In August, while the Monmouthshire Canal was in its early stages of construction, newspapers
reported that another canal was being planned to the north. This would be the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny
Canal and would head north from the River Usk near Pontypool, past Abergavenny to Gilwern. No connection with
the Monmouthshire Canal was planned in the initial reports. In October, a meeting was held between the
proprietors of the Monmouthshire Canal and the promoters of the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal. The
Monmouthshire promoters were very keen to ensure that the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal would not
bypass their own route so they donated £3,000 towards the building of a connecting junction. They also agreed
to supply water to the bottom pound of the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal. Everyone was so enthusiastic
that it was also decided that the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal's planned route should be extended to
reach Brecon in the Welsh hills.
Like the Monmouthshire Canal, the Abergavenny line was also surveyed by Thomas Dadford
junior. Once again, as a "friendly" business gesture, the survey was financed by the Monmouthshire Canal
Company. Dadford's recommended line from Brecon to Pontypool was 33 miles long and the scheme was also to
include 3 tramways which would connect the canal to local industries. The survey was accepted by the
Brecknockshire & Abergavenny committee in November and they awaited their turn in Parliament.
In March, the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal received its Act of Parliament. However, starting work on
the canal was soon put on hold when in Spring the majority of local banks fell into financial trouble. The
Monmouthshire Bank at Chepstow was badly hit and this had great consequences for both of the new canals. Share
prices dropped in an instant by 25%.
The Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal was finally started though it was not the waterway but the tramways
which were first to be built. This greatly annoyed the Monmouthshire Canal company because they had done so
much to aid the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal through its promotional days. The Monmouthshire company
had decided to build their tramways last, feeling that gaining income from the waterway was more important. The
Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal company felt it was more important to grab the business from up in the
hills & remote valleys as quickly as possible. Thus they built tramways which connected to the Usk Valley
but not, as yet, to a canal. John Dadford (junior's brother) was appointed engineer on the first tramway on the
Brecknockshire & Abergavenny "Canal". It was built from the coal mines at Gelli Felen in the Clydach Valley
to Glangrwyne. It was another 3 years before any work began on the actual waterway.
Most of the Monmouthshire Canal was completed and opened. With the use of over a dozen connecting tramways the
route chiefly served the blast furnaces at Cwmcarn, Ebbw Vale, Nantyglo and Baenavon as well as many local coal
mines. The canal cost around £220,000 to build including the construction of the tramways (some of which were
over 20 miles long). Locks on the canal (like on most other Welsh canals - and railways in later years) were
built to their own peculiar non-standard gauges. The Monmouthshire Canal locks were built 64 feet long by 9
feet wide, special boats were built to fit these strange dimensions (at a cost of £28 each). Fortuitously the
earliest boats were actually built to slightly smaller dimensions which later turned out to be perfect for the
Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal's own peculiar dimensions.Unlike the English narrow boats with their
bright green and red paint, the South Wales barges were generally grey and fairly dour.
Thomas Dadford junior was appointed as chief engineer on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal and work
finally began for real.At first Dadford worked only as a part time engineer as he was still employed on the
construction of the neighbouring Monmouthshire Canal.The first section of the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny
Canal to be completed was the embankment and aqueduct over the River Clydach and by the end of the year a
section in the centre of the route was opened from Gilwern to Llangynidr.
Meanwhile, the early success of the Monmouthshire Canal was turning the small town of
Newport, at the southern terminus of the route, into one of Britain's busiest coal ports.
With the Monmouthshire Canal completed and running successfully, Thomas Dadford junior became the full time
chief engineer on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal. This route was a lot more difficult to build than
the Monmouthshire Canal - and a lot more costly. There were only to be 6 locks on the whole 33 miles but much
of the route had to find its way through the hills half way up the side of the Usk Valley. This meant most of
the route had to be built on a ledge on inaccessible wooded hillsides. Many small aqueducts were needed and
embankments were often necessary to carry the route above villages down in the valley.
