On a glorious sunny morning 14 members met Peter Wakelin and his dog at Blaenavon
Ironworks. After speculating on the origins of the Massey hammer which marks
the car park (I think it came from Doncasters Forgeside works) we went into
the works via the Information Centre. We didn't spend enough time in there
to see all that was on show but, donning our hard hats made our way onto
the site. As a specialist "expert" group with a guide we were allowed into
parts of the site not usually open to visitors.
The visitors viewpoint near Stack Square allowed us to see the works layout. We then visited the mystery buildings by the track up to the balance tower. It is known that they were used as a chain store at the end of the productive life of the site but they do not look like a purpose built chain store. They are more like gigantic stop-end coke ovens. After looking at the water balance tower from roughly mid height we walked up to the furnace charging level. Here we were able to examine the remains of the ore calcining kilns, and the tops of the furnaces. Number five furnace still has the throat armour in place.
At ground level we were taken to see the conservation problems of nos one and five furnaces. Number one furnace seems to have been prepared for a partial reline (hearth and boshes) and the stack brickwork seems to have been supported by thin air for most of the last century. It has now been secured by a stainless steel lintel bolted into the structure. Furnace five is supported by a mass of scaffolding but this has to be removed to consolidate the structure properly. Outside the furnaces we saw the unusual dual gauge tramway track into the balance tower. What might have been the cast house for the number two furnace was used as a foundry with two cupolas outside.. This spilled over into the cast house of Number one furnace after ironmaking stopped on this site. .
Unfortunately on Saturday it is not possible to see some of the more interesting artifacts that have been recovered, such as the balance tower carriage.
We then visited the restored housing in stack square. Some of the windows are now thought to be inappropriate and may be replaced at some future date. The slate roofs must have been a replacement, probably for sandstone tiles. The thoroughness of the conversion of the one block from offices, managers house etc to workmens' houses was surprising. On the way to lunch at the Rifleman's Arms we drove around the town to view the manager's house, the works school built by Sarah Hopkins (the first in Wales) and the general architecture of the town centre.
After an excellent pub lunch we drove out to the site of the Garnddyrys forge, where there was plenty of evidence of iron refining and some building remains. We then walked along a carefully graded section of Hill's tramway to the northern portals of the mile long tunnel and the head of the Pwll Ddu quarry with its water balance shaft. At one point we had to climb around a wall, only to find a notice on the other side that the path was dangerous and had been closed. The hazardous nature of that short section of the tramway suggested a return down the road. From here we saw the remains of the wartime open cast coal mines just below the ridge. In the sunshine an icecream from a convenient van was very welcome. (The Fox and Hounds was shut!) During the drive back we called to see the southern portal of the tunnel at a point where a tramway viaduct with houses under the arches could be buried.
An excellent visit ended with perfect timing just as the rain started.
Our thanks to CADW and Peter Wakelin for this visit.