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Blaenavon Ironworks

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Map ReferenceSO20NW
Grid ReferenceSO2496909253
Unitary (Local) AuthorityTorfaen
Old CountyMonmouthshire
PeriodPost Medieval

Blaenavon Ironworks was taken into Guardianship in 1976, saving the site from its planned demolition. It is now regarded as perhaps the most complete preserved ironworks of its period and type. When the works was established in 1788, it was decided confidently to put into practice the latest technology and industrial organisation. Unlike almost all previous ironworks it was built with three coke-fired blast furnaces from the start, operated with steam power. It was immediately one of the largest ironworks in the world, producing 5,400 tons of iron a year by 1796, before expanding with the addition of three more furnaces in the nineteenth century.
Blaenavon is the most representative example of some 70 coke-fired ironworks which were created throughout the South Wales coalfield in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, making it the leading iron producing region in Britain. Blaenavon was later important as the site of the experiments of Sidney Gilchrist Thomas which in 1878 resulted in the Basic Bessemer or Thomas process, which permitted the use in bulk steelmaking of cast iron made from phosphoric ores. The ironworks is notable for the survival of most of the key structures associated with the smelting of iron in the Industrial Revolution. The principal features of the site include:

* One surviving blast furnace, and buried remains of two others, dating from 1788-9
* Two blast furnaces of c1805
* The base of a circular blast furnace of 1863
* A cast house
* A foundry with cupola furnace
* Ore calcining ovens
* A water balance lift
* Remains of engine houses and boiler houses (still be to excavated)
* Original housing of 1788-9
* Retaining walls and ancillary buildings

A great deal has been achieved in exposing and consolidating features of the site, in particular in the restoration of the workers' houses at Stack Square, conserving the cast house and foundry, excavating and consolidating most of the exterior faces of three surviving furnaces, and creating a visitor centre. Conservation of the interior of Furnace 5 is currently underway. Most of the massive retaining wall, the water balance tower and Furnace 6 are awaiting consolidation during the next few years, having not benefited from any maintenance since the works went out of production in the 1890s. The conserved features of the site are now safely stabilised for the long term, but those features which have not yet been consolidated have continued to decay, adding to the scale and technical difficulty of the task. Current projects will allow visitor access to parts of the site which are not yet safe, although further first-time conservation works in the next few years will be needed before the site can be fully open for unaccompanied visits.

(Notes via D.K Leighton for TICCIH 2000 Conference)
Site visited B.A.Malaws, 05 September 2000.

In November 2000, Blaenavon Industrial Landscape (part of which is the Blaenavon Ironworks), was awarded World Heritage Status.

Associated with:
Furnaces 1-6 (Nprn: 67623, 67622, 67624, 67628, 67631, 67627)
Stack Square (Nprn 20853)
Truck Shop (Nprn 67611)
Cast House and Foundry (Nprn 309095)
Blast Furnaces (nprn 309093)
Balance Tower (Nprn 309091)
Chimney Stack (Nprn 67618)
Storage Sheds (NPrn 67617)
Pay Office (Nprn 67616)
Calcining Kilns (Nprn 67614)
Stack Base, Stack Square (Nprn 67612)