Monthly Archives: September 2013

Trevithick locomotive off for repair

The Penydarren locomotive was yesterday (Monday, 23 September 2013) winched out of the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea for a 130 mile road trip to Porthmadog for repairs and maintenance.

The seven tonne steam engine – a conjectural working replica of Richard Trevithick’s original 1804 locomotive – was hoisted up onto a modern low loader for the journey.


At the Ffestiniog Railway’s renowned Boston Lodge Works the Penydarren replica will undergo repair, maintenance and a full boiler inspection.

The loading operation – carried out under supervision of the National Museum of Wales’ Heavy Industries Curator Robert Protheroe Jones and Boston Lodge Works Manager Tony Williams – took just two hours.

First, the Penydarren – named after the Penydarren Iron Works at Merthyr Tydfil where Trevithick built and ran the original – was winched out of the museum along its specially built iron railed track. It rolled down a slight ramp

Then the chimney was unbolted and lifted off.

After that the body of the locomotive was hoisted up onto the flat bed of the low loader.

Finally, the tender was lifted up. Locomotive and wagon were secured and the long road journey began.

The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways is celebrating 150 years of narrow guage steam railways with its ‘1863 and All That’ vintage steam festival running for three days from Friday 11 October to Sunday 13 October 2013. Full details and how to book for places are available on the railways’ website .




Bradley Wiggins, Tour of Britain pass site of world’s first railway steam engine

The sun came out today for Sir Bradley Wiggins and the cyclists racing on Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain through Merthyr Tydfil and the Brecon Beacons.

No time to waste with a look at the historic site of the Penydarren Iron Works as the tour riders cycled past and up the old incline towards Dowlais.

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Some of the crowd – including pupils from Cyfarthfa High School – are cheering for ‘Wiggo’ as the peloton with the Sky team at the front pedals up the hill.

A stone’s throw away is the site of the old ironworks where Richard Trevithick built the Penydarren locomotive to pull wagons of smelted iron for nine and a half miles along the Merthyr tramroad to the Glamorganshire Canal basin at Abercynon. I wonder if Sir Bradley, Mark Cavendish and the others know? It was back in 1804 and two decades before bicycles were invented.

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Here they go past. That’s Sir Bradley @bradwiggins in the yellow jersey, isn’t it?

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And that’s Mark Cavendish in the white jersey.

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It’s a bit of a puff if you’re near the back.


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And they’re off towards Dowlais and then to Cwmbargoed – where the coal that powered Trevithick’s steam engine was mined. Oh no, one rider’s stopped because of a puncture. But he get’s another bike and sets off to catch up.

Trevithick 2014 project launch in Penydarren

A heritage project that will celebrate Richard Trevithick’s pioneering steam locomotives and the world’s first ever railway journey is officially underway.

‘Trevithick 2014’ was launched by the Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil Councillor Graham Davies at the site of the former Penydarren ironworks from where Trevithick’s steam engine set out in 1804.

Mayor and heritage volunteers at the Penydarren Iron Works site for Trevithick project launch

Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil officially launches the Trevithick 2014 project at Penydarren

The project will work on reviving the legacy of Trevithick – and on celebrating the 210th anniversary of his nine and a half mile journey along the iron rails of the Merthyr tramroad on 21 February 2014.

“The history of that first railway journey has largely been forgotten outside of Merthyr Tydfil,” said Councillor Davies. “We want to gain more recognition for the tremendous contribution that this town made to the railways of the world.”

Philip Hosken, Chairman of the Trevithick Society, said, “Trevithick invented the steam engine we know today. Every steam engine since has the same features – including the cylindrical boiler. Trevithick used high pressure steam to drive the pistons and his dream was to make steam engines that would replace the horse.”

Philip Hosken, Trevithick Society Chairman, speaking in Merthyr Tydfil

Philip Hosken, Chairman of the Trevithick Society, at Penydarren Iron Works site in Merthyr Tydfil

Trevithick’s pioneering work began when he made model steam engines in Cornwall. His first steam engine with wheels ran successfully in Cambourne in 1801. He did more pioneering work in London and in Coalbrookdale before travelling to Merthyr to build steam engines for the Penydarren ironworks in 1803.

Within months he was running a steam engine on the rails of the Merthyr tramroad – and it hauled five wagons with ten tons of iron and 70 passengers the tramroad’s full distance on 21February 1804.

