I can’t believe that 2017 sees the 25th anniversary of the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival that brought two million visitors to Blaenau Gwent in South East Wales.
The festival lasted six months, from May until October and transformed a derelict industrial wasteland into a blossoming landscape nearly two miles long.
In the 1980s the Conservative Government were attacked for neglecting former heavy industrial areas like Ebbw Vale, where there had been a huge steelworks and tin plant. The works were already in decline when I worked on a newspaper in Ebbw Vale in the late 1970s.
The Environment Minister Michael Heseltine came up with the National Garden Festivals as a symbol of rebirth for such areas and they were held every two years. The first was in Liverpool (1984), then came Stoke-on-Trent (1986), (1988) and Gateshead (1990). Ebbw Vale Garden Festival (1992) was the last. Some say the festivals did not always lead to long-term private investment of cash in the affected areas, but Ebbw Vale is certainly a greener and more pleasant place to live these days. Not that there are that many jobs anywhere in the South Wales Valleys.
One of the features was a sort of sky platform that rose up and rotated on a long arm to give views over the whole valley…
The festival area was a wasteland before the event, an area where the steelworks had been demolished in the early 1980s. Today more than 1,000 houses, a fishing lake, woodlands, the Festival Park shopping centre and an owl sanctuary occupy the site. I wrote about the owl sanctuary here.
More than 330,000 trees and shrubs, 550,000 plants and flowers and 150,000 bulbs were planted on the festival site, providing a colourful backdrop to a series of events celebrating Welsh culture.
One of the highlights of the festival was a mechanical clock created by sculptor Andy Plant, known as “In the Nick of Time.” It cost £100,000 and was commissioned by Newport Council. When the clock chimed each hour, the metal structure opened to reveal a series of hidden characters inside.
After the festival the clock was moved to John Frost Square in Newport – a place named after the famous local Chartist who led the Newport Rising in 1839.
But in 2008 the clock was put into storage as the square started to be developed for the Friars Walk shopping centre. Since 2015 it has adorned a roundabout at Glan Llyn in Llanwern, a housing development by St Modwen. You can see the clock in action here.
This being Wales, there were dragons, and these two were mechanical…
There were other sculptures, too…
…and I think that sums up the joy and hope that came with the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival, 25 years ago.
There is some repetition between them, but here are some WalesOnline stories about memories of the festival:
All my pictures in this post were scanned in from 35mm negatives. You can find more of my non-digital memories here