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Site of Penydarren Ironworks/Trevithick Street - Continued

Site of Penydarren Ironworks/Trevithick StreetBy 1803 therefore when Trevithick’s idea of building a steam locomotive at Penydarren was first mooted, Samuel Homphray became infected with the Cornishman’s enthusiasm. Facilities were provided for him at Penydarren and two skilled workmen, Rees Jones and William Richards put at his disposal. The scene was then set for the memorable events of February 21st. 1804. Although it is the name of Homphray that is most associated with the Penydarren ironworks, from the date of the first lease it seems that a “Mr. Richard Foreman of the Tower of London” supported the venture financially.

His son William was also taken into the partnership in 1787. By 1813 Samuel Homphray had left Penydarren to pursue his interests in the Tredegar ironworks. It is from this time therefore, that William Foreman together with another Londoner, Alderman William Thompson took control of the works. In 1815 7,800 tons of iron were produced by the three furnaces and by 1848 there were seven blast furnaces working at the site. Cables for Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge were made at the works and in 1830 rails for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. By the mid 1850’s the ‘Age of Steel’ was about to dawn and the death of Alderman Thompson in 1854 probably encouraged William Foreman to put the Penydarren works up for sale.

Site of Penydarren Ironworks/Trevithick StreetA comparatively small concern such as Penydarren could not hope to finance the changes involved in constructing a steel making plant so by July 1859 the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian reported that “These works in the active sense of the word, have ceased to exist……the furnaces have been extinguished” Although the smallest of the four Merthyr Ironworks it should not be regarded as an insignificant enterprise. The furnaces were built into the hillside to facilitate easy loading from the high ground behind. A network of tramways brought the raw materials from the coal and ironstone mines on the other side of the valley, while the limestone for the furnaces came via the Gurnos tramroad down the hill to the north-west.

As the works grew, the buildings of the forges and mills, where the pig iron was refined and shaped, were constructed in the narrow valley bottom alongside the Morlais stream and extending towards Merthyr. A little imagination is required to envisage the works in its heyday, as very many changes have taken place since then. The Morlais Brook is anonymous, having been carried in a culvert for much of its course for many years but Trevithick Street, the name of the long row of cottages in the valley bottom, provides us with at least a link to the site’s industrial past. This stretch of Nant Morlais became much despoiled during the nineteenth century and it is only within the last ten years, with the landscaping and planting of the tips of coal and iron waste that it has regained some of its pre-industrial beauty.

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