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Culture and Life

BLAENGARW WORKMEN'S HALL 2

The communities of the Valleys were close-knit, coming together in the massive Workmen's Halls, the chapels, in choirs and for celebrations. The Workmen's Halls or Miners' Institutes were built in the mining communities, funded by donations from the miners' wages. They were the focal point of social life and education, with dances, cinemas and libraries.

Blaengarw Workmen's Hall in the Garw Valley, built from miners' wages in 1893 and opened March 1894 is still used by the community today. In Maesteg, North's Miners Library and Institute (now an amusement arcade) was built in 1898 from donations made by local miners and the mine owner Colonel North. Today there are several Miners institutions that remain standing and that are still in use in the Maesteg area.

In 1901 a Workmen's Hall funded by subscriptions from miners was built in Nantymoel in the Ogmore Valley, catering for social activities for miners and their families, with a cinema added in1931. Now renamed The Berwyn Centre, it was converted in 1974 into an Arts and Community Centre housing an art gallery, library and theatre. Funded by Bridgend County Borough Council, it is still at the heart of its' community as a thriving venue for live performance and educational activities.

The magnificent Ogmore Vale Workmen's Hall and Institute, built in 1909 for a cost of £9,000 was officially opened on 18th January 1911. It contained a large public hall (capacity 1,000) a lesser hall (capacity 200) a billiards room with four tables, committee rooms, reading rooms and a library, and a caretaker's office. A clock tower erected as a memorial to the fallen of the two World Wars was completed in 1949. It was regarded as one of the finest working men's halls in South Wales until, following severe flooding, the building collapsed on 12th March 1981. Thankfully the bingo night had swiftly evacuated before doom struck after cracks started appearing in the walls. It was demolished in 1983.

By the 1930s there were cinemas in all three Valleys. The Llynfi Valley had the Colisseum at Caerau. In Maesteg the former Plaza Cinema building can still be seen, typical of cinemas in the Valleys in the 1930s. The Olympia Cinema in the Ogmore Valley, which opened in 1912, was known locally as 'The Lymp' and was also used for pantomimes and other functions.

Live entertainment by such stars as Stan Laurel was provided at the Hippodrome, known as The Rink, at Pontycymmer. Built in 1910 the Rink was only open for twelve years until it burnt down in 1922 but it has acquired legendary status due to the Anderson family who took over its management during this period. The Andersons, a rich music hall troupe who had travelled the globe, were famed for their generosity towards the people of the Valley. Local children were given presents at Christmas time, and during the 1912 miners' strike the Rink was turned into a soup kitchen to feed the miners' families. The recent discovery that the Andersons were buried in an unmarked grave in Pontycymmer Cemetery led to a memorial being placed on the site.

The Grand Pavilion at Porthcawl, built in 1932, also featured live acts as well as being the premiere dance hall of the day. In 1957 a US Government travel ban prevented Paul Robeson from appearing in person at the Miners Eisteddfod, however, a secretly arranged telephone link-up ensured that he was still able to appear live on the night.

Focus of the communities throughout the week were the chapels. The gentry for the most part attended the Church of England churches, with services in the English language, while the local communities attended the numerous non-conformist chapels in the Valleys, many of them with services in the Welsh language. Children attended chapel several times a week, with drama clubs and choir as much part of their routine as the services themselves.

The renowned male voice choirs and brass bands, the numerous celebrations and street parties and the colourful jazz bands who competed throughout Britain all added to the rich cultural life of the Valleys communities.

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