Friday, 25 April 2008

Blaenavon and Stack Square - part 2

(Click on photos to enlarge)

I took so many photos on Wednesday that I could almost illustrate a book with them! It was an interesting site to walk around, and although the social history shown by the cottage interiors was what really took my interest, having read a few of Alexander Cordell's wonderful novels, the industrial history was equally fascinating. Of course, much has been demolished over the years. The dressed stone which once faced all that remains of the blast furnaces was taken to build a church in Blaenavon.

The illustration below gives an idea of how busy and sprawling the site was in its heyday. Stack Square has the most amazing chimney in the centre of it which probably blocked out a lot of natural light. The smoking stacks to the left were the Calcining kilns, where the lumps of raw iron ore were roasted to remove sulphur, moisture and mud. The workers - regardless of age - worked 12 hour shifts - and took the night shift every other week, which meant a 24 hour shift when there was a changeover. This even for children of 7 or 8. The CADW booklet which I bought, mentions an Irish family (the McCarthys), who worked there. The father, Timothy, was a "filler" in 1841, and had two sons helping him, Tim and Tom, who were supposedly 14 and 10 (on official papers) but were probably just 9 and 7 years old. They all worked the same hours . . . poor little mites. The younger had a hernia, and had to wear a home-made truss.

Looking across to the 'mynydd' and the terraced row of miner's cottages. Just out of sight is "Big Pit", a mine which is now a working museum and destination for many a school outing.

Now Forget-me-nots grow in memory of all the people who once slaved here.

Below are the foundry and cast house, still in a good state of repair.

The enormous balance tower dominates the site today. It was an early form of "renewable energy" working, as it did, with the weight of water on one side raising wagons of raw material to the tops of the furnaces, in perpetual motion. It was built in 1839.

This is Engine Row, which formed one side of Stack Square. These cottages faced outwards and have permanently furnished interiors to show how they may have looked in 1790, and then in 1841.

This is the cottage as it may have looked in 1790, and is meant to illustrate the dwelling of an experienced iron worker, who had moved from Shropshire (Ironbridge). The colour of the room is from red ochre pigment (which was used for 'raddling' sheep - hark back to Thomas Hardy here and the Reddleman Diggory Venn in 'Return of the Native'). On the table is a boiled leg of mutton, a jug of caper sauce and a relish of samphire.

A ladder-back chair keeps company with the steens (glazed bowls on the floor) and other earthenware pots and jugs, which were the everyday ware at this time. A few 'cheap' glasses are on the top shelf.

The dresser, with its 'chargers' from Ewenny pottery, pewter plates for dining from and more earthenware jugs and dishes.

This rather splendid quilt decorates a 4 post bed with curtains to keep out the draughts, and which was crammed into a tiny room off the kitchen. Out of sight is a small rocking cradle at the bottom of the bed.
Next door, in the 1841 cottage, the McCarthy family from Co. Cork are now living - 4 adults, 4 children and a baby in the 1841 census returns. Their dresser was more utalitarian. Some of the goods are clearly second hand. The dresser is an Irish one from Co. Clare.

It is washday. The method used is to soak the clothes in a 'buck-basket' and soaked with lye (this is made by water dripping through wood ash). Only cold water was used, the dirt being beaten from the clothes with bats against washboards in tubs. The only soap was made by mixing lye with tallow fat (old candle stubs were often used - there was no waste). After rinsing the clothes were wrung out and hung out to dry. In this cottage, the washing 'lines' were literally just that - pieces of rope hung from beam to beam.

The pantry has rushlight holders (rush lights were made at home), cheap pottery and tinware. There is a sack of replica potatoes - of a variety called Lumpers, popular in Ireland before the dreadful famine, and which were bluish - just like the sorts which are shown in modern Kitchen Garden magazines today! What goes round, comes round, as they say).

The main bedroom with the baby's cradle beside it. The quilt is made of blanket pieces and cloth strips (this particular one has some authentic dirt on it!)

Here is where the children would have slept - a feather mattress and a woven rush pallet on the floor with blankets for bedclothes. I don't doubt a few bed bugs kept them company back in those days too!

Finally, I had a walk around the town of Blaenavon today, and visited the Heritage Museum, which was very impressive. Here is a steep row of pre 1900 terraced houses.

With many thanks to the CADW booklets about the cottage interiors and the Ironworks.


Mrs. Mordecai said...

Oh, it is so beautiful! I love the old-fashioned simplicity. Although I think I'll keep my washing machine and dryer all the same.

Kathy said...

Beautiful pictures! Kathy

Dawn said...

Thank you for coming over to visit my husband's handiwork on the ships. He is indeed patient. We visited several ships when we were in England. I think you would love to meet my brother, the expatriot! He is such a British history buff. He is such fun to travel with over there. We MUST get back there for another visit.

MammyT said...

Sounds like a rather sordid portion of history. I can't imagine the little ones working like that. We certainly protect our kid now, in civilized countries, at least. I think that no country can claim to be civilized when it abuses its workers like some still do. (Don't get me started). I love the photo of the terraced row houses on the steep hill.

Jaderocks said...

What great photos you really could make a book. Very interesting history in those photos.