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EBBW VALE STEEL WORKS- Roger Tiley documentary photographer.

The location and near by town[]

Ebbw Vale (/ˈɛbuː veɪl/; Welsh: Glyn Ebwy) is a town at the head of the valley formed by the Ebbw Fawr tributary of the Ebbw River in Wales. It is the largest town and the administrative centre of Blaenau Gwent county borough. The vally has a teperat climate, but is prone to harsh weather in the winter. The valley soil that was not degraded by coal dust and metal residues is good, but the hills are rough grassland that is used for sheep and goat farming.

The Ebbw Vale and Brynmawr conurbation has a population of roughly 33,000. It has direct access to the dualled A465T "Heads of the Valleys" trunk road that was built between 1964 and 1967 and to the borders the Brecon Beacons National Park.

There is evidence of very early human activity in the area that became more prominent in the Bronze Age. 

Y Domen Fawr is a Bronze Age burial cairn above the town and at Cefn Manmoel you can find a demarcation dyke possibly of neolithic or medieval origins. In relatively modern times the area was a quiet uplands spot in rural Monmouthshire. With only about 120 inhabitants at the end of the 18th century, Ebbw Vale and the whole area was transformed by the Industrial Revolution.

Ebbw Vale Steelworks was an integrated steel mill located in Ebbw Vale, South Wales. Developed from 1780, by the late 1930s it had become the largest steel mill in Europe. Nationalised after World war II, as the steel industry changed to bulk handling, iron and steel making was ceased in the 1970s, as the site was redeveloped as a specialised tinplate works. Closed by Corus in 2002, the site is being redeveloped in a joint-partnership between Blaenau Gwent Council and the Welsh Government.


18th Century[]

The Ebbw Vale Iron Works, later to become the Ebbw Vale Steelworks, opened in 1778, followed by the opening of a number of coal mines around 1790.

19th Century[]

Rails for the Stockton and Darlington Railway were manufactured at Ebbw Vale in 1829.

The plant was developed as a specialist forge, and needing addition supplies of iron the company, now owned by the Hardfords family trust, bought and integrated the Sirhowy Ironworks and colliery. The company then built four new cupola furnaces, and added steam engine power.

This allowed the company to produce the world's first rolled-steel rail tracks in 1857, later followed by the pioneering Liverpool & Manchester and the Stockton & Darlington Railway.


At its height (1930s — 40s) the steel works in Ebbw Vale was the largest in Europe, although attracting very little attention from German bombers during World War II. By the 1960s around 14,500 people were employed. The end of the century witnessed a massive collapse of the UK steel industry. A strike in 1980 was followed by closures and redundancies which resulted in the dismantling of many of the old plants. In 2002 only 450 were employed in the old industries, and by July of that year the final works closed.


Most occupations inside the steel works were considered 'resevered trades' and so were able to opt out of the compulsory call-up for World War II military service. However, a number of men answered the Empire's call of duty, with some trades resultantly worked throughout the war by women for the first time. The plant drew specific attention from Nazi Luftwaffe bombers on more than one occasion, however the deep valley proved difficult to bomb and the plant survived.

British Steel[]

Ebbw Vale Steelworks in 1969, by this time under the control of British Steel Corporation. The Old Left and Clause 4 Labour thrived in such places. Attribution: Peter Benton.

Nationalised as part of British Steel from 1967 to 1998, it became part of the South Wales group alongside Llanwern steelworks and Port Talbot Steelworks. By this time 14,500 people were employed in the works in and around Ebbw Vale. The town was dependent on the jobs it provided and thw vally became a Labour Party stronghold.


A strike in 1980 was followed by closures and redundancies which resulted in the dismantling of many of the old plants. Many workers also supported the 1984-85 NUM miners' strike.


10 May 1989, and a British Railways British Rail Class 37 diesel locomotive diesel locomotive hauls a train of rolled steel coils up the Ebbw Valley towards the tinplate works, passing the recently closed Marine Colliery in Cwm, Blaenau Gwent. Marine was a former EVSICC colliery, and this picture epitomises the integrated nature of coal and iron ore with steel making. Attribution: Roger Geach.

It took until 1981 before demolition and clearance of the former iron and steel plants was completed, which also moved inwards the residual tinplate works southern boundary. It was on this part of the site that Ebbw Vale council approved a bid for the 1992 National Garden Festival, awarded to the council and site in November 1988. It was billed as the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival, attracting over 2 million visitors to South Wales.

The plant began a shut-down procedure, with many of the lines within the plant packaged up and transported to other sites in the Corus company (Trostre near Llanelli, and IJmuiden in the Netherlands), while other plants were sold as a package to an Indian-based company.

In July 2002, the Ebbw Vale steel works site closed; a skeleton staff deconstructed the remaining sold plants and handled shipping of residual finished product until December 2002.

Life today[]

Ebbw Vale town centre.

Ebbw Vale is recovering from a period of one of the highest unemployment rates in the United Kingdom, largely as a result of the decline of the mining and steel industries. There are several industrial estates with some significant manufacturing facilities. The plants owned by Yuasa/Ybel are a good example of this.

In 2003 work began on demolishing and redeveloping the steelworks site.

