Blackwood is a town on the Sirhowy River in western Monmouthshire.
The town houses a growing number of light industrial and high-tech firms. Good transport links has made Blackwood a favoured home for a growing number of commuters who work in the cities of Newport and Cardiff, giving the town a renewed prosperity.
Blackwood was founded in the early 19th century by local colliery owner John Hodder Moggridge, who lived at nearby Woodfield Park Estate: the first houses in Blackwood were built by Moggridge in an attempt to build a model village. There was never any suggestion that these were for miners as there were few local mines in Blackwood. Blackwood, indeed, has never been a mining town.
Deplorable working conditions at the time of the Industrial Revolution, however, led to Blackwood becoming a centre of Chartist organisation in the 1830s. The Monmouthshire Chartist leaders John Frost, Zephaniah Williams — a Blackwood man — and William Williams met regularly at the Coach & Horses public house in Blackwood. Planning their march on Newport in what became known as the Newport Rising in 1839, intended to coincide with a Britain-wide 'revolution' against the Government, the gentry and the Establishment in 1839.
When the insurrection erupted in November, a large contingent of insurgents gathered at Blackwood. Upon meeting their comrades from the upper Sirhowy Valley, the rebels armed themselves with makeshift weapons and marched south to Newport to demand the adoption of the People's Charter and the release of Henry Vincent from Monmouth gaol. However, the Monmouthshire Movement were the only ones to march and the national rising failed and its leaders were sentenced to death (later commuted to deportation to Tasmania).
In 1912 the Titanic's distress signals were picked up by amateur wireless enthusiast Arthur (Artie) Moore who resided at the Old Mill, Gelligroes, just outside the town. Artie Moore went on to work as a senior scientist for Marconi and was involved with the invention of the transistor for telecommunications.
The former Penllwyn House on the outskirts of the town — now a pub — was originally part of the Lord Tredegar Estates and is believed to be the original home of the family of Henry Morgan, privateer and Governor of Jamaica. The town is home to the Maes Manor Hotel, located in a grand old manor house known as Maesrudded. The house was formerly home to the Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire.
The decline of the coal mining industry throughout the later part of the twentieth century affected South Wales, the major source of employment was lost and the pictorial landscape left daily reminders of what had been. State backed rejuvenation schemes have gone some way to rejuvenate the wider Blackwood area, including the relief road and various light industrial areas.
In sport, Blackwood has two rugby union and one rugby league sides, all of whom play at Glan-Yr-Afon Park. The rugby union sides are Blackwood RFC, established in 1889, and Blackwood Stars RFC, originating circa 1920. The rugby league club is called the Blackwood Bulldogs and plays in the Rugby League Conference. Rugby players Kevin Moseley, Alun Pask and Alun Lewis hail from the town.
The Chartist Bridge The Arup designed Chartist Bridge linking the East and West sides of the Sirhowy Valley. Previously the journey was made by de-tour or over a 1-in-4 road through the bottom of the valley known locally as the Rhiw.
The bridge is a part of the Sirhowy Enterprise Way, regeneration project and opened four months ahead of schedule on December 3, 2005.
The bridge is a cable-stayed bridge 750 ft long supported 100 ft above the valley floor by a 300 ft A-frame pylon. Difficulties with mining related subsidence during construction and in the foreseeable future led the design team to allow the bridge to breath if settlement does occur. The bridge and the Sirhowy Enterprise Way are owned and operated by Costain & Lang in a JV, under a 30-year DBFO (Design, Build, Finance, Operate) agreement.
A statue to honour the Chartist struggle and their march to Newport has been erected on the East side of the bridge while a name plate is situated on the West. The statue itself is an impressive and imposing figure of a chartist striding forward, pike in hand. It is made up of thousands of brass rings and represents strength in unity.
Blackwood Miners Institute, known locally as The 'stute, opened in 1925 as a Snooker Hall and is now a Multi-Entertainment Venue sitting at the heart of the town's event programme.
In 1925 a Snooker Hall was opened by Coal Industry and the Social Welfare Organisation paid for by Oakdale Colliery miners at the rate of 3d a week, the hall was single story. By 1936 another two floors had been added, the building now had an auditorium, dance floor, reading room, library, ladies room and rehearsal rooms for local societies. Programmes from the time included Tea Dances, snooker/billiards, reading groups, rehearsals and union meetings for local miners.
