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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: Celebrating World Heritage

06 Jul 2024 6 minute read
The Day The Wild West Came To Town, Summer 1987 (Photo: Tom Maloney)

In a year long series Tom Maloney, from Abersychan, shows how you can love a place so well it becomes a part of you.

Apart from the short time I was living away whilst at Art College I suppose I have lived in Pontypool and Abersychan all my life and have a very strong sense of belonging to the area that I recognise now … it’s in my bones!

I would also include Blaenavon in the mix for good measure.

Growing up I don’t think I ever would have thought that anywhere in the locality would later get World Heritage recognition. I’m not sure if anyone would have thought this back then, but today we have the Blaenavon World Heritage Site on our doorstep.

The Site of Garnddyrys Forge (Photo: Tom Maloney)

Firm favourite

There are so many special places in this landscape. The site where Garnddyrys Forge once stood is a firm favourite for me.

This is a place where the panoramas are vast and beautiful and when you look at the site today it is hard to believe that heavy industry was once placed here.

In my imagination one feature of Garnddyrys takes me back to more ancient times and conjures up an image of an Egyptian Sphinx that is ready to pounce!

In reality, this amazing sculptural form is the slag iron waste from the iron forge piled high and crisscrossed lines that mark the way of the horse drawn tram roads can still be seen clearly on the hillside behind.

But … over the past week it has been the annual celebration of World Heritage Day that has been in my thoughts.

Blaenavon American Week Carnival Day Summer 1987 Tom Maloney Image 2


It is an amazing landscape for sure, but people are also central to the story of the industrial landscape being designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.

As I was looking recently at old black and white images that I took whilst working as a free lance photographer for the Free Press in 1987 it made me think that the roots for celebrating World Heritage Day go back in time.

The images are of Carnival Day, the culmination of American Week in the summer of 1987.

Big Pit had stopped working coal and had begun a new life as a mining museum, but I think that life must still have been difficult locally.

To me the photos show the resilience and spirit of the people.

It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day, ‘The Wild West’ came to town, floats bedecked with bunting made their way steadily up Broad Street and the whole community cheered and joined in the festivities. I took the photograph from the aerial platform of a fire engine. I am not sure that would happen today!

Blaenavon World Heritage Day, 2013 Photo: Tom Maloney

Fast forward to Blaenavon World Heritage Day of June 2013.

Another beautiful day and while the floats were no longer a part of the parade the people were out in numbers to enjoy their special day. Broad Street could not have been more packed!

There was no doubt in my mind, as I took this photo with my camera held up as high as I could possibly reach, that World Heritage status meant something to the community.

The Parade Gathers June 29, 2024 Photo: Tom Maloney

And … nothing has changed! I went along to the World Heritage Day just a week ago.

There was colour, joy and just such a sense of collective enthusiasm to be part of the celebration.

Sharon Ford Learning Manager at Big Pit National Coal Museum. (Photo: Tom Maloney)

I caught up with Sharon Ford, the Learning Manager at Big Pit National Coal Museum and Chair of the Board of Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall.

“Thinking about World Heritage Day this year I was so proud to see it being delivered as it was by the community. This year, more than any year the community really picked it up and took hold of it and made sure it was the celebration it should be.

“It is such a big important part of the community now. We are all really proud of who we are and of where we come from, our World Heritage, Big Pit, The Ironworks and the Workman’s Hall and everything!”

‘A Banner of Belonging’ held high on World Heritage Day by Antonella Chiappa and Ben Price, Learning Officers at Big Pit National Coal Museum Photo: Tom Maloney

Sharon also runs ‘Grŵp Glo’ an inter-generational group from Big Pit and working with Cadw, Blaenavon Ironworks, Blaenworkmen’s Hall and the Community Museum this year the group created banners of belonging in the tradition of Mining Lodge Banners for World Heritage Day.

“The group itself brings people of all ages together, real friendships have formed between different generations and when you see that it is magical, absolutely magical. The banners are a celebration of what it is that makes you feel a sense of belonging.”

And what about carrying the banners?

For Antonella Chiappa and Ben Price, who are learning officers for Amgueddfa Cymru at Big Pit it was a special moment.

“So what happens in that parade is a point of continuity between people now in Blaenavon and people in the past over the last two hundred and fifty years.”

The sense of belonging once again resonates in my mind as I think of the landscape at Garnddyrys. There is so much history in this hillside and in the end it is people that make the history.

View at Garnddyrys
(Photo: Tom Maloney)

I am already looking forward to next year’s World Heritage Day, which will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of World Heritage status.

It is such recognition of a wonderful landscape and its people.

Read the earlier installments of Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile by Tom Maloney

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Mike Smith
Mike Smith
7 days ago

Another excellent article Tom, keep up the good work.

Tom maloney
Tom maloney
6 days ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

Many thanks Mike, very much appreciated, Blaenavon World Heritage Day was a lovely event, its good to have an opportunity to share it a little more.

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