Wales occupies the western part of the island of Great Britain facing the sea across Ireland. It was settled by Celts thousands of years ago and, by nature of the rugged mountainous terrain that isolated it from the rest of the island, the Welsh developed a culture, language, and history that is distinguishable from the rest of the U.K.
With three sides facing the sea - the Irish Sea to the north, Bristol Channel on the south, and St. George's Channel and Cardigan Bay in the west-Wales developed to become a major source of seafarers and a centre of shipping.
Cardiff, the Welsh capital, has one of the best natural seaports in the kingdom. Tucked at the south-eastern corner and close to the boundary between Wales and England, Cardiff's seaport towns of Tiger Bay and Butetown provided a perfect crossroads for ships and their cargoes of goods and people to and from England and the rest of the world.
This explains partly why the Welsh are tough, universal, and open to other cultures as the exposure to other peoples have taught them to be tolerant in human nature and temperament. This also justifies why the Welsh are amongst the most daring of English peoples to settle in far-off lands like Australia and Patagonia.
Wales is also a land rich with natural resources, mainly coal, iron, slate, gold, and other metals. This is why mining was the main industry and source of employment for many years, supported by the presence of shipyards and ports that brought in workers from over the world to mine the land and ship out coal and other minerals that were sold to the world.
Industrial Revolution and Immigration
The industrial revolution in late 18th century England caused a huge demand for coal, the fuel that provided the energy needed by steam engines in so-called manufactories producing anything from steel pins to textile. The wealth boom is much like what we are witnessing with the oil-producing nations of our century, as coal was then the oil of industry.
The revolution caused a huge demand for raw materials and minerals and, because of economic wealth, a parallel demand for gold and building materials was generated. This led to the opening of more mines to extract natural resources and finding new and more efficient ways to transport these materials to other parts of England and the world. Amongst the results was an explosion in the demand for workers.
Initially, these workers consisted of British and Welsh farmers displaced by the drop in agricultural labour demand due to higher wages being earned by work in factories instead of farmlands. This resulted in internal migration from other parts of Wales and the British Isles until the middle of the 19th century into the southern counties of Bridgend, Rhondda, Glamorgan, Merthyr, and Cardiff. However, in such a rough and sparsely populated land, the supply of labour was soon exhausted, so the people had to come from abroad.
The magnitude of the immigration phenomenon can be grasped by looking at Welsh population figures in the early, middle, and later 19th century: 600,000 in 1801, 1.2 million in 1851, and 2 million by 1901. In the last decade of the 19th century, an estimated 240,000 immigrants moved into the coalfields of South Wales. Glamorgan's population boomed from 70,000 in 1801 to 1.1 million by 1901, whilst Rhondda's exploded from