Nantyglo Round Towers

Roundhouse Farm, Nantyglo, Wales

All photographs copyright 2004 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Please note that access to the site is by kind permission of the Jones family,
however entrance to the buildings is not permitted without permission.

Above: view of the North Tower from the farm building.

The Round Towers at Roundhouse Farm in Nantyglo, Wales, were built by industrialists Crawshay and Joseph Bailey, who, by the early 19th century controlled much of the iron resources in the region, including the massive iron works at Nantyglo located about a mile south of 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.

Today, the North Tower remains intact and was lived in up until a few decades ago, while the South Tower is greatly ruined. The farm building or barn at Roundhouse Farm is unique because it is the only known farm building in the world that uses iron for its internal support beams and 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.

The photographs of the Round Towers complex were taken in April of 2004, and a special "thank you" goes out to Mr. Glyn Jones, owner of Roundhouse Farm, who allowed us access to this important monument and gave us the information below regarding the tower complex and the industrial history of the region. Unfortunately the research is uncredited.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
May 2004


Below: Additional view of the North Tower. The tower today remains intact and was lived in up until a few decades ago, while the South Tower (below) is greatly ruined.


NANTYGLO ROUND TOWERS

WHY WERE THE ROUND TOWERS BUILT?

The Round Towers at Nantyglo stand as a permanent monument to the tyranny of the ironmasters Joseph and Crawshay Bailey and to the social conditions of the South Wales Valleys in the nineteenth century, which could so easily have developed into a bloody revolution.

Joseph and Crawshay Bailey were remarkable businessmen, but their profits were built not only from their deep knowledge of the iron industry, but also from a ruthlessness with their employees that today seems shocking. They built the Round Towers between 1816-1822 following serious rioting at Nantyglo, in an attempt to protect themselves and their property, and also to act as a symbol of strength against those who would dare threaten ironmasters with violence.

The major ironmasters represented a new class in Wales being English, Anglican and businessmen. Formerly the wealthy class in Wales was generally composed of absentee landlords of large estates living a long distance away from their workers and only seen during the hunting, shooting and fishing seasons. Although the ironmasters usually lived in a mansion close to the works, they were never really integrated into the life of the community and friction between master and worker was never far from the surface.

Below right: Ironmaster Crawshay Bailey (left) photographed in 1867. Bailey died in Lanfoist in 1872 and did not live to see the collapse of his ironworks at Nantyglo.

The period 1800-1900 was one of dramatic change in the whole of the South Wales coalfield area. In 1801 the population of the parish of Aberystruth, which includes Nantyglo, was just 805. By 1831 it had reached 5,992, the largest percentage rise in the whole of Britain. With such a dramatic increase in population and following new industrial developments it was inevitable that problems between ironmaster and workers, and often also problems between groups of workers, erupted into violence from time to time.

The working and living conditions of the workers were for much of the time appalling, with the level of wages rising and falling with the fluctuations in the price of iron. Row upon row of worker's houses were built as more employees were needed at the ironworks. The houses were without even the most basis sanitation. The houses were owned by the ironmaster, so if a worker was made redundant for any reason he also lost his home. Most workers therefore did not dare to rebel individually against the ironmaster.

The truck or company shop was another method of control over the workers, and an extra source of income for the ironmaster. Prices were often 20% higher than in local shops and during the frequent cash flow crisis at the works, goods from the company shop were given to the workers in lieu of wages. On payday the shopbooks and furnace books were checked and the balance, if any, was handed to the men. Debts under the system were almost unavoidable, so to maintain the family income lodgers were taken in, children were sent to work at the age of 7 or 8, or a small shop was opened in the house. In 1830, Monmouthshire magistrates were so worried that they petitioned the House of Commons demanding the abolition of company shops because the country's peace was threatened.

Trade Unions were illegal, but there is a strong tradition of organized workman's associations in South Wales. Friendly Societies were allowed by the ironmasters, so long as they remained benevolent, collecting dues to provide for sickness or death benefit for their members, but in time they inevitably became more radical as tension with the ironmasters grew.

One of the first attempts at an organisation by the workers to protect their trades was the infamous Scotch Cattle who first appeared in Nantyglo in 1822. Their main objective was "to prevent strangers from being taught the art of mining". During the early nineteenth century many Irishmen emigrated to Wales fleeing from the potato famine in their own country. They were so desperate for jobs that they were willing to work for a lower wage than the native Welshman. The ironmasters became very clever at turning the workers against one another, employing the desperate Irish to break strikes. The Scotch Cattle punished the immigrant workers for black-legging with threats to their property and even their lives, attempting usually with some success, to terrorise them into stopping work.

