Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

Merthyr Tydfil is a town in the Welsh county of Glamorgan.  

Merthyr Tydfil Map locator
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMerthyr Tydfil Map locator - Credit: NordNordWest

Hillforts were built here during the Iron Age, inhabited by a tribe called the Silures. The Romans invaded around 40 AD, bringing Christianity to Wales.  Tydfil, a daughter of King Brychan of Brycheiniog, was slain here by pagans around 480.  Merthyr means martyr in Welsh.

Merthyr remained a small village until well into the Middle Ages.  But with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, the area's reserves of iron ore, coal and limestone caused a rapid expansion during the second half of the 18th century. The growing town became the centre of important ironworks.

The iron master's residence, Cyfarthfa Castle, built 1824
Creative Commons AttributionThe iron master's residence, Cyfarthfa Castle, built 1824 - Credit: John Wilson

By 1851, Merthyr had overtaken Swansea to become the largest town in Wales, with over 46,000 inhabitants. During the first few decades of the 19th century, the ironworks continued to expand and at their peak were the most productive in the world. Thomas Carlyle visited Merthyr in 1850, writing that the town was filled with such "hard-worked, fierce, and miserable-looking sons of Adam I never saw before. Ah me! It is like a vision of Hell, and will never leave me, that of these poor creatures broiling, all in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits, and rolling mills."

The iron workers rose up against their employers in the 1831 Merthyr Rising.  As many as 10,000 marched together under a red flag. For four days, magistrates and ironmasters remained under siege in the Castle Hotel, and the protesters effectively controlled Merthyr. They were eventually beaten back by the military.  Some of the revolt’s leaders were transported to Australia.  The first trades unions, illegal at the time, formed shortly after the riots. Many families left Wales, mainly for the steelworks of Pittsburgh, America. 

HIgh Street
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHIgh Street - Credit: Kev Griffin

The population of Merthyr reached almost 52,000 in 1861, but then began to decline as the ironworks closed.  Migration to America continued. 

In the 1870s, coal mining gave the town a new boost. The population rose to a peak of almost 81,000 in 1911. But the steel and coal industries began to decline after World War I, and by the 1930s all the works had closed. Merthyr suffered an out-migration of 27,000 people in the 1920s and 1930s.  A significant proportion of the current population is unemployed.    

A Channel 4 programme rated Merthyr Tydfil as the third worst place to live in Britain in 2006.

Swindon, England

Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSwindon - Credit: Chris RubberDragon
Swindon is a large town in Wiltshire, in southwest England, about 130 km west of London. In 2001 the town’s population numbered just over 155,000.  Average household incomes are among the highest in the country, and in February 2008 the town was identified by The Times as one of the 20 best places to buy a property in Britain.  Nevertheless, Swindon is popularly viewed as ugly and dull, which may be the point here.

The town is notable for its roundabouts.  The best-known is the Magic Roundabout, which is not one roundabout but five, the central point of which is a contra-rotational hub at the junction of five roads. To quote the impassioned blog Swindon is S***, "it says something about a town when its major landmark is a roundabout."

Swindon is home to the Bodleian Library’s book depository, which contains 246 km of bookshelves.

The Fforde Ffiesta weekend is held annually in Swindon.  It celebrates the works of Jasper Fforde, and includes readings and Q&A by Fforde, bus tours of Ffordian sites and other weird and wonderful events. 


Reading Fforde on Thursday Street, Swindon
Creative Commons AttributionReading Fforde on Thursday Street, Swindon - Credit: Robynne Blume


Thornfield Hall

Haddon Hall
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHaddon Hall - Credit: Eirian Evans
Thornfield Hall is the home of Edward Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.  Thusday Next spends the last few chapters of The Eyre Affair protecting the characters there.

Thornfield is an isolated mansion, with several unused rooms and passages.  It’s rather dark and gloomy, in keeping with the Gothic ambiance of the novel.  It is, however, surrounded by beautiful gardens.

In modern adaptations of the novel, Haddon Hall, near Bakewell in Derbyshire, has been used to represent Thornfield.  It can be seen in Franco Zeffirelli’s 2006 version, in the BBC miniseries, and most recently in the 2011 film version. 


Haddon Hall exterior
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHaddon Hall exterior - Credit: Chris Gunns
Jane Eyre
Portrait of Charlotte Brontë
Public DomainPortrait of Charlotte Brontë - Credit: Evert A. Duyckinick

The Eyre Affair is, most unusually, partly set inside another novel.

Jane Eyre is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë.  It was published in London in 1847, under Brontë’s pen name Currer Bell, and subtitled An Autobiography. The novel follows Jane through her childhood at Gateshead, where she is emotionally and physically abused; her education at Lowood School, a place of considerable deprivation and oppression; her time as governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with Lord Rochester; her time with the Rivers family, her distant cousins; and her return to Rochester when she finally finds happiness.

The full novel can be read here: