A Photo Essay of Brynmawr, Wales

All photographs copyright © 2004 & 2006
by Jeffrey L. Thomas except as noted

Below you will find my photographic essay on the town of Brynmawr, south Wales, and some of the surrounding area. The photographs were taken in April of 2004 and are presented on this page in thumbnail format. Comments accompany each thumbnail and the thumbnails are linked to full-sized versions of the photos. Some of my comments reference historical associations, while others reference my ancestor's associations with Brynmawr.

The photos were taken using a Nikon Coolpix 880 digital camera and most of the photographs are large (1024x768). (I just couldn't bring myself to make them any smaller.) I welcome any comments or suggestions regarding this page, and I hope you enjoy the photos!

Jeffrey L. Thomas
e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net

And don't forget to visit "Brynmawr Scene" the official Brynmawr town web site!

Photographs of Brynmawr

Brynmawr View of Brynmawr and the hills beyond from King Street overlooking Well Street. According to Hilda Jennings in her 1934 book Brynmawr: A Study of a Distressed Area, "Up to 1800 it (Brynmawr) was practically uninhabited. The great hill fringed on one side by the long line of willows gave it its early name of Waun-y-Helegyn, or the field of the willows, remained for centuries untenanted except by the inhabitants of two or three farm-houses and shepherds' cottages."
Brynmawr Entering the town from the south the Brynmawr mural, commissioned to commemorate the town's Golden Jubilee in 2002, is a beautiful and welcoming sight.
Brynmawr View of Market Square. The Town War Memorial stands to the right. As early as 1844 a Market Hall was built and after various alterations was replaced by a new and larger hall in 1894. The trade done in the market was largely wholesale, but in addition several local shopkeepers had stalls there, and applications for places in the market were received from as far afield as Sheffield. Christmas poultry fairs were held in the hall, and stock fairs on the adjoining ground. The new hall was built at the public expense and was opened by a civic ceremony and lunch to which two hundred guests were invited. (Jennings)
Brynmawr Close-up view of The War Memorial at Market Square.
Brynmawr View of the New Griffin Hotel (formerly the Castle Hotel). Bailey Street is to the right and Beaufort Street to the left.
Brynmawr View of Beaufort Street near Market Square, Brynmawr. Beaufort Street has been the focus of Brynmawr's business district since the town's early days. By the mid-19th century many merchants had set up shop here to serve the growing community of industrial workers pouring into the town. Ferrari's, to the left, was the site of the original Castle Hotel, a popular 19th-century pub. The Castle eventually moved into the building on the right of the photo, and was later replaced by the New Griffin Hotel.
Brynmawr Additional view of Beaufort Street.
Brynmawr The Brynmawr Scene Visitor & Info Centre opened its doors to the public on 11th October 2004. Sue and Robert Ball are the proprietors and it is a not-for-profit voluntary community enterprise. Brynmawr Scene Visitor & Info Centre is situated in 34 Bailey Street, Brynmawr, Blaenau Gwent NP23 4AW.
Brynmawr Brynmawr and District Museum, Market Street, is housed in the old public library building. Because of the valiant efforts of those who founded the museum in 2003, Brynmawr's history is being preserved for future generations, and, thanks to the hard work and generosity of many individuals, the museum has managed to amass an impressive and unique collection of treasures from Brynamwr's past. The Museum has already attracted thousands of visitors (including a couple of visitors from overseas). This is a must-stop for anybody visiting the town.
Brynmawr View of the interior of the Brynmawr and District Museum. The museum's walls, shelves and cabinets provide visitors with an enlightening look at the history of Brynmawr and some of the town's historic treasures.
