The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales

The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales

The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales

The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales

Synopsis

This study of the lower orders within Welsh rural communities pays attention to those people who worked and lived off the land of 18th century Wales, often amidst grinding poverty and insecurity.

Excerpt

That the lower orders of eighteenth-century Wales, as in all other areas of Britain and the European mainland, endured a harsh and insecure existence is well known. Yet Welsh rural dwellers remain largely hidden from posterity, a secret people who seldom recorded their own feelings. Such a want of self-expression even among those of the lower orders who were literate - and very few weresprang from the absence of a sense of individuality in Welsh society, the first autobiography of a poor peasant, that of John Thomas of Rhayader, appearing only in 1810.' Perhaps the nearest we come to the authentic voice is the deposition before a magistrate in a criminal case to be tried at the Quarter or Great Sessions. Faced with this want of accessibility, it is well-nigh impossible to get inside the minds of these poor people in order to gauge their attitude towards their hard fate, to discern if they harboured any strong feelings of resentment, to identify any particular grievances they had and to judge their attitudes to those many in control of their lives. the problem is even worse when we attempt to understand the often appalling lot of women; indeed the historian is confronted with nearly complete silence. Whatever the gender, we are left so often to surmise. Notwithstanding these difficulties, this study will attempt to provide a fuller understanding of the various hardships faced by the poor - small farmers, craftsmen and the landless making up the lower orders - and to examine the nature of the response to their predicament.

A volume concerned wholly with the lower orders of society does not require a chapter on the landed gentry and aristocracy; yet as the owners of much of the land, and as the political and social rulers of their communities their influence was all-pervasive and they will accordingly receive consideration throughout the pages of this book. the contemporary term 'the lower orders' is used advisedly to get away from any confusion that may arise through use of the generic category 'peasant', often employed to describe people who had connections in one way or another with the land.

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