A day of celebrations for Wales’s industrial heritage

Monday 23 September 2013

Monday 23 September was a big day for Wales’s industrial heritage as Blaenavon Ironworks launched its new interpretation facilities and Big Pit: National Coal Museum celebrated its 30th birthday.

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport

As part of the celebrations, the Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths, visited both sites to see how they have developed as tourist attractions, making Wales’s industrial heritage more accessible and enjoyable for locals and visitors.

The Blaenavon industrial landscape represents a world-changing episode in Wales’s history, and as a result was awarded World Heritage status. The Ironworks were a milestone in the history of the Industrial Revolution and at the time were at the cutting-edge of new technology. The power of steam had been harnessed and a way of making steel using iron-ore was developed — which led to a worldwide boom in the industry, taking Wales’s industrial might to a new height.

Blaenavon Ironworks, which is in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, has recently been brought back to life by innovative interpretation. The interpretation recaptures the Works’s original atmosphere; creating a feeling of a working site and bringing the Works to life for visitors, recreating a sense of how they contributed to those who lived and worked in the area.  

On arrival, visitors will see a new cast iron model of the Ironworks which gives an aerial overview. There are cast iron silhouettes of people dotted around the site, carrying out activities depicting the different characters and the roles they played at the Works, as well as iron lecterns which feature information for visitors to read. Those interested in getting an idea of what living conditions were like for people working in the Ironworks can take a visit to the famous Stack Square cottages, which have been refurbished to show how people lived through the 1920s–1960s.  

Prudence Williams, Lead Custodian at Blaenavon Ironworks said: 'Perhaps one of the most exciting experiences will be when visitors step inside the cast house. An infrared trigger will set off the recreation of the iron-making process. With the use of sound and colour, visitors will be able to see hot molten iron coming from the furnace into the pig beds where it cools.'

Prudence continues: 'The new interpretation will bring this impressive Ironworks to life for visitors, showing what took place here during its peak and giving visitors a well-rounded and informed experience so they can really grasp the impact this site had on Wales’s history and the rest of the world.'

Following his visit to Blaenavon Ironworks, the Minister joined the much loved Big Pit Museum’s 30th birthday celebrations.

Since opening in April 1983, Big Pit has welcomed over 3.5 million visitors from across the globe. Visitors are guided by a miner 300 feet underground to find out what life was like for the thousands of men who worked at the coal face, as well as experience a multimedia tour of a modern coal mine with a virtual miner in the Mining Galleries, and exhibitions in the Pithead Baths and historic colliery buildings.  

Peter Walker, Keeper and Mine Manager at Big Pit, who began his career at Cwm Colliery near Church Village said: 'I have seen Big Pit develop from a coal mine to an independent museum and now a National Museum within a World Heritage site.

'The best way I can describe the Museum, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is through the words of one of our visitors who said: "Big Pit isn’t a museum about industry, it isn’t even a museum about mining, it’s a museum about people." And long may it continue!'

John Griffiths said: 'Wales is often associated with castles and ancient monuments, but it is important to remember that a more recent, industrial history has also played a leading role in our heritage.

'Wales has a lot to celebrate in terms of its industrial heritage, and I hope these two treasures will continue to attract visitors and locals to help increase the understanding, awareness and enjoyment of the special heritage of Blaenavon. Our industrial heritage is also an excellent way of regenerating our communities and providing skills for our young people.'

The re-interpretation of Blaenavon Ironworks is one of 24 schemes to benefit from Cadw’s Heritage Tourism Project which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.