Fletchers’ in the 19th Century-page 1
One of the aims of this essay is to present an overview of a century in Welsh history during which Glamorgan played a unique and significant role in the industrialisation of Wales and the United Kingdom. It also attempts to translate the impact of this industrialisation on the lives of our direct ancestors, and their families, who lived through those years, i.e. Phillip Fletcher b.1795-d 1857, Daniel Fletcher b.1816-d 1877, Noah Fletcher b.1848-d.1917 and Benjamin Fletcher b.1878-d.1953. All four lived and worked in Glamorgan during the C19th century.
To offer an overview of the industrialisation process, although perhaps naively perceived, is achievable with the help from the published text of authors who know about these things. The second intention is a difficult beast to grapple with. Only Benjamin has been known in living memory, albeit in his latter years, and what we know is very little. Therefore, what we know of them is mainly from secondary sources and gaps in our knowledge about them are cautiously filled in from certificates, census returns, parish records etc. We know their occupation and where they lived and so on but the definitive answer to our question what were they like? remains elusive. The judgments and conclusions we arrive at about them will be subjective and based on our best guess as to whether the ‘jig-saw’ pieces will fit. That is the best we can do. However, we have not held back from guessing what effects such things as their living conditions and employment opportunities had. What were the influences that shaped their lives, did they prosper? Did they attain a satisfactory quality of life?
The expansion of coal mining and exporting it by canal and railway transformed the Cynon Valley during the C19th. Up to the beginning of the C19th the Cynon Valley appeared to the observer of the scene as predominantly rural, unspoilt and secluded. Aberdare at this time was no more than a hamlet with a population of less than 500. Other places nearby, e.g. Cwmbach, Aberaman, Abercynon, would have been barely discernable as settlements. Transport into and out of the valley had to be on foot or horseback on rough tracks. For those infants born into manual workers families’ childhood years were short. With no schools to attend, before your age reached double digits you were learning on the job. Employment opportunities were mainly in farming and living accommodation was rudimentary and tied to your employment. Poor health care and lack of knowledge about the benefits of personal cleanliness and hygiene kept infant mortality and early adult death numbers high.
The geological mineral deposits of iron, coal and limestone formed a wide band stretching from east to west across Glamorgan. The Cynon Valley had all three. In the latter half of the C18th the process of making iron was becoming mechanised and innovative methods applied to improve efficiency and a better quality product. The Crawshay family and their ironworks in Merthyr Tydfyl were leaders in this industry. Strong competition from other iron making centres in England in the early years of C19th persuaded landowners to convert to coal mining. The 1830s and 40s marked the declining iron industry but the steady rise in coal exports. This feature was mirrored in the Cynon Valley.
The census of 1841 shows that Merthyr was easily the largest town in Wales, having a population (50,000) greater than Swansea, Cardiff and Newport combined. The population of Aberdare, only 4,000 in 1831, had mushroomed to over 32,000 by 1861.
The population of most counties in Wales rose continuously through the C19th. Its speed of population increase was rapid during the second half of C19th and up to WW1 e.g. between 1881 and 1911 the population of Wales increased by nearly 850,000. However, nearly half of the counties experienced a decline, these were in the agricultural regions of Mid-Wales but North Wales had small gains in populations mainly associated with coalmining. However, in South Wales the three counties of Monmouth, Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire overwhelmingly dominated the trend of increasing populations. Of these three counties, Glamorgan is the leader. People who moved into the Glamorgan coalfields were mainly from Mid-Wales, particularly from the agricultural counties of Cardiganshire, Merionethshire and Montgomeryshire, but from the 1890s many more immigrants came from England, Ireland and abroad. (continued on page 2)
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