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Title: Penydarren  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Merthyr Tydfil, Gurnos, Aberfan, Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
Collection: Industrial Revolution, Villages in Merthyr Tydfil
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Welsh: Pen-y-darren
Penydarren is located in Merthyr Tydfil
 Penydarren shown within Merthyr Tydfil
Population 5,253 (2001)
OS grid reference
Principal area Merthyr Tydfil
Ceremonial county Mid Glamorgan
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Merthyr Tydfil
Postcode district CF47
Dialling code 01685 38
Police South Wales
Fire South Wales
Ambulance Welsh
EU Parliament Wales
UK Parliament Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney
Welsh Assembly Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney
List of places
Merthyr Tydfil
For Trevithick's Pen-y-darren locomotive, see Richard Trevithick

Penydarren (Welsh: Pen-y-darren) is a community in Merthyr Tydfil County Borough in Wales.

The area is most notable as being the site of a 1st-century Roman fort, and during the Industrial Revolution it housed Penydarren Ironworks the third largest of the great Merthyr works. Penydarren was also used by Richard Trevithick as the location for his experiments into steam locomotion. The community and ward has a population of 5,253.[1]

Penydarren Park, the site of the Roman fort and the football ground, is today outside the community boundary.


  • Roman fort 1
  • Penydarren House 2
  • The "Pen-y-Darren" locomotive 3
  • 1811-1856: Merthyr Rising 4
  • Development and the James family 5
  • Present 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Roman fort

Being located on a spur of land 700 feet (210 m) above sea level,[2] just southwest of the River Taff, made Pen-y-Darren an ideal location to build an occupation outpost fort for the Romans in AD75, during the governorship of Sextus Julius Frontinus. It was during this period that he subdued the Silures and other hostile tribes of Wales by establishing a new base at Caerleon or Isca Augusta for Legio II Augusta, and this was one of a network of smaller forts fifteen to twenty kilometres apart for his auxiliary units.

The only information known about the fort is from the later excavations undertaken during the construction of the football stadium in 1905 by Frank Treharne-James,[3] and in 1957 during the demolition of Penydarren House.

From the combination of these works, it is presently estimated that the fort had a turf and clay rampart 8.2 metres (27 ft) wide, set on a cobble foundation and separated by a narrow berm of 0.6 metres (2 ft 0 in) wide from its double ditch. The inner ditch was 0.4 metres (1 ft 4 in) wide, the outer 0.3 metres (1 ft 0 in) wide, separated by a berm of 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in). If a well recorded by Treharne-James in 1905 was centrally placed within the principia, and a square outline is assumed, then the fort had dimensions of 152 metres (499 ft) across the rampart crests, covering an area of 2.3 hectares (5.7 acres).[4]

Flavian pottery confirms the origin of the fort as a wooden structure, replaced in stone around AD 100, with the bath house located outside the fort's southern defences contemporary with the rebuilding. The latest pottery recovered is Trajanic, confirming that the site was abandoned in the Hadrianic period, with its garrison moved to a new build fort at Gelligaer.[2][4]

Penydarren House

After Samuel Homfray came to South Wales, and establishing the Penydarren Ironworks, he won a bet with Richard Crawshay, and with the proceeds built Penydarren House in 1786 on the site of the Roman fort.[5] It was during the construction that workmen first found Roman bricks and the remains of a tessellated pavement.[2] Developed on a site opposite the works, but "sufficiently removed from the town by the extent of the pleasure grounds, and contains all the conveniences and the luxuries requisite for a family of wealth and importance," Homfray was waited on by servants who were dressed in a scarlet and buff livery, while he was driven everywhere in a coach and four horses.[2]

In 1800, Homfray married Jane Morgan, daughter of Tredegar House, and thus obtained a favorable lease of mineral land at Tredegar, where he established the Tredegar Ironworks. In 1813 he was appointed High Sheriff of Monmouthshire and in 1818, returned as Member of Parliament for Stafford borough.[6]

The "Pen-y-Darren" locomotive

Trevithick's 1804 locomotive. This full-scale replica of steam-powered railway locomotive is in the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.
"Pen-y-Darren Locomotive"
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Builder Richard Trevithick
Build date 1803
Configuration 0-4-0
Operator(s) Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad

In 1802, Homfray commissioned engineer Richard Trevithick to build built one of his high pressure steam engines to drive a hammer at the Penydarren Ironworks. With the assistance of works engineer Rees Jones, Trevithick mounted the engine on wheels and turned it into a locomotive. In 1803 Trevithick sold the patents for his locomotives to Homfray.

