Ystrad-Gunlais (Ystrad-Gynlais) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
YSTRAD-GUNLAIS (YSTRAD-GYNLAIS), a parish, comprising the Upper and Lower divisions, in the union of Neath, hundred of Devynock, county of Brecknock, South Wales, 14 miles (N. E. by E.) from Swansea; containing 2885 inhabitants. The name of this place, according to some authorities, is derived from the dedication of its church to St. Gunleus, a prince of "Glewissig," who, by his residence here, gave his name to the small vale in which the edifice is situated. Others more correctly state that the church is dedicated to St. Mary; and it has been thought that the proper appellation of the place is Ystrad Gurlais or Garwlais, signifying "the vale of the rough-sounding brook," being derived from a stream a little below the church, which separates this parish from that of Kilybebill, and also forms a boundary between the counties of Brecknock and Glamorgan. The parish comprises 12,000 acres, of which 5500 are common or waste land. It is bounded on the south-east by the river Tawe, and on the south-west by the brook Garwlais above noticed; and is intersected by the turnpikeroad from Swansea to Brecknock. Its surface is adorned with several gentlemen's seats, the principal of which, Yniscedwyn House, once the residence of the Aubreys, and now the property of the Goughs by marriage with the heiress of that ancient family, is a handsome mansion, in a delightful part of the Vale of Tawe, environed by some richly-varied scenery, and in the centre of an extensive and a highly improveable domain. In the Upper division stands the old seat of Glynllêch Isâv.
The entire district abounds with mineral wealth, and in the parish are valuable strata of iron-ore, stone-coal, and limestone, which, combining with other local advantages, have led to the establishment of large works. The iron-works belonging to the Yniscedwyn company are considered as among the oldest of the kind now in operation in the kingdom; and the opinion of their antiquity has been confirmed by the discovery of an old pig of iron in a cinder-bank in 1795, on which was the date 1612. These extensive works comprise seven blast furnaces for smelting the ore, air furnaces and cupolas for converting the pig-iron into castings, with fineries for making the refined metal used by the tin-manufacturers. The furnaces are blown by a large steamengine, made by the Neath Abbey iron company; as well as by a powerful machine erected in 1828, from designs by Mr. Brunton, of London, and worked by a water-wheel of large diameter. The iron-ore, limestone, and coal used are all procured in the parish. Formerly, the stone-coal being considered unfit for the purpose of smelting iron, a supply of another kind was obtained from mines in an adjoining parish; but, about the year 1836, the late George Crane, Esq., the managing partner of the Ynyscedwyn iron company, discovered a mode of using stone-coal in the blast furnaces, and since then stone-coal has been in general use for iron-smelting throughout this district. When in full operation, the works afford employment to about 1000 men, exclusively of whom, about 260 are constantly engaged in the collieries of the parish: the stone-coal and culm raised in these are partly used in drying malt, and burning lime. Great quantities of limestone are quarried at the Cribarth rock, and purchased by farmers and others along the line of the Swansea canal, to burn for manure and other purposes. On the limestone to the north of this rock is found an abundance of tripoli, or lapis cariosus, of a very pure quality, much of which is collected and sent by the canal to Swansea, and thence shipped to England, to be used in the burnishing of metals.
The Swansea canal, a branch of which reaches to the Yniscedwyn works, terminates at a place called Hên Neuadd, in the parish, two miles above the church; and to it converge numerous tramroads from the works, for the conveyance of their produce. A long tramroad was laid down in 1825, by John Christie, Esq., of London, extending from the Gwain Clawdd, over the forest of Devynock, to Rhŷd-y-Briw, in the Vale of Usk, by means of which a communication is established between this mineral district and the heart of Brecknockshire; and a branch, six miles in length, from Penwyll to the head of the Swansea canal, forming a junction with the main tramway, has also been constructed. In 1847 an act was passed for the construction of a railway on the broad gauge from Abercrave Farm, in Ystrad-Gunlais, to Swansea, called the SwanseaValley Railway.
The living is a rectory, rated in the king's books at £9. 10. 7½., and in the patronage of the proprietor of the Yniscedwyn estate: the tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £372: the church is a small neat fabric, consisting simply of a nave and chancel, with a belfry at the west end. The chapel of Coelbren, situated in the Upper division of the parish, has been endowed, and the living is now a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the rector. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic Methodists; several day schools, and fourteen Sunday schools. Morgan Aubrey, of Yniscedwyn, Esq., bequeathed a rent-charge of £4. 5., payable out of a farm called Twyn-y-Ceilog, n Devynock, for the benefit of the poor.
A Roman road, now called the Sarn Lleon, or Sarn Helen, is still visible, passing along a high ridge of rock which separates the parish from Ystrad-Velltey, and from Cadoxton in the county of Glamorgan, and hence declining southwards towards the station Nidum (Neath). On this ridge, between Coelbren and Cevn-hîr-Vynydd, was formerly an erect stone, supposed to have been a Roman milliary, with an inscription, of which only the letters impc were in later times legible: this relic has been removed or destroyed. Upon the hills towards Llywel, and bordering on Carmarthenshire, are several carneddau, and the remains of three ancient British encampments; but nothing has been recorded of their original formation. Near the chapel of Coelbren is an encampment, which, from its quadrilateral shape, and its contiguity to the Sarn Helen, is thought to be Roman; and at a short distance from this place is a kind of natural wall, formed by the side of the limestone rocks, in which is a small cavern, styled Cradock's Church, or Hermitage. This cavern, according to Mr. Jones, the historian of Brecknockshire, is erroneously named, as he supposes it to have been the cell in which Gunleus died in the arms of his son Cattwg, who gave his name to this cavern, as his father had in like manner given his to the vale.
About three-quarters of a mile east of Coelbren chapel is one of the most remarkable waterfalls in this part of the county, designated 'Sgwd yr hên Rŷd. It is formed by the Llêch, or Llêchog, a small mountain stream, which, for a considerable distance from its rise, flows over a rocky bed, in a part of its course entirely destitute of vegetation, and without any feature of beauty, except where in some places it expands into a river. The stream afterwards crosses the road from Ystrad-Velltey to Coelbren, when it is lost in a deep wooded glen, on emerging from which the whole river, in one unbroken sheet, descends from a perpendicular height of more than 100 feet. Being interrupted in its fall by a projecting ledge of rocks, about ten or twelve feet below the summit, it dashes into foam, and after its descent for the remaining ninety feet, without further impediment, the stream disappears in the thick foliage of the woods which clothe its precipitous banks, and pursues a winding course to the river Tawe. Though this fall is of much greater height than that of Eiro Hepstè, the water in its descent has less grandeur and breadth, when the two rivers are equally full. At an inn known by the sign of the "Lamb and Flag," in the parish, the outlawed criminal Hatfield, who, under the assumed name of the Hon. Colonel Hope, had seduced into marriage the beautiful and artless Mary of Buttermere (in Cumberland), was arrested; he was committed by the magistrates to the gaol at Brecknock, and thence conveyed to Carlisle, where he was tried and executed.