TORFAEN’S iron industry dates back to 1425, when the Grant cousins set up ‘bloomery’ forges on the Afon Lwyd.

Over the next century, more iron makers arrived from other areas - some of the ironmasters came from the Weald of Sussex, where it had been forbidden by Royal command to use the local timber to make charcoal - as it was needed for ship building during the war with Spain.

But here in Torfaen, wood was plentiful for charcoal, as was flowing water (the Afon Lwyd) to drive the wheels and iron ore to be mined. The small villages of Trosnant, Pontymoel and Pontypool became the focus of the new industry because of these nearby natural resources including the river.

In the sixteenth century blast furnaces were introduced - which revolutionised iron production. The blast furnaces were operated by water wheels - which blew air into huge bellows, which in turn stoked up the charcoal fires and made production faster. This more refined iron was made from higher grade iron ore known as Osmond or Osborne Iron.

Local documents refer to this being manufactured at Osborne Forge, Pontnewynydd from 1558.

Richard Hanbury had a forge and furnace erected in Trevethin and another at Trosnant the next year. By 1580, Hanbury had control over the largest local resources of fuel and ore and much of the woodland between the Ebbw and Usk rivers. He had furnaces and forges at Tintern, Abercarn, Cwmffrwdoer, Monkswood, Pontymoel and Trosnant.

Ironworks continued to thrive in Torfaen, particularly during the Civil War when the demand for local Osborne Iron increased - although Glyn Trosnant furnaces were partially destroyed by Cromwell’s troops in 1645.

John Hanbury’s younger son Capel leased a parcel of wasteland called ‘Pont y poole’ together with a forge in 1665. Capel based himself in Pontypool and built Pontypool Park House. It was his son, Major John Hanbury, who made the process of Japanware possible with his tinplate production.

Free Press Series: An early twentieth century photograph of a prosperous Pontypool, outside Lion House (Fowlers) and the Corn Market. Picture: Torfaen Museum.An early twentieth century photograph of a prosperous Pontypool, outside Lion House (Fowlers) and the Corn Market. Picture: Torfaen Museum.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the town of Pontypool was a “large and straggling place” built around a rapidly growing industrial base. The town had become the cradle of Welsh industry and influenced industry abroad.

During the mid 1600s, the first ironworks in the American colonies used personnel and equipment from Pontypool. The gates of the new Governor’s Palace at Williamsburg, Virginia were manufactured at Pontypool in the early eighteenth century.

The history of our Valley can be found in the museum's new fundraising booklet - The Story of Torfaen - available from the museum shop for £10, or £8 for museum members.

Nostalgia is provided by Torfaen Museum.