The Miners Strike of 1910-11 was an attempt by miners and their families to improve wages and living conditions in severely deprived parts of South Wales, where wages had been kept deliberately low for many years by a cartel of mine owners.
What became known as the Tonypandy riotsof 1910 and 1911 (sometimes collectively known as the Rhondda riots) were a series of violent confrontations between these striking coal miners and police that took place at various locations in and around the Rhondda mines of the Cambrian Combine, a cartel of mining companies formed to regulate prices and wages in South Wales.
The disturbances and confrontations were the culmination of this industrial dispute between workers and the mine owners. The term "Tonypandy riot" initially applied to specific events on the evening of Tuesday 8 November 1910, when strikers smashed windows of businesses in Tonypandy. The strikers were impassioned by extended hand-to-hand fighting with the Glamorgan Constabulary, reinforced by the Bristol Constabulary.
Home Secretary Winston Churchill's decision to allow the British Army to be sent to the area to reinforce the police shortly after 8 November riot caused much ill feeling towards him in South Wales.His responsibility remains a strongly disputed topic.
The conflict arose when the Naval Colliery Company opened a new coal seam at the Ely Pit in Penygraig. After a short test period to determine what would be the future rate of extraction, owners claimed that the miners deliberately worked more slowly than they could. The roughly 70 miners at the seam argued that the new seam was more difficult to work than others, due to a stone band that ran through it. [p175]:
On 1 September 1910, the owners posted a lock-out notice at the mine, closing the site to all 950 workers, not just the 70 at the newly opened Bute seam. [p175] The Ely Pit miners reacted by going on strike. The Cambrian Combine then called in strikebreakers from outside the area, to which the miners responded by picketing the work site. On 1 November, the miners of the South Wales coalfield were balloted for strike action by the South Wales Miners' Federation, resulting in the 12,000 men working for the mines owned by the Cambrian Combine going on strike. :[p175] A conciliation board was formed to reach an agreement, with William Abraham acting on behalf of the miners and F. L. Davis for the owners. Although an agreed wage of 2s 3d per ton was arrived at, the Cambrian Combine workmen rejected the agreement. :[p175]:
On 2 November, the authorities in south Wales were enquiring about the procedure for requesting military aid, in the event of disturbances caused by the striking miners. [p109] The Glamorgan Constabulary resources were stretched, as in addition to the Cambrian Combine dispute, there was a month-old strike in the neighbouring Cynon Valley; and the Chief Constable of Glamorgan had by Sunday 6 November assembled 200 imported police in the Tonypandy area. :[p111]:
By this time, strikers had successfully shut down all local pits, except Llwynypia colliery. am and 2 am on 8 November, a demonstration at Tonypandy Square was dispersed by Cardiff police using truncheons, resulting in casualties on both sides. :[p175] This led Glamorgan's chief constable, Lionel Lindsay, supported by the general manager of the Cambrian Combine, to request military support from the War Office. :[p111]On 6 November, miners became aware of the owners' intention to deploy strikebreakers, to keep pumps and ventilation going at the Glamorgan Colliery in Llwynypia. On Monday 7 November, strikers surrounded and picketed the Glamorgan Colliery, to prevent such workers from entering. This resulted in sharp skirmishes with police officers posted inside the site. Although miners' leaders called for calm, a small group of strikers began stoning the pump-house. A portion of the wooden fence surrounding the site was torn down. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued between miners and police. After repeated baton charges, police drove strikers back towards Tonypandy Square, just after midnight. Between 1
Home Secretary Winston Churchill learned of this development and, after discussions with the War Office, delayed action on the request. Churchill felt that the local authorities were over-reacting, and believed that the Liberal government could calm matters down. He instead despatched Metropolitan Police officers, both on foot and mounted, and sent some cavalry troops to Cardiff. [p111] He did not specifically deploy cavalry, but authorised their use by civil authorities, if deemed necessary. Churchill's personal message to strikers was, "We are holding back the soldiers for the present and sending only police." :[p111] Despite this assurance, the local stipendiary magistrate sent a telegram to London later that day and requested military support, which the Home Office authorised. Troops were deployed after the skirmish at the Glamorgan Colliery on 7 November, but before rioting on the evening of 8 November. :[p111]:
During the evening of rioting, properties in Tonypandy were damaged and some looting took place. [p175] Shops were smashed systematically, but not indiscriminately. :[p114] There was little looting, but some rioters wore clothes taken from the shops and paraded in a festival atmosphere. Women and children were involved in considerable numbers, as they had been outside the Glamorgan colliery. No police were seen at the town square, until the Metropolitan Police arrived around 10:30 pm, almost three hours after the rioting began, when the disturbance subsided of its own accord. :[p114] A few shops remained untouched, notably that of chemist Willie Llewellyn, rumoured to have been spared because he had been a famous Welsh international rugby footballer.:
A small police presence might have deterred window-breakages, but police had been moved from the streets to protect the residences of mine owners and managers. [p176]:
At 1:20 am on 9 November, orders were sent to Colonel Currey at Cardiff, to despatch a squadron of the 18th Hussars to reach Pontypridd at 8:15 am. :[p122] Upon arrival, one contingent patrolled Aberaman and another was sent to Llwynypia, where it patrolled all day. :[p122] Returning to Pontypridd at night, the troops arrived at Porth as a disturbance was breaking out, and maintained order until the arrival of the Metropolitan Police. :[p123] Although no authentic record exists of casualties, since many miners would have refused treatment from fear of prosecution for their part in the riots, nearly 80 police and over 500 citizens were injured. One miner, Samuel Rhys, died of head injuries, said to have been inflicted by a policeman's baton, although the verdict of the coroner's jury was cautious: "We agree that Samuel Rhys died from injuries he received on 8 November caused by some blunt instrument. The evidence is not sufficiently clear to us how he received those injuries." Similarly, the medical evidence concluded that "The fracture had been caused by a blunt instrument—it might have been caused by a policeman's truncheon or by two of the several weapons used by the strikers, which were produced in court." Authorities had reinforced the town with 400 policemen, one company of the Lancashire Fusiliers, billeted at Llwynypia, and the squadron of the 18th Hussars.
Thirteen miners from Gilfach Goch were arrested and prosecuted for their part in the unrest. The trial of the thirteen occupied six days in December. During the trial, they were supported by marches and demonstrations by up to 10,000 men, who were refused entry to the town.Custodial terms of two to six weeks were issued to some of the respondents; others were discharged or fined.
Purported eyewitness accounts of alleged shootings persisted and were relayed by word of mouth. In some instances it was said there were many shots and fatalities. There are no records of any shots being fired by troops. The only recorded death was Samuel Rhys. In the autobiographical "documentary novel" Cwmardy, the later communist trade union organiser Lewis Jones presents a stylistically romantic, but closely detailed, account of the riots and their agonising domestic and social consequences. The account was criticised for its creative approach to truth. For example, in the chapter "Soldiers are sent to the Valley", he narrates an incident, in which eleven strikers are killed by two volleys of rifle fire in the town square, after which the miners adopt a grimly retaliatory stance. In this account, the end of the strike is hastened by organised terror directed at mine managers, leading to introduction of a minimum-wage act by the government – hailed as a victory by the strikers. The accuracy of this account is disputed.
A more official version states that "The strike finally ended in August 1911, with the workers forced to accept the 2s 3d per ton negotiated by William Abraham MP prior to the strike ... the workers actually returning to work on the first Monday in September",ten months after the strike began and twelve months after the lock-out which started the confrontation.
Churchill's role in the events at Tonypandy during the conflict left an anger towards him in South Wales that still persists today. The main point of contention was his decision to allow troops to be sent to Wales. Although this was an unusual move, and was seen by those in Wales as an over-reaction, his Tory then-opponents suggested that he should have acted with greater vigour. [p111] The troops acted more circumspectly and were commanded with more common sense than the police, whose role under Lionel Lindsay was, in the words of historian David Smith, "more like an army of occupation". :[p111] The troops were also generally viewed with less hostility than the local and Metropolitan police.:
Despite these facts, the incident continued to haunt Churchill throughout his career. Such was the strength of feeling, that almost forty years later, when speaking in Cardiff during the General Election campaign of 1950, this time as Conservative Party leader, Churchill was forced to address the issue, stating: "When I was Home Secretary in 1910, I had a great horror and fear of having to become responsible for the military firing on a crowd of rioters and strikers. Also, I was always in sympathy with the miners..." [p122]:
A major factor in the dislike of Churchill's use of the military, was not in any specific action undertaken by the troops, but the fact that their presence prevented any strike action which might have ended the strike early in the miners' favour. [p112] The troops also ensured that trials of rioters, strikers and miners' leaders would take place and be successfully prosecuted in Pontypridd in 1911. The defeat of the miners in 1911 was, in the eyes of much of the local community, a direct consequence of state intervention without any negotiation; that the strikers were breaking the law was not a factor with many locals. This result was seen as a direct result of Churchill's actions. :[p112]:
Political fallout for Churchill also continued. In 1940, when Chamberlain's war-time government was faltering, Clement Attlee secretly warned that the Labour Party might not follow Churchill, because of his association with Tonypandy. [p112] There was uproar in the House of Commons in 1978 when Churchill's grandson, also named Winston Churchill, was replying to a routine question on miners' pay; he was warned by James Callaghan not to pursue "the vendetta of your family against the miners of Tonypandy". In 2010, ninety-nine years after the riots, a Welsh local council made objections to an old military base being named after Churchill in the Vale of Glamorgan, because of his sending troops into the Rhondda Valley.:
Josephine Tey offered a criticism of what she regarded as sensational and simplistic popular impressions of the Tonypandy riots near the start of her detective novel The Daughter of Time. Throughout the book thereafter, several inaccurate (though popular) ideas on various other subjects are described as ‘Tonypandy’.
David Alfred Thomas, 1st Viscount Rhondda, PC was a Welsh industrialist and Liberal politician. He was UK Member of Parliament (MP) for Merthyr Tydfil from 1888 until the January 1910 general election, then MP for Cardiff until the December 1910 general election, when he left politics to concentrate on his business interests. He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1916. He later held office, notably as "Food Controller" in Lloyd George's wartime coalition government.
Maerdy is a village and community in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, and within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan, Wales, lying at the head of the Rhondda Fach Valley.
Porth is a town and a community in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan, Wales, lying in the Rhondda Valley and is regarded as the gateway to the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach valleys because both valleys meet at Porth. The Welsh word "porth" means "gate". Porth is a predominantly English-speaking community.
Treorchy is a town and community in Wales. Once a town, it retains the characteristics of one. Situated in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf in the Rhondda Fawr valley. Treorchy is also one of the 16 communities of the Rhondda. It includes the villages of Cwmparc and Ynyswen.
Tonypandy is a town and community located in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan, Wales, lying in the Rhondda Fawr Valley. A former industrial coal mining town, today Tonypandy is best known as the site of the 1910 Tonypandy riots.
Llwynypia is a village and community in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, near Tonypandy in the Rhondda Fawr Valley. Before 1850 a lightly populated rural farming area, Llwynypia experienced a population boom between 1860 and 1920 with the sinking of several coal mines after the discovery of large coal deposits throughout the Rhondda Valleys.
Vernon Hartshorn was a Welsh trade unionist and Labour Party politician who served as a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1918 until his death.
Rhondda, or the Rhondda Valley, is a former coalmining area in South Wales, previously in Glamorgan, now a local government district, of 16 communities around the River Rhondda. It embraces two valleys – the larger Rhondda Fawr valley and the smaller Rhondda Fach valley – so that the singular "Rhondda Valley" and the plural are both commonly used. In 2001, the Rhondda constituency of the National Assembly for Wales had a population of 72,443; while the Office for National Statistics counted the population as 59,602. Rhondda forms part of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough and of the South Wales Valleys. It is most noted for its historical coalmining industry, which peaked between 1840 and 1925. The valleys produced a strong Nonconformist movement manifest in the Baptist chapels that moulded Rhondda values in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is also famous for male voice choirs and in sport and politics.
The South Wales Coalfield extends across Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen. It is rich in coal deposits, especially in the South Wales Valleys.
Tylorstown is a village and community located in the Rhondda valley, in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. It is neighboured by the villages of Blaenllechau, Ferndale, Penrhys, Pontygwaith and Stanleytown.
Ton Pentre is a village in the Rhondda Valley in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. Historically part of Glamorgan, Ton Pentre, a former industrial coal mining village, is a district of the community of Pentre. The old district of Ystradyfodwg was named after the church at Ton Pentre. Ton Pentre is, perhaps, best known for an event in 1924, when the Duke of York played a round of golf with Trade Unionist Frank Hodges.
Dinas is a village near Tonypandy in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. Dinas is often referred to as Dinas Rhondda to avoid confusion with Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan. The word dinas in Modern Welsh means "city", but here it means "hill fort".
Clydach Vale is a village in the community of Cwm Clydach, northwest of Tonypandy in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, within the Rhondda Valley, Wales. It is named for its situation on the Nant Clydach, a tributary of the River Rhondda.
William Abraham, universally known by his bardic name, Mabon, was a Welsh trade unionist and Liberal/Labour politician, and a member of parliament (MP) from 1885 to 1920. Although an MP for 35 years, it was as a trade unionist that Abraham is most well known. Initially a pioneer of trade unionism, who fought to enshrine the principle of workers' representation against the opposition of the coal-owners, he was regarded in later life as a moderate voice believing that disputes should be solved through conciliation rather than industrial action. This drew him into conflict with younger and more militant leaders from the 1890s onwards. Although the defeat of the miners in the Welsh coal strike of 1898 was a clear defeat for Mabon's strategy, his prestige was sufficient to ensure that he became the first president of the South Wales Miners' Federation which was established in the wake of the dispute. Abraham was noted for his powerful speaking voice, and was a renowned orator in English and Welsh.
This article is about the particular significance of the year 1910 to Wales and its people.
Penygraig is a village and community in the Rhondda Valley in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. As a community Penygraig contains the neighbouring districts of Dinas, Edmondstown, Penrhiwfer and Williamstown. Penygraig is within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan. The name Penygraig is Welsh for 'head of the rock'.
Archibald Hood was a Scottish engineer and coalowner who became an important figure in the industrial growth of the Rhondda Valley. The son of a colliery official, Hood would make his name as a coalowner of collieries first in Scotland and later in Llwynypia in South Wales.
Nantgarw Colliery was a coal mine and later developed Coking coal works, located in the village on Nantgarw, Mid Glamorgan, Wales located just north of Cardiff.
The Cambrian Colliery was a large coal mine that operated between 1872 and 1967 near Clydach Vale in the Rhondda Valley, south Wales. It is notable for its huge production and for two infamous explosion disasters, in 1905 and 1965, in which a total of 64 miners were killed. Its owners sank the first pits into a rich coal seam in the 1870s from which, within 20 years, over 700 tons were being extracted daily. The complex was connected to the Taff Vale Railway and had room in its sidings for over 840 wagons. The colliery's workforce, which numbered over 4,000 in 1913, was prominently involved in the Tonypandy Riot of 1910.
Mid Rhondda Football Club was an association football team, based in Tonypandy, Wales that was formed in 1912. Mid Rhondda were one of the earlier South Wales teams to form, as competition from rugby union within the Rhondda Valleys was very strong. The team played in both the Southern and Welsh Leagues, and should have been promoted to the first division of the Southern League after topping the second Division during the 1919–20 season. This though was denied them by a restructuring of the league, which in turn saw the club flounder and collapse by 1928.