We had visited the Big Pit at Blaenavon on our last visit to the Brecon Beacons but did not have time to visit the nearby historic ironworks. As the weather wasn’t very good we decided that today was the ideal day to visit.
The ironworks was of crucial importance in the development of the ability to use cheap, low quality, high sulphur iron ores worldwide. It was the site of the experiments by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and his cousin Percy Gilchrist that led to "the basic steel process" or "Gilchrist-Thomas process”.
As we explored the ruins of the ironworks we learnt about its history. Blaenavon Ironworks were built on land leased from Lord Abergavenny in 1787 by three partners, Thomas Hill, Benjamin Pratt and Isaac Pratt, and by 1789 the three original blast furnaces had been constructed at a cost of £40,000. To ensure efficiency the contours of the land played an important part in construction. A hill slope was cut back to form a sheer cliff and the brick and stone furnaces were built abutting it. This meant that the ore, coke fuel, and limestone required in the iron-making process could be introduced into the furnace from the high ground immediately above. As the material travelled down the interior of the furnace, the heat within would be intensified by 'blasts' of air provided by a steam engine. Once molten, the material would be tapped off into sand moulds that had been made on the floor of the casting house built immediately in front of the furnace.
On site there was a number of old houses which had been used by workers at the ironworks- Stack Square. The houses had been set up for the different time periods in which the ironworks operated. When they were first built the houses were occupied by reasonably well off working families who had skills which were needed in the new ironworkers and so paid accordingly. However in later periods the houses were occupied by poorly paid labourers in the now well established ironworks.
From the ironworks we had a quick wander into the historic town and visited the old schoolhouse now the visitor centre which told the history of the town before heading back to base stopping to walk by the canal that used to service the coal and iron industries.