The Chartist's Cave is located in a prominent knoll to the east of Garn Fawr round cairn on the open, exposed moorland of Trefil Las at SO 1276 1523. The original name of the cave seems to have been Tylles Fawr (the Great Hole). In 1809, the cave came to the attention of Theophilus Jones, the author of the History of Brecknockshire:
“In the Tir voel Glas [Trefil Las] is a natural cavern, the entrance into which is much larger and higher than that into Eglwys faen in Llangattock: it presents a kind of arched room or vault, forty or fifty feet in circumference, and at the further end where the rock dips is a passage, leading perhaps to other appartments; it is generally known by the corrupted Welsh name of Stabl Fawr, or the great stable, because the little hilly horses, cattle and sheep are frequently known to run into it for shelter from the storm.” (Jones 1809, 517)
The cave’s main claim to fame rests on strong local tradition that it was pressed into service as an arms factory and secret meeting place in the period leading up to the Chartist Insurrection of 1839. The tradition was first recorded by Evan Powell in 1884:
“1839 will be a memorable date, as the year in which the Chartists rose and made a march to Newport. Preparations were made a long while previously; caves in Llangynidr mountains were utilised as smitheries for the purpose of forging “pikes” and other weapons.” (Powell 1902, 57)
It must be said that Oliver Jones, the much-respected historian of Sirhowy and Tredegar, was dubious about the truth of this particular tradition:
“About this time [July 1839], the Chartists of Sirhowy and Tredegar began using the cave on Mynydd Llangynidr. Why they went there and what they did there has never been satisfactorily explained. It has been suggested that the place was used as a smithy for the making of pikes and other weapons but this is hardly true; why go to such an out-of-the-way spot to make pikes when they could be secretly made in dozens in the Iron Works - as they were. Again, no smith could live with the smoke of a forge in that unthinkable place which is now known as the Chartist Cave but was originally called ‘Tylles Fawr’ (Great Hole). Inside at the end of a tunnel it opens out into a chamber-like cavern in the centre of which is a large stone rather like a table. This seems to suggest that the place was used for other purposes in days gone by. The entrance has now crumbled badly, making access both difficult and dangerous.” (Jones 1969, 97)
However, during an excavation in the cave in 1970 by members of the Severn Valley Caving Club under the direction of R. G. Lewis, human and animal bones, a clay pipe, coal, and a flat perforated stone were recovered. It is possible the latter was of considerable antiquity. Information on the human bones presented at an inquest (by Dr Bernard Knight), suggested them be relatively recent (50-100 years old). They were thought to have belonged to at least three individuals.
One thigh-bone had been mutilated, leaving open the possibility that the victims in the burial group may have been secreted in this place after one or more local disturbance (RCAHMW 1997). Were these the bodies of Chartists carried from home from the carnage of the Westgate Hotel and buried here in secret? Is this the real meaning of the Chartists’ Cave? We shall probably never know.
Jones, O. 1969. The Early Days of Sirhowy and Tredegar (Risca: Tredegar Historical Society).
Jones, T. 1809. The History of Brecknockshire, Vol II, part ii.
Powell, E. 1902. History of Tredegar (Newport: South Wales Argus)
RCAHMW 1997 An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Brecknock (Brycheiniog); The Prehistoric and Roman Monuments, Part I, US 101 vii.