Archive for March 2012

‘Eat, Pray, Love’: Rediscovering divinity, Redefining identity, Redeeming humanity   Leave a comment

Sentence of Penitence: With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Gospel for the Third Sunday in Lent:

Jesus was driving out a demon that could not talk; and when the demon went out, the man began to talk. The crowds were amazed, but some of the people said, ‘it is Beelzebub, the chief of the demons, who gives them the power to drive them out.’

Others wanted to trap Jesus, so they asked him to perform a miracle to show that God approved of him. But Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said to them, ‘Any country that divides itself into two groups which fight each other will not last very long; a family divided against itself falls apart.  So if Satan’s kingdom has groups fighting each other, how can it last? You say that I drive out demons because Beelzebub gives me the power to do so. If this is how I drive them out, how do your followers drive them out? Your own followers prove that you are wrong! If it is by the finger of God that I drive out the devils, then be sure that the kingdom of God has already come upon you’. (Luke 11: 17-20)

Some reflections of my own:

I had three things on his mind this morning, the third Sunday morning in Lent. Last night I watched ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘ with my wife. We found it very interesting, as well as entertaining, but it also left us feeling uneasy about how ‘easy’ it might be to ‘rediscover’ yourself, and God, without the responsibilities and obligations of ‘raising a family’, very much a part of marriage for most. While we found Julia Roberts‘ character rather self-indulgent, though religiously seeking truth, her ‘third’ lover redeemed the film for me, but I won’t spoil the ending for you.

In the film, the result of Liz’s untutored attempts to open up a direct dialogue with God was her decision to leave a relationship, a marriage, in which both partners felt unsatisfied. She asked God to tell her what to do, but then took the decision herself, that night.  She was impatient for an answer and was not prepared to wait on God. Her husband had suggested that they should stay together because they couldn’t bear to be apart. However, she leaves her marriage and embarks on both an inner and outward pilgrimage with Rome, India and Bali as backdrops.

On the radio this morning, someone referred to the Gadarene Demoniac as an example of what happens when evil spirits control us – they become impatient for a solution and we get driven off the precipice like the hapless pigs! The Church is just as capable of self-destruction in its decision-making as the rest of us. Clerical cloth of any colour is no guarantee of its ability to exorcise its own demons, especially in the man-made institutions of the Anglican Church, though I didn’t agree with the speaker that this was a case in point.

Neither was I wasn’t convinced that things were so bad for the film characters Liz and her husband that she needed to press the self-destruct button in her relationship, or, indeed, that God would be prompting her to do so. And, if God was not doing the prompting, could she recognise that someone or something else might be doing the prompting? I also wondered if, had there been children in their marriage, she would be in such a hurry to ‘rediscover’ her individual identity, or, indeed, whether she would have the time and resources to do so.

This leads me into my second point, which is about marriage itself.  In breaking her marriage, was Liz defining it, in purely ‘secular’ terms as a partnership, and one which, as her husband angrily pointed out, was not necessarily ’till death do us part’ but more like ’till indifference do us part’. Without wishing to judge even fictional individuals, this is a redefinition in terms of human gratification and selfishness, it seems to me, which has little to do with the Christian view of marriage. In which case, I found myself wondering, why did Liz want to get married in the first place? Maybe the Church doesn’t own the definition of marriage, but then is it right for the state to reduce its meaning to the lowest common denominator of social institutions. If marriage is simply about what any two people want from each other, then why involve the civil law or the Church at all? Why not just do what many of our ancestors did and simply have a ‘Common Law’ arrangement? After thousands of years of marriage being defined as ‘the union between a man and a woman’, we now seem to being pushed into a redefinition which will fundamentally alter the legal and religious basis of family life in Britain. In making this point, I am not making an anti-gay one. Like some of the Catholic leaders who spoke this morning, and, indeed, the new Dean of St Paul’s, I am concerned that we are, to use a Mathematical metaphor, simply getting our sums mixed up. Marriage is ‘two into one’, not ‘one plus one’. It’s about two individuals giving up their rights as individuals to become one human family and thereafter to ‘multiply’, if you like. In the current debate, the rights of perhaps the most important parties to the marriage, the children, have been so far ignored, and it is not hypocrisy for the largest Christian community, the Catholic Church, to have a view on this, just because some of its members have shamefully trampled on those rights, or because others honour God’s call to celibacy, like Jesus and St Paul before them. The argument that ‘Gay Marriage’ is allowed in many ‘Catholic countries’ ignores the point that in those countries it is allowed by the state, not the Church. In Britain, not entirely uniquely, marriage is defined jointly by the ‘national’ Churches of England, Scotland and Wales, and by UK Law. Many Christians would like to see an amicable ‘divorce’ between these two, a separation between Church and State, which would allow for a separate, purely secular definition of marriage, but many Christians would still want one marriage service, and not to have to go to the Registry Office first, as happens here in Hungary. Why, indeed, shouldn’t they, and why should there not be a separate, different but equal, service for those wanting a ‘one plus one’ legal covenant witnessed in Church? Alternatively, couples of whatever gender could have their partnerships blessed in Church, borrowing lines from the marriage service, as already happens in many cases.  Why does everyone have to feel pushed into a ‘one size fits all’ legal arrangement out of a false identification of a need for ‘absolute equality’ rather than justice, fairness and equity? Why should I be made to feel that my marriage of 22 years and 2 children is about to be ‘down-graded’ from a ‘family affair’ to a legal contract?

So ‘rediscovering your divinity’ and ‘redefining marriage’ are two themes. The third? ….

Not so different from the first two really….

In the Lent Gospel, Jesus’ teaching is not simply about the evil and destructiveness of division in a family or a country, it is about the ‘indivisibility’ of these human institutions, if they are inspired by God. Put simply, you can no more have Good fighting Good than Evil fighting Evil. Perhaps that’s why we call our football teams ‘United’ and Man Utd are known as the ‘Red Devils’. It’s perhaps not entirely unconnected that two football teams in continuing difficulties have recently sacked their managers, my team being one of them. In one case, the manager had been in charge for several years, and the supporters, hungry for success, finally ran out of patience. In another, the manager, the players and the owner were all divided against each other, and the manager didn’t even survive one season. In both cases, it was  passionate impatience which led to the divisions and sackings. To take Jesus’ other example, we can see many countries which are divided among themselves, including the ‘United’ Kingdom. I am English, but my identity is also defined by the Welsh, Scots and Irish I have always had around me in Britain, and I consider myself ‘British’ too. After all, ‘what knows he of England who only England knows?’ I am married to a Hungarian, so that makes my sons ‘half-British’ and ‘half-Hungarian’ doesn’t it? Of course not, how or where would you divide them?! Not even the wisdom of Solomon could do that! No, they are both fully Hungarian and fully British!  No halves, no hyphens! I now live in Hungary, where there are many current divisions over social, economic and political issues. However, on Thursday next week, the country will remember its unity and independence at the time of the 1848-9 Uprising against the Austrians. It has also survived invasions and occupations by Mongols, Turks and Soviet Russians. It has had two-thirds of its territory taken away, but its people have remained united in the face of these adversities, keeping their unique language and culture intact.

