Maesteg is located at the northernmost end of the Llynfi Valley in the north of the Welsh county borough of Bridgend in the traditional county of Glamorgan. It is very close to the border with Neath Port Talbot county borough, and also to Rhondda Cynon Taff county borough. It has a population of some 17,830-19,223 people, with the surrounding area bringing the population to around 25,000 and thus is the 17th largest centre of population in Wales.
The town has been built, like so many others in this area of South Wales on its nineteenth century and early twentieth century legacy stemming from Iron Production and coal mining. At the height of its importance, there were six collieries operating in the town; with associated coal mining industries locating in Maesteg.
The earliest settlement in the Llynfi Valley is at the Bwlwarcau Iron Age Hill fort near to Llangynwyd Village which is around 2 miles to the south west of Maesteg Town centre. This places earliest human settlement in the area around Maesteg to more than 2,000 years ago. Imeadiately surrounding the Maesteg Area is significant evidence of settlement in the Bronze Age, which reaches back further in time, to nearly 4,000 years ago, in Carn Llechart, Crug yr Afan and Carn Bugail, there is also evidence of Neolithic settlement in this area of South Wales, in Penmaen Burrows in the Gower, and Maesteg is also close to Paviland in the Gower, where the oldest remains of humans have been found in the United Kingdom, dating from 26,350 years ago +/- 550 years; so there is significant evidence that the area around Maesteg has seen anthropological contact for a very long time.
Closer to modern times, the Romans established a settlement at present day Bridgend, and it could be assumed that they visited the Llynfi Valley as they also established a settlement at Neath, although the road that connected them was to the south of the Llynfi Valley as the topography is somewhat treacherous between Maesteg and Neath.
Maesteg remained until the start of the nineteenth century a small rural village, with areas of the town also as small villages with Llangynwyd as the principal village, as it has the oldest most developed infrastructure in the valley. Maesteg began to develop and expand as the techniques of the Industrial Revolution began to be applied to South Wales. Iron, which had always been known to exist in the area, was exploited with the opening of the Iron Works in the 1820s. This was fueled by coal seams which also existed in the valley. This was then transported to Porthcawl via railway where it could be taken by sea anywhere in the world. Another Iron works was set up in the late 1830s, and the two companies were soon bought up by Sir John Bowring in 1843. Bowring's tenure was a financial disaster and he left financial involvement in Maesteg by 1848, when he was put in charge of the British consulate in Canton, and he then became Governor of Hong Kong (1854-59).
Bowring has left a lasting legacy on the town; part of Nantyffyllon district was called Bowrington for a time during the nineteenth century; also John Street in Nantyffyllon was named after him, and Charles Row was named after his brother. There also exists the Bowrington Arcade, which was built at the end of the nineteenth century at the corner of Neath Road and Llynfi Road in the Town Centre.
By 1886, Iron making had ceased in Maesteg, coupled with a long depression during the 1870s, this marked a dark period in Maesteg's recent history; however, work in the coal industries had already began, with the sinking of Garth colliery by 1864 and another 5 collieries sunk before 1908.
This marked the largest expansion of Maesteg's population, with a greater number of people living in Maesteg at the start of the twentieth century than they do now at the start of the twenty-first. Coal mining was never expected to be an infinite resource, with closures of Garth and Bryn navigation in the 1930s and 1960s, as a natural result of running out of coal to mine. However, the National Coal Board closed Caerau and Coegnant before the Miners' Strike of 1982/1983. St John's was also closed before it's natural end. The legacy of the miner's strike is not as apparent as in other valleys which were arguably more economically reliant on coal, such as the Rhondda Valleys and Valleys further to the east. Nonetheless, there was still harsh economic hardship during the start of the 1980s for many of the population of Maesteg. There still remains strong (and sometimes visible) anti-Thatcher sentiment in Maesteg, similar to other areas in Great Britain affected in the same way by the Miner's Strike and its aftermath. Thus, Maesteg remains a Labour heartland in both general elections, where it lies in the constituency of Ogmore (which is one Labour's safest seats in the country), and Welsh Assembly elections, and also local county-level elections.
Since the demise of the coal mining industry in Maesteg, it has seen little, if any, heavy industry. Maesteg was little prepared for the closure of the mines in the 1980s and this lead to high unemployment which was exacerbated by the nationwide recession of the early 1990s. This unfavourable economic climate has become warmer in recent years; there are several large factories, one making cosmetics, another making rubber and another making insulation employ large numbers of people in the town. Service industries especially in the retail sector also employ large numbers of people. Maesteg has some nationwide retail chains, such as Woolworths, Boots and New Look, and also a Somerfield supermarket. Maesteg has also retained and encouraged small shops which are either stand-alone retail units or are of a limited chain existing elsewhere in South Wales.
Maesteg will probably never again develop any serious heavy industry because of its location, in terms of accesibility, as is the case with most other parts of the South Wales Coalfield; whilst the Llynfi Valley is the widest valley in South Wales, it only has room for one main road to traverse the length of the valley, for access to Bridgend and the M4 motorway.
There is a large proportion of people who live in Maesteg but commute to Bridgend (9 miles away) or to Cardiff (27 miles away).