How does growing up for today’s young people in Port Talbot compare to the experience of the town’s most famous son, actor Richard Burton? Students from Neath Port Talbot College will find out, following the star’s footsteps and delving through his diaries, as part of a Swansea University-led project, Burton@14.
Supported by Heritage Lottery funding, Burton@14 will see the students using Burton’s diaries and other resources over the next 18 months to uncover the social history of the town and its inhabitants from the 1930s to the present day. They will be trained in video recording, oral history, archiving, digital and arts skills and will draw on this to re-tell the story of Port Talbot.
The group will spend some time working with the actor’s diaries and papers in their home at the University’s Richard Burton Archives. They will also visit local landmarks that were important to the young Burton, and watch some of the films that were showing in cinemas at the time.
The aim is to help them find out what it was like to grow up in Port Talbot and see how different – or not – the issues facing a young Burton were from those experienced by today’s local young people.
Picture: some of Richard Burton's diaries, which are held in the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University
The project will culminate in a lasting resource pack being created for the community, as well as a series of events and exhibitions to share the group’s findings
Burton@14 is led by Swansea University’s Choice project and Richard Burton Archives, in collaboration with Neath Port Talbot College (NPTC Group), Neath Port Talbot Library Services, and the Taliesin Arts Centre at Swansea University.
As the project develops, experts from across Swansea University and other partners will become involved.
Eirwen Hopkins of Swansea University, who is running the Burton@14 project, said:
“The Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University holds an extensive collection of Burton’s original writings, and the young people quickly realised that some people in Port Talbot have little idea of the real man, despite hailing from the same streets as he walked.
Burton’s stardom left a huge legacy for the town, but the town also impacted strongly on him as a young man growing up in south Wales. We want to use his private diaries to reconnect local young people with the history of personal, social and artistic change that is right on their doorsteps.”
Elisabeth Bennett, Swansea University archivist, said:
“This project is a perfect opportunity for Richard Burton’s diaries to be used in a new way. The early diary provides an insight into the life of an ordinary teenager recording the mundane alongside world events.
We are excited that Burton@14 will provide a way for the young people of Port Talbot to access the past and explore how Port Talbot has shaped them and Richard Burton.”
Richard Burton – from Port Talbot to worldwide fame
After his mother’s death when only two years old, Burton - or Richard Jenkins as he was at the time - was taken in by his sister and her husband. There was little spare money in the family, so to earn enough to visit the cinema Burton collected newspaper wrapping for his fishmonger aunt as well as collecting and selling dung from a nearby hillside to a local fertilizer merchant.
After Richard showed artistic promise in school, English teacher Philip Burton took him under his wing, giving him acting, elocution and language classes before becoming his legal guardian when Richard was 18 – and Richard took his mentor’s name as his own.
Burton went on to achieve worldwide fame and fortune as one of the finest actors of his generation on stage and screen.
Richard Bellamy is Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Wales and believes the project can give a new insight into life in the industrial area:
“For today’s local young people, seeing life in the town through the eyes of an adolescent Burton in the 1930s and 40s will prove an interesting journey.
It is a unique opportunity to view a community’s historic development but to do so through the eyes of a global icon.”
Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock added:
“Connecting young people with the history of their local area is important, and taking advantage of as rich a local resource as the Richard Burton Archives should provide a wealth of material with which Port Talbot can be better understood, from such a unique viewpoint.
Having worked with the Heritage Lottery Fund earlier in the year on a funding fair, it is heartening to see the success of local groups as a result, and I would encourage others to take advantage of the opportunity to discuss ideas with HLF staff in Wales. ”
About the Choice Project
Choice supports children and young people to deepen their engagement with education, and training.
It is based in the Geography Department, College of Science, at Swansea University
About the Richard Burton Archives
The corporate memory and archive repository of Swansea University, holding material of local, regional and national significance. This includes material on the life and career of world-famous actor Richard Burton, such as the actor’s diaries.
- Tuesday 11 October 2016 17.01 BST
- Friday 23 September 2016 10.37 BST
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