Cyfarthfa Castle (Welsh: Castell Cyfarthfa) is a castellated mansion that was the home of the Crawshay family, ironmasters of Cyfarthfa Ironworks in Park, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. The house commanded a view of the valley and the works, which ‘at night, offer a truly magnificent scene, resembling the fabled Pandemonium, but on which the eye may gaze with pleasure’. Cyfarthfa loosely translates from the Welsh for place of barking. The reason is hunting dogs were regularly heard in this area of the town, hunting polecats and weasels among others. Despite appearing to be a fortified building, it is a house built in the style of a large mansion with a large kitchen, bake house and dairy, billiard room, library, and a range of reception rooms. In addition, there is a brew house, icehouse and extensive storage cellars that used to contain over 15,000 individual bottles of wines and spirits such as Sherry, Champagne, Whiskey, Brandy, Madeira Wine, and over 7,500 bottles of port. Adjoining the building were also stable blocks and coach houses.
The Cyfarthfa works were begun in 1765 by Anthony Bacon (by then a merchant in London), who in that year with William Brownrigg, his fellow native of Whitehaven, Cumberland leased the right to mine in a tract of 4,000 acres (16 km2) land on the west side of the river Taff at Merthyr Tydfil. They employed Brownrigg's brother-in-law Charles Wood to build a forge there, to use the potting and stamping process, for which he and his brother had a patent. This was powered by water from the river, the race dividing into six to power a clay mill (for making the pots), two stampers, two hammers and a chafery. The construction of the first coke blast furnace began in August 1766. This was intended to be 50 feet high with cast iron blowing cylinders, rather than the traditional bellows. It was probably brought into blast in Autumn 1767. In the meantime, Plymouth ironworks was leased to provide pig iron for the forge. Brownrigg retired as a partner in 1777, receiving £1500 for his share. From about that time Richard Crawshay was Bacon's partner in his contracts to supply cannon to the Board of Ordnance, but perhaps not in the ironworks. Bacon had previously subcontracted cannon-founding to John Wilkinson, but henceforth made them at Cyfarthfa, as is indicated by his asking for ships carrying them to be convoyed from Penarth. Bacon had the Cyfarthfa Canal, a short tub boat waterway, constructed during the latter part of the 1770s to bring coal to the ironworks. In 1782, Bacon (as a Member of Parliament) had to give up government contracts and passed the forge and boring mill with the gunfounding business to Francis Homfray. However, he gave it up in 1784 to David Tanner, so that his sons could establish the Penydarren Ironworks. However David Tanner also did not stay long, giving up the works in 1786, the year of Bacon's death. Tanner's managers were James Cockshutt, Thomas Treharne, and Francis William Bowzer.
Bacon left a family of illegitimate children and was the subject of Chancery proceedings. The court directed a lease of the whole works to Richard Crawshay, who took as his partners, William Stevens (a London merchant) and James Cockshutt. Richard Crawshay took out a licence from Henry Cort for the use of his puddling process, and proceeded to build the necessary rolling mill. However, difficulties remained with the puddling process and it was not until perhaps 1791 that these were resolved. In 1791, Crawshay terminated the partnership, which had been barely profitable, and continued the works alone, adding further furnaces in the following years. Under Richard Crawshay, the Cyfarthfa works rapidly became an important producer of iron products. Great Britain was involved in various naval conflicts during this time around the British Empire, and the demand for cannon and other weapons was great. The Cyfarthfa works became critical to the success of the war effort, so much so that Admiral Nelson paid a personal visit to the works in 1802. The Crawshay family crest included a pile of cannonballs in token of the crucial role of their ironworks. Richard passed on the responsibility for the works to his son, William, but the latter was less committed to the business than his father. William Crawshay II was appointed by his father William Crawshay to manage the works after Richard's death in 1810. By 1819, the ironworks had grown to six blast furnaces, producing 23,000 tons of iron. The works continued to play an enormous role in providing high-quality iron to fuel the voracious appetite of the Industrial Revolution, with the Tsar of Russia sending a representative to view the production of iron rail. During this time, the Cyfarthfa works lost its position as the leading ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil to its longtime rival, the Dowlais Ironworks.
The castle was designed in 1824 by the architect Robert Lugar for William Crawshay II, and built at a cost of approximately £30,000 using locally-quarried stone. The Crawshays lived in the house until 1889. The noise and pollution made Cyfarthfa Castle unattractive to William; he preferred a site that overlooked the works rather than one that sat within it. The castle was sold in 1908 to the local council, who were initially unsure as to what purpose it should be put. Eventually, they decided to use part of the ground floor for a museum, which still operates. The museum includes paintings, including two by James Inskipp. The rest of the building became a secondary school, and it was opened in 1913, operating as separate boys` and girls` schools. In 1945, they amalgamated, and in accordance with government policy the school was redesignated as a Grammar school under the name of Cyfarthfa Castle Grammar School. It became a comprehensive school in 1970, under the name Cyfarthfa High School. The Basement Galleries are where the story of Merthyr Tydfil’s long and varied history begins. The displays throughout this area combine to tell 3000 years of the town’s history. These galleries are now the perfect place to learn about the world’s first steam locomotive to be run on rails, its first journey in 1804, and its inventor Richard Trevithick.
The Entrance Hall is one of the most elegant rooms of the house and this is where the shop and reception area are located. Much of the decoration has a mock-Tudor feel; the small shields around the frieze, the tall pillars round the windows, huge Gothic doors and the superb red and clear glass windows that fill the rear of the hall, all add to the imposing grandeur. When the house was completed in 1825, the hall was the largest room and was ,undoubtedly, the room in which the Crawshays held any large functions. It remained the largest room in the house until the school – which occupied the vast majority of the building from 1913 – knocked smaller rooms into one and created large halls. The ceiling depicts the white rose of Yorkshire, the original home of the Crawshay family. The park has acres of walks and a miniature steam railway run by Merthyr Tydfil Model Engineering Society since 1987. Canolfan Cyfarthfa, a conference center, is also in the park. It has function rooms and a seasonal café, a children's playground complete with a ‘Splash Pad’, a 9-hole golf course, bowling grounds and tennis courts, and a fishing lake. The park also hosts events throughout the year such as car shows, horse shows and concerts.
Castle Tea Rooms within Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery offers a delicious selection of light bites and sweet treats for visitors to Cyfarthfa. Tour the Museum and stop off for a snack or a delicious lunch or just drop in to enjoy a coffee. (Entrance fees to the Museum do not apply to visitors who only wish to access Castle Tea Rooms.) The castle is wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome
Location : Cyfarthfa Park, Brecon Rd, Merthyr Tydfil, CF47 8RE
Transport : Merthyr Tydfil (National Rail) then bus or 20 minutes. Bus Routes : 3, 25, 26 and 89 stop close by.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:30; Saturday and Sunday open at 12:00
Tickets : Adults £2.00; Concessions £1.00; Children (under 16) Free
Tel. : 01685 727371