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A changing nation

Last updated: 24 September 2008

Historian John Davies on the changing identity of Wales in the 20th century.

The image of Wales projected by Thomas Edward Ellis, and particularly by the distinguished educationalist, Owen M Edwards, was of a nation of frugal, God-fearing, Welsh-speaking country dwellers.

By the early 20th century, however, such an image was at odds with reality. With two thirds of the inhabitants of Wales living in Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, the Welsh were predominantly an industrial and urban people. Despite the energies unleashed by the revival of 1904-05, secularism was growing apace.

Half the residents of Wales were Welsh-speaking in 1901, a proportion which declined to 43% in 1911 - the year in which nine out of 10 of them claim to have at least some knowledge of English.

These changes represented a challenge to definitions of Welshness, an issue which would cause anguish and controversy in subsequent decades.

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