Dowlais Stables

One of the oldest and most impressive buildings still standing in Merthyr is Dowlais Stables.

In the early part of the Nineteenth Century, despite Merthyr being at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and indeed pioneering the first steam-powered locomotive in 1804, Dowlais (and all the other) Ironworks were reliant on horses and ponies to bear the brunt of the heavy haulage work. In July 1819, it is recorded, Michael Faraday the eminent scientist visited the Dowlais Works, and walked with Josiah John Guest to the hay fields near the Works where the hay made there was used to feed the 150 or so horses which the Dowlais Iron Company used.

The following year, Josiah John Guest had stables built to house the horses. The architect of the building is unknown, but it was (and still is) a striking building. The complex is of symmetrical design, in the form of a rectangular plan of ranges set round a (formerly railway-served) central yard. The façade has two-storeys with centre and end pavilions separating 9-bay ranges and there is a tall central arch, through which the railway passed, with a circular clock face. This façade is roughly 450 feet long, and the central block rises to over 50 feet, with the central arch being roughly 30 feet high. This is topped with a decorative wooden cupola.

A plan of the layout of Dowlais Stables

It is said that when the stables was built, a number of contemporary newspaper cuttings, and several items of memorabilia were hidden behind one of the arch stones to be revealed “when the building falls down”.

The stables were well used; towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Dowlais Iron Company were employing “over a dozen blacksmiths, several stable lads and a score of other hands to tend the several hundred head of horses now owned by the Company and stabled in the very heart of Dowlais”.

As well as being used as for stabling horses, soldiers were stationed in the building for several years after the Merthyr Riots of 1831. Also, of course, Lady Charlotte Guest famously used the large first-floor rooms as a boys school until Dowlais Central Schools were opened in 1854-5.

The stables closed in the 1930’s and the complex became derelict; in the late 1970’s unauthorised demolition was started, but was brought to a halt. The site was subsequently bought by the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust in 1981, and despite the façade partially collapsing in 1982, the building was eventually rebuilt as flats; the south east facade walls were also substantially rebuilt. Of the original structure, only the southeast range and Stables House on the north west range currently survive.

Dowlais Stables after the partial collapse in 1982

2 thoughts on “Dowlais Stables”

  1. In January 1835, following Josiah John Guest’s return – unopposed- as Merthyr Tydfil’s MP, he and Lady Charlotte hosted a ball in the granaries above the Dowlais stabling to celebrate. Charlotte organised the decorations, which included patriotic transparencies proclaiming ‘W.R.’ [William Rex] and EGLWYS Y BRENEN [Church and King] drawn by the clerks from the ironworks office and hung where they caught the light. Josiah John’s Arms -‘with a Lyre and a fleur de lys’ according to the Merthyr Guardian, but when had he acquired the right to an heraldic device? – were chalked on the floor. The Rev Evan Jenkins, Rector of Dowlais, lent the Guests the church chandeliers, evergreens bedecked the walls and the band of the Cardiff militia provided music. The local gentry, whether or not they shared Guest’s political views, came in anticipation of a good party. By all accounts, the weather was vile, with thick snow delaying the London mail coach. In consequence, the local paper had much fun at the expense of a party of urban sophisticates who arrived too late for the fashionable quadrilles and had to make do with country dances ‘like Sir Roger de Coverley and Boulanger’.
    (Information from the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette, Saturday 24 January 1835 and Lady Charlotte Guest, Extracts from her Journal, ed. the Earl of Bessborough (John Murray: London, 1950, pp 37-38, 19 – 20 January 1835).

    1. Thanks Victoria. That is really interesting. As always, your contributions to this blog are really appreciated.

      Steve

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