We are all familiar with the large waves of Basque migration to the Americas and Australia. But there was also a small group of Basques who immigrated to Wales, in the United Kingdom. They were recruited to the city of Dowlais, some 60 miles from Cardiff. They came to the region because of the steel industry, recruited because of their experience and expertise working in the Basque Country. A small neighborhood was established for them on Alphonso Street and their descendants are still a part of the community.
- Dowlais Ironworks, created in 1759, was, at one time, the largest steel maker in the UK and was the first to introduce the Bessemer process, a new way of making steel by blowing air through the molten steel, removing impurities. This led to an inexpensive way to mass produce steel.
- Dowlais imported iron ore from Bizkaia because of the special make-up of those deposits. This led to a brisk trade between the two regions and the formation of a new company, Orconera Iron Ore Company Limited, an international conglomerate in 1873 that had the goal of “vertical integration” of steel-making, from the mines to the final product. The Basque investors were Ybarra Hermanos y Compañía.
- The Orconera Company, and the mining industry more broadly, contributed to the social conflicts of Vizcaya and in the development of the socialist movement. Miners of Orconera staged strikes, which were put down by the military. Major strikes occurred in 1890 and 1910 over issues such as a 9-hour work day.
- The Basques in Dowlais supported their brethren back in the Basque Country by sending money during the Spanish Civil War and helping the refugee children that escaped the war to the UK. They also became involved in the political life of Wales.
Primary source: Los ‘vascos de Dowlais’, emigrantes del carbón y el hierro en Gales, Deia, un reportaje de Óscar Álvarez Gila – Sábado, 2 de Marzo de 2019 – Actualizado a las 20:22h.