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BBC Wales's chief reporter Penny Roberts
"The ironworks transformed work and society in Blaenavon"
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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 09:29 GMT
Iron town granted world status
Blaenavon was moulded by the coal and steel industries
An historic south Wales town has been awarded World Heritage status, granting it the same standing as monuments such as the Taj Mahal.

The announcement, made by Unesco in Australia, recognised the key role the town of Blaenavon played during the industrial revolution.

The Blaenavon area, in the Gwent Valleys of south east Wales, has been moulded by the coal and iron industries.

Its ironworks - which have been carefully preserved - were built in 1789 and were followed by the development of the mining industry.

The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal has world heritage status

Following its listing, the area will rank alongside such World Heritage sites as the Great Barrier reef, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids.

The landscape is considered to be of such historical importance that it was the only UK mainland site to be on Unesco's list for accreditation this year.

Members of the National Assembly for Wales applauded in the chamber when environment minister Sue Essex announced the news of Blaenavon's new status.

She said getting the status had been a long haul, dating back to 1994.

It is believed World Heritage Site status could generate 15m investment for Blaenavon over the next five years and could bring 250,000 visitors a year..

You cannot compare Blaenavon to the Taj Mahal as that was built by one man and the heritage of Blaenavon is of thousands of people over the last 200 years.

Torfaen council leader Brian Smith

That could reverse the declining fortunes of a town in the heart of one of the most deprived areas of Wales.

Once 25,000 people lived there but following the decline of the traditional industries, it is now home to only 6,000 - of whom 70% are aged over 60.

Although the unemployment rate is 4.5%, many people living in Blaenavon work and spend their money elsewhere.

Project co-ordinator John Rogers said: "I think this community has been under-valued for many years.

"People have not recognised its contribution to world history.

Blaenavon ironworks
The ironworks at Blaenavon are steeped in history
"Britain has been fixated by palaces and the like, but the greatest contribution to society came from the industrial revolution."

Torfaen County Borough Council leader Brian Smith said: "This decision stops the decline dead in its tracks and reverses the process. It gives us confidence."

The area was first developed in the late 1700s when a group of entrepreneurs established the ironworks to exploit the mineral wealth.

Five furnaces can still be seen, along with cast houses, a foundry, a water-balance lift, calcining ovens, a coal level and workers' houses.

The nearby Big Pit colliery has been in operation since about 1812 supplying iron and coal to the ironworks. Closed in 1980, it latyer opened to the public in 1983 to become Britain's most popular coal mining museum.

Pit head
The preserved pit head is a reminder of a past industry
The World Heritage Convention protects 630 sites of "outstanding universal value" in 118 countries around the world.

This year, the committee examined nominations for 71 natural, cultural, and mixed properties from 43 countries.

Blaenavon is not the first place in Wales to receive World Heritage status.

The castles and town walls built by King Edward Ist in the 13th Century to suppress Welsh independence in Gwynedd were listed in 1986.

They include the castles of Beaumaris, Harlech, Conwy and Caernarfon.

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02 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
48 new world heritage sites
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