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An industrial legacy

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Ynysfach Ironworks (detail) by Penry Williams, 1819

Merthyr Tydfil is situated close to significant reserves of iron ore and coal, and has been mined since the 1400s. The town was nicknamed the worldwide ‘capital of iron’ during the early days of the industrial revolution. Many of the residents used to work in the iron and coal industries.

But the town has also suffered considerable economic hardship throughout this – employment has not necessarily meant prosperity. There has been significant revolt, ranging from the Chartist movement of the 1830s, through to the 1980s Miners’ Strike. To this day, unemployment is much higher than the national average.

During the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s, communities across the UK looked at coal mining as an issue of jobs. But as understanding of coal’s contribution to climate change has increased, and as knowledge of the local pollution caused by the new methods of opencast mining has grown, coal mining has become unpopular. Whereas communities fought against pit closures in the 1980s, increasingly communities across the UK are fighting against ‘new’ coal.

Grave of Robert Crayshaw (right):
Robert Crayshaw ran the ironworks and the colliery in Merthyr in the late part of the 19th century. He died feeling responsible for the hardship that miners had to suffer (click on picture to enlarge)

Chris and Alyson Austin, Residents Against Ffos-y-fran: