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Images of Wales                          Back to Webpage Archive

The feature below was first shown on my website on 5 July 2003

John Ball

Images of Wales


Page 3

Page 1: Penwyllt Inn       Page 2: Landscape and Limekilns       Page 3: Brickworks and Railway (below)

Brickworks and railway

Note: To get your bearings, study a large scale map of Penwyllt, published in 1891.

Railway bridge
Photography by Venita Roylance
Above: The railway bridge to the south of Penwyllt Inn and the limekilns.
The course of the railway line is marked by the fencing each side of the trackbed.

Railway and brickworks
Photography by Venita Roylance
Above and below: From the same viewpoint, the remains of an old brickworks can be seen on the far side of the railway line, while on the near side, a number of pools of discoloured water have formed.
Latin inscription
Photography by John Ball

Archive photograph from Davies (1992) 
Above: The Penwyllt works of the Penwyllt Dinas Silica Brick Co. Ltd..

Opened in 1865, three years after the opening of the Neath to Brecon railway, the Company supplied Dinas silica bricks; silica cement; silica sand and clay for use in the furnaces of the ironworks, copperworks and glassworks further down the Swansea Valley. The silica sand was quarried and transported a distance of three miles from the headwaters of the River Byfre. The brickworks employed over 350 workers. The bricks were made by firing a mixture of silica sand and limestone, allowing the sand to fuse, but without the danger of vitrification, or slagging, whereby the mixture would fuse into a molten glassy mess of calcium silicate. There seem to be two banks of kilns here, of different designs. One bank of five round structures is the better preserved. These kilns, at the southern end of the site, are built of a mixture of imported fire bricks and Penwyllt bricks from the kilns themselves. According to Davies (1992), the last brick-kiln was fired in 1935.

Below: Penwyllt works illustrated on the Company's headed notepaper, dated 1901.
Headed notepaper
Archive image from Davies (1990)

Brickworks railway
Archive photograph from Alan Doyle
Above: Steam loco Gwendolen hauling fully laden drams from the quarry.

Alan Doyle writes: The little steam loco in the picture above used to travel from ''The Central'' to the quarry, hauling the empty drams (small wagons). It would return with the loaded drams which were then lowered to the brickworks by a wire rope operated from a winding house down the track. This can still be seen if you look closely down the mountainside.

Below: Steam loco Gwendolen in her roofless engine shed.
Brickworks railway
Photographer unknown. This photo from the 1950s was used by Helen Matthews in her thesis
Penwyllt Village: Growth, Development and Decline, University College Swansea, 1991

Talyllyn RailwayBrian Jones, former resident of nearby Dan-yr-Ogof, adds: The loco 'Gwendolen' was scrapped around 1954 after running away down the hill from its shed and being derailed. I heard it was meant to go to a museum. Brian adds that Gwendolen was a 'Tattoo' class locomotive built around 1904. He says there is a 1921 version of a similar Tattoo class loco still running on the Talyllyn Railway under the name Edward Thomas (see right). It has had various modifications through its life and is shown in a rather more colourful livery than Gwendolen ever had.

Alan Doyle again: The Penwyllt Silica Brick Company closed in 1939 after being taken over by a company called ''Thomas's of Llanelli''. Much to the disgust of the local workforce, Thomas's of Llanelli carried on producing bricks at its premises in Llanelli, with the ''Penwyllt'' stamp on the bricks, as Penwyllt bricks were renowned far and wide. Up on the mountain above Penwyllt the brickworks had a quarry which has golden silica sand. It's very strange when walking up there as one minute you are in rough barren land, then you walk into this quarry with the sand a golden colour.

Brian Jones comments: It's sad to be reminded how the brickworks has suffered over the years. I remember its remaining contents being auctioned in about 1954. As I recall, the buildings and kilns were in good shape but somebody seems to have done a demolition job since. I can't imagine why. The auctioneer must have produced a prospectus - photos, building contents, etc. I wonder who the auctioneer was and if a copy of the prospectus remains on file. I heard that a box of papers was found in the Stump a few years ago but was burned. Words failed me!

View from limekilns
Photography by John Ball
Above: View to the northeast from the top of the limekilns.

The railway track bed sweeps northwards across the scene towards Penwyllt railway station, just out of shot on the left. The row of cottages whose grey roofs can be seen behind the trees, marks the line of Powell Street. The row consists of ten small cottages, originally built to house workers at the adjacent quarry and brickworks. The houses are now the headquarters of the South Wales Caving Club. According to the SWCC website, directly beneath the cottages is part of one of the deepest and longest caves in Britain, Ogof Ffynnon Ddu.

Penwyllt station waiting room
Photography by John Ball
Above: Penwyllt railway station

Following the railway trackbed northwards from the brickworks, one soon arrives at what was once Penwyllt's railway station.

