Culture and Heritage

Explore The Valleys That Changed The World

The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries was largely fuelled by the minerals hidden beneath the hills of South Wales. Thousands of people from across rural Wales, the rest of Britain and further afield flocked to find work in the South Wales Valleys' great iron, steel, copper, tinplate and coal industries and the ports along the Severn Estuary. 

A new society emerged where vast fortunes were made by a few powerful industrialists but where the rapidly expanding workforce endured hard work and poverty. South Wales changed dramatically from an agricultural to an industrial society. This gave rise to the development of workers' unity and the birth of Chartism, trade unionism and the birth of the labour movement, which influenced the development of socialism around the world.
Times have changed. The coalfields are exhausted and the great furnaces have grown cold. Wales’ world domination in heavy industry has gone forever. Though most of the scars have disappeared and the valleys have become green once more, that period of heroic industry and associated human endeavour can still be traced through the reminders left in the landscape.
This leaflet brings together sites across South Wales where you can discover more about the industries that made South Wales great, how the communities prospered, how the goods were transported and the ironmasters and workers lived. As you explore you are sure to meet local people who will welcome you and recount tales of their local industries and the special camaraderie that existed (and still exists) in South Wales.
Download this leaflet for a wealth of ideas of places to visit to discover this unique story.

The Making of Merthyr Tydfil – Early History
Merthyr Tydfil: from 6,000BC people lived in the Merthyr Tydfil area.
Stone Age arrowheads and Bronze Age pottery found locally are on display in the museum at Cyfarthfa Castle.
Great Britain: The Celts Started to arrive in Britain. The Welsh Language developed from a branch of Celtic known as Brythonic.
1st – 10th Centuries
Merthyr Tydfil:
68-96AD Penydarren Roman Fort housed over 500 soldiers on a site overlooking the River Taff
480AD Tudful, daughter of Brychan, King of Breconshire, was martyred during a pagan raid. Merthyr Tydfil’s name is derived from this event.

Great Britain:
43 AD The Romans invaded Britain and stayed until 410
c.785AD Construction of Offa’s Dyke began – a linear earthwork created by the king of Mercia to separate his Kingdom from Wales
11-17th Centuries
Merthyr Tydfil:
1270 Morlais Castle was built by the Normans
Great Britain:
1066 Battle of Hastings
1215 Magna Carta
1348-1350 Welshman Henry VII crowned King of England after the battle of Bosworth
1642-1649 English Civil War
18th Century
Merthyr Tydfil:
1759 The Taff Valley was sparsely populated but within 25 years four ironworks were established: Dowlais, Plymouth, Cyfathfa and Penydarren. This marked the beginning of ‘industrial Merthyr’ The communities that developed around the ironworks grew to form one large town, Merthyr Tydfil.
1793 The world’s oldest cast iron tramroad bridge and aqueduct. Pont y Cafnau, was erected to supply Cyfarthfa Ironworks with limestone and water. It is still in use by pedestrians today.
1798 The Glamorganshire Canal from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff opened. It’s now part of the Taff Trail Cycling and walking route.
Great Britain:
c.1760 Industrial revaluation began
1781 Iron Bridge, the world’s first cast iron bridge, was built in Shropshire
19th Century
Merthyr Tydfil:
1801 Merthyr Tydfil established as largest town in Wales with a population of 7,705.
1802 Nelson visited Cyfarthfa Ironworks where cannons were being made. Soon it was the largest ironworks in the world.
1804 The world’s first steam locomotive pulling a load ran on a tramway from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon. The route is now a cycling/ walking trail named after the locomotive designer Richard Trevithick.
1825 Cyfarthfa Castle was built for William Crawshay II
1831 Merthyr Rising: workers protested at unsatisfactory conditions and raised the red flag as a symbol of rebellion. 24 people were killed and Dic Penderyn was hanged for allegedly wounding a soldier. This working class martyr is remembered in a plaque at Merthyr Tydfil Central Library.
1841 Brunel built the Taff Vale Railway from Merthyr to Cardiff.
1868 A railway linked Merthyr to Brecon. Its two graceful viaducts now form part of the Taff Trail.
1870 John Hughes from Merthyr established the Russian town of Hughesovka, setting up an ironworks and coal mines. It is now the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

Great Britain:
1801 First British census
1805 Admiral Lord Nelson killed at the battle of Trafalgar
1833 Abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire
1845-52 Irish potato famine
1871 Trade unions legalised
1897 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
20th Century
Merthyr Tydfil:
1900 Keir Hardie became MP
1911 Highest ever population: 80,991
1925 Fashion designer Laura Ashley was born in Dowlais
1927 The town elected a female Mayor, Mary Ann Edwards, before women got equal voting rights
1939-45 Wartime factories brought much needed employment
1948 Hoover Factory opened, employing 350 people
1957 Brecon Beacons National Park created
1980 Brecon Mountain Railway opened
1989 Trelewis Drift Mine closed
1991 Deep Navigation closed
1993 Taff Merthyr closed
1997 Former colliery sites were reclaimed to create the scenic Parc Taf Bargoed and Wales’ largest indoor climbing wall at Rock UK Summit Centre
Great Britain:
1904 Welsh religious revival
1916 Lloyd George became the first Welshman to be Prime Minister
1930-31 The Great depression
1939-45 World War II
1948 The National Health Service was born
1984-85 Miners’ Strike
21st Century

Merthyr Tydfil:
2008 Merthyr County Borough Council took over the running of the park
New tourist attractions include:
BikePark Wales, the UK's top mountain bike park
Parkwood Outdoors Dolygaer, an outdoor activity centre near Pontsticill Reservoir
Canolfan Soar, a bilingual theatre, shop and café
Leisure Village developed to include a modern leisure centre, skate park, bowling alley, cinema and restaurants
Redhouse, an arts centre in the renovated Old Town Hall
Brecon Beacons National Park certified as an International Dark Sky Reserve
Construction of a UK leading megastore Trago putting elevating retail destination profile

Last Updated - Thu - 01 / Aug / 19