Modern history of Wales

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World War I poster for a fundraising event in support of Welsh troops. Lithograph designed by Frank Brangwyn in 1915.
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The modern history of Wales starts in the 19th century when South Wales became heavily industrialised with ironworks; this, along with the spread of coal mining to the Cynon and Rhondda valleys from the 1840s, led to an increase in population. The social effects of industrialisation resulted in armed uprisings against the mainly English owners. Socialism developed in South Wales in the latter part of the century, accompanied by the increasing politicisation of religious Nonconformism. The first Labour Party MP, Keir Hardie, was elected as junior member for the Welsh constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare in 1900.

The first decade of the 20th century was the period of the coal boom in South Wales, when population growth exceeded 20 per cent. Demographic changes affected the language frontier; the proportion of Welsh speakers in the Rhondda valley fell from 64 per cent in 1901 to 55 per cent ten years later, and similar trends were evident elsewhere in South Wales. The Labour Party replaced the Liberals as the dominant party in Wales after the First World War, particularly in the industrial valleys of South Wales. Plaid Cymru was formed in 1925 but initially its growth was slow and it gained few votes at parliamentary elections. Industries, particularly the coal industry, declined after the Second World War. By the early 1990s there was only one deep pit still working in Wales. There was a similar decline in the steel industry, and the Welsh economy, like that of other developed societies, became increasingly based on the expanding service sector.

The results of the 2001 Census showed an increase in the number of Welsh speakers to 21% of the population aged 3 and older, compared with 18.7% in 1991 and 19.0% in 1981. This compares with a pattern of steady decline indicated by census results during the 20th century.

19th century[edit]

In the early 19th century parts of Wales became heavily industrialised. Ironworks were set up in the South Wales Valleys, running south from the Brecon Beacons particularly around the new town of Merthyr Tydfil, with iron production later spreading westwards to the hinterlands of Neath and Swansea where anthracite coal was already being mined. From the 1840s coal mining spread to the Cynon and Rhondda valleys.[1] This led to a rapid increase in the population of these areas.[2]

The social effects of industrialisation led to bitter social conflict between the Welsh workers and predominantly English factory and mine owners. During the 1830s there were two armed uprisings, in Merthyr Tydfil in 1831,[3] and the Chartist uprising in Newport in 1839, led by John Frost.[4] The Rebecca Riots, which took place between 1839 and 1844 in South Wales and Mid Wales were rural in origin. They were a protest not only against the high tolls which had to be paid on the local Turnpike roads but against rural deprivation.[5]

Partly as a result of these disturbances, a government enquiry was carried out into the state of education in Wales. The enquiry was carried out by three English commissioners who spoke no Welsh and relied on information from witnesses, many of them Anglican clergymen. Their report, published in 1847 as Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales concluded that the Welsh were ignorant, lazy and immoral, and that this was caused by the Welsh language and nonconformity. This resulted in a furious reaction in Wales, where the affair was named the Treachery of the Blue Books.[6]

Socialism gained ground rapidly in the industrial areas of South Wales in the latter part of the century, accompanied by the increasing politicisation of religious Nonconformism. The first Labour MP, Keir Hardie, was elected as junior member for the Welsh constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare in 1900.[7] In common with many European nations, the first movements for national autonomy began in the 1880s and 1890s with the formation of Cymru Fydd, led by Liberal Party politicians such as T. E. Ellis and David Lloyd George.[8]

Another movement which gained strength during the 1880s was the campaign for disestablishment. Many felt that since Wales was now largely nonconformist in religion, it was inappropriate that the Church of England should be the established church in Wales. The campaign continued until the end of the century and beyond, with the passing of the Welsh Church Act 1914, which did not come into operation until 1920, after the end of the First World War.[9]

The 19th century brought about a large increase in population as Wales, like the rest of the UK, largely attributable to high birth rates and the demographic transition. In 1801 just over 587,000 people lived in Wales; by 1901, this had increased to over 2,012,000.[10] The growth rate in the first half of the 19th century was almost 15 per cent per decade, falling to 12.5 per cent per decade for the rest of the century.[11] However, these changes were uneven. The most significant rises in population occurred in industrial counties - Denbighshire, Flintshire, although by far the largest part of the increase was in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire. From 1851, the population of rural counties such as Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire began to decline. The causes were complex, but included the transition from subsistence to capitalised farming, and the lure of new employment opportunities in industrial districts.[12]

