An Architectural Sketchbook

Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales is a special place, possessed of a bleak and melancholic beauty. Once it was at the forefront of the industrial revolution. Dominated by the three main iron works; Cyfartha, Dowlais and Plymouth, much has been written on South Wales and its industrial legacy. Both the social and physical landscape were subsumed by the industry, spawning innovations in engineering, transport and radical socialism. In 1804 Merthyr bore witness to the world’s first steam locomotive, designed by Richard Trevithick. Isambard Kingdom Brunel created Wales’ first working railway between Merthyr and Cardiff docks in 1840. Chartism flourished along with early trade unionism and the first workers movement. Many philanthropic schemes were introduced during the early to mid 1800s by the ironmaster, Sir John Josiah Guest and his wife Lady Charlotte Guest. These included a library and the pioneering Dowlais Central school, described as “probably the most important and most progressive not only in the industrial history of South Wales, but of the whole of Britain during the nineteenth century.”

Alas following the decline of industry in the later half of the 20 century much of old Merthyr was swept away; swathes of terraces, countless chapels, markets and the pioneering Dowlais Central Schools designed by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament disappeared. History was nearly erased by the palimpsest of progress. A history now only hinted at through a few remaining architectural relics, embodying a variety of styles and periods. Many of these formed the backdrop to my formative years and childhood home in Dowlais. In awe at their grandeur, scale, age and the vanished world that birthed them, each building and each drawing is a personal story and memory of a place and time.

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