One can only imagine what this valley
looked like before the Coal Industry boom: no lakes, just a small stream
working its way down the valley, passing trees, lush green fields and few
homesteads, on its way down to the town of Abertillery, where it would merge
with the Ebbw Fach river before heading south towards Newport.
The farm Tir
Nicholas was situated low in the valley on the site which would become the
Cwmtillery Colliery. It was described in the mid 1800's as being ,
"A typical valley farm with massive gables and stone tiled roof. The front garden was surrounded by hedges of holly
and beech and its stone flagged pathways were lined with dwarf bundlers of
chipped box bushes. Near the house was its water mill, and inside sat two women
working at a spinning wheel, making wool for knitting or weaving. Large sides
of bacon hung from the rafters and the food included milk, butter and cheese
made from ewes milk, instead of wheaten bread, crisp fresh oatcakes was the
A plaque in memory of Williams Williams of Cwmtillery can be found on the pit wheels memorial..
IN MEMORY OF WILLIAM WILLIAMS OF CWMTILLERY KILLED IN THE CHARTIST UPRISING AT NEWPORT NOV 1839
ER COF AM WILLIAM WILLIAMS O GWMTYLERI A LADDWYD YNG NGWRTHRYFEL Y SIARTWYR YNG NGHASNEWYDD TACH 4 1839
In 1842 Thomas Brown was reported to have found the Elled deep and rich coal seam, this
would be the start of the coal industry in Cwmtillery. It would provide
employment for the next 140 years for hundreds of people. Population increased
as people moved in from other declining coal areas and houses seemed to appear
overnight. Suddenly this quiet valley erupted into noise, smoke and the black
dust from the extracted coal.
In 1850 the Cwmtillery
colliery opened with the sinking of two shafts followed quickly by the
Pen-y-bont and Gray collieries, A feeder pond would also be required and this came in the form of
the lower lake which was constructed in 1851. The industry continued to expand
throughout the valley, small shops, schools and workmen's clubs appeared to
support the ever increasing population.
Between 1857 and 1876 disasters
would hit the valley, underground explosions would cause fatal injuries to
those working nearby: 1857, twelve lost life, 1873, six and 1876, twenty three.
All explosions were said to be caused by naked flames in miner lamps igniting
A Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1874 and later, a
school room was added, but after only 36 years it was affected by subsidence
and an alternative site on which to rebuild the chapel was found.
St.Paul's Church was built and opened in 1891 and was built on the land donated by
the South Wales Colliery Company, who took over the colliery in 1864. In later
years an additional church hall would be built at the entrance to the church,
this would be used for local fetes and other festivities.
Immediately opposite the site of St Paul's, on the west side of the valley was a site
referred to as "Llanerch Pardarn", (Llanerch, means a retreat or hermit's
cell), it would later be named Ty Doctor Farm.. Up to the last 19th century the
only building there was a farm, owned by a family believe to be named
Bridges.A row of about five pit-cottages was then
added, though the whole area was by now covered with colliery
A level (Red Ash level) was also
established, which did not cease production until shortly after the
nationalisation of the coal industry. The site may, however, be much older and
provides Cwmtillery with a tenuous link with antiquity.
Gradually, pit cottages were built on land previously used by
the few isolated farms. "High Street" was built at the pit-head, and a
co-operative stores and bakery was later added. Fielding's bakery was just round the corner, though it would
close in the 1920s.
Many of the pitmen moved
into the valley from far and wide, as there was insufficient local labour. I'm
not sure how far they came, but, Club Row, demolished in the 60s was at one
time called "Little Ireland".
As time past by
the mountain tops would get larger and darker from the waste extracted from the
colliery and additional building would be erected within the colliery to house
different industry skills required to maintain the colliery needs. Modern
increase coal output, but the never ending search and
extracting of coal would continue for 140 years.
In February 1913 the mountain side above
the Cwmtillery colliery gave way, it is said to have happened following
extensive winter rains.
Thousands of tons of earth and rocks destroyed two
houses and Ty Doctor Farm. Fortunately the slip was slow in progress and
allowed local residents the time required to evacuate. The two houses were at
the end of the row but luckily no-one was living in them. They were full of
coffins kept there in case of disaster at the pit The slip continued until it
final settled in the spring time.
The years slipped by and with the industry thriving and the mining community
growing, pubs and clubs appearing everywhere, some names from the past &
"The Rising Sun"
located above the cock and chick school, "The Bridgend" (Now
called The New Bridgend ) sitting in the middle of the valley the
"Cwmtillery Miners Welfare" below Tillery Court (also used to be the
laboratory for the collieries and then a council yard), "Mount Pleasant
Inn & Blaena Gwent Workmens Club" Alma street, and just around the corner near the railway line
"The Britannia" (known as The Old Maids because it was run by
sisters. "Cwmtillery Workmen
Club" (built 1921) top of Gwern Berthi Road; "The South
Wales" west bank. East side you had the
"Top Hat" with an off licence in Woodland terrace;
Blaentillery club" top of crook hill. "The
Fountain inn" bottom of crook hill and part of the Chivers
Brewery complex; Chivers Brewery produced a large amount of the local ale and
pop, it was located on the now "White Horse Court", Crook hill. The Fountain
Inn remained open after the brewery ceased production and existed until the mid
60s. The former brewery was used between the wars for local dances-penny-hops
which were sometimes less than well ordered, with the result that the place
became known as the "Bomb and Dagger". as well as a dance hall,
it served as a rag and bone shop and a coal lorry park, before its fate reduced
it to rubble.
On the entertainment front Cwmtillery had a few up and coming
stars pop in. In 1965 the centre of attraction in the Blaentillery Workmen's
Club was star Oliver Reed and in the Top Hat a young lad just starting his
singing career, his name Tom Jones.
In 1976 the top Reservoir which had
originally been built in 1906, had an expensive upgrade to the water treatment
system and buildings. The following year an open day was arranged allowing the
public to see the investment involved. The top reservoir is not our only source
of water, just as important is the feed pipe from the black mountains which
supplies addition water to the reservoir see
With the closure of the Pen-y-bont
colliery in the mid/late 60s, and the need of demolition for both colliery and
substandard housing. The focus would move to the construction of Arrael View
and Hillcrest This would now allow the land to be reclaimed for new industry
and by the early 70s the land had received an extensive landscaping project and
hosts the cwmtillery industrial estate.
names of places would now become only memories, Old Row, Landover Villas (home
of the Chivers family), The Bailey (West Bank), Upper Levels (Penybont),
Fountain and Tredegar Terraces (also owned by the Chivers), Woodland Public
House, the White House pub on club row, the Rising Sun opposite Cock and Chick,
The Britannia (on the railway below Penybont, West View, Griffiths St
(nicknamed Hill Street), to name but a few.
the Cwmtillery colliery closed, any coal that was left was too expensive to
mine. It was December 1985 before all sections of the colliery ceased to
operate and demolition could commence This opened the way to a multi million
pound extensive land reclamation, with the buildings knocked down and equipment
moved to other collieries. Large earth scrapers moved in and would spend the
next 12 months travelling up and down the valley moving the black mountains
which scarred the valley. Bull dozers and cranes slowly but surely filled in
the valley between the two lakes and the site of the Cwmtillery colliery.
Thousands of trees, bushes and top soil and landscaping
As time moves on the valley gets
greener every year with more and more wildlife seeming to thrive.
In 1987 the old Pit Wheels were set in a stone base to mark the site of the former
Cwmtillery Colliery, followed later in 1994 with a new playing field and
recreational facility in the centre of the valley. This was later to be named
after the late Jim Owen (The Jim Owens Memorial Hall).
Grwyne Fawr Reservoir
other winter photos of the Reservoir and valley click here
Located in the Black mountains, this
reservoir would play an important part in the Cwmtillery History.
the nineteenth century, severe sickness struck many of the South Wales towns.
The disease was spread through the infection of wells and springs which were
the only source of water supply for the ever increasing population.
the Western Valleys Sewerage Company laid a fifty mile sewer to the sea bed at
Newport, but without adequate water this sewer could not be connected and later
that year the Abertillery Local Board obtained an act to build the 2 million
gallon Cwmtillery Reservoir, supplying 300,000 gallons to the colliery and
400,000 gallons pumped out for domestic use. It was constructed directly above
the lower lake with an agreement that the colliery would not mine below the
site and this would allow the coal seam below to support the reservoir. This
didn't happen and soon after it was opened the sides began to subside and leaks
developed within the reservoir and there was no way it could be made water
tight. Messrs Lancasters Collieries then looked after themselves by tapping the
water further upstream to supply the collieries only.
It was decided that
water catchment and a reservoir would be required to supply the welsh valleys.
In 1906 Mr Baldwin Latham, a sanitary and water engineer, reported that the
only suitable site was over twenty miles away at Grwyne Fawr in the Black
Mountains. This site was high in a valley and received the rain fall required
to maintain the required water level.
In 1912 the building of Grwyne Fawr
Reservoir started but, due to the war period and construction difficulties, it
would take 16 years to complete and it was finally opened in March 1928.
the construction of Grwyne Fawr Reservoir developed, the 2 million gallon
Cwmtillery service reservoir would also be constructed, along with the Coity
tunnel which would carry the 16" water pipe into the valley. The tunnel itself
would be 1608yds long and was built between 1912 - 1915. In April 1915, water
finally flowed with Grwyne Fawr water but the supply came from a small dam near
the northern extremity of the works, it would be February 1928 before the main
reservoir began to fill and November 1928 to reach high water level.
The route of the feed pipe takes it from Grwyne Fawr to Llwyn
ddu Reservoir, Abergavenny, Clydach Gorge and on to Llanelly Hill. It then
turns right by the Whistle Inn and through the Coity tunnel. This tunnel
emerges at the site of the new Blaentillery farm (left) and terminates at the
top reservoir. The filtration of the reservoir water is carried out by pumping
the water back up the valley to the filter ponds situated above the reservoir,
from there it is piped to the consumer via the pumping station
The Coity tunnel itself has received considerable repairs over the years, both in 1957
and 1983 major repairs would be undertaken to the tunnel wall. To help with
removing air locks in the system a bleed valve had been installed all those
years ago, located on top of the coity mountain its use would be required in
Pipe elevated in the Clydach Gorge
Abertillery & District
Water Board first vehicle in the Abertillery area Reg No AAX