Culture and Heritage

In amongst all these geological finds and areas of natural beauty are some glorious manmade attractions, relics of Merthyr Tydfil’s early cultural, industrial, commercial and religious scenes.

Buildings making the grade:

Originally Merthyr Tydfil’s Town Hall, the late Victorian Grade II* listed REDHOUSE Cymru was once the seat of local government including the council chamber, magistrates’ court and holding cells for remand prisoners.
Today, it’s been extensively renovated and restored, blending its elegant period features with brand new arts and technology facilities to restore it to the standout centrepiece structure of the town centre.
Exploring the building leads you to discovery after discovery: the beautiful multi-media atriumed Plymouth Courtyard with its glass roof, the Dowlais Theatre, dedicated art exhibition space Y Galeri Faenor, dance and recording studios, music practice rooms, café, conference facilities and heritage interpretation components. 

Another listed Grade II Merthyr Tydfil building leading a new life in the 21st century, Canolfan and Theatr Soar is the Welsh-speaking heart of Merthyr Tydfil located in Pontmorlais.
The former Zoar Congregationalist Chapel was completed in 1842 and before it closed in 2005, had been one of the largest chapels in Wales. Merthyr Tydfil-born composer of legendary Welsh ballad Myfanwy Dr Joseph Parry led its ‘Gymanfa Ganu ‘- festival of hymns - for many years.

The aim of the refurbished Canolfan is to promote the Welsh language and create opportunities for people to socialise and participate in Welsh-based activities. The 200-seat Theatr Soar is the venue for drama, dance, live music, poetry, film, concerts, comedy and workshops. You can also visit Caffi Cwtsh for a coffee, cawl (soup) or pancake and buy a book or gifts from Llyfrau Enfys. Whether you’re a Welsh speaker or a learner eager to use your Welsh or a non-Welsh speaker with an interest in heritage, arts and culture, a Croeso Cynnes awaits you at Canolfan Soar.

Number 4 Chapel Row is Joseph Parry's Cottage, the birthplace of the musician and composer Dr Joseph Parry (1841–1903), who achieved fame through his hymns and operas - as well as his most famous song Myfanwy.
The cottage has been beautifully preserved and is open to the public as a museum to allow visitors to experience the traditional home of a 19th century ironworker. Many of Dr Parry’s photographs, copies of some of his compositions and other documents are on display.
The building is open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from April to September, and by appointment only outside these times - please contact Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery for details.

The Ynysfach Engine House was built in 1836 for the adjacent Ynysfach Ironworks. The works closed in 1874 and the engine house fell into disuse. It was restored in 1989 and reopened as a heritage centre.
Ynysfach is currently open only on weekends and by appointment for groups – again, contact the Cyfarthfa Castle museum for details.

Merthyr Tydfil is dotted with historical churches and chapels:
Travel to the remote hillside near Pontsticill to St Gwynno's Church (better known as Vaynor Church), and you’ll find the grave of Merthyr Tydfil ironmaster Robert Thompson Crawshay, who had St Gwynno’s rebuilt in 1870 after the original medieval parish church of Vaynor was burnt down during the battle of Maesvaynor in 1291 and the building which replaced it became dilapidated.
Crawshay's grave comprises a huge quarrystone slab, believed to weigh 10 tons, which bears the inscription ‘God forgive me’. There are a number of historian interpretations why this was inscribed.

Also steeped in history is St Tydfil’s, the Old Parish Church of Merthyr Tydfil, which was built to keep sacred the spot at the lower end of the High Street where Tydfil was martyred because of her Christian beliefs. It is thought that some form of church has stood on this spot for nearly 1500 years. The present church, built in 1894, was designed by J L Pearson, who also designed Truro Cathedral.
In the centre of town is St David's Parish Church, built in the Victorian Gothic style in 1847 to house the growing English-speaking congregation.

Reminders of the golden age of iron
The exact magnitude and scale of Cyfarthfa Ironworks is difficult to comprehend, but what remains of the Cyfarthfa furnaces is the largest and most complete range surviving anywhere on earth, according to the Association of Industrial Archaeology.
Much of the site was demolished over the course of the 20th century after it fell out of use. But the impressive remains that can still be seen are of six massive blast furnaces and a huge brick arch - which is still standing - built to bridge the gap in the bank of furnaces.

Essential to the operation of the Ironworks was the Cyfarthfa Leat & Tramroad, an old watercourse, running approximately1000m from its source on the banks of the Taf Fechan to Cyfarthfa Lake and was originally built to convey water to the Ironworks.
The Old Tramway running below the Leat on a shelf hewn from the rock face was built to transport limestone by horse drawn tram from the Gurnos Quarry to the Cyfarthfa Ironworks and it now forms a treelined avenue from which you can view the Leat walls above.

There have been a number of world firsts in Merthyr Tydfil, Trevithick Tunnel acting as a permanent reminder of one of our favourites. On 21 February 1804, local people witnessed the first ever steam locomotive journey on rails, as Richard Trevithick’s ‘Pendydarren Locomotive’ travelled down through Pentrebach and on to Abercynon.

Nobody would argue that Merthyr Tydfil doesn’t have a dramatic landscape – and our pair of impressive viaducts certainly play no small part in that. Cefn Viaduct is the third largest in Wales and is now a Grade II listed structure. It was constructed in early 1866 on a curve so that the railway line avoided property owned by ironmaster Robert Thompson Crawshay.
The viaduct consists of 15 arches, each one 39ft 6ins wide, and is 770 ft long with a maximum height of 115 ft. The last trains travelled over the viaduct in the mid-1960s and it subsequently fell into disrepair. It was refurbished with Lottery funding and is now part of the Taff Trail, Route 8 of the National Cycleway.

Also constructed in the 1860s, Pontsarn Viaduct was built to carry the Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Railway over the Taff Fechan river. The name Pontsarn loosely means ‘bridge of the long road’, the road in question being a branch of the Roman road from Gloucester to West Wales.
The viaduct has seven spans and is an historic listed structure. It’s situated in an area of natural beauty, with the Pontsarn Blue Pool and waterfall nearby.

Explore The Valleys That Changed The World

The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries was largely fuelled by the minerals hidden beneath the hills of South Wales. Thousands of people from across rural Wales, the rest of Britain and further afield flocked to find work in the South Wales Valleys' great iron, steel, copper, tinplate and coal industries and the ports along the Severn Estuary. 

A new society emerged where vast fortunes were made by a few powerful industrialists but where the rapidly expanding workforce endured hard work and poverty. South Wales changed dramatically from an agricultural to an industrial society. This gave rise to the development of workers' unity and the birth of Chartism, trade unionism and the birth of the labour movement, which influenced the development of socialism around the world.
Times have changed. The coalfields are exhausted and the great furnaces have grown cold. Wales’ world domination in heavy industry has gone forever. Though most of the scars have disappeared and the valleys have become green once more, that period of heroic industry and associated human endeavour can still be traced through the reminders left in the landscape.
This leaflet brings together sites across South Wales where you can discover more about the industries that made South Wales great, how the communities prospered, how the goods were transported and the ironmasters and workers lived. As you explore you are sure to meet local people who will welcome you and recount tales of their local industries and the special camaraderie that existed (and still exists) in South Wales.
Download this leaflet for a wealth of ideas of places to visit to discover this unique story.

 

Last Updated - Mon - 28 / Oct / 19