IHBC 2020 Yearbook

R E V I E W A N D A N A L Y S I S 43 THE VALLEYS – PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE JUDITH ALFREY THE DEVELOPMENT of ironworking and coal mining on an industrial scale radically changed the economy, society and environment of Wales in the 19th century. Across the South Wales Valleys in particular, the landscape itself was reshaped by the demands of industry, by the extraction, movement and processing of raw materials, and by the development of settlements to house a rapidly growing work-force. In the Rhondda, for example, the population grew from under 1,000 in 1851 to 153,000 by 1911. The most dramatic changes took place in the hitherto sparsely populated uplands, where entirely new urban settlements took root on land that had once supported only upland farms and sheep-walks. But even in areas where there was already an urban tradition, the demands of industry prompted development on a scale and of a type that had hitherto been unknown. Many of the new settlements occupied topographically challenging locations in steep-sided valleys where iron ore and especially coal were at their most accessible. Such locations sometimes forced an unusual urban structure, in which a string of smaller settlements — each linked to a particular workplace — gradually fused together, though still retaining their individual identity. The landscape also called for considerable ingenuity in building on steep ground, in particular the distinctive stepped or acutely angled terraces that are so characteristic of the Valleys. The very rapid growth of these settlements, and their particular social complexion contributed other distinctive attributes, notably a striking uniformity in the type of building (overwhelmingly terraced houses) and in building style and materials, giving these settlements a remarkable coherence. A town is much more than a collection of houses, no matter how extensive. A complex urban ecology developed in many of the Valleys’ towns. Civic and cultural institutions were established, of which the most celebrated are probably the miners’ institutes and the chapels. An urban economy was supported by trade and commerce, bringing a range of other building types including pubs, shops and markets. Towards the heads of the valleys communities were less topographically Ebbw Vale, perched on steep slopes at the head of the Ebbw valley (Photo: © Crown copyright 2020, Cadw) The clock tower on the General Office building of the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company, built 1915–16 (Photo: © Crown copyright 2020, Cadw)