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Roundhouse Farm, Nantyglo

The complex of buildings at Roundhouse Farm, Nantyglo, date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, having been largely constructed by Joseph and Crawshay Bailey in association with the Nantyglo Ironworks. The complex includes two defended round towers and an agricultural range which are collectively listed grade II*, respresenting a unique survival of the Industrail Revolution. Although repairs work undertaken during the 1980s and again more recently, the whole complex is in urgent need of major remedial works, as a precursor to which a conservation plan has been commissioned, which includes a programme of detailed archaeological investigation to be undertaken by CPAT. This will include the detailed recording of all surviving buildings, a topographical survey, a thorough desk-based study, and a programme of small-scale trial excavation. The building survey of the two round towers was completed in February 2005 and the remaining work is scheduled for completion during April and May 2005.


Right: Reconstruction drawing showing Ty Mawr in the foreground with the round towers and farm complex behind.

Nantyglo Ironworks

The ironworks were built between 1792 and 1794 by Thomas Hill of Blaenavon in association with Harford, Partridge and Co. of Bristol. However, early financial disagreements between the partners led to the closure of the works in 1796. In 1802 Hill formed a new partnership with Joseph Harrison and John Griffith, calling themselves the Nantyglo Company, although once again financial disputes led to closure in 1808. In 1811 the works were let to Joseph Bailey and Matthew Wayne, who left the company in 1820 to be replaced by Joseph’s brother Crawshay Bailey. Under the Bailey brothers the works prospered, purchasing the nearby Beafort works in 1833 and by 1844 there were eight furnaces at Nantyglo and a further six at Beaufort.

In 1816 the Baileys built a fine mansion, Ty Mawr, at Nantyglo, the foundations of which can still be seen close to Rounhouse Farm. In that year a riot occurred in Nantyglo after the ironmasters threatened to reduce wages, although the threat was later withdrawn. Six years later a more serious riot broke out, caused by a reduction in miners’ wages. It was against this background of social unrest that the complex at Roundhouse Farm was constructed. The two defended round towers were built as a refuge for the Baileys in case of unrest, while the agricultural range included barns and stables for the horses used at the ironworks. The whole complex was enclosed by a substantial wall, with the entrances protected by heavy cast iron gates.

South-west round tower

In the 1840s the south-west tower was used as the residence for the Baileys’ private secretary, James Wells, and the building appears to have been of higher status than the other tower, having a second storey and more elaborate use of cast iron in detailing such as the window sills. The tower was substantially damaged during the 1940s when it was partly demolished in order to remove the majority of the cast iron structure. Although originally a three-storey building little masonry now survives of the second floor, and the western part of the first floor has also been largely removed.

Nantyglo SW tower

Left: The south-west round tower at Nantyglo. © CPAT 1864-01.

The tower is approximately 9.55m in diameter, of rubble stone construction with dressed stone around the openings. The walls are approximately 1.25-1.3m thick at ground level, reducing with each floor to around 1.1-1.15m at first-floor level and perhaps 0.95m thick in what remains of the second floor.

The cellar is approximately 6.7m in diameter and 1.7m deep, accessed by an internal solid staircase against the northern wall, at the base of which is an air vent which leads through the wall to a grated external opening at ground level. The cellar is divided into three main areas by substantial masonry walls, the northern part containing the stairs and the southern two further subdivided by short stub walls.

The ground floor is approximately 7m in diameter internally, with doorways to the north-east and south-east. The former has a segmental arch above both internally and externally and leads to the farmyard, with a curved step outside. The south-east doorway is plain with simple cast iron lintels, the doorhead sloping down towards the outside, formed from several cast iron beams.

Nantyglo NE tower door

Right: The door into the north-east round tower - note the two gun loops at around knee height. © CPAT 1864-32.

The remains of a dressed stone cantilever staircase rises to the first floor, with seven surviving steps. There are five lancet windows, all but the northern of which retain their iron window sills. The walling above each of the windows is supported on three cast iron plates, sloping down towards the outside of the windows. The ground floor appears to have been divided into two rooms, each with its own fireplace.

