Spring term ends with a bang at the Gunpowder Works

THE Spring term ended with a bang for a group of school children who discovered the remains of a Gunpowder works, deep in Waterfall Country.

Pupils from several schools joined the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority’s Education Team for an explosive tour of the former Glynneath Gunpowder Works, hidden in an ancient gorge in Pontneddfechan which is home to some of the rarest flora and fauna in the world.

One of the biggest employers in the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Gunpowder Works supported the thriving mining industry if the South Wales Valleys.

The National Park Authority recognised that this Scheduled Ancient Monument played a valuable role in the community and need to be safeguarded alongside the landscape which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

A project to conserve, enhance and protect the vital assets was approved and secured a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, to take forward plans to restore the ancient ruins of the Gunpowder Works, which have been nominated for a prestigious RCIS award, and secure its long-term future.

Project Manager Ruth Coulthard has been working with the local community, town council, business and schools for almost two years to breathe new life into the site.

She said: “The remains of Glynneath Gunpowder Works, one of only two in Wales, cling to the sides of the steep Mellte gorge.  Its product was vital to South Wales’ growing industrialisation during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Though buildings were partially destroyed on the works’ closure in 1931, the surviving ruins are testament to a triumph of human ingenuity which created one of the most extraordinary workplaces in Britain.

“Our vision is that residents will once again celebrate the site and more visitors will understand and enjoy its historic legacy, as well as its beautiful and unique setting.”

The key stage four pupils, along with Education Officers Eleri Thomas and Geraint Roberts, began their journey of discovery in a make shift classroom at Pontneddfechan Community Hall. There the officers ran a variety of activities to highlight the importance of the works and the role it played in family and the surrounding community.

Then they took the classroom, outdoors and discovered the deep narrow gorges filled with ancient oaks, internationally rare mosses, liverworts and ferns which enjoy the damp conditions these thickly wooded valleys provide. For this reason the areas has been designated an SAC, making it a priority European protected site and a regular tourist spot for outdoor activities.

Delivery Director Steve Gray said: “We have a duty to protect the diverse heritage in the National Park. More than 150,000 people visit this site each year, to appreciate the natural beauty of the area and the species – including dipper and otter – to be found here.

“The project team have balanced the sensitive restoration of the ruins for future generations to appreciate the engineering involved in building the works into the landscape, with making sure that the rare biodiversity and wildlife is not harmed. Educating our young people is key to making sure that the Gunpowder Works, the landscape, wildlife and biodiversity within the National Park as a whole is preserved for future generations.”