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about the Cynon Valley
tropical forests of the Carboniferous Period, forced upwards by earth's contortions,
are discovered - as coal. Lives and landscape are beginning to change. Men are sinking
primitive shafts or digging into the sides of the mountains to extract this fuel.
Many of the valley people are beginning to exist in a half-life, spending long hours
beneath the ground in dark and danger, all for warmth in the hearth.
Now, with a grinding clank of machinery and a sky dark again with smoke, is coming
the Industrial Revolution and the landscape of Cynon Valley is undergoing an even
more drastic change. First iron and then coal are becoming the new gold, making
kings of landowners and troglodytes of the workers. There are ships and trains
to be fuelled, cities to be kept warm, the furnaces of industry to be fed: Britannia and her colonies are looking to the valleys of Wales for their fires.
first ironworks in Cynon Valley is built in 1800 in the village of Llwydcoed.
The trees that filled the valley are falling in the blink of an eye. They become,
first, fuel for the iron furnaces and next, pit props for the mines.
In 1804 the village of Abercynon becomes the end of the line for Richard Trevithick's famous locomotive which brings iron from the foundries at Merthyr Tydfil to be loaded onto barges on the Glamorgan Canal in Abercynon for passage to the port of Cardiff.
At Gadlys, Llwydcoed and Abernant, the iron furnaces are flourishing, as they are all through the valleys. Seen from the village of Hirwaun the north-eastern night sky glows red from the furnaces of Crawshay's giant foundries in Merthyr Tydfil. Railways criss-cross the smoking valley, the air resounds with the clang of metal, of trains against buffers, of sirens summoning men to work: it is the groaning of a vital cog in a great machine.
the wheels of time grind onwards.
The iron industry is beginning to decline and coal mining is on the upsurge. 1842 - the first ironworks in Hirwaun has closed. A few years later the pits of Cynon Valley are producing well over two million tons of coal a year. Mine shafts drive deep into the earth and people and ponies are dying in droves when fire-damp ignites, roofs fall in and explosions tear through the mines' narrow tunnels . Coal waste is being tipped on adjacent land, obscene black growths smothering any remaining green.
At the coal industry's peak, men are living and dying for this black gold, their bodies tattooed with, their lungs sucking in, the fine, glittering dust. Man and coal become as one. In the valley of the smaller river Dare alone, within Cynon Valley, there are no less than nineteen deep and drift mines.
a scattering of woodland remains and the mountain sides are being planted with
coniferous trees, quick-growing, straight, intended to provide a steady supply
of wood for industry. The mountains' natural seasonal colours are lost within
the plantations' uniform green. And beneath the lines of forestry the pit tips
dot the landscape, distorted pyramids of slag and dirt.
It is as if the land has been turned inside out. Everywhere there is blackness and the gleam of rails like arteries winding over the valley floor, supported sometimes by huge wooden viaducts straddling hills, carrying the black life-blood of the valley.
are walking to their shifts, descending Monk Street, for example, where once
the monks made their way into a greener valley. Their faces are white against
black helmets and jackets. On their return only the whites of their eyes gleam
against the blackness of their faces. Pithead baths are few and far between.
Some miners are carrying blocks of wood, offcuts of pit props, to chop up as
kindling for their home fires.
Houses of sorts are going up throughout Cynon Valley for the Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants who are pouring into this and other valleys, lured by the promise of work in the mines.
Some housing is reasonable, some less so: Greenfach, for example, close to the Gadlys pit in Aberdare, where the row of houses fronting the river Dare is a no-go area for anyone except its inhabitants and the rats.
housing in the valley is terraced, the long lines of grey slate roofs reflecting
the grey, overcast skies on those unique valley days when the mountain tops
are lost in low cloud.
Workmen's Halls are being built. These grand edifices hold books and knowledge and provide a meeting place other than the public houses that are sitting at every twist and turn of the valley's narrow streets.
A blacksmith called Griffith Rhys Jones - Caradog - leads the South Wales Choral Union to victory both in 1872 and 1873 in the Crystal Palace Cup competition.|
Trecynon, Aberdare Park is created,
1913 - the fortunes of the coal industry is at its zenith. Steam and anthracite coal is being exported all around the world.
|The Italian cafes are becoming synonymous with Cynon and other valleys as the immigrants who came here because of the promise of work, now provide employment themselves with the opening of cafes and fish and chip shops. Mrs Pini's cafe at the top of Canon Street, the Scolari's Expresso Cafe near the railway, Mascherpa's also in Canon Street, Carpannini's backing onto the Cynon, the Ferraris and Servinis, the Sidolis and Tedaldis - all these are at the heart of the valley. They all recreate a flavour, an intimation of the hotter, more passionate country from which they spring, their proprietors chatting away in English with an Italian/Welsh accent.|
Coliseum Theatre is built in Trecynon and drama as well as music is brought
within the ken of ordinary people.
In Abercwmboi, the Phurnacite plant thrusts its spires skywards but these chimneys are belching out black smoke day and night to create the smokeless fuel required in other parts of Britain. The woods around the Plant fall sick and die with poison. People, too, will be affected by the waste from this Dante's Inferno.
Factories are thriving on the Hirwaun Industrial Estate - G E C, Hitachi, Morgan and Brace, Dunlopillo, for example - and they become one of the main sources of employment as the mines fall silent one by one, pit wheels are stilled and rails rust. The slums are demolished or owners given grants to modernise them. Council housing estates are being built with modern conveniences such as indoor toilets and bathrooms. The little row at Greenfach is demolished as is the Green Dragon pub in front of it. A large library of concrete and glass is also built on this site.
The first supermarket to come to Aberdare, Fine Fare, has opened its doors in Commercial Street and so begins the decline of the small grocers' shops.
October, 1966, in another valley, a coal tip slides down a mountainside and
wipes out a generation of children. The Government now orders all tips to
be made safe. In Cynon Valley, waste tips are being levelled over the mountainsides,
spread with guano and reseeded.
morning sun has risen above the Abercynon Ridgeway, flanking the valley floor
as it leads through Mountain Ash towards Abercynon where the river Cynon meets
the larger Taff. The countryside is greener than it has been for many a long
year. The great woodlands of centuries ago are gone forever but new, smaller
woods are being planted to replace the trees wiped out as man, agriculture
and industry left its mark on the valley.
stone bases that held the wooden stanchions are all that is left of Brunel's
viaduct that carried the Vale of Neath railway through what is now Dare Valley
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