Over the past couple of years, a number of blue plaques and information boards have been installed throughout the Cynon Valley. It’s an ongoing strategy to make the most of our rich industrial history and built environment, in spite of the fact that our historic buildings are vanishing with astonishing speed (see Last Chance to See…?) Merthyr Tydfil (to the east) and the Rhondda Valley (to the west) have always had the lion’s share of the tourist market, and we’ve been playing catchup for a couple of decades.
There’s now a Heritage Trail in Aberdare town centre, taking in the Market Hall, St John’s Church, the old Town Hall, and so forth. There are blue plaques on key buildings in the town centre, and they’re gradually spreading out into the surrounding villages. There’s been one on Hen Dy Cwrdd, the oldest chapel in Trecynon, for a few years; more recently, a slightly wonky one was attached to a Gorsedd stone in Aberdare Park.
There are more blue plaques in Aberaman: one, towards the southern end of Cardiff Road, marks the former home of our world champion cyclist Arthur Linton (1868-1896); the other, at the northern end, is on the home of International Brigadier and lifelong political activist Edwin Greening. The information boards are multiplying, too. I was in Abernant a few weeks ago, tracking down the remaining Aberdare Local Board of Health signs. Near the remaining houses in Agents Row I found a display about the career of Welsh international rugby player Dr Teddy Morgan, who was born in number 8.
One of the most important historic structures in the Cynon Valley isn’t a building, though – it’s a bridge. (Don’t worry, it’s not our old friend Pont Salem again. Having said that, I might need to start a whole new blog devoted purely to bridges at this rate.) It’s the cast iron tramroad bridge over the River Cynon, a short distance from the Meirion Street traffic roundabout. Built in 1811 by the Aberdare Canal & Navigation Company, it originally connected the Hirwaun ironworks to the main tramroad and the head of the Aberdare Canal. The tramroad closed in 1900, and the bridge is now part of the footpath from Trecynon to Aberdare.
Its importance has been recognised locally for as long as I can remember. It was scheduled as an ancient monument in 2008, and awarded a blue plaque by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2010. An information panel was installed nearby, giving a potted history (complete with typo) of the bridge and its importance in the area’s development.
Geoff E. told me a couple of months ago that the sign had been vandalised. True enough, it had been defaced with spray paint and marker pen. The little sheltered space below the road bridge, only a couple of metres away, is a popular hangout with youngsters, and a regular target for graffiti ‘artists.’ I was surprised that the board had been left untouched for so long, to be honest.
Anyway, I passed the bridge on the way into Aberdare this afternoon. The sign has completely disappeared. The metal stand is still there, and the metal base is still there, but the laminated information display is nowhere to be seen.
Now, I’m prepared to entertain the remote possibility that the high winds over the New Year holiday tore the plastic from its mountings and hurled it into the nearby trees (or into the river, or into the path of oncoming traffic on the bypass road.) However, it seems unlikely, doesn’t it?
I’ve never understood the mentality of people who wilfully destroy things like this. It can’t possibly do them any harm; in fact, it serves positive functions, both by educating us about our past, and by attracting visitors who might possibly bring some much-needed trade to our struggling town centre.
When Geoff told me about the initial wave of vandalism, I said I was surprised that metal thieves hadn’t tried cutting up the bridge itself. The bronze panels of the war memorial in Mountain Ash were stolen in 2008; some intriguing rusted objects in ‘Cables Field’, less than a minute’s walk from the Iron Bridge, disappeared shortly after I took this photograph.
I wouldn’t blame the ICE or Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC if they refused to install a replacement sign at the Iron Bridge site. After all, what’s the point of trying to improve the environment and attract people from further afield when people living locally have no respect for the place? As far as these mindless idiots are concerned, we might as well neglect the whole place and let it fall into disrepair. They’re probably the very same people who moan the loudest that the place is run down, and that ‘nothing ever happens’ around here.