Rhondda Cynon Taf is a county borough situated in the south-easy of Wales. It consists of five valleys, plus a number of towns and villages further away from the valleys. It is perhaps best-known for its industrial past, flourishing as a mining centre for high-quality Welsh coals and porcelain, amongst other products. As a result, its landscape was dominated by coal waste heaps and deep mine pits – by the nineteenth century, Rhondda was home to more than 60 mines – some of which have been preserved as heritage museums today.
For instance, the Rhondda Heritage Park allows visitors to explore a real mine shaft, while the Nantgarw China Works Museum offers a fascinating insight into the area’s history as a manufacturer of high-quality porcelain. For an alternative manufacturing angle, check out the Royal Mint Experience.
For those with an interest in history dating a little further back, Pontypridd’s famous Old Bridge makes for a scenic visit, while the 14th-century Llantrisant Guild Hall is home to artefacts such as a 17th century silver mace that dates from the English Civil War.
Here’s our pick of 8 of the best historic sites to visit in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
1. Rhondda Heritage Park – Welsh Coal Mining Experience
Situated on the site of the former Lewis Methyr Colliery, Rhondda Heritage Park exists as a testament to the coal mining history of the area, which was one of the most important coal mining areas in the world until the end of the 20th century. In an area only 16 miles long, Rhondda was home to over 53 working collieries.
Today, visitors can experience the life of coal miners on a guided tour through one of the mine shafts, with tours led by former workers being a particular highlight. The Black Gold Experience Underground Guided Tour takes you through the engine houses and lamp room, while Dram: the Cinematic Experience offers a virtual ride on the last dram of coal to the surface.
The Royal Mint Experience in Llantrisant, Wales is a tourist attraction where visitors can see the United Kingdom’s coins being made and uncover the history of the second oldest mint in the world. Based on the site of The Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales, The Royal Mint Experience was opened in 2016 to reveal the process behind the creation of the United Kingdom’s coins and to trace over 1,000 years of coin production.
The Royal Mint Experience is home to a Guided Factory Experience, where thousands of newly minted coins can be observed emerging from The Royal Mint’s coining presses, as well as an exhibition incorporating a range of rare coins and museum objects. These include Olympic and Paralympic medals from the London 2012 Games, a fascinating gold sovereign of Edward VIII, and an exploration of the gallantry and service medals which have been awarded to individuals in the UK. Visitors can also learn more about a pre-decimal 1933 penny, an Elizabeth I gold sovereign and a Maria Theresa thaler, a silver bullion coin named for the ruler of Austria between 1740 and 1780.
3. Llantrisant Guildhall
The Grade II listed Guildhall at Llantrisant is a 14th-century building that stands on the crest of the hill alongside the ruins of a Norman castle. Today, it is a fascinating heritage and visitor centre that tells the story of the ancient Welsh hilltop town of Llantrisant. Today, the Court Room is home to a collection of artefacts and treasures, including a 17th century silver mace that dates from the English Civil War.
Another highlight is the information about the Freemen of Llantrisant, who fought under the victorious Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy.
4. Nantgarw China Works Museum
Situated in Nantgarw in Glamorganshire, Wales, the Nantgarw China Works was once a porcelain factory that later made other types of pottery. With the first formula originating in 1813-14, the factory made high quality porcelain that was very white and translucent, which was decorated and sold in London. From 1833, the pottery made earthenware and stoneware until finally closing in 1920.
In 1989, the semi-derelict site was purchased by Taff-Ely County Borough Council. The restored kilns and buildings were opened to the public 2 years later. Today, the studios are used by artists but also feature exhibitions, art classes and special events, while the museum itself offers a fascinating insight into the area’s past.
5. Pontypridd Museum
Located in Tabernacl Chapel, Pontypridd Museum at the north end of the town was built in 1861. It still features the original pipe organ and decorated interior, which was recently restored. In 1983, the town council purchased it, and in 1986 it was opened to the public as the town’s museum.
The museum depicts the industrial, social and cultural history of Pontypridd, with paintings and other works of art celebrating William Edwards’ bridge, close to the museum, which was built in 1756 and became famous as the first in Europe to exceed the span of the Rialto in Venice. Personal items that belong to Evan and James James are a reminder of the fact that the Welsh national anthem was composed there.
6. Llantrisant Castle
The dark, ivy-covered ruined tower of Llantrisant Castle is all that remains of the 13th-century Glamorgan fortification. Built in around 1250 by Richard de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan, it was intended to hold the hill district of Meisgyn which he had just won back from its Welsh overlords. It has a strategic and commanding position which would have once guarded the route from the upland to the lowland zone.
Today, part of the stone’s stone revetment is still visible, whole ditches separate it from the rest of the ridgetop on the east and west sides. To the west, a church that was rebuilt in the 19th century was originally an aisled Norman church.
7. Cynon Valley Museum
The Cynon Valley Museum tells the story of the social history of the Cynon Valley from 1800 to the present. The museum has features such as audio visual presentations about the iron industry and miner’s strikes, and is aptly located on the site of what was once a busy casting house. Indeed, the remains of Gadlys furnaces are thought to be some of the best-preserved in Britain.
Another highlight of the museum is the reconstructed valley’s shop, which is used for educational visits. The temporary exhibition gallery houses displays based upon the museums collections, while the art gallery features contemporary art and design from across the world.
8. Old Bridge, PontyPridd
Completed in 1756, Old Bridge in Pontypridd once had the longest span in Europe, beating the Rialto bridge in Venice. Commissioned by Glamorgan Quarter Sessions to replace a dilapidated timber bridge, the design was the work of a self-taught stonemason called William Edwards. The bridge’s old engraving was based upon a painting by the Welsh landscape artist Richard Wilson. Indeed, the bridge’s elegance attracted artists such as the famed JMW Turner.
The bridge was intended to allow farmers to walk their livestock to market in Caerphilly. However, its narrowness caused traffic congestion and the steep descent on either side was too extreme for horses and carriages. In 1857, a level bridge was built alongside.