. Luckily the stable and office block survives as a very smart private house that maintains it's heritage.

Penrhiw Quarry - ST 2409 9105

This quarry was working in 1883 with the OS map showing a short tramway there. It had closed by 1901 and now forms the grounds of a house.

Risca Quarry - ST 2355 9135
Darren Quarry - ST 2375 9165

Between the railway and the canal there are a lot of concrete foundations for a loading bank, including a small building (a weighbridge?) at exit of the stone tunnel from Darren Quarry (or Darran Quarry, also sometimes known as Fernlea Quarry). This area was the site of the earlier Risca Quarry, working by the 1880s, with a limekiln on site but marked as old in 1901. The very large quarry at Darren was opened before the 1870s, probably being an extension of existing limekilns and becoming disused by the 1970s. The main expansion occurred in the 1920s and 30s, creating extensive workings with 2ft gauge tramways using a small Lister petrol loco by the 1940s. A sizeable unlined tunnel seems to have led from a shaft in the quarry yard, under the canal and Darren Road to the loading bank in Risca Quarry. In 2008 the tunnel contains the remains of a 'gate' at the foot of the shaft and the body of a jubilee v-skip. Before the tunnel, maps show a bridge over the canal and an incline down to the loading bank. This vast hole in the ground has been proposed for all sorts of fascinating activities from rubbish dump to marina and chair lift to Twmbarlwm but it's still just a hole in the ground.

Darren canal bridge - ST 2343 9157

The tramway connecting Darren and Risca Brickworks and the mines crossed this bridge. Look out for the stone block at the Northwest end that kept the tramway rope from damaging the bridge and has the groove cut into it to prove it.

Darren Brickworks - ST 2342 9153

Below the bridge was Darren Brickworks, originally with kilns on the canal bank but later with kilns beside the railway line. It is a brick kiln on the 1843 Tithe map, occupied by 'Abraham Brain' and 'Job Price'. It was disused by 1920 and buried underneath the new Darren Road and a new industrial unit so hard to see anything now. It was latterly owned by the Jones family who also owned the Risca Brickworks.

Cwm-byr Brickworks - ST 2322 9162

The last of the string of brickworks from before 1882 but disused by 1920. Nothing to see there now and I've never seen a brick stamped 'Cwm-byr' either.

Cwm-byr Colliery - ST 2317 9154

Working until around 1900 with a level directly under the GWR and now another pleasant housing estate - but not a Colliery! In 1882 Cwm-byr was sold by the 'London & South Wales Coal Co Ltd' to Jane Jones of 'Jones Darran Brickworks'.

Green's Level - ST 2321 9168

A clay level and engine house were here by 1901, reached by a bridge over the canal that must have been lifting or removable. It served both the Cwm-byr and Darren brickworks via a tramway on the canal towpath. Mr Green was the agent for Blackvein Colliery. Not shown on the 1920 OS map but reportedly closed around 1929. The bricked-up entrance and collapsed levels behind it remain beside the Cwm-byr Lane canal bridge.

The likely route of Archdeacon Coxe's incline - ST 2315 9165

This is the likely site of the incline from the Old Blackvein Colliery that Archdeacon Coxe visited in 1798. Full details are on the page. Geographically it matches up with a road and bridge over the river that would have led to the older Blackvein workings and appears on a map of 1813.





The Darren Valley

The proposed tramroad of 1808

This letter dated November 2nd 1808 requests the Monmouthshire Canal Co to build a tramroad and branches to a proposed colliery near Twmbarlwm. The two branches of 840 yards and 600 yards were to start 'at or near the seven milepost' which was at Darren bridge. Unfortunately the sketch is not with the letter but 840 yards will take it to the lane leading to Darren Farm which is further than any of the known collieries in the valley.

Risca Brickworks - ST 2339 9164

The brickworks site is now a cafe and caravan park but there are many things to see around here if you ask nicely. This was the longest-lasting of the Darren area brickworks, opening around 1810 and closing as late as 1942. The 1843 Tithe map shows it being owned by Joseph Nicholas and Jarvis Johnson. It was managed by G Nicholas in 1878 and by A Johnson in 1884. Nicholas and Johnson also owned Rudry Brickworks and Colliery. By 1893 it was owned by Jane and James Jones until 1908, after which it became part of the 'Star Brick' empire.

There's a good range of different imprints used by the Risca and Darren Brickworks, particularly under the Jones ownership. Those I know about are 'N&J Risca' (Nicholas and Johnson), 'J Jones Risca' (either Jayne or James Jones),'Jones.Risca' or 'Jones Risca', 'Jones Darran Risca' and 'Jones Darran No 1 Risca'.

Darren Colliery - ST 2343 9177

Darren Lane Eastern level - ST 2349 9185

On the right of the lane as you go up but it was old in 1883 so not a lot to see but there does appear to be a ventilation shaft.

Northern levels - ST 2343 9202

In 1883 the area boasted only an old coal level but by 1901 two clay levels had been opened just below, connected by a tramway to Darren Colliery. These had shut by 1920 but the site's still there.

Top level - ST 2348 9216

Also an old coal level by 1883, just the usual dent in the ground, with the visible course of a tramway running down to the middle levels but not later re-worked it seems.