When Jesus refers to ‘division’ he is not simply referring to separation, divorce or civil war. He is referring to the very idea of the family and the country in human society as inspired by God’s Will, as well as by our human instincts. To keep and maintain these institutions, we need divine grace and patience. Without these atomic building blocks intact, human society cannot survive. It will destroy itself. Goodness, like Evil, is uncountable. There is no ‘Greater Goodness’ or ‘Lesser Evil’. They are both indivisible.

Andrew J Chandler

Collect Prayers:

O lord, whose love has brought us to know you, and whose power drives out the evil inside us, help us to fill our lives with obedience to your will, so that your indwelling may be complete, and evil find no home in our hearts; through the power of your Spirit.  Amen.

O Lord, whose power to heal was tested against the power which destroys, and proved stronger: open our eyes to the signs of your strength in this modern world, and open our hearts to the Kingdom of God, which has come upon us; through the power of your spirit. Amen

Susan Williams


Growing up & finding God’s way: Shrovetide to Mothering (‘Refreshment’) Sunday   Leave a comment

This is based on Reflections for Lent I gave at our ‘Home Sunday School‘ as international teachers in Pécs, Hungary, in the 1990’s.

Sentences: 

Jesus said: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Train yourselves in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Prayer:

O Lord God, who knowest that we have many temptations to conquer, many evils to shun, many difficulties to overcome, and as many opportunities of good: so order our doings that we observe in all things the perfect rule of Christ, and set ourselves to serve thee first, others next, and ourselves last; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Reading from ‘Portrait of Jesus’ by Alan T Dale

Jesus went away from Jordan River, his heart filled with God’s Spirit. And God led him out on to the lonely moorlands. He was there many a long day. He was being tested; he had to think things out; what did God want him to do? All this time he had nothing to eat, and at the end he was very hungry indeed. 

This coversation took place in his mind: Jesus imagined himself to be sometimes on the moorlands themselves, sometimes on the top of a very high mountain, sometimes standing on the top of the Temple Gate in Jerusalem.

On the moorlands:

Voice: If you are God’s Son, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.

Jesus: The Bible says: Bread is not the only thing a man needs to live on.

On the top of a very high mountain, where he could see so far that all the world seemed to lie at his feet:

Voice: I will give you all the power of these great countries and their royal splendour. It is all mine – mine to give to anybody I want to. It can all be yours – on one condition; you must take me for your King – not God.

Jesus: The Bible says: God himself must be your King; you must be his servant and his servant only.

Jerusalem, on the top of the Temple Gate, looking down on all the people gathered in the Court below:

Voice: If you are God’s Son jump down from this high place. The Bible says: God will command his angels to look after you.

And again the Bible says: Their hands will hold you fast – you won’t even stub your toe on a stone.

Jesus: The Bible also says: You must not put God to the test.

The testing time of Jesus was over – but it was not the last test he had to face.

He had long thought about what kind of leader God’s ‘Chosen Leader’ would be….Now he knew that to be ‘the leader of his people’ was the job God had given him to do. He had to make a final decision. He faced the great crisis of his life – but not the last crisis.

It was one thing to try things out in Nazareth; it was another to find himself shaken by a profound religious experience in which he believed God was, as it were, commissioning him for this great work. All he had read in the Old Testament, all he had become aware of in his own experience of God, all the ideas and convictions that had become clear in debate and argument with freedom-fighters and the rabbis met in one explosive moment.

What kind of work was this to be? Jesus went out into the lonely hills to pray and think things out. The ‘temptations’ or ‘testings’ Jesus faced came from the different ways in which he could have been the leader of his people. He turned them all down. The words of refusal he used all come from the great ‘Law Book’ in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy) – a book he loved. It is as if he is saying, ‘No, that’s not God’s Way‘ (69-70).

A Housewife’s Meditation for Lent

‘Jesus returned from the Jordan…and was led by the Holy Spirit to spend 40 days in the desert…’

Lord it is Lent:

the time when some people give up luxuries in order to assume new duties.

The time when some people do their Spring cleaning, and buy new clothes for Easter.

But what did you do Lord to make this season what it is?

You got away from people: away from the distracting things of daily life, because you wanted to listen to your Father and find his way to conquer evil and liberate your friends.

Then you returned and met life at the points where good and evil meet, and everybody saw the power of God in you.

So what do I do Lord in this restless age?

The terrible temptation is to rush around every day being busy.

There is a terrible temptation to think I can’t find time for quiet, or even find a quiet place.

But in my heart of hearts I know that I need you.

Now in this age of jet-propulsion, space research and automation,

I must make time and find a place: a time and a place to learn the art of listening, Lord, and get to know you better.

That’s what I’ll do this Lent, Lord.

Patricia Mitchell

My Reflections:

Growing up & finding God’s Way:

‘Penance’ or ‘Repentance’ means a change of heart. These are real changes in our lives, and the way we reflect on them represents our process of growing up. This is mirrored in our spiritual life by our ‘growing in grace’, for we are not the victims of ‘fate’ or ‘chance’. We make changes through God’s grace and learn to manage other changes which come our way.

The message of Lent is concerned with these spiritual processes; growing up, learning to make and manage change, learning to find God’s Way, which is not always our own way.

The biggest change in my own life, becoming a father, has challenged me to listen to words I first heard as a teenager in new ways. In particular, two songs by the folk-singer Harvey Andrews have taken on fresh meanings. The first speaks of the awesome responsibility of bringing a child into today’s world. The second reflects on the changing relationships between a son and his father and evokes a spirit of repentance in the son towards his father which many of us can, I’m sure, identify with very strongly from our own experiences.

