Utopia Britannica - British Utopian Experiments 1325 - 1945

'Interesting Settlement in Wales'

Gazetter entry

In 1827 an article entitled 'Interesting Settlement in Wales - an account of the principles and progress of an experiment for improving the condition of the labouring classes of society, in the hills of Monmouthshire,' appeared in The Oriental Herald. The author was John Moggridge a Monmouth magistrate and industrialist. In the article he described the scheme that he had set up on his land in the Sirhowy Valley. Appalled by the living conditions of the colliers in the valley, Moggridge had consulted with Robert Owen and devised a variant of Owen's villages of co-operation. Moggridge's aim was to give working people independence and self-respect.

He proposed grants of land for a term of three generations on condition that;
1. The tenant should pay a regular small ground rent.
2. The tenant should personally assist in the erection of a substantial and commodious cottage. This should not interfere with his regular work.
3. Any money advanced by Moggridge should be secured by the premises, and repaid by instalments at regular intervals.

Initially only three tenants accepted the offer of an eighth on an acre plot and in the spring of 1820 three cottages were built and the gardens planted with leeks and onions. Seeing the value of home-grown fruit and vegetables and additional income that could be had from letting an upperstorey 'lodging room' out to single colliers, forty plots were taken up in the next 2 years and by 1828 there were 260 houses and 1550 inhabitants in The Black Wood. As the settlement grew medical services, shops, workshops for craftsmen and small tradesmen, a school and market house - which also doubled as chapel - were all provided.

Cottages in Hall St. Blackwood built as part of John Moggridge’s scheme

So successful was the scheme that a few miles down the valley the village of Ynysddu was born in the same way with more than thirty houses being built there. Over the hill from Blackwood at Trelyn a further fifty houses were built and in 1829 the total population of the three villages totalled 2000. The scheme obviously brought advantages to the ordinary people of the area, but the greatest beneficiary was Moggridge himself. The total rents from his estate increased significantly, as did its saleable value. A consequence of the social experiment was that a core of the most talented and industrious workmen became tied to the area providing the skills vital to the continued expansion of coal mining in the valley. Folk who had built their own cottages were most unlikely to leave them.

Moggridge's scheme is perhaps closer to the idea of the 'Villages of Co-operation' than any of the other communities set up by Owen and his followers, although it did not have the grand architecture of the other schemes, nor the ardent radicalism of the community members. However it proved to be more resilient than any other Owenite scheme and was to be the foundation of the small town of Blackwood.

Links http://www.thisisgwent.co.uk/gwent/info/history/blackwood.html
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