By Russell Davies
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Additional info for Hope and Heartbreak: A social history of Wales 1776-1871
Thus new land had to be enclosed from the commons and mountains, or reclaimed and drained from coastal tidelands. 20 This transformation occurred between 1770 and 1871. The social costs in terms of the alienation, pain and suffering which these changes inflicted on Welsh people were extensive, but the extent of these changes was not uniform across Wales. Even in the mid nineteenth century, a run of bad harvests, such as in 1816, 1826, 1839 and 1842–3, could spell chaos and starvation for Welsh society.
The documents and depositions of the Welsh courts are another vital source for the historian intent on plumbing the darker depths of Welsh society. In several of these tragic and terrible documents, the role of fear in ordinary lives comes powerfully to the fore. It is in the documents which police officers and officials of the petty, quarter and great sessions have left us that we come closest to the Welsh people alone in their nightmare hours. The personal testimonies contained in the court records, for example the ‘true confession of the Clydach murderer’ or the ‘last dying speech and confession of Abel Ovans’,83 force the reader into a continuous reappraisal of the ambivalent nature of probity.
People and Places The increase in the number of Welsh people is one of the most fundamental of the changes. In a sense the major purpose of this study is an attempt to explain this people problem and the problem people it generated. In 1780, it has been estimated that 530,000 people dug, dragged, scratched and scraped a living in Wales. By 1871, this figure had risen to 1,412,583. Each decade between these bookmark dates reveals an increase in Welsh population. The increase, as Table 1 shows, is gradual but inexorable.