An Upland Resource-based Settlement Model:

     I developed this general settlement model during geographical fieldwork conducted from the former Wilson's School Field Study Centre at Talybont-on-Usk (Powys) in the 1980s and '90s. It offers an interpretation and explanation of the repeated patterns of settlement and industrial development observed in the valleys of South Wales during and after the Industrial Revolution, but which, I suggest, can also be applied in a wider geographical, economic and historical context. It is useful to compare the model with the detailed case study of Ebbw Vale elsewhere in this website.

Upland Resource-based Settlement Model: Explanatory Notes

(adapted from Burgess' 1935 Concentric Ring Theory of Urban Growth)

Initial premises:

  1. Based on South Wales Coalfield in Industrial Revolution (but can be applied elsewhere).
  2. Four potential resource sites in area of high relief -  drained by one river and tributary.
  3. Rivers not navigable, but harbour at mouth – high transport costs.
  4. Limited flat land – settlements constrained by relief.
  5. Four stage development process:                                                                                                      (I)    Pre-Industrial – self-contained rural economy, four small valley settlements;             (II)   Primary Production – resource extraction and export, with some processing.                 (III)   Secondary Industry – manufacturing and assembly based on local and imported materials and parts, plus ancillary industries.                                                                            (IV)   Tertiary – specialised production and services replace manufacturing.

6.   Simple three level settlement hierarchy:                                                                                             (a )   Lowest order settlements at up-valley extraction sites;                                                       (b)    Local collecting centre at valley/road junction;                                                                         (c)     Higher order centre down valley (at head of navigation in this version).

I.             Pre-industrial (rural) pattern.

          (a) Isolated settlements at valley heads – farms, served by tracks leading down valley to                 (b) Hamlet or small village at valley junction - few services (chapel, mill, inn?). Road link down valley to                                                                                                                                                                   (c) Larger village with basic services (including small market) down valley. Nucleated around sheltered harbour – for fishing, importing supplies and exporting surpluses. 

II.        Primary Production (extractive) phase.

            (a)  Mining and quarrying hamlets or villages where tramroads and inclined planes bring resources down the hillside to meet down-valley road. Primitive housing in terraced ‘rows’ close to works - very few services.

            (b) Local village centre with basic collection, storage and distribution services (perhaps with `break-of-bulk` processing at valley road junction).  Limited low threshold services, low status terraced housing crowded into valley bottom (some back-to-back?).  Canal-head linking it with coast.  Some cottage industries serving local market.

            (c)  Growing export port and fledgling commercial centre at river mouth, with  processing and ancillary industries. `Gateway` functions, with higher threshold services.  Water now main means of transport. Settlement spreading up valley and coastwise.

*NB – Some upland areas may not  move on to Stages III and IV (due to remoteness and environmental problems?), so will directly enter the Alternative Final Stage outlined at the end.

III.     Secondary (peak manufacturing) phase.

            (a) Mining/quarrying villages grow differentially (depending on resource status, ease of production, accessibility, etc.). Roads, housing, infrastructure improved, valley road extended.  Skeletal services in favoured locations: inn, chapel/meeting room/sunday school, blacksmith, bakehouse, shop. 

           (b)  Valley junction village becoming urbanised. Some nucleation around road junction, with market and low order shops, PO, school, church with parish admin.  Railway replaces canal – mail coach brings daily passenger connection down valley. Haulage industry important. Processing plant plus small scale manufacturing and repair.  High density ‘bye-law housing’ (tunnel-backs?) with improved sanitation and water supply replacing earlier housing.

            (c)  Industrial and commercial centre – industry based on local and imported materials and parts, and growing local market, also repair and maintenance, focusing on port/railway junction axis.  Administration, services and infrastructure growing – high street shops, with associated small financial and professional quarter at road intersection. Bye-law housing spreads through redevelopment, infill, and extension up valley.  Higher status villas close to railway stations, and larger houses on western valley side slopes (avoiding damp and smoke-laden areas).

IV.             Modern (commercial) pattern.

      (a) New road now crossing head of the main valley. Differential development continues – some expansion on through valley road, decline in tributary. No resources extracted, but light industry on more accessible sites.  Rejuvenation through tourism, outdoor recreation, second homes?

      (b)  Urbanised village may grow as dormitory and craft/heritage centre.  Railway closed – road transport supreme. Livestock market closes or moves out, site > shopping precinct; processing plant > industrial estate/business park.  New housing on brownfield sites, along valley road and near industrial estate.  Some redevelopment, environmental improvement and refurbishment of older houses, mainly by incomers (young families can`t afford houses, move out looking for work).  May become satellite of coastal town.  Some shops and services may close - competition from development down valley.  Cheap fast food outlets, household goods and charity shops much in evidence, also empty or derelict property.

      (c)  Commercial port and industrial town may grow despite loss of traditional export trade,  depending on diversification, road improvements, and investment in infrastructure.  Main road now trunk road, with by-pass for through traffic.  Council estates built on outskirts, with redevelopment and refurbishment, eg central area, out-of-town mall and business parks close to by-pass.  Coast may attract holiday and retirement homes.  Manufacturing base shrinks, services grow, eg administration, catering and leisure, education and training.  Increased road connectivity but public transport subsidised.  Building density shows overall decrease.

NB:  Area`s long-term future likely to depend on strength of links with other regions.

            [Alternative Final Stage (deindustrialisation?):  Settlement growth may be arrested or reversed as result of resource exhaustion or loss of markets, lack of investment in decaying infrastructure, and accessibility and environmental problems.  Inland area becomes backwater, with a largely suburban and crypto-rural settlement pattern, and no viable economic base.

         (a) Mineral extraction ceases, mining settlements decline and their fabric deteriorates. Without investment on social grounds these settlements may revert to hamlets, or disappear altogether – ‘ghost towns’. 

            (b)  Valley settlement stagnates, becomes small dormitory or collection of second homes - skeletal services and public transport. Many vacant and derelict properties, in need of refurbishment.  Exploitation of local landscape may provide lifeline (but only seasonally).

            (c)  River mouth settlement may become small holiday/leisure centre based on nursing, retirement and second homes, perhaps a marina in the harbour.  Industry will close down, as will larger and more specialised shops and services, so there will be limited employment opportunities.  Population density will decrease and average age increase as younger people move out and downsizing retirees move in.]

(MDK  2004)