Today, Monday, November 4, marks the 70th anniversary of Cwmbran’s designation as a new town. Reporter TOMOS POVEY looks back at the town’s evolution and spoke to some of the original residents.

THE CREATION of Cwmbran ‘new town’ from out of the ashes of depression and World War Two was one of the most ambitious projects to be hatched in a generation.

Economically and geographically, Cwmbran was – and remains - immensely important to both the British and Welsh economies.

But what was life like in the area known as ‘The Valley of the crow’ before 1949 and how did it achieve ‘new town’ status?

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Interestingly, the vicinity did not emerge as an administrative unit until as late as 1935 - this is despite the population totalling more than 12,000.

The area was spread across several villages. The largest of these were Croesyceiliog, Pontnewydd, Old Cwmbran and Upper Cwmbran. Farming was the predominant industry.

Life in Cwmbran in 1940

But life for ordinary folk in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s was dominated by worry.

The area was rife with malnutrition, diphtheria, and T.B, as well as economic deprivation.

In a bid to tackle the extreme hardships government officials named Cwmbran as a ‘special area’. This placed Cwmbran, alongside other areas in Britain, as a priority for governmental help.

Mr H. Lewis, of Llanfrechfa Upper finance department, led the calls.

He said: “Starvation and malnutrition is commonplace. One only needs to walk down the street to see the level of suffering experienced with the families of this area.

“A new concept is needed to tackle these extremities.”

Pontnewydd, before the formation of Cwmbran

Bill Jones, of Pontnewydd, added: “In 1928 I was on the dole and I went up to Pontnewydd to sign on.

“They soon wanted names of people who would go to Canada harvesting. There is nothing here for us. So, I put my name down. We were up on the Wednesday and they gave us our travelling vouchers for when we landed in Canada.”

The severities also dramatically reduced the population, which stood at 12,939 in 1926, but ten years later had plummeted to 11,000.

Plans for the 'new town' of Cwmbran

By 1932 a record-level 36 per cent of the local population was unemployed. High levels of unemployment also left its scar on other areas of Britain, where the total amounted to three-and-a-half-million.

Left with no option and faced with increasing pressure to intervene, the British Government decided to embark on a colossal and radical project to build ‘new towns’.

This was made possible following the passages of The Special Areas Act of 1934-37 and the New Towns Act of 1946 and 1949.

New houses being built in Cwmbran

The ‘new towns’ were primarily to ease depression in the high unemployed areas by building vital infrastructure - most notably housing - in close proximity to industries.

The areas inside the historic boundaries of Monmouthshire was listed as a ‘priority’ under the new scheme.

Cwmbran New Town, as it became known in 1949, was just one of 22 new towns in the UK and the only one in Wales.

A chart showing the population of Cwmbran following its designation as a 'new town'

Cecil Jones, a worker of the Cwmbran Development Corporation, said at the time: “The chief aim of the new Cwmbran is to relieve overcrowded areas and to accommodate workers who live near their jobs.

“This vital investment will breathe fresh air to an area previously suffering.

“Once the advent of the development begins there shall be extensive infrastructure and housing for all.

A map showing where industries have set up in Cwmbran

“The Cwmbran New Town will be unrecognisable.”

Plans for the ‘new town’ were agreed to in 1949 and the works, which lasted into the early 1950s, covered roughly 5,000 acres. New houses were scattered right across the area, with the population in the next 15 years booming to 45,000.

The works proved fruitful with major companies, including Girlings, G.K.N., Saunders Valves, Weston’s Biscuit Factory and the South Wales Electricity Board, flocking to the vicinity.

And after more than 20 years existence, the Cwmbran Development Corporation was wound down and a local government, consisting of Gwent County Council, was introduced.

Thousands of lives have benefitted from the 70-year-old project.

Cwmbran from the air, in the 1950s

Some residents remember what life was like before Cwmbran ‘new town’ in 1949. Here is what they had to say:

Former nurse Kathleen Miller, who is 89 and from Upper Cwmbran, said: “Before the works in the early 1950s, Cwmbran was mainly full of fields.

Kathleen Miller

“There were no major roads before 1949. The villages of Cwmbran, including Pontnewydd, were separated by fields.

“If you wanted to get from one village to the other you had to walk through these fields. Very few people had cars.

“It is incredible to see how much Cwmbran has changed over the years.”

Kathleen Miller at Panteg Hospital, in Cwmbran, with other members of staff

Ninety-four-year-old Gillian Jones, who was brought up in Croesyceiliog, said: “I have lived in Cwmbran for all my life.

“I could not think of a better place to have grown up in. There were so many things for us to do. Especially the old cinema in Pontnewydd.

Gillian Jones, as a young woman

“I remember Cwmbran before it was a ‘new town’. There was no shopping centre and hardly any houses outside of the villages. People used to shop in their villages. And places like Northville and Southville did not exist until the 1950s.

“When the decision was made that we needed a ‘new town’ it was amazing to see all the machinery and workmen building the homes.

“The villages of Cwmbran have always been close-knit, and I find it interesting to see how the area has changed.

“I remember as a girl Cwmbran being divided by grassland and fields.

“There is no comparison between the old and new Cwmbran. The ‘new town’ did wonders for Cwmbran. Lots of companies moved here, such as Eyelure, GKN and others.”

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Vernon Smith, 97, a former engineer, who lives in Henllys, said: “I wouldn’t like to guess how many houses were built when Cwmbran was made a ‘new town’.

“But what is important to say is that thousands of families benefitted from the works. Northville, Southville and parts of Henllys were full of young people, thanks to the new houses. Everyone knew years ago that Cwmbran had to change and that is what happened.”