These then were the turbulent events which brought about the construction of the Nantyglo Round Towers, while such social and industrial upheaval was taking place throughout the South Wales coalfield. The Round Towers remain now as a striking monument to these troubled times.

Below: exterior and interior view of the barn/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.

THE ROUND TOWERS

The Baileys constructed a pair of fortified towers - the last private castle type fortification to have been built in Britain. Local legend tells of an underground passage linking Ty Mawr with the Round Towers, but no actual evidence has so far been discovered.

The northern tower is a two storey building with a well ventilated cellar at the basement for the storage of food and other essential provisions in case of siege. The other floors housed the ironmaster, his family and supporters. A spiral stone staircase is set into the inside wall allowing access to the upper levels and roof area. The roof itself is unique. Cast at the works it is formed of slotted iron 'petal' sections, interlocked and inlaid with a course of bricks. Many of the fittings and structural features were made from cast iron, reflecting the economy of the area at the time, when iron was cheaper than wood.

   

The entrance is a solid iron door (above), set into a stone porch and covered by a slated canopy. In the door are two holes through which musket barrels could protrude from the inside swinging shutters. To the side of the entrance is a ventilation shaft which kept provisions fresh in the cellar.

The walls of the tower are four feet thick with the two windows narrowing sharply towards the outside for maximum protection.

The south tower (below) exists today as a ruin, having been partially demolished by blasting in the 1940s to salvage the cast iron for scrap. This tower had an extra level which in 1841 housed James Wells, private secretary to Joseph and Crawshay Bailey.

Below: the ruined South Tower

Other features to be seen around the Round Towers complex include the stone line of an old tramway, large cast iron water troughs and the fine barns and storage buildings which date back to the original iron works of 1897. They were used to store equipment and housed the tram ponies. The rood structure and many other details were constructed in iron rather than stone or wood.

Joseph Bailey left Ty Mawr in 1830 and retired to the Glan Usk estate in Crickhowell. He became MP for Worcester in 1835 and eventually Lord Glan Usk. Crawshay continued to run the works from Ty Mawr until about 1850, when he retired to Llanfoist House. He became MP for Monmouthshire in 1852. Crawshay's nephews, Richard and Henry successfully managed the works until 1871, when it was sold to the Nantyglo and Blaina Ironwork's Company. Crawshay died in 1872. He did not live to see the collapse of the ironworks which were dismantled in 1878.

Ty Mawr and the Round Towers were occupied by the mangers of the Nantyglo and Blaina Ironworks Company until 1885 when all the effects were sold by public auction.

Below: Although all the ironworks at Nantyglo were removed in the late 19th century, the ruins below of the iron furnaces at Clydach near Brynmawr can still be seen today.

NANTYGLO IRONWORKS

In 1811 Joseph Bailey and his partner Matthew Wayne bought the ironworks at Nantyglo for 8,000. Joseph had previously been works manager at the Cyfartha works of his uncle, Richard Crawshay, so was well equipped to run his own iron furnace complex.

In 1813 Matthew Wayne sold his share on the company to Crawshay Bailey brother of Joseph, and a period of large-scale investment in the ironworks began. In 1813 The Old Forge and Mill were built; by 1825 the New Forge was in blast; by 1833 the neighbouring Beaufort Iron Works was added to the empire and the New Plate mill was built. By 1844, when the famous Lion Mill was completed the Baileys had eight furnaces at Nantyglo, six at Beaufort and many acres were taken up by the slag and other waste from the works. By this time the Nantyglo Ironworks had a formidable reputation and was one of the most important sites in the world - supplying railway lines for the British and American markets.

Around 1820 the Baileys built a fine mansion, Ty Mawr, close to the older Trosnant House. The house turned its back on the ironworks and they surrounded the house with trees and gardens shielding themselves from the sight of the ironworks. All that remains of Ty Mawr today are the excavated foundations. In 1816, a riot occurred in Nantyglo, sparked off when the Baileys threatened to reduce wages. On this occasion Crawshay Bailey withdrew the threat, but the events obviously frightened the ironmasters for they began the Round Towers soon thereafter.

In 1822 a more serious riot broke our, caused this time by a reduction in miner's wages. Marching bands appeared and violence flared when attempts were made to prevent coal from entering the iron furnaces. A group of workers led by Josiah Evans and Henry Lewis defeated local militiamen and a detachment of Scots Grays were called for and billeted for nearly two weeks until peace was restored, in what is now a bran at the centre of the Round Towers Complex.

Below: view of the farm building/barn from the roof of the North Tower.


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This web site is copyrighted 2004 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved.
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