I’ve often thought about the relationship between Jesus and Joseph, perhaps because my work, my life as a teacher, was only just beginning when my father died. He too, like Joseph and Jesus, was a craftsman, a draughtsman in a Black Country steel-works. Like Jesus, coming from a working-class background with family responsibilities, he didn’t begin his ministry until he was in his thirties. How, I wonder, had Joseph felt about Jesus’ abrupt question in the Temple, ‘did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ The gospels tell us nothing of their relationship through Jesus’ teens and twenties when he kept to his earthly father’s business, honouring his apprenticeship as a carpenter, despite the ‘radicalisation’ of other young men around him, some of whom must have already died as ‘freedom-fighters’ against the Romans in what the Zealots saw as a ‘Holy Struggle’ in which God was calling them to become martyrs.

Significantly, his ministry begins with both a change of physical location as he goes south to join John at the Jordan, and a change of spiritual direction, as he accepts Baptism, the Act of Repentance, from his cousin. This was not an admission of previous guilt so much as a recognition of the turning point his acceptance of the call to ministry involved, as he sets off in a different direction into the wilderness to reflect of the momentous change that his public announcement would bring about, a course which would lead to conflict and confrontation with the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, as well as with some of his own people in Galilee.

Dale’s paraphrasing of the wilderness experience brings out Jesus’ inner journey to find God’s Way, reflecting on his past in order to make a decision about what kind of leader he would be. In order for us to grow, through grace, into God’s Way, we too need periods of quiet reflection when we can listen to the struggling voices within us, silence them and come to terms with the decisions we need to make in order to change course into the path that God wants us to take. The turning points we face will be much more ‘incremental’ and far less radical than those faced by Jesus, but they need patient endeavour and endurance.

Prayer:

Patience in Seeking God’s Will;

‘Jesus, after he had fated forty days and forty nights…was hungry.’

Lord, we are hungry for the knowledge of the next step we must take. Give to us the long patience of Christ that we, like him, may not decide our future in haste; mercifully grant that hunger for an improvement in our lot; hunger for release from tension or anxiety; hunger for success in your service; or any other kind of appetite for things hidden in the future, may not stampede the soul into premature decisions.

Instead of turning these stones of impatience into the bread of hasty action, may it be our meat and drink to do your will, and like the Saviour find that we have meat to eat we knew not of.

Make us not to hunger for tomorrow, but to hunger and thirst after righteousness, in the sure knowledge that they who do so shall be filled; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Dick Williams

Prayer Book & Persecution III   Leave a comment

George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, called ‘Quakers’, kept a journal, like Richard Baxter. In it, he describes his imprisonment in Scarborough Castle on the Yorkshire Coast:

‘One day the governor of Scarborough Castle came to see me. I desired him to go into  my room…and it was so filled with smoke from the little fire that when they were in it they could hardly find their way out again…(After) I was removed into a worse room where I had neither chimney nor fire hearth. This being to the sea-side, the wind drove in the rain forcibly, so that the water came over my bed and ran about the room. And when my clothes were wet, I had no fire to dry them; so that my body was benumbed with cold and my fingers swelled…The officers often threatened that I should be hanged over the wall…But I told them that if that was what they desired and it was permitted them, I was ready; for I never feared death nor suffering in my life’.

Fox was later better treated by the governor, who tried to get him released and the leading Quaker’s fearless suffering changed not just the governor’s attitude, but also that of the officers and soldiers, who reported him to be ‘as stiff as a tree and as pure as a bell; for we could never bow him’. Nor was Fox alone in this example of endurance. From the time of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 to the Toleration Act of 1689, the Quaker movement continued to grow, despite, perhaps because of, imprisonment and persecution. At least 21,000 ‘Friends’ suffered fines or prison sentences, many more than once, and at least 450 died in prison, or as a result of their sufferings while in prison. But whatever was done to them, like George Fox, they held firm.

In 1678, the King’s ‘Indulgence’ towards Catholics and Non-conformists was brought abruptly to an end by the supposed ‘discovery’ of a Catholic plot to kill Charles and put his brother James on the throne. Titus Oates made up this story, and also claimed that Catholics had been responsible for starting the Great Fire twelve years earlier. Ever since, Catholics had been blamed for every fire that had broken out, and Oates’ story of a plot brought back even earlier memories of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Most people hated and feared the idea of a Roman Catholic King, and wanted the Duke of York passed over in favour of Charles’ cousin, William, the Dutch Prince of Orange. Baxter, however, did not believe everything he heard, and warned of the dangers to the future liberties of England of lying on oath, as Oates had done:

‘Only that those coming after may not be deluded I shall truly tell them that lying most impudently is become so ordinary a trade…that I must confess it hath greatly depressed my esteem of most history and of human nature’.

Of course, this view of human nature was one point on which he would have quarrelled with the Quakers, whose doctrine of ‘the inner light’ of the divine in each one of us led them to proclaim the essential goodness of human nature, in conflict with the more Calvinist view of its sinfulness held by Baxter and most Protestants of all persuasions at the time. The doctrine of ‘that of God in everyone’ also led to their rejection of a professional, trained ministry, and the 1667 ‘convincement’ of courtiers like William Penn, the son of Admiral Penn who appears in Pepys’ Diary, of these beliefs, had led the authorities to think that their might be plotters among the movement, despite its declared pacifism. Quakers were mostly of low birth, but they had ‘Friends in high places’ and their beliefs were therefore seen as a direct challenge to the authorities of Christ, the Church and the Stuart state. Baxter, of course, respected them, and had made a public show of this by holding a public disputation with Penn at Rickmansworth, in which he nevertheless tried to correct what he saw as their doctrinal errors.

When Charles II died in February 1685, James was proclaimed King, despite the efforts of many Protestants to prevent this. Unlike his brother, James II hated the Nonconformists, many of whom had opposed him. As Baxter had feared, he began to persecute them more than ever. Worse still, as the most famous Nonconformist preacher, Baxter was a clear target as a leader to be made an example of by being brought to public trial. Since he had given up preaching, and had sold all his books, Baxter could only be charged with sedition through his writings, especially his newly-penned commentary on the New Testament. So, on May 30th, 1685, Baxter was brought to what we would call today a ‘show-trial’ at the Guildhall by the Lord Chief Justice of England, Judge Jeffreys. The hall was packed with crowds, some of the more ignorant asking, ‘surely this Baxter is one of those who burnt the City?’ This comment shows that it was perhaps now more fashionable to accuse the Nonconformists, rather than the Catholics, for starting the Great Fire, as they had sometimes been in the past. Jeffreys would not let Baxter’s lawyers answer the charge against the ‘commentary’, but continued to rant and rail against the ‘old rogue..with his Kidderminster doctrine‘ in the dock before him, giving such a performance that some in the crowd began laughing out loud. Baxter calmly replied:

One day, all these things will surely be understood and it will be seen what a sad and foolish thing it is that one set of Protestant Christians are made to persecute another set. I am not concerned to answer such stuff (as I am accused of) but am ready to produce my writings, and my life and conversation is known to many in this nation’. 

