History in Structure

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Balance Tower

A Grade I Listed Building in Blaenavon, Torfaen

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Latitude: 51.7773 / 51°46'38"N

Longitude: -3.0885 / 3°5'18"W

OS Eastings: 324997

OS Northings: 209295

OS Grid: SO249092

Mapcode National: GBR F2.ZBHJ

Mapcode Global: VH79C.FL2D

Entry Name: Balance Tower

Listing Date: 9 February 1995

Last Amended: 9 February 1995

Grade: I

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 15292

Building Class: Industrial

Location: Situated at the northern end of the Blaenavon Ironworks site and dominating the complex.

County: Torfaen

Community: Blaenavon (Blaenafon)

Community: Blaenavon

Locality: Blaenavon Ironworks

Built-Up Area: Blaenavon

Traditional County: Monmouthshire

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The water balance was used to lift iron and raw materials in trams between the furnace tops and the yard area. The tower was built in 1839, as part of a modernisation programme by James Ashworth, managing director of the Blaenavon Iron and Coal Company. Originally linked to the high ground behind by wooden bridge; later replaced by the surviving stone bridge. The tower housed a hydraulic lift comprising iron frame with wheel and chain over, linking a pair of lift cages. The cages each incorporated an iron water tank; by piping water in or out, trams could be lifted or lowered as required. Known locally as the 'guillotine' due to the action of the cages falling past the oval openings in the tower. Very few such towers survive.


Built adjacent to high ground, on a T-shaped plan, the facade of this monumental stone construction tapers towards its ruined top. Remains of the iron hoist also survive. The rusticated ashlar facade has three large openings running vertically through its centre, each with three centred arches top and bottom. These are flanked by two huge pilasters. The lowest opening contains an arched entrance way for the trams, with a pit behind to accommodate the water tanks. Dressed stone to quoins and openings. The north-west corner of the tower incorporates a ruined structure. To the south-east the tower adjoins a retaining wall. The top of the tower and the bank to the rear are linked by a large, single span, stone bridge with dressed voussoirs.

Part of Scheduled Ancient Monument Mm 200.

Reasons for Listing

Listed at grade I as the most complete example of a balance tower in Wales.

Group value with other listed items at the internationally important Blaenavon Ironworks.

Other nearby listed buildings

  • II Chain Store
    Situated at the north-east corner of the site, above the track leading up to the balance tower.
  • II Calcining Kilns
    Situated at the northern edge of the site, above the Blast furnaces.
  • I Cast House and Foundry
    Situated on the north-western side of the site.
  • I Blast Furnaces
    Three extant furnaces and the remains of others, stand in a row on the north-west side of the furnace yard, behind the cast houses.
  • II Stack Square
    Situated to the east side of the site.
  • II Storage Shed and attached Chimney
    Situated to the south of the cast houses and adjoining the site of the western-most one.
  • II Pay Office
    Situated to the south-west of Stack Square and built against the curtain wall for the site.
  • II Gilchrist Memorial
    Situated in the Blaenavon Ironworks Museum car park at the north end of Blaenavon town and to the south-west of the Ironworks; reached off North Street.

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