Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009
Architects flock to see Cwmbran
Cwmbran Shopping Centre
Cwmbran was the only officially designated post war new town in Wales

Much maligned by some, Cwmbran is a study in 60s urban architecture.

Although occupied since Neolithic times, Cwmbran really took off when construction of the new town began in the 1950s.

Hywel Pontin, director of Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, says Cwmbran has become a magnet for students.

"What you have is some absolutely classic 1960s urban architecture ... and the outlying estates are very representative of their time."

Ancient and modern

The earliest inhabitants of Cwmbran included Neolithic and Bronze Age people. The Iron Age Silures tribe also occupied the region before being subdued by the Romans.

Around 1179, Hywel Lord of Caerleon gave a gift of money and land to found the Cistercian Abbey at Llantarnam. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII the abbey was closed.

It was bought by a succession of wealthy landowners and by the 18th Century had passed into the Blewitt family who were to become key figures in the early industrialization of Cwmbran.

Brick-making, lime kilns, iron ore, quarrying and coal-mining were established during this period along with a canal to transport goods to the docks at Newport.

Llanyrafon Mill, Cwmbran
Llanyrafon Mill played a key part in Cwmbran's industrial development

In the 19th century a number of tinworks, coke works and iron foundries were built in the town. However, the depression that followed World War One saw unemployment and poverty sweep through the region. Collieries were closed along with many of the other heavy industries.

In 1949 the Cwmbran Development Corporation was established to oversee the building a whole 'new town', and construction began in 1951. The population of Cwmbran rose to 33,000 in less than 20 years.

The central retail area was started in 1959 followed by the town's only large residential tower block completed in 1967. The last 'new town' residential estates were completed in the 1980s and the Cwmbran Development Corporation was disbanded.

Since the 1990s growth has continued as older industrial areas have been replaced by modern light industry and retail parks.

Battles and biscuits

One of Cwmbran's most notable residents was John Williams, also known as John Fielding, who won the Victoria Cross for his actions at the battle of Rorke's Drift, immortalised in the film Zulu.

Cwmbran tower block
The town's only tower block has proved popular with its residents

Cwmbran's other claims to fame include the biggest undercover shopping centre in Wales and numerous car stickers referring to the town's plethora of roundabouts, such as "Help - Dizzy Cwmbran Child on Board".

It may not be a coincidence that Cwmbran is also home of the Wagon Wheel biscuit, produced at the Burton's factory.

"As teenagers we all wanted to work on the Wagon Wheel production line so we could have free access to all those wonderful cakes and biscuits," says Mr Pontin.

"Unfortunately most of us have taken other career paths so a lifetime of free biscuits is one that's been denied to us."

BBC Wales Here For You in Cwmbran
23 Feb 09 |  TV & Radio
VC honoured at Zulu anniversary
17 Jan 09 |  Wales
Council plans college move for HQ
31 Jan 09 |  South east




Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific