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Town's historic past could give it a bright future with Heritage bid; MERTHYR HOPES ITS INDUSTRIAL LEGACY WILL CONVINCE UNESCO.

Byline: CATHERINE EVANS

IT was once the cradle of socialism and the iron capital of the world with a population greater than Cardiff, Swansea and Newport combined.

And now ambitious plans have been unveiled to make Merthyr Tydfil a world heritage site.

Merthyr council has officially approached the Assembly Government to consider including the Cyfarthfa heritage area on a Welsh shortlist of potential Unesco World Heritage Status sites.

If ultimately successful, it would join less than 1,000 official World Heritage sites, including the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef, the Acropolis in Athens and Hadrian's Wall.

There are currently 28 sites in Britain, with three in Wales - the Blaenavon industrial landscape, the castles and town walls of King Edward in Gwynedd and the Pontcysyllte aqueduct near Llangollen.

Now, Merthyr officials are pinning their hopes on the worldwide historical importance of the Cyfarthfa heritage area, where key elements from the town's industrial past - which significantly influenced the development of the modern world - are still standing.

Merthyr Tydfil was the iron capital of the world and home to iron-masters the Crawshays.

The Crawshay family home, Cyfarthfa Castle, along with its surrounding buildings and park, attracts countless tourists from across Britain every year.

The castle was built in 1825 at a cost of pounds 30,000 by William Crawshay II, the grandson of one of Merthyr's most famous iron-masters Richard Crawshay.

Leats, feeders ponds and primitive hydroelectric technology, which formed part of the drainage system of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks, are also still in existence.

Engineering projects such as viaducts, tunnels, bridges, railways and canals all formed part of the innovative and advanced mineral transportation infrastructure of the era.

Part of the council's bid includes information on workers' housing like Gellideg Cottages, Colliers Row and Chapel Row.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Merthyr Tydfil was also home to a number of "world first" engineering events which heavily influenced development throughout the world and are considered "masterpieces of human genius". Merthyr councillor Derek Games , who is leading the bid to get the area recognised, said: "It is vitally important we recall Merthyr Tydfil in the 1800s when it was described as the iron capital of the world, with its four iron and steel works, Cyfarthfa, Penydarren, Dowlais, and Plymouth.

The original Cyfarthfa Furnace, once restored, has the potential to attract visitors from around the world.

"World Heritage status will give worldwide recognition to the heritage of Merthyr Tydfil."

The first iron railway bridge was built in the town in 1793.

On February 10, 1804, a young engineer, Richard Trevithick, drove the world's first steam locomotive along a track at the Penydarren ironworks, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Taff Vale Railway opened in 1841.

In the 1830s, Merthyr's population exceeded that of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport combined.

Its radical socialist past meant it was heavily involved in the foundation and growth of the Labour party, electing its first MP and "father of the Labour Party", Keir Hardie, in 1909.

Dic Penderyn became one of the most famous figures of the Merthyr uprisings of the 1830s and was sentenced to death alongside rising figurehead Lewis Lewis for allegedly stabbing a soldier with a bayonet.

If the application is approved for Wales, it will then be considered on a wider scale before finally being accepted or turned down by Unesco.

The process will involve visits and interviews from assessors who will tour the sites of historic significance in the borough. A decision is expected in March 2011.

A spokeswoman for Merthyr council said: "Merthyr Tydfil is an organically evolved landscape displaying an era in human development where intense activity has resulted in a substantial change to the material landform of an internationally important part of the world's history."

CAPTION(S):

Cyfarthfa Castle, the Crawshay family home The painting 'Cyfarthfa Ironworks Interior at Night'', by Penry Williams, at the height of the Industrial Revolution
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 17, 2010
Words:646
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