Brynmawr The museum features several fine pieces of local furniture made by the Brynmawr Furniture company, founded as part of an effort to revitalize the town's economic fortunes during the Depression years - the so-called "Brynmawr Experiment."
Brynmawr The museum collection includes several artifacts from Rehoboth Church (additional photos below), which once stood on King Street, including the church organ.
Brynmawr Some of the photographs on display at the museum feature students and members of various organizations and clubs. Could one of your relatives be here?
Brynmawr These artifacts found in the museum are a tribute to Brynmawr's brewing heritage. Some of the town's present-day pubs (the location) have been in business for well over a century. Cheers!
Brynmawr Some of the museum's collection focuses (naturally) on Brynmawr's rich industrial heritage. The photo here features a well-preserved 19th-century miner's lamp.
Brynmawr View of Somerset Street (upper end). My Thomas ancestors were living on Somerset Street in the 1841 census. The family emigrated to Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1848. Somerset Street was created during the town's expansion period, 1820 to 1840.
Brynmawr View of Somerset Street (lower end). Unlike the industrial settlements of Nantyglo, Beaufort, Blaenavon, and to a lesser degree Clydach, where the iron works were actually situated, the dormitory town of Brynmawr owed little in the way of building enterprise to the great employers. Individual workers built their own cottages here and there along the tramroads in the very early days, and shortly afterwards tradesmen who, like the workers, were attracted by the central position of the town, began to build courts and rows of houses as a commercial speculation. Later still, thrifty workers, who built their own cottages, invested what was left of their savings in the building of an additional cottage which was inhabited by a married member of their family or let to a fellow worker, and speculative builders put up rows of houses. (Jennings)
Brynmawr View of Glamorgan Street. My Davies ancestors lived on Glamorgan Street for many years. Specifically they are listed here in the 1841 and 1851 census of Brynmawr. Like Somerset, Glamorgan Street was also created during the 1820 to 1840 period.
Brynmawr Additional view of Glamorgan Street.
Brynmawr View of Orchard Street. My Hares ancestors were living here at the time of the 1851 census.
Brynmawr The Boundary Stone and Chartist memorial. This stone on Boundary Street marks the meeting point of three different parishes, Llanelly and Llangattock in (old) Breconshire, and Aberystruth in Monmouthshire. The wall plaque here commemorates the death of David Davies and his son David, from Brynmawr, who were killed in the ill-fated Chartist attack on Newport in 1839.
Brynmawr Close-up of the Chartist memorial on Boundary Street. Although the main thrust of the Chartist march on Newport came from the surrounding communities, Brynmawr's industrial workers definitely played a part in the rebellion. Leaders of the movement often met at the King Crispin pub on Boundary Street.
Brynmawr Worcester Street beyond Boundary Street (Llangattock Parish), Brynmawr. By the time of the 1861 census, my Davies ancestors had moved from Glamorgan Street to the portion of Worcester Street that lies Llangattock Parish.
Brynmawr View of Hatter Street, Brynmawr, so named because at one time this street was home to several hat makers. Photograph copyright 2004 by Judith Sylte.
Brynmawr Additional view of Hatter Street. Photograph copyright 2004 by Judith Sylte.
Brynmawr View of the Worcester Street Car Park with modern its sculpture.
Brynmawr Rehoboth Church, King Street. Rehoboth, built in 1827, was the first non-conformist chapel built in Brynmawr. Sadly, this historic, grand lady has been torn down to make way for a car park! There's a lot of Brynmawr history being lost with the destruction of this church, and it's a great shame that some other use for the building could not be found. Once again, parking seems to have triumphed over history.
