Eisteddfod at Ebbw Vale

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Ebbw Vale in 1958

The last time that the Eisteddfod visited the Blaenau Gwent area, Ebbw Vale was a markedly different place to that which we see today. The steel industry dominated in 1958, with thousands employed at the Richard Thomas and Baldwin steel works on the site of the 2010 Eisteddfod. Since then, the steel works have been demolished, the Garden Festival of Wales has been and gone and today, Ebbw Vale is being regenerated by investment in the Works area.

Wales in 1958 was a year of some notable events. The Commonwealth Games were held in Cardiff, the Nos Galan Races were held for the first time in Mountain Ash,  Prince Charles received the title ‘Prince of Wales’ and the last hanging in Wales was held at Swansea jail.

The Chairing

The Eisteddfod of that year was no less notable. The winner of the Chair was one of Wales’ best loved children’s authors, T. Llew Jones for his poem, ‘Caerllion-ar-Wysg’. In a competition of high standard, the poem discussed the de-population of the Welsh countryside by young Welsh men and women and encouraged them to return to their homes to preserve the traditions and language of Wales. The phrase ‘Tua’r Gorllewin’ [‘To the west’] has become notable in the struggle for the Welsh language in the second half of the twentieth century.

T. Llew Jones

T. Llew Jones was one of the most prolific and best loved authors in Wales, entertaining generations of children with his tales of adventure and intrigue. A native of Ceredigion, the myths, legends and characters of his local area were an influence on his work throughout his career with tales of pirates, highwaymen and gypsies charming children and adults alike. T. Llew was born in Pentre-cwrt near Llandysul in 1915 and attended the local grammar school. He was a teacher for 35 years, first at Tre-groes Primary School and later as headmaster at Ysgol Coed-y-bryn near Llandysul. Spending so much time amongst the young audience of his books must surely have influenced his work.

His first novel was Trysor Plas-y-Wernen, a story of treasure and mystery set in Ceredigion was typical of the mysterious and mythical tales that captivated the imaginations of children for so many years. Many of his stories were translated into English and others, like ‘Tan ar y Comin’ and ‘Dirgelwch yr Ogof’ were adapted for television.

Paul Robeson

The Eisteddfod of 1958 was also notable for the visit of the American actor, singer and human rights campaigner Paul Robeson. He is said to have felt a particular affinity to the Welsh people and visited Wales when he regained his passport in 1958. Robeson and his wife Eslanda were special guests at the National Eisteddfod and addressed the crowd, speaking of his love of Wales and saying “You have shaped my life – I have learned from you”.

No doubt the 2010 Blaenau Gwent Eisteddfod will provide numerous memorable experiences, just like it did over fifty years ago.

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