The jury had been hand-picked by Jeffreys and didn’t even bother to leave the court to reach their ‘Guilty’ verdict. Baxter was fined 500 marks, but Jeffrey’s attempts to have the ‘old knave’ whipped through the streets, was ‘stamped on’ by all the other judges. Later the same year, however, Jeffreys did have his fill of bloodshed and cruelty against the Nonconformist agricultural workers of  the West of England who rose up in support of the Duke of Monmouth’s ‘Pitchfork’ Rebellion against the tyrannical rule of James II. Monmouth, Charles II’s son by an earlier, secret ‘marriage’, landed at Lyme Regis and gathered his supporters together in Dorset before marching into Somerset, where he was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Jeffreys was sent to try the poor farmers and fishermen who had followed him, hanging as many of them as he could in what became known as the Bloody Assizes. When his master, James II, was forced to flee England in 1688, ‘the hanging judge’ Jeffreys tried to escape disguised as a sailor. However, he was recognised trying to board a ship in Wapping, and was nearly torn apart by the angry crowd. He was rescued and sent to the Tower, but never recovered from the ‘justice’ he had received at the hands of the people.

Meanwhile, refusing to pay the fine which had been imposed on him, Baxter remained in prison for eighteen months, until, in a belated attempt to appease the Nonconformists, the beleaguered James II released him. Baxter continued to preach at Charterhouse Yard  to crowds reported to be bigger than any Cathedral congregation in England. William III’s Parliament passed a ‘Toleration Act’ in 1689 which grant the right of religious worship to Protestant non-conformists as long as they agreed  to certain tests. Baxter persuaded many of his friends to agree to these, but died in December 1691, sad that there still had to be divisions and quarrels and that his dream of one Church was still only a dream. Although everyone was allowed to worship as they liked, Catholics and Nonconformists were not yet allowed to go to the universities or take jobs in the government, including the standing army and the Royal Navy. This meant they were still excluded from public service and the ‘mainstream’ of ‘established’ English society, though they were no longer punished for their beliefs and could build any sort of chapel or church they liked to worship in.

In 1672, Baxter published ‘a psalm of praise’ to the tune of Psalm 128, Ye Holy Angels Bright. This is the last verse of the famous hymn:

My soul, bear thou thy part,

Triumph in God above;

And with a well-tuned heart,

Sing thou the songs of love.

In 1838 John Hampden Gurney took Baxter’s verses as the basis of a new hymn, which became a favourite congregational hymn. An Anglican educated at Cambridge, after 23 years as a curate at Lutterworth in Leicestershire, he became rector at St Mary’s, Bryanston Square in London and in 1857 was made prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral. So, Baxter’s words were brought home to the City of London. However, if there’s one group of people to which Baxter’s ‘well-tuned heart’ belongs, it is not the Church of England, nor even his parishioners in Bridgnorth or Kidderminster, nor John Hampden and the independent soldiers of Cromwell’s Army, nor the Royalists of Charles II’s Restoration, nor the Protestant Nonconformists. He belongs to all those believers persecuted for righteousness’ sake and, above all, to to all those who, like him, deserve the blessing, Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the Children of God.

Prayer Book & Persecution II   Leave a comment

 

When John Bunyan had been brought before the judge in 1660 he had been told that if he did not stop preaching he would be hung. He replied, ‘If I were out of prison today, I would preach again tomorrow, by the help of God’. He remained in prison for twelve years, during which time he wrote many books, including The Pigrim’s Progress, once to be found in almost every home in England. He had friends, even among the judiciary, like Sir Matthew Hale, who tried to get him out of prison and who also helped Richard Baxter, when he, too, found himself in prison after 1672.

The picture below shows Bunyan in the stained glass window which was installed in Bedford Free Church for the 300th anniversary of The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1978.

This was made into commemorative postcards, one of which found its way to Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s  special envoy, who was held captive by ‘Hizbollah’ in the Lebanon in the 1980’s. It was sent by Joy Brodier, with the simple hand-written message ‘We remember, we shall not forget. We shall continue to pray for you and to work for all people who are detained around the world’.  When he was eventually freed, Terry Waite brought the postcard home with him and  showed it to the world’s press as Joy watched the scenes at the airport on television. She said,

“Like everyone else I was glued to the television, celebrating his release. Then he mentioned the card. I could hardly believe it. I knew we couldn’t put anything too explicit. We addressed it to the Party of God just to be flattering and hoped that it would get through.”

Terry Waite said that the message boosted his hopes more than anything else during the darkest days of his captivity, despite his envy of Bunyan’s apperently better conditions.

When he was in prison, Baxter wrote the following poem:

Must I be driven from my book

From house and goods and dearest friends?

My Lord hath taught me how to want

A place wherein to put my head.

No walls or bars can keep Thee out

None can confine a holy soul,

The streets of heaven it walks about

None can its liberty control.

In the period of  Bunyan and Baxter prisons were very crowded and unhealthy. In winter they were bitterly cold and damp, and in summer they were full of flies and rats, spreading disease. Baxter became ill and may have died had his friends not managed to get him released before his sentence was over. However, after his release, he could not return to his house in Acton, but had to spend the winter in lodgings near Barnet. He could not preach, but continued to write to help men settle their quarrels. He received letters from many ministers who had also lost their homes because of the Act of Uniformity. One wrote that his wife and children had lived ever since his ejectment on black rye-bread and water, and another that he had to spin all day and night to make a living.

James, Duke of York, Charles II’s brother and heir, was Roman Catholic and Charles was also secretly a Catholic. He wished to protect the Catholics. Left to himself, he would probably have allowed both Catholics and Non-conformists to worship in freedom, but Parliament wanted to uphold the Act of Uniformity. However, many magistrates understood the King’s sympathies and allowed preaching in private homes. In 1672 the King went further in issuing a ‘Declaration of Indulgence‘ which granted licenses for preaching to some non-conformist preachers, Baxter among them. He came back to London and settled in Bloomsbury, but Parliament soon forced Charles to put an end to the Declaration, and it wasn’t long before Baxter found himself in danger of being imprisoned once more. Despite feeling too ill to travel, three friends persuaded him to leave London for Hertfordshire, and he therefore avoided six months in a common prison, which probably would have killed him.

