Population, Wales and each county, 1851–1911 (000s)
Net gain (+) or loss (-) by migration
(Calculated from census returns)
Radnor is included despite a net increase in 1891–1901 because, as the census remarks, ‘At the date of the recent census, the population of the county was augmented by a large number of men temporarily engaged in the construction of new water- works for the corporation of Birmingham. These men, together with their families, account for the abnormal increase in the population of the county.
Percentage of occupied population engaged in agriculture
(Calculated from census returns)
Population in agriculture (000s) Number engaged in agriculture (000s)
Mr Phillip Pennant, landowner, Flintshire, Chairman of Quarter Sessions: ‘Yes, and the worst of it is that the best labourers have gone away. A clever man will see his way to better himself by going into the district where there are works and so forth, and they go and they leave the worst behind, so that there is no doubt that the labour has increased in price, and at the same time has deteriorated in quality.’
(Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire, Evidence, vol. IV, Q.57,272, 1896, c.8221, vol. XVI)
Agricultural workers, by reason of the scattered and dispersed nature of their industry, have never succeeded in forming, or at least in keeping for long in effective existence, any trade unions for the purpose of securing a fair share in the proﬁts of the industry. This seems to be the sole reason why they did not get a larger share in the good times during the thirty years before 1880. As it was they worked then and afterwards during the next thirty years of depression, for very long hours at very low wages. The workers had their full share in the good times, so far as concerns money wages. Indeed the bad times were best for them, because, while their wages remained about the same or were, if anything, rather higher, the cost of their articles of consumption went down, so that their real wages were higher than they had been before 1880.
(Commission on Wages and Conditions of Employment in Agriculture, 1919, General Report, para. 527)
The causes of rural depopulation have not altered in any signiﬁcant way during the last century and a half. A change in emphasis has naturally occurred between the various factors involved, and both at different times and at different places the local or regional causes of the rural exodus will lay a different stress upon individual forces of expulsion. The basic cause is everywhere the same. Rural depopulation has occurred in the past century and a half, and will continue in the future, because of declining employment opportunities in the countryside. Economic activities have steadily moved from the villages and the rural communities into the towns and the urban areas; and as employment possibilities have diminished in the rural areas, the village populations have moved into the towns. To put the matter thus baldly is greatly to simplify a complicated problem, but it is nevertheless important to grasp hold of the basic elements of the rural problem. The historical forces that have been at work since the late eighteenth century have led to a concentration and a centralization of economic life in large industrial units and in large urban agglomerations and rural life and rural society have been steadily weakened. Without the provision of work there can be no reversal of the depopulating trends in our rural society.
(J. Saville, Rural Depopulation in England and Wales,1851–1951, 1957)
No shortage of labour, despite emigration, except occasionally at hay harvest. ‘Much assistance used to be given in former days in Wales by village artisans and small tradesmen with their families on all occasions of emergency at the neighbouring farms. But the number of country shoemakers and tailors, carpenters and blacksmiths, and small shopkeepers has greatly diminished with the growth of the tendency to buy both articles of apparel and of furniture ‘ready made’ as well as to get all provisions from stores in towns.’
(Report on Poor Law of Narberth (Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire), Royal Commission on Labour, The Agricultural Labourer, vol. II, Wales, 1893, p. 60)
Moreover, during the last 50 years, many small industries that were carried on in rural districts, frequently as auxiliary to agricultural employment, tended to disappear. Sixty or seventy years ago most of the chief towns of Wales had some special industry of their own that gave employment to a large proportion of their inhabitants. Thus, hats were largely made at Carmarthen and Monmouth, boots at Narberth, Haverfordwest, and Lampeter, and stockings, knitted gloves and caps (called Welsh wigs) at Bala: Amlwch had its tobacco manufactories and Llanerchymedd was famous for snuff and boots. Most famous of all was Swansea for its porcelain and china, an industry which was also carried on at Nantgarw in another part of the county of Glamorgan. The town of Holywell was remarkable for activity in various manufactures, there being in 1831, 256 males, upwards of 20 years of age, employed in the manufacture of silk and cotton goods, in making paper, and manufacturing iron, copper, brass and lead. Mold, at the same time, had 230 men employed in the cotton manufacture.
(Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire, Report, 1896, p. 45)
With these reservations I shall state boldly that I believe the main causes to be two, of which the one may be termed sentimental, the other economic.
(G.B. Longstaff, ‘Rural depopulation’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 1893, pp. 413–14)
Thus, in Wales machinery has not replaced manual labour to the same extent as it might have been expected. In many cases it has made possible a more thorough cultivation, which in turn has necessitated an increase in labourers. Whenever a large decrease has taken place it is attributable not so much to a change in the method of farming as to a change in the very nature of the agriculture pursued – the substitution of stock grazing for cultivation.
(Royal Commission on Labour, Agriculture Labour Wales, Report of Leufer Thomas, 1893, p. 7)
The attractions of farm life were said to be especially strong for young girls. ‘... Perhaps also town life has a greater fascination for them than for the men. The number of country girls ... who go in for dressmaking is astounding, and one often wonders if half their number get any work at all. Welsh girls are also in great demand as domestic servants in England, owing to their character for industry, honesty, and cleanliness, partly the result of an early religious training, and partly (in many cases) of a bringing up on a small holding where a taste for work has been acquired ...’ ‘The watering and other tourist centres in North Wales are often the means of drawing good girls from the farms, leaving inferior men behind. In their new stations they get good wages, a large amount of gratuities and presents from visitors, and what is sometimes more appreciated, a lively, albeit a hard time during the continuance of the short season. The best girls are almost invariably taken to England by the visitors and in time are the means of inducing others to follow in their wake.’
(Royal Commission on Labour, The Agricultural Labourer, vol. II, Wales, 1893, p. 11)
In addition to those competing industries within Wales which have attracted so many labourers from farm work, large numbers have migrated from Wales to the United States of America – probably Montgomeryshire has provided more emigrants than any other agricultural county. During the great Mormon propaganda of some 30 or 40 years ago hundreds of men left the districts of Wick and St Bride’s Major in the south of Glamorgan for Salt Lake City. A Welsh agricultural colony founded in 1863 at Chupat in the Argentine Republic has also drafted from Wales a small portion of the rural population, but Canada and other agricultural colonies have not proved very attractive ﬁelds of emigration for Welsh labourers. (Royal Commission on Labour, The Agricultural Labourer,
vol. II, Wales, 1893, pp. 20–21)
For a time S.R. (Samuel Roberts) sought a solution of all the problems of the Welsh peasant in emigration. Throughout the century a constant stream of emigrants had left Wales, settling, almost without exception, in the United States of America. There, the land-hunger of generations of Welsh peasants was at last satisﬁed. S.R. adopted the idea of Morgan John Rhys, half a century earlier, and sought to settle the Welsh together in a community. So, in 1856, he purchased 100,000 acres of land in eastern Tennessee, and a party of emigrants set out under the leadership of his brother. S.R. himself followed with another party in the spring of 1857. But the experiment was a failure.
(D. Williams, A History of Modern Wales, 1950, pp. 257–60)
A few remarks may, however, be made as to the chief centres and districts where Welshmen are found congregated in England. And ﬁrst as to London. The number of persons actually born in Wales and enumerated in the London Registration District in 1891 was returned as 31,292, while it has been estimated that there were also 14,828 natives of Wales resident in the outlying districts. Thus in West Ham alone (which is outside the boundary of the Registration District of London) there were 961, Willesden 529, Tottenham 329, and Leyton 259, while a little further aﬁeld we ﬁnd 856 returned as resident to Croydon. Mr Thomas Darlington has estimated that out of a total of 46,120 natives of Wales resident in London and outlying districts (in 1891), as many as 23,954 were able to speak Welsh. At all events, we have the fact that religious services are conducted in Welsh every Sunday at about 40 different centres in London.