Another aspect of demographic change in the late 19th century was immigration, principally into the industrial districts of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. Wales was the only area of the British Isles to experience net immigration from 1860 to 1914.[11] Between 1881 and 1891, Glamorgan received a net inflow of more than 48,000 people from England.[13]

20th century[edit]

The first decade of the 20th century was the period of the coal boom in South Wales, when population growth exceeded 20 per cent.[11] By 1911, Glamorgan and Monmouthshire contained 63 per cent of the Welsh population, compared to a third sixty years earlier.[11] Demographic changes affected the language frontier; the proportion of Welsh speakers in the Rhondda valley fell from 64 per cent in 1901 to 55 per cent ten years later, and similar trends were evident elsewhere in South Wales.[13]

In the early part of the century Wales still largely supported the Liberal Party, particularly when David Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the First World War. However the Labour Party was steadily gaining ground, and in the years after World War I replaced the Liberals as the dominant party in Wales, particularly in the industrial valleys of South Wales.[14]

Plaid Cymru was formed in 1925 but initially its growth was slow and it gained few votes at parliamentary elections.[15] In 1936 an RAF training camp and aerodrome at Penyberth near Pwllheli was burnt by three members of Plaid CymruSaunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine, and D. J. Williams. This was a protest not only against the construction of the training camp, known as "the bombing school" but also against the destruction of the historic house of Penyberth to make room for it. This action and the subsequent imprisonment of the three perpetrators considerably raised the profile of Plaid Cymru, at least in the Welsh-speaking areas.[16]

The period following the Second World War saw a decline in several of the traditional industries, in particular the coal industry. The numbers employed in the South Wales coalfield, which at its peak around 1913 employed over 250,000 men, fell to around 75,000 in the mid 1960s and 30,000 in 1979.[17] This period also saw the Aberfan disaster in 1966, when a tip of coal slurry slid down to engulf a school with 144 dead, most of them children.[18] By the early 1990s there was only one deep pit still working in Wales. There was a similar decline in the steel industry, and the Welsh economy, like that of other developed societies, became increasingly based on the expanding service sector.

The post-war years saw the erosion of some Welsh traditions, such as religious non-conformity and Sunday closing, but the increasing reassertion of Welsh distinctiveness.[12] In 1955, Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George proclaimed Cardiff as the capital city of Wales[19] and in 1964 the first Secretary of State for Wales was appointed, heading a Welsh Office, the first stage in administrative devolution. In 1967 the Wales and Berwick Act, which specified that for legal purposes the term "England" should include Wales, was repealed. Nationalism became a major issue during the second half of the 20th century. In 1962 Saunders Lewis gave a radio talk entitled Tynged yr iaith (The fate of the language) in which he predicted the extinction of the Welsh language unless action was taken. This led to the formation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) the same year.[20] Nationalism grew particularly following the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in 1965, drowning the village of Capel Celyn to create a reservoir supplying water to Liverpool. In 1966 Gwynfor Evans won the Carmarthen seat for Plaid Cymru at a by-election, their first Parliamentary seat.[21] The flooding of Capel Celyn also prompted the formation of militant groups such as the Free Wales Army and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC - Welsh Defence Movement). In the years leading up to the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969, these groups were responsible for a number of bomb blasts destroying water pipes and tax and other offices. Two members of MAC, George Taylor and Alwyn Jones, the "Abergele Martyrs", were killed by a home made bomb at Abergele the day before the investiture ceremony.

Plaid Cymru made gains in the two General Elections held in 1974, winning three seats. There was increased support for devolution within the Labour party and a Devolution Bill was introduced in late 1976.[22] However a referendum on the creation of an assembly for Wales in 1979 led to a large majority for the "no" vote.[23] The new Conservative government elected in the 1979 General Election had pledged to establish a Welsh-language television channel, but announced in September 1979 that it would not honour this pledge. This led to a campaign of non-payment of television licences by members of Plaid Cymru and an announcement by Gwynfor Evans in 1980 that he would fast unto death if a Welsh language channel was not established. In September 1980 the government announced that the channel would after all be set up, and S4C was launched in November 1982.[24] The Welsh Language Act 1993 gave the Welsh language equal status with English in Wales with regard to the public sector.[25]

In May 1997, a Labour government was elected with a promise of creating devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales. In late 1997 a referendum was held on the issue which resulted a "yes" vote, albeit by a narrow majority.[26] The Welsh Assembly was set up in 1999 (as a consequence of the Government of Wales Act 1998) and possesses the power to determine how the government budget for Wales is spent and administered.

