The most important place in Welsh history? Hay Festival audience decides

On Saturday 25th May, crowds flocked to Google’s Big Tent at this year’s Hay Festival to witness five historians make 4-minute pitches for the most important places in Welsh history.

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Chaired by Professor Huw Bowen of the Department of History and Classics at Swansea University and sponsored by the Western Mail and History Research Wales, the lively discussion featured locations as far ranging as the village of Ysbyty Ifan in North Wales, Gower churches, the street, Merthyr Tydfil and the M4. 

Hay Festival - History Research WalesThe historians were joined by Welsh Government Minister for Education, Mr Leighton Andrews, and Walesonline’s editor, Ms Ceri Gould. While Mr Andrews presented his constituency of Rhondda as a ‘place that’s now moving from industrialisation to sustainability’, Ms Gould’s vote was for the street following an impassioned pitch by Dr Paul O’Leary of Aberystwyth University.

Dr Madeleine Gray of the University of South Wales, who made the case for Ysbyty Ifan, was followed closely by Dr Helen Nicholson of Cardiff University who urged the audience to cast their vote for the parish churches of the Gower.

A convincing argument for the M4 as Wales’ most important postwar development was put forward by Dr Martin Johnes of Swansea University, who concluded: ‘For most of us, history isn’t about grand events. It’s about the little things we don’t even notice’.‌

Prof Chris Evans

However, the audience’s clear favourite was Professor Chris Evans of the University of South Wales (left) who proposed that Merthyr Tydfil was the most important place in Welsh history. In a dramatic endnote, Professor Evans claimed: ‘At Merthyr, Wales changes. But more importantly our destiny as a species changes fundamentally and therefore I submit to you, if there is only one way you can place your cross on the ballot paper today it has got to be for Merthyr’.

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Photo gallery – main image L-R:  Leighton Andrews AM, Ceri Gould, Dr Martin Johnes, Dr Paul O’Leary, Prof Huw Bowen, Prof Chris Evans, Dr Helen Nicholson and Dr Madeleine Gray.

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