As compared with the resident population enumerated in each of the Welsh counties, we ﬁnd that the proportion of their natives settled in London is much higher for Cardiganshire than for any other county. Omitting nearly 5,000 Welsh-born London residents, the county of whose birth was not stated, we ﬁnd that a number equivalent to 5.25 per cent of the total population of Cardiganshire had migrated from that county to and were settled in London, 3.5 per cent from Pembrokeshire, about 3 per cent from Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, and 2 per cent from Breconshire. The remaining counties of north Wales are represented by a number equivalent to about 1 per cent of the population enumerated at home. Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire have 1.7 and 1.4 respectively, while Glamorganshire comes last with 0.8 per cent. The most interesting point about this is that it is the agricultural counties (more especially of south and mid Wales) that, in proportion to their home population, send the largest number of persons to settle in London. The comparative paucity of north Walians is due to the fact that north Wales comes more within the sphere of inﬂuence of Liverpool than of London, and that the former town therefore stands for many purposes in the position of a capital for north Wales, whence there is ready access not only by rail but by water also. In a lesser degree and of more recent years Manchester has begun to compete with Liverpool in this respect.
We can make but a very rapid survey of the distribution of the natives of Wales in the provincial towns of England. In the chief towns of Lancashire and Cheshire they are to be counted by the thousand. Liverpool in 1891 had 17,449 persons born in Wales, Birkenhead 5,654, and St Helen’s 1,393. The number in Manchester was 6,764 and in Salford 2,699. The total number of persons born in Wales and enumerated in Lancashire amounted to 60,819, while the neighbouring county of Cheshire had 21,379. But these ﬁgures give a very inadequate idea of the total Welsh population of these towns. Thus, as the result of a special inquiry conducted by Mr Thomas Darlington in connection with the Welsh congregations of Manchester, it was estimated that 25 per cent of the ‘hearers’ at these churches had been born outside Wales, and would therefore not be included in the ﬁgures quoted above from the Census. The proportion of Welshmen resident in Liverpool but born outside the Principality is stated to be much greater than in Manchester.
(Royal Commission on Land in Wales, Report, 1896, pp. 57–8)
Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, and USA: Rate of net loss (-) or gain (+) by migration, decennially, 1851–1911
(B. Thomas, ‘Wales and the Atlantic economy’ in B. Thomas (ed.) The Welsh Economy, Cardiff, 1962, p. 7)
Wales: internal migration, decennially, 1851–1911; net loss by migration (-), net gain by migration (+)
|Welsh rural areas||-63,322||-53,967||-64,646||-106,087||-57,413||-37,909|
|Wrexham colliery area||+2,661||-1,934||-1,907||-1,122||-618||-2,875|
|Llandudno and Rhyl areas||+1,259||-2,263||+2,339||+2,190||+8,289||+5,715|
(B. Thomas, ‘Wales and the Atlantic economy’ in B. Thomas (ed.) The Welsh Economy, Cardiff, 1962, p. 15)
If, however, we take the counties separately, and at the same time compare the results with those obtained in English counties, we ﬁnd that if placed in the order of their decrease (in population between 1881 and 1891) they would stand as follows:
|North Riding of Yorkshire||4.62|
It thus appears that it is in the Welsh counties that the rural depopulation has assumed the most notable proportions, and with the Welsh counties may be classed the border counties of Herefordshire and Shropshire.
(Royal Commission on Land in Wales, Report, 1896, p. 47)
Instead of bemoaning the rural exodus, the Welsh patriot should sing the praises of industrial development. In that tremendous half-century before the First World War, economic growth in Wales was so vigorous that her net loss of people by emigration was a mere 4 per cent of her bountiful natural increase over the period. Few countries in Europe came anywhere near to that.