Over the course of the 20th century, the population of Wales increased from just over 2,012,000 in 1901 to 2.9 million in 2001, but the process was not linear - 430,000 people left Wales between 1921 and 1940 largely owing to the economic depression of the 1930s.[27] English in-migration became a major factor from the first decade of the 20th century, when there was a net gain of 100,000 people from England. In this era, most incomers settled in the expanding industrial areas, contributing to a partial Anglicisation of some parts of south and east Wales. The proportion of the Welsh population able to speak the Welsh language fell from just under 50% in 1901 to 43.5% in 1911, and continued to fall to a low of 18.9% in 1981. Over the century there has also been a marked increase in the proportion of the population born outside Wales; at the time of the 2001 Census 20% of Welsh residents were born in England, 2% were born in Scotland or Ireland, and 3% were born outside the UK.[28] Whereas most incomers settled in industrial districts in the early 20th century, by the 1990s the highest proportions of people born outside Wales were found in Ceredigion, Powys, Conwy, Denbighshire and Flintshire.

21st century[edit]

The results of the 2001 Census showed an increase in the number of Welsh speakers to 21% of the population aged 3 and older, compared with 18.7% in 1991 and 19.0% in 1981. This compares with a pattern of steady decline indicated by census results during the 20th century.[29]

In Cardiff the Millennium Stadium, opened in 1999,[30] was followed by the Wales Millennium Centre opened in 2004 as a centre for cultural events, notably opera. The new Welsh Assembly building, to be known as the Senedd, was completed in February 2006 and officially opened on St. David's Day that year.[31]

In 2006 the Government of Wales Act gained Royal Assent meaning that from May 2007 the Queen would have the new legal identity of "Her Majesty in Right of Wales" and would for the first time appoint Welsh Ministers and sign Welsh Orders in Council. It also made provision for a future referendum to ask the Welsh people if they would like the Welsh Assembly to gain the power to pass primary legislation e.g. to make true Welsh laws. A referendum on extending the law-making powers of the National Assembly was accordingly held on 3 March 2011. It asked the question: "Do you want the Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for?" The result of the vote was that 63.49% voted "yes", and 36.51% voted "no". Consequently, the Assembly is now able to make laws, known as Acts of the Assembly, on all matters in the subject areas, without needing the UK Parliament's agreement.[32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Williams G.A.When was Wales? p. 183
  2. ^ Williams G.A.When was Wales? p. 174
  3. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 366-7
  4. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 377
  5. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 378-82
  6. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 390-1
  7. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation pp. 46-7
  8. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation pp. 113-118
  9. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation p. 183
  10. ^ 200 years of the Census in...WALES Office for National Statistics
  11. ^ a b c d Jenkins, P. (1992) A History of Modern Wales. Harlow: Longman.
  12. ^ a b Davies, John (Ed) (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 572. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6. 
  13. ^ a b Evans, D. Gareth (1989) A History of Wales 1815-1906. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
  14. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation p.272
  15. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation p.206-8
  16. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 592-3
  17. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 533
  18. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 629
  19. ^ Cardiff as Capital of Wales: Formal Recognition by Government. The Times. 21 December 1955
  20. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation p. 382-3
  21. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 667
  22. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation p.399-403
  23. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 677
  24. ^ Davies, J A history of Wales p. 680
  25. ^ Full text of the Welsh Language Act 1993
  26. ^ www.electoralcommission.org.uk: The 1997 Referendum
  27. ^ Morgan, K.O. Rebirth of a nation p.229-31
  28. ^ Results of the 2001 Census: Country of birth (www.statistics.gov.uk)
  29. ^ Results of the 2001 Census from www.statistics.gov.uk
  30. ^ Millennium Stadium website
  31. ^ The New National Assembly for Wales Senedd opened on St David’s Day National Assembly for Wales, Public Information page. Retrieved 4 May 2006
  32. ^ BBC News, Wales says Yes in referendum vote, BBC News, 3 March 2011

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