During the decades before steam trains, a network of horse-drawn tramroads linked the industrial heartland of South Wales with the canals. Helen Morgan from Abergavenny Local History Society reports.
One whose existence is still evident today ran along the side of the Blorenge. Constructed in about 1817 for the ironmaster, Thomas Hill, it was used to haul pig iron from Blaenavon along a tunnel under the mountain to Pwlldu and on to Garnddyrys Forge. Once converted into bars, rails and plates, the iron was reloaded on to trucks, called trams or drams, and hauled along the north face and down a series of inclines to Llanfoist wharf on the Brecknock & Abergavenny canal. From there narrowboats carried them down to Newport docks, gateway to the Empire.
Another was the Bryn Oer tram road that operated between 1815 and 1864. Named the (anglicised) Brinore Tramroad by its owners, it linked Benjamin Hall’s coal fields near Tredegar and the limestone quarries at Trefil with the canal at Talybont-on-Usk.
Within five years, however, it was already running into difficulty. A surveyor found stones beneath the rails sinking into the boggy ground at Penrhiwcalch. He was also worried that the section at the head of the Dyffryn Crawnon valley was little more than a ledge cut into the hill above a vertical drop. With good cause, it would appear. One consequence was a claim for two horses that fell off the edge in 1855. “It must have been a major feat of engineering, as only black powder would have been available for blasting,” said Gordon Rattenbury in his book published in 1980. “The ledge which [in 1960] was a pleasant walk along a path some eight feet wide is now a scramble along a narrow path sometimes less than two feet wide.” It has not improved. Yet trade along the tramroads and canal was good — until the mid-1860s when trains began steaming up the valleys from Newport and Cardiff, as well as between Brecon and Merthyr via Talybont.
The legacy of the industrial age is some of the best footpaths and bridleways anywhere, says David Llewellyn whose virtual journey promises a kaleidoscope of stunning scenery, as he passes through the ages, taking in the geology, ancient monuments and artefacts from the area’s rich industrial past.
David Lewellyn’s talk on Tramroads through Time on July 21st via Zoom starts at 7.30pm. You need to be a member to receive a link. For details visit: www.abergavennylocalhistorysociety.org.uk