Brynmawr Close up of the front of the Rehoboth Church. The Rev. David Stephenson was Rehoboth's first important leader. Stephenson, who lived near the church on Somerset Street, was renowned for his speaking ability and his ability to raise money for the church (Williams). He preached his last sermon in 1849, and soon after became one of thousands of victims of the terrible cholera epidemic that swept the region that year. He and his wife are buried at Rehoboth under the "big pew" near the alter.
Brynmawr View of the rear of the church and the overgrown cemetery. There are many grave markers here, some standing against the back wall of the church and others lying on the ground. What will happen to these important pieces of Brynmawr history?
Brynmawr Additional view of the back of Rehoboth and the cemetery. Have you paid and displayed?
Brynmawr Tabor Church on Davies Street is a non-conformist chapel built in 1835. The church was rebuilt in 1857. When Rehoboth Church was rebuilt in 1840, Tabor generously allowed Rehoboth's congregation to use their chapel for worship during construction. (Williams)
Brynmawr Calvary Church on King Street was first built in 1833 and a vestry was added in 1852. The chapel was rebuilt in 1879 to the design of Mr Gabe, architect of Merthyr Tydfil. Follow this link for an essay by Judith Sylte on the early history of this Brynmawr church.
Brynmawr Libanus Chapel Church, located at the top of Chapel Street, was founded in 1848 and was damaged by the infamous Brynmawr gunpowder explosion of 1870.
Brynmawr Libanus Chapel and other buildings nearby were so badly damaged by the explosion that they had to be reinforced with iron pins, one of which is still visible in this photograph of the side of the church.
Brynmawr Brynmawr town cemetery. Photograph taken near the cemetery entrance. The cemetery was founded in 1853, some say, to help alleviate overcrowding in the town's smaller chapel cemeteries. At present, the cemetery's burial register is being transcribed and will eventually be distributed to local records repositories and Family History societies.
Brynmawr View of the Brynmawr Cemetery with the town and surrounding hills in the background.
Brynmawr Additional view of the Brynmawr Cemetery
Brynmawr The Bridgend Inn on King Street serves up some of Brynmawr's best food and is a popular local gathering spot. This public house dates to the 19th century, and can been seen on the 1880 Ordnance Survey map of Brynmawr and in early photographs from the turn of the 20th century.
Brynmawr The Talisman pub off Market Square. There's been a public house here for a century and a half. For much of that time, the pub here was known as the Black Lion Hotel. For years the Talisman has served as the meeting place for Brynmawr's Rotary club.
Brynmawr The King William IV pub is located at the bottom of Glamorgan Street. In its heyday in the 19th century Glamorgan Street featured many pubs and beer retailers catering to Brynmawr's thirsty industrial workers. Today the King William is one of the lone survivors from this time period.
Brynmawr View of the "The Patches" above the town. Some of Brynmawr's earliest mining activity was concentrated here in the hills behind the town, where the earth was "patched" (the top layer of soil removed), and shafts were dug into the sides of the hills to extract coal and iron ore near the surface. Today this area stands as a stark reminder of Brynmawr's industrial past.
Brynmawr Additional view of The Patches. These photographs were taken from the top of the town cemetery near Fitzroy Street.
Brynmawr Another view of the "patched" ground above the town. In his 1927 book on the history of Rehoboth Church in Brynmawr, the Rev. W. Crwys Williams notes that "Here and there could been seen along the mountain sides small parties burrowing for coal veins, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not; close by were others engaged in unearthing and scouring what iron ore there was in the district."
Brynmawr View towards the bottom of King Street from the town cemetery.

