‘This well-researched and detailed study casts a new light on a hugely significant political event which had a massive impact on my generation in Wales, and also was, arguably, a turning point in Welsh history. The drowning of the Tryweryn Valley was an embarrassment to all who regarded Liverpool as “the capital of North Wales” and a tragedy for many of the residents of the Capel Celyn community. But it was also an experience from which – the author concludes – Wales “emerged stronger, both politically and culturally ….and which heralded for Wales a new beginning… a new dawn.”.
This is not a book which merely re-interprets a well-known saga which shook mid-twentieth century Wales. It goes beneath and beyond the superficial and polarized viewpoints expressed in so many previous publications. It does so by amassing an immense volume of research, including transcripts of many radio and television programmes, as well as a considerable number of personal interviews by the author, collected from a wide range of those involved in the Tryweryn saga. If there is one short-coming, it is the extent to which so many of the interviewees insisted on being anonymous.
No-one escapes from these pages without objective criticism: not the obdurate Labour controlled Liverpool council, nor the largely ineffective politically independent Merionethshire County Council; nor even the residents of the local community, directly impacted by the drowning of their valley, who are shown to have had “mixed feelings about the flooding”. Some of those who resorted to acts of violence, later “regretted” their actions.
The supine body of thirty-six Welsh MPs demonstrated how powerless they were to defend Welsh interests in the House of Commons. Responsibility aggregated to the two Conservative governments who ruled at Westminster during the Tryweryn project’s approval and construction; but it is questionable whether they ever learnt their lesson from their complicity in the project.
Nor does Plaid Cymru emerge unscathed: its (then) limited political experience was exposed by the party’s failure to galvanize the voters’ antagonism. Gwynfor Evans, who despite channelling the anger felt throughout Wales, to winning the 1966 Carmarthen byelection, his leadership over Tryweryn remained “complex and multi-faceted”. Yet the author concludes that 31st July, 1957, the date on which Westminster finally passed Liverpool’s Tryweryn Reservoir Bill, “was the date on which the geopolitical architecture of Wales was created.” On any basis, this significant book deserves to be read by all who study the emergence of modern Wales”‘.
Lord Dafydd Wigley, former MP and AM for Caernarfon and President of Plaid Cymru
‘Tryweryn is an iconic event in Welsh history that continues to inspire and cause debate. It is thus very surprising that before now there has been no comprehensive history of what actually happened. This book rectifies that omission and is thus a major contribution to the history of Wales. Based on extensive archival research, it carefully documents events in this controversial episode. Dr Wyn Thomas’ analysis is both exhaustive and even-handed. He steps beyond the emotions and myths, in order not to just understand what happened but why it happened too. As such, this book will become the ‘go to’ account for those who want to understand one of the defining moments in the creation of modern Wales’.
Professor Martin Johnes, historian specialising in twentieth-century Welsh history
‘“The Greater Good” is always an uncomfortable phrase. Viewed from outside it seems obvious that if a million people in a downtrodden city (pre-Beatles Liverpool in the early sixties) urgently need clean water, and the best way of getting it is to flood a valley with a hundred or so inhabitants, all of whom will get new and better housing above the water line, then that is the right thing to do. Viewed from the inside, as one of the hundred people about to be displaced, this may not feel like ‘the greater good’ at all. When you add to the mix the fact that the city is in England and the valley in Wales, you bring into play all sorts of historical resentments that turn ‘the greater good’ into yet another piece of perceived bullying. My father, John Stilgoe, was Liverpool’s chief Water Engineer, and thus the designer and project manager of the reservoir, so in my teenage years I also had an insider’s view. I spent many Saturdays with him in the valley, as he got to know the people of Capel Celyn. As well as being a brilliant engineer, my dad was honest, decent and fair. I watched real mutual respect develop between him and the residents, as he dealt politely and kindly with all of them. He was incapable of doing anything unfair or dishonourable, and I am really grateful to Dr Wyn Thomas for reflecting this in this thorough and balanced history’.
Sir Richard Stilgoe, son of John Stilgoe, Liverpool’s Water Engineer
‘This book is an extraordinary piece of historical analysis, which is meticulous in its factual endeavour accurately to record the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley in North Wales. It outlines in impressive detail the constitutional journey of the Tryweryn Bill and, in delivering a considered and comprehensive assessment of the Liverpool perspective, it provides an honest evaluation of the situation as held by Liverpool City Council and, indeed, the Conservative government of the day in which my father was proud to serve. Nevertheless, in keeping with his reputation for being a balanced and nuanced historian, Dr Wyn Thomas also affords due and considerable attention to those who opposed the measure to flood the Tryweryn Valley; while, furthermore, he highlights the impact that the passing of the Tryweryn Bill by Parliament was to have on the Tryweryn community. Dr Wyn Thomas should be commended for this book, which is destined to be the definitive appraisal of an important event in the recent political history of the United Kingdom’.
Lord Peter Brooke, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and son of Lord Henry Brooke, Minister for Welsh Affairs and Housing and Local Government
‘Dr Wyn Thomas is an intelligent man who through his inquisitive and analytical writing enjoys an insight into the very soul of Wales. For a long time now, his diligence and impressive approach have resulted in Dr Thomas being close to many important events in the life of Wales – and, as such, he is a sapient and informed commentator. Moreover, Dr Wyn Thomas is an historian truly blessed with a gift for the written word. He writes with fluidity, panache and conviction and, in so doing, captures perfectly the period and the events under review. His love for Wales and Welsh history have provided Dr Wyn Thomas an understanding. He is, to quote, simpatico; and it is this passion – underpinned by many years of in-depth research – which shines through his accurate and scrupulously fair appraisals’.
Lord Elystan Morgan, former Labour MP and Circuit Judge of Chester and North Wales