The 19th century

Last updated: 15 August 2008

The end of the 18th century saw the beginnings of a canal and rail network across south Wales.

This enabled the transport of coal, extracted with the help of new steam engines for pumping and winding, to the coast or cities.

The cities of south Wales expanded with the increased levels of coal passing through the docks. Cardiff, Swansea and Newport experienced huge population growth through the 19th century due to the economic expansions enabled by the trade.

By 1840 the canal and rail network enabled 4.5m tons of coal to be produced. Of this, 2.25m went to the steel industry, one million to the domestic market and other industries and 750,000 tons for export.

Just 14 years later, 8.8m tons were produced, with 2.6m exported. The Rhondda Valley experienced the highest growth in production.

By 1874, 16.5m tons were produced, with a quarter of that figure exported. The rise of the Welsh coal industry seemed unstoppable, with high quality coal available in massive quantities.

The mines were privately owned throughout the 19th century. It was viewed as an area of industry with potentially huge rewards for the investors and speculators, who obtained licences to sink shafts or expand existing mines.

Some of the men who owned mines became members of the gentry, and many more made huge sums of money. It had knock-on effects for related industries and areas.

John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the second Marquis of Bute, landed gentry of Scotland and south Wales, owned much of the land in which the growing industry operated. He and his son were able to amass vast wealth which made the third Marquis one of the richest men in the world.

The Butes' fortunes had an impact on south Wales and especially Cardiff, which can be still be felt to this day.

History blog

Explore the celebrated and lesser-known incidents in Welsh history, watch rare clips from BBC Wales' own archive, find out about history events in Wales.

Phil Carradice

July 1942: enemy action over Pwllheli

Britain might have been totally unprepared for war in 1939 but within ...

By: Phil Carradice

Family history


Getting started

Tracing your Welsh roots? Pick up some tips in our guides.


Argentine flag

The Welsh in Patagonia

In 1865, the Mimosa, a tea-clipper set sail for South America.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.