The Harfords were Quakers who took over a small furnace and expanded the ironworks across the valley. They built cottages for their workers and guided their social lives, encouraging choirs, sport and temperance.
Eventually, Ebbw Vale Steelworks acquired a reputation for educating its workforce, civic patronage and industrial paternalism. This benevolent attitude continued after the works were sold in 1844 and was pursued with renewed vigour after the First World War with carnivals and pantomimes playing a key part in the town’s calendar. The Ebbw Vale Steel Iron & Coal Company, as it became, devoted considerable effort and resources to creating housing for its workers. The showpiece of the company's efforts to renew Ebbw Vale's housing stock was the Garden City suburb, completed in the 1920s. Taking its inspiration from the burgeoning Garden City movement, Ebbw Vale's was one of the earliest examples in Wales. The company's patronage also extended to local charities. It was a pro-active supporter of the Ebbw Vale Welfare Council which, during the 1920s “locust” years, undertook a range of job-creation schemes. When the works closed in 1929, almost half the town was out of work as the coal mines, too, were closed. By 1930 it was so bad that jobless men volunteered to build an open-air bath — just for something to do.
Then the steelworks reopened in 1935 and became the largest in Europe. Its health service, based on weekly contributions into a social fund, became a flagship of the steel community. The first electrolytic tinning line outside the USA was built at Ebbw Vale in 1947-8 followed by two more tinning lines in the 1960s. The town prospered. Subsidised leisure activities fostered good industrial relations. Then came rationalisation following nationalisation in 1967. Ebbw Vale, 21 miles from the coastal ports, could not compete with Llanwern and Port Talbot and steel production ceased in 1978. Instead, Ebbw Vale concentrated on galvanising and tinplating and, before it closed in 2002, was the largest tinplate producer in Britain. Twenty years later, the General Offices and road names such as Furnace Square and Lime Avenue are just reminders of the town’s rich history.
Remember to make sure you are a member so that you receive a link for this Zoom talk!
Bleddyn Penny's talk on
'How Iron Forged Ebbw Vale's Character'
via Zoom on October 13th
starts at 7.30pm.
Before the industrial revolution, the Ebbw valley was a green idyll, but in 1796 the Harfords arrived and a steel town was born. Helen Morgan reports :
Image : Courtesy of Helen Morgan