Evidence: The remains of an iron works

Although the iron industry had a major impact on Welsh life and landscape between 1750 and 1950, very little remains today. One of the consequences of the dreadful Aberfan disaster of 1966 was that most local councils in South Wales spent massive time and effort in clearing away the industrial ruins and waste tips that covered industrial Glamorgan. Hardly anything remains to be seen of the iron industry.

However, one site in Wales has survived to a remarkable extent. Cefn Cribbwr Ironworks near Pyle was remote from the industrial heartland and its very remoteness meant that it was largely forgotten about in the move to demolish and landscape Welsh industrial sites. Although Cefn Cribbwr is not a typical Welsh ironworks for a number of reasons (largely because it was never successful in the way of the Merthyr or Neath ironworks) it is remarkable in demonstrating the classic layout of an early ironworks. Comparing the picture above with the photograph beneath, you can easily identify the classic elements of an iron works. I know that the partnership surrounding the National Museums and Galleries of Wales are eager to make Blaenavon the centre of all things 'Welsh Iron', but the current propaganda surrounding Blaenavon is more akin to a cynical attempt to extort as much grant aid and tourist dollars as possible whilst doing very little work.

  • The large cental blast furnace, with its arches for men to work at the hearth.
  • The remains of a casting house in the front and a blowing house at the side for the bellows or machinery to provide a blast.
  • The furnace is also built against a bank with the upper level on the left perfectly arranged to act as the charging platform for loading iron ore and coal or charcoal into the top of the furnace.

In terms of the history of Wales this site is just as significant as any castle because of what it represents, and it is extremely depressing to see the way in which it has been allowed to deteriorate over recent years. I cannot recommend you go and visit the site because it is overgrown, inaccessible and somewhat dangerous.

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SHW's Book of the Month:

Salt by Mark Kurlansky

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This is not a local history book and Mark Kurlansky is a journalist not a local historian. Nevertheless he has produced a fascinating history of one of the world's basic commodities. I first came across Kurlansky with his book about the history of Cod. I think anyone who wants to know about the history of the Bristol Channel has to be familiar with the fish and how it encouraged Bristol fishermen to discover the Grand Banks. Salt is another offbeat yet fundamental bit of our history. We've had a popular web page on salt for ages and Swansea had a Salthouse Point at the mouth of the River Tawe for centuries. Kurlansky takes you on a journey across space and time to discover the importance of salt for mankind. From Jericho to Gandhi, salt has had an important part to play. This is a lovely book that enhances the quality of history for it adds depth and value to something we use every day. (Nigel Robins)

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