Rebuilding the Tollhouse

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This is a guest post by Sarah Barnes, co-founder of the Tongwynlais Historical Society, with additional writing by Owen Thomas.

The Tongwynlais Historical Society was formed in March 2020 with my fellow co-founder Rob Wiseman. The initial aim was to create a self-guided audio trail along the historic sites in the village from the Ironbridge, through the village to Castell Coch and loop back passed Ivy Cottage and back to the Ironbridge. We wanted to research interesting historical snippets from different aspects of the life and times of the people who once lived in the village. From the long forgotten railway station, the vineyard, the mill, lime quarry, local shops etc. with an aim to bring local history back to life for visitors and residents alike.

Overgrown verge and footpath with small stone wall just visible
© Tongwynlais Historical Society

The first stop was the Tollhouse, which at the time of the historic trail idea, was no more than a few visible bricks covered in 70 years of vegetation. For the past 12 months a group of willing and hardworking volunteers have been busily bringing it back to life. A large mass of overgrown weeds is now more recognisable as the footprint of a once beautiful tollhouse building used by the Pentyrch and Melingriffith Iron and Tinplate Works during the late 1800s.

Aerial photo of a building next to a river and bridge
© Welsh Government Aerial Photographs Unit

It sat at a V-junction of two tramroads and is thought to be used to control the turnout to the branch leading to the Tongwynlais canal. The Melingriffith Works accounts from 1853 indicate a salary made to a 63-year-old Mary Howell. Her role was to collect tolls at the “Tramroad and Tramroad Bridge”. She is listed at the property on the 1861 Census as a 77 year-old Bridge Keeper, living with her niece 26 year-old Elizabeth Sheneer. No longer of any use and possibly unsafe, the Tollhouse was demolished in the 1950s.

Remains of an old building next to a footpath.

Every Saturday morning since May 2021, the group have met and worked to clear away years of debris. Trees have been removed with the help of local tree surgeon Simon Goodleff, and tons of stones cleared with the kind help of Cardiff Council Urban Park Rangers. Hundreds of people on the Taff Trail have taken a great interest in the project over the year, regularly enquiring about progress, and taking photos as the Tollhouse returns to life. What was once nothing more than a unloved eyesore and demolished, is now a recognisable shell complete with growing wildflower garden. The Society volunteers have been able to develop new skills and friendships, drawing huge satisfaction from the slow unveiling of this exciting local project.

Four people digging out a tree stump
© Tongwynlais Historical Society

We plan to restore and make good the crumbling walls to ensure the building is safe and tidy, and then the possibilities for this space are limitless. To do this we have set up a Crowdfunder page and hope to raise £3,000 by 31st May, 2022.  Donations will help pay for the services of a qualified stonemason and building supplies to complete the project by the end of 2022. What happens to the Tollhouse in the future is something that is still under very careful discussion. One thing is for certain, the volunteers who have donated so much of their time clearly hope that this piece of history can go on to become a much loved and needed community resource for local people.

Our volunteers have been fantastic, they show up every week and have put blood, sweat and tears into clearing the site with buckets, shovels, pickaxes and limitless enthusiasm. They are a special bunch and without them this project would not have got off the ground. We hope to complete the Tollhouse by the end of summer and finally open it as point 1 on the historic trail. I think Rob and I would agree that when we started digging, we were very naïve as to the amount of time and effort this first section would take. We hope, once complete, the historic trail that we initially planned can get back up to speed. We would love residents who may have researched their own homes to get in touch with any historical stories about their houses or the people who once lived there.

Our next meeting is on 28th April at 7pm in Ainon Baptist Church so please come along if you would like to be involved.

About Jack Davies

Founder and editor of Tongwynlais.com and CastellCoch.com.

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