by Gruffydd Meredith
The thesis heard from many is that it was mass immigration from England and elsewhere that changed Wales overwhelmingly during the industrial revolution. But this is incorrect. The vast majority of those involved in the industrial revolution were Welsh people, mostly also Welsh speakers.
Although many Welsh people migrated to the USA, South America, Australia and other countries. A huge number mainly moved from north, mid and west Wales, to the new Welsh industrial areas. There their population boomed quickly as they had bigger families due to the new work possibilities and higher quality of life compared to what they had before in rural Wales.
Wales is unique in that its biggest migration has been the internal migration of its own people within its own borders due to the industrial revolution. Due to this internal migration, Wales became the world’s first industrial nation in the world. In 1830, Merthyr Tudful was one of the biggest industrial towns in the world – also almost wholly Welsh speaking.
Nearly all the Newport Chartists were also Welsh speaking. Up until 1850, 90% of the population of Wales spoke Welsh, including Cardiff. And in the 1831 Merthyr rising, eight years before the Newport rising of 1839, some 7,000 to 10,000 workers marched under a red flag for the first time. This was done to denote their solidarity as Welsh workers and Welsh people against exploitative working conditions and exploitative, often foreign employers.
They also used the slogan of ‘Bara Neu Waed’ (Bread or Blood) to drive home their message. This red flag was later adopted internationally (and many would argue ‘wrongly assigned’) as the symbol of communists and socialists, although the Welsh risings had a Welsh patriotic and nationalist drive behind them rather than any dogmatic later Marxian or internationalist movement or ideology.
And it was in Wales in 1804 when the first steam engine was built and then used to draw iron from Merthyr Tudful to Abercynnon. And in 1807 the Mumbles Railway opened, the first fee paying passenger railway service in the world.
Wales became the biggest coal exporter in the world and it’s said that it was at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff that the first ever £1,000,000 deal was agreed in 1904.
Of course there then came people from the other nations of Britain, from Ireland, Italy and elsewhere, who contributed to the country’s culture and became active Welsh citizens as Wales became an attractive place to settle and work. But unlike what many modern historians and media outlets often try and claim, the majority of the original industrial boom and drive came from the Welsh themselves.
Today especially, Wales doesn’t really have a proper Welsh press and media although this is slowly changing, especially the independent press and media side of things. But our current mainstream media and press are all London media in Wales telling us what we are as a country, and giving us our narratives as well as both our old and more recent history.
And this imposter media and press often pushes the same old divisive anti Wales propaganda which thrives on division and petty infighting. Much of this is also polarised and simplistic – polarised into non Welsh speakers as a monolithic block versus Welsh speakers as a monolithic block. This deliberately misses out on the amazing richness of Wales.
A mainstream independent media and press created by and for all Welsh citizens would celebrate the wonder and diversity of Wales and of Welsh culture in both English and Welsh language, rather than being tied down by negativity in the form of polarised and dated obsessions of Welsh speakers v English speakers.
And, although something that is being increasingly celebrated, it’s high time that the English speaking Welsh culture of Wales is given more attention in a Welsh national/nationalist context alongside the Welsh speaking culture – not because they are in competition with each other but because they complement each other and are both different expression of the same roots.
Why not start an English language Eisteddfod or similar English language Welsh festival for Wales for example? Taking inspiration from the Porthcawl Miners’ Eisteddfod and other English language Eisteddfods held across the world?
Despite constant divisive attempts, this amazing country of Wales isn’t divided. Considering all the attacks against it from outside and from within, it’s remarkably united. Its citizens should celebrate their amazing country in all its rich cultural and linguistic patchwork.
Main picture: Dowlais Ironworks, Merthyr Tudful in 1840 by G.Childs