– History –
Until the mid-19th century, the South Wales valleys were sparsely inhabited. The industrialisation of the Valleys occurred in two phases. First, in the second half of the 18th century, the iron industry was established on the northern edge of the Valleys, mainly by English entrepreneurs. This made South Wales the most important part of Britain for iron making until the middle of the 19th century. Second, from 1850 until the outbreak of the First World War, the South Wales Coalfield was developed to supply steam coal and anthracite.
Merthyr Tydfil, at the northern end of the Taff Valley, became Wales’s largest town thanks to its growing ironworks at Dowlais and Cyfarthfa. The neighbouring Taff Bargoed Valley to the east became the centre of serious industrial and political strife during the 1930s, especially in and around the villages of Trelewis and Bedlinog, which served the local collieries of Deep Navigation and Taff Merthyr. The South Wales Coalfield attracted huge numbers of people from rural areas to the valleys; and many rows of terraced houses were built along the valley sides to accommodate the influx. The coal mined in the valleys was transported south along railways and canals to Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. Cardiff was soon among the most important coal ports in the world.
– Present Day –
The Valleys are home to around 30% of the Welsh population, although this is declining slowly because of emigration, especially from the Upper Valleys. The area is less diverse than the rest of the country, with a relatively high proportion of residents (over 90% in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil) born in Wales. High rates of teenage pregnancy give the area a slightly younger age profile than Wales as a whole.
The Valleys suffer from a number of socio-economic problems. Educational attainment in the Valleys is low, with a large proportion of people possessing few or no qualifications. A high proportion of people report a limiting long-term health problem, especially in the Upper Valleys. In 2006, only 64% of the working age population in the Heads of the Valleys was in employment compared with 69% in the Lower Valleys and 71% across Wales as a whole.