At the turn of the 19th century Merthyr Tydfil was one of the most important towns in Wales. With three big ironworks - Dowlais, Penydarren and Plymouth - and ambitious ironmasters eager to make more money, Merthyr was at the cutting edge of industrial development attracting engineers and inventors from across the UK.
In 1802 these three ironworks worked together to build a tramway which would run from Merthyr to Abercynon, a distance of 9 ½ miles. One of the ironmasters Samuel Homfray bet fellow ironmaster Richard Crawshay that he could build a steam engine capable of pulling ten tons of iron along the tramway. A Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, took up the challenge and came to Merthyr to help Homfray win the wager. Using his expertise and plans a new High Pressure Tram-Engine took shape at Homfray’s works, generating much local interest. On the day of the test in 1804 people lined the route to watch as the Penydarren locomotive hauled five drams loaded with 10 tons of iron - and an added load of 70 men!
Unfortunately the locomotive’s chimney struck a low bridge and broke. (The chimney was actually vital – the exhaust steam was sent up it to create a strong draft to draw the hot gases from the fire more efficiently through the boiler.) But the chimney was repaired, Homfray won his wager and Trevithick proved that steam locomotives were the way forward. They were vital to the industrialisation of the Valleys - as well as the wider world.
Where to Visit?
Why not follow the Trevithick Trail? The original tramroad remained in use until 1875. It is now a public path/ cycle route between Merthyr and Abercynon, with artwork and information along the way.
Cyfarthfa Castle Museum to find out more about Richard Trevithick's time in Merthyr.
See a model of the original locomotive in Penydarren
Download a copy of the Trevithick Trail map here:
22 April 1833
22 April 1833