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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: July 2017

The Irish in Wrexham, 1850–1880

Summary

On 15 April 1851, the Wrexham Advertiser carried a piece purporting to be a dialogue between a census enumerator and an Irish woman. She was portrayed as excessively fecund, monumentally stupid and very, very ‘Oirish’. The paper must have felt that the item would chime with its local readers’ experience of the migrants in their midst.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the town of Wrexham in north-east Wales was beginning to develop the industrial aspect of its economic life. The town's response to the Industrial Revolution had perhaps been delayed by the overwhelming nature of its agricultural activities, but between 1840 and 1880 improved road and rail communications, together with the economic decline of nearby Deeside, enabled Wrexham to become the commercial, administrative and industrial hub of the northern borderland between Wales and England. A variety of craftsmen plied their trades throughout the year in the town's lanes and courtyards and then, for two weeks in March, these artisans were joined at the annual fair by Yorkshire clothiers, Lancashire cotton sellers and Midlands hardware makers. A central business district developed and, concomitant with this process, residential suburbs began to appear. Wrexham would have presented a confident face to an immigrant. Its mixed economy sustained a steady growth in population, its metal industries developed alongside its established role as a market town, its financial services and commercial life grew. Public health and housing were yet to be improved and would have to wait for the full operational powers following incorporation in 1857, plus public and private endeavour later in the century, but there was a hospital and, by 1847, nine schools. Such was the town to which the Irish came in the mid-nineteenth century. Many moved on, some stayed and a few prospered.

By 1851, Wrexham's population was 6,714; thirty years later this had increased by 63.5 per cent to 10,978. Within these totals was an Irish element consisting of those who were born in Ireland and those of the second and third generations who, though not Irish-born, were part of an Irish community.