Book Review - The Brecon Forest Tramroads

The Brecon Forest Tramroads

Stephen Hughes, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales, ISBN 1-871184-05-3, softback, 367 pages, 200+ photographs, illustrations, etc. Price: £8.95.

I must declare an interest before I start this review. I have a particular fascination for industrial history, especially the 18th and early 19th century period. I cannot therefore comment on the readability of this book, as I am familiar with many of the topics discussed in it. Nevertheless, at no time did I find Stephen Hughes' book difficult to follow, and I have never had any real problem in using it for reference purposes, on account of its excellent and comprehensive index.

The book is not, as so many publications can be, just a catalogue of industrial remains, or a tedious chronology of events, details of financial success and failure, and so on. Rather, we find an excellent description of land management of the early 19th century, and an insight into how entrepreneurs attempted, and sometimes succeeded, in capitalising upon their assets by exploiting the resources to hand and developing the infrastructure to achieve this.

The book describes the development of what started as a small agricultural tramroad into a busy industrial network of railways with associated coal and iron mines, iron works, lime kilns, workshops and depots. Having set the historical scene, the author then sets about describing the surviving archaeology of the tramroads, iron works and so on, using photographs, clear maps, and imaginative line drawings of how the various sites may once have appeared.

The sites covered by the book were all associated with the Brecon Forest Tramroad, and apart from the forest itself, include the quarries at Penwyllt, the quarries and tramways on Cribarth, the rottenstone workings above Dan-yr-Ogof, the iron works at Banwen, collieries at Onllwyn, Drum and Gwaenclawdd, and the Ystrafera and Ynysgedwyn iron works and blast furnaces as well as other small sites. Of particular interest to Croydon Caving Club members should be a small section on the lime burning archaeology of Carnau Gwynion above Ystradfellte where the remains of 171 limekilns have been identified.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more of the area at the head of the Swansea valley where so much evidence of the industrial past has been changed by British Coal's opencasting and spoil heaps recovery program, and where a surprising amount still remains to be seen by those prepared to look for it.

Peter Burgess