In the following pages I have tried to present as rounded a portrait as possible of the experiences of the people of Wales in a seminal period in their history. In the course of reading for, and writing this book, my respect for the achievements of the age has grown appreciably, and I have come to believe that the foundations of modern Wales were laid during the period between the troubled years of the Civil War and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution around 1780. These years witnessed a marked growth in population, agrarian improvements, the development of heavy industries, fresh market opportunities, improved communications, swelling trade, significant urban growth, striking advances in the provision of educational facilities and the growth of literacy, the emergence of Methodism, the rejuvenation of Dissent, and a revival of Welsh culture. All these were formative forces in the making of modern Wales.
This book has been nearly six years in the making, and I must confess that preparing a work of synthesis such as this has brought its share of frustration as well as satisfaction. The most frustrating obstacle has been the unsatisfactory and sometimes woeful state of our knowledge bout a whole range of important subjects. In view of the lack of either primary sources or extensive secondary material on topics such as demography, the size of households, social structure, local government, urban growth, crime, foreign trade, and much else, it is not hard to understand why this period has often been neglected and misunderstood by historians. There is much spade work still to be done and no one is more aware than I of the limitations of the chapters which follow. Even so, I have tried not to shirk my duty to offer generalizations, make judgements, and occasionally chance my arm in assessing matters which hitherto have been only partially explored. The lack of basic ground-work in key areas, however, has not spoiled my enjoyment of the undertaking. I have derived great pleasure and satisfaction from reading the work of other scholars in this field, and it has been a particularly delightful privilege to rub shoulders (from afar) with such gifted and colourful individuals as Vavasor Powell, Lewis Morris, Howel Harris, Sir Humphrey Mackworth, Richard Price, and Iolo Morganwg.
In researching and writing a book of this length, I have contracted a number of obligations and debts of gratitude. The degree to which I have drawn on the researches of others will be apparent to anyone familiar with the historical literature of this period, but I should like in particular to