Residing in the quaint little town of Ebbw Vale definitely has its perks. Just ask photographer Alan Coles who takes great pleasure strolling in the hills while indulging his favorite pastime, which is to take pictures. Coles captured breathtaking shots of Ebbw Vale in stark black and white, with the images at times having an ethereal appearance.
Ebbw Vale, after all, is a town with a storied past. It is small town at the tip of the valley shaped by the Ebbw Fawr tributary of the Ebbw River in Wales. Though small, it is the biggest town and the administrative hub of Blaenau Gwent county borough. Ebbw Vale in addition to Brynmawr conurbation together has a population of approximately 33,000.
Once an insignificant area in rural Monmouth shire with just about 120 inhabitants at the end of the 18th century, Ebbw Vale along with the whole valley was drastically changed by the influx of the Industrial Revolution. The Ebbw Vale Iron Works, which would come to be known as the Ebbw Vale Steelworks, began operations in 1778, and was followed not long after by the start of a few of coal mines by 1790. At its height in the 1930s-40s, the steel works in Ebbw Vale was the biggest in Europe.
Fortunately it was attracting very little attention from strike bombers of the Luftwaffe during World War II. When the 1960s came around 14,500 workers were employed in the steelworks in and around Ebbw Vale. Unfortunately, the end of the 20th century signaled a collapse to the industry. A crippling labor crisis and ensuing strike in 1980 was followed by the close of many of the old plants. By 2002 a mere 450 were still working in the old industries, and by July of that same year the final plant was closed down.
There is certain sadness and desolation to the shots of Coles, and knowledge of the places’ history explains it. Practically devoid of people, the images, although beautiful as landscapes, are poignant images that seem to try tell the story of a time when prosperity and the hustle and bustle of industry once reigned in this seldom mentioned place. It is hard to imagine that this town was once recognized for its innovation and contribution to the development of Britain as an industrial powerhouse. Despite its old glory, Coles captures beautiful scenes of the mountain ranges of Brecon Beacons in south Wales as well as a photo at Bristol Channel that straddles the line between beautiful and terrifying.
Go visit Coles images of the once progressive Ebbw Vale here.