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Black Lion and Pontygwaith – Merthyr Vale

Black Lion & Pontygwath - Merthyr ValeSouth of Aberfan and Merthyr Vale, the valley of the River Taff assumes a more rural character, having managed to escape the physical despoliation of the area to the north during the industrialisation of the nineteenth century. However, nearly all of the production of the ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil and later its collieries had to pass this way on its journey to the port at Cardiff. Each successive line of communication, from road, through canal, tramroad and railway had to be surveyed and engineered through this narrow and tortuous stretch of the river between Ynysowen (Merthyr Vale) and Navigation (Abercynon).

Black Lion & Pontygwath - Merthyr ValeFrom Black Lion the tramroad follows the ever-steepening slopes of the valley’s eastern side towards Pontygwaith where the route is crossed by a high arched bridge. Now carrying a narrow lane down into the valley, this ancient track would have been part of the network which criss-crossed the area, linking individual farms and hamlets, before the growth of Merthyr Tydfil and the valley villages. Leaving the high ground of Forest Hamlet, the track crossed the river by the exquisite stone-arched bridge called Pontygwaith, climbing the ridge of Cefn Glas before descending once more into the Cynon valley.

Dates for the bridge over the tramroad near this point are vague and one wonders whether it would have existed in its present form, if at all, in 1804. It is possible that the track simply crossed the tramroad here, a bridge not being necessary until the building of the Taff Vale Railway in 1841.The name Pontygwaith (Bridge of the Works) refers to the existence of an ironworks, probably dating to the early seventeenth century. A number of sources refer to such a works although references can be a little confusing.

Black Lion & Pontygwath - Merthyr ValeThe Merthyr historian Charles Wilkins says that an Anthony Morley, who first came to south Wales in 1583, started the ironworks. By 1640 it was operated by Lewis of the Van and Mr. Cook, a London ironmonger. In 1648 Cromwellian cavalry destroyed it because the owners were known to sympathize with the Royalist cause. Today however, nothing can be found to pin point the site of the works which would have been a small charcoal burning furnace, using local ironstone and limestone and relying on the River Taff to power the furnace bellows. I.G. Wood in ‘The Rivers of Wales’ noted the remains of what he called a “wattle weir” in the river near Pontygwaith when he visited the area in 1811.