(B. Thomas, ‘Wales and the Atlantic economy’ in B. Thomas (ed.) The Welsh Economy, Cardiff, 1962, p. 28)
The neithior, or bidding, was in effect and among other things a customary form of savings club. A man (or woman) started to contribute sums of money or make contributions in kind during his teens, he ‘drew on the club’ on marriage, and continued to pay into it for the rest of his life, both in order to repay contributions he had received on his marriage and in order to claim repayment on behalf of his children when they came to marry. David Davies of Penalltygwin in Troedyraur parish, and later of Galltycnydie in Llangynllo parish (where he was farming in 1849), gave ‘An Account of the Weddings which I David Davies has been since I were born’; he had then been to 102 biddings and his wife to seventy-one. Another David Davies of Tan y ffynnon, near Llwynrhydowen in South Cardiganshire, either attended or contributed to 154 biddings during the nineteenth century. Here then was an institution that involved a man for most of his life with a large number of his fellows, and which provided for one of the critical periods in any family cycle, establishing people upon marriage. And as farmers’ children had to delay their marriages until there was sufﬁcient provision to establish them, the bidding allowed of earlier marriages than would have been the case otherwise. Further the bidding contributed to integrating individuals into a community for it gave people particular interest in the marriages and relationships of others, and a knowledge of their family histories, for it was on important occasions in these families’ histories that bidding dues were rendered.
By the late nineteenth century the bidding was in decline and the reasons for this are complex. The bidding was then a changing institutionalized procedure within a society that was itself in process of change. One of the relevant general changes may be noted, namely, emigration to the industrial areas of south Wales and elsewhere and a partial replacement of the emigrants by people without any prior connection with the area. The bidding depended on the repayments of debts over a lifetime by people who had contracted them on one occasion and on the making of contributions by those who expected to claim repayment either on their own behalf or on the behalf of people who were their ‘near relatives’. But once continued emigration made it uncertain whether a young man would remain in his native area or emigrate he was in no position to know whether he would be in a position to reclaim against any contribution that he had made, nor would others know whether debts owing to them would be repaid by people who might emigrate. There are indications that emigration was affecting certain of the institutions of South Cardiganshire by the 1870s. Until that decade farm servants were hired at the annual hiring fairs at Newcastle Emlyn, Cardigan, and other centres; during the 1870s it became common practice to hire in advance of the fairs because there was a shortage of servants as the result of emigration. The fair increasingly became a pleasure fair while the hiring of servants was undertaken independently. In the same period it became the practice to send ‘industrial schoolboys’ into south-west Wales to be employed as farm servants as an insufﬁcient number of local youths was available. These industrial schoolboys had no place in the area as members of kin groups nor was there any certainty that they would remain in the area. Thus the conditions upon which the bidding depended, that there were people who tied themselves for a lifetime expecting that their future would be spent in the same general area, were rendered uncertain and for this reason among others the bidding declined. When this happened there was no longer any institutionalized provision, involving some hundreds of people, for establishing people on marriage, and the whole burden fell on the individual families concerned. In the depressed conditions of the closing years of the nineteenth century many farmers felt themselves obliged to delay their children’s marriages as they could not spare the live and dead stock that would be required to help set them up on farms of their own.
(D. Jenkins, The Agricultural Community of South-West Wales at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Cardiff, 1971, pp. 134–5)
The recorders’ notebooks of the census of 1861 show that 54 percent of the residents of Troedyraur parish had been born in the parish, the birthplaces of a further 27 per cent were in adjoining parishes, and of a further 9 per cent in neighbouring (not adjoining) parishes, a total of 90 per cent. By 1861 the population was already declining. The population of the agricultural areas of South Cardiganshire generally reached its maximum during the 1840s excepting only where there were woollen mills. From that time on migration more than balanced the natural increase. On the other hand immigration into the rural areas of South Cardiganshire was on a very limited scale until the Second World War and the years following so that the proportion of the population which had been born in the area remained high, being virtually identical with those of forty years earlier.
Thus individuals grew up knowing other people as the fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters of their school friends and neighbours. In later life they would come to know youngsters as the children and grandchildren, cousins, nephews, and nieces of those with whom they grew up together. That is they grew up with a knowledge of ‘who people were’ in a locality rather than needed to acquire such knowledge in toto by deliberate effort as they would were they to emigrate to a strange community. And the knowledge of people in a community rather than a systematic genealogical knowledge of kin as such.
(D. Jenkins, The Agricultural Community of South-West Wales at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Cardiff, 1971, pp. 158–9)