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Blaenavon, South Wales

South Wales is blessed (some say cursed,) with having an abundance of the three major raw materials from which to make iron (iron ore, limestone and coal). Iron making had been common in the area since Roman times and probably before, but production really took off in a huge scale in the 18th century. Ultimately the production of iron diminished and in the late 19th/20th centuries became secondary to coal mining - after all the Valleys in south Wales are sitting on a coal field that has an area of about 1000 square miles stretching from Monmouthshire in the East to Pembrokeshire in the West. Coal was King.

All this industrial activity had a dramatic effect on the population. Workers came to south Wales, not only from the UK but abroad and as a result the sizes of the towns increased and new areas of population developed.

The massive amount of industry also had a terrible effect on the environment of the Welsh Valleys. Heavy industry took over from farming as the prime employer and once-beautiful fields and mountains turned into massive black waste areas. Rivers became highly polluted and wild life stood no chance.

At the end of the 20th century, the production of iron and steel in south Wales has diminished and the means of production is owned by an Indian company. Users of coal found it cheaper to import from abroad rather than purchase British-mined coal, and the coal industry in south Wales collapsed. The area is still recovering from the loss of its traditional heavy industries and unemployment is high.

Blaenavon sits on the eastern edge of the south Wales coalfield. The town developed from very humble beginnings - no-one seems to be quite sure what was there at the start, a village or a hamlet perhaps, but at its peak Bleanavon had over 12,000 inhabitants all there because of the industry in the area - its now around 6000. Most people have heard of Blaenavon but only in relation to one of its coal mines that has been preserved and has become the National Coal Mining Museum of Wales. It is called Big Pit and when you ask most visitors if they have been to Blaenavon,, reply "Yes we've been to Big Pit", then they've moved on somewhere else. But Blaenavon is not just Big Pit it is a living town and surrounding area that is a microcosm of many of the small Welsh valley towns and well worth visiting for its recent industrial history alone.

In 2000, Blaenavon was granted World Heritage status as it shows the effect that the Industrial Revolution had, and still has, on the town and the surrounding areas

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