While at Rickmansworth he met the famous Quaker, William Penn, who later founded the American colony of Pennsylvania, based on principles of religious toleration. He and Baxter held a meeting in which they discussed and disputed in front of an audience, from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon, without a break. Penn, like other Quakers, such as James Nayler, had won fame as a soldier and had become a favourite at Court, but had long-since left the Army to uphold the Peace Testimony of the ‘Society of Friends‘, as they called themselves. Baxter and Penn respected each other, though they disagreed on many points, since they were both courageous men in constant danger of persecution. Here is a description of the persecution of the Quakers by Bishop Barnet, who wrote a history of his own times:

‘When they were seized, none of them would get out of the way. They all went together to prison; they stayed there till they were all dismissed, for they would not petition to be set at liberty, nor would they pay their fines…and as soon as they were let out, they went to their meeting-houses again; and when they found these were shut up by order, they would, they held their meetings in the streets, before the doors of those houses. They said they would not be ashamed of their meeting…but would do it the more publicly, because they were forbidden to do it.’

As a result, the authorities simply didn’t know what to do with the Quakers, who showed so little fear and so much firmness. They crammed them into prison, but they still held their meetings there. They told their jailers that ‘they might as well stop the sun from shining, or the tide from flowing whilst two of them were left together’.  The children showed the same courage as their parents. At Bristol, Reading and Cambridge, when all the men and women were in prison, the children continued the meetings. A letter to George Fox, dated November 15th, 1664, says that ‘our little children  kept up the meeting when we were all in prison‘, so that ‘the wicked justice, when he came and found them there, beat them with a staff he had with a spear in it’. In Bristol, the children were also savagely beaten, but ‘bore it patiently and cheerfully’ and ‘were unmoveable’.

After his disputation with William Penn, Baxter felt strengthened to return to London to preach to the many thousands who, after the Ejectment and the Fire, were still without churches and ministers. He decided to sell all his remaining possessions, including his books, so that he would have nothing for the authorities to seize. Losing his books was a great sacrifice, but he was determined to have some peace in order to continue preaching. Then, in 1678, national events took another turn for the worse…

‘You Can’t Stop Them Singing’: Welsh Experiences of Exodus and Exile in England, 1927-47, by Andrew James Chandler.   Leave a comment

When Aneurin Bevan came to Coventry to make an impassioned defence of the Labour Government‘s housing policy in the summer of 1947, challenging Anthony Eden to debate the issue, he was given ‘a great reception from the people of Coventry, in particular from members of the Welsh Community, many of whom knew him in their native valleys.’ (1) His choice of this ‘Blitzed’ city was an apt one, since the city had become, like Bevan’s work itself, a symbol of a municipal socialism which was born out of the determination of leaders and led alike to attain better living conditions than many of them had been forced to endure for much of the inter-war period. These were new leaders and this was a re-made working class; the memory of the depression years had become, and remained, as powerful a motive force for social transformation throughout the new industry areas of the Midlands and the South East of England as ‘the Spirit of the Blitz’. In Coventry itself, municipal socialism was already a decade old and the workers who cheered Bevan had re-made themselves, and were determined to maintain their autonomy.

The scale of the demographic changes which the British people had experienced in the two decades between the wars had been confirmed to the Labour movement in 1943, when the Fabian Society published a report by Mark Abrams, who had shown that whereas between 1911 and 1929, a high level of net emigration from Britain had been maintained at 50,000 per year, the world-wide depression had rapidly closed the doors to migrants wishing to go overseas, so that between 1931 and 1939 Great Britain gained 525,000 by migration, almost cancelling out the losses of the previous decade. Besides the influx of immigrants from both parts of Ireland and the refugees from Germany and Central Europe, much of this ‘turn-around’ in the statistics was the result of Britain retaining its population increase through internal, long-distance migration to the Midlands and South-East of England from the north of England, Scotland and south Wales. Whilst in the 120 years to 1921 the population of these ‘old’ industrial areas increased seven-fold, from 1921 to 1938, 86% of the 3,343,000 total population growth was concentrated in the ‘new’ industry towns of the Midlands and the South of England, including those of ‘Greater London’ as it later became known. Abrams observed that these trends had been due largely to migration, rather than to any natural increase. (2) However, to understand the nature and effect of this immigration into these towns and areas, it is essential to go behind the ice-cube precision of the statistics, important as such quantitative evidence is, to the many and varied real-life narratives of individuals, families and communities with their own ‘organic’ social networks.

Much has been written about the inter-war period, much of which portrays it as a ‘dark’ period in recent British history. In particular, the experience of ‘Migration’ has often been portrayed as an ‘anguished one’, synonymous with that of ‘Transference’ under schemes introduced by government from the late twenties onwards. (3) This is hardly surprising, since these terms were frequently and often quite deliberately confused by contemporary Communists and, in the case of the south Wales coalfield, propagandists of the nascent Welsh Nationalist Party. Although they did not produce their pamphlet, Transference Must Stop until 1943, already in 1938, with reference to the Czech Crisis, they had drawn a link between the policy and ‘appeasement’ by describing it as ‘just another Fascist way of murdering of a small, defenceless nation without going to war’, stating that ‘the majority of those who leave Wales for work in England do so under compulsion.’  Welsh MP’s and civil servants were denounced as collaborators and Aneuirin Bevan attacked the complacency and defeatism of the self-appointed leadership of ‘the Welsh Nation, by which he meant the still-powerful ‘old’ Liberal establishment, many of whom remained closely connected with officials in the Ministries of Health and Labour throughout the thirties. The officials were quite naturally concerned to show that the large volume of unassisted migration was closely related to their efforts to promote the transference policy ‘as the main measure of relief of the distressed areas in South Wales’. (4) Social Service agencies were also concerned to demonstrate the need for their intervention in the migration processes by exaggerating and generalising from the worst experiences of transference, making only passing references to the role of autonomous organisation

by the migrants. In allowing the Transference policy to continue into the early thirties, that old ‘Welsh Nation’ of liberal and Nonconformist Edwardian times was certainly motivated by the possibility that they would regain the political hegemony over the industrial valleys they had lost over the course of the previous decade. If only ‘English’ immigrant militants like A J Cook could be persuaded to leave the valleys, the true Welsh worker, they argued, cleansed of an alien ‘syndicalist’ ideology, would return to ‘the fold’ of paternalistic liberalism. (5) Marxist propagandists also tended to confuse state-sponsored and voluntary migration, principally because they saw any large-scale movement of workers from one part of the country to another as a capitalist device aimed at the creation of a standing army of labourers, the dilution of labour and the undermining of trade union organisation. Their propagation of a negative image of the immigrant was again produced by a narrow focus on the worst experiences of young transferees. (6) Thus, much of the contemporary literature is dominated by the view that migration was something done to the working classes in the ‘distressed areas’ like south Wales against their will. Recent studies relying exclusively on this literature, have tended to maintain this focus, thereby ignoring the broader and more positive perspectives on the processes and products of migration. (7)

Even in purely quantitative terms, those officially transferred represented a small minority of the migration streams. The Ministry of Labour’s  ‘General Review of the Industrial Transference Scheme’, conducted in 1938, showed that 72% of the men known to have migrated in 1936/1937 had done so ‘on their own account.’ (8) Although the scheme had begun in 1928, it was unable to operate effectively until 1933 and some labour exchanges, such as Oxford, did not begin participation in it until this date. (9) Yet the movement out of south Wales had already begun in the early twenties, gaining momentum during and following the 1926 Lockout. Between 1920 and 1939, it is estimated that Wales lost a total of 442,000 people by migration, a figure equivalent to 17% of its 1920 population. The three ‘coalfield’ counties of Glamorgan, Monmouth and Brecon lost most of this; 391,000 or 20%. These figures disguise much heavier losses of as much as 30% by particular valley communities. (10) Neither do these figures reflect the full extent of the Welsh exodus since they express net emigration only and so conceal the many thousands who left but returned by 1939. The Ministry of Labour admitted that there was a considerable ‘seepage’ back to the valleys, perhaps as much as one quarter of those officially transferred. Even assuming that those who migrated voluntarily were more likely to remain in the new areas, it is apparent that exodus, if not permanent exile, was an experience in which more than half a million Welsh people shared. (11) When the scheme was revamped in the mid-1930s, and despite the publicity given to it by a growing body of opposition, the majority of workers who left the depressed areas chose to ignore its provisions. (12) Their choice was determined both by a complex of causes, catalysts and constraints in which ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors were equally significant, as well as by the processes of internal migration. (13) Bevan’s exiled supporters in Coventry in 1947 had transposed much of what he had described in 1936 as ‘that social, institutional and communal life peculiar to Wales’ from their native valleys into the new industry areas of England. (14)

This collective experience of migration to these areas also contrasted sharply with the atomised experiences of those who migrated, often under a greater degree of governmental constraint or direction, to ‘Greater London’. It was this latter group of young, single men which attracted most attention in the social service movement and its reports were critical of the London Welsh societies which it claimed were ‘concerned mainly in preserving in the Welsh colonies the Welsh language, culture and traditional interests’; most of the transferees from south Wales knew ‘little or nothing’ of these. Their sense of isolation was intensified by the Ministry’s deliberate policy of mixing transferees from different home areas in order ‘to diminish the overpowering “home” affinities and thus increase the chances of assimilation in their new community.’ (15) This policy was undoubtedly counter-productive, working against the grain of Welsh migration traditions.

Transferees had to meet their friends in central London rather than being able to develop local friendship networks around the suburban neighbourhood of their lodgings. The local churches displayed an inability to provide any alternative focus for social activity except for those few among the transferees who held strong religious beliefs. (16) Research into the new London Welsh, which formed the basis of a radio broadcast by Miles Davies, confirmed that among these young, single immigrants, there was a ‘feeling of being adrift, the feeling of foreignness, of being among strange people.’  One of the forty-five respondents wrote that ‘unless one has the sheet anchor in the form of a circle of friends or a home life, there is very little of lasting benefit in the type of existence one is practically forced into living in London.’ The responses generally contrasted the ‘bottling up’ of home life and the ‘latchkey’ existence in London with the ‘open door’ of the valleys. Of course, there were many established working-class districts in London in which more neighbourly contacts were the norm, but few Welsh people could find accommodation there. (17)

A similar picture emerges from contemporary ‘social service’ surveys of Southall and Hayes where the Welsh were found ‘scattered and isolated’. Successful settlement was also more likely to occur where there was one major employer. In Luton, by 1937, there was a well-established Welsh community because the Vauxhall works had attracted large numbers of voluntary migrants in the earlier years of the Depression. The Welsh Society there was therefore strong enough to organise the migration itself, with the help of a Welsh Minister at one of the local churches. The local press carried a number of letters from migrants expressing their need for a social centre, a clear indication of growing self-confidence. The Ford works at Dagenham also provided employment for large numbers of people from south Wales, although the migrants had to live at some distance from the works at Ilford and Barking. Despite this, the Dagenham Welsh Society was said to be ‘flourishing’ with ‘an excellent programme’ and an average weekly attendance of over sixty. (18) The concentration of migrants at one large industrial concern was clearly of crucial significance for successful settlement. This was not the case at Slough, perhaps the best-known but least typical example of Welsh migration.  At least one fifth of the town’s population of 50,000 was said to be Welsh in origin, most of the immigrants being concentrated on the Farnham estate. The residents of this estate had the social needs met by a giant centre which Lady Astor, self-appointed Matron of the ‘Depressed Areas’ and ‘rich friend’ of Thomas Jones, Secretary to the Cabinet, claimed ‘was probably the only building of its type in the world.’ A J Lush wrote in his survey that he felt it could only be compared with the State Institutions in the Don Cossack area of Russia, and commented that it was ‘bound to give rise to some doubts in the minds of people nurtured in a more democratic condition’ in South Wales, since it undermined the desire for autonomous organisation. (19)

This diversity of local conditions existing within the South-East Division of the Ministry of Labour led to an equally diverse set of experiences and responses among the migrants themselves.  Migrants to the towns connected with major new industrial concerns were able to maintain a framework of social solidarity, since these concerns attracted large volumes of labour with little or no reference to government schemes. The extent to which the social conditions of the coalfield could be reproduced in the new environment determined the success of the Welsh settlements. The two main features of this process were the independent and collective organisation of networks supplying information and support, and the retention of cultural traditions and institutions as a means of reinforcing a collective identity and of establishing a sense of stability and respectability. A large number of the unskilled vacancies, which occurred, were not notified to exchange offices, because employers preferred to engage that type of worker ‘at the gate’ or from recommendations from within the works. Help given by friends or relatives in this respect was therefore paramount in the successful migration of large numbers of individuals. This help consisted of a combination of offers of work and accommodation or assistance with both. As Captain Crawshay, of the Merthyr ironmasters, somewhat paternalistically commented in his l937 report as ‘Commissioner’ for the euphemistically re-named ‘Special Areas’, ‘Dai in the Midlands finds a job for Ianto at home.’ In the same year, a leading Cardiff Economist, H A Marquand, also noted in his three-volume industrial survey, that younger men were ‘subject to waves of feeling’ connected to the receipt of letters from friends who had already left Wales and concluded that a programme of training or transfer would only prove successful if it were employed through a policy of ‘group transfer.’ (20)

