Today, while on a business trip, a good colleague of mine, Enric, showed me his childhood village, L’Amettla de Merola, and opened his family’s home to me.
This place is, in fact, a living symbol and good example of a enviable social, cultural and industrial phenomenon not so well known outside the Catalunya region, and one of as many as 18 colonies over say 25 km alongside the Llobregat river, and not so far from the center of Manresa.
A colony? Yes, that’s what they were called these settlements built up around the various textile-factories that took advantage of the hydraulic energy of the river falls. In the case of Ametlla de Merola, its history starts with its foundation in 1874, and ends in the late 1990’s when the competition from Chinese and other Chinese garments makers became too strong to fight.
The factory in this particular colony provided work to over 800 people. And much more than that, the factory owner kind of took control of the lives of these people and their families, although in a very positive sense. He provided housing. He provided for basic schooling for the kids, medical care and – if needed – even free transportation to hospital in the faraway Barcelona, a very struggling and costly affair in those times. The cultural life within the surrounding walls of the colony was very rich and blossoming at all times, with traditional plays (‘Pastorets‘), theatre and choirs, a church to care for the spiritual sides of life, from cradle to grave, and the people of the colonies even had their own little patch of earth to grow vegetables etc.. Sports were also practiced, not only football, but the relatively new sport of basketball was established in the colony of L’Ametlla already in the 1960s, quite early for a European village, I would say.
Before the Spanish Republic of the 1930s, the inhabitants of the Colony had a huge gate that was closed at night, preventing them to leave after a certain hour, and obliged them to stay within the village-walls at night. OK, that was in certain sense also a symbol of the feudal kind of conditions of their lives, but for people living and growing up there, where children started to work when reaching the age of 14, – they were actually satisfied with this, realizing that they enjoyed better living conditions than many in surrounding areas. In fact, businesses, shops and hostelries in the area were looking forward to the weekends, because then the people of the colony would be visiting, and as good spenders they were always welcome.
I would recommend you to take a look at the http://bit.ly/m6OrLn or http://bit.ly/l0cAJC or http://bit.ly/kO2EEZ or in order to get an even better understanding of these examples of Catalan industrialization as well as the sound and strong cultural life within the colonies, as well as the pioneering in welfare arrangements and social support that its people enjoyed.