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The Coed-Eva Mill Complex

November 24, 2011

As well as social media giving me the opportunity to excavate on rather exciting Scheduled Ancient Monuments, it also gives me the opportunity to follow local councillors who happen to use it. One councillor who fits that billing is Clr Fiona Cross who represents the Coed-Eva ward in Cwmbran. Clr Cross also happens to be on the planning committee for Torfaen and intermittently posts information on planning committee decicions about local developments. This happened at the start of this week, when it was announced that planning permission had been granted for five detached houses on land surrounding a public house called The Mill Tavern, in Coed-Eva.

Naturally I asked for a copy of the archaeological desk top report. There were a few reasons for this: One, the building is on Cistercian lands and it used water management; secondly, as it used to be my local I knew it had some unusual features and three, until recently, the water wheel and wheel pit were still visible. Other interesting features that would have been picked up on were the fact that a tramway from Henllys colliery ran past The Tavern on the way to the brickyards and ultimately the canal. As the tramway ran over the leat for the mill there may have been some sort of structure in place to bridge it. Also, at the back of my mind, I could remember that when I was a young scallywag, there was a rather large pond in one of the gardens about three hundred metres away. I thought it odd that the mill pond should be so far away and wondered if there was a possibility of another mill close by. So, in a nutshell, there could be some very important Industrial archaeology to have a look at, some Post Medieval mills to look at and lastly, the remote possibility that the Post Medieval mills were re-built on top of Medieval structures. Very juicy, and given my local connections, one that I was looking forward to getting my hands on and head in.

There is no archaeological report.

The building is now going to be inspected by one of the planners at Torfaen and if he decides that there is nothing of historical importance attached, they are going to level it. I know how this works around here, trust me, it will be levelled, quickly as well.

So I decided to have a little rummage through some easy to access resources to see what, if anything, cropped up. The first port of call for me is the first edition Ordnance Survey maps circa 1880. As I was at Pontypool Museum today doing some research for an assignment I have to complete, it was the perfect opportunity to have a look in the research library they house there.

The first edition ordnance survey map - 1880

It is quite plain to see that there is not much going on in the area at that time! The sheer size of the mill pond is very impressive. The water, drawn from the Dowlais brook, enters through two sluice gates and after turning the water wheel of the corn mill, the tail race then travels towards The Mill Tavern to mechanise its own overshot wheel. So, we now have a double mill complex on our hands. The tramway, circa 1814, can be clearly seen running across the map from the top left, down past the Mill Inn and then carrying on what is now Two Locks road. The Mill Inn can be seen to have been a singular structure at the time. Just to the north west of the mill another large building, of which none remains today, is present. And just to the south there are a peculiar set of small outbuildings  that are sat precariously close to the Dowlais Brook. The remains of these outbuildings can be viewed in the car park of the mill, precisely where they are going to develop. Sadly, I did not have the chance to photograph them today as the light had diminished by the time I spotted them.

The next generation of maps I looked at were of poor quality, so I then jumped to the 1920 editions to see how the  area had developed in the following forty years.

ordnance survey map - 1920 edition

As you can see, the corn mill is now marked as disused although the tail race is still in place. To the north of the corn mill a building has appeared which is still there today but just to the north west the building seems to have developed lengthways and in its later days I know this was used as stables. Just a little to the north west again, another building has appeared while the Mill Inn and the large house close by have remained the same. What has changed is the boundary of the Mill Inn, is has been enlarged into what is the car park today.

I decided to visit the site today to what was left of all of these remains. I invited Clr Cross to attend as the site is in the ward she represents and any development affects the people living nearby.

The large mill pond now looks like this.

Oh dear! The mill pond has disappeared

Gone. And not one shred of archaeological evidence was attempted to be retrieved. Well, this is Torfaen. It is a shame that heritage is being systematically destroyed like this. Just because this land is in Torfaen does not mean that the council have the right to destroy it. It doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to the people of this country. I suppose there may be a slight chance that the remains of the sluice gates and edge of the pond are still in place in peoples gardens but are they really going to let people in to dig their gardens up? I have no problems with houses having to be built, but for the love of God, let us investigate them properly beforehand. And I don’t mean one of those botched, rush jobs either you know, just before the foundations are laid.