With the decline of the mining industry the building fell into disrepair throughout the 1970s and 1980s and ownership was handed to the Council with the mandate to make it available for community use.
The building re-opened in February 1992 funded by the Council and the Welsh Office, it has given local dramatic societies the opportunity to perform on the same stage as Jasper Carrot, Ken Dodd and Welsh National Opera.
The 1904-1905 Welsh Revival and the prominence of Christianity in the culture of Blackwood and the surrounding villages have left Blackwood with a high number of active churches and chapels.
Non Conformist churches include; Mount Pleasant Baptist Church (on Cefn Road) http://www.baptistchurchblackwood.org.uk, Blackwood Methodist Church, Oasis Christian Centre (Charismatic), Blackwood Pentecostal (Pentecostal Movement)
Established churches include; St. Margaret’s (Anglican)
Catholic Churches include; Sacred Heart (Roman Catholic).
Organizations such as The Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade have prominence in Blackwood with companies meeting at the Baptist and Methodist churches, there are also a number of Christian youth groups.
Education provision in Blackwood is considered good, with a network of primary schools, junior schools and secondary schools. The town is provided for by three local comprehensive schools all with between 800–900 pupils, local rivalry in sport and exam results is best described as friendly rivalry. The Secondary schools are Blackwood Comprehensive School, Pontllanfraith Comprehensive and Oakdale Comprehensive. All three schools are distinctive for various reasons, until the mid 1990s Blackwood comprehensive had separate uniforms for senior and junior pupils. In school discipline is usually high and a high number of traditionally trained teachers using traditional methods which still proved highly effective. A number of Blackwood pupils have been to Oxbridge and a high number to other leading educational institutions.
The position of Blackwood is mid-valley between Risca the southern end of the Sirhowy River where the river merges with the Ebbw River which leads into the Severn Estuary at Newport. Until recently the main road through the town was the only road used by heavy haulage and cars alike. The Chartist Bridge has been built linking a number of well-engineered single-carriageway relief roads, meaning none of the journey from Blackwood to Newport now has to go through residential streets, all is on high-quality new roads. The Pontypool journey no longer goes down the locally-infamous 1-in-4 incline of the 'Rhiw' and now crosses the bridge and climbs up the other side of the valley on a steep but easily-accessible road.
There are no heavy or light train links remaining in Blackwood. The only public transport is by bus. Traditionally there were two major companies in the Eastern and Central Valleys, namely
- Red & White, which covered the western Sirhowy valleys and Newport area. Red & White was started post-World War I, they served many areas of Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. After de-nationalisation the company was broken up, part became Stagecoach Red & White and the company is now known as Stagecoach South Wales.
- Western Welsh Omnibus Company: a company nationalised in 1969.
Red & White and Western Welsh merged to become National Welsh in 1978, which was privatised in 1987. Its operations were acquired by Stagecoach in South Wales in 1992.
Other operators have included:
- IBT - Islwyn Borough Transport: IBT was the former municipal operator sold to Stagecoach in South Wales. The sale was approved by the Office of Fair Trading and took place on 12 January 2010.
- Harris Coaches: Formerly a coach operator moved into bus operation after deregulation.
- Glyn Williams: Glyn Williams was the first company in the area to move large scale into low-floor buses, they eventually sold out to Stagecoach in 2005.
- Paul Barrett - Well known rock and roll agent and promoter, former manager of Shakin' Stevens was born in Blackwood
- James Dean Bradfield, Richey James Edwards, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire all grew up in the town and attended Oakdale Comprehensive school nearby, forming the influential rock band Manic Street Preachers Bradfield and Wire have since also released solo material.
- Songdog are another notable local act
- David Alexander, singer and entertainer
- Dame Margaret Price opera singer
- Gareth Lewis, comedian, originates from Blackwood.
- Patrick Jones playwright (brother of Nicky Wire)
- Siobhan Dowd author, lived in Blackwood between 2000 and 2003.
- Brayley Reynolds, former professional footballer