The Industrial Archaeology and History of the Northern Sirhowy Valley
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Pont Gwaithyrhaearn Furnace - SO 1649 0434
Pont-gwaith Level - SO 1635 0422
Pont Gwaithyrhaearn means 'The Bridge Iron Works' but there are scant remains of this pre-1700 charcoal iron furnace, lime kilns and foundry. The site was measured when derelict in 1831 and it was 3 metres (10 feet) across the base. It is believed to have fallen into dis-use circa 1760. It's worth bearing in mind that this is not the same as Pont-y-gwaith Ironworks, of the well-known drawing, which is in the Taff Vale near Abercynon. Pont-gwaith Level was operational from pre1843 to 1896 and little remains of that either.
'An Outline of the History of Pont Gwaith yr Haearn' by Eiddil Gwent (1798 - 1878) written in 1868
"Pont Gwaith yr Haearn is a kind of small and insignificant village on the banks of the River Sirhowy about three and a half miles below Tredegar. It got this name from the furnace that once smelted iron there many long years ago - and the name will probably stay for as long as the river Sirhowy washes the foot of Manmoel's cliffs and woe betide the man who would attempt to change this name which has adorned the old furnace so long, at the hands of Lady Hall, Llanover (Gwenynen Gwent), for her Ladyship is the owner of the place and her zeal and enthusiasm for keeping up the old Welsh names of places in Wales [is very great].
It was half a century ago, namely in the year 1818, that I first paid a visit to Pont Gwaith yr Haearn. At that time there was little cause for even the most meticulous of antiquarians to doubt for a minute in his mind the existence of the old furnace of Pontgwaithyrhaearn, for the black heaps of cinders that surrounded the place were sufficient proof of the existence and antiquity of this old furnace. And although the black heaps of cinders that surrounded it were covered over with grass, and the old furnace itself almost completely covered by nettles - like one ignored by the finger of tradition and disregarded by history - yet it still demands its rightful place as equal, if not older, in age than any of the ancient furnaces of Wales:- such as the Pont y Gwaith furnace, in the parish of Merthyr, Pontyrhun furnace, Cwmywernlas furnace, Melin y Cwrt and the old Caerphilly furnace.
During the fifty years that I have spent in this place, namely Tredegar, I have doubtless been some tens of times to Pontgwaithyrhaearn, every time quizzing the inhabitants in relation to relations to Pont Gwaith yr Haearn; but it would have been as well to ask the man in the moon as to ask them, for the answer was "We know nothing." But small wonder, for they were all incomers and the old natives of the place had all passed on - without leaving behind them as much as a single tradition, but for the place name, namely Pont Gwaith yr Haearn. About 37 years ago , I measured the old furnace, and I found that it measured about 40 feet in circumference and its diameter was about 10 feet and 3 inches. But recently I paid a visit to the old furnace, and to my disappointment it was no more than 30 feet in circumference and 10ft in diameter. It is probable that this can be attributed to the decay of time during the 37 years that have passed - for it is now level with the ground, aye, some 3 feet or more lower now than when I first saw it.
But having thus loitered around the old furnace, I must now lead the reader to the facts which prove, undeniably, the existence of Pont Gwaith yr Haearn.
"A wado hyn aed a hi A gwaded i'r haul godi."
“Whoever would deny this, let him go And deny that the sun rises.”
About 37 years ago I went to a place called Llanhilleth [Llaniddel in the original] to ply my craft and who should I meet there but Mr. Rees Davies, the son of the Mr. Rees Davies who built the Tredegar furnaces, from No.1 to No.5. Mr Davies had been in France for some years keeping an ironworks. But after the start of the Revolution in France, he returned to Wales an eminently respectable gentleman of wealth - and he started up at the Llanhilleth foundry. One day, I met Mr Davies and he told me that he had, at last, extracted the history of Pont Gwaith yr Haearn to the last detail.
