Alexander Cordell's book is set during the uneasy times in 19th Century Wales when the owners of iron and coal mines were destroying/raping the once beautiful land. I remember reading the book in the 1960s (suggested by our history teacher) and following a family (the Mortymers) during the turbulent times was much more enlightening than studying dates and events in the classroom.
Trade Unions were becoming popular among the British during the Industrial Revolution where working conditions were harsh. In the iron works, men were scalded and maimed, children as young as five were sent to work and the money they were paid was not British tender, but brass coins minted by the owners and could only be used in the company store which itself had high prices. Pay day was at a local pub, also owned by the company and the paymaster was usually late, enticing men to drink a large portion of their paycheck before they received it. The Chartist Movement made demands, hopeful they would have Parliament representation, rather than just rich landowners as members of Parliament:
Then there was conflict with the Irish who were willing to work for even less money and made striking with the union a useless task and resulted in even lower wages and higher prices at the company store.
You can watch a video from the Heritage and Cordell Museum at Blaenavon here.
I thought of my river, the Afon-Lwydd, that my father had fished in youth, with rod and line for the leaping salmon under the drooping alders. The alders, he said, that fringed the banks ten deep, planted by the wind of the mountains. But no salmon leap in the river now, for it is black with furnace washings and slag, and the great silver fish have been beaten back to the sea or gasped out of their lives on sands of coal. No alders stand now for thy have been chopped as fuel for the cold blast. Even the mountains are shells, groaning in their hollows of emptiness, trembling to the arrows of the pit-props in their sides, bellowing down the old workings that collapse in unseen dust five hundred feet below. Plundered is my country, violated, raped.