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Time gone by, but not forgotten - History...
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 diet".

A plaque in memory of Williams Williams of Cwmtillery can be found on the pit wheels memorial..
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 gas pockets.

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 spoil.

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 technology would 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 & present being
"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; "The 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 Grwyne Fawr reservoir below.

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.
Many 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.
In 1982 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 followed.
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

For 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.
During 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.
In 1894 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.
As 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 the 1983.

Pipe elevated in the Clydach Gorge

Abertillery & District Water Board first vehicle in the Abertillery area Reg No AAX 665