My quest to explore the route once taken by the old Glamorganshire Canal recently led me to a surviving stretch of canal hidden in the shadow of the A4054 as it passes from Glyntaff to Coedpenmaen in Pontypridd.
Here canal boats used to load chains made at the Brown, Lenox & Co. Ltd. factory in Newbridge. It was Samuel Brown (the Brown in Brown, Lenox & Co. Ltd) who patented iron chains for securing ships to their anchors (replacing ropes), and with his cousin Samuel Lenox he established a highly successful company to manufacture these chains. Brown and Lenox built their first factory in Millwall, on the River Thames, but increased demand led to them constructing a second factory (the Newbridge Chain Works) on the west bank of the Glamorganshire Canal in 1816.
Found on the Rhondda Cynon Taff district council’s website, this photo provides a great view of how the canal basin at Brown Lenox looked in years gone by. The bridge that still survives today can be seen just below the canal lock. The second bridge into the Brown Lenox loading dock no longer survives.
Thoughts On The Day
I’ve used the bridge at the northern end of the Brown Lenox basin many times as a cut through from Ynysangharad Road to the Brown Lenox Retail Park, but I never remembered seeing the canal basin itself there before. How could I have missed it?
In truth, there’s hardly anything left of the canal at this stretch – especially when you look at old photos like the one above. The canal has been completely filled in to the north of the bridge, and after less than fifty yards to the south the basin begins to narrow where the path has been moved to make way for the factory’s car park. Although today’s footpath is cement or tarmac its entire length, the path is surprisingly muddy in several places.
As you head south, the basin quickly disappears. The footpath ends up roughly where the east bank of the canal once stood, as the path squeezes past the shadow of the abandoned Brown Lenox factory. I walked the path south to its end and then back north; by the time I came past Brown Lenox for the second time, the path was obstructed with wooden palettes apparently being lifted from the Brown Lenox site!
Past Brown Lenox, the footpath crosses an ugly little bridge, and joins up with the old towpath once more. This stretch of the canal is quite a bit longer than the Brown Lenox basin, running past some cottages on the west bank before disappearing once more under modern concrete and cement. To the best of my knowledge, the canal doesn’t re-appear again until the pottery at Nantgarw, and can’t be walked along once more until Tongwynlais (see my earlier posting on that surviving section).
All the surviving sections of the canal that I’ve found so far all survive for three reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, they haven’t disappeared under the A470 trunk road; secondly, they haven’t disappeared under post-war housing estates or shopping (which is what happened to the canal from Melingriffith southwards), and thirdly, they’re south of Pontypridd.
This section hasn’t disappeared under the A470 because the A470 goes around the other side of the Brown Lenox factory. I took some photos on this shoot which show just how close the A470 is, and that the line of the canal south disappears under the A470 at Glyntaff. When Lord Bute finally bought the canal, he originally wanted to close it and use the route for a railway line. He ended up being forced to make a go of the canal against his wishes. Today, much of the route of the canal has been taken by the A470 … just has road has replaced rail as the main form of transport in the UK.
I wonder what will replace the A470 in a hundred year’s time?
Pontypridd sits in a bowl, surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides. The A470 squeezes through a narrow gap between the River Taff and the Brown Lenox site as it heads down to Treforrest. Between the three of them, they left no room for anyone to build over the canal with housing or shopping. However, standing on the surviving canal bridge, you can immediately see that this wasn’t the case to the north, where the canal, the locks and Canal Bridge have all disappeared under the Brown Lenox Retail Park and the A470 to its immediate north. The future of the Brown Lenox site isn’t clear. At least one out-of-town supermarket chain wanted to buy the site to use for a new store, but that appears to have fallen through. Whatever happens to the site, there’ll always be the threat that some modern development will seek to erase this section of the canal. If that happens, that’ll leave the section at Tongwynlais as the most northern surviving section of the Canal.
The canal north of Pontypridd fell into disuse in 1915, and north of Abercynon it fell into disuse in 1898 I understand. When you walk the Taff Trail up to Merthyr Tydfil, what strikes me is that, although the canal has been filled in, it isn’t as if the land has been reclaimed for any other use until you get into Merthyr itself. It makes me wonder whether the canal was filled in by human effort, or whether it just silted up and was eventually reclaimed by Mother Nature. (I suspect the truth is a little of both).
Favourite Photo From The Shoot
I’m spoilt for choice from this shoot. I really like this quirky shot of the footpath behind the abandoned Brown Lenox factory. It’s an unusual shot, and one that seems to have a bit of energy to it. I also love this shot of the row of cottages at the southern end of this surviving stretch of canal, and this shot of the canal basin hidden behind Brown Lenox, and this shot looking north towards Brown Lenox from beside the surviving towpath.
But my favourite is this shot of the bridge and Ynysangharad Road beyond, taken from just inside the Brown Lenox site. Whilst taking the shot, I got chatting to a lovely old couple who could remember times when the canal was still in use. I really hope they’re successful in their work to have the War Memorial up on Coedpenmaen Common floodlit on an evening. That’ll make for a spectacular sight indeed.
Three Lessons From The Shoot
- The Sigma 15-30mm lens is proving a joy to work with – provided it isn’t pointed anywhere near the sun. There’s a good reason nearly all these photos are pointing north! This lens flares very badly indeed when it catches even a glimpse of the old current bun 🙁
- Take your time and say ‘Hi’ to the folks you meet. It really made my day chatting with the old couple who could remember back when the canal was still in use – and could recall when Canal Bridge just to the north still existed, before being lost under the A470.
- Coverage (again)! When I got to the southern end of the path, I stopped. Grrr. I wish I’d gone further and taken some shots of the path beside the motorbike shop. Although I don’t live far from here, I’ll have to wait until the weekend for enough daylight to get the extra shots in the bag.
Shock, horror – colour photos from me for a change! All of these photos look gorgeous in black and white (I always convert photos to monochrome in Aperture to adjust contrast and levels) but I really like the colours captured in the photos, such as this one of the cottages between the canal and the A470. I’ve started shooting using the AdobeRGB colour space, and mode colour mode II on the D200. It’s a much more neutral combination than sRGB + colour mode III (my choice throughout my time with the D100, and carried over to the D200 for the first year), and it’s often recommended online as being the best choice for post processing. With a little bit of green and blue boosting for landscapes, or red boosting for industrial ruins, I can see how the result is easier on the eye.
Found On Flickr
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos on Flickr of this section of the canal – including my own! I’m really starting to doubt the trustworthiness of the map view on Flickr …