In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's "Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales" described Mynyddislwyn like this:
"MYNYDDYSLWYN, a village, a parish, and a sub-district, in Newport district, Monmouth. The village stands 1½ mile E of the river Sirhowy, 2½ E by S of Tredegar-Junction r. station, and 9½ N W of Newport. The parish comprises the hamlets of Clawrplwyf, Mynydd-maen, and Penmaen; and contains the town of Abercarn, which has a post-office under Newport, Monmouth. Acres, 15, 938. Real property, £29, 971; of which £12, 970 are in mines, £60 in quarries, £220 in iron-works, and £3, 446 in railway s. Pop. in 1851, 5, 994; in 1861, 6, 877. Houses, 1, 393. The property is sub-divided. The surface is hilly and boldly undulating; and descends to the rivers Sirhowy and Ebbw. Chemical works, iron and tin-plate works, and extensive collieries are at or near Abercarn. A large tumulus, supposed to have been a beacon or signal station, is near the church. The parish is a meet for the Tyisha harriers. The living is a p. curacy in the diocese of Llandaff. Value, £160.* Patron, the Bishop of Llandaff. The church is large and good; and has a tower, rebuilt in 1821. The p. curacy of Penmaen is a separate benefice. There are chapels for Independents, Baptists, Calvinistic Methodists, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics. Ruins of an ancient chapel of ease are in the vicinity of Abercarn. The sub-district contains also Machen parish, and two hamlets of Bedwas. Acres, 25, 311. Pop., 10, 596. Houses, 2, 147."
ynyddislwyn was one of the largest parishes in old Monmouthshire, covering nearly 16,000 acres
of land. On the westerly side, it adjoined the parishes of Bedwellty and Bedwas although in one
place it extended right to the border with the county of Glamorgan. To the south, was the parish
of Machen, and to the east were the parishes of Risca, Henllys, Llanfihangel Llantarnam, Panteg,
Trevethin and Llanhilleth. It was in the Hundred of Wentloog, Petty Sessional Division of Bedwellty
Union, and County Court district of Newport.
From early times, the parish was divided into three hamlets, Clawrplwyf in the south, Penmaen in
the north and Mynyddmaen in the east.
It was typical of the western parts of Monmouthshire. It was mostly mountainous, richly forested
from early times, with the main routes and trackways running along the tops of the mountains.
There was only a small and scattered population. Even as late as 1801, only about 1 ,500 persons
were recorded as living in the whole Parish.
The Parish Church, dedicated to St. Tudor, is situated in a remote position beside the old road,
which crosses Mynyddislwyn Mountain on its way to Risca. It stands 1,000 ft above sea level.
The original church was one of those granted to Glastonbury Abbey about the year 1102, but later
it became a possession of Llantarnam Abbey. The registers started in 1664. The Church was rebuilt
in 1820 on the site of the earlier structure.
The lordship of Mynyddislwyn and Abercarn was granted to William, Earl of Pembroke, about the year
1650, but it was sold by his son about the year 1722. Having been passed on by inheritance, it was
sold in 1807 to Richard Crawshay, the ironmaster, who gave it to his daughter on her marriage to
Benjamin Hall. Their son, also named Benjamin, was Government Commissioner of Works, and was
responsible for beautifying some of London's parks. The bell in the famous clock tower outside
the Houses of Parliament was named after him -"Big Ben". He later became Lord Llanover.
There is a story that, in 1853, Sir Benjamin Hall provided a new Welsh Anglican church in Abercarn,
to cater for the Welsh speaking population. However, the Vicar of Mynyddislwyn wanted to hold one
service there each week in the English language for the families who had moved from England.
Sir Benjamin, keen to preserve Welsh culture, refused, and the ensuing disagreement led him, in 1862,
to take back the building, and he gave it to the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists.
Adjoining Mynyddislwyn churchyard is a large tumulus, known as Twyn Tudur (Tudor's Mound).
There are various stories about its origin, and many traditions and superstitions associated with it.
Until the Industrial Revolution (1760 -1850), the area was purely agricultural, but woollen mills, a
modest weaving industry, printing, furniture making, clock making and a foundry then developed.
However, it was the use of coal which led to the industrialisation of the district. Mining was first
carried out in outcrops small levels and, around these small collieries, communities grew. As the
seams were exhausted new deep pit shafts were sunk.
Lewis' Topographical Atlas of England and Wales describes the parish as containing.
"Ironworks of considerable extent and extensive coalmines and sandstone quarries providing
considerable empIoyment." Other industries sprang up around the collieries aided by a network of
tramways, which were used to transport materials to and from the Monmouthshire Canal.
Of course, the availability of work brought in large numbers of people from the agricultural areas
of Wales, from the nearby counties of England, and even from Ireland. Soon the valleys thronged with
workers employed in these industries, and the hamlets and villages grew to accommodate the newcomers.
