HARDY English travellers who ventured beyond Offa's Dyke in this period were unimpressed by what they saw. Far from stirring their emotions, the Welsh landscape was judged wild, bleak, and joyless. Its terrain scarcely offered sufficient sustenance for man or beast. Wales, in Ned Ward's words, was 'the fag-end of Creation; the very rubbish of Noah's flood'.1 The prim Celia Fiennes had little good to say of the land or its people: barefooted Welsh peasants were 'a nasty sort of people'.2 Even Defoe, who commented favourably on the convivial hospitality of the Welsh gentry, confessed wearily that Hannibal himself would have found the mountains of Wales intimidating. Such jaundiced views were largely provoked by the hazards and inconveniences of travelling on paths and roads which were more often than not a risk to life and limb. In many ways, Wales was a remote and inaccessible federation of small communities, a mosaic of self-contained localities, cut off from each other by geographical division and poor communications, yet also bound together by ties of kinship, good neighbourliness, and language. Wales lay very much on the fringe of Europe and the life of its people was governed by the cycle of the seasons and the steady rhythms of age-old customs and traditions. The most isolated rural communities were content to shelter themselves from the madding crowd: as late as 1806 Dolwyddelan in Caernarfonshire was said to be 'out of the way from every intercourse with the world',3 whilst, around the same time, Benjamin Malkin commented that Cardiganshire peasants gazed in wonder whenever strangers ventured into their midst.
Each locality had its own distinctive features and qualities, and to a large extent the social and economic history of Wales in this period is the sum of its local histories. There were marked physical and economic contrasts between the rugged uplands of Snowdonia and the fertile valley of the Severn, and between the bleak moorland plateaux of mid-Wales and the wide fertile cornfields of the vale of Glamorgan. In terms of wealth, there were striking differences between the impoverished counties of the north- west and the prosperous low-lying vales of the south-east. Even within____________________