This ‘networking’ was a primary feature of voluntary migration, in contrast with government Transference programmes. It extended far beyond the bounds of kith and kin and became something of an institution in itself, operating between the valleys and the recipient towns and cities. Often it was a daughter or son who secured the first job and the strength of family solidarity would lead, eventually, to its reunification in the new area. Once a family had become established in the new area, fresh impetus was given to the migration of additional relatives and friends, followed by casual acquaintances or even comparative strangers. In this way, a multiplier effect was created whereby large numbers of people migrated from a particular locality in South Wales to a particular area of the Midlands. For instance, one family from Cwmamman was responsible for the removal of a further thirty-six families from the village. (21) In this way, small numbers of initial migrants determined the subsequent predominant direction of the migration from their localities, so that substantial pockets of people from particular coalfield communities were to be found in particular Midland cities by the end of the l930s. In general, there appears to have been a preponderance of Rhondda people among the migrants to Coventry, while Birmingham seems to have attracted a good number of workers from the Monmouthshire valleys, and Oxford, or more particularly Cowley, was the chosen destination for many from the ‘Bridgend valleys’.

The second major feature of the migration, cultural retention, was not only a product of the collective migration experience but also a paramount part of the process itself since the presence, or lack, of Welsh cultural institutions in the new areas was a strong factor in determining the direction of the out-flow from the coalfield. These institutions acted as bonding agents in the lives of migrants, providing them with a badge of identity and helping them to convey a notion of respectability to those among whom they settled. The institutions were often, in part, the outward expression of the immigrants’ inner idealised image of the communities they had left behind.  To paraphrase Idris Davies’ 1930’s poem, they grew sentimental in Oxford over things that they had smiled at in Wales, and in Coventry they saw the mining valleys more beautiful then they ever saw them with their eyes. (22) It was these ‘imagined’ valleys which fired the imaginations of the Welsh working class communities in the Midlands, empowering the exiles to circumnavigate the economic, social and cultural obstacles to their acceptance. A social solidarity reinforced by the re-enactment of this idealised image of ‘the valleys’ provided protection against a tangible atmosphere of precariousness and prejudice.

Nowhere were these features of migration more marked than in Cowley, a quiet Oxfordshire village before the Great War, which by 1926 was being transformed into an industrial district of Oxford by the Morris Works and the giant American Pressed Steel factory. The Barnett House Survey of the 11,000 foreign unemployment books exchanged in Oxford in l936 found a distinct tendency to ‘lumpiness’ in the migration streams, providing evidence of the influence of familial and fraternal networking. This, they noted, militated against the Ministry’s plans for a more nation-wide and complete distribution of manpower in accordance with the shift in the demand for labour and the ‘assimilation of the new elements of the population by the old.’ (23) Of the 2,000 Welsh workers in Oxford at this time, 215 had employment books, which originated in the Maesteg District (covering the Llynfi, Ogmore and Garw Valleys). An even more striking fact was that 150 of these were from the Pontycymmer Exchange, which served by far the smallest of these three, the Garw. This prompted the Barnett House enquirers to consult colleagues in South Wales, who advised them that the flow from the valley to Oxford started in l926 when a few men made the journey, found employment for themselves and subsequently for friends and relatives (24). From that point onwards, Oxford attracted a large percentage of those leaving the Garw. In the period l930 to l936, out of nearly 2,000 people whose unemployment books were transferred out of the Pontycymmer Exchange, 270 (15%) went to Oxford and ‘local observers’ stated that the proportion in the late l920s was probably in the region of 25%. The contemporary sociologist, G H Daniel’s researches lent further support to the thesis that considerable networking had taken place. Of the sixty immigrants interviewed by him, forty-six said that they had moved to Oxford rather than any other town because they had relatives living there. (25)

These contemporary findings have given rise to comment and controversy among historians about the nature and role of the Welsh community in Oxford. (26) This can only be adequately interpreted by focussing upon individual experiences described both in documentary and oral sources, as the author has done in more detail elsewhere. In addition, local newspaper sources reveal that both the scale and the nature of the migration were beginning to attract comment from local correspondents, such as the local miner and correspondent for the valley in The Glamorgan Gazette:

“It is said that owing to the number of local men who have obtained work at the Cowley Motor Works, Oxford, a street in that town is about to be named Garw Road. Furthermore, now that one of their number includes a once popular Garw chairman, it is intended to open a Garw Club there. Of course, we were all pleased to see home over the Christmas holidays, the ‘Cowley Wallers’.” (27) 

Oral evidence from a series of interviews conducted in the early 1980s with the immigrants and those they came into contacts with, confirms that a number of important Garw figures were among the to arrive in Cowley, then litlle more than a village. (28) By the summer of l927 there was a gang of young ‘Garwites’ in Cowley, including famous troupe of Garw gymnasts, which had become reunited in Cowley, establishing the Oxford Physical Culture Club with 54 members. (29) Other Garw exiles joined the Headington Silver Band due to the influence of its bandmaster, who was also the foreman in the trucking department at Pressed Steel, a Welsh-American from Detroit When he was told of ‘a good man wanting a job’, Tudor Brooks would tell his compatriots to ‘bring the bugger up’ from the Garw, which led to the migration of large parts of the Garw and Maesteg Salvation Army Bands. (30) It was this growing presence of respected cultural organisers which gave greater stability to the young Garwites from an early stage in their exile, together with the reunification of well-known families, such as the Allports, who had been one of the few shop-keepers in the valley as well as organising concerts and ‘eisteddfodau’. Not only did they transfer their musical skills and organising abilities to their new environment, but they also provided many young, single men stayed with board and lodging on first arriving in Cowley, as well as helping to settle a large number of families by supplying information and advice. Their house, Pantygog, near to what soon became known as ‘Welsh Corner’ acted as an unofficial advice bureau for recently arrived immigrants. (31) By the autumn of l927, the Welsh community was well enough established for a Rugby Team to be formed within the Pressed Steel Works. In the first season, at least eleven of the sixteen players were Welsh, eight of whom were of Garw origin. The team’s success continued throughout the period and provided another ‘pull’ factor for many potential migrants; in some cases it was said to be the major factor in their decision. (32) In the 1937-8 season, seven team members given county trials. (33) Certainly, the preponderance of ‘Garwites’ among the Welsh immigrants helped to give a sense of solidity at a very early stage and it was estimated that as many as two thirds of the immigrants were from the Garw in early 1927. (34) One was even recruited from the valley primarily for his ‘organising abilities’ needed by the growing Cowley Congregational Games Club, his paid employment evidently being considered as purely secondary to his position on the Club’s Executive. (35) The Congregational Church continued to play a major role in aiding the settlement of the newcomers, who were attracted to the church in large numbers during the late l920s and throughout much of the succeeding decade.  Many of them stated that they would have returned to Wales had it not been for the support received through the chapel. (36) The number of worshippers had already grown from sixty to over three hundred in the late l920s, so that a new church had to be built. It has been estimated that half of those who packed the new church every Sunday were Welsh, so that hymns were sometimes sung partly in Welsh. (37)

