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Joe England

Merthyr, The Crucible of Modern Wales

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For most of the nineteenth century, Merthyr Tydfil was the largest urban settlement Wales had ever seen. It was the Iron Capital of the world. It was, as the title of Merthyr native Joe England’s magnificent history proclaims, the Crucible of Modern Wales.

It was Merthyr that foretold the economic and social transformation of Welsh life and Merthyr that excited the cultural and political furore which was to revolutionize industry and society throughout the iron and coal townships of South Wales.

It was Merthyr, from the armed rising of 1831 to the electoral radicalism of 1868 and 1900, that led the way towards democracy and civic advancement in the face of material degradation and high-handed repression.

But, as Joe England underlines in a magisterial combination of scholarly synthesis and original research, it is Merthyr’s small middle class of commerce, trade and the professions that must be given much of the credit for reformation, even amongst the titanic clashes between the Iron masters and their workers, as it wrought a measure of control for a politics which would tackle the core concerns of health, welfare, and security. This volume brings the whole epic history of Merthyr, from 1760 no 1912, into the focus of a fresh and utterly convincing perspective. For Modern Wales, see Merthyr, in a book which is a triumph of intellectual passion.

Joe England was educated at Cyfarthfa Grammar School, Merthyr Tydfil and at the University of Nottingham where he studied Economic and Social History. In a varied career he has been editor of a weekly newspaper, a full-time lecturer for the Workers’ Educational Association, Deputy Director of the Department of Extra-Mural Studies in the University of Hong Kong, Research Fellow in the Industrial Relations Research Unit at Warwick University and Principal and chief executive of Coleg Harlech, Wales’ residential college for adults. He has travelled widely in East Asia and is well-known as a lecturer on social and industrial affairs. He is Chair of the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Forum.