By 2015 the site was completely changed with a new hospital, college campus, school and leisure center.

Related transportation issues[]

Rassa Railroad[]

Rassa Railroad bridge over the Rasa Brook (SO160115)

The Rassa Railroad was a horse-drawn Waggonway/tramroad opened in 1794 in south Wales between Sirhowy Ironworks and Beaufort Ironworks.

The Rassa Railroad opened in 1794 as an edge railway of approximately 3ft 4in gauge. It was laid out by Thomas Dadford, engineer of the Monmouthshire Canal Co.'s Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal , which owned the line. After a few years it was converted to a 4ft 2in-gauge plateway. A steam tram engine was used on the route from 1829.

The railway ran for 2 1/2 miles, north from Sirhowy then east through the village of Rassau to Beaufort, Blaenau Gwent. At Trevil Machine a junction was made with the Trefil Rail Road from the limestone quarries at Trefil. A further junction at Shop Row led to the Ebbw Vale Steelworks and Ironworks complex at Pont-y-Gof.

The first section of the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway from Abergavenny to Brynmawr was opened on 29 September 1862. The line was leased and operated by the London and North Western Railway which acquired the smaller railway company on 30 June 1866. On 1 March 1864, the line was extended from Brynmawr to Nantybwch.

Trevil opened with the extension of the line on 1 March 1864. The village had a long association with tramroads, the Trevil Rail Road having been established in May 1793 and operating from 1797. The Sirhowy Tramroad ran southwards to Sirhowy Ironworks. The Rassa Railroad ran from Trevil limestone quarries to the north-east, under the Merthyr and Abergavenny line, and to the Beaufort Ironworks. The works and five colleries comprising 57.5 miles (92.5 km) of private mineral lines were purchased by Richard Thomas & Co. in 1935. Trevil Halt closed in 1958 due to low passenger usage and high running costs.

The Ebbw Valley Railway[]

The Ebbw Valley Railway (Welsh: Rheilffordd Cwm Ebwy) is a branch line of the Great Western Main Line in South Wales. Arriva Trains Wales provides an hourly passenger service each way, between Ebbw Vale Town and Cardiff Central.

The line was opened by the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company and the Great Western Railway (GWR) operated a passenger service from the 1850s between Newport and Ebbw Vale. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1962.

Freight services to and from the steelworks at Ebbw Vale continued until the site closed on 5 July 2002. The final freight service to run from the Corus steelworks in Ebbw Vale in 2003 removed scrap metal from site.

However, the route continued to be used to carry freight to and from the Corus steelworks in Ebbw Vale, until its closure in 2002. Passenger services were restored to the line in February 2008, after a gap of 46 years, using Class 150 diesel multiple units. The modified line's stations and services are managed by Arriva Trains Wales.

Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway[]

The Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway, also known as the Heads of the Valleys line, was a railway line which operated between 1860 and 1958 between the Monmouthshire town of Abergavenny and the Glamorgan town of Merthyr Tydfil in South East Wales.

The line had been expensive to build and was difficult to work efficiently. The 25-mile (40 km) journey between Abergavenny and Merthyr, including 15 intermediate stops, took 1 hour and 40 minutes, which left it vulnerable to competition from other modes of traffic.

In 1957, faced with the costs of working the line and the future costs associated with its continued maintenance and repairs to the aging track and infrastructure after a century of use, British Railways, which had received the LMS's assets upon nationalisation, announced that it would be withdrawing passenger services. It claimed that the proposal would bring in a cost saving of £60,000 per annum. This was even though track renewal had recently taken place west of Abergavenny and that the Clydach and Abergavenny sections had won "Best Track Length" awards in the 1950s, while Govilon received an award for its outstanding station gardens.

The last public timetabled service ran on Saturday 4 January 1958, and the wagons at Govilon sidings were shunted away by LMS (steam loco) Stanier 3P 40145. A few coal and genera freight trains would continue to use parts of it until shortly after 1960.

The last passenger-carrying train was a special organised by the Stephenson Locomotive Society on Sunday 5 January 1958. The line started to be lifted (removed) in 1964.

A last stub that ran from Abergavenny to Abergavenny (Brecon Road) closed to goods on 5 April 1971. 

The A465 Road[]

The A465 is a major road in south Wales that was built between 1964 and 1967. That part of it westwards from Abergavenny is more commonly known as the "Heads of the Valleys Road" because it joins together the northern ends (or 'heads') of the South Wales Valleys. This section is also officially known as the Neath to Abergavenny Trunk Road. It approximately follows the southern boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and an Ordnance Survey Pathfinder guide describes it as the unofficial border between rural and industrial South Wales. It provides a more direct and toll-free route between Northern England and the Midlands to South West Wales and Ireland.


Today there are no steelworks or mines left in the area. Ebbw Vale is still recognised for its innovation and contribution to the development of Britain as an industrial nation.

Also see[]

  1. Politically Communist and/or Socialist
  2. British railways and tramways from 1945 to 1990
  3. Useful metals
  4. Mineral mining, smelting and shipping videos
  5. Eurosceptics
  6. The 1950 United Kingdom general election
  7. 1966 Aberfan disaster
  8. IG Metall strikes between 1955 and 1985


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