Delving into History to Learn How the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution Can Face the Future with Confidence; 'THE STORY OF MERTHYR DIDN'T END WITH INDUSTRIAL DECLINE'

Article excerpt

Byline: JUDITH ALFREY

* ERTHYR TYDFIL has an assured place in the annals of history. Chris Evans explains eloquently that it was the place where the Industrial Revolution attained its most complete expression.

It epitomised the industrial way of life. It was, for a time, the largest town in Wales and was hailed as the iron and steel capital of the world in the mid-19th century.

But that was then. The ironworks have all long since closed, leaving only a few obvious landmarks.

The grim realities of economic collapse that began to assert themselves in the 1920s and 1930s and the determined renewal that followed have also left their mark.

The impact of redevelopment in the 20th century is inescapable - Merthyr is as much a modern town as a historic one. History didn't stop here when the industrial focus shifted elsewhere.

So what does this proud industrial past mean in modern Merthyr Tydfil? How has that past influenced the present townscape? Are there other stories in the streets that add to what the history books say? And what does this mean for the future? To try to answer these questions, Cadw has been looking at the town to uncover its distinctive historic character. Here - as in a number of towns throughout Wales - we are using a process called urban characterisation.

By looking at the history of a place, the patterns of the streets, the types of buildings and their construction, we can build up a picture of what makes it unique, and gives it its own special sense of place.

These factors all help to create a sense of identity and local pride which can be harnessed to ensure that we keep the best of the past for the future - and make sure it works to stimulate social, economic and environmental wellbeing.

History in Merthyr Tydfil didn't begin or end with the Industrial Revolution.

Traces of an earlier agricultural past survive in a handful of buildings and in place names that recall old farms and pre-industrial patterns of land use. But, eventually, land holdings came to be exploited largely for the value of their mineral resources.

Vast estates of coal, iron, ironstone, limestone and even water were gathered and brought to the major ironworks.

Traces of this working industrial landscape survive all round the town, but the best are those associated with the Cyfarthfa Ironworks and its subsidiary at Ynysfach.

Here, the remains of the ironworks still stand as powerful monuments of industry.

Cyfarthfa Castle, too, is a reminder of the astounding wealth generated by iron.

Yet although Merthyr Tydfil became a major town, its early growth was haphazard and opportunistic.

At first, it was made up of isolated rows of housing built along roads and tramroads close to the ironworks. …