About the Society
Historical Notes








A general canal system was impossible in Glamorgan because of the exceptionally hilly nature of the northern district. Sites of canals and railways were largely determined by physical features.

As trade from the Glamorgan Valleys was largely confined to exports, trains went downgrade with loaded wagons and uphill with empty ones, thereby achieving a considerable economy in steam power. The location of the ports too was determined by physical features.

In the 18th century coal and iron was sent from the valleys to the ports on the backs of ponies and mules. These travelled in troops and were attended by women and boys. Each animal carried about 130 lbs.

At first, Anthony Bacon sent his iron by mule troop to Swansea receiving for it £12 a ton. Later he built a road from Merthyr to Cardiff to enable him to send his iron goods (cannon etc.) by carts. The cannon were tested at Cardiff by firing them from the Castle walls into the sea.


As early as this year, preliminary discussions took place to secure parliamentary powers to construct a canal from Cardiff to Merthyr a distance of 25ΒΌ miles. The negotiations were not


completed until 1789 and the Act permitting the construction of the Glamorgan Canal was


passed in 1790.

The head of the canal at Merthyr was 568 feet above sea level, and this necessitated the construction of 51 locks, which in turn meant endless delays in movement along the canal. Most of the £50,000 cost of the canal was subsidised by the Iron Masters. The work was completed in


1794 and on February 7th the first load of iron was conveyed all the way from Merthyr to Cardiff by boat.

The first barge was finely decorated with colours and it was navigated from the Melingriffith Works by a Mr. Bird who was the senior water bailiff for Cardiff. But it was not


until this year that the Canal was finally extended to the sea.


Meanwhile in this year an Act of Parliament had authorized the construction of a canal from Navigation (Abercynon) to Aberdare - a distance of 6¾ miles, but this was not completed until 1812. The Aberdare Canal Company must be distinguished from the Glamorgan Canal Co. They were separate undertakings with separate Boards of Directors and they remained separate until 1885 when both came under the hammer and were bought by the Marquis of Bute.

During the first half of the 19th century the Glamorgan canal was a sound investment and paid its limited maximum dividend of 8%. It was even suggested more than once that to keep down its dividend earning capacity it occasionally carried goods free of charge.


In this year when the TVR link from Cardiff to Merthyr was completed the Glamorganshire Canal was carrying about 200,000 tons annually of cargo. During the 1840s despite Railway competition, the Merthyr-Cardiff and the Aberdare-Abercynon-Cardiff trade on the canals continued to increase.

Number of vessels entering the Glamorgan Canal at Cardiff:



No. of vessels entering canal

Registered Tonnage











Freight on the Glamorgan canal included 272,553 tons of coal and 152,406 tons of iron a great increase over 1841.




The Aberdare Canal


Although authorized by an Act in 1793, the actual construction of the Canal did not begin until much later.

The promoters of a navigable canal from the Glamorgan Canal to or near the Village of Aberdare were John Bartlett Allen, William Thomas Bassett, Samuel and Jeremiah Homfray, John Knight, Wyndham Lewis, Robert Wynter, Walter Thomas and Geoffrey Williams.

1800 July

Eventually after numerous delays and disagreements, these gentlemen in July 1800 requested an engineer, Thomas Dadford, to re-survey the canal route. On August 1st 1800 Dadford wrote as follows:—


“To the Proprietors of the Aberdare Canal


In pursuance of your orders of 11th July, I have surveyed and examined the country between the Aberdare Furnaces and the Glamorgan Canal (Cardiff to Merthyr) and am clearly of the opinion that the best communication will be partly by canal and partly by railroad, a plan and estimate of which I have prepared for your inspection. I recommend cutting a canal from the Glamorgan Canal at the head of the 7th Lock above the aqueduct over the River Taff to a place called Tŷ Draw nearly opposite Aberdare Village which will be 7 miles in length with a rise of 25 feet and wanting about 12 bridges and I estimate the same all expenses included at £10,500. From this canal to the furnaces, I propose a tramroad one mile and a half in length which I estimate at £1,500 including every expense.

T. Dadford.”


The Canal was an immediate financial success.



Canal Traffic in tons










(Coal now moving down in quantity)













Source ‘Canals of South Wales and the Border’, C. Hadfield, Chapter VI.

1833 May

James Payne and Harry Stockall were each fined 20/- for navigating their boats on the Aberdare canal without horse-drivers.


The Aberdare Canal Navigation Company held a meeting of the Proprietors at the Canal Office in July. The Clerk of the Company, Edward Lewis, (possibly brother to James Lewis of Plasdraw), stated that transport on the Aberdare Canal was shared by 2 companies.

The Aberdare and Hirwaun Boating Company
Evan Griffiths and Company (Evan Griffiths Ty Mawr, Grocer and Draper, ironmonger who owned a number of boats on the Canal and acted as carrier of goods between Aberdare and Cardiff).

1859 Sep

The children of the Cwmbach Band of Hope enjoyed a picnic by barge down to Navigation and Llanfabon.

But as the century wore on, the development of railways was eventually bound to prove too much for the Canal Co. During the second half of the century, canal shares declined in value.


Ordinary traffic on the Aberdare Canal amounted to 126,843 tons but by 1897, this had fallen to 7,855 tons.

The Marquis of Bute made great efforts to revive its fortunes.


Steam was introduced as a motive power instead of horses pulling along the towpath; still there were endless delays at the locks en route for Cardiff.


Bute sought power to convert the Canal into a railway track, but there was one major difficulty - subsidence due to colliery workings. Lords rejected the bill.

1900 Nov

The Aberdare canal was closed for heavy freight, but a daily goods service was maintained for some time.


Before a Royal Commission held in this year, a witness stated in evidence that the Aberdare Canal had been running at a loss for nearly 20 years.

Addendum Each Canal barge could carry a load up to 20 tons.