Impact of Industrialisation of Wales
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Published: Wed, 06 Sep 2017
The industrialisation of Wales has been described as acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ for the Welsh language. Discuss this statement.
Industrialisation in Wales made a large impact on many different parts of Welsh life and culture. The Welsh language, which throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries faced many challenges, was not excluded from this; it is clear to many that industrialisation had a large impact on the Welsh language as a whole during this period. The question that remains, however, is whether the Welsh language was positively affected by industrialisation or not. While it would be best to look at individual provenances along with Wales as a whole, by looking at the country as a whole it is argued that the Welsh language faced hardships. This was due to the fact that overall the number of native Welsh speakers rapidly declined between 1800 and 1911. In 1891, 54.5 percent of the Welsh population could speak Welsh, however this percentage dropped to 44.6 per cent by 1911. This essay shall debate whether industrialisation was indeed a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ for the Welsh language or whether it damaged the Welsh language instead, as well as look at other factors that could, in a way, be described as acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’.
It is debated amongst historians whether industrialisation helped the Welsh language flourish during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries or whether it contributed to the gradual decline in native Welsh speakers. Brinley Thomas argues that a large number of people migrated to the south to work in coal mines, though they brought up Welsh-speaking families. Due to this it can be proposed that to some extent industrialisation did, in fact, help the Welsh-language, acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’. Geraint Jenkins counter-argues this view by stating that as people migrated to the south to work in coal mines, many communities lost thousands of Welsh-speaking people. From this is can be assumed that Jenkins says that as many communities lost so many Welsh-speakers, it therefore means that the Welsh language began to decline, meaning that the industrialisation of Wales was not acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ for the Welsh language. Regardless, it appears that to many historians that industrialisation had some effect on the Welsh language, though it remains unclear whether this effect was predominantly good or bad.
Industrialisation played a key role in the development and modernisation of Great Britain throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Wales was no exception to this, and saw a large surge in industry, especially in the south. Many raw materials such as coal were seen as an important resource that would help the British empire and British economy grow and flourish. Due to this, migration to the south and other industrialised areas on Wales was fairly common. Thomas proposes that the Welsh language was saved by industrialisation during this period rather than damaged by it. This is due to the fact that many families who had migrated to the industrialised areas brought up their children to speak Welsh. Thomas also notes that nearly 900,000 Welsh-speaking people were recorded in the 1891 census. 70 per cent of these people were living in the five counties that were the most deeply affected by industrialization – Carmarthenshire, Flintshire, Glamorgan, Caernarfonshire, and Denbighshire. Despite this, it is important to note that each town in the south and other industrialised areas had different percentages of those who could speak Welsh. Pontardawe saw 67 per cent of its population speaking only Welsh, no English, whilst Cardiff saw only 1.9 per cent of its population being able to speak Welsh. With this in mind, there appears to be a distinct pattern; town that were closer to the coast and could be used as ports appeared to have less Welsh-speakers inhabiting it than in areas further away, such as areas with coal. Gwenfair and Williams support this point by stating that Cardiff focused mainly on exports. Therefore it can be argued that while industrialisation helped the Welsh language in some areas, in others it continued to struggle, meaning that it cannot rightfully be described as an acting ‘cauldron of rebirth’.
Continuing from the previous point, the industrialisation of Wales saw an influx of many foreigners. While many of these ‘foreigners’ came from England in the search for work, others travelled from Ireland and even Italy in order to live and work in Wales. When people migrate many of them bring their language and culture with them, meaning that it is highly probable that Welsh towns that saw a large amount of migrants had to adapt to accommodate these new languages and cultures. Merthyr had 12 per cent of its population migrate from outside Wales in the 1840s, with Pontypool seeing more than 30 per cent of its population coming from outside Wales. Looking at Pontypool in particular, 89.7 per cent of its population could speak English but no Welsh; this indicates that migrants had quite the influence over Pontypool as English became the predominant language in that region, especially the English. As well as this, many Welsh-born people migrated outside of Wales, including America, due to industrialization. The 1891 American census revealed that 100,079 Welsh people lived in the United States. With these people moving to an English-speaking nation, it is logical that they would learn and speak English in order to get the best opportunities; this would mean that the number of Welsh-speaking people most likely declined as parents saw no need to teach their children Welsh in a foreign country. This view is contradicted by Thomas, however, who states that a vast majority of immigration during this period was Welshmen moving to the north or south in order to look for work in coalmines or factories. With industrialisation having an impact on migration as a whole, it is safe to say that migration did not necessarily help the Welsh language, instead making the numbers of those who spoke it decline.
Welsh education saw many changes, some of them quite dramatic, and did have an overall effect on the Welsh language in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As education in Wales was controlled by the English government at the time, the English language was push in many schools throughout Wales. This issue was brought up in the Treachery of the Blue Books in 1847 along with other problems the Welsh education system was facing at the time. The Education Act of 1870 made matters worse, especially in weak Welsh-speaking areas, as English was further pushed in schools. Children could no longer learn Welsh in schools, instead having to rely on parents as well as Sunday schools in order to learn the language properly. In some areas, this meant that Welsh quickly became a minority language. As Welsh was no longer taught in schools, this meant that the survival of the Welsh language depended on parents, Sunday schools and preachers who passed the language on to younger generations. The Education Act of 1870 had an impact on the whole of Wales, especially in the south. This can be seen by how in Cardiff in 1847, there were ninety-three schools that taught in English; none taught in only Welsh. Attitudes towards education in Wales did not help either. In his book Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era, Morgan stated that ‘Lord Aberdareâ€¦ in 1885, declared thatâ€¦ he had come to the conclusion that the teaching of Welsh should not be made compulsory’. This attitude towards education in Wales would therefore mean that, to some, the Welsh language should survive through family rather than education. This suggests that the change in education did not have a positive effect on the Welsh language, and that it cannot be described as acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ like industrialisation and migration can.
