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This report is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams

In 2009 the National Eisteddfod was at Bala, in north Wales, the still beating heart of Welsh-language culture and all that is traditional, rural, Nonconformist. There, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Thomas Charles, leader of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, who instigated the movement that became the British and Foreign Bible Society, was delighted to observe that religious revival had put an end to ‘dancing, singing with the harp, and every kind of sinful mirth which used to be so prevalent among young people here’, and export sales of woollen stockings, largely to America, reached £18,000 annually. Bala was, predictably, a very successful Eisteddfod, including dance and singing and, I have no doubt, a good measure of mirth among folk of all ages.

In the week just past, the Eisteddfod has been held at Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, which, two hundred years ago, was a virtually uninhabited upland area, a thousand feet or more above sea-level, where the Ebbw Fawr branch of the River Ebbw quits the moor and begins its descent some twenty miles to the coast at Newport. Exploitation of the geographical coincidence of iron ore, coal and limestone in the vicinity began in 1778 and population growth, at first steady and then explosive, followed. Iron was the magnet drawing in people from the rest of Wales and increasingly from over the border to work in forges, coalmines and quarries. The world’s first steel rail was rolled in Ebbw Vale in 1857 and by ...

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