Alexander Cordell was one of Wales’ most popular and prolific writers. Inspired by the turbulent industrial history of South Wales he wrote passionately about the people who helped make Wales the world’s first industrial nation.
Fifty years ago his most famous novel Rape of the Fair Country was published to instant acclaim, putting the tiny iron town of Blaenavon on the international map, half a century before the world recognised its historic significance and designated it a World Heritage Site.
Surprisingly Cordell was not a Welshman. He was born in Ceylon but lived in and near Abergavenny for many years, where he worked as a surveyor. ‘I was never happy until I came to Wales’, he said. ‘In the Welsh people I have found a frankness, friendliness, hospitality and industry that I have found nowhere else’. At weekends he walked on the hills surrounding Abergavenny, becoming interested in the ruins and scars of industry that littered the landscape of the Blorenge and the Clydach Gorge.
Cordell was astonished by the reaction to Rape of the Fair Country which had soon sold over a million copies worldwide and been translated into seventeen different languages. Publicity surrounding the sale of the film rights to his novel saved two local landmarks from demolition in 1960: Blaenavon Ironworks and Stack Square had become a potential film set.
Cordell wove together in his stories all the elements that were later recognised by UNESCO when, in 2000, they inscribed the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage Site. Towards the end of his life he recognized that World Heritage status would be a fitting epitaph to the men, women and children who helped to make Wales the world’s first industrial nation in the 19th century. It is a mark of the passion with which he wrote about the Valleys that Rape of the Fair Country has stood the test of time and remains one of Wales’ best-loved books. He went on to write about the Rebecca Riots, the navvies on the Neath Canal, the Merthyr Rising, the Tonypandy Riots and the Senghenydd Colliery disaster. When he died in 1997 he had written thirty books. His grave is in Llanfoist Churchyard.
Where to Visit?
Pay a visit to the Cordell Museum in Blaenafon to see personal items including Cordell's writing desk.
Follow in Cordell's footsteps on the four Cordell Country Tours.
Visit Blaenavon Ironworks one of the sites that inspired Cordell's first best seller "Rape of the Fair Country".