Ebbw Vale street named after ‘inspiring’ steelworker who lost arms in accident over 100 years ago

A road in Ebbw Vale has been officially named after a steelworks employee who overcame adversity and became a local celebrity after losing both his arms in an accident in the brickworks aged just 14.

New road signs were unveiled today to officially name ‘Billy Collins Way’ (Ffordd Billy Collins) at the rear of the General Offices in Ebbw Vale.

Photo: Ciaran Mitchel-Neal

Billy’s story was uncovered by Pen--y-Cwm School Post-16 student, Ciaran Mitchel-Neal, when he started work experience with Ebbw Vale Works Museum, based in the General Offices. Ciaran was inspired by Billy who, despite the life changing accident, made a name for himself on the Music Hall stage, performing ‘everyday’ activities under the name of ‘Billy the Armless Wonder’. Billy could do up shirt buttons with his toes, play a piano with his nose and paint holding a brush in his mouth! 

Billy was determined to support people in adversity who suffered similar disabilities to his own and gave his time to write to and support many people from wounded soldiers returning from war to thalidomide victims. He also helped to raise money for charity.

Following the accident, he continued to work at the steelworks as a Clerk. He died in 1969, aged 67.

Photo: Billy Collins

Ciaran went on to make a film and exhibition about Billy and his desire was to have a permanent memorial to this extraordinary man who overcame so much in his lifetime and went on to be an aspirational example to the local community and beyond, especially those facing adversity. Ciaran was supported by his Teaching Assistant and Work Experience Coordinator at the school, Nancy Keshy and the volunteers at Ebbw Vale Works Museum, all who helped to make his dream a reality.

Watch Ciaran’s video here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPfJ4Z0jRx8

Today, he achieved his aim with the naming of the street.

Ciaran says:

"When I started this project, I didn’t know that it was going to be this big, so I would like to say a massive thank you to Blaenau Gwent Council, Billy Collins’ family and everyone who helped from my school and the museum."

Councillor Sue Edmunds, Cabinet Member for People & Education says:

“It is good to remember those people who achieve many things in the face of adversity. People who have a kind and generous heart and a will to overcome the hurdles that are placed in front of them. Above all, to support those who face the difficulties in everyday life that seem like mountains.

“We are thankful to Ciaran for pursuing with dedicated research and tenacity the story of Billy and Blaenau Gwent Council is proud to remember him by naming this road in his memory. I am sure his family are grateful for your efforts. May everyone who drive or walk along the road, look up Billy’s wonderful achievements and may it be an inspiration to them all.”

More about Ebbw Vale Works Museum here.


Photo: Ciaran & members of Billy's family