The Demarcation of Wales: Rural and Industrial, Welsh and British

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the majority of immigrants settling to work in the South Wales coalfields would migrate from outside Wales. This contributed to a dramatic decline in the proportion of Welsh speakers by the beginning of the twentieth century and consolidated

English as the language of work and community in the majority of the industrialised parts of Wales. Overall, the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw huge increases in the population of South Wales associated with employment opportunities for working-class people from England, Scotland and Ireland in the coal industry (129,000 between 1901 and 1911). Trade union activity was conducted entirely in English, as the labour movement began to expand into a national Britainwide movement. Alongside this, the introduction of compulsory mass state education by 1880 throughout Britain ensured that children across all of Wales were able to use English, even if Welsh was the language of the home. That said, the expansion of education did enable social mobility for Welsh speakers to become teachers. By the early twentieth century, around three-quarters of the Welsh population and workforce would be located across the South Wales coalfield (Day 2002: 29). Wales began to become synonymous with the valleys, as Day has argued (2002), whilst Welsh speakers remained concentrated in the rural and sparsely populated areas. Wales was different to Scotland and most English regions and only comparable to the North East region of England in terms of the degree of reliance on heavy industry (Evans 1989). This fostered a particular kind of Welsh identity centred on place and community, but also one in which a civic identity associated with larger cities and an urban middle class was notably absent. Developments in transportation networks also contributed to a demarcation of rural and North from industrial and South Wales. Roads and railways were designed and built to ship material from North and South Wales to England, rather than to link Welsh people in different parts of Wales to each other. The emergence of tourism from the 1870s brought substantial numbers of English visitors to coastal resorts and hillsides. These developments carried fears expressed by Welsh-speaking elites about the anglicising of rural Wales and disappearance of a distinct way of life (Pitchford 2008). But the concerns of this elite would no longer connect to an industrial working class whose interests were increasingly centred on class politics and a labour movement which was internationalist in outlook.

The division between English- and Welsh-speaking Wales, industrial and rural, posed a serious challenge to the assertion of Welsh nationalism up until the late twentieth century. For leaders of trade unions and the labour movement, nonconformism represented not so much a shared culture as a way of playing down internal class divisions (Adamson 1991) . Industrialisation, more than anything else, brought about an integrative sense of Britishness, incorporating classes and regions into a British social and economic system (Williams 1985). As a result, (Kumar 2003: 169). Empire, industrial prowess and the overall global position of Britain were significant sources of national pride. Being Welsh and British went hand in hand. If the Industrial Revolution was British, rather than English, then so was the working class and the labour movement. Wales and Scotland played leading roles, and produced leading figures, in the emerging Labour and Liberal parties of the late nineteenth century. For instance, the Labour Party’s first MP, Keir Hardie, was elected from the Merthyr Tydfil constituency in 1900, whilst Lloyd George, who became Liberal Party MP in 1890, remains the only Welsh politician to hold the office of prime minister (1916—22).

By the early twentieth century it had become possible to conceive of Wales as something of a pluralistic society with significant divisions along ethnic (Welsh/English), class and geographic lines. The contested nature of Welsh identity was observed by the historian and political scientist Sir Alfred Zimmern in a speech at Jesus College, Oxford:

The Wales of today is not a community. There is not one Wales; there are

three____There is Welsh Wales; there is industrial, or as I sometimes think of

it American Wales; and there is upper-class Wales, or English Wales. These three represent different types and different traditions. They are moving in different directions and, if all three survive, they are not likely to re-unite.

Such a perspective on the three major social groupings of Wales—consisting of a Welsh-speaking rural Welsh, an English-speaking Welsh industrial working class and an upper-class English group—would continue to be found in much of the analysis of Welsh politics and society over the twentieth century (e.g. Balsom 1985; Giggs and Pattie 1992). The reference to industrial Wales as ‘American’ is critical in that it reflected the view that the industrial parts of Wales had become a ‘melting pot’ owing to high rates of in-migration—and were thereby less Welsh than the ‘core’ cultural area of Welsh-speaking rural Wales. But it was these concerns over the potential anglicisation of Welsh-speaking Wales that underlined the forming of the Plaid Cymru as the Welsh nationalist party in 1927. During the 1930s politicians within Plaid Cymru, as with the SNP at this time, were detached from mainstream politics and in some cases pursued traditionalist political agendas concerned with a deindustrialising of Wales, to return it to a rural idyll. Johnes (2010: 1260) summarises the origins of political nationalism in Wales:

[They are]...rooted in a desire to protect a Welsh cultural inheritance that centred on language and religion and which was in clear danger by the early 20th century____[T]he close identification of Plaid Cymru with a narrow cultural tradition was central to the party’s struggle to make any significant advances.

The nationalist emphasis on cultural tradition could not have conflicted more with the politics of class, which centred on the rights of workers and rising unemployment and economic hardship at a time when global demand for heavy industry began to decline. In the absence of state policies to redress growing levels of poverty, many workers and their families responded by leaving for more prosperous areas in the South of England. Between 1919 and 1939 almost 500,000 people left the valley communities to look for work elsewhere. Others stayed and fought for their communities, establishing powerful trade union and labour organisations in the process. As labour historians and industrial sociologists remind us, the development of mining and quarrying industries was built on Gemeinschaft-based social relations within mining communities, which enabled the labour movements to establish a stronghold (Hobsbawm 1987: 40), culminating in a hegemonic presence of the Labour Party in South Wales.

 
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