Huw Edwards tells the history of Modern Wales and of his own family

5th March 2014

BBC news presenter Huw Edwards delves into his own family's past to explain how Wales became the world's first industrial nation, in a new television series on S4C. Creu Cymru Fodern gyda Huw Edwards (The Creation of Modern Wales with Huw Edwards) starts on Sunday, 9 March.

"My family, the Edwardses, were tenant farmers near Bwlchllan, in the hills of Ceredigion above Aberaeron," says Huw. "When the industrial revolution took off, and hard times hit rural Wales, some of the family emigrated to Ohio. "But others headed for the 'Welsh Klondike' - the South Wales coalfield. There, they linked up with tens of thousands of other Welsh speakers, and were part of a community which helped to forge a modern identity for the nation."

In the first episode, Huw returns to the family graves in Bwlchllan, Ceredigion to start an incredible journey which will reveal how the commerce, industry and nature of Welsh society were revolutionised within a century between 1750 and 1850. By the end of that period, industry in Wales was employing more people than agriculture - Wales became the world's first industrial nation.

One of the main reasons for the industrial change was increased literacy says Huw, which was all down to a clever scheme thought up by two individuals from Carmarthenshire. "Children in this area are still being taught about Griffith Jones and Bridget Bevan, the two people responsible for this change. Their idea was to have a school that travelled from village to village, to ensure everyone could read the scriptures. Before long, more people in Wales could read than in any other area in the world."

And with literacy came a new wave of Christian followers and families across Wales who lived by the Bible's message of dedication, perseverance and hard work. Here was Wales's new workforce, but they needed one more essential ingredient, natural resources, and luckily, "the land in Wales was a treasure trove of natural resources," according to Huw.

On 2 March, 1768 a digger on Anglesey came across a great seam of copper in the island's Paris Mountain, and from this point onwards the story unfolds quickly as modern Wales starts to form.

A major copper industry was established on Anglesey, before an even bigger one was set up in Swansea which gained a world-wide reputation. The first iron furnaces were built and the first railway transport was set in motion, both for the first time in Wales. The disparity between the wealthy owners and the poor workers grew and grew and the people started to revolt. Wales witnessed the Chartists Revolution and the Rebecca Riots, and by this time some Welsh people had decided to up-sticks and sail for America.

"Naturally, my family background has always been important to me," says Huw. "But making this series has shown me how our story fits in with a huge transformation which affected everyone in Wales, and created the modern nation that we're all part of."

The story continues next Sunday on S4C.

Creu Cymru Fodern gyda Huw Edwards
Sunday 16 March 8.00pm, S4C




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