This passage forms part of historian Fred Hando’s journey through Gwent, and continues from last week

THE DEFLECTION of the girders caused by a passing fully-loaded train was 5/8 inch and the girders returned to their exact form immediately the train had passed.

Those items were but a few of the myriads noted. When I stood on the top road leading towards Abertillery and looked down on the graceful structure I got the impression of an enormous 'harp of the winds' and wondered idly if any engineer had actually calculated the vibration frequency of the strings.

On December 8, 1853, Lady Isabella Fitzmaurice inserted into a recess in the stonework (of the foundations of the first pier) a cup containing coins of 1853, the permanent bolts were fixed, a bottle of wine was broken, and the work of erecting the pier - still called the Isabella pier - began. That cup with its coins is worthy of preservation. The cost of the viaduct was £62,000; the cost of the Britannia Bridge, twenty feet longer, over the Menai Straits, was £601,865.

On Whit Monday, in 1857, after many severe tests, the viaduct was opened. Excursion trips ran from all parts of the kingdom. The centre of the viaduct was spanned by a floral arch, from which great banners hung bearing the inscriptions, 'Long Life and Prosperity to T.W. Kennard,' and 'Long Life to the firm of Kennard Brothers.'

Cannon were placed on both sides of the valley from which volleys were fired 'with slight intermission throughout the day, causing the mountains to reverberate with their thunder.'

Soon this splendid and beautiful viaduct will be but a memory. History. we know, is the record of 'makes and breaks,' an era of construction followed by an era of consolidation, then an era of destruction.

In 1853 Sir Benjamin Hall gave Abercarn a Welsh Anglican church. It was to serve the needs of the Welsh speaking Anglicans, but when a dispute arose with the vicar of Mynyddislwyn, who wished to introduce one English service weekly, Sir Benjamin transferred the building and its parsonage (and the Capel Cae Celynen) in 1862 to the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists.

All that I gathered from the writings of Rex Pugh (Glimpses of West Gwent ) and the enthusiastic young vicar of St. Luke's Abercarn, but until last March I had never seen `Eglwys Gymraeg, Abercarn'; then I had a glimpse of its picturesque lines from the vicarage garden. In company with the vicar - the Rev. David Brunning - I journeyed up the tree lined drive to the west facade of the church.

Over the porch I read the stone inscription 'A B H 1853', indicating that the church was a joint gift of husband and wife. The impressive western gallery bore the arms, in full colour, of Queen Victoria and of Benjamin and Augusta Hall.

Twenty-seven pews suggested that congregations of more than 200 were expected; the handsome three-decker pulpit was surmounted by a brass commemorating Lord Llanover, and this, like all the other inscriptions was is Welsh.

I should record that the stonework throughout, the timbers of roof and pews and pulpit, the delicate tracery of the windows, bear tribute to the loving care bestowed on this beautiful sanctuary. Its memory will remain with me as of a gem securely set in upland sylvan serenity.

They tell at Abercarn of a great occasion when Thomas Griffiths, the blind harpist of Llanover, went to Abercarn to give a harp recital. He was met at the station by Prince, the local harpist, who had lost the sight of one eye, and who proceeded to carry the harp of the distinguished visitor. As they were approaching a level crossing Prince took the blind harpist's arm, urging him to walk with care. 'Is it not strange,' he queried, 'that a harpist with one eye should be leading another harpist with none?'

`Have you got but one eye, Prince?' shouted the great man. 'Give me my…..Harp!'


Twyn Barllwm still holds its magic and dominates the skyline above Newport and the surrounding area. The legends of this mystical mound are still quoted and its origin argued. In 1985 restoration work was carried out on the mound by a team of men working on a Manpower Services Commission Scheme in conjunction with Gwent County Council. Countless feet and illegal motorcycling activities had caused severe erosion to the mound over the years. A flight of steps now provides an easier ascent to the top which has been raised in height and re-turfed and the base of the mound has been surrounded by a low fence. The project won a Prince of Wales award in 1986.

At Cwmfelinfach the massive tip has been removed and Babell chapel has been restored as a memorial to the poet Islwyn. Nearby is the Sirhowy Valley Country Park where picnic sites, walking routes and other facilities have been established for the enjoyment of visitors and locals alike.

At the time of writing the mill at Gelligroes is still in operation but Cwrt-y-Bella church is no more, having been demolished some years ago and judging by Fred Hando's comment it was obviously in a poor state when he paid a visit.

The old packhorse bridge at Aberbeeg has survived despite new road construction and building demolition at Aberbeeg but sadly Crumlin Viaduct is now just a fading memory having been demolished in 1966. Just before it was taken down, it featured in a film called Arabesque, starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren.

Abercarn is now visited by people on their way to the nearby scenic drive at Cwmcarn where the Forestry Commission operate a seven mile route which enables the motorist to drive high up into the Ebbw Forest to enjoy extensive views, picnic sites, forest and mountain walks. At the entrance to the drive is a visitor centre established by Islwyn Borough Council.

This is an extract from Hando’s Gwent, Volume One, edited by Chris Barber.