Saturday, 26 September 2020

Selling the Family Jewels

An old Welsh ruin in need of some TLC offering excellent potential. Early viewing recommended. Offers in the region of £350,000

Imagine the outcry if this advert appeared in the property pages of the Western Mail. The local community, Caerphilly Council, Cadw, Welsh Government and the vast majority of Wales would be outraged at the prospect and demand answers.


Because Caerphilly Castle belongs to the nation, a living monument and constant reminder of our rich and turbulent past. When the Normans had finished giving the Anglo Saxons a hard time they decided it was our turn next. We proved extremely troublesome neighbours so they decided to build a ring of castles to keep us firmly in our place and ensure we didn't cause too much trouble. It worked some of the time but some of the time it didn't. 

We all remember being taught stories in school about Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Owain Glyndwr, national heroes who fought for freedom and independence. But there were others who fought for noble causes. Within these valleys men fought for the right to earn a living wage, better working conditions and a fairer society for all. They and their families  suffered hardship and deprivation. Their enemy was not a foreign invader but the coalowner barons aligned with the irresistible power of the State. Their struggle was just as epic a tale but it is fast being forgotten with each passing generation.

They too had their heroes. Men like Will John and John Hopla both imprisoned during the strike of 1910 when police and troops held these valleys in an iron grip. Hopla died at the age of just 32. They will eventually be forgotten while the names of ancient heroes live on. Local author Ron Berry wrote a book entitled, 'History Is What You Live'. Why then do we hold the distant past in greater reverence than the more recent? The story of Rhondda and the South Wales Valleys is every bit as epic a tale as Homer's recounting of the Trojan Wars.

Rhondda's Castle. Barry Lewis has described the Llwynypia Power House as 'Rhondda's castle'. I could not agree more. This building played a central role in the strike made famous by the 'Tonypandy Riots'. It stands a silent and profound witness to the bitter struggle that took place outside its walls, a living monument to our own unique past.  A Grade 2 listed building CADW describes it as: 
"Listed as a rare mostly complete surviving engine house on a large scale.
Mike Weatherhead (CADW) explains:
 ". . . although it’s increasingly derelict, there’s no question of demolition. Any proposals to redevelop the buildings would need Listed Building Consent from RCT CBC".

That means it will remain intact for future generations as an evocative touchstone to our past. Or does it?

It was in fact purchased by Privity Property this January for £35,000 at auction after reverting to the ownership of the Crown following the dissolution of the Rhondda Powerhouse Trust Ltd on 5th January 2019 (that's another story). Privity Property was incorporated on 5th August 2019 and its nature of business is listed as, "Renting and operating of Housing Association real estate." It has one named director and secretary, a certain William Sloan, and until recently operated from a virtual office in London though it has now relocated to Maidenhead, Berkshire. I suspect Mr. Sloan is not particularly interested in Rhondda's cultural heritage.

Obviously not good news for those of us who are interested in, and passionate about, the preservation of our unique historical legacy.

Down the years Rhondda and the Valleys have become one of the most exploited areas in the UK. First the plundering for vast profits of our mineral resources, then indiscriminate planting of trees by the Forestry Commission (now Natural Resources Wales), next came wind turbines appearing on almost every horizon, and now buildings, including schools and historic sites, bulldozed to make way for more and more housing development. This is the threat that hangs over another iconic site - The Mid Rhondda Athletic Field.

Planning application has already been submitted to RCTCBC by the new owners of the Llwynypia Power House to undertake "Repair and reinstatement works to the building and plot." Apparently they are looking to make the building weather tight in line with listed building consent. I sincerely doubt Caerphilly Council or CADW or Welsh Government would allow Caerphilly Castle to be turned into a block of flats. Is our history any less significant? That is now a question for RCTCBC to decide.

If you would like to see the Mid Rhondda Athletic Field preserved and developed for the community please complete our survey. In the next two weeks we will be dropping information leaflets off in as many households as we can. If you believe this unique site can and should become a positive feature of our community then sign up to receive news and future updates. To date we have received 96 positive responses but we know there are many more out there - keep them coming!

We are meeting with members of RCTCBC on 6th October to discuss possible options. Hopefully they will come on board because without their support the Mid Rhondda Athletic Field project will not happen. Make sure your voice is heard.

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