Porthgaen in Pembrokeshire was once a thriving fishing port, it was also the site of significant industrial activity. Its fortress-like harbour walls and the ruins of the abandoned stone works provide an air of post-apocalyptic decay.
Where once many fishing boats would have thronged the harbour walls, the calls, banter and songs of their crews are now a fading memory of few.
But there is beauty there... and it is a beauty that attracts many. Most of the houses around the harbour are now holiday cottages or otherwise connected to the tourist industry. The old lifeboat station is now a smart restaurant, and high-end galleries now occupy what would have been humble fishermen’s cottages. The old harbour master’s cottage is now an iconic backdrop to many a selfie!
This empty, boarded-up shop is typical of many in the South Wales Valleys now. 15B High Street was, according to the lady in the neighbouring fish and chip shop, traditionally a greengrocers', but has also been a hairdressers', an office and a betting shop. Despite its abandonment, it has fared better than the neighbouring property which was burned down, leaving a space reminiscent of a child's gap-filled grin.
Like almost all the high streets in the valleys, this one suffered when Margaret Thatcher closed down the coal mines in the 1980s. The ensuing miners' strikes was viscous and scarring and left a legacy of bitterness and betrayal that is still felt strongly.
As dairy farmers in the Brecon Beacons, just north of the valleys, my family sent churns of milk to support the families who were striking and we shared their forlorn sense of defeat and despair when the mines were closed.
There was little in the way of economic support for the many thousands of families, whose forebears had migrated to this otherwise unpopualated area to provide cheap labour for the exploitative, generally Tory Party-supporting mine owners. It was the same Tory Party who neglected their responsibilities and turned their back on these families in the 1980s and left them with nothing but a stagnant economy, a legacy of poor housing, dependence upon state aid and a series of health problems such as pneumoconiosis (Miner's Lung).
The loss of the heavy industry (largely as a result of inept family-retained management) Ivor Works. Once, one of the largest iron works in the world, the site is now abandoned apart from one solitary building, with the loss of thousands of jobs.
Where, the sonorous boom of the foundry’s roar?
Where, has the honourable industry gone?
Where, the descant harmony of working men,
That once was the beating drum - a nation’s song?
Still. A cavernous carcass of rust-some red,
Built with pride and blood, now the last to remain;
A momento for might, forlorn, forgotten,
Like the dying dregs of a dementia’d brain.
Now, where once a world of exploitation lay,
Which forged the warmth of civilisation’s sigh,
The breath has cooled, the apocalypse is done -
As nature’s benevolent embrace creeps nigh.