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British Industrial History

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Pontrhydyfen Iron Works

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in Neath Port Talbot

This is almost certainly the same as Oakwood Iron Works, which was located immediately south of Pontrhydyfen (Pont-rhyd-y-fen). Shown, along with 'Old Coke Ovens' on 6" OS map of 1883-1913 here.

1900 'Welsh Tit-Bits by Cadrawd .... Coal was worked in several places in the Afon Valley for industrial purposes nearly a hundred years. There were works at Taibach long before anything of the kind was thought of at Cwmnafon. Coal was conveyed on horses in the earlier part of this century from the valley to work the iron forges at Aberafon and Briton Ferry, and a wooden railroad was built in the last century to convey coal from a level at Mynyddbychan to Taibach. Coal was sold in those days not by the ton but by the sack.
The population of Michaelston-super-Afon at the beginning of this century altogether could not exceed 250 souls, the number of dwelling-houses were only 46. When it was found that the valley abounded in rich veins of iron and coal, a blast furnace was built at Pontrhydyfen. But before erecting the furnace the canal was made to bring water to the place selected for the blast furnace, which was to be worked by a water-wheel of enormous size. It was for this purpose the viaduct at Pontrhydyfen was built, which bears the date 1819. The greatest engineer at that time in this part of the country, whose skill was much talked about when I was a boy, was Jenkin Rees, of Pwllygwlaw, who had undertaken the erection of the great water-wheel which was to work the great blast furnace at Pontrhydyfen, and for years when any accident happened to this huge water-wheel no one but himself could set it in motion.
It seems that the gentleman who had speculated in the erection of the first blast furnace at Pontrhydyfen before it was started went into liquidation, having spent all his money, and was obliged to retire. His interest was purchased by the first company which started to develop the resources of the valley, under the name of Vigurs and Smith, and the furnace was first lighted in the year 1820. A small forge was soon erected near the blast furnace, and the iron bars were conveyed from here to Ynysygerwn, in wagons drawn by horses, a distance of about eight miles....'[1]

In 1824-7 John Reynolds built the masonry Bont Fawr Aqueduct at Pontrhydyfen to serve the waterwheel at Oakwood Ironworks. See British Listed Buildings entry.

At some point the ironworks, and other undertakings in the area, were taken over by the Company of Copper Miners in England (Copper Miners' Company). They were put up for sale in 1849 and 1850. '..... The collieries consist of 4,050 acres, and are situated in the Pennant rocks, in the South Wales coal basin — the strata between the Tormynydd and Golden seams being in thickness about 120 fathoms. In another portion of the Pennant rocks, two seams — the Wernpistell and the Wernddu — are worked by the company, in addition to several others this district is rich in blackband iron ore. The surface lands comprise about 1,410 acres. The rentals of the different houses are £5,735 per annum. The iron furnaces, which are furnished with coke ovens, are capable of returning from 800 to 850 tons per week; the iron mills 3,000 tons per month; the tinplate works, 1,200 boxes per week; the copper smelting works, 600 tons per week; the copper rolling mills, 40 tons per week; and the brickyard, 100,000 per week. At Oakwood, the furnaces are capable of turning out 160 tons per week; the rental and estimated value there, and at the Bryn, is £720 4s. per annum. There are about 17 miles of 4ft. 8 1/2in. surface, 18 miles underground, and surface tram and colliery railways on the Cwm Avon property, 26 miles on the Oakwood, 14 miles on the Bryn estates, about 2,250 iron and wood trams, together with three locomotive engines. The dead rent for ironstone on the Oakwood leases are —ironstone, £ 300; coal, £ 1,350; the royalty, 6d. per ton. On the Bryn estate, the dead rent is £ 600 for coal and iron; the royalty, 6d. per ton. There are workmen's cottages, dwelling houses for agents, a villa residence for the superintendent, shops, market-place, establishments for worship, &c. Employment is given to a vast number of individuals and we can conceive no greater calamity to the surrounding districts than the stoppage of these works — their partial suspension being productive of the direst distress and we trust that all concerned will see the necessity of a vigorous effort to rescue them from the impending ruin which appears to menace, if not their existence, at least their well-being.'[2]

1873 'THE GOVERNORS AND COMPANY OF COPPER MINERS IN ENGLAND, at Cwmavon, with the Oakwood Furnaces and their wonderful water-wheel, have, from first to last, embarked about £2,000,000, with results very discouraging to the shareholders.'[3]

1902 Reference to the two old blast furnaces near Oakwood 'in dangerous condition'.[4]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. South Wales Daily News - Tuesday 18 September 1900
  2. The Principality, 26 July 1850
  3. Letter to the Cardiff Times, 1 February 1873, concerning losses made by S. Wales iron companies
  4. South Wales Daily Post, 11 November 1902