With money becoming very scarce, the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny company had to make calls on its
shareholders to raise additional cash to enable them to start the northern most section from Gilwern to
The Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal reached Brecon and this meant that the canal's main water supply
could now be used. This was taken from the River Usk via a weir above Brecon. The water left the weir and
actually passed right under the town to run into the canal at its terminus. By the time the company reached
Brecon they were once again desperate for more cash. Some money began to come in with the shipment of coal
along the newly opened sections but much more money needed to be raised if the canal was to avoid being
stranded with no link to the Monmouthshire Canal at Pontypool. Work was suspended until further funds could be
gained. It was probably at this stage that company realised their mistake in building the tramways first.
While the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal lay unfinished, during the first years of
the 1800's the Monmouthshire Canal was twice extended at Newport, new wharves were built and an extra lock was
added at Potter Street. However, while Newport grew and trade was high, profits for the canal company were poor
and dividends for shareholders were either low or totally non-existent.
Canal companies in Wales were often more busy with their tramways than they were with their waterways. The
canals were the main trunk of a network which could have hundreds of miles of tramways.During this year the
Monmouthshire Canal company gained an Act allowing them to build a new tramway from Newport to Sirhowy, way up
to the north of Ebbw Vale. The line included a 34-arched viaduct across a valley. As well as providing a direct
link to the sea for coal, the tramway also help water supply and traffic delays on the heavily locked Crumlin
The Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal gained a new Act of Parliament allowing it to raise more money to
complete its line.
Work recommenced on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal with Thomas Cartwright now appointed as
engineer. The route was extended south to Govilon Wharf but once again work had to stop when the money ran
Meanwhile, the success of the Monmouthshire Canal was causing congestion in Newport. The
company decided to extend the route by a mile to Pillgwenlly (further down the Usk Estuary) and a boat weighing
machine was added later to ease delays when gauging.
A local businessman named Richard Crawshay granted the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny company a loan of
£30,000 to be used to complete the canal and link it to the Monmouthshire Canal.
Work on the final stretch of the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal was started and the route's third
engineer was appointed. This time William Crossley was in charge.
On February 7th the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal finally reached Pontypool and joined the
Monmouthshire Canal 19 years after receiving its original Act. The total cost of the canal had been around
£200,000. Unfortunately there was still one further delay before the route was opened throughout. The final
aqueduct on the route, at Pontymoile in Pontypool, had to be demolished and rebuilt. This took another year to
While the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny company were pleased to see their canal up and
running, the Monmouthshire company were not. Despite all the help the Monmouthshire Canal had given to its
neighbour in the early days, they were now facing big profit losses due to the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny
company charging much lower tolls. At first the Monmouthshire company refused to lower its tolls in the vain
hope that the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny company would eventually have to put their prices up. When this
did not happen and profits continued to suffer the Monmouthshire company were forced to drop their tolls to the
same level as its new rival. Even then they only did so for any barges which used both waterways on the same
journey. Over all, the Monmouthshire Canal was always a relatively expensive route to use.After dropping its
tolls the Monmouthshire Canal's profits steadily grew and over the next few decades it was a fairly successful
route reaching its peak by the early 1840's.
The Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal's trade grew very slowly. Concerns over low profits resulted in
attempts to attract more trade. As well as the low tolls mentioned above, a whole succession of tramways were
built in the hope of encouraging more traffic. The company also struck up deals with iron companies in which
they agreed to deliver iron ore to the foundries for free so long as the ironworks used the canal to carry away
the finished products. They also gave toll reductions to long distance carriers and to companies who
"guaranteed" trade. All this helped enormously and profits increased over the next few years. However, within 5
years trade began to decline again.
Profits were dropping so quickly that the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny company had to cut staff wages. For
a while profits began to grow again but this was short lived and the small up-turn actually proved to be the
canal's last profitable years.
