Merthyr: Then and Now

PONTSARN RAILWAY STATION

Pontsarn Station was, at one time, one of the busiest stations on the Brecon and Merthyr Railway line, as Pontsarn was always the venue of choice for Church and Chapel Sunday School Outings.

In the first photograph taken in the early 1900’s we see a quite busy station with its own station-master.

Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

The second photograph taken in October 2017 shows that nothing remains of the old station other than the platform. It is now a scenic stopping off point on the Taff Trail.

Many thanks to Jason Meaker who suggested this post.

Merthyr’s Bridges: Pont y Gwaith

Although Merthyr is world famous for its ironworks, most people don’t realise that there was an ironworks established in the Merthyr Valley as early as the late 16th Century. In 1583, Anthony Morley, an ironmaster from Sussex, set up a small ironworks on the western side of the River Taff between Merthyr Vale and Edwardsville.

The location had plentiful supplies of water for power and wood for charcoal, with iron ore readily available from surface deposits or shallow pits, but supplies and materials had to be transported over the river. To accommodate this, a wooden bridge was built and called Pont y Gwaith – literally Works’ Bridge. The small hamlet that built up around the ironworks took its name from the bridge.

The Pont y Gwaith Ironworks eventually closed, but the hamlet flourished, but by the early 19th Century, the Merthyr Tramroad, where Richard Trevithick ran the first locomotive on rails in 1804, had been constructed between Penydarren and Abercynon, bringing additional goods traffic to the area. The tramroad had a passing place on the east side of the river near Pont y Gwaith.

With the increase in traffic, the old wooden bridge wasn’t deemed suitable, so a replacement bridge was built. A new stone bridge was built in 1811 founded partly on bedrock and partly on squared masonry abutments. Its single arch spans 16.8m span, with a 4.8m rise. The slope of the approaches has been designed so that the curve of the parapet walls echoes the steep rise of the arch.

The bridge shares several design features with the longer-span William Edwards Bridge (Pontypridd, completed 1756), including the use of narrow stones to form the arch ring, the steep road gradient and a plan form that narrows from the abutments towards the midspan.

By the 1970’s mining subsidence had caused significant distortion resulting in the arch becoming pointed at midspan, so in 1979 the bridge was restored and a lightweight concrete saddle was used to strengthen the arch.

The bridge was awarded Grade II listed status in June 1988, and later became part of the Taff Trail from Cardiff Bay to Brecon. In 1989, it was closed to vehicles. In 1992-93, the bridge was repaired by Mid Glamorgan County Council and received a commendation from the Civic Trust.

Photos courtesy of Janice Lane.

Bridging the gap

One of the most striking structures in Merthyr if Cefn Viaduct. You can’t miss it, but how much do you know about it?

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Cefn Viaduct photo courtesy of Christopher Surridge

The viaduct was commissioned by the Brecon and Merthyr Railway company to span the Taf Fawr Valley in Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer. Before work began, a special Act of Parliament had to be sought in 1862 to allow construction. The viaduct was designed by Alexander Sutherland and Henry Conybeare, and was built by Thomas Savin and John Ward. In early 1866, the project faced disaster when Savin and Ward suffered serious financial and legal difficulties. It was eventually completed with the assistance of Alexander Sutherland, and was completed on 29 October 1866 at a cost of £25,000.

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Cefn Viaduct under construction courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)

The viaduct is 770 ft long, and at its highest point stands 115 ft high; it has 15 arches, each one 39 ft 6 inches wide. It was planned to be constructed entirely of limestone , but a strike by stonemasons in February 1866 caused the company to buy 800,000 bricks and use bricklayers to complete the 15 arches. The most striking feature of the viaduct is its elegant curve. The viaduct was apparently designed this way to avoid encroaching on Robert Thompson Crawshay’s land.

Smaller, but no less impressive is Pontsarn Viaduct. This was also designed by Alexander Sutherland and built by Savin and Ward to bridge the Taf Fechan Valley. Opened in 1867, Pontsarn is 455 ft long and 92 ft high at its highest point and comprises seven arches. Unlike Cefn Viaduct, it is built entirely of limestone.

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Pontsarn Viaduct courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)

The Merthyr to Brecon Line stopped carrying passenger trains in 1961, but goods trains continued to use the viaducts, with the last train crossing them on 1 August 1966. Both viaducts are now Grade II* listed and form part of the Taff Trail.