Page last updated at 05:36 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 06:36 UK

Bevan's memory lives in home town

Kevin Leonard
BBC News website

Aneurin Bevan
Bevan based the National Health Service on a scheme in Tredegar

Tredegar was more than just Aneurin Bevan's home town: it was the place that inspired him to create the National Health Service.

Bevan's NHS, which celebrates its 60th anniversary on Saturday, revolutionised healthcare by providing a service free at the point of use.

It was based on a medical health scheme which covered nearly all Tredegar's residents through weekly subscriptions.

It entitled members and their

dependents to the best medical and dental care.

Bevan, who was minister for health, was reported as saying that he wanted to "Tredegar-ise" the entire population of Britain.

So I was keen to find out what Bevan now meant to the people of the town that helped define him.

It is certainly not difficult to find references to Bevan, even without the Aneurin Bevan Heritage Trail leaflet with which I came equipped.

I headed straight for the famous town clock, which itself is celebrating 150 years, where a series of bronzes cast in the pavement nearby celebrate Bevan's life.

Aneurin Bevan
Born Tredegar, 15 November, 1897
Left school at 13 and began work in a colliery
Won a seat on Monmouthshire County Council in 1928
Ebbw Vale MP (Tredegar was part of the constituency) from 1929 - 60
Married fellow MP Jennie Lee in 1934
Became minister for health in 1945
Founded the NHS in 1948
Elected deputy Labour leader in 1959
Died on 6 July, 1960

The influence of his valleys environment is clear from the 1948 quote inscribed in one of the bronzes.

"I never used to regard myself so much as a politician as a projectile discharged from the Welsh valleys... when I listen to the cacophony of harsh voices trying to intimidate, I close my eyes and listen to the silent voices of the poor."

Looking up from the bronze, you can see the building that was the home of the Tredegar Workmen's Medical Aid Society, the community health scheme that so inspired Bevan.

Turn your head and there is a building, the old town hall, with a balcony from where Bevan used to address the crowd after his parliamentary election results were announced.

Just over the road from the medical aid society building, I spotted a group of schoolchildren from Bryn Bach Primary learning about the geography of their town.

I asked the class of seven and eight-year-olds if they had heard of Aneurin Bevan and almost of all of them put their hands up.

Some of them even knew that he had created the NHS.

Their teacher, Ellen Waite, said it was important to teach children about the history of the town, of which Bevan is a vital part.

"I grew up here but I knew nothing about the town until I had to teach about it," she said.

"They are taught about the area now and they learn about Nye Bevan.

Jayne Waters and daughter
I'm in my 30s but I feel quite proud that someone from Tredegar is the founder of the National Health Service
Jayne Waters

"I think children and people of this area are all too quick to say we have nothing and we're not important.

"It's teaching them that people like Nye Bevan can come from Tredegar and if you believe it and you push it, you can achieve great things."

Jayne Waters, 34, also believes Bevan is a great role model for young people from the valleys.

"I work with teenagers and I don't think they really appreciate what Nye Bevan has done for Britain but I think that's changing and they are starting to realise," she said.

"I'm in my 30s but I feel quite proud that someone from Tredegar is the founder of the National Health Service.

"Lots of people in the valleys feel they can't achieve things, but for someone in the local community to have founded something like that I think is inspirational."

But while Bevan's memory lives on, some believe his principles have failed to survive in 21st Century Britain.

Gwyn Eynon, 59, from Tredegar, said: "A few people care about Nye Bevan but he's just a name and a picture in a book to others, they don't care about his values.

Tredegar map
Tredegar is in the heart of the valleys of south east Wales

"Everything today is 'I'm all right Jack' and the days of community are gone."

Not everybody is even aware of Bevan's achievements, as I discovered when I approached a teenager in the town.

"I have heard of him and I have gone up to look at the stones [the Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones on a hillside overlooking Tredegar] but I won't be going again!" he said.

"I didn't know about the National Health Service."

His life is certainly celebrated in Tredegar but Michael O'Leary, 69, is less impressed that the house where Bevan was born has been demolished.

"Make no mistake about it, what he did with the health service, everybody in the UK has benefited from it," he said.

"They should've kept his house in Charles Street, it's part of our heritage."

Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones
The memorial stones mark where Nye Bevan used to hold open-air meetings

So I headed to Charles Street where Bevan was born in number 32 and later moved to number seven as the family expanded.

Neither house has survived.

Brian Roberts, 66, who lives opposite where Bevan was born, and is now the site of a residential home, fondly remembers Bevan's legendary speeches.

"When I was young I can remember going to his political party meetings at Rhymney Workmen's Cinema on a Sunday morning," he said.

"It used to be packed and he would get up on his feet and would talk for hours.

"He didn't have any notes, he was a fantastic orator, but he used to have a bit of a stutter. I was totally enthralled."

My final stop was at the Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones, which were erected in his memory to mark the spot where he held open-air meetings to speak to constituents.

With nobody else around, I thought of my conversation the previous day with Rachel Smith of the Tredegar Development Trust.

I had asked her about the significance of Bevan today and what she told me put it into perspective.

"It has a very personal effect on me because I'm a diabetic who takes daily insulin injections," she said.

"If it wasn't for the NHS who's to say I could afford to buy insulin?

"Would I have survived if it wasn't for the NHS?"

Tredegar is hosting events from 4-7 July for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. These include the unveiling of a new stone and entertainment at the Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones site from 1400 BST on Tuesday, 5 July.

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30 Dec 07 |  South East Wales
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02 Dec 06 |  South East Wales
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07 Nov 06 |  South East Wales
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25 Jul 05 |  South East Wales
Bevan is ultimate Welsh hero
01 Mar 04 |  Wales

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