Merthyr Tydfil – a major tourist destination?

By | Category: Travel destinations

Cyfarthfa Castle – not a real castle but a nineteenth century version. Image Visit Wales

When I was a kid, I was sometimes taken to Cyfarthfa Castle just outside Merthyr Tydfil, not to go in – it was the local grammar school in my day – but to play in the seemingly huge grounds. Nearby were the remains of the old Cyfarthfa ironworks that – together with the Dowlais works – dominated the landscape.

On the bus during the journey we’d be told to be quiet because – as kids are wont to do – we were singing a local song that began

O I had a sister Martha

And she worked up in Cyfarthfa

But the boss, he had to sack her

Cos she kept on chewing bacca.

Was you ever saw; was you ever saw; was you ever saw such a funny thing before!

I only remember that and one other verse but I do remember the iron foundry and the walls of some of the furnaces that had been neglected. Even in my youth, the day of the iron works was over and Hover was the biggest local employer as it churned out washing machine after washing machine.

At one point in the nineteenth century, the ironworks was the most prolific producer in the world and it was here that the first steam railway ran in 1804.

This industrial heritage stretching back hundreds of years has been of little consequence over the last few decades and Merthyr doesn’t attract many people to the town. Once called the largest town in Wales and having a peak population of about 90,000 just before WWII, as the industrial heritage has declined so has the population.  Merthyr has shrunk to less than 60,000.

But matters might be about to change.

The Design Commission for Wales things that it might be able to clone the success of Titanic Belfast and turn Merthyr and the surrounding area into a tourist attraction. At present 60,000 people visit Cyfarthfa Castle each year but three to five times that number might visit if the ironworks were added and Merthyr becomes an industrial heritage site a bit like Big Pit in south east Wales and the Zollverein Coal Mine Complex in Essen in Germany which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It has been estimated that £50 million will be needed for the area to become an industrial heritage site. If successful, such a site would do more to regenerate this part of Wales than anything else so far considered. It would also create a reminder of the international importance that Merthyr once had in industrial development

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