This volume charts the withdrawal of a traditional ruling elite and the arrival of a sense of self-awareness among the tenants, labourers and craftsmen of 18th-century Wales. The crisis of community is examined through the experience of the people of Montgomeryshire, a county that lies at the heart of Wales. The traditional, hierarchical community and the agrarian-craft economy which supported it may have appeared stable enough around 1700. However, the sharp increase in the population and a greater dependency on the returns of day labour pauperized a growing sector of Welsh society. For the tenant farmers, the symptoms of a slumping and scraping land hunger were well in evidence by the 1770s and intensified as the returns from farming failed to keep pace with demands for rents, rates and tithes. An increasing detachment and aggressively exploitative attitude on the part of the landowning elite sharpened the popular sense of crisis.
Industry, particularly the woollen industry, provided a material escape, while Nonconformist and Methodist meetings provided spiritual comfort, and for many, the rioting, political agitation and emigration that increasingly characterized Wales from the 1790s were also legitimate responses to the new order in Welsh society.