The New Ecclesiastical Parishes
Many new communities were formed and, to serve the increasing population, new churches were set up.
In 1845, the district of Penmain became an ecclesiastical parish, formed out of the parish of
Mynyddislwyn, and in 1855 the Church of St. David was built, having seating for 300 worshipers.
Its registers started from 1866. A National School was built there in 1845 for 250 pupils.
Penmain also became known because of its Congregational chapel. It was started by Henry Walter,
who had been curate of Mynyddislwyn and, later, vicar of St. Woolos (Newport). In 1618, King James
issued the "Book of Sports" ,which relaxed the previous attitudes to Sunday amusements, and set
out which times were to be allowed on the Sabbath. There was much opposition to this by the clergy,
and it continued up to the Civil War. Afterwards, in 1660, when Charles II came to the throne,
he re-introduced it. Many clergymen refused to obey, including Henry Walter, who was then dismissed
from his position in the Church. He then set up the Independent Chapel at Penmain, athough the
chapel building was not completed until 1691. It was rebuilt in 1828, and renovated in 1888.
Workers in the several collieries near Fleur-de-lis caused the growth of the community,
and in 1896 it became a separate parish, formed out of parts of Mynyddislwyn, Bedwellty and
Bedwas. (One book, published in 1912, described Fleur-de-Iis as "a modern parish with a fanciful
name, taken from the sign of a public house on the Rhymney"). The church, dedicated to St. David,
had been built in 1894 and had 350 sittings. The registers date from 1897. Also, both Congregational
and Wesleyan Methodist Chapels were set up there, and a Mission Church at Maes-y-Cwmmer.
The village of Newbridge, situated beside the river Ebbw, in the new parish of Penmain, became an
ecclesiastical parish in its own right in 1914. St Paul's iron church had been erected there in 1889, with accommodation for 280 worshipers. There were also Baptist,
Congregational, Wesleyan and Independent Chapels in the district. A Public Hall was built to hold
1 ,000 people, with an attached Reading and Recreation Room. A Board School opened in 1875, for
juniors and infants. It was enlarged in 1882 to take 482 children in separate Boys' and Girls' Schools.
At Tynewydd, another Board School was opened in 1896, for 550
Abercarn was a village, like so many others, which expanded because of its industries.
It is said that there was a blast furnace in production about 1576, and the first pit shaft in
Monmouthshire was sunk here. Apart from collieries, and iron works, there were tin plate and chemical
works. It was made a Civil Parish in 1894. It became an ecclesiastical parish in 1921. St. Luke's iron
church had been erected in 1890, with seating for a congregation of 500. A Board School was built
there in 1876, It was extended in 1883 for 626 children.
Cwmcarn was a hamlet in Mynyddislwyn situated about a mile from Abercarn. The iron church of St. John
the Evangelist was built in 1889 for 250 people. The Board School was built in 1691 and enlarged in
1893 to take 460 children. In 1922, Cwmcarn became an ecclesiastical parish, incorporating a part of
the parish of Risca.
Gelligroes was a small hamlet in Mynyddislwyn. The miller in Gelligroes is reputed to have taught the poet
"Islwyn" the art of writing traditional Welsh poetry. Many years later, at the mill, some of the earliest
wireless experiments were made.
Penllwyn was a hamlet with St. Mary Virgin Church (now in Mynyddislwyn Rectorial Benefice).
There was also a Roman Catholic chapel.
The privateer, Captain Morgan, reputedly owned and lived in what is now the Penllwyn Hotel,
From about 1830, Penllwyn Tramroad ran from near Blackwood to Nine Mile Point, where it joined the
Monmouthshire Canal Company tramroad, which had been running from Tredegar ironworks to Newport since
1805. Both of these tramroads were used to transport iron etc. in trams drawn by teams of horses.
Pontllanfraith was a hamlet in the parish of Penmain, with St. Augustine's Chapel of Ease, and
Congregational and Methodist Chapels. A Board School was opened in 1878 and enlarged in 1898 to
accommodate 427 pupils.
Ynysddu was a hamlet within Mynyddislwyn, and the birthplace, in 1832, of the Rev. William Thomas,
remembered as "Islwyn" the famous Welsh poet.
The church was dedicated to St. Theodore, and there were also Baptist and Methodist Chapels.
A Board School was opened in 1877 and enlarged in 1899
for 167 pupils. Ynysddu became an ecclesiastical parish in 1925.
All the heavy industry has now been replaced by a variety of factories, and most of the signs of
Mynyddislwyn's industrial past have been removed. However, Gwent Record Office holds a large number of records and registers appertaining to the area. Also, additional information can be found by reading. "The History of Monmouthshire" vol. 5. Edited from Joseph Bradney's notes.
(Adapted from an article in the Journal of the Gwent Family History Society
September 2003, with kind permission of the author, Len Hough )