Merthyr Tydfil new gates on The incline - commissioned by Merthyr Tydfil CBC

Merthyr Tydfil Meadow Gates

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council are regenerating a green space in the Twynyrodyn area known locally as ‘The Incline’ into an urban nature reserve and needed some new gates for the top of the site. Project leader at Merthyr Council Gillian Hampson wanted to commission something special to frame the entrance to the landscape, to encourage people to explore inside and enjoy using it. Gill says: “The site is a ‘priority open space’ and was in desperate need of love, the open space strategy is a piece of work that shows the shortfalls in each Council ward. Bespoke art and sculpture captures people’s imagination and allows people to get up close to something. The regeneration is grant funded through The Welsh Government’s ‘Local Places for Nature’ grant and this is phase 1 of the project.”

Merthyr Tydfil has significant local history of ironworking so it seems fitting that the new gates should be hand forged by skilled blacksmiths, echoing the history of the area. Merthyr housed four important historical businesses: Dowlais Ironworks, Plymouth Ironworks, Cyfartha Ironworks and Penydarren. Gill had seen pictures of the Ironart Meadow Gate made by our team in 2012 and envisaged a similar gate as a feature to the Incline.

Andy spent several days working up a design for the project which reflected the open rolling landscape of the region, the rewilding and diversity of flora and fauna on the slope. Andy looked to nature for inspiration – wild carrot and cow parsley grow abundantly in the area but were slightly too flimsy to realise on the forge – this gate also needs to be vandal resistant! Andy narrowed the concept down a few species by working from photographs and looking at natural forms that would lend themselves to forge work. Manipulating what might otherwise be cold, sterile shapes into something with a bit more life through the medium of hot forging, he eventually settled on geraniums to populate the upper portion and clovers to populate the lower part. Andy incorporated some fauna too – there are butterflies on the top of the gateposts, one caterpillar on each side and a couple of delicately forged snails which form the handles for the drop bolts on the main gates. All of these elements are set within a curving frame for the gates which reflects the beauty and topography of the rolling hills and valleys in the area. Within each section there is a four leaf clover for good luck to reflect Gillian’s hope that this site will flourish for the local community and be transformed as a space loved by all.

Andy’s design for these gates took a whopping 600 hours to realise in mild steel. We created 1:1 scale drawings which were printed and laid out on the bench. We had the profile sections for the outside frame laser cut for us. The forging team was led by Cecily who started in February and worked on the gates until they were installed three months later in May. Cecily who is highly skilled and has been part of the Ironart team for many years, was tasked with developing the component parts, going through many different incarnations of the forging aspect and the assembly. Whilst the team knew the overall design we were heading for, there was quite a lot of investigating into how that design might manifest into the pieces that were made. Jake became involved in March and started to work on the sections for the geraniums and assembling the component parts. Jake also made the curved collars which sit on the posts and delicately forged the little snails. Eventually, when all the parts were finished, the Ironart team pre-assembled the gates on the bench.

The original intention was to go for a simple galvanized finish with the idea that any surplus budget would enable a painted finish. Galvanized steel often looks a little homogenous and colour can add so much more to the story of a sculptural piece. Galvanizing was also a technical challenge because zinc reacts with mild steel and many of the component parts overlapped, with a risk of acid entrapment in the nooks and crannies of the design. Through a combination of blasting, thermal zinc spraying, hot dip galvanizing and hand stippling, we had a good coating on all the metalwork and finally assembled the gates.
The painting process was done in house at Ironart by Jake, Cecily and Rick. Everything was base-coated in Micaceous Iron Oxide, we then chose four different colours which help to highlight the details: dark green for the bottom where it’s likely to get dirty, ‘Cornish Cream’ for the top and a light colour ‘Lichen’ to define the outline of the gate. Finally we picked the butterflies out in a bright, white painted finish.

Cecily and Andy drove from Bath to fit the gates in the middle of May and we’re happy to say it went smoothly. The double gates are 3.6m opening and the single gate is about 1.2m opening. The top of the gates measures 1.6m high, with the butterflies adding an extra 400mm. The gates were hung and the following day drop bolts and a padlock plate were added, plus a final touch up of paintwork and filling bolts. While the Ironart team were working on site they met lots of local residents who were passing by: local school children, dog walkers, ramblers and grandparents pushing prams and the reactions to the new gates was wonderful, with a really positive response from everyone who stopped to admire their work. This was an enjoyable creative commission, it’s our hope that these gates will give pleasure to neighbours and visitors to ‘the incline’ for many years to come.