Ty-Coch Canal Dig July 2014


Over the week of the 21st to 25th July 2014 , The Ancient Cwmbran Society  conducted  an Archaeological Investigation on what was  thought to be the remains of a  cottage at the locks near Ty-Coch on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal in Cwmbran. The blog we were running at the time was updated  live from the canal site, so as the action happened it was posted in real time on the blog , starting from  Monday 21st July 2014.

To see the blog in its reverse chronological ( original) format, click HERE

To see the report in an easier to read,chronological order, please keep reading


Once again this year, the ACS was  working in Partnership with The Monmouthshire Brecon & Abergavenny Canal Trust, and Neighbourhood Services TCBC.

2013 Investigation 

To view the blog from our investigation in 2013 on the same site, please click this link


To view our Archaeologist’s official report from the 2013 investigation, click this link


This is what Wikipedia says about the



 Click for  zoom-able Google Map of the Ty-Coch Workshop Location


2014 Investigation

Our brief was to  revisit the workshop/hand saw mill that was found on last years dig before   investigating  a section of  the foundations of the Lock keepers cottage next to the workshop on the side of the Canal , marked as “cottage” on the map below

(below) The workshop and cottage shown in 1899 on the OS map of 1872 to 1878

canal workshop and cottageMap reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland


The photo above gives a good view of the site , the saw pit can be seen just behind the man with the motorised barrow , with the workshop located behind in the area where the Archaeologist is bending over recording the site. The Volunteers over on the right of the photo are standing where the cottage trench was being excavated.


(below) Aerial View taken before any work started on the Lock area


(below) The same view with area marked bingshotwords

Screenshot of  Bing Maps aerial imagery ( birds eye view)

The Google maps Screenshot below was taken after last years dig

This image would have been taken sometime after June 2103 because it is

 showing how the area has changed with the renovation of the lock system and the

archaeological works in progress.


(below) Zoomed and annotated view

saw pit

(above)The area we  investigated this year is shown on the right hand side above , marked as ” cottage”



A reminder from last year 


The photo above shows how the site looked at the close of day one last year (June 2013), with the area on the right hand side of the photo thought to be a workshop, but the area where the people are standing was rather a mystery to us. Our Archaeologist had an idea what the area could be, but he was not letting on at that time, preferring to keep us volunteers guessing. We began by carefully trowelling this area, but as we progressed we found large voids under the rocks, so we realised that this area was deep and had been backfilled with material.

  digging deeper

So on day 2 it was time for the digger, which went deeper !

and deeper

and deeper still .

To cut a long story short, the pit went down to a depth of approximately 8 feet. The photo below shows the pit after it had been cleaned and recorded. saw pit completed

 Our Archaeologist then let on what the pit was used for. Apparently it was a “Saw Pit”  , where the large timbers used for the lock gates would have been cut and shaped.

During the investigation of the workshop area adjacent to the saw pit we found some discolouration of the soils which indicated that a patch of oil may had been  present on the ground , leading to speculation that , although the saw pit would initially have been worked by two men with a large bow saw, in later years the motive power could have been provided by mechanical means, possibly a steam engine connected to a circular saw.

Now back to this years investigation


On day one of the dig we could see that there had been a lot of changes to the site, with new buildings and a new road being built for access. The photo below shows us waiting  for our hard hats so we could start clearing back the workshop area which was covered last year to preserve the site .

The sketch below shows what we are working on with  the sawpit on the left and the workshop on the right


below  is a map of the site  showing the position of the workshop and cottage .


  There had been new buildings put up and a new road to the site ,with a new footpath over the wier .#


Luckily the amenities  hut was still on site


We began our  investigation by “phasing” the workshop area , between 1882 and the early 1900’s there was a slight alteration to the building where a wall was taken down and the building squared up, so we were looking at the different phases the building has been through . We  put a trench north to south to look for these changes.


Next to the Workshop area is the Saw Pit , which is  still looking good although a year on  a few weeds are poking through now.

The saw pit
The saw pit


When we were digging out the saw pit last year, we (the volunteers)  all thought that the navvies who built the canal  had dug a huge hole then lined it with stone, but apparently this assumption was wrong. Our Archaeologist has told us that the saw pit would have been  constructed by building the stone structure , and then the area around the pit was back ,filled probably with the soil removed from the cut. The locks were built in a similar manner too,but on a much bigger scale .






