The Melingriffith Feeder, circa 2007
View the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

When it came to working tin in South Wales, Treforrest was the undisputed King. But if Treforrest was King, further south down in the Vale of Glamorgan above Cardiff, the works at Melingriffith were certainly the Crown Prince. Built in 1749, the Melingriffith Tinplate Works sat on or near the site of an old corn mill that had existed as far back as the twelfth century. It was once the largest tin works in the UK, until the construction of the Treforrest Tin Works. The works closed in 1957, and today the only obvious traces that the works ever existed at all are the Melingriffith Feeder that runs down from the River Taff, and the restored Water Pump standing opposite Oak Cottage. The works themselves appear to have been completely cleared, and the site today is a modern housing estate.

Its mills were powered by water taken from the River Taff by the Melingriffith Feeder – a water course that doubled as a canal carrying iron from Pentrych Works until around 1815, when the Pentrych tramroad was completed. The tramroad crossed the River Taff over Iron Bridge. The Feeder lock was permanently closed in 1871 when it was bridged over, but traces of it remain if you don’t mind walking out into the (mostly) dry bed of the Feeder to look.

The Melingriffith Feeder makes its way to the old Glamorganshire Canal, where they run in parallel down to the Tin Works and out the other side at Melingriffith Lock. Where they come together to the north of the Tin Works, any overflow from the Canal was designed to flow into the Feeder. This is now the southern end of the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve at Forest Farm, and all the water from the Canal now runs into the Feeder before disappearing into a water course that runs underneath the housing estate that has replaced the Tin Works.

At the southern end of the housing estate, the Feeder re-emerges from underground where the Melingriffith Water Pump stands. The Pump was originally designed to pump water from the Feeder into the Canal at Melingriffith Lock. Rowson & Wright’s “The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals Volume II” has an entire chapter devoted to the many disputes between the Tin Works and the Canal over the supply of water. As I understand it, the Tin Works ran entirely on water throughout its history – water that the Canal itself also needed, as Melingriffith was the last point where the Canal could gather additional water needed for the section down to Sea Lock. Today, the Canal has been totally obliterated (Ty Mawr Road has replaced the Canal here down into Whitchurch), and the Feeder just empties back into the Taff beside the Valley Lines railway bridge just south of Radyr Station.

Melingriffith is a great example of the huge contrast that exists between Cardiff and the Taff Vale in the regeneration of the former industrial sites. Most of the route of the Canal through Cardiff was industrialised, but today you wouldn’t know it. The Canal has gone, and the industry has been replaced by the housing estates of Melingriffith, Gabalfa, and Talybont, plus the regeneration of Cardiff Bay. In the Taff Vale, the Canal has mostly disappeared under the A470 trunk road, but where it hasn’t, the land has mostly just been left unused until you reach Rhydycar at Merthyr Tydfil and the site of the local Welsh Assembly Government office.

It’s a story that mirrors the growth of Cardiff against the decline of Merthyr.

Thoughts On The Day

I’d travelled through the Melingriffith housing estate a couple of years ago cycling the Taff Trail, but back then I’d never heard of the Tin Works, or the Feeder, or really of the Canal itself. I’d stopped at the Water Pump, and read the excellent tourist sign that goes with it, but without any background knowledge, I didn’t really understand what I was looking at. I didn’t know that Oak Cottage on the other side of the road was the old lockkeeper’s cottage from Melingriffith Lock, or that the road itself is where Melingriffith Lock once stood. I didn’t know that the Water Pump stands in the Melingriffith Feeder, whose route can be traced back up to the River Taff at Radyr Weir. And I didn’t know that the Feeder was also used as a canal – with its own lock on the River Taff itself – years before the Glamorganshire Canal was constructed.

If you want to explore this area for yourself, I recommend parking at the southern end of the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve. There’s a small car park there. Head north into the Reserve, cross the Canal overflow bridge, and follow both the Feeder and Canal until the Feeder starts to veer off to the left. Follow the Feeder all the way up to the River Taff. Here you can see the sluice gate mechanism that once regulated the flow of water into the Feeder, and the remains of the lock. Turn south, past Radyr Weir and its picnic area, and follow the Taff Trail down until it threads its way through the Melingriffith housing estate to Oak Cottage and the Water Pump. If you wish, there’s a muddy footpath down the Feeder’s east bankside that you can follow down to the River Taff and beyond, but that’s really a walk for another day. At the Water Pump, turn north, and follow the road (which lies on top of the old canal bed) back up to the car park. The whole walk will take an hour or two, and should be suitable for most people.

