Working Valleys

Barbara Castle

Born in London, Barbara Castle has lived and worked in South Wales since her early twenties, for the last 30 years in an isolated farmhouse in the Valleys.Barbara’s career has centered around community development and regeneration, in 2010 she received an OBE for Services to Regeneration in Wales.

She has sketched and painted throughout her working life. On retiring in 2015, Barbara decided to work on her painting and see if she could finally achieve her dreams. She has written and spoken about the neglect and desecration of our valley’s heritage, arguing for a better appreciation of the terraces and local aesthetic. Many of her paintings are impressions and images of the Valleys’ unique townscapes, landscapes and industrial heritage. This is her exhibition, Working Valleys, a celebration of the unique built landscape we have come to know and love.


“The urban form of the Valleys grew out of the physical constraints of the place. Linear, narrow valley bottoms congested with pits, spoil, roads, canals and railways, meant that housing was squeezed into every available and ‘build-able’ inch of leftover space in the mad, Klondike-like rush to mine the coal

So, long lines of terraced housing crept along the valley bottoms and the parallel contours above and, almost vertical, stepped terraces climbed up the valley sides. In between the lines were the punctuation points of the social infrastructure in physical form – the chapels, the workman’s halls, the libraries, the Miners’ Institutes, cottage hospitals, political clubs, the Cooperative shops and the omnipresent pubs.”

“When you shut your eyes and think of the Valleys of South Wales, this is what you see – a unique vernacular, a particular grain to the pattern of man in the landscape. An aesthetic formed out of the mining history of the place – long lines, clean cut angles and shapes, rectilinear forms, stones, slates, the predominantly grey monotone splashed with the occasional blues and reds of engineering brick trim.

I wonder whether we are almost too late to begin to value this aesthetic.  In the centres of most cities, the local aesthetic is valued and nurtured. Here, we seem never to have seen it, never valued it and, consequently, we have allowed it be desecrated. Planning and design rules have not interfered with the occasional chance to procure investment.


 “The Valleys’ quintessential built form has, in places, all but disappeared in a welter of mock Georgian yellow cul-de-sacs, ghastly detached houses and bungalows determined to resemble the Costa Brava. This is a creeping ‘individualisation’ of our valleyscapes that our children will sadly be unable to avoid seeing for the rest of their lives.

Meanwhile Institutes have fallen down, massive miners’ halls have been turned into cheap bed-sits, petrol stations have replaced libraries and Victorian Chapels have become pound shops, complete with day-glo signs and neon lighting……….”

When you shut your eyes and think of the valleys what do you see?

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