20 – Bromley Furnace

Just beyond us, set back against the hillside in a field on the left, are the ruins of the Bromley Furnace.  The Ebbw Vale Company, who had mines in the Oakwood Valley, including Princess Louise, started operating this furnace in 1856 and it ceased working ten to fifteen years later. It was built into the hillside to enable iron ore to be fed into the furnace from the top of the hill. The furnace charge was approximately five tons of iron ore, coke and limestone which produced about one ton of iron.

The Gloucestershire Way continues up the steep path used to feed the furnace. From the track in front of the furnace you will see water exiting one of the earlier mentioned culverts, before entering another culvert a few metres further on. These culverts are a feature of the whole water course and it is a tribute to the skills of the workmen who constructed them that they are still sound after so many years of use.

A photo of Bromley Furnace
Bromley Furnace (c) G Davis. The road ascending Mill Hill can be seen middle-right.

Brian Johns described the view in the photo above and his childhood memory of the demolition of the chimney in “Forest Folk Poems by Marina Lambert Illustrations and stories by W. B. Johns”:

“Down in the valley bottom were the grey stone ruins of an old foundry tucked in tight against against the rocky side of the hill: piles of rubble littered the valley floor almost out to the edge of a small stream which emerged from below the ground to run along the surface for a few yards and then plunge back under the earth into the safety of a stone lined tunnel. Dominating the whole scene was a huge stone chimney which once carried smoke away from the furnace”.
Brian describes the last moments of the chimney:
“… Then it came, a long low rumble from the foot of the chimney, loud but not as loud as I expected. A billow of dust and stones hurtled out across the valley floor towards the stream. The chimney didn’t fly skywards in a multitude of pieces, it just stood there straight up into the sky as always, then it moved, the whole chimney moved sideways towards the stream. Still upright it travelled along the valley bottom getting shorted and shorter as it went, clouds of dust enveloping the bottom, the top section suddenly broke away and turned onto its side and the whole mass was down on the ground completely hidden by the dense cloud of dust swirling around it. Our chimney was down.”

W B Johns

Glencoe Villas, the semi-detached house furthest from the furnace was the home of Jesse Nelmes. Jesse was a miner and a founder member of the Princess Royal Colliery Brass Band, later to become the Bream Silver Band. “Banding” or membership of a brass band still runs in the family to this day. The photo below shows how the valley looked just beyond Glencoe Villas.

A photo of Mary Nelmes at Oakwood Bottom.
Mary Nelmes at Oakwood Bottom. To the left, buildings of Flourmill Colliery can be made out. Photo courtesy of Bryan Nelmes.