The Monmouthshire Canal was faring better than its neighbour during this time though not in
any big way. Competition between the two canals was certainly doing nothing to help either of them.
Steam locomotives were introduced on the Newport to Sirhowy tramway. Rather than help the Monmouthshire Canal
company's income this became the source of a number of problems in its early days. The heavy steam trains
damaged the plateways and the poor horses who still pulled tram-trucks were terrified by the new engines! All
the same, the Monmouthshire Canal was carrying a lot of coal and Newport was now the 3rd biggest coal exporting
port in Britain.
Trade decline on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal was becoming so worrying that shareholders began to
talk of a merger with the Monmouthshire Canal. Meetings were held but agreements over dividends could not be
settled and no amalgamation took place. All the same, the meeting did a lot for both companies and in the
following years they worked a lot more closely. This enabled both to see a rise in profits.
Along came the railways, down went the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal's trade. The company toyed with
the idea of completely selling out to the Welsh Midland Railway but luckily (for the canal's sake) the railway
company was dissolved before any agreement had been made. The company then decided to look into the viability
of turning its waterway into a railway themselves which would run along the entire route from Brecon to
Pontypool. However, nothing came of this idea either.
Railway competition was not as great a worry for the Monmouthshire Canal. Well after the Brecknockshire &
Abergavenny Canal's profits had begun to suffer the Monmouthshire Canal was still doing well. Newport was still
exporting more coal than Cardiff despite the building of the Taff Valley Railway into Cardiff city. All the
same, the company could see the growing threat of the railways and eventually gained permission to convert its
many tramways into railways, albeit with a maximum speed of 10mph. In the Act the company obtained rights
allowing it to become the Monmouthshire Railway & Canal Company and they surveyed the whole of the canal
main line with a view to building a railway in its place. However, the first few years after the tramways were
converted were not a great success so the canal remained as a waterway.
After a number of years of poor trade and little done since becoming a "railway company" the Monmouthshire
Canal's committee was completely replaced and the new committee acted very quickly.Straight away they closed
down the northern-most two miles of the main line (sometimes called the Snatchwood Branch) from Pontnewynydd to
Pontymoile Basin in Pontypool. Soon after this, they built the Newport & Pontypool Railway. The remaining
part of the canal main line (also running from Newport to Pontypool) was kept open but it lost virtually all of
its trade to the adjacent railway.
The closed stretch of the Monmouthshire Canal main line to the north of Pontypool, which had 11 locks on it,
was obliterated when the railway was extended and built on its course. The Crumlin Branch of the canal was
still kept open in full though it too suffered badly from railway competition.
Numerous schemes for sales and conversions were looked into by the Brecknockshire &
Abergavenny company but the waterway continued to run under its original form despite the competition from the
newly converted Monmouthshire company and from numerous other railways entering the area.
The Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal still continued though trade declined year after year. This was hit
even more when most of the local ironworks which used the canal closed down. The loss in trade had forced the
company to go down the same road as most other canal companies - they decided to reduce their tolls. In most
cases this never did much to aid profits and at best was only meant to try and keep existing trade from leaving
the waterway. Inevitably, because tolls were cheaper, profits became even lower.
Trade was so low by now on the remaining stretches of the Monmouthshire Canal that outlay for maintenance had
become far higher than income. Thus the canal was slowly becoming derelict while still in use.
With the continued decline of income on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal the company finally decided
it was best to sell out to the Monmouthshire Railway & Canal Company. A deal was finalised in September and
the canal was sold for £61,000. The Monmouthshire company were expected by many to convert the Brecknockshire
& Abergavenny Canal into a railway but this was never their intention. They had been eager to buy the canal
ahead of any other potential railway company because they desperately needed the water supply for their own
surviving stretches of canal. They were then able to make a healthy profit out of selling water to local
Coal trade had hit an all time low on the Monmouthshire Canal so the company decided to close its once
prosperous wharves in Newport and replace them with railway interchanges.