Next up is the building that appeared in the forty years just to the north of the corn mill.

Developed again since the 1920 map was drawn, it is a fine example of a house built at the turn of the 20th century. It is just after I took this photograph that I spotted the house sitting behind it. Built in stone…

How peculiar, I thought. Windows that appear to go underground. I had never been able to enter here before as it was a farm yard. Wandering onto peoples land is not the done thing but now there was a road way and there were certainly no signs asking people to stay out. So in I went.

Its hard to explain what it is like when you ‘discover’ something for the first time. I tend to smile a lot, which in turn makes people walking past in the street, stare . Not that it worries me, I couldn’t care less.

The wheel shaft was still intact!

The wheel pit complete with water wheel!

Can you imagine how I felt? I have since found out that the machinery inside the cellar is there, but it is in need of renovation. What a find! I had gone from complete and utter despair to one of stupid grin in a matter of seconds. When I start taking photos at times like this, they invariably turn out to be out of focus as my hands can’t quite stay still. These are the ones that I took a bit later on, after I had calmed down a bit.

So all in all, the visit to the library, coupled with the site visit today, has raised some interesting questions.

Was the Mill Inn just a mill prior to it selling beer? If so, when did it develop into an inn? Was it at the time of the tramway being built in 1818? Were the Mill Inn and the corn mill contemporary mills? How old are they, and if they are dated to the Post Medieval period, were they re-built on Cistercian mills? What was the large building to the north of Mill Inn? What remains are there under the car park that is to be re-developed? What are the small out buildings close to the Dowlais, that can quite clearly be seen today? What is left of the tram way under the car park? Was it bridged to go over the mill leat? How big was the mill leat and when was it built? Archaeology could help us solve some of the many questions that can be raised. There are many more. What remains of the mill machinery lies within the Tavern today? The wheel shaft would have entered the cellar and it should be noted that the floor of the original Inn is a lot lower than the road today, another indication of how old it could be.

But alas no, it will not happen. The planning committee were lied to in their meeting, they were told that no archaeology existed under there. This simple piece of research, two historical maps, proves whoever said that was wrong, totally wrong. In fact, it is slightly embarrassing how wrong they were. Who are these people accountable to? They seem to be able to knock down or dig holes where they want, how they want, with no scientific investigation whatsoever.

When Cwmbran new town was built, a lot of old buildings were destroyed with no investigation carried out on them at all. What is done is done but is it really to much to ask for Torfaen to actually look after and protect our heritage, the Welsh peoples heritage?

They should not be allowed to continue this wanton destruction of sites that could hold some important clues for us  in understanding this towns past, but they will.

MD

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33 Comments
  1. My dear David, Sounds like you were in the flow so to speak today. While your research reveals a great failing in the systems that exists there (and here) you remind us of the power of one. None of us need to feel powerless. There very act of looking changes everything. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Thank you. I have already reported the council to CADW once before, they broke listed building consent. Although they denied it. At least it got them to jump and they had an archaeologist there the following day!

    • jason permalink

      hi dave how can we stop this was my local 4 years and my home 4 2 not happy bout it at all…!!!

      • The development will go ahead. What we have managed to achieve is that the building and subsequent ground work will be monitored by an archaeologist from the Gwent Glamorgan Archaeological Trust. I’d be gobsmacked if they ‘see’ or ‘find’ anything.

        Torfaen’s ‘regeneration’ department have missed a tick with this one.

  3. Dave, what can we do to prevent the propsed development and what can we do to ensure the site is properly investigated?

    • I am not sure, planning has accepted the proposal even though the committee were lied to. I have sent a link, hopefully, to CADW and have asked Rob if he can get me the contact details of Mike Buckingham. I’ve lost them and can find no record of them after he gave them to me.

