Welcome to Blaenavon, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site and among the most historically and geographically fascinating towns in the UK.
At almost 420m above sea level, it is a contender for the title of Wales’s highest town. The hills to the west of the town contain the source of the Afon Lwyd, the main river running through the county borough of Torfaen, South Wales’s easternmost valley. The name Blaenavon literally means ‘front of the river’ or, loosely, ‘river's source’.
It is unique in having both one of the best-preserved late 18th century ironworks in the world and also a coal mining museum providing underground tours. In the words of UNESCO:
‘The area around Blaenavon is evidence of the pre-eminence of South Wales as the world's major producer of iron and coal in the 19th century. All the necessary elements can still be seen - coal and ore mines, quarries, a primitive railway system, furnaces, workers' homes, and the social infrastructure of their community.
‘Taking all these elements together, [Blaenavon] provides one of the prime areas in the world where the full social, economic and technological process of industrialisation through iron and coal production can be studied and understood.’ http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/984
Officially, Blaenavon’s population peaked was at 12,469 in 1921, according to the census. However, by this point the town was entering into the post-war economic slump so may have already experienced some outward migration - which continued at a dramatic pace through the 1920s and 1930s and then steadily in the late C20th.
The period 1911-19 was relatively prosperous for Blaenavon, with the Welsh coal industry reaching its peak in 1913 and the First World War fuelling a demand for coal and steel. While hundreds of Blaenavon men left the town to fight, there was also inward migration from people working at the mines and steelworks and an influx of Belgian refugees.
The 2011 census shows the population as 6,055, which was the first census to show an increase for 90 years. And the construction over the past decade of hundreds of new houses means that by the next census, the population is likely to have risen quite a bit more.
The Blaenavon Industrial Landscape was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2000, one of only two Welsh World Heritage Sites along with the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd. The third Welsh WHS is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which was inscribed in 2009.