A View of the County, c. 1850 By G.W.J, Lovering By the decade of the 1850s Britain had become known as 'the workshop of the world'. It was the age when this country attained the dominant position in world trade: over a quarter of the total trade of the world passed through British ports. The industrial lead that Great Britain had gained produced an unparalleled sense of national self-confi- dence, and it was commonly believed that there was an inevitability about industrial expansion and that the arrival of the age of steam meant that Nature itself could be challenged. The construction of the railway stimulated the imagination of contemporaries as no other development had, and this was so, here in Gwent, as much as anywhere else. In this county the arrival of the railway followed upon a half-century of rapid industriali- sation, and at the start of 1850 it was apparent that the great transformation of Monmouthshire society that had been taking place was likely to accelerate. In that year, the main-line South Wales Railway, Gloucester to Swansea, reached Newport, and there can be no doubt that the significance of this event was fully understood at the time. In the next few years the valley lines followed, and in 1857, as if to symbolise the utter transformation taking place, the majesty of the Crumlin Viaduct was to be seen. Indeed, nature had been conquered! The sense of awe that was produced at the magnificent structure spanning the Ebbw Valley was probably matched by the great volume of traffic down the valleys that so increased when the railways superceded the canals and tramroads. The Rhymney Ironworks, in the north-west comer of the county, provides an interesting example to illustrate expanding industry over these years. From the 1830s onwards, Rhymney was supplying iron rails to the new railway companies appearing in every part of the kingdom: the early London-Birmingham Railway and the GWR were customers, as were in later years, the great LNWR and the LSWR. By 1850, 60% of its rail production was being sent overseas: the Baltimore and Ohio and the Illinois Central railroads were early customers in the USA; at different times, Dutch, Italian, German, Russian, Indian and South American railways were supplied with rails produced at Rhymney. This picture can be matched in other Monmouthshire works. At Abersychan, for example, the production of iron rails extended over a period of 36 yea~s (1840-76), and almost exclusively so after 1850! In 1850, it was the well-established iron industry, and not coal, that was still looked upon as of primary importance. The total production of local ironworks in 1848 was greater than ever before, and, for contemporaries, the past success of the industry led them to believe in an ever-expanding future. The fact that the great Nantyglo Ironworks had reached its peak production in 1844, was only to be realised at a later date. It was the advent of cheap steel that was to bring about the demise of the wrought- iron trade in the county, but already by 1850 the original geographical advantages that had led to the siting of the iron industry on the north-eastern edge of the coalfield were