Homfray was so impressed with Trevithick's locomotive that he made another bet with Crawshay, this time for 500 guineas that Trevithick's steam locomotive could haul 10 tons of iron along the Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad from Penydarren () to Abercynon (), a distance of 9.75 miles (15.69 km). Amid great interest from the public, on 21 February 1804 it successfully carried 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men the full distance in 4 hours and 5 minutes, an average speed of 2.4 mph (3.9 km/h).[7] As well as Homfray, Crawshay and the passengers, other witnesses included Mr. Giddy, a respected patron of Trevithick and an 'engineer from the Government'.[8] The engineer from the Government was probably a safety inspector and particularly interested in the boiler's ability to withstand high steam pressures.

In modern Merthyr, behind the monument to Trevithick's lococmotive is a stone wall, the sole remainder of the former boundary wall of Penydarren House.[9]

1811-1856: Merthyr Rising

The Penydarren Ironworks had been financed by William Forman of the Tower of London,[10] who provided all the capital, partly on mortgage but also by taking shares himself. Samuel Homfray left the business in 1813, selling both the house and his shares in the Penydarren Ironworks to Foreman.[2]

The house played a key role in the bread and an increase in their wages. The demands were rejected, and after being advised to return to their homes, attacked the inn. Engaged by the 93rd (Highland) Regiment, after the rioters seized some of their weapons, the troops were commanded to open fire. After a protracted struggle in which hundreds sustained injury, some fatal, the Highlanders were compelled to withdraw to Penydarren House, and abandon the town to the rioters. For eight days, Penydarren House was the sole refuge of authority in the district.[11]

Development and the James family

Forman offered the works for sale in 1859, and the Dowlais Iron Company bought the mineral ground. Foreman subsequently sold the house and its estate to the James family.[2] While the site of the Ironworks was left to decay, eventually becoming the service depot of the Merthyr tramway, from 1870, parts of the estate were sold off for housing development.

For the period 1876 to 1888, the family leased the house out to the Merthyr Proprietary School. In the 1890s, developments included the general hospital, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary's, and the imposing Park Terrace and nearby large villas.

The filling in of the former fish pond marked at Bryant's Field allowed the development of Penydarren Park between 1902 and 1905, during which additional excavation of the Roman fort was undertaken by Frank Treharne-James.[2] This also allowed the development of the terraces along Gwaelod-y-Garth lane, including Stuart, Cromwell, and Tudor.

By 1910, the Edwardian Baroque YMCA and the Masonic Temple had been completed, and post World War I Penydarren had become Merthyr Tydfil's premier middle-class suburb, with the addition of further terraces north and south of Dane Street, and properties along the Grove.[12]


Penydarren House was requisitioned by the UK Government at the start of World War II, it was handed over to the Ministry of Works in 1943. The house was demolished in 1957, and after a period of archeological excavation of the Roman fort, the site was redeveloped as the present day housing community.[2]


  1. ^ Penydarren Ward 2001 Census: Census Area Statistics: National Statistics. UK government. Retrieved 1 March 2009
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Archeologists hope to learn more about Roman occupation from Penydarren site". Merthyr Express. 23 March 1957. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Frank Treharne James". National Library of Wales. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Pen-y-Darren Roman Fort". Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  5. ^ "Penydarren House". Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  6. ^ "Welsh Biography Online". National Library of Wales. Retrieved 17 February 2011. 
  7. ^ Rattenbury, Gordon; Lewis, M. J. T. (2004). Merthyr Tydfil Tramroads and their Locomotives. Oxford: Railway & Canal Historical Society.  
  8. ^ Rogers, Col. H. C. (1961). Turnpike to Iron Road. London: Seeley, Service & Co. p. 40. 
  9. ^ "Trevithick Monument Continued". Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  10. ^ Ince, L. (1993). The South Wales Iron Industry 1750-1885. 
  11. ^ "The Merthyr Riots: Settling the Account". National Library of Wales. 1959. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  12. ^ "Historic Landscape Characterisation Merthyr Tydfil". Glamorgan-Gwent Archeological Trust. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 

External links

  • Old Merthyr Tydfil: Penydarren - Historical Photographs of Penydarren
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