Tuesday, 24 November 2015


I referred to my early-November visit to Treorchy in my post Rugby club men. Now I can show some pictures.

Treorchy used to be a Rhondda mining town, but it had more than just mining, and did not die when the mines closed. I went there three weeks ago - for the first time since 1960, when I was only aged seven or eight. I won't pretend that I was able to recall that visit in any detail. It left only a very general impression. 'Dingy and grimy' would sum it up. Coal dust everywhere. I was prepared to find it very much cleaner in 2015, and it was.

This is what Treorchy looked like in real-life colour as I drove in.

Drab maybe, but not dirty. I parked behind the library/job centre.

The imposing building in the background was partly a theatre, partly a big working men's club. The photo gives the impression of space, but, like all Valley communities, Treorchy was hemmed in by high hills. You had only to raise your eyes a little, and you noticed the hills. They plunged the place into shadow early in the afternoon, making it dark and damp and chilly. I wouldn't care to live here. Old men in scarves, some of them former miners perhaps, were here and there, walking their dogs in the growing cold.

I wanted to capture the spirit of the place in a series of photographs, and it seemed best to use black-and-white. And high-contrast black-and-white at that. The full set is on my Flickr site, but here are some of the most evocative.

There was a river. It tumbled over rocks. When this part of the Valley was unspoiled countryside (well before 1850) it must have been a very pretty river.

There was a railway. That's how I came here in 1960, up from Barry. Single-track now, with Treorchy station rebuilt, possibly the most modern and stylish thing in town.

There were still signs of the railway as it used to be. This old iron footbridge, for instance.

There were chapels. mostly used for other purposes now. Superdrug had taken this one over.

But this chapel was still going strong, even though it appeared somewhat dilapidated.

There were pubs, though some had seen better days. This one, the Cardiff Arms, was shut and boarded up.

But this pub, the Lion Inn, was alive and kicking, though no place for a single woman to venture into.

And there were clubs. Small ones like this. A private pub devoted to rugby, if you like.

And big ones like this.

No doubt the famous Treorchy Male Voice Choir have often performed here. They have their own website, with a page devoted to the history of Treorchy itself, which makes sense, the choir being so identified with the town and its former industries. See http://treorchymalechoir.com/.

But what I remembered most were the streets full of little terraced houses, two up, two down. They were much sprucer than they were in 1960, and some had been knocked through to create a trendy open-plan ground floor, and with it the illusion of spaciousness. But essentially they were just the same as I recalled.

I don't think the black-and-white shots over-emphasise the sombre plainness of this kind of housing. Here's a colour shot, with the sun just gone down. It's still pretty grim and gloomy. Treorchy seemed to be short on street lighting.

There weren't many people about in these streets. And not all that many on the main road through the town.

Well, it was late in the afternoon on a chilly day, with an evening mist moving in. Sensible people were indoors.

I stayed till it was dark, then drove off. It was thick fog most of the way back to Newport.


  1. Dark and damp and chilly is a description I've heard before of towns in the Welsh valleys. Yet I can think of towns in (say) the Yorkshire Dales, also surrounded by hills and cold in the winter months, that have a much brighter appeal.

    I wonder whether it's the history of these old mining towns and villages - year upon year of dirt, intensely hard work and inadequate wages - that still casts a shadow. It seems to come out in Welsh choir singing too - lovely to listen too, but often in a minor key, which makes it sound rather mournful.

  2. And when you think of mining disasters, it's always the Welsh ones that spring to mind first, even though there must have been dreadful examples in every part of the country. The Welsh certainly make the most of their tragedies!



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