“You have nine and a half miles of golden tramroad – that should bring people from around the world,” added Mr Hosken. “Steam enthusiasts don’t know what a jewel you have here.”

Morgan Chambers, Chairman of the Heritage and Regeneration Trust, said that special celebrations are planned for Trevithick Day next year.

Picture of Morgan Chambers and Graham Davies at the Trevithick 2014 project launch

Heritage Trust Chairman and Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil Graham Davies

He said that the heritage trust was working with the Merthyr Model Engineering Society – which runs the popular passenger-carrying miniature railway in Cyfarthfa Park.

The project launch was held at the Penydarren Ironworks viewing point which gives visitors information on:

  • the history of the works
  • Trevithick’s historic first steam engine journey and
  • the network of early tramroads in Merthyr Tydfil.

The Trevithick 2014 project is managed by the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage and Regeneration Trust with funding assistance from Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.

Mayor and heritage volunteers at the Penydarren Iron Works site for Trevithick project launch

Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil officially launches the Trevithick 2014 project at Penydarren

We walk in the tracks of the world’s first railway steam engine

Today – Thursday, 12 September 2013 – we walked in the track of Richard Trevithick’s world first steam engine railway journey of 1804.

Our walking tour started at 1400 from outside the old Navigation Inn (now the Celtic Carvery) at Abercynon and followed the route of the Merthyr Tramroad norther as far as Pontygwaith.

A group of a dozen walkers outside the former Navigation House (now Celtic Carvery) in Abercynon

Walkers at the start of the Open Doors tour of the Trevithick Trail south outside the historic Navigation House (now Celtic Carvery) in Abercynon

This covers almost three miles of the old tramroad – we saw the stone setts that supported the iron rails that carried the world’s first steam railway locomotive on the bridle path and cycle track as we neared Pontygwaith.

A cinder walk and cycle path passes through green leafed trees and bushes. To the right is a glimpse of the river Taff.

The Merthyr Tramroad runs alongside the river Taff near Quaker’s Yard. Both the Taff and the Trevithick trails and cycle paths follow the same route at this point.

The trail passes through one arch of Brunel’s Goetre Coed viaduct – built for the Taff Vale Railway in 1840 and still used by passenger trains to and from Merthyr Tydfil.

A metalled track passes under a stone arch - there's a much larger arched bridge behind trees to the left

The Trevithick Trail passes under one arch of Brunel’s later stone viaduct built to carry the Taff Vale Railway

A plaque on the arch remembers Brunel’s achievment in building the viaduct across the Taff Valley, the Merthyr Tramroad used by Trevithick in 1804 and the river Taff.

Grey stone of a railway viaduct arch with a plaque remembering Brunel

A plaque on Brunel’s massive Goetre Coed viaduct for the Taff Vale Railway

We stopped at Pontygwaith Farm and – courtesy of Diana and Ray – enjoyed a cup of tea in the surroundings of their fine gardens. These are open to the public in the summer as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

Ray told our tour group of a dozen – plus tour leader Rob Thomson (creator of this Trevithick 1804 website) – about the historic finds made at the farm. He explained how Pontygwaith was the site of one of Wales’s biggest pre-industrial revolution iron foundrys – and how Cromwell’s soldiers ravaged it in the Civil War because it produced arms for King Charles 1’s Royalist forces.

After that the tour continued up a steep section of the Taff Trail before heading back for the return leg to Abercynon following the track of the old Glamorganshire Canal.

The canal – built for Richard Crawshay, the iron industry’s most powerful and wealthy men and owner of the Cyfarthfa Works and other ironmasters in 1790 – carried much of the iron produced in Merthyr Tydfil to market.

The whole area is rich in the heritage of Merthyr Tydfil’s iron works – in Trevithick’s time the largest centre of iron production in the world – of the later deep mine coal industry and of railway and canal transportation.

At Abercynon we found the remains of lock number 16 on the canal in a garden – it was one of 17 locks that stepped down the hillside to an aqueduct carried the waterway over the River Taff.

We will be holding the walking tour again on Sunday next, 12 September 2013, again at 1400 and also starting and returning to the Celtic Carvery (former Navigation Inn) in Abercynon. The route is six miles and includes a steep gradient – the whole tour (which will not go ahead if the weather is inclement) will probably take between 3 and 4 hours.

The tours are organised by volunteers from the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust in association with Open Doors Wales, Merthyr Tydfil CBC and Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC.