Report from Resolven Welfare Tuesday Club

  The CISWO (Coal Industry Social   Welfare Organisation) runs a Tuesday club at the Welfare Hall every other Tuesday from 11am until 1pm where people meet and socialise. Recently, they invited Trefor Jones from the Resolfen History Society to give a talk and he chose his subject well, recalling the anthracite strike of 1925. Trefor made his talk really interesting telling us how the coal industry was run in the past and how the South Wales Miners Federation endeavoured to improve the life of miners locally. It was at the time when streets and tips were named after local colliery owners – for example, Lyons place and Tweedle tip were named in Resolven after such owners.  This was pre war, pre NUM, pre NCB and pre welfare state and the collieries were in many cases small businesses whose wages fluctuated with the price of coal.

In a nutshell, the story unfolded that after WW1 there was a boom in anthracite mining in Wales that created a takeover of the small mines in the south Wales coalfield.  Small collieries were bought out by people such as Alfred Monde and companies were created from combined small mines. This led to the breaking of what were spoken rules among miners and the small mine owners In that they were not recognised by the more affluent new company owners.  As anthracite coal became more profitable and the takeovers progressed, the intimate relationship of the small owners with their workers was lost.

In June 1925, a particular breakdown of the unwritten rules led to what was to be known as the ‘boxer rebellion’. It began in the Bettws collieries in Ammanford where dissention grew over the breaking of the unwritten rules, and they were backed by the South Wales Federation and other pits. The story goes that 2 mines – 1 in Crynant and 1 in  Glynneath – were the only collieries in the Swansea area not to support the strike and a 400 man gathering fronted by a silver band marched from Bettws to Crynant .  They met the men going to work and   requested they support the strike.  When support wasn’t immediately given the men who came by train from Neath were ‘encouraged’ back onto the train and went home – this might be where the name ‘boxer rebellion’ came from. There were a few police at the site who were ill prepared to meet the 18,000 strong crowd of men that had joined the original 400 on route from Ammanford to Crynant. The next day the men marched to Glynneath where they encountered a very different force of police and there was a pitched battle where miners were badly beaten. One father of 5 with a dependant widowed mother to care for in particular was so badly beaten that he never worked again. After this the dispute fizzled out.

The police of that day were said to have told how the crowd of 18,000 sang ‘Aberystwyth ‘en masse which was intimidating and put fear into the police. It must have been something to hear 18000 men so united.  Another story told was of how the sergeant in charge on that day was a rugby player, and thefollowing year he incurred a sport injury that resulted in him never working again just as the beaten miner the year before – coincidence?

In August, police arrived from Cardiff and there followed a series of conflagrations where the police were housed in the Abernant Inn in Cwmgors and the dissent that erupted included dynamite being thrown at police in Gwaun Cae Gerwyn and carnage was the result . The aftermath was that 1 colliery flooded and was closed down, 180 miners were arrested and jailed until the case reached parliament and a judge released them, claiming them to be dependable solid people. So in the future when you hear of the 1926 general strike you can look back to 1925 and remember the boxer rebellion that preceded it 

 There was so much more to this story and there are many more stories like this that we might never hear of without the knowledge of Trefor Jones and the Resolfen History Society and if you would like to hear more they meet monthly in St David’s Church Hall at 7pm