South Wales - Before and After Coal

Ann Hills discovers a feast of Welsh flowers amid the history of a working-class town

In Ebbw Vale – where miners' terraced cottages and the outline of man-made slag heaps bear witness to the industrial past – 1992 will be a year of celebration, in the form of the Garden Festival Wales. The £60 million Disneyish feast of flowers and attractions hope to entice two million visitors between May 1st and October 4th, who will discover as part of the Festival historical exhibitions featuring such themes as the castles of Wales and 'Land of Our Fathers'.

But what about the history of Ebbw Vale itself? Local historian, Keith Thomas, who traces his family back 'at least 200 years' in the area – before the nineteenth-century industrial boom when thousands were employed in steel works and mines – says 'there is not even a history society here now'.

Although his six photographic books of Ebbw Vale will be on sale and will help to give a picture of the area in the past, first-time visitors will probably have little knowledge of the industrial impact on this valley, whose appearance was so altered that the river now runs, culvezted, 60 feet underground.

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