13 - The Industrial Revolution

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Perhaps the show by now is highlighting some of the reasons people migrated from rural Wales both across the sea and also into the towns and cities during the 18th and 19th centuries. In many ways it was a choice of lessers of evils, if they stayed put they faced starvation after the decimation of the rural economy by enclosure, taxation and new cheaply made factory goods. However conditions in the newly industrialised towns of south Wales were almost as bad - squalid working conditions, exploitation, and yet more poverty. By the start of the 19th C masses of people were moving from the countryside into the towns and cities. In Wales, by the middle of the 19th C two thirds of families were supported by activities other than agriculture.

I was also a very turbulent period. The ruling classes, terrified of revolutionary fever spreading to England from France, brutally clamped down on any perceived attempt at labourers getting together to organise themselves – this included including suspending habeas corpus for eight years which meant that they could throw anyone in prison indefinitely without giving a reason or a trial. The capitalist merchant and now factory owning elite exploited all the ruling class's fear of revolution as an excuse to prevent any attempt by labourers to protect their communities and livelihoods through coming together in public to form unions or 'combine' as it was called in those days. During this period you have the luddites, the swing riots (destroying symbols of oppression), the Peterloo riots and in South Wales the Merthyr Uprisings.

The Merthyr risings were the violent climax to years of simmering unrest around unemployment, the lowering of wages and prices of food. Workers seized the town of Merthyr and made their demands marching under the red flag – perhaps the very beginning of socialism. Alas after six days and much violence they were disbanded by the army. Wanting to set an example, a man called Dic Penderyn was hung in Cardiff for allegedly stabbing a soldier (later evidence proved this was not true). 11,000 people signed a signature calling for his release but it was to no avail and he became a martyr for the cause.