The first floor is approximately 7.3m in diameter internally, with four intact lancet windows and the remains of a further two on the west and north sides. Again the floor appears to have been divided into two rooms, each with its own fireplace. A well-preserved dressed stone cantilever staircase rises to the second floor, with 14 surviving steps.

North-east round tower

The tower is of rubble stone construction with dressed stone around the openings, cast iron internal beams and joists and a cast iron and brick roof. It is interesting to note that, as with other early cast iron structures, the joists are joined to the beams using carpentry-style dove-tail joints.

The tower is approximately 9.5m in diameter at ground floor level, the base of the walls splaying as the ground level falls to the east, with walls approximately 1.1m thick at ground level, reducing to around 1.0-1.05m at first-floor level. The tower walls are surmounted by small crenellations.

Nantyglo NE tower

Left: The north-east round tower at Nantyglo. © CPAT 1864-31.

The cellar has the same dimensions and plan as that in the south-west tower. The ground floor is approximately 7.3m in diameter internally, with a single doorway to the west with an external stone porch with slated roof and iron door frame. The door survives in situ, constructed of riveted iron sections, secured by two large bolts and a single mortise lock. There are two gun loops with internal iron flaps around 1.25m above the base of the door. The doorway is plain with simple cast iron lintels internally and externally, and a stone vaulted entrance passage.

The dressed stone cantilever staircase rising to the first floor survives intact, with 19 steps, each of which has a socket for an iron spindle which would have supported a wooden balustrade. There are five lancet windows, all of which retain their iron window frames. The walling above each of the windows is supported on three cast iron plates, sloping down towards the outside of the windows. The two cast iron beams supporting the floor survive in situ, as do most of the joists, although five are missing. The ground floor appears to have been divided into two rooms, each with its own fireplace.

Nantyglo NE tower stairs

Right: Ground floor staircase in the north-east round tower. © CPAT 1864-47.

The first floor is approximately 7.3m in diameter internally, with five intact lancet windows. Again the floor was divided into two rooms, each with its own fireplace, the northern one preserving its original cast iron grate. Part of the timber partition wall, including the doorway, survives on the western side. A well-preserved dressed stone cantilever staircase rises to the roof, with 21 steps. The two cast iron beams and the joists supporting the floor all survive in situ.

The roof has an unusual construction, comprising a series of cast iron segments supported on the same arrangement of cast iron beams and joists as the ground and first floors. The centre of the roof is formed by a circular cast iron plate c. 1.8m in diameter with a small central hole. A ring of 20 segments surrounds this, with an outer diameter of c. 5.1m.There appears to have been a problem in the casting of these segments, with insufficient tolerance allowed for shrinkage as the metal cooled, so that three iron fillets were required to fill gaps in the circuit. The outer ring has an external diameter of c. 7.5m and comprises 31 complete segments, with different cast iron plates surrounding the roof hatch.

Nantyglo NE tower roof

Left: The roof construction in the north-east round tower. © CPAT 1864-49.

A layer of bricks was laid on top of the cast iron segments, originally sealed by a layer of pitch. Over the years the weight of the roof has led to the structural failure of the supporting beams and joists, with the result that the roof has dropped in the centre by perhaps 0.2m, also cracking several of the roof segments.

Agricultural range

The earliest part of the agricultural range is thought to date from around 1795 and is clearly of a different build to the rest of the range. In particular, the early building has timber roof trusses and floor joists, whereas the later additions all use cast iron.

The agricultural buildings formed an integral part of the ironworks and were used for storage and stabling for the horse used to haul both raw materials and finished goods along the many tramways which served the works. In fact, one of the tramways actually ran into the farmyard, entering through the northern gateway.

The surviving northern range of buildings at one time formed a row of cottages which were still occupied until the 1950s. Elsewhere within the farmyard there are the remains of a bull pen, pigsty, sheep pens and two open-fronted barns in the old rickyard on the western side of the main range.

The Future

Although the site is currently in private ownership, Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council is committed to the preservation and development of Roundhouse Farm as a heritage centre and educational resource for local people and visitors from further afield. The unique nature of the complex is such that no other site in Wales gives as stark a reminder of the bitter conflict between the ironmasters and their workforce and it is to be hoped that the present programme of work will be the important first towards securing the site for future generations.

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