Battle begins to save icon of town's great bygone era.
It is one of the last icons of a once great Welsh town. Now Merthyr Tydfil faces losing its architecturally renowned YMCA building after a developer applied for its demolition.
The Grade II listed building, in the town's Pontmorlais area, was built in 1911 and has a striking red brick and terra cotta facade. It has been described as crowning the top of the town and is one of the few Victorian and Edwardian buildings of architectural note to have survived years of economic decline and council planning decisions.
Some of Merthyr's most important historic buildings have either been lost or are in a state of disrepair including the town hall which was turned into a club four years ago. The famous miners' hall is also in desperate need of upgrading.
Now the YMCA's owner, Nasir Mohammed wants to demolish and clear the site, eventually redeveloping it for residential use.
But the plans face opposition from historical and architecture interest groups and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.
Hugh Watkins, secretary of Merthyr Tydfil Historical Society, said, 'It is an excellent building and is another that Merthyr needs to keep. It should be turned into something substantial for the town. That building would be ideal for cultural societies, in fact there are lots of things it could turn into.
'There are very few old buildings left in Merthyr. The old town hall is still boarded up and what is going to be done about the miners' hall? There are people in Merthyr with an appetite for culture who would love to see that turned into a theatre, as they have done in Blackwood.
'The facade of the YMCA could be kept and it could be developed into flats, as they have done with similar buildings in Cardiff. But something has to be done, it is in a terrible state.'
A council report into the application says if it was not listed, the condition of the building means it would have to be knocked down. But its demolition could put the council's town-centre regeneration strategy at risk.
The building has also been mentioned as one of Merthyr's most significant by Pevsner, which publishes guidebooks to architecture in Britain. John Newman, writing in Pevsner's Buildings of Wales volume for Glamorgan, says, 'The upper part of the High Street has nothing further of note until in Pontmorlais the war memorial and former YMCA building come into view. The latter a real visual climax which must be saved from its current dereliction.'
The building was the first to be designed by famous Welsh architect Sir Percy Thomas, with Ivor Jones, and is in Edwardian Baroque style.
Merthyr Council has set out its objections to the plans and will refer its recommendations for the facade to be kept to the National Assembly.
Merthyr's AM Huw Lewis, who is campaigning to save the town's built heritage, said, 'I am pleased to see Merthyr Council has adopted my suggestion to retain the facade of this building with opportunities for modern developments behind.
'This is a great way to regenerate this are of Merthyr without losing its historical significance.
'I hope that, if the application is passed to the National Assembly, it is favourably looked upon so future generations can see the rich history Merthyr has to offer.': Ironworks led to population explosion:In the mid 18th century Merthyr Tydfil was a small village in the upper Taff Valley. With all the natural resources needed to produce iron, works were established at Dowlais in 1749 and Cyfarthfa in 1765.
By 1801, Merthyr had a population of 7,700, a figure which rose to 22,000 in 1831 and to 46,000 in 1851, which meant it was the largest town in Wales.
Merthyr became the source of 40% of Britain's iron exports.
The Welsh ironworks were huge for their age. Dowlais ironworks, with 5,000 employees in the 1840s, was then the largest manufacturing concern in the world. Merthyr maintained its supremacy until the 1850s when new manufacturing processes demanding purer iron ore led to decline.
In the 1870s, the population of Merthyr decreased but in the following three decades the demand for coal led to further expansion. The collapse of that demand in the 1920s led to Merthyr's present decline.