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Images of Blaenau Gwent

Updated Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Photographs by Linda Stemp.

About this work

These pictures of historic buildings from around Blaenau Gwent were taken by Llanhilleth photographer Linda Stemp. They showcase aspects of the region’s heritage that are particularly important to her. These relate primarily to the area’s industrial history. Image 1 shows the pithead of Blaenavon coal mine, which closed in 1980 but is now part of the Big Pit National Coal Museum. Image 2, meanwhile, is of Llanhilleth Miner’s Institute, built in 1906 to facilitate working class empowerment and still operating as a community venue today.

Images 3 and 4 give different perspectives on another building whose construction was a consequence of industry. Christchurch in Aberbeeg was completed in 1909, built to service the settlements that grew up around the Six Bells Colliery. That said, its perpendicular Gothic architecture is reminiscent of the Middle Ages. In this way it alludes to an older history, before the industrial revolution. Linda’s last two photographs have more to say on that theme. Image 5 shows farm buildings of considerable age on the outskirts of Llanhilleth whilst Image 6 is of some pigeon cots in the Ebbw Valley. These last two pictures offer a reminder of Blaenau Gwent’s pre-modern past, overshadowed by industrial change but a powerful presence nonetheless to the people who live there.

That sense of a deeper past comes through strongly in Linda’s own words, intended to accompany these photographs:

‘I live in a small ex-mining village in south Wales, it is an area which throughout the years has seen a great deal of deprivation, as the south Wales valleys as a whole has. An area which once was very rural with small farming communities was plundered and devastated by the industrialisation of the eighteenth century that continued well into the twentieth century. Foundries, steel works and mining has taken its toll on this land and its people.

Still, I find it a land that stirs the imagination, it is timeless! As children we wandered the hills above out little village, we knew all the old farmsteads, we played in the ruined barns and cottages. We dammed the little streams and walked the high moorland for hours, it was our playground. We imagined, Celtic tribesmen with their horses and chariots racing across the moors, Roman patrols heading out over the hills and Cistercian monks, guarding their sheep and administering to their human flock.

There is an entry in the “Black book of Carmarthen” from 1250 which is associated with our land, it reads:

After things blue and red and fair
and great steeds with taut necks,
at Llanheledd is the grave of Owain

It is a stanza that has always, sent a shiver down my spine.’

BG REACH exhibition logo / Logo arddangosfa BG REACH

This page is part of the Blaenau Gwent REACH online exhibition.

Film and audio | Creative writing | Visual art

Digital stories | The history of Blaenau Gwent | About this project


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