Author: paul barrett

Guitar Makers

We’re looking to use our blog as way to show the different things that are happening, or people’s stories, along the river. In this post, we introduce Paul (who makes guitars) and Dan (who repairs and maintains guitars) – they are both based in Cardiff.

Were you aware that there is a man who lives a short distance from the Taff and who makes some of the best guitars in the world? In a large workshop at the bottom of his garden Paul Beauchamp works on his own to create a range of much sought-after guitars and ukuleles. It takes Paul approximately a month to build a guitar and practically everything is done by hand.

“Mostly professional classical guitarists buy my guitars,” explains Paul. “It’s word of mouth that sells most of my instruments and I have clients all over the world. When I started making guitars there was a lot of emphasis on the American way of making them by using a machine to carry out nearly all of the tasks. But today I think that professionals appreciate the personal hand-made approach.”

Dan Alport has studied popular music to degree level at the University of South Wales and besides being a wonderful player of styles ranging from gypsy jazz to the blues, Dan has also trained in guitar maintenance and is working with some of the top rock groups in Britain to ensure that their guitars are in tip top condition..

“I work on guitars in my workshop at home but am also available for call-outs if something goes wrong in the studio or in a concert,”says Dan. “I have been given some amazing guitars to maintain. To start off with I was almost too frightened to touch them. But when I get them to sound right once again it feels like a dream.”

Dan is based in Pontcanna and can be contacted on 07758482622

The Taff Valley’s Locomotive

So little is said about it that it almost seems like fantasy today, but the Taff Valley was at the cutting edge of the railways – before London, New York or Tokyo.  Hand in hand with the Industrial Revolution, which was led by this area, came the railways.

In 1802, Richard Trevithick, a Cornish genius, constructed a high-pressure steam engine to drive a hammer at the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil. With the assistance of Rees Jones, an employee of the iron works and under the supervision of Samuel Homfray, the proprietor, he mounted the engine on wheels and turned it into a locomotive. In 1803, Trevithick sold the patents for his locomotives to Samuel Homfray.

Homfray was so impressed with Trevithick’s locomotive that he made a bet with another ironmaster, Richard Crawshay, for 500 guineas – probably the total wages for a few months of all the workers in the ironworks – that Trevithick’s steam locomotive could haul ten tons of iron along the Merthyr Tydfil tram road from Pen-y Darren to Abercynon, a distance of nearly ten miles. Amid great interest from the public, on 21st February 1804 it successfully carried ten tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men the full distance in 4 hours and 5 minutes, which was an average speed of approximately 2.4 mph. As well as Homfray, Crawshay and the passengers, other witnesses included Mr. Giddy, a respected patron of Trevithick and an engineer from the government.

The bet was won. Despite many people’s doubts, it had been shown that, provided that the gradient was sufficiently gentle, it was possible to successfully haul heavy carriages along a smooth iron road using the weight alone of a suitably heavy and powerful steam locomotive. Trevithick’s was probably the first to carry out this feat.  However some of the short cast iron plates of the tram road broke under the locomotive as they were intended only to support the lighter axle load of horse-drawn wagons and so the tram road returned to horse power after the initial test run.

Homfray was pleased he had won his bet but the engine was then placed on blocks and reverted to its original stationary job of driving hammers.

Today in Merthyr Tydfil, behind the monument to Trevithick’s locomotive is a stone wall, which is the only remainder of the former boundary wall of Homfray’s Pen-y-Darren House.

A full-scale working reconstruction of the Pen-y-Darren locomotive was commissioned in 1981 and is on display at  the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. Several times a year it is run on a short length of rail outside the museum.  Somehow we think that if this was in other parts of the world much more fuss would be made of it.

Paul Barrett
Title image credit: Hugh Llewelyn

Coracles on the Taff

To celebrate the fact that very few coracles have been on the Taff in two hundred years, the Cwmni Da television production company came down this week from Caernarfon to film our coracles on the Taff at Bute Park. Chris Powell, who is the brains behind actually building the coracles said, “It was great to see them really floating and being manoeuvred not only by Dylan Jones, who is the secretary of the Coracle Society but also by Meinir Gwilym from the television company, who has never even sat in one before.”

We are still building more coracles and hope to organise some races on the Taff later on in the year. Let us know if you’d like to be involved.