Blackwood is situated in the Sirhowy Valley between two ancient hill top parish churches; St. Sannan’s Bedwellty, much of which dates from the 11th. century, standing on the ridge to the west, and to the east St. Tudor’s, Mynyddislwyn, though much rebuilt in Victorian times, which has origins at least as old.
A map of the area dated 1801 shows that prior to the 1805 Sirhowy Tramroad, the only buildings in the area we now call Blackwood were Gellidywyll Farm, still standing at the north of the town, Maesrhuddud Farm, now the Maes Manor Hotel, Ty’r Graig ( Lon Pennant ), Plas Bedwellty, now Monnington Lodge and Penllwyn, now the Penllwn Hotel – the latter two being homes of the Morgan family.
At this time, there were no mines and the only language was Welsh.
Much of the early development of the town must be attributed to John Hodder Moggridge, who came here from Gloucestershire in the early part of the 19th. century. He bought a 450 acre estate from the Morgan Family that included the large dense wood named Coed Duon ( black wood ), from which the town derives it name.
Conditions in the area were very bad for the labouring classes, and so Moggridge decided to help them. He offered grants of land of one-eighth of an acre for four generations for a small ground rent – this based on the condition the tenant would personally assist in the erection of a substantial cottage. Though slow to catch on at first, by 1822 40 plots had been leased, a significant reason for the take up being that fruit and vegetables could be grown in the cottage gardens.
Apart from the new cottages, a market house was opened in 1822, which was reportedly used for divine worship and for meetings of societies, such as the Provident Society. By 1828 there were 200 properties housing 1,500 people. The town also sported The Royal Oak pub, two surgeons, a schoolmaster, several shopkeepers and numerous tradesmen.
Moggridge’s social experiment had proved so successful that nearby villages of Ynysddu and Trelyn evolved along the similar lines.
Because individual men found themselves powerless in their dealings with their employers, attempts were made to band together as unions. Employers resisted by decreeing that union members would not be employed, a decision that led to the formation of an underground organisation known as Scotch Cattle. By the end of the 1830’s, members of the Scotch Cattle joined the Chartists – The Coach & Horses Inn in Blackwood and the Greyhound in Pontllanfraith being their principal meeting places.
Chartism was a radical campaign for parliamentary reform of the inequities remaining after the Reform Act of 1832, and its main demands were –
Blackwood was crucial to Chartism, which saw rallies across Britain ignored by Parliament. Violence broke out and on November 4th. 1839, the Newport Rising was born, planned at the Coach & Horses pub in the town. Zephaniah Willams led a column from Blackwood which marched on the Westgate Hotel in Newport, where bloodshed ensued with more than 200 Chartists arrested and their leaders, including Williams transported for life to Tasmania.
The Chartists failure was relatively short lived, as many of their demands were adopted by 1918, forming the basis of the current U.K. electoral system.
By 1842, there were more than 30 collieries or levels within two-and-a-half miles of the town centre.
The town continued to grow, one of the most important events being the removal of the railway from the High Street in 1865. Prior to that, however, in 1843 the High Street was the scene of an explosion when a Vulcan steam engine, belonging to the Tredegar Iron Company, blew up as it passed the George Hotel, killing two people.
This removal of the railway gave the town its wide main street and greatly helped Blackwood become the shopping and cultural centre of the valley that it is today.
Blackwood’s historic role in the Chartist movement was commemorated in the form of a statue at the end of 2008 – the 180th. anniversary of the workers’ fight for political and social reform. The 25ft.steel man, with pike in hand, looking towards Newport with his back to Oakdale Colliery stands on the roundabout at the end of the Chartist Bridge at the northern end of town.
The Town Council, together with the newly established Blackwood & District Heritage Association are determined that Coed Duon, a small remnant of the original wood that gave our town its name, remains a valuable asset for the local community for generations to come, and that the towns historic role in the Chartist movement is never forgotten.
Working with local groups and schools will ensure future generations are aware of our rich and varied heritage.