Torfaen lies right at the heart of British Industrial heritage. One can discover the massive factories that kept the furnace of the Empire alight. Big Pit National Coal Museum and Blaenavon Ironworks are not only a highlight in the county but are of global significance. One may also choose to hop on the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway and see the UNESCO Blaenavon Industrial Landscape with a proper steam train.
Here are 4 of the best historic sites in Torfaen.
1. Big Pit National Coal Museum
The first record of a mine called Big Pit exists from 1881, at which time it was a working coal mine. Its name derived from the pit’s elliptical shape and vast proportions, measuring 18ft by 13ft, making it the first mine in Wales big enough to allow two tramways. Over the next few decades the mine was expanded to reach deeper coal seams, and at its peak in 1923 had 1,399 men working there. The mine produced House Coal, Steam Coal, Ironside, and Fireclay, and at one point was exporting as far as South America.
A tour of the Big Pit National Coal Museum offers a real insight into this world, allowing visitors to walk through the old mining buildings and even take an underground tour 300 feet down into an old mineshaft. Tours are run by former coalminers, who provide personal interpretations of the site’s history, while above ground there are also exhibits about coal mining history, dealing with issues such as nationalisation, trade unions and safety.
2. Blaenavon Ironworks
Found near the town of Blaenavon, the former industrial site played a crucial part in the development of iron working during the Industrial Revolution. The complex was built in the late 18th century, helping to make Southern Wales a worldwide centre for iron production. In 2000 Blaenavon Ironworks was awarded World Heritage Site status.
The site is open to visitors who can immerse themselves in the history of past industrial prowess.
3. Folly Tower
The original tower was built in c.1765 for ironworks owner John Hambury and became a popular site for family picnics to escape the industrial grime. The tower was demolished during WW2 for fear it would be used as a landmark for Luftwaffe bombing raids. Rebuilt by popular subscription in 1994 and reopened by the Prince of Wales, the tower now offers commanding views across seven counties.
4. Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway
Preserved by a volunteer trust since 1984, this heritage railway offers hour long round trips through the UNESCO Blaenavon Industrial Landscape on the edge of the beautiful Brecon Beacons. Steam and diesel services take passengers to Big Pit, the Garn Lakes , as well as offering spectacular views across this historic corner of Wales.