The Feeder is just one of the delights to explore in this area. There’s the Canal itself, which can be followed up to Longwood Drive (and further north up to Tongwynlais, as covered in another article). From Longwood Drive, there’s the disused Cardiff Railway route down to Coryton, which also makes for a great walk. And all of these walks are set in the Local Nature Reserve, which includes two purpose-built hides for watching the local wildlife without disturbing it.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Overflow Into The Feeder

From the two visits I made to Melingriffith, I came away with 305 photos, according to Aperture. Even allowing for the fact I now bracket every shot (so, divide that number by 3), that’s still a lot of photos. It was a tough challenge cutting it down to the 26 photos I finally uploaded to Flickr. Picking just one photo as a favourite was harder still.

In the end, this photo showing the Glamorganshire Canal flowing down into the Melingriffith Feeder is my favourite photo from this shoot. It’s a photo that’s a bit different, for a start. I’m willing to wager there aren’t too many other shots of this scene currently around :) I love the colours too. I think it’s a great advert for what my new Nikon 18-135mm lens can do (more on that lens in a dedicated article later in the year).

Post Production

The photos for this shoot come from two separate visits to the area. Because you have the Canal, the Cardiff Railway, the River Taff and the Taff Trail all in the same area, some of the shots are going to be included in other shoots in the future. Rather than lump all these shots into a single folder, I decided to spend a lot of Mother’s Day tagging my photos in Aperture, with a view to building a set of Smart Albums based on the tags.

Aperture is a great tool, but if there’s one thing that Apple has overlooked, it’s the very simple operation of being able to add one keyword to a group of selected photos. I can use the excellent Lift & Stamp tool to copy keywords from one photo to others, but I can’t drag and drop a keyword onto a group of selected photos. When you try, the keyword gets applied to just one photo in the selection (the photo that you drop the keyword onto). It would be such a time-saver to be able to do this simple task – it would save me up to an hour a week.

Found On Flickr

A search for the term ‘melingriffith’ turned up two great shots of the Water Pump, but no shots of the Feeder at all, and no old photographs showing the Tin Works during their existence.

Maybe my search foo just isn’t good enough. I’m really surprised that there aren’t more photos up on Flickr covering the same subjects as my articles. These places are part of the Welsh heritage, as well as being historically important both to Wales and the UK.

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7 Comments

  1. Stuart’s Photography - » New Walkabout Lens: Nikon 18-135mm DX says:
    March 28th, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    [...] I’ve used this lens on three shoots so far, including half of the images from my shoot at Melingriffith (the other two shoots will be published later in the year).  Despite a concern about the build quality, which I’ll come onto in a moment, overall I’m very happy with the new lens, and it certainly fits my need of having a single lens I can use for walkabouts.  I’m extremely pleased with the sharpness, colour and contrast of the images I’ve taken so far – three areas where I had no complaints about the Sigma 15-30mm lens that this replaces. The only problem I’ve had with the lens has been with the focus ring.  This year I’ve started shooting nearly all my shots using manual focus instead of relying on the D200’s excellent automatic focus system.  The majority of my lenses are made my Sigma, and if there’s one thing that Sigma have consistently gotten right on their lenses, it’s the working of the manual focus ring.  On Sigma lenses, the focus ring is always nice and tight, and as you get towards the infinity end of the focus range, it certainly feels like it takes more movement of the focus ring to adjust the focus – giving me the feeling of a very precise control.  Unfortunately, the focus ring on my new Nikon lens is very loose.  All I have to do is touch it and the focus shifts substantially, and I’ve found that I’d often knock the focus off just by catching the focus ring against my hand when raising the camera to my eye.  I’ve gotten used to it, but I don’t like it, and I’m debating giving Nikon a call to see whether they will adjust the tightness of the focus ring for free or not. [...]

