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The Journal of a Journey,
UK and Ireland 1999


Day 11—Sunday, October 10—Nantyglo

Slide set 1Our day in Nantyglo, Wales, the main destination of this trip, began like most of the others with a good B&B breakfast and drizzly skies. We spent a little time getting acquainted with Joe and Pat McDonnell, our B&B hosts, then moved out into the Welsh mist to take in the view. The Ysgubor Fach Bed and Breakfast is located high up a hillside opposite most of Nantyglo across the valley. The first three pictures in the slide animation at right are segments of the panorama of Nantyglo from the front yard of the B&B. The fourth slide is the B&B itself, and finally the group, with Joe McDonnell on the left, Trevor Rowson, Pat McDonnell, and Jeff Jones, our driver and host for the grand tour of greater Nantyglo. (Tip: to stop slides at any time, click your cursor on your browser's "Stop" button. To resume animation, click "Refresh.")

By the time I got a couple shots on video, Jeff and Trevor were driving up to collect us.They joined the McDonnells for a few minutes, Trevor telling how, as a boy, he remembered bathing, fully clothed, in the pond just outside this house and being invited inside to dry off by the fireplace. We bid adieu to the McDonnells, threw our luggage in the trunk of Jeff's BMW, and were off for a history tour of this once vital industrial valley.

Slide set 2 Our first stop was a large row house that Trevor wanted us to see, along a rutted dirt road at the edge of the town, a typical old mining town sight, still occupied by families today. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good camera shot of it. Just below it was the former reservoir built for the iron works, shown in the accompanying slide, which has now been converted into a park with swimming, picnicking, and fishing. Next stop was the Ironmaster's house, shown in the second of these slides, which has been turned into a membership club/tavern. It was built in the 1820's and still retains the marks of fine workmanship used in its construction. (Trevor is shown describing an alcove that once housed a shrine to the Virgin Mary inside the house.)

Third stop was at the Royal Oak Inn, where Chartists, members of a pre-labor union movement who advocated rights for laborers during the United Kingdom's Industrial Revolution, were organized by the landlord. Battles between Chartists and government forces led to many deaths in the early 19th century.

In the fifth slide of the second set, Trevor shows us two placards commemorating local history. The lower, round plaque, is in memory of Chartists killed in the uprising of 1839. Above it is a plaque showing where Hermon Baptist Church once stood, a remnant of the famous "Welsh Revival" that swept that country around the time of America's last Great Awakening.

The third slide set, at right, begins with a view of Nantyglo's town center. Slide set 3Though in its prime this street was lined with stores and shops, today it is all converted to housing, with some empty units. Our host Jeff grew up in the large house on the right in this picture.

The second slide in this set is the Ebbw Fach Valley which runs through Nantyglo. The river that once flowed here is now underground, beneath the highway, diverted through concrete pipes. At its industrial peak, this valley was filled with iron works, and before the introduction in the middle of the 19th century of the Bessemer process capable of turning iron into steel, this valley was the world's leading center of iron production.

Nanty Glo's main historic landmarks, a pair of round towers built by ironmaster Crawshay Bailey after labor riots in 1816, were our next stop. The towers are on a privately owned farm and one, shown in the third slide above, has been restored and is partially accessible from an adjacent carpark (as Trevor demonstrates in the fourth slide). Normally, there is no access to the other tower (fifth slide), which is in ruins, Slide set 4but a resident of the farm came out to see who we were and when he discovered who Trevor was, he invited us to have a look around. The accompanying slide animation shows a view of an interior wall at the ruined tower, a historical plaque about the towers, the barnyard which separates the towers (the barn was used as a barracks for militia during an uprising shortly after the towers were built; I found it fascinating, the most "old-world European" sight on our whole tour) and a wide-angle perspective of the restored tower. The towers are notable as the last castle-type fortifications built in the UK. The final slide in this set shows the open mouth of a mine face that goes deep into the mountain a few yards from the towers. Our hosts said it is not sealed in any way, other than the barbed wire shown here.

Slide set 5A walk down a short trail to the left of the parking lot leads to the foundation of Ironmaster Crawshay Bailey's mansion (first slide, right), called Ty Mawr or Nantyglo House. So powerful was Bailey that houses built on the hillside across the river opposite his were not allowed to have windows facing his mansion. The second and third slides in set 5 are underground storage areas for the company store, or shops as it was known here, where miners and iron workers shopped with the scrip in which they received their wages. As in America a century later, miners and millworkers here also "owed their souls to the company stores." Trevor shows where various tunnels under the store showrooms were used for warehousing food, produce, and goods. As before, this is a site not normally open to tourists, being now the basement of a private residence; Trevor's fame preceeded us and as soon as he introduced himself and told what we were there to see, we were welcomed inside.

The fourth slide above shows the residence of Crawshay Bailey's and the iron company's physician. Though something of a mansion in its own right, Trevor said it would have been small compared with Bailey's house. The final slide above shows the only remaining ruins of one of the area's iron mills, in a history preserve park a few miles from Nantyglo.

Slide set 6Slide set 6 begins with a converted row house in which ironworkers lived, near the mill shown above. Four former row houses have been converted into one large home. The second slide in this set is the Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal, some miles south of Nantyglo, whence iron was transported via mule-drawn train cars for shipment to Newport and points beyond. The third slide shows the dramatic view (though mist shrouded somewhat in this shot) from atop the adjacent mountain. One of the train cars used to transport coal and iron is on display in a park dedicated to local industry atop the mountain. The final slide shows a collection of miners' lamps hanging from the ceiling of a nearby pub.

We ended our tour at the pub. Jeff dropped Trevor off at his Nantyglo home and drove Tom and me back to Newport to catch the next train to Bath, England, an hour's journey away. Bath was also a major experience, but this entry has already gone overlong so we'll save it for next page.

—jon

Next station: Bath

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