The Monmouthshire and Brecknockshire & Abergavenny canals finally lost their independence when the Great
Western Railway took over the Monmouthshire Railway & Canal Company. The new owners had little interest in
canals and the two Welsh waterways joined many others on GWR's stock list which were simply left to run
In Brecon the Brecknock Boat Company Wharf was closed and filled in. Later, just to the north, the terminus of
the route (Brecon Basin) was also closed, filled in and eventually became used as an access road. This
shortened the route by several hundred yards and made it very difficult to turn a boat at the end of the
By the turn of the century trade on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal was reduced to one boat per
The Monmouthshire Canal's Crumlin Branch packet boat (passenger service) ended. For many decades it had taken
people to and from Newport Market but trains and roads had now become a far more popular (and certainly
quicker) method of transport.
Another of the Monmouthshire Canal's regular trades was lost when the brick carriers at Allt-yr-yn gave up
taking their cargo from their brick works to the top of the 14 Cefn Locks at Rogerstone.
The last cargo was carried on the Crumlin Branch of the Monmouthshire Canal. Later in the year GWR closed a
section of the canal in the centre of Newport, pushing its terminus further north to Town Lock near Mill
The last commercial voyage on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal was made at Llangynidr.
The last cargo was carried on the remaining stretch of the Monmouthshire Canal's main line.
The Government nationalised virtually all of Britain's waterways, the Monmouthshire Canal and Brecknockshire
& Abergavenny Canal were grouped together as the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal and put under the
authority of the British Transport Commission. When it was announced that the government were to close the
whole canal a man named Ian Wright took a canoe down the Crumlin Branch. The law stated that no waterway could
be closed if a "vessel" had "used" the route within the past 12 months! By this time, although mostly still
intact, stretches of the former Monmouthshire Canal were unnavigable - even by canoe!However, this hardly
mattered as far as potential leisure seekers were concerned because GWR had placed a ban on the use of
motorised pleasure craft and on using any of the locks on either canal - the BTC kept this ban in place on the
newly formed all-in-one canal.
The BTC's job was not to rescue all canals but to systematically get rid of those which were not fit for
commercial use.The Crumlin Branch came under this category and was officially closed despite the previous years
efforts of Ian Wright.
Despite the official closure, for some years R.H. Bowen had been running a pleasure boat business at Rogerstone
on the Crumlin Branch near the top of the Cefn Flight. The craft were all rowing boats or canoes but the state
of the un-maintained canal forced Mr. Bowen out of business.
The BTC closed down the section of the former Monmouthshire Canal main line from Pontypool to Cwmbran, by now
the canal was in a poor state of repair and no boats were using it.
In the infamous BTC survey which classified all of Britain's waterways, the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal
did not fair well. It was classified as a Remainder Canal which basically meant it was to be left to rot and
eventually was to be completely wiped out.
The whole of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal was officially abandoned. By this time enthusiasm for
rescuing old waterways was growing all over the country. In the Midlands the Stratford Canal was already being
restored and in Monmouthshire local people were beginning to show interest in their decaying (if not dead)
The British Waterways Board was created and, although they were officially no different to the BTC in terms of
rescuing defunct canals, their take-over coincided with many restoration projects.Restoration of the former
Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal began and over the next few years the BWB aided the restorers in their
work. The only lock flight on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal was re-opened and boats were able to
navigate from Pontypool Basin to the village of Talybont. A fixed bridge barred the way north, taking a number
of years to negotiate its removal.
A new government survey of inland waterways was undertaken but this still classified the Monmouthshire &
Brecon Canal as a Remainder Waterway. This meant it had no legal protection but despite this, restoration of
the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny stretch continued. Further south, on the former Monmouthshire Canal the
story was different, from time to time stretches were filled in by industry, new housing and new roads.
The whole of the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal ran through the fast developing Brecon Beacons National
Park. A huge boost came to the restorers when Breconshire and Monmouthshire county councils gained permission
from the British Waterways Board to turn the canal into a leisure amenity. This meant almost all future funding
would come from the National Park. It also meant that it was very unlikely that any parts of the line would be
blocked by roads or other developments.
The first major works on the last unnavigable stretches of the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal were
started with the rebuilding of Brynich lock, restoration of Brynich Aqueduct and the placement of a new
drawbridge at Talybont where a low fixed bridge had held up restoration for some time.
The whole of the former Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal was fully reopened from Pontypool to Brecon
giving holidaymakers a unique journey along the hillsides of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
While there was good news on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal, there was only
gloom for the Crumlin Branch of the Monmouthshire Canal.It received no funding or protection and a number of
road widening schemes took parts of the canal away. This included a new housing estate at Risca which needed
access roads which caused canal bridges to be flattened and Giles Aqueduct to be completely demolished.
The infamous county and local council reorganisation which effected most of Britain had an advantageous effect
on most of the former Monmouthshire Canal. All of the main line to the south of Cwmbran and all of the Crumlin
Branch now fell under Newport County Council's jurisdiction and they were very sympathetic towards the
restoration project. Among other things this saved the Cefn Flight of 14 locks at Rogerstone which had
previously been due to be built on.The land around the flight was subsequently tidied up, the locks were
cleared out and the whole area was turned into parkland with a picnic site and walkways which included wooden
bridges over the locks to allow visitors a close-up view. At the top of the flight a canal visitor centre was
built. Today the locks are far from navigable but their masonry and side ponds are kept well maintained -
waiting for the day when the first boat comes their way.
A major breach occurred on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal high up on a hillside above Llanfoist.
The canal had to be closed while the breach was repaired and a 4 mile stretch of the canal bed was lined with
With the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal now fully restored, attention turn to the
Monmouthshire Canal. The section at Sebastopol on the main line was cleaned up by the Torfaen Canal Society.
During the late 1970's a dredger cleared the bed on this same section and Job Creation employees tidied up the
towpath etc. However, the section immediately to the north near Pontypool was left in a sorry state and the
stretch to the south through Cwmbran remained unnavigable with little hope of the local council allowing
restoration to begin. In complete contrast, further south the sympathetic Newport Council continued to show
interest in the waterway by fully restoring Gwastad Lock.
Cwmbran council announced proposals to rebuild its main road system. Part of the plan would include flattening
and culverting bridges over the canal. The IWA represented the Monmouthshire Canal at a public hearing but it
was defeated and the road "improvements" went ahead the following year, effectively blocking the canal and any
chance of restoration.
The Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal is now used by thousands of holidaymakers every year. Unfortunately,
the Monmouthshire Canal and its Crumlin Branch have seen little restoration in comparison. During the early
part of the decade the main line was finally "tidied up" and is now maintained in the Cwmbran area but the
Pontypool area had been left to decay and most of the line in central Newport had long since been filled
Suddenly things began to change for the Monmouthshire Canal main line. The Pontypool stretch, just south of the
junction with the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal, was tidied up and the clean up of the stretch in
Cwmbran was extended. Restorers were given permission to rebuild Crown Bridge at Sebastopol which, when
complete, would allow a stretch of about 3 miles to become navigable. A feasibility study was set up to survey
the whole main line in order to calculate the cost of a full restoration.
During summer restoration of Crown Bridge on the Monmouthshire Canal was completed. The local council were then
awaiting funding to allow them to dredge the canal and open it for boats.
