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This report is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams

The Tawe rises in the Black Mountain, west of the Brecon Beacons, and flows southwestwards to the sea at Abertawe (or Swansea, if you prefer the Viking version, though who Sveinn was no one seems to know). The river passes Craig-y-nos, an early Victorian castle where the prima donna, Adelina Patti, unwound after triumphant tours of the world's opera stages, before entering Cwmtawe, the Swansea Valley. A twisting chain of villages and small towns follows the river from Abercraf, where the mountains rise steeply behind to the cliffs and scree slopes of Cribarth, down to Pontardawe, now virtually on the outskirts of Swansea at the valley's southern end. This is an old industrial zone, its communities owing their existence to coal mining and work with iron and tinplate. For a couple of centuries until the destruction of our heavy industry, it was predominantly Welsh in its language, its socialist politics, its Nonconformist belief, its culture of chapel, choirs and workmen's halls and institutes.

This was what the eminent artist, Joseph Herman (1911-2000), found when he arrived in Ystradgynlais, at the upper end of the valley, in the mid-1940s. He had left Warsaw in 1938, as disaster threatened, with his mother's tearful valediction ringing in his ears, 'Don't come back'. They were wise words: the Nazis killed the entire family. As a refugee, he had tried and failed to discover in London and Glasgow a place of healing and inspiration, but his first sight of Ystradgynlais miners trudging ...


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