Parson`s Folly
Parson`s Folly

The Single Span Bridge at Brynchwyth

 As a child I would visit the mountainside at Cefn Morfydd above Tonna to pick wimberries.
 I had been told that the old stone structure we knew as "Parson`s Folly" had been built by a man of that name. It had never been finished because he ran out of money.
   Many years later I discovered the truth :
The bridge at Brynchwyth ( the nearby farmhouse carries that name) had been constructed as part of the "Glyncorrwg Mineral Railway", a 12km long tramway from the Neath canal at Aberdulais to the coal levels of Blaen Cregan, Tonmawr, Fforchdwm and Blaengwenffrwd. The two men who had realised the potential of this coal - Strange & Parsons- had engaged a very experienced Engineer - William Kirkhouse - to build the line which commenced in 1839.

Some sections started working in 1840 but the line was not completed until 1842. It had one powered incline - a steam engine manufactured at the Neath Abbey Ironworks lifting the coal from the Gwenffrwd valley to the top of Cefn Morfydd. 
 The line  included a three-arched viaduct over the Nant Pelenna and a deep rock cutting on Cefn Morfydd. There were 6 self-acting inclines where the fully laden coal trucks going down were used to lift the empty trucks coming up and the bridge at Brynchwyth was constructed at the top of one of these inclines. The bridge is sometimes referred to as Pont-y-wheels - a reference to the iron wheels which can be seen in the stonework and were used to give extra strength binding the two walls together.
 The bridge was knocked down during the Second World War. It was visible for miles around and as such was considered to be too good a landmark for enemy planes.
  This photograph is the only one I have seen of the bridge before the war. The quality is poor but it does give an idea of just how big it must have been.
  At the very top of the incline the original stone sleeper blocks, with their characteristic holes, are still in place and from this section the approximate slope can be seen.
    My interest in the structure was reawakened when a descendent of Catherine Lewis (nee Wagstaff)( 1824 -1911) said that he had been told "that the Wagstaff`s came to Neath to build Parson`s Folly".
   She had lived in the Gwenffrwd valley for many years and would have been well acquainted with the tramroad. It did not fit exactly because the Wagstaff`s had arrived much earlier but Edward Wagstaff was a mason who would have been active at that time and his sons would have been learning their trades as masons.
   One further fact is relevant : the 1851 census for Cadoxton shows a property near the Ynysgedwyn Incline in the Swansea Valley as ,  Pontwaxtaf House. Did Edward or one of the other Wagstaff`s build a bridge there??
Using photographs of the present remains, together with the pre-war photograph and estimates of the slope taken from the very top section, I have attempted to reconstruct how the bridge may have looked during its working life. 
It was certainly a huge construction which would have required a lot of masons, so it is quite possible that Edward and his family may have worked on it. William Kirkhouse was earlier employed by the Tennant family at the Cadoxton & Rhyddings Estates. It was here that Edward Wagstaff lived in the early years of his marriage.
At a later date I found evidence of Edward Wagstaff  having worked for William Kirkhouse. Accounts Books written by Kirkhouse were given to Swansea Reference Library and have since been deposited at Swansea Archives. They cover a period around 1820. There were several references to Edward, this is one of them :
    and the costs associated with this work :
  At this time the Tennant Canal was being built. Edward could very well have been working as part of  William Davies & Co. mentioned as building a bridge over the canal. Could he have been redirected for a Day and a quarter to Cadoxton House, the home of William Kirkhouse` employer  George Tennant?

    A computer reconstruction of the Bridge

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