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Dr M. O’Neill Welsh Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD) oneillm2@cf.ac.uk


Up until the latter part of the 18th Century The South Wales Valleys were one of the most sparsely populated areas of the UK. Around1757 -59 Ironworks were established In Aberdare and Dowlais Merthyr Tydfil. In 1765 venture capitalist Anthony Bacon, who had made his money via such things as the slave trade, established the Cyfarthfa Iron works


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The 1801 census recorded the population of Merthyr as 7,705, the most populous parish in Wales. By 1851 Merthyr had overtaken Swansea to become the largest town in Wales, with 46,378 inhabitants: Cardiff 26,630 Thomas Carlyle visited Merthyr in 1850, writing that the town was filled with such "unguided, hard-worked, fierce, and miserable-looking sons of Adam I never saw before. Ah me ! It is like a vision of Hell, and will never leave me, that of these poor creatures broiling, all in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits, and rolling mills."


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In 1851 Irish immigrants made up 10% of the population, and there were substantial numbers of English and Spaniards, Italians and Jews. This pattern of immigration in to the area continued well in to the 20th Century and more recently augmented by Polish and Portuguese.


There was an uprising of workers protesting at unsatisfactory conditions - coal and iron workers took control of the town for 5 day. "The Merthyr Rising" resulted in 24 deaths. Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was subsequently hanged at Cardiff Gaol on August 13th. In popular folk lore this was the first use of the Red Flag to represent workers’ rights.


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In 1900 Merthyr Tydfil returned the first Labour Member of Parliament, the Scotsman Kier Hardie Hardie stood for; votes for women, opposition to WWI, against racial segregation in South Africa, For Indian home rule and against the monarchy.


The Cyfarthfa ironworks, which had opened in 1765 closed in 1910. By the 1930s many of the coal and Iron producers who had been major employers had disappeared. Following the closure of the last local ironworks,1939, a Royal Commission suggested that Merthyr Tydfil be abandoned and its populace transferred to the coast. “Something must be done” (Edward VIII)


1948 The Hoover company opened a large washing machine factory and was the largest employer of the borough for many a decade. During the 1960s Merthyr was home to a number of major manufacturing businesses; Thorn’s, Triang, Kayser Bondor etc..


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1966 The Aberfan Disaster occurred on October 21st. A colliery waste tip collapsed and overwhelmed a local junior school killing 144 people including 116 children. From the 1970s on, reflecting global economic forces, manufacturing in the area went in to serious decline leading to a rise in unemployment.


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2009 Hoover’s, once one of the largest employers in the area finally closed down. 20% residents suffers mental illness; 25% Have heart disease; 33% Have arthritis and joint problems; 20% Have hearing problems. The local authority with the highest percentage of areas in the most deprived 10% in Wales (25%), followed by Blaenau Gwent (23.4%).(Source WIMD 2011)


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A centre of the industrial revolution. A hotbed of radical philosophy and thought, The Red Flag, Kier Hardie, S.O. Davies, Gwyn Alf Williams . The greatest love song written, ever “Myfanwy” Joseph Parry. A fashion mecca Mary Quant, Laura Ashley, Julien Macdonald.


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