England and Wales: best of enemies?

With the Six Nations about to pit England against Wales in rugby again, Martin Johnes explains how Anglo-Welsh relations in recent history have been shaped by migration, industrial decline, global conflict and sport

A Cardiff City player shakes hands with an Arsenal player before the kick off of the 1927 FA Cup final. (Photo by H. F. Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

In Mold in 1869, anger over inequalities in wages between Welsh and imported English miners escalated into violence. A crowd stoned a military escort taking two Welsh miners to prison for assaulting an English manager. The soldiers returned fire, killing two colliers and two women. A coroner’s jury declared the deaths “justifiable homicide” and the local press and authorities supported the military’s action. However, wider reactions demonstrated some of the hostility towards the Welsh that had helped spark the tensions in the first place. Denbighshire was portrayed in the English press as an unlawful place and the Saturday Review even claimed the Welsh language resembled “the growl of animals more than the articulate speech of civilised men”.

In subsequent decades the presence of English workers in Wales grew but hostility towards them became less common. Between 1861 and 1911 more than 227,000 people moved from England to the south Wales coalfields. Unlike 1860s Mold, there was no separating out of Welsh and English workers and no pattern of employers importing English managers or paying English labour better wages. Instead, a cosmopolitan culture evolved where the experience of work united immigrants from England and rural Wales to such an extent that Englishmen were even elected as union leaders for this new class-conscious society.

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