Merthyr Canal (Glamorganshire Canal)

Merthyr Tydfil and the other iron centers on the northern rim of the South Wales coalfield were badly placed with regard to the transport of their products to the ports, initially the pig iron was carried to the coast by packhorses bearing panniers. Roads were eventually built but, while a wagon drawn by four horses could convey two tons of goods, a canal barge was drawn by one horse and could convey twenty-five tons. In the 1800’s, all the main valleys of the South Wales coalfield had been linked to ports by canals. It was the canals that truly launched the coalfields on its spectacular growth in the 1800’s. The canals remained the dominant form of transport until the railways overtook them in the 1840s.
The Abercynon Sixteen Locks
The canal contained 52 locks on the Glamorganshire Canal, there were 16 at Abercynon within a space of one mile. The vertical fall from mountain terrace to valley floor was 207ft, almost enough to mark a change of climate. Bill Gomer, a retired boatman, once said, “There were waves there, top of the fives as big as blooming sea.” Thomas Darford with his son, also Thomas, together with Thomas Sheasby, were the engineer-contractors involved in the canal project and work on the Steep Locks appears to have been completed in 1791. At the foot of the locks the canal was taken across the Taff on a single arched aqueduct whence it continued to Cardiff a distance of 25 miles from Cyfarthfa Ironworks at Merthyr.

The Glamorganshire Canal Company called them “The Steep Lock” the close packed groups of five and eleven locks that lowered their was from Merthyr to Cardiff waterway dramatically dropped down the Cefn Glas, a mountain spur lying between Quaker’s Yard and Abercynon some fifteen miles north of Cardiff. The village of Abercynon a South Wales mining community of relatively modern origin stands where the river Taff joined by its tributary the Cynon.

Peculiar land information in the valley of the Taff at Quaker’s Yard was responsible for the heavy lockage at this place where the river loops around a canyon-like horseshoe bend, and the canal builders and later railway engineers were forced to cross over the spur at high level.