A further degree of stability was acquired early in l928 through the formation of a Glee Party with about a dozen members. Encouraged by the Conductor of the Congregational Church Choir, who was also the personnel manager at Pressed Steel, a meeting was called a meeting to address the major concern of many of the Welsh at the growing level of prejudice they were encountering in Oxford.   It was considered that a small male voice choir could do much to project a more positive and respectable image as well as providing a leisure-time focus for the large number of young, single men, who were arriving every day from Wales. (38) The Glee Party, like the Physical Culture Club, the Rugby Club and the Games Club, soon became part of the migration network itself. ‘One of the best tenors we ever had in the Garw’ was given employment at Pressed Steel on condition that he remained a member of the Party and this was by no means the only case where influence at Pressed Steel was used to acquire new members of the choir. The personnel manager’s positive attitude towards the Welsh community, his insistence on engaging their members at the full rate and his leniency in re-engaging those who had been laid off eventually led to his American bosses discharging him. (39) The Party grew from a dozen founding members to the point at which in 1931-32 it had a membership of forty-four and was able to compete at festivals in various parts of England, also coming second by one mark in the competition for exile choirs at the Cardiff National Eisteddfod. However, most of their work took the form of charity concerts in various churches and halls throughout Oxfordshire, by which they ‘succeeded in creating a better impression’ than some of the ‘bad characters’ who got their names and nationality into the newspapers, so that the Welsh became ‘better understood by the Oxford people.’ (40) The Glamorgan Gazette reported in April l931 how ‘a large colony of Welsh exiles’ in Oxford was adding to ‘the musical status of the great educational centre’  (41) The fact that the Party succeeded in filling the Town Hall and the extent of recognition it received seemed to symbolise the growing self-confidence and sense of responsibility felt by the Welsh community, despite the problems posed by the deepening trough of general economic recession. (42)  By the turn of the decade, the Cowley Welsh had already attracted the attention of the Welsh dons and students at Jesus College, famously beaten by the Pressed Steel workers on the Rugby fields. The academics called a meeting to establish a Welsh Society, which could span ‘town and gown’. However, as with the London Welsh societies, the working class Welsh regarded those connected with the College as a ‘Welsh-speaking element’ and ‘a different type of people altogether’. (43)

A sociological survey of Oxford in the 1950s confirmed that the tendency for the immigrants to be more actively involved in autonomous and collective forms of working class culture than their fellow Oxford workers continued to be a major feature of the city’s social and institutional life in the post-war period. Its author commented that whilst Oxford people might resent this domination by ‘foreigners’, they themselves did little to redress the imbalance.(44) In the late twenties and early thirties, the Welsh had endured prejudicial remarks from Oxonian workers that they were ‘all reds’ or ‘nearly all communists.’ The stereotypical mirror image held by the immigrants of the natives was of workers who were ‘insular and prejudiced and politically dead…very reserved and independent’, Conservative in politics and ‘apathetic towards trade unions.’ (45) In 1929, officials of the National Union of Vehicle Builders (NUVB) displayed some awareness of the fact that there were  ‘a large number of men from the Welsh coalfields’ at the Pressed Steel who might be more sympathetic to joining the Society than the Oxford ‘tradesmen’ they had found working there two years previously. However, their half-hearted attempts to make contact with the unskilled immigrants were thwarted by the problem of seasonal lay-offs.   An entry in the NUVB Journal highlights this problem and the condescending attitude of the official towards immigrant workers when it states that ‘our would-be helper had been discharged along with a number of others…and had departed for his native woods and fields, not to say colliery refuse heaps in South Wales’. (46)

Nevertheless, from the very beginning of the migration from the Garw to Cowley, there were a number of older men with significant experience in the Miners’ Federation as well as in the leadership of the cultural institutions of their communities.  While seasonal unemployment remained a problem at the works throughout the period, there is little difference in the figures of engagements and discharges at the works for l927 and l934. (47) In fact, there were stifled attempts to organise from within the works during this early period and it is possible to call upon oral evidence to fill some of the discernable, deliberate silences left by the lack of documentary sources. In the late twenties the underground movement for a union in the works had at its centre important personalities among the Welsh community outside the works, though ‘there were no particular leaders’, perhaps because of the need to avoid the victimisation many had experienced after the 1926 lock-out, and which had driven many in the largely autonomous local lodges to leave the valleys. Even then, without the support of proper shop-floor organisation, young migrants risked or in some cases lost their jobs to live up to the traditions of solidarity, which they had learned in their coalfield communities. (48)

By l932, the underground organisation in the works had grown strong enough to produce a pamphlet which was distributed throughout the works at lunchtime, complaining that Pressed Steel workers were ‘being degraded to the coolie level.’  The pamphlet concluded that it was ‘absolutely essential’ that every worker should join the TGWU as soon as a branch could be set up and also set out a list of demands which found their echo in the successful l934 strike. (49) The will for organisation had existed long before l934; what was lacking was the means of organisation that could have been provided by the ‘craft’ unions, which already had a foothold, however precarious, in the works.  However, their typical reaction was ‘nothing doing, we don’t want unskilled in a skilled union’. (50)  This lack of external interest and support made it difficult for the unofficial shop floor leadership of the unskilled workers to formalise itself and make itself known to the management. It was during the heat wave of July l934 that affairs came to a head within the factory when, on the night of Friday 13th almost every man in the press shop considered that his wage had been arbitrarily cut by the management. The following Monday they walked out when the management refused to meet their elected deputation. (51)

One of the leaders of this ‘deputation’ was Tom Harris, a crane operator in that shop. His personal narrative is worth telling because it reflected the earlier transatlantic experience of Welsh migration and its tidal impact on the British trade union movement both before and after the Great War. Born in Monmouthshire in the early l890s, he had emigrated to the Welsh-American town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in his early twenties. There he had worked as a miner and, significantly, had gