Mr J Griffiths MP asked the Minister of Power if he would take steps to prevent the permanent closure of the Bynea steelworks, Llanelly, at which 750 workmen are employed and for whom no alternative employment is available within reach of their homes.
Mr Wood: My powers to take the steps suggested would, under Section 5 (4) of the 1953 Act, involve accepting substantial responsibility for these steelworks…if the production facilities in question ought to be kept in use in the national interest. This is not the case. The Iron and Steel Board tells me there is ample capacity at other British steel plants to meet the foreseeable demand for the products of the Bynea Steelworks.”
Hansard Parliamentary records – 2 July 1962
Teems from the ladles
Running down the channels
Into the sow and her piglets
In the blackness of the steel-making cave
Where stick-people move, little human figures
Framed, sweating, against the bright glowing waterfalls
In the suffocating heat of this oven, their working world.
The memories stay with me, Uncle Glyn.
For before they closed Bynea Steel
You took me, aged thirteen,
With you into your fierce workplace.
You gave me the chance
To stare into the heart of darkness,
Into the molten substance that this town was built on
Before they took it away for good.
The only time in my life
I ever heard you swear was when you were crossing
The platform to join your furnace crew:
“She’s fucking hot today, boys.”
It was a sign.
We’re not home.
We’re in a different world.
I knew you only
In your front room.
Elsie brought in tea and welshcakes.
Or in your vegetable garden
Among the bambooed runner beans.
You were a kindly man,
For whom silence was a gentle natural place.
And after the works closed all you wanted
Was to work quietly in your garden
Nurturing the growth of living things from the soil
Feeling at last the warm sun on your face and back
After the thundering noise and the blinding heat.
It was not to be.
The very last time I saw you was the cancer ward
Your eyes full of fear, a tube in your throat.
The very last thing you said to me was:
“Don’t smoke boy, don’t smoke…”
Seriously? Was it the roll-ups that did you in?
Or was it the thirty years sweating your guts out
In the mouth of the furnace,
Breathing in scalding dust
And scorched, polluted vapour?
No admission of responsibility
From Bynea Steel Works.
And less than twenty years later
After the smaller ones went west
Duport went bankrupt
And Llanelly Steel Works closed
And then everything was gone.
1200 on the dole at a stroke
Dropping through the trapdoor
That swung open under the town
And I remember crowds of people
In the town centre
Down on their knees,
And children’s lives are lived
On their knees too
Skin smeared with grass juice
Closer to the ground
Nearer to the earth
And when I was a child
As I lay in the fields
At the back of Capel Isaf
Idly letting a ladybird
Crawl over my hand
There would always be,
Jutting from the earth,
A piece of rusted iron,
A triangle of metal,
Raw twisted steel
A crumbling red bolt,
Soldered into the rail.
Metal was everywhere.
Metal was embedded in the town.
Sosban Fach yn berwi ar y tan…
They scraped and dug everything
They could get out of you,
But they couldn’t get at the metal.
The metal is still there
Deep in the earth
Waiting in the dark, dark ground
For the day when
It is needed once again…
Tim Evans is a poet and activist. His work has appeared in several magazines and anthologies. He is co-founder and host of Live Poets Society, a radical poetry group based in Swansea, Wales, UK. His latest poetry collection – Bones of the Apocalypse – is published by Frequency House. Twitter: @llaneli_riots
Banner Art: Bernie’s Way, a photo piece by M.S. Evans (c) 2022. MS Evans is a guest reader and editor on the Work & The Anthropocene Project for Ice Floe Press. She is a widely published author, a Pushcart nominated poet, and a visual artist with work in Feral, Black Bough, Ice Floe Press, and many other venues. She recently had a solo show of her photographic works in Butte, Montana. Twitter: @seanettleink.