Nant Brân aqueduct, Five Locks, Pontnewydd
Below the flight of five locks, a small aqueduct takes the Monmouthshire Canal over Nant Brân, from which Cwmbrân got its name. The aqueduct dates from the canal’s construction in the 1790s and is shown in the photo by Lawrence Skuse.
The stream flows from Blaen Brân reservoir, on Mynydd Maen to the west. At Pontnewydd it joins the Afon Llwyd, which flows southwards to the Usk at Caerleon.
The old photo looking north along the canal from here shows the five locks and the basin below them, where boats would await passage up the flight of locks. The old photo looking down the lower locks shows people standing on the frozen canal.
In October 1877, Police Constable Seys hid himself by the canal here to observe a canal boat which was carrying coal from Cwmbrân to the Brecon Gas Company. The company’s boatmen were allowed some coal for heating and cooking (the boats were horse-drawn rather than steam powered). However, some deliveries of coal had been arriving in Brecon with c.560kg missing!
PC Seys watched the boat enter one of the locks. Boatmen Morgan Evans and Richard Phillips walked to the nearby Cross Keys beerhouse. They returned to the boat, followed by the pub’s licensee, James Thomas, and a small boy. The boatmen proceeded to unload coal and hide it behind some timber. Emerging from his hiding place, PC Seys found two lumps of coal in James’ pockets. The cache of stolen coal weighed 156kg (345lbs). James was jailed for three months (with hard labour) and the boatmen for two months each.
Cwmbrân as we know it today is mostly a result of development after the New Towns Act 1946, but the name is much older. A village called Cwmbrân was located in the valley (Cwm) of Nant Brân, recorded in 1634 as Nant brane. Brân means crow or raven, but in this case it’s more likely to refer to the stream’s dark waters, or to a person called Brân or similar.
With thanks to Richard Morgan, of the Welsh Place-Name Society/Cymdeithas Enwau Lleoedd Cymru, and Lawrence Skuse
Footnotes: Recollections of the aqueduct
Lawrence Skuse recalls: When I was a child in the 1950s/60s this was known as “The Big Tunnel” to distinguish it from the circular “Little Tunnel” about a hundred yards further south. Both were short cuts to the other side of the canal. The Little Tunnel was less popular as even as a child you had to bend double, but when the brook was high under the aqueduct the Little Tunnel saved you from getting wet feet and a telling off from your mother. I think this smaller one was to fetch water into a small reservoir at the south-western end of what was Cwmbran Pleasure Gardens, for the fountains.