  2. Mark says:
    June 26th, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    My Grandfather was a carpenter, wheelwright and pattern maker at Abercarn Tin works. When he retired he was active in the Oxford House Industrial Archeology Society. He worked on the restoration of the Melingriffith Pump. The museum in Risca has more info on this project
    http://www.riscamuseum.org.uk/projects.html

  3. Matt says:
    December 1st, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Hi there,

    Just found your blog post while searching on Google and thought you might be interested in the following photos I’ve found which were taken at the Melingriffith Tinplate Works when it was still operational:

    http://www.whitchurchandllandaff.co.uk/Melingriffith3.jpg
    http://www.martynbane.co.uk/images/peckett/locos/1424-peckett.jpg

    There were also a couple of good photos in a recent issue of ‘Railway Bylines’ – a historical railway magazine that focuses on the more obscure industrial and rural railways of Britain (I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in Britain’s industrial heritage, railway enthusiast or not). I can send scans if you’re interested.

    Matt

  4. Mike Allen says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    This website takes me back. My grandfather was born in oak cottage back in 1895 and I clearly remember going with him to visit his sister and family at the old house. Naturally the road alongside did not exist then, indeed from memory it was the canal bank along which we used to walk, towards the railway bridge across the River Taff. What became of the waterwheel, any ideas?

    I’d love to hear.

  5. tony george says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Just stumbled upon your website so haven’t absorbed everything as yet! Looking forward to what looks very interesting reading. A cursory glance at your site didn’t reveal any comment of the existence of Gabalfa Lock which was manned by 2 families. One was Mrs and Mrs de Gruchy and my grandparents Mr and Mrs George. By the time I came along (1939), it was in a bad state and the only recollection I have was a waterlogged and crumbling barge at the site. Incidentally my 2 brothers were born in one of the 2 locks. Having said that I have many favourite memories of hours laying on my stomach trying to catch sticklebacks and whatever else the canal gave up in Llandaff North which is where I was born.
    Once again thanks for the site

  6. Paul Flower says:
    May 29th, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Hi
    I live in Townsville – North Qld Australia
    I have a account book from Reynold Getly & Co dated 1775. Apparently they owned the Melingriffith tin/iron mill. I found this ledger in my grandfathers shed after he passed away. I therefore have no idea how or why it was in his possession. I imagine that it would be of some interest to somebody in Wales but i’m not sure who to contact. Does anybody have any suggestions. In this ledger it lists who bought what when and the $$$.
    It also has a section detailing the weather and they also had a “slaughter house”, where you could purchase your “pigs head” – Nice!

  7. Huw Llewellyn says:
    February 6th, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I was raised in Whitchurch and knew the Melingiffith works well before it was demolished. The works were making pressure vessels for refridgerators and there was an export trade to Russia. The CHSOB diamond field was the works sports ground and the rusty gate you photographed may have the initials of the Melingriffith works sports club. The old works railway ran parallel with the road to Forest Farm at the entrance to the diamond field and followed the river, diverging from the Forest farm road, then crossed iron bridge, now carrying a gas main, and then ran adjacent, north, to a farm and crossed the TVR then 4 sets of tracks at an angle. I am not sure where the railway went after crossing the TVR. There were very high metal and mesh gates guarding the railway entrance to the melingriffith works. These became completely overgrown in the 70s and 80s. I only once remember seeing a steam engine in operation on the railway track opposite the diamond field and that was in the 60s. The works manager had a big house next to the diamond field which was demolished many years ago. There was also a factory adjacent to the feeder with an entrance near the row of cottages which still stand. The factory was involved in making aluminium alloy parts for aeroplanes in the second world war and later became a GKN factory making car bumpers. This factory comprised big black sheds with huge ventilators on the roof. The factory site is now a small housing development. The road over the feeder went over a narrow stone bridge which has demolished when they put the feeder into a big culvert. The feeder ran under the meligriffith works and all this stonework was exposed when the works was demolished. The canal ran hard up against the works right next to the road that still exists. In the war there were air raid shelters dug into the steep slope that ran up from the road and canal. The old stone bridge over the feeder was just below the towpath bridge that is unique in having one curved ballustrade and one rectangulr. The curved ballustrade avoided the barge tow ropes fouling on the ballustrade. The amount of industrial heritage that has been lost in South Wales is huge. Keep up the good work.

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