"From whom, Sir?" I answered. "From Mrs Thomas - an old lady who is bed-ridden through great age - who lives in the house next door to the foundry. This lady is the mam-gu [“grand-mother”] of Mr. John Thomas, formerly of Pontymeistr [now Pontymister] but now residing in France. And Mr Thomas told me, when I was in France, that it was his family who founded Pont Gwaith yr Haearn - and here are all his words shown to be true by his mam-gu - "Go in turn to Mrs Thomas, and she will surely give you the same details to you as I got - for her memory is quite good considering that she is 85 years of age." - A long life indeed, is it not, dear Reader?
This news caused me great restlessness in my mind - and restless I was until I worked my way around to holding some small conversation with this venerable old lady. Let the reader carefully peruse the conversation that took place between us, for I have nothing but what she told me as any foundation for the existence and antiquity of Pont Gwaith yr Haearn - and I hope that that is sufficient for any sane and sensible man when he considers out of whose mouth it came."
Having paid my respects to the old lady, I said to her -
"It's likely, Mrs. Thomas, that you remember the furnace at Pont Gwaith yr Haearn working."
"Yes I can, my boy - it was there that my father was working when I was born - and after that my husband's relations worked there."
"Where did they obtain coal, Mrs. Thomas?"
"It was not coal that they used at that time, but charcoal; the government was against burning coal at that time, because, they said, it poisoned the air."
"What did they have making blast for the fire at that time, Mrs. Thomas?"
"Did your family live in Pont Gwaith yr Haearn?"
"No, but they lodged there, going home every Saturday night to Twyn yr Odyn, Merthyr; and when Monday morning came they returned from there as the crow flies to Pont Gwaith yr Haearn."
"Do you know, Mrs. Thomas, where they obtained iron-ore to make iron?"
"Somewhere in the neighbourhood of Pont Gwaith yr Haearn they got it, but I don't know where."
"Were the masters Welshmen or Englishmen?"
"They said they were Welshmen, but they were Welshmen from France; two gentlemen without equal they were as well, they are very well remembered."
"It is a fact, Mrs. Thomas, that a nation of Welshmen has been settled in France for 1200 years, we call them Llydawiaid - Bretons."
"Well, there they are."
"Well, what became of these gentlemen?"
"Well, they returned to the soil of their native land, namely France, but despite that we received letters from them for several years, because my family - that is the Thomases of Twyn yr Odyn, Merthyr - were greatly respected by them - and it was their son that enticed John, my grandson, from Pont y Meistr to France to keep an ironworks - and that is where he is to this day."
"How old were you at that time?"
"Well, I could have been between ten or twelve years of age."
"How old are you now?"
"Well, I am now eighty five."
It is obvious that were this old lady alive today  she would be 128 years old. Well, that is the substance of the conversation that passed between myself and the aged lady relating to Pont Gwaith yr Haearn, and had I not chronicled it at the time, doubtless the history of Pont Gwaith yr Haearn would have been completely lost, probably forever. It is only fair to inform the Reader at this point that, if called upon, the writer is able to refer him to grandchildren, great-grandchildren and descendants of this old lady and that without travelling more than ten miles.
The natural conclusion in the light of the above statements is that the Bretons came over to Wales to their fellow countrymen, during the time of the heated war between England, France and Spain during the reign of George II, and that, after the peace that was made in 1748 during the same reign (within two or three years) they returned to Brittany in France. And another natural conclusion is that they built the Pont Gwaith yr Haearn furnace about the year 1738 or 1739. In the time of King James, all the furnaces of this Kingdon stood at some 300 in number; and in the 40 years of the reign of George II they were reduced to 59, and Pont Gwaith yr Haearn was one of them.
'R hen ffwrnes gadarnwych ail huan oleuwych,
Amliwiaist yr entrych yn fynych gan fwg;
Er lles - trwy hanesion o lawr dy falurion,
Cawd dyfnion ddirgelion i'r golwg.
"O, sturdy old furnace, like the bright, excellent sun,
You have often coloured the heights of heaven with smoke;
For common good - by means of histories from the floor of your ruins,
Deep secrets have been brought to light."
|Acknowledgments, sources and further reading.|
|Thanks for addition information to :- Mark Lloyd.|