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Coordinates: 51°46′23″N 3°20′42″W / 51.773°N 3.345°W / 51.773; -3.345

View of Perthcelyn, near Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taff

The South Wales Valleys (Welsh: Cymoedd De Cymru) are a number of industrialised valleys in South Wales, stretching from eastern Carmarthenshire in the west to western Monmouthshire in the east and from the Heads of the Valleys in the north to the lower-lying, pastoral country of the Vale of Glamorgan and the coastal plain around Swansea Bay, Bridgend, the capital Cardiff, and Newport.[1] Many of the valleys run roughly parallel to each other, and the Rhondda valleys are located roughly in the centre.



Until the mid-nineteenth century, the South Wales valleys were lightly inhabited. The industrialisation of the Valleys occurred in two phases. First, in the second half of the 18th century, the iron industry was established on the northern edge of the Valleys, mainly by English entrepreneurs. This made South Wales the most important part of British ironmaking until the middle of the 19th century. Second, from 1850 to the outbreak of the First World War, the South Wales Coalfield was developed to supply steam coal and anthracite.[2]

The South Wales Valleys were Britain's only mountainous coalfield.[3] Topography defined the shape of the mining communities, with a 'hand and fingers' pattern of urban development.[4] There were fewer than 1000 people in the Rhondda in 1851, 17,000 by 1870, 114,000 by 1901 and 153,000 by 1911; but the wider impact of urbanisation was constrained by geography - the Rhondda remained a collection of villages rather than a town in its own right.[5] The population of the Valleys in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was disproportionately young and male, often migrants drawn from other parts of Wales or further afield.[5] The new communities had extremely high birth rates - in 1840, more than 20% of Tredegar's population was aged under 7, and Rhondda's birth rate in 1911 was 36 per thousand, levels usually associated with mid-19th century Britain.[5]

Merthyr Tydfil, at the northern end of the Taff valley became Wales's largest town thanks to its growing iron works at Dowlais and Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The South Wales coalfield attracted huge numbers of people from rural areas to the valleys. This meant that many rows of terraced housing were built along the valley sides to accommodate the influx. The coal mined in the valleys was transported south along railways and canals to ports on the Bristol Channel, notably Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. Cardiff was soon among the most important coal ports in the world and Swansea among the most important steel ports.


The Second World War marked the beginning of the end of these heavy industries in the Valleys. Steel works and coal mines began to close, despite nationalisation by the UK government. In 1966, the village of Aberfan in the Taff valley suffered one of the worst disasters in Welsh history. A mine waste tip on the top of the mountain slid down the valley side and destroyed the village primary school, killing 144 people, 116 of them children.

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Her policies of free market economics soon clashed with the loss-making, government-owned National Coal Board. In 1984 and 1985, after the government announced plans to close many mines across the UK, mineworkers went on strike. The ultimate failure of this strike led to the virtual destruction of the UK's coal industry. No deep coal mines are left in the valleys since the closure in 2008 of Tower Colliery in the Cynon Valley. Tower had been bought by the workers in 1994, despite government attempts to close it.

In the new millennium, the last of the steel works closed, as Corus Group (formerly British Steel) closed its plant in Ebbw Vale.

Demographics and Employment

The Valleys are home to around 30% of the Welsh population, although this is declining slowly because of outmigration, especially from the Upper Valleys.[6] The area is less diverse than the rest of the country, with a relatively high proportion of residents (over 90% in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil) born in Wales.[7] High rates of teenage pregnancy give the area a slightly younger age profile than Wales as a whole.[6]

The Valleys suffer from a number of socio-economic problems. Educational attainment in the Valleys is low, with a large proportion of people possessing few or no qualifications.[6] A high proportion of people report a limiting long-term health problem, especially in the Upper Valleys.[6] In 2006, only 64% of the working age population in the Heads of the Valleys was in employment compared with 69% in the Lower Valleys and 71% across Wales as a whole.[8]

