Port Talbot – Capital of Wales?

ImageAnother day spent at Swansea Library searching for articles on Port Talbot and its steel industry in the back-issues of the Western Mail has yielded some interesting insights. However one article in particular caught my attention. Namely, an article printed in the paper on 5 February 1954 which speculated, albeit tentatively, that Port Talbot could be a contender for the capital of Wales. At a time when Wales’ formal capital city was still undecided, it seems remarkable to think now that Port Talbot, rather than Cardiff, would be Wales’ capital. However, this is to underappreciate the incredible sense of optimism, progress and expansion that surrounded Port Talbot in the decade or so following the Second World War. By the mid-1950s, Port Talbot’s population was roughly 10,000 greater than it was at the start of the war. This dramatic increase caused the Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan to speculate, perhaps somewhat hyperbolically, that the town’s population could increase from 50,000 to 100,000 ‘in the near future’. Given the extraordinary developments that had taken place in local industry in the preceding five years perhaps the Lord Lieutenant’s predictions were not so outrageous. When the Abbey steelworks opened in the town in 1951, it was the largest and most modern steelworks in Europe. It provided close to ten thousand jobs and promised to provide thousands more over the coming years. From a contemporary perspective, therefore, it is easy to see how Port Talbot seemed to be developing into one of the most important industrial centres in the continent. It was in the midst of this air of expansion and growth that the Western Mail hesitantly suggested that were Port Talbot’s size and prestige to continue to increase it could be ‘in a position to compete with Cardiff for the title of capital of Wales’ – a possibility which was also voiced publically by the Lord Lieutenant. Of course when Wales’ capital city was decided Port Talbot was never a realistic candidate, however this episode does tell us something about the positivity and optimism that steel brought to the locality. It seemed that on the back of steel Port Talbot’s star was in the ascendance, its trajectory unceasingly skyward. The turmoil and uncertainty of the 1970s and 1980s was still a long way away.

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