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Penydarren Ironworks

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Awdurdod Unedol (Lleol)Merthyr Tudful
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1. Remains of lower parts of stone blast furnaces clinging to rising ground; site now occupied by local bus company. Part of early iron bridge adjacent.

2. Penydarren was one of the four great ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil (the others being Dowlais (NPRN 34084), Cyfarthfa (NPRN 34078), and Plymouth (NPRN 34114)). It was established in 1784 in an area between Merthyr Tydfil and Dowlais, on the left-hand side of the Dowlais Brook and taking its name from Penydarren Farm. It was begun by the brothers Samuel, Jeremiah, and Thomas Homfray, under their father, the Broseley ironmaster, Francis Homfray, and the London investor George Forman, with the later partnership of Alderman Thompson. The brothers initially came to the Merthyr area to establish a refinery and forge at Cyfarthfa under Anthony Bacon, but after Bacon's loss of a lucrative government contract to supply cannon for the War of American Independence and subsequent failure to provide iron to the Homfrays? forge, the brothers departed to establish their own venture at Penydarren. After a quarrel, Jeremiah left Penydarren to establish the Ebbw Vale Ironworks (NPRN 34135) in 1789 and the Abernant Ironworks (NPRN 40441) in 1801. Samuel married Jane, the daughter of Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar House, and established/expanded the Tredegar Ironworks (NPRN 34142) in 1800.

Charles Wilkins relates an amusing anecdote about the setting up of the furnace at Penydarren. When constructing the furnace, Bacon was reluctant to provide the specifications for the furnace at Cyfarthfa, so the Homfrays decided to use a furnace at Stourbridge as the model for the furnace at Penydarren. The method of measurement was that employees of Penydarren travelled to Stourbridge and measured the furnace by laying out sticks, which they then carried in a bundle back to Wales. However, stopping in a public house on the return journey, the sticks were left in a common room and mistakenly used by a maidservant to feed the pub fires, forcing the party to return to Stourbridge and repeat the measurement.

The furnace was erected soon after and joined by a second in 1796. Another followed, but the number of furnaces remained at three until 1819 when two further furnaces were built. The works were approached by an iron bridge, constructed in 1815 to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo.

Ironworks achieved international fame through the remarkable involvement of Richard Trevethick and the use of is steam engines, most notably in the world's first locomotive railway journey on 21 February 1804 along the Merthyr/Penydarren Tramroad (NPRN 91513). Fittingly, it was also at Penydarren that the first rail ever made in Wales was rolled for the first railway in Britain, that between Liverpool and Manchester. The ironworks also produced the cable for the Menai Suspension Bridge (NPRN 43063).

The works closed in 1859, and despite several attempts to revive them, the site fell into dereliction. The bases of the blast furnaces still remain.

(Sources: Notes by Stephen Hughes, 1974, NMR Site File; Extract from ?Mines, Mills and Furnaces? by D. Morgan Rees (London, 1969), NMR Site File; Joe England, The Crucible of Modern Wales: Merthyr Tydfil 1760?1912 (Cardigan: Parthian, 2017), esp. pp. 50?52; John Newman, The Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1995), p. 445; Charles Wilkins, This History of Merthyr Tydfil (Merthyr Tydfil: Harry Wood Southey, 1867), 156?169)

A.N. Coward, RCAHMW, 02.20.2020