An engineering marvel in its heyday!
Harnessing the fast flowing power of the river Mellte, the former Gunpowder works made and supplied Gunpowder to the quarries and mines of South Wales. Transforming the lives and fortunes of those that lived and worked there it’s a story of innovation, ambition and success.
Today the site is a tranquil wooded valley, rich in lush ferns and mosses and home to an amazing variety of bat species. A pleasant stroll along the former tramroad reveals the curious ruins of buildings, tunnels, leats, weirs and waterwheels. These are all that remain after the purposeful destruction of the site when the works closed in 1931.
As many of these structures are in a perilous state of decay we are currently carrying out emergency consolidation and conservation works as part of our ‘Explosive Times Project’ funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The majority of the site will remain open for the duration of the project and you are welcome to get involved and join us as we uncover more about the men and women who worked here, the intriguing ‘anti-explosion’ health and safety measures and the contribution the industry made to the industrialisation of South Wales.
What there is to see at the Glyn-Neath Gunpowder Works
After many years of successful operation, the factory ceased production when black powder was prohibited from use in coal mines, and demand fell. The site was completely abandoned by 1940, and many of the buildings were burnt out and demolished because of the risk of accidental explosion they posed. However, enough of the buildings survive to hint at the scale of the factory.
You can walk along a flat and level path, the remains of one of the tramroads that moved materials around. It leads past the remains of factory buildings, some of which are hard to spot as they're very overgrown and hidden in the trees. Other remains are more obvious, such as the large concrete Corning House where cakes of granulated powder were broken up by wooden hammers.
Stone and masonry structures housed the machinery. You will notice that many of these have three walls. This is because the roof and the fourth wall would have been made of wood to allow any explosion to move up and out of the building and limit any damage to the expensive machinery.
There are also extensive remains relating to the water management system, including leats, aqueducts, weirs and hydraulic pipes.
As you stroll through the site, imagine what it would have been like for the people who worked here. In its heyday the Gunpowder Works employed 65-70 people, mostly men. It was a dangerous and dirty job with long work days, from 7am to 5pm. Despite this, the workers did not earn any more those in any other local industries. However, the company did provide accommodation for staff and a schoolhouse in the village to educate employees’ children. They also allowed employees to build and maintain gardens on the spacious gunpowder works site.
The Powder Trail
This audio trail, produced by Forestry Commission Wales, reveals what life was like working at the Gunpowder Works . Click here to download it as an mp3 file.