(below)We used a  digger to carefully remove  the topsoil from the workshop site to reveal the archaeology from last year


Our  Archaeologist was of the opinion  that the  building was built by constructing the walls  then backfilling to create a floor. There did not appear to be any type of flooring surface , so it is possible that the workshop just had a compacted dirt floor. A deep trench was dug to look at the changes in the soil within the workshop floor area, to better understand how the area of backfill under the workshop was deposited.(below)



The temporary building adjacent to where the cottage is marked on the map is currently where new lock gates are being manufactured from English Oak , so we were only able to look for a small part of the cottage because the building was covering the rest of the cottage.


(below) Archaeologists standing where the Cottage once stood.



(below) Lock gate construction


(below) Lock gate construction     20140723-105050.jpg

(below) Lock gate construction     20140723-105202.jpg

(below) some of the timbers used for making lock gates   20140723-105302.jpg

(below) The digger moved to the patch of ground in front of the lock gate manufacturing building, and very soon after we had our first find, a hand forged chisel.


(The glove is shown for size reference)


(above)The walls of the cottage are just beginning to be unearthed


(below) The County Heritage officer and a Volunteer hard at work !


(below) A find from the trench.


(above) From about 3 feet down in the trench ,a pin or button was found.  Later we found out that it was  from the GWR Ambulance Association between 1865 and 1912.( later to become the St John Ambulance). The canal was built in the1790’s ,so the button was lost some 100 years later.



(below)We continued to excavate the cottage trench. We found the walls which were about 2 feet thick , and of  rendered stone construction. A glazed drainage pipe was found running north to south alongside the wall , and some flag stones were uncovered. The cottage was demolished in about 1964 according to local knowledge .





 (above) The cottage wall , with clay glazed drainage pipe in foreground and flag stones on the left of the photo .


(above) excavating the cottage trench

Well defined stonework in the cottage trench above


Walls well preserved
Brick Path


We also unearthed part of the chimney pot of the cottage


Meanwhile , over by the locks, in the photo above , the area beyond the pipe may have been the location for a steam engine, possibly a crane . When we took off the topsoil , there was a layer of clinker underneath  which indicates that the grate of  steam engine would have been cleaned out at this spot. It is feasible that the tree trunks would arrive at this lock aboard narrow boat , and were then lifted by the crane to make new lock gates , which needed to be replaced every 25 years or so .

There was a post hole and lots of clinker in the area


New Volunteers
New Volunteers




Rodger won the 40 yard trench dash !


On the final day  we had visitors to the site while we carried  on digging and recording . The visitors were allowed on site as part of  Community Fun Day , where visitors could come on to the site for a guided tour and have a go at archaeological digging and washing of finds.

We were pleased that so many Kids brought along their Mums and Dads

lots of activity at the finds washing tent
Water and mud is always a winning combination !


It was nice to see new so much interest from the youngsters


They saw the cottage trench being recorded by Uncle Peter
and were very interested in the brick at the bottom of the cottage trench which used to form part of the footpath to the cottage marked HANSON HENLLIS  ( which is a strange spelling of our modern Henllys ) . This brick probably dates from 1842 and was made within 1/4 mile of the site at the brickworks which was once on the site that Gifford Close is now built on .


Uncle Richard shown in his native environment , explaining to the young archaeologists what we have found .


The young archaeologists loved the saw pit
The kids ( and Mums and Dads) learned a lot from Uncle Richard and Uncle Rodger about the history and construction of the canal

Photograph of youngsters  above taken with permission of Parents/ Guardians


More information on the Hennlis Brick at this excellent  site from the Cold War Warrior Another invaluable source of information at the Industrial Gwent site, definitely one to bookmark if you are interested in local history .

That concludes our presentation of the Canal Investigation 2014 .

Thank you for watching.

The Ancient Cwmbran Society .

Please Note:

This report has been written by a Volunteer of the Ancient Cwmbran Society who has no formal training in Archaeology, therefore all information contained in this report is intended for viewing by the general public and is not intended as an accurate or factual Archaeological report. An official report will be published through the recognised channels by an IFA registered Archaeologist in due course.