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Furnace Bank

A Grade II* Listed Building in Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.7801 / 51°46'48"N

Longitude: -3.2022 / 3°12'7"W

OS Eastings: 317158

OS Northings: 209728

OS Grid: SO171097

Mapcode National: GBR YY.Z0B4

Mapcode Global: VH6CV.FJZ8

Entry Name: Furnace Bank

Listing Date: 29 October 1999

Last Amended: 29 October 1999

Grade: II*

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 22531

Building Class: Industrial

Location: Set back from the E side of Steelworks Road, to rear of factory buildings, and opposite the main entrance to Ebbw Vale Steelworks.

County: Blaenau Gwent

Community: Ebbw Vale South (De Glynebwy)

Community: Ebbw Vale

Built-Up Area: Ebbw Vale

Traditional County: Monmouthshire

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Ebbw Vale

History

Late C18-early C19, retained as charging bank for later detached steel-clad C19 blast furnaces, since removed. An ironworks was established in Ebbw Vale in 1786 by Walter Watkins of Danygraig, who formed a partnership in 1789 with Charles Cracroft and Jeremiah Homfray. First blast furnace built 1790. The partnership was dissolved in 1791, leaving Homfray as main shareholder, who reformed the company as Harford, Partridge & Co. More land was leased, and in 1794-5, a tramroad built to the limestone quarries at Trefil. The Crumlin branch of the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal opened in 1798, allowing the export of 1655 tons (1682 tonnes) of pig iron from Ebbw Vale that year. Second furnace built by 1805, and a third by 1823. By 1830, output rose to 18,133 tons (18, 424 tonnes) of pig and finished iron. The Sirhowy Ironworks, Tredegar, was purchased in 1818. In 1829, rails were being made for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and by 1834, four furnaces were in blast (the fourth built in 1839). The Victoria Ironworks was added in 1848. The works were purchased in 1844 by Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale, with Thomas Brown as manager. The new company invested heavily, purchasing the Abersychan and New British Ironworks, Pontypool Ironworks, and the tinplate works at Pontymoile. By 1863, the company had 19 blast furnaces, 192 puddling furnaces, 1200 workmen’s cottages, and 7500 acres (3035 hectares). In 1864 the company adopted the limited status of the Ebbw Vale Iron and Coal Company. The Bessemer process was introduced in the 1860s by the chief engineer, Edward Windsor Richards, and Ebbw Vale became a noted producer of steel, the works being extensively modernised. The Boer War brought in profitable orders, and the size of the population of the town doubled between 1901 and 1914, as the works expanded. The decline of the early C20 was arrested when in 1935, Richard Thomas & Co bought the site and built a new steelworks, which by the 1960s, was the most advanced in Britain. The original small site became abandoned. In the later C20, the site was much redeveloped as a tinplate works, the majority of the older buildings demolished in favour of a vast complex of metal-sheeted buildings. Until c. 1980, two engine houses stood at each end of the furnace bank, since demolished.

Despite later alterations, and the accumulation of spoil at the foot of the bank, it may be speculated that up to eight (and at least seven) furnaces existed, records indicating that only four were ever active at one time. This would make the furnace bank second only in size to the world’s largest C19 furnace bank at Merthyr Tydfil, which had six active furnaces.

Exterior

Very long furnace bank, retained to form lower two-thirds of charging bank for (removed) later C19 blast furnaces. High NW-SE bank faced in Pennant stone, some 250 metres long.

NW end of furnace bank has high retaining wall, set back from main central section. Retaining wall has three inserted coal shutes with cast iron lintels and shutes. To the NW again is ruinous elevated single storey three-bay building of rock-faced rubble, with polychrome brick surrounds to windows, set on moulded brick stringcourse. Central segmental window set within round-arched recess. Round-arched flanking windows.

Long central section of bank is higher, with three buttresses towards its SE end. This section probably incorporates the earliest remains of the furnaces, but due to height of deposited spoil, any likely surviving casting arches (probably two) at the NW end are hidden. The NW third of this section of wall (including the first buttress) is a late C19 rebuilding in rock-faced Pennant stone. Lower part of the central section is hidden by spoil, but still visible is a blocked broad semi-circular casting-arch, which has yellow reverbatory brick arch-ring. To the right is a late C19 partial rebuilding of the retaining wall, brought out to a battered profile, built of large sandstone blocks. At the same date, the arch was infilled with stone surrounding a new inner brick arch.

The wall continues to the SE on a slightly recessed plane, with much late C19 rebuilding. Towards the centre of the taller section is a high and narrow round-headed doorway set high up; yellow brick surround. To the right, a straight joint, with a second large casting arch below. High segmental arch of yellow brick, blocked with squared stonework to include a blocked brick-framed access oculus, arch has eroded illegible inscribed keystone. To the SE the height of the spoil is greater, including overgrowth. To the right of the second arch is the third casting arch: segmental yellow brick arch with inscription to keystone reading ‘E.V. 18(5?)8’, or possibly the date is 1838, contemporary with the known date of construction of the fourth furnace at Ebbw Vale. Oculus above arch, framed in brick. To the SE, the top of a fourth casting arch is visible, also of brick, the keystone dated ‘E.V. 1862’. To the SE, a straight joint in the masonry, and then another joint, before the start of the fifth casting arch, also of brick. This furnace was either never completed or much reduced in height before the late C19 charging bank was completed. This furnace is built of rock-faced stone, which terminates above the arch, with horizontal crease above. To the SE is yet another (obscured) semi-circular brick arch, perhaps too narrow for a casting arch. Retaining wall continues at lower level for some distance before splaying out and terminating to the S.

In total, a possible six furnaces are visible, probably with two more concealed behind spoil at the NW end of the taller central section of bank.

Reasons for Listing

Listed as an extremely scarce survival of a vast furnace bank, begun in the late C18, preserved largely intact due to its reuse in the later C19 as a charging bank. In size, only the furnace bank at Cyfarthfa may be a larger contemporary survival nationally and internationally.

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