Victorian Professions

Merthyr Tydfil

The 1801 census records the town of Merthyr Tydfil, located on the river Taff in the south of Wales, as having 7,705 inhabitants. Although this is very small when compared to many towns in England, Merthyr Tydfil was significantly bigger than other towns in Wales many of which had fewer than 1,500 residents; incredibly Merthyr itself had only 40 homes in 1760. By 1801, Merthyr Tydfil was the largest town in Wales and its famous iron works were the most productive in the world. Life for the workers in Merthyr was extremely hard and living conditions very poor; in 1841 there were over 1,500 families of up to five people living in single rooms measuring only 1.4m x 2.1m. The 1851 census reveals a population of 46,378 people, thus emphasising just how rapidly Merthyr Tydfil expanded in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Cyfarthfa ironworks were run by four consecutive generations of the Crawshay family beginning with Richard Crawshay who, in 1791 turned the works from a barely profitable business to one of the most important ironworks in the world. In 1832 Richard's son William Crawshay II built Cyfarthfa Castle, an enormous Norman-style building which overlooks the Cyfarthfa ironworks. Unfortunately, for the Crawshay family, their dominance in Merthyr Tydfil's iron industry was waning and the Dowlais ironworks rose to prominence. Member of Parliament John Josiah Guest owned Dowlais and upon his death in 1852, Dowlais was the biggest producer of iron in the world. As well as its impressive innovation and volume of output, Dowlais also captured the public's imagination after John Josiah Guest's wife Lady Charlotte took over management of Dowlais following his ill health and eventual death, and continued to run the business whilst raising their ten children.

The ironworks began to decline from 1861 and a short depression was reversed in the 1870s by the emergence of coal mining in the area surrounding Merthyr Tydfil with the population peaking in 1911 at 80,990 people.

These are the people in Merthyr Tydfil we are interested in: