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This report is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams

I have been re-reading Gwyn Alf Williams's The Merthyr Rising. The book is a monument to the man, whose voice I hear in every line, and should be compulsory reading in all sixth forms and colleges in Wales. It tells of a working class rebellion in the wake of the first Reform Bill of 1831, which had its heroes, miners and ironworkers, the common people; its villains, the Masters and the soldiery, eventually eight hundred strong, who bloodily suppressed them; and its martyr, one Richard Lewis, who has gone down in folk history as Dic Penderyn, an innocent, betrayed by false testimony, hanged as a scapegoat. The scene of these dramatic events, far greater in scale and violence than those more readily remembered as the Peterloo Massacre, was Merthyr Tydfil. By 1801 this place had become the most densely populated parish in Wales and in good years in the 1820s it was making almost a quarter of the total British production of iron. The town was overwhelmingly Welsh-speaking, remarkably cultured (eisteddfodau were held in a score of pubs and the chapels resounded with music and poetry as well as hellfire preaching against the manifold and manifest sins of the day), and politicised, 'the heartland of Chartism and the home of the Welsh Chartist Press in both languages'. When the workforce was fully employed, some thirteen to fourteen thousand men were engaged in the ironstone mines, the collieries and ironworks. All this seems distant from us, yet the events of ...


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