As previously mentioned, the Welsh language appeared to rely on parents and religion in order to survive in predominantly English-speaking areas. As services were carried out in Welsh and Sunday schools taught Welsh children how to speak and read Welsh, it can be argued that religion in Wales can therefore be described as acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ for the Welsh language. Nonconformity was the main religion in Wales, meaning that a vast majority of services were in Welsh. However, it was rumoured that Nonconformist meetings practiced illicit sex, which presented the idea that Welsh women were therefore unchaste. This meant that Welsh-speakers would face much prejudice from English-speakers, which may have prompted some to change religion and therefore slowly stop speaking Welsh. Despite this, it can be proposed that the Welsh language survived due to Sunday schools, which is stated by D. Yorath. Yorath states that ‘â€¦ the influence of the Welsh pulpit and Sunday schools will certainly prevent it becoming extinct’ in a letter to the editor of the South Wales Daily News, October 1897. From this it is somewhat clear how much of an influence religion had on the Welsh language, which arguably gives it the right to be described as acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ for the Welsh language. Prejudice towards Welsh-speakers, however, appeared to be quite common, especially in industrial areas were English tended to be the preferred language by many. This therefore created a stigma surrounding the Welsh language, which negatively impacted it. It can be argued that this stigma is what caused some areas of Welsh society to almost neglect the Welsh language.
Much like with many factors, the attitude that society has towards a particular area impacts greatly how well it does or not. Many parents appeared to be put off by the idea of their child speaking Welsh due to how it was seen as a lazy language. This led to many middle-class families mainly speaking English, only choosing to speak Welsh when it was deemed necessary. Welsh was seen as the language for the working class and the lower-middle class, with Davies pointing out that upper-class Welsh-speaking families were non-existent in the nineteenth century. English was seen as the language of business by many, which meant that in order to receive a good paying job speaking English was necessary. Many middle-class families therefore saw no need to teach their children Welsh; there was no need to learn a language that appeared to have very little importance in the wider world. Interestingly, Morgan states that it was in fact middle-class Welshmen who pushed for the compulsory teaching of Welsh in schools. This is most likely due to the increase in Welsh nationalism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some Welshmen felt as though an identity for Wales was needed, one that would be separate from England, which resulted in the revival of the Eisteddfodau in the late eighteenth century; Morgan even states that ‘The Victorian Era is canonised because it is the era in which the glory of modern Welsh Nationality began to shine’. Therefore, from this it can be assumed that the demand for Welsh to be taught in schools was due to nationalism in Wales during this period. Although society did play a key role in ensuring the survival of the Welsh language, it cannot be rightfully described as acting as a ‘cauldron for rebirth’ due to the fact that society did appear to be torn during this period on whether or not the Welsh language was still important. Whilst many nationalists wanted the Welsh language to continue to thrive, others preferred to speak English as it meant that they had many more opportunities in the wider world.
The statement that industrialisation can be described as acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ for the Welsh language is true to come extent. It is important to note that while it can be argued that the Welsh language declined due to industrialisation, the Welsh language has still survived to this day and, in some areas, even grew stronger due to industrialisation. However, it should be recognised that not only industrialisation had a positive impact on the Welsh language. Migration, which increased mainly due to industrialisation in south Wales, and religion also played a key role in helping the Welsh language survive. Due to this it is safe to assume that these three factors can all be described as acting as a ‘cauldron of rebirth’. Some historians, such as Thomas, support this statement and believe that industrialisation as a whole had a positive effect on the Welsh language. Not one factor helped revive the Welsh language; it would be better to say that many different factors contributed to the survival of the Welsh language. Therefore, due to the fact that the Welsh language still thrives in many Welsh communities today, industrialisation was one factor that was a ‘cauldron of rebirth’ for the Welsh language.
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Morgan, J. Vyrnwy. Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era. London 1908.
Yorath, D. Writing to the Editor of the South Wales Daily News, 27th October 1897. (http://newspapers.library.wales)
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 Jenkins, Geraint. The Welsh Language and its Social Domains. p. 2.
 Thomas, Brinley. The Industrial Revolution and the Atlantic Economy, p 209.
 Thomas, Brinley. The Industrial Revolution and the Atlantic Economy, p. [â€¦]
 Jones, Dot. Statistical Evidence Relating to the Welsh Language 1801-1911, p. 226.
 Parry, Gwenfair and Williams, Mari A. The Welsh Language and the 1891 Census, p.p. 54-55.
 Davies, Russell. People, Places & Passions, p. 25.
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 Davies, Russell. People, Places & Passions, p. 25.
 Thomas, Brinley. The Welsh Language and the Atlantic Economy, p. 208.
 Morgan, J. Vyrnwy. Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era, p. 18.
 Jones, Dot. Statistical Evidence Relating to the Welsh Language, p. 359.
 Morgan, J. Vyrnwy. Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era, p.p. 18-19.
 Davies, Janet. The Welsh Language, p. 43.
 Morgan, J. Vrynwy. Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era, p. 16.
 Davies, Janet. The Welsh Language, p. 41.
 Morgan, J. Vrynwy. Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era, p. 16.
 Morgan, J Vrynwy. Welsh Political and Educational Leaders in the Victorian Era, p. 11.
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