Cyfarthfa Castle - The hub of a new vision for the Valleys?

Credit: Orchard Entertainment Pictures

When I tell people I meet that I went to school in a castle, they are often surprised. And anybody who was a pupil in Cyfarthfa Castle during the whole century in which it operated as a school, would say the same.

It is an imposing, nineteenth-century structure, built as the home of ironmasters the Crawshays in the 1820s. They helped make Merthyr Tydfil the iron capital of the world, at a time when the town was credited with starting the Industrial Revolution.

When the Crawshays died, they left their mansion house and its grounds to the people of the town. The castle became a school and a museum, and their gardens became the public park we know and love today...proudly called, in fact, Wales' best park in 2019.

But 200 years after it was first built, the Crawshay's ageing former home, is starting to crumble. The school moved out in 2014, and today the classrooms are deteriorating rapidly.

The 200-year-old building is starting to crumble

I was shocked to see how badly the winter weather has taken its toll. Pieces of ceiling, and walls, are all lying on the floor of the room I had my history lessons in. The water leaks in the roof are slowly finding their way through to the basement.So what do we do? Well according to a brand new organisation, The Cyfarthfa Foundation, we have to act now.

But they do not believe that this is about just rescuing the castle and renovating the museum into a first-class facility. They want a revolutionary approach - one they say our ancestors would be proud of.

They have spent the last three or four years with architects and archaeologists, looking at what can be done to transform Cyfarthfa Castle & Park into an international tourism destination. And today they launched that vision.

Artist impression

They want to double the current size of the park, and create a heritage hub for the Heads of the Valleys. Their plans - they hope - would see half a million visitors here in twenty years' time. 

The artists' impressions are exciting. They want to make a 'glass walkway' from the top of the park to the castle.

They want to turn the tarmac at the front of the building into a 'public plaza'. And they want to connect the park to the old blast furnaces of those Crawshay ironworks, with an 'iron walk', reflecting the area's rich history. 

Artist impression

The blast furnaces themselves are also succumbing to the essence of time. They have braved the elements of a Valleys climate for two centuries, but now they are showing their age.

Chair of The Cyfarthfa Foundation, Geraint Talfan Davies, says we are in real danger of losing them if we do nothing.

The architect the organisation has commissioned, Ian Ritchie Architects, proposes to create a public arena at the site, which would host spectacular light shows telling the story of the town.

Artist impression

Geraint Thomas, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council's cabinet member for regeneration, is optimistic that it can all happen. But he does not want this to be done TO the people of the town.

Instead, he wants every part of the future development to do be done WITH the people of the town.

He's the son of former Welsh boxing champion Eddie Thomas, the man revered across the Valleys for his success in the sport.

Geraint says his father would want to see Merthyr Tydfil's name shine again, as a place people around the globe will want to come to.

Councillor Geraint Thomas is optimistic that it can all happen

Of course, this is all a long-term plan, and one which would see Merthyr Tydfil as the centre of culture and tourism for the Valleys Regional Park.

Many believe that when the coal tips were covered over, and the mines were shut, there was little left here. But this proposal is aiming to alter the image of the Valleys from a deprived network of communities, to a 'go to' destination, full of history and beautiful scenery.

It has been said that the Valleys have gone from green to black, and back to green again in two hundred years. And this dream looks to capitalise on that.

But the obvious question is...where's the fifty-million pounds coming from to pay for this? The answer is, nobody quite knows yet.

The estimated cost of the project is fifty-million pounds Credit: Orchard Entertainment Pictures

The Valleys people are well used to being promised huge change, and not a lot materialising in the end.

They would point to the failed Circuit of Wales racetrack near Ebbw Vale as an example of that in recent years.

But the people behind this at Cyfarthfa, hope a combination of public, private and charitable funding sources will see the dream become reality.

They acknowledge that finding money will be tough in a post-pandemic world.

The alternative is though, they say, that if this project does not get off the ground in the next five years, then Merthyr Tydfil is at grave risk of losing the biggest jewel in its crown.