The dinosaurs, monsters and beasts lurking in Cwm

By Chris Wood
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

Firm creates dinosaurs for Tim Burton and Boris Johnson

A pterodactyl to hang from a tree in Boris Johnson's garden on his 50th birthday was one of the requests.

Another brought Hollywood director Tim Burton to Blaenau Gwent in search of dinosaurs.

Alba Shed, which sells life-like models, came about after a chance encounter in the Philippines two decades ago.

It now supplies attractions across the UK with imitation animals and monsters.

Driving down the narrow main street in Cwm, near Ebbw Vale, it is hard to miss the giant models of elephants, yetis and vampires on the roadside.

The company's warehouse often draws crowds of inquisitive children and adults posing for selfies with Darth Maul, Kung Fu Panda and Louis Armstrong.

Image caption,
Lucy Powell moves models of a baby elephant and pony on a side street in Cwm

"We sell attractions but have become a bit of an attraction ourselves," said Ben Powell, who runs the business in his spare time with sister Lucy.

It all started when father Charles visited the Philippines more than 20 years ago.

"He worked as a car salesman and was a bit of a hoarder who has the ability to see value in things that people might want to buy," Mr Powell added.

"After seeing a model over there, he thought 'this might work' and found the factory where they were made."

Initially, Charles brought over a 20-foot container with artworks of characters such as Frankenstein and Dracula that he sold to shops around south Wales.

It was then he was commissioned to work at the Dan yr Ogof showcaves in the Brecon Beacons to supply the 40ft dinosaurs now on display.

The process starts with outlines drawn of how a model should look from different angles and how pieces fit together.

These are then sent to the factory that has since moved from the Philippines to Cambodia.

A polystyrene cast is made, before plastic is moulded over it with each item hand-painted.

Image caption,
Alba Shed has supplied models to attractions including Forbidden Corner in Yorkshire and Adventureland in Brighton

"Another time, dad called and said 'there is some bloke with a big, scruffy haircut and some heavies here wanting to buy dinosaurs. Do you know who he is?'," Mr Powell said.

It was Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands director Tim Burton - however, he was not after props for the set of a fantasy movie but dinosaurs for his children to play with in his Oxford garden.

Marina Wheeler - the wife of Conservative MP Boris Johnson - also ordered a pterodactyl for his 50th birthday which had to be hanging from a tree in their garden when he arrived home.

Other famous people to have bought items include Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey who ordered two 12ft giraffes.

Charles named the company Alba Shed using the initials of his children - Anna, Lucy, Ben and Amy - with "Shed" for his storage area.

But it was mainly a hobby, and apart from a small online presence, he did little to market it.

Then, a year ago, he suggested he was going to call it a day and clear the warehouse.

Having grown attached to some of the characters, son Ben, a structural engineer, and daughter Lucy, a manager, decided to step in.

They found the shed crammed full of items he had collected over the years, including a 12ft miner, two solid wood tigers and Boba Fett from Star Wars.

Mr Powell said his favourites are "Dave the Yeti", "Uncle Frank" (Frankenstein) and a Donald Trump bust.

Image caption,
"Dave the Yeti" and "Uncle Frank" are two of Ben Powell's favourite models
Image caption,
Models packed away in the warehouse include one of Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks

The pair now attend conventions and trade shows as they look for new uses for their wacky characters.

"We are working on an ice cave for a customer and a Dylan Thomas for a bench in Swansea," Mr Powell added.

"But it is scare attractions that seem to be booming. We are looking to create themed crazy golf parks around pirates and horror."

However, for the backstreet shed that already draws crowds, there is another obvious use for the creations.

Once they discover what villain and monster models are hoarded away in the warehouse, they plan to create a showroom with themed areas.

Not quite Madame Tussauds, perhaps, but some of the characters should at least provide a fright to those who dare visit at Halloween.