Photographs of areas surrounding Brynmawr

Clydach The ruins of the Clydach Iron Works near Brynmawr. The mining of iron ore and the smelting of iron began near Brynmawr in the early 18th century, and the ruins of the works at Clydach are the closest surviving iron works to the town. They can be seen as part of the Clydach Gorge walk, a great way to get out and see some of the beautiful scenery that surrounds Brynmawr!
Clydach Closer view of the Clydach Iron Works. Owing to the existence of a plentiful water-supply nearby, Clydach was the scene of intensive industrial activity well before Brynmawr became an established community. Works accounts for Clydach dated 1711-12 are extant, and in 1800 the Iron Works and forge here employed some four hundred hands. (Jennings)
Clydach Side view of the ruined iron works at Clydach. Difficulties with regard to the quality and cost of extraction of local ores, together with the gradual superseding of iron by steel, led to a decline in the iron trade which culminated in the closing down of the Clydach and Beaufort Iron Works in 1861. (Jennings)
Nantyglo The Round Towers (the North Tower), Roundhouse Farm. By the early 19th century, industrialist brothers Crawshay and Joseph Bailey controlled much of the iron resources in the region, including the iron works at Nantyglo, about a mile from Brynmawr. Fearing that their workers would one day rise against them, in 1816 the Baileys built the last fortified tower in Britain as a place of refuge against a potential worker's revolt. Today these ruins stand as unique and important reminder of the region's industrial strife.
Nantyglo Additional view of the North Tower. The North Tower today remains intact and was lived in up until a few decades ago. The South Tower (not shown) is greatly ruined. Special thanks go out to Mr. Glyn Jones, owner of Roundhouse Farm, who allowed us access to this important monument.
Nantyglo View of the farm building at Roundhouse Farm. The building here is unique because it is the only known farm building in the world that uses iron for its internal support beams and it's a-frame roof. Bailey used iron for strength and because as an Ironmaster it was cheaper than using wood. The windows and lintels here and in the two towers are also made of iron.
Nantyglo Interior view of the farm building with its iron A-frame roof supports.
Llanelly Beautiful Llanelly Parish Church (near Brynmawr), dates from the 12th century and continues in use today. My great-great grandparents, John J. Thomas and Elizabeth Davis from Brynmawr were married here on 28 Dec 1844. This is a general view of the church through its canopy of ancient yew trees. Follow this link for additional information about Llanelly church.
Llanelly The large tower dominates this view of the church. The stained glass windows in the foreground are above the alter on the South aisle.
Llanelly Looking down the main walkway leading to the porch and the entrance to the church.
Llanelly View of the cemetery at Llanelly. The older section of the cemetery is divided into four sections close to the church, while the modern section is found on a hill just above the church. Llanelly's siting high on a hill commands spectacular views of the mountains valleys below.
Llanelly Additional view of the cemetery at Llanelly.
Llanelly The guidebook to the church notes that, "The ancient churchyard, within the magnificent circle of venerable yews, indicates that it was a sacred spot in pre-Christian times. These yews, which cannot easily be equaled in our country, were probably planted when the present church was built between 1200 and 1250."
Llanelly View of the church's South aisle from the alter. During marriage ceremonies here couples would have walked up this aisle, been married at the alter (below) and walked back down the North aisle as husband and wife.
Llanelly View of the Alter on the South aisle. The Tudor-period table here dates from the early 1600s and is one of many historic treasures found at the church.
Llanelly View of the North aisle from the back of the church.
Llanelly Additional view of the interior of the church (North aisle).
Llanelly A beautiful stained glass window depicting St Elli from the North aisle of the church. St Elli was a 6th-century Welsh saint who is mentioned in the Life of St Cadoc. It is said that St Cadoc supervised St Elli's studies Llancarfan, the student eventually succeeding his master there. There are two churches in Wales dedicated to St Elli - the one here and another located at Llanelli in Carmarthenshire.
Blaenavon The town of Blaenafon is about 5 miles from Brynmawr, and the ironworks here played a large part in the development of the regionís coal and iron industries. The first works were built in 1788-89 by Thomas Hill, Benjamin Pratt and Isaac Pratt, and by 1796 were producing over 4,000 tons of iron annually. Although the original 18th-century furnaces are gone, two other furnaces built circa 1810 can still be seen today.
Blaenavon Additional view of the ruined iron works at Blaenavon.
Blaenavon The Big Pit National Mining Museum of Wales is located just outside the town of Blaenavon. The first mines here date from 1840 and were used to supply the iron furnaces at nearby Blaenavon. The mine finally closed in 1980. The 50-minute walking tour of the disused mines is perhaps the best in Britain, as you make your way through dark and narrow passages with only the light from your miner's helmet to light the way. The day we visited, our engaging and knowledgeable guide was Glyn, a retired miner from Brynmawr!

 

Return to the Brynmawr, Wales pages
History of Brynmawr
Visit "Brynmawr Scene" the official Brynmawr town web site!
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Web site and photographs copyright © 2004 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved.
e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net