An introduction to the real characters behind Blaenavon's brand new virtual reality experience

Blaenavon World Heritage Site is now home to a brand-new 360⁰ VR experience - Time Travel in the Blaenavon World Heritage Site - which invites visitors to step back in time and come face-to-face with a suite of real characters who lived and worked in Victorian Blaenavon.

Boasting three virtual reality films, the immersive experience will take you on a journey back to the Industrial Revolution and provide a true insight into the trials and tribulations encountered by three members of the local Blaenavon Community.

Here’s a sneak peek at who you might meet along the way….

Meet Sarah Hopkins - founder of St Peter’s School in Blaenavon

Sarah Hopkins was one of two children to Thomas Hopkins - one of the founders of Blaenavon Ironworks. From the 18th century onwards, the Hopkins family began their long association with the growing industrial community of the town.

Sarah’s brother, Samuel Hopkins, became one of the Ironwork’s respected Ironmasters and both himself and Sarah, perused a keen interest in the material, educational and spiritual welfare of the local workers’ children — who despite a ban, were still often subject to slave labour in the local mines.

After establishing two small cottage-based schools in the outskirts of the town, where for the weekly fee of two pence, classes were held for the children by local workers’ wives, Sarah and her brother dreamed of opening a free, purpose-built school in the centre of Blaenavon.

But, sadly, they didn’t manage to bring their plan to fruition while Samuel was still alive. After his death in 1815, Sarah made it her mission to build the school in memory of her brother and used her inheritance to ensure his kind-hearted intentions were made possible.

In 1816, St Peter’s School was complete and welcomed 120 pupils from local families across the town. Each morning, older children were taught for 3 hours by Headmaster, Mr John Cadwell, before passing on their new skills to younger children in the afternoon.

Sarah visited the school once a year and enjoyed rewarding pupils with small gifts for their academic achievements.

To find out more about Sarah’s educational initiative for the poor children of Blaenavon, use our new VR technology to transport back in time at Blaenavon World Heritage Centre and experience the Victorian sights and sounds of St Peter’s School.

Enter the Blaenavon Heritage Centre Time Travel Experience

Cross paths with Mary Underwood - shop-keeper at No. 57, Broad Street

When the ironworks and collieries began trading in the 17th century, Blaenavon Heritage Town quickly became the commercial hub for the thousands of workers employed across the area.

Mary Underwood was a shop keeper in the heart of Blaenavon c. 1911, where she would have earned approximately £1 per week to help provide for her family.

Proud to be part of a close knit community, she worked at no. 57 on Broad Street — most likely providing the people of Blaenavon with general household items and sweets for the local children.

From her shop window, she enjoyed watching the bustling industrial town make a living and looked forward to spotting her husband and son wandering down the cobbled streets on their return from work and school.

Although Mary loved her job and meeting new people from the town, she also experienced some troublesome times, including local riots and having to make the painful decision to leave Blaenavon after her husband lost his job during the coal industry decline.

The next time you’re wandering the historic pavements of Blaenavon Heritage Town, take a pit stop at our Time Travellers’ bench and let Mary guide you through a typical day on Broad Street during the 19th century— all in the name of VR!

Enter the Blaenavon Heritage Town Time Travel Experience

Befriend Henry Underwood - a local Victorian miner

Loving husband to shop-keeper, Mary Underwood, Henry was a local worker during the 19th century. His exact trade remains uncertain, but it is likely that he was a coal miner at Big Pit colliery - a job all too familiar with the people of Blaenavon Town.

Many members of the Blaenavon community, including men, women and even children as young as five, worked 300ft deep underground at Big Pit to extract masses of coal for fuelling locomotives, steam ships, factories and households across the world!

Coal was in high demand and Blaenavon was first in line for supplying the nation - but with demand came great danger. Suffering poor working conditions for up to 72 hours a week, Henry and his fellow workmen were at risk of being caught in gas explosions, fires, floods and collapsing tunnels every single day.

But, despite the toil and grind of Welsh mining, Bit Pit was described as one big Blaenavon family, with a fantastic sense of camaraderie felt amongst workers.

Through our new 360⁰ virtual reality experience, come face-to-face with Henry at Big Pit National Coal Museum, discover more about his working life at the coal face and let him take you on an immersive journey back to 1980, when his colliery was the oldest working mine left in Wales…

Enter the Big Pit Time Travel Experience

No VR headset? No problem. The brand-new Time Travel in the Blaenavon World Heritage Site experience can be accessed via standard smart devices or a home desktop browser, too. And for anyone who’s curious about VR but doesn’t have a headset - you can borrow one for free from Big Pit National Coal Museum or the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre.