Union City Blues

From Planet 242

by Richard John Parfitt

Wales’ first New Town Cwmbrân has a long and often tragic bond with the British armed forces. As the Tories seek to bolster the union, Richard John Parfitt reflects on the complexities of his hometown, and the politics behind Boris Johnson’s visit to Cwmbrân’s RAF-run vaccination centre.

Cwmbrân. Valley of the Crow. Wales’s first New Town and home to the Jammie Dodger and Wagon Wheel. The Afon Llwyd runs through it. Cuts it in two. The grey river finds its way from the foothills of Blaenafon to that dirty old river Usk. Here the starlings rise and fall like gunshot in the dull Spring sky. Rowboats lie wrecked on the marshlands. Brown trout are common. So are eels. Insects skate over the surface scavenging for small pieces of algae and microplastic waste.

Historically a collection of small villages, Cwmbrân New Town (as it was designated in 1949) was built during the 1950s as a development of housing estates that encircled the hub of a pedestrianised town centre now notable for its free parking, roundabouts, and brutalist architecture. But go back a hundred years and Arthur Machen described it ‘as if in a picture, the intricate winding of the brook, the grey bridge, and the vast hills rising beyond; all still and without a breath of wind to stir the mystic hanging woods’.1

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