Robert Haines

Once Upon a Time in Wales and This Time in Wales

This blog post looks at the work of Robert Haines who is revisiting and updating his book ‘Once Upon a Time in Wales’ to be exhibited in 2016.

Old Mr Jones and Old Mrs Jones. Old Mrs Jones used to sell pegs around the street.

‘For 35 years a collection of photographs remained hidden from the world in a box beneath my bed. They were taken around 1971-2 when I was twenty years of age and they record some of the characters from the village of Heolgerrig and the nearby town of Merthyr Tydfil in the South Wales valleys. Heolgerrig, where Welsh was still the first language, was a small hamlet of several hundred houses on the outskirts of Merthyr Tydfil, once the ‘Iron Capital’ of the world. At the time there were major redevelopment plans for nearby Georgetown and Dowlais, areas that were warrens of small Ironworkers’ cottages.’

2Lewis Evans and his wife Martha

Dai Llewellyn. Not quite the world’s best gurner but he did come 3rd in the 1968 World Gurning Championships.

I have no idea who this man was. He invited me into his home to take his portrait.

‘I wanted to record some of the characters, especially some of the old characters who seemed to have drifted in from a previous century. We would never see the likes of them again. They spent their days getting plastered on cider, working underground, and living in often terrible conditions. Some of the people I knew well, several were family members, others complete strangers.’

Dai Passmore and his dog.

Billy Diana

‘I spent time with some of them, often having a pint in Ye Olde Express, The Lamb Inn or The Red Lion. Others were just fleeting images of strangers I passed in the street. Merthyr had a reputation as a tough town and justifiably so. Some of the characters in my photographs were hard men who later came to untimely deaths. Yet, a common factor was that they all enjoyed having their photographs taken. It made them feel important.’

God in denim on the British Tip in Merthyr. “I’m God”, he shouted at me as I was passing.

Tex Jones. Tex was the father of my schoolfriend Wayne. He lived on the Gurnos Estate and was crazy about the Wild West.

The book Once Upon a Time in Wales was published by Dewi Lewis Publishing in 2008.

‘In 2014, with Arts Council of Wales and REDHOUSE Gallery support, I embarked on an updated project. I aim to produce a new body of work featuring characters from present day Merthyr Tydfil and the village of Heolgerrig. It is titled This Time in Wales.’



‘Today it is a much more diverse and cosmopolitan place. The plan is to go out and photograph family and friends just as I did in 1972. An exhibition of the new work together with the old is planned for the REDHOUSE Gallery in Merthyr Tydfil in March 2016.’




In 2010 Robert made a film based on the photographs from the project, titled Astronauts, Vikings and Ghosts which can be seen at Doc Alliance Films. The film was premiered at Festival International du Film sur l’Art in Montreal, won ‘Best Documentary’ at the Newport International Film Festival and was broadcast on the prestigious La Lucarne slot on ARTE in France and Germany in 2012.

Astronauts, Vikings and Ghosts will be shown on Arte on Tuesday 24th February.

Robert Haines was born in Merthyr Tydfil. He graduated in Film at the University of Westminster in London and his first documentary ‘Tommy Gravedigger’ was broadcast on BBC2 in 1975. Robert is represented in Paris by Dominique Charlet.

James O Jenkins