Cwmbach – The origins of a Community  

At the start of the nineteenth century the Cynon Valley was still a largely quiet isolated rural valley.

It was the building of the Aberdare Canal, which opened in May 1812 that began the process of urbanisation. The canal was built to supply the import and export needs of the iron works situated in and around Aberdare. Traffic and goods passed through the area that would eventually become Cwmbach, in order to reach the canal head at Aberdare, further to the north; or to join with the Glamorganshire Canal at Abercynon, to the south, on the way to the docks at Cardiff. Despite being built for iron the canal would find itself ideally situated when in 1837 the first steam coal pit was sunk at Abernant-y-groes.

A village developed to house the workers employed in the new heavy industries. Cwmbach, as it became known from the middle of the nineteenth century, took its name from one of the original farmsteads in the area.

In 1837 Thomas Wayne, the son of Mathew Wayne, iron master and owner of the Gadlys Ironworks, persuaded his father and brother William to invest in a new venture for the valley, one that would eclipse iron and shape the future of the valley for the next one hundred and fifty years – coal.

A few years earlier Robert and Lucy Thomas, together with their son William, of Waun-Wyllt in Merthyr, had begun profiting from mining a '4 foot seam' of coal. In 1830 they entered into an agreement with George Insole ( the Cardiff based shipping company, later Rhondda mine owner,) to sell the coal in the London area. It was soon selling so well that in a few months they found that they could sell all their coal at the pithead itself for the fabulous price of 4s. a ton. It was their sudden and rapid success and the chance of a good profit that sparked Thomas Wayne's interest in the coal trade.

The Wayne s formed a partnership with the David family of Abernant-y-groes, Cwmbach, to dig for coal. They sought to find another way to reach the same four feet seam that had proved so profitable for the Thomas's of Waun-Wyllt. The sinking of the Abernant-y-Groes Colliery began in June 1837 and by December of that year the shaft had reached a depth of 60 feet and the sought after steam coal.

There was a huge demand in the late nineteenth to the middle twentieth century for steam coal. For Britain, it powered the ships boilers of the Royal and Merchant Navy, the railways and the textile mills of northern England as well as being exported to fuel both the railways and navies of the world. The people involved with the venture immediately formed the Wayne's Merthyr - Aberdare Steam Coal Company.

By the end of December 1837 coal from the colliery was being exhibited to high acclaim in London. The company was to prove a huge success and in 1840 sent over 40,000 tons of coal down the Aberdare Canal. The success of the Abernant-y-Groes Colliery and the vast profits it made, soon attracted other enterprising industrialists into the area and more collieries soon followed. Abernant-y-Groes, which became known as Cwmbach Colliery, was eventually abandoned in 1896.

For more information on the Wayne's and the Gadlys Ironworks click here

For more information on the Cynon Valley at this time click here

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