A relatively large number of local people are employed in manufacturing, health and social services. Fewer work in managerial or professional occupations, and more in elementary occupations, compared to the rest of the country.[6] A large number of people commute to Cardiff, particularly in Caerphilly, Torfaen and Rhondda Cynon Taf. Though the rail network into Cardiff is extensive, train times and frequencies beyond Caerphilly and Pontypridd impede the development of a significant commuter market to city centre jobs.[6]

Although the housing stock is not of significantly worse quality than elsewhere in Wales, there is a lack of variety in terms of private dwellings.[8] Many homes are low-priced, older and terraced, concentrated in the lowest Council Tax bands; few are higher-priced detached homes.[6] A report for the Welsh Assembly Government concluded that the Valleys is "a distressed area unique in Great Britain for the depth and concentration of its problems".[6] However, the area does benefit from a local landscape described as "stunning", improving road links such as the upgraded A465, and public investment in regeneration initiatives.[8]


The South Wales valleys became a symbol of the whole of Wales for many foreign people and people in the other countries of the United Kingdom alike. Some visitors to other parts of Wales are surprised when they do not find coal mines and terraced housing.[citation needed] The valleys do, however, contain a large proportion of the Welsh population and remain an important centre of Welsh culture, despite the growing dominance of Cardiff. The UK parliament's first Labour Party (Socialist) MP, Keir Hardie was elected from the area and the Valleys remain a stronghold of Labour Party power. Rugby union is very popular and rugby union pitches can be seen along the valley floors. Football is also popular in the valleys, as in the rest of the British Isles. The area was overwhelmingly Welsh speaking at the end of the nineteenth century, but today, English is most commonly the everyday language.

The geographical shape of the valleys have their effect on culture. Many roads stretch along valleys connecting the different settlements in the valley. Consequently the different towns in a valley are more closely associated with each other than they are with towns in the neighbouring valley, even when the towns in the neighbouring valley are closer on the map. The Heads of the Valleys road, the A465 road, is significant due to its connection of valleys with each other, and there are hopes that the upgrading of this road to dual carriageway will improve the economic performance of the region as the road becomes the main thoroughfare to South West Wales from the West Midlands.


The Valley Lines network

The A470 from Cardiff to Llandudno is, until its junction with the A465 Heads of the Valleys road, a dual carriageway providing direct access to Taff's Well, Pontypridd, Abercynon and Merthyr Tydfil. It links with the A4059 from Abercynon, Aberdare and Hirwaun; the A472 from Ystrad Mynach and Pontypool, and the A4054 from Quakers Yard. The A465 provides a strategic link for the northern Valleys, and an alternate route between South West Wales and the Midlands. The dualling of this road will be completed by 2020.[9] Stagecoach Wales provides bus services linking many towns and villages directly to Cardiff city centre.

Many settlements in the Valleys are served by the Valley Lines network, an urban rail network radiating from Cardiff which links them to the city's stations, principally Cardiff Queen Street and Cardiff Central, with connections onto the South Wales Main Line. There are six main lines from Central Cardiff to the Valleys:

List of valleys in South Wales

From west to east:

See also


  1. ^ OS Pathfinder Guide, Brecon Beacons and Glamorgan. Ordnance Survey 1994
  2. ^ Minchinton, W.E., ed. (1969) Industrial South Wales, 1750-1914
  3. ^ The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2008.
  4. ^ Welsh Assembly Government (2008) People, Places, Futures - The Wales Spatial Plan 2008 Update.
  5. ^ a b c Jenkins, P. (1992) A History of Modern Wales, 1536-1990. Harlow: Longman.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h David, R et al (2003) The Socio-Economic Characteristics of the South Wales Valleys in a Broader Context. A report for the Welsh Assembly Government.
  7. ^ Wales: Its People
  8. ^ a b c Turning heads... a strategy for the Heads of the Valleys. Welsh Assembly Government 2006.
  9. ^ Welsh Assembly Government (2009) National Transport Plan.
  10. ^ Network Rail Route Plans 2009. Route 15, South Wales Valleys

External links



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