Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Puddler at Forge" Glanddyrys, on the side of the Blorenge, Wales.

The mystery remains but we're closing in on how the sons of a fatherless butcher became puddlers in the South Wales iron works. A puddler was a skilled worker of some prestige in the boiling ores, blinding fires, and poisonous clouds of the industry.

The first indication we have is the 1851 census in which John and Elinor's son William Vaughan, age 21, is listed as "puddler at forge." What forge? We've wondered. And I only assumed, as there was no forge apparent in their resident village of Llanfoist, that it was the Blaenavon Ironworks over the Blorenge Mountain. It wouldn't be an impossible walk, if inconvenient, to travel over the mountain or maybe stay some days coming home on Sunday, likely the only day off, ever.

Then something came across my Facebook feed from Gwent Archives mentioning Llanfoist at the foot of the Blorenge and the tramways across the mountain:
the counter balanced incline planes at Llanfoist canal wharf which were part of Hill’s Tramroad, linking Blaenavon furnaces and Garnddyrys forge with the wharf to transport the wrought iron along the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal.

Garnddyrys forge! It was called a forge! "Puddler at forge" would likely refer to the closest forge in the vicinity along with the few other puddlers, rollers, or labourers "at forge" listed in the Census for Llanfoist.

I had also read about Garndyrys (with one "d") in Cordell's, Rape of the Fair Country. The Spelling also varies as "Garn Derris, Garn Dyrris, and about every other combination of "r's" and vowels imaginable. (Dang Saxons!). I believe Garn Ddyrys is the best Welsh which may mean "intricate hilt," as in:

no system upon which to govern
But, I digress.

A lot of internet searching got me more background on Garnddyrys including this very helpful archaeological report about the limestone and iron working on the Blorenge:
A network of primitive tramroads was associated with these limestone workings. One of the earliest is the Blorenge Quarries Tramroad (SAM: MM288) built as a plateway c.1795; this fell out of use by 1804 following the closure of the quarry. With the completion of the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal to Llanfoist in 1812, additional transport routes were established over the Blorenge. Such transport links were in response to an upsurge in demand for iron and corresponding increased production at Blaenavon ironworks, which peaked during the Napoleonic Wars. Thomas Hill, manager of Blaenavon ironworks, had already constructed a section from Pwll Du to the ironworks through the Pwll Du tunnel around 1815; the northern entrance (SAM: MM224) of the Pwll Du Tunnel lies in the area. Hill's tramroad became the main transport route for materials running from Blaenavon ironworks to the wharf at Llanfoist. A well-preserved later section includes the 40m long 'cut and cover' Blorenge tunnel (SAM: MM275). An extension of Hill's Tramroad, built c.1817-22, ran from Pwll Du to Llanfoist via Garnddyrys, with a small section extended part of the way across Gilwern Hill; the quarries at Gilwern having been previously linked to Pwll Du by earlier tramroads.
Hill's tramroad allowed pig iron from the Blaenavon ironworks to be taken to the forge at Garnddyrys (established 1817) for conversion to wrought iron; it passed under Garnddyrys through a tunnel approximately 120m long. Garnddyrys ironworks and a section of Hill's tramroad up to Pwll Du via Pen-Rhiw Ifor are scheduled (SAM: MM189). The section of Hill's tramroad to Llanfoist wharf largely fell out of use with the establishment of mainline railway links in the 1850s when this replaced the canal as the principal form of transport for the Blaenavon ironworks, while Garnddyrys ironworks went out of use c.1861, when a new site was built at Forgeside, close to the newly established rail links. From this time onwards extraction from the limestone quarries declined with some ceasing operation altogether by 1860. . . 
At Garnddyrys worker's housing consisted of two-storey, single-fronted, stone cottages with stones lintels and corbelled and barrel-vaulted rear larders built into the hillside (Garnddyrys Square); there were also fifteen stone cottages at Garnddyrys Row. It is likely that buried and some surface remains of these structures survive.
Best of all, I found maps, and pictures. And the Glandyrys remains are preserved in the Blaenavon World Heritage Site.

Center, towards top, just over hiker's shoulder, is Garn Ddyrys.
Arial view of Garnddyrys today with the B4246 (a real road!) cutting right through along the side of the Blorenge
Garnddyrys Forge in Full Operation 1820-1860. Note the reservoir pool behind the smoke.
That is the same as the large contour along side of the road, above.
All the rest of the features can be fit into the remaining foundations or outlines.
While only the outlines remain, it is still the outline of the original forge without out any modernizing improvements as it closed by 1861.

Still, there remains a memorial to Uncle William's work at the puddling that appears able to withstand the test of time until the elements melt with fervent heat as they did in that furnace. It's a slag heap from the processing of the pig iron, dumped over the edge of the hill to create what locals call, "The Monster."

Slag formations at site of Garn Ddyrys forge
 © Copyright Gareth James and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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