Darren Farm

Coed-y-Darren levels - ST 2377 9200

There are a whole string of small levels in the Coed-y-Darren woods. The first one is more of a scratch than a level but someone's been digging at ST 2366 9201.
There seem to be at least seven small levels as the track and path wind their way to the top of the gully. The first five levels and tips run, one above the other, up the hillside to the right of the track, with some stone retaining walls visible. In front of level 4 there are the foundations of a small stone building that could have been a magazine.
Following the footpath uphill after the track turns right, there are another two or more levels to the right of the cliff, which appears to have been quarried. The top level 7 seems to be a drainage level, monitored by the Coal Board, but is very close to the surface. None of these are shown on any OS map.

Ysgubor Newydd - ST 2430 9198

Ysgubor Newydd means New Barn and it's on the 1880 OS map so where was the old one? The limekilns and small quarry below it at ST 2426 9179 are shown as old on the same map.





Danygraig Leadmine - Dave's Adventures underground

Dave, now in Norfolk but really from Risca, has supplied this fascinating account of his exploration of the old Danygraig lead mines in 1986 :-
"When the quarry was being prepared for use as a rubbish tip, some old lead working tunnels were uncovered so one Sunday afternoon some friends and I went to have a look. We were just about to go off to the Blackvein upper level, when a chap who I think was named Tony Edwards, turned up in a JCB. We thought he'd come to tell us to bugger off the site. But he'd been working at the tip just down the road. He told us that, years ago, he'd found the entrance to a large network of tunnels, large water pool and water filled shafts. He said he'd explored them at depth, and written his initials 'TE' in yellow crayon, at various locations throughout the system, also he'd installed some poles and ropes to gain access to the higher levels. But after a major cave in, he lost the entrance. He did say his aluminium ladder, candles, torch and some other stuff was still down there.

After he went we sat on a shale bank in the sun when Nick, who was poking around and picking up stones, found a candle. We dug down a little and found some more candles. We removed quite a bit of shale, and got down into a small void. There we saw to our amazement an aluminium ladder, sticking up from between some large boulders. We removed as many boulders as we could and using a length of pole, heaved the remaining large boulders apart. This revealed our entrance to an amazing sight.

A large cavern with a greenish coloured water-filled pool. Oak tram lines were still in place but very rotten. To our right was a tunnel, which had a water filled shaft at the end, this still had wooden scaffolding in place. A narrow ledge led around the right hand side of the pool, to another tunnel. At the far end of the pool, to the left of the tunnel was a back filled tunnel, this is where most of the lead ore we recovered came from. Moving on up the tunnel, we came to a shaft, with pole and rope still in place to gain access to the next level.

Sure enough, we found Tony's initials everywhere in yellow crayon, also found some food cans, ropes torch etc, as he described. All now very rotted and rusted to pieces. Before we ascended to the next level, we followed the tunnel to it's end, here we found another water filled shaft. At this shaft we found stalagmites looking just like glass needles sticking out from the rocks, they looked very strange indeed. Going back to the up shaft, a tunnel led off to the right, this turned out to be backfill.

I can't remember too much about the second level, as the first level was by far the best. I do remember a lot of the second level was back fill, one long tunnel led us to a fair size cavern but not as big as the cavern at the entrance. This second cavern had a large shale and boulder slope at it's end, at the top of this slope was a fair bit of muck, we think that it was a collapsed entrance. We did find some similar rocks and a depression roughly in about the right location, just into the forest tree line of the farm fields above and to the right of the old quarry. Not sure if its called Rock Farm. (I think he means Buck Farm) Anyway, the shale back had another level leading from it. The access, to this third level, was by means of a steel rope ladder. Unfortunately, my friend Nick slipped of a rung, and fell back onto some boulders, just bruises thank goodness.

The council got to hear of our exploits and had the entrance filled to stop us getting in. When they either blasted it or got a machine in to do it, some more tunnels got exposed above our original access point. We hoped to be able to get back in, but these tunnels turned out to be a no goer. We decided to look at our original entrance as an option. With a bit of rock humping and a little bit of digging we got back in within an hour. We didn't bother with the third level anymore. Thought it best to get the mapping and pictures done. Which is what we did. Darn council found out about our exploits again, and we got threatened with legal action, so that put the brakes on that one. We did hear that the council sent a team of people in there to see what was there, and photograph it, also heard that divers went down the shafts, think that would have been a bit iffy, as the shafts had so much wood still in place. We measured the shafts with a lead plumb, it was about ??? feet deep.

A chap I knew who drove one of the big Euclid dump trucks, getting the old Blackvein site ready for the by-pass, said when they were blasting just up past the brick works, they discovered some tunnel workings and tools. These got destroyed, so the project didn't get held up. If that was true, I know not. I remember when the earth scrapers were in the Blackvein, they broke into one of the old coal workings, I remember peering down inside the hole, didn't have a camera though."






Acknowledgments, sources and further reading

Thanks for addition information to :- , Dave Bryant, Stewart Campbell, Stan Edwards, Malcolm Johnson, Tony Jukes, Bernard Osment, Oxford House Industrial History Society, Rob Southall, Maggie Thomas, John Venn.
Thanks for the use of their photographs to :- Dave Bryant, Stewart Campbell, Jim Coomer, Stewart Campbell, David Gaylard
'Man of the Valleys' by Mary Paget, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1985
'Risca - Its Industrial and Social Development' by Alan Victor Jone, 'New Hoizon' publishing, 1980
'Archive' magazine, issue 73 - 'Who was 'Iron-bottom' Rogers?' by Malcolm Johnson.


All rights reserved - Phil Jenkins