In December heavy rain caused a build up of drainage water which flowed off the hills into
the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal. Because the route is situated on the side of the hills for most of
its length it means that surplus water from the mountains runs into the canal rather than running into the
valley below. On December 8th BW were warned that water was leaking through the canal bank at Talybont where
the route is carried above the village on a small embankment. Local police were alerted and villagers who lived
near the canal were evacuated.Before anything could be done to stop the leakage there was a collapse of the
canal bank. Half a million gallons of water and the earth from the broken bank rushed down Talybont's main
street completely flooding the ground floors of houses opposite and the Star Inn pub some 50 yards away. The
main road was completely blocked by mud from the canal and the burst bank left a gap almost 30 feet wide. It
took days to clear away the mud which had ruined the ground floors of over 15 houses and it took 4 months to
repair the canal. A concrete lining was fitted to prevent the problem from ever happening again (in
During the same week as the Talybont disaster, further south at Llanfoist, where the 1975
breach had occurred (and had been repaired with a concrete lining), it was noticed that the towpath was
beginning to crack. Investigations showed that major repairs were needed on this stretch of the canal bed too.
A local hire boat fleet was moved away from the area and the suspect stretch of canal was isolated and drained.
It was found that the concrete lining had cracked. A temporary trough was installed to allow one-way traffic
along the damaged section while repairs went on.
All this must have been very disappointing for everybody concerned with the canal but just
days after the breach at Talybont and the problems at Llanfoist were discovered there was a big boost for the
waterway.Powys county council announced that they were to give the canal £7 million worth of funding towards a
new basin at the northern terminus in Brecon.
A restoration report in the canal press early in the year announced that sections of the Monmouthshire Canal
around its junction with the Crumlin Branch had been relined. However, there were still many flattened bridges
blocking the way and many locks had been converted to weirs. It would still be some time before the whole main
line would be navigable, restorers were predicting 2010 as a realistic target for the reopening of the whole
On April 15th the newly restored Crown Bridge on the Monmouthshire Canal was officially
opened by the Mayor of Torfaen. A large crowd of local people and dozens of boats attended the opening. The
newly reopened section allowed an extension of 2 miles from the terminus of the Brecknockshire &
Abergavenny Canal at Pontypool to a new winding hole south of Crown Bridge in Sebastopol. The line to the south
of the winding hole had also been recently dredged though it ran to a dead end via the tiny Cwmbran Tunnel to
the head of a disused lock flight.
British Waterways reported that the problems at Llanfoist on the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal may
take a number of years to resolve. The temporary trough which was installed 12 months earlier was to stay in
place for the foreseeable future. Major repair work is incredibly difficult on a canal which has to remain open
for most of the year. Access to the damaged section is very difficult, not only is it several hundred yards
from the nearest access point but it is in dense woodland and on a ledge half way up a mountain! The access
point itself is not particularly accessible being up a steep narrow track.The towpath from the access point to
the damaged canal is just wide enough for a towing horse.
During Spring it was announced that a new leisure area was to be developed on the
Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal at Goytre Wharf.Woodland trails, picnic areas, refreshments, an
exhibition centre, new moorings and a restaurant trip boat were all to be implemented in the scheme. Plans were
also announced to restore the lime kilns which stood alongside the canal at the wharf and to recreate the
tramway which once ran to the wharf. By this time the project to reinstate Brecon Basin was well under way.The
old basin had been re-excavated and a new canal side theatre was being built taking the form of an original
canal warehouse. Just to the south, alongside the terminus of the canal, the site of the Brecknock Boat Company
Wharf (which was last used in 1881) had already been restored and reopened. This gave boats a lot more room to
turn around and moor while awaiting the opening of the new basin.
Hopes of reopening the Monmouthshire Canal main line have been given a boost with the possibility of National
Lottery Funding. A new survey was being made with the intention of submitting an application to the fund. If
successful the restorers aim to connect the main line to the River Usk at Crindau, just north of Newport. No
matter what happens now, nothing will stop the full restoration of the Monmouthshire Canal main line. Once that
is up and running it may not be long before the Crumlin Branch is also restored to something close to its
former glory. The whole of the "Monmouth & Brecon Canal" is a major monument to Welsh architecture; the
Monmouthshire Canal with its mighty lock flights and the Brecknockshire & Abergavenny Canal with its
amazing route through the Welsh hills should never have been allowed to die. But now the whole route is well on
its way to a long and prosperous reincarnation!
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