Blaenavon IronworksBlaenavon, Pontypool, Torfaen NP4, UK
Blaenavon Ironworks is 1 of only 6 in South Wales to successfully convert from iron to steel!
It all started in 1787 when Lord Abergavenny leased some land to 3 men: Thomas Hill, Thomas Hopkins and Benjamin Pratt. The site was promising because rich local mineral deposits outcropped at the surface, making extraction a relatively cheap process.
They designed Blaenavon Ironworks to be a multi-furnace site, with three furnaces and calcining kilns.
The end of the 18th century saw Blaenavon Ironworks and the neighbouring iron industry sites secured South Wales as one of the major iron-producing regions in the world.
In the early 1800s 2 new furnaces were added and in 1804 a forge was constructed in nearby Cwmavon.
Financed by Londoner Robert Kennard, the Blaenavon Iron and Coal Company bought the works in 1836. Led by new managing director James Ashwell, huge investment was made, including the impressive Balance Tower. This utilised a water displacement lift to carry pig-iron from the base of the site to the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal; a cheaper option compared with the tolls on the Monmouthshire Canal.
Economic and social difficulties ensued and the mighty works paused for breath, until it was relaunched in 1870 as the Blaenavon Iron & Steel Co.
It was 1 of only 6 ironworks in South Wales that successfully converted from iron to steel production. Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Carlyle Gilchrist designed the Thomas-Gilchrist Process, which enabled the use of the previously uneconomic phosphoric iron ore.
In 1880 the Blaenavon Company opened Big Pit (which is now a museum nearby) and moved away from iron production and in 1904 the ironworks finally ceased production, restarting briefly in 1924 – but it didn’t work out.
The blast furnaces, cast house, foundry and water balance tower are all Grade I listed buildings and in 2000 the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape also became a designated World Heritage Site.
The Blaenavon Ironworks is also an Anchor Point on the European Route of Industrial Heritage, part of their regional route and part of the themed route of Iron and Steel.
The remains of the ironworks are open and FREEEEEEEE!
Today you can view the extensive remains of the blast furnaces, cast houses and iconic water-balance tower. Within the site, a fascinating insight into the social history during the Industrial Revolution can be seen in the reconstructed company ‘truck’ shop, 19th century workers’ cottages, and of course, the Coal House cottages.
Site interpretation includes:
- five audio posts (Welsh and English)
- ten information panels
- exhibition with interactive models and information displays
- fully fitted 1840s ‘truck’ or company shop
- furnished cottages dressed in four periods – 1790s, 1840s, 1920s and 1940s
- Education discovery room with 30 large ‘puzzle cubes’ and five ‘discovery stations’
If you want to learn more and have the time, then The Blaenavon World Heritage Centre is the perfect place to study the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape. It is situated within the former St. Peter’s Church School and aims to create a world class learning resource helping people to understand the Outstanding Universal Value of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage Site.