Wednesday 13 September 2017

The Spiteful Row

Beech Terrace, bright and airy, lay above the top line and parallel to it. To us the line was just part of the landscape. But it was originally a tram way, known as Benjamin Hall’s Tram Road. Carved into the hillside in about 1805, it was a winding narrow-gauge, horse-drawn line following the contours of the land, carrying coal from Argoed down to Risca.
Benjamin Hall (1778-1817) was an industrialist and MP who owned the Abercarn Estate.
But at the north end of Beech Terrace, dark and dank, almost hidden by trees, was a row of six tiny cottages built straight up the side of the very steep hill. This was the Spiteful Row.
The story is that, about 80 years before Beech Terrace was made, the Row was built on the hillside by one Thomas Protheroe, a local mine owner and a rival of Hall’s. This was a deliberate act of spite to prevent the building of the tram road.  However, the tale goes that Hall installed one of his men in cottage number five. He enlarged the front and back doors and the trams ran straight through the house!

What happened next can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map of 1875 which shows the tram road going through a gap between the cottages. Cottage number five had been part demolished, leaving a tiny ‘one-up one-down’ latterly occupied by a lone widow, Elizabeth Edwards from Machen.
A couple of years later the Great Western Railway bought the tram road. By 1899 an embankment was made across the Nant y Crochan, a bridge had been built over the lane, and the two lower Spiteful cottages had been demolished. Now a full-sized railway track ran past the lowest remaining cottage. The slow-moving horses were gone and steam engines were on the line.

The remaining four cottages were still inhabited in the 1920s. But when I was a boy they were sad, roofless ruins with collapsing walls and glassless windows, almost completely lost among the trees. They had been lived in for two lifetimes. I wonder what hopes and dreams were born and died in Spiteful Row? It seemed sacrilegious to play there. Along with the cruel name, the echoes of childrens’ laughter among the ruins persisted long after we had gone.