      This is not the only development where they have said there is no archaeology, they have said the same about St Dials (the police training head quarters).

    • Also, the Chairman of the Oxford House (Risca) Industrial Archaeology Society is being informed tomorrow night.

  4. Stuart Hedley permalink

    I live in Neerings Coed Eva and just outside my back gate there is an old mill stone all on its own at the edge of the feild. I’ve always wondered what was here many years ago but I cant find any thing about it, can you help?

    • Yes, I think I can. It is from an old cider mill although I have to say I do not know where the cider mill was. The stone would not have moved far.

  5. Dave, this stinks, big time. I don’t have many contacts in local government, but whatever I have I will try to make aware of this site and the need for proper excavation and recording before development.

    • There is stuff that is now in motion as a result from this post. Updates when I am allowed. There is worse destruction in the pipeline, at Llantarnam, which may be inside the outer precinct although on private land. Redrow now own it.

  6. Nigel Thomas permalink

    Excellent detective work once again Dave . I understand that work is to start on the site in a few days time . It is deplorable that this is being allowed to happen .

  7. Martin permalink

    Dave, have you had any feedback on this?

    • Yes I have Martin. It is positive but not conclusive. We all just have to wait. Llantarnam is the next embarrassing issue for Torfaen Council.

  8. Thanks for that monasticdave, a blast form the past for thos ex-pat.. Good work!

  9. Stuart Hedley permalink

    Cider mill! Thanks. How do you know or can you help with any links/sites that I can pursue?

    • Old maps at the county archive office in Ebbw Vale, and the Tithe maps along with the apportionments list. The apportionments will give you a clue to what each field was being used for.

  10. wayne williams permalink

    there is an old stone tunnel buried beneath the footpath between the mill tavern and the brook ,it was once used to channel water from the mill itself back into the dowlais brook . i know this because i had a heated exchange a few years back with a previous landlord who robbed stones from the entrance on the carpark side of this tunnel to make a b b q thus destroying history related to the site .it was then buried over again

    • I can remember it from my childhood Wayne, I was always scared when I walked near it as it was so deep. Hopefully that will be investigated when they take the tarmac up.

  11. H J Dobbs permalink

    Are they really knocking down the Mill Tavern? I think I remember some kind of building to do with the mill back in the 80’s – it was then used but the council social services. It is amazing how much of old Cwmbran is left though – I am doing research on Greenmeadow Farm which is probably roughly the same date as the mill, If you have any info at all from your research regarding the farm I would love to hear about it- I will of course reference anything you give me not just steal it and use it as my own!!!!

    • If you go up stairs inside the farm you will find evidence of material from earlier buildings. There are tiles built into the fabric of the building that may be Roman.

      • H J Dobbs permalink

        do you mean the new stairs inside the farm building or the place where the stairs used to be?

      • The stairs leading out of the cafe into the large room upstairs.

  12. Mr Peter J Squires permalink

    I have made several attempts to leave a comment

  13. Mr Peter J Squires permalink

    The area, which is now the approach road to the old mill, was a yard used by a milk company, making house to house deliveries in 1968, one of which was mine. I believe the milkman lived in the house with the gable window before it was refurbished and the milk was stored in the mill building inside a large commercial refridgerator. The milk company was Unigate and I used to visit the yard to buy eggs, this was when I first saw the mill wheel and the mill race from the large pond.

    • Thanks Peter. All replies have to be approved and I do that as soon as I receive notification. Like I have today, many thanks for the info!

  14. Jan denley permalink

    My G. Gran was the landlady of the Mill Tavern, I have a photo of the Inn dated c1905, let me know if you want a copy. (I except it is to late) Jan Denley

  15. Barbara Bates permalink

    i worked in mill tavern for 20 years from 1978-1998

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mill Tavern pub site in Cwmbran- An archaeological insight « Cwmbran Life
  2. Cwmbran’s Mill Tavern pub has been demolished « Cwmbran Life

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