Below: The view south from the station towards the brickworks.
Penwyllt Station, looking south
Photography by John Ball

Penwyllt station, viewed from north
Photography by John Ball
Above and below: View south from the north end of the platform.
Penwyllt station, viewed from north
Archive photograph from late 1950s, courtesy of Tim Owen

Alan Doyle writes: The railway station had two platforms with waiting rooms including a specially-built waiting room for the opera singer Dame Adelina Patti who lived in the nearby Craig-y-nos Castle. In latter years, the trains used to pass to Brecon, Neath and Swansea. The LMS (London Midland and Scottish Railway) had running rights over the track and branched off at ''Colbren'' or ''Coelbren'' as it is now called and ran down the Swansea Valley through Abercrave and on to Swansea. Trains travelled via Brecon, Hay-on-Wye and Hereford to the Midlands and beyond. The line through to Brecon closed in 1962.

The village's water supply came from a river up in the mountains to the east of the village. A very small reservoir was built in the middle of the river from which ran a turn-of-the-century four-inch pipe, exposed in places and ending up underground in the village from which the odd communal water tap was placed in the street. For example ''Patti's Cottages'' and ''Powell Street'' had one tap each and you took your can or bucket and filled it up and carried it back to the house. During winter time, when the exposed pipe froze, men from the village would carry wood and coal to light fires under the pipe to thaw it out so that water would run through the taps again.

Toilet facilities were a row of tin-roofed buildings each separated off to the number of your house. The toilet comprised a wooden seat with a hole in it and a bucket underneath. When the bucket was full, it was emptied into a big hole further up the mountain.

Below: Penwyllt Railway Station, circa 1920.
Penwyllt Station ca. 1920
Archive photograph from Davies (1992)

From Bradshaw's Railway Guide, 1922

Left: An extract from the July 1922 railway timetable for the Brecon to Neath and Brecon to Swansea lines, both passing through Penwyllt, but separating at Coelbren Junction. Note that the station was then known as Craig-y-nos (Penwyllt). The journey from Penwyllt to Neath took about 45 minutes, and to Swansea, about seven minutes longer. The numbers in the left-hand column are track mileages measured from Hereford.

Railway station and Penwyllt Inn
Photography by Venita Roylance
Above: Penwyllt Inn viewed from the station platform, alongside the waiting room.....
.....we are almost back to our starting point!

Sources and Links

  1. Bradshaw's July 1922 Railway Guide, facsimile edition published in 1985 by Guild Publishing, London, by arrangement with David & Charles Ltd.
  2. Faces and Places of the Parish of Ystradgynlais - in Photographs with Commentaries
    by T. J. (Thomas John) Davies, Vol 2 published in 1990 by Gomer Press, Llandysul, Dyfed.
  3. Faces and Places of the Parish of Ystradgynlais - in Photographs with Commentaries
    by T. J. (Thomas John) Davies, Vol 3 published in 1992 by Gomer Press, Llandysul, Dyfed.
  4. Penwyllt: The Story of a South Wales Community by Peter Burgess, published in 2010 by the author; ISBN 978-0-9556081-6-2.
  5. Penwyllt Village: Growth, Development and Decline by Helen Matthews, a dissertation submitted in candidature for the Diploma in Local History, University College of Swansea, August 1991. Accessible as a PDF download on the website of the South Wales Caving Club.
  6. Craig-y-nos Castle and Adelina Patti website at
  7. Wealden Cave and Mine Society website at
  8. Ordnance Survey Old-Maps website at
  9. South Wales Caving Club website at

  10. Explore my two supplementary webpages about Penwyllt:
    Quarryworkers' Cottages
    Limestone Quarry.


  • To Alan Doyle from Kingswinford (West Midlands) for providing the old photograph of the brickworks railway and recalling his fascinating memories of Penwyllt. Alan was born and raised in Penwyllt in the middle of the 20th century. Alan can be contacted at
  • To Brian Jones for sharing his memories of the demise of the brickworks and the steam loco, and for providing me with photos of the engine shed and the Talyllyn loco Edward Thomas. Brian once lived at Dan-yr-Ogof, a mile or so down the valley from Penwyllt.
  • To my friend Anne-Marie Rhys-Evans in Talybont on Usk, whose correspondence prompted me to explore Penwyllt Inn and its surroundings. Anne-Marie is the great granddaughter of Daniel and Anne Davies of the Penwyllt Inn.
  • To Tim Owen of Buckinghamshire for providing photographs from his family album (see late 1950's shot of railway station, above). Tim's grandfather, David Owen, was born in Penwyllt in 1904 and lived in 'Patti Cottages'.
  • To my friend Venita Roylance from Utah for accompanying me to Penwyllt and allowing me to use some of her fine photographs. You can see more of her photographic work on her website at

Page 1: Penwyllt Inn       Page 2: Landscape and Limekilns       Page 3: Brickworks and Railway (above)

Images of Wales                          Back to Webpage Archive

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Details of each website feature (for newcomers) Direct links to each website feature (for regulars) Advance news of new developments on my website Summary of all the latest updates Gateway to Welsh Family History Archive Help for those having problems accessing my website A link to the main 'gateway' page to my entire website