The author, a senior lecturer in history at Liverpool John Moores University during recent years, is well known for his slim volume Cardiganshire: the Concise History published in 2007 by the University of Wales Press in its series on the history of various Welsh counties. The present volume, a revision of the author’s doctoral thesis, considers the image of ‘the Cardi’, described as ‘a hard-headed, thrifty, business-minded individual whose mores set him apart from his countryman’, and comparable with conventional images of the Yorkshireman in England and the Aberdonian in Scotland.
Although the appeal of the volume might have been enriched by the inclusion of more illustrative material, the research underpinning it is awesomely extensive and complete, including many disparate archival sources, official papers and reports, a wide range of newspaper and journal material, contemporary sources including poetry and prose works, and travel guides. The thoughts and ideas of numerous individuals, among them politicians and public figures, serious and amateur academics, tinkers and countrymen, and joke-writers, are all considered fully and given an equal place in the compelling analysis.
The author adopts a fairly tight chronological framework, and the analysis runs from the middle of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first. Consideration of outside influences and inroads into Cardiganshire at the beginning of this lengthy period leads to an analysis of the much-increased contact with other areas, primarily in the wake of the arrival of the railway and accelerated trading links. Outsiders and visitors still commented on features such as ‘a lack of religious attendance, illegitimacy, idleness and vanity’, allegedly prominent among the Cardiganshire population (p. 110).
From about the 1870s onwards, Benbough-Jackson shows how the county and its inhabitants displayed a much greater distinctiveness. Those who migrated to south Wales formed their own discrete, self-contained groupings in the industrial valley communities. During the inter-war years, the county’s image was moulded by the continuing striking prevalence of farming in Cardiganshire and its steadily declining population in the wake of large-scale migration. This individuality was, at one and the same time, ‘criticized and complimented in equal measure’ by observers. Then, from about the mid-point of the twentieth century, the county’s characteristics perceptibly weakened and the traditional image of the Cardi was generally disliked in the wake of the ever-increasing encroachment of the State, but a certain element of county individualism still persists to the present day.
The author’s overall conclusion is that Cardiganshire, in spite of its isolation and relatively small size, attained a distinctive cultural presence within Wales, and indeed beyond, much greater than many observers anticipated. The rich array of material accumulated by the author amply confirms this.
J. Graham Jones
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