We loved visiting Pontypridd when researching this Window Seater route, which we’re told is not unusual.
When the industrial revolution began in the mid-1700s, Pontypridd was a small hamlet that sat at a strategic junction with Cardiff downstream, the River Rhonda and its valleys and resources to the west, and the Taff and its valleys (including Merthyr) to the north.
The river ran slower in this area so it was easier for drovers to ford a little downstream in Treforest, which meant that there was more human settlement there before the industrial revolution.
So in 1746, a 3-span bridge was commissioned to be built over the Taff at Pontypridd where only a ford of stepping stones could be crossed when the river ran low. 27-year-old William Edwards was commissioned for £500 to build the bridge on the condition that it would be maintained for 7 years – but just 2 years later the Taff flooded and washed the bridge away.
Edwards was required to give it another go, and this time tried to traverse the river with just one single arch. But just before the central arch was to be struck, another flood came and took all his hard work away. When the single-span design was finally completed, it only survived for 6 weeks.
The third and final design was the winner which remains today. It has a distinctive look created by cylindrical hollows placed at each end of the bridge to balance its weight and correct the previous mistake.
At 140 feet, it was the longest bridge in Britain when it was built in 1756. But the lasting integrity of its structure seemed to come at the cost of usability – it was too steep for most horse-carts to go over, and was replaced as soon as technology would allow a century later.
Perhaps in part because it had such a bad bridge, Ponty had only a population of 3,000 odd when the railway came in 1841. The Taff Vale Railway built the longest railway platform in the world here, which is a reflection of its strategic importance, as well as the narrow space between the valley and the hills in which the town sits. The railway made a number of collieries and large-scale iron working economically viable in the area.
Within 50 years of the railway opening, the population had swelled 10-fold. By the time that the South Wales industrial machine reached its peak before the 1st World War, Ponty had a sufficiently diversified economy to continue to being a major economic hub in South Wales.
Many of the chains and anchors of ships – including those of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Royal Navy – were being made here. The town served much of the area’s sick with the Dewi Sant Hospital, and educated much of the area’s youth at South Wales and Monmouthshire School of Mines (now part of the University of South Wales, who helped us tremendously in the making of this guide).
And the area is, of course, home to Tom Jones, who bought a telephone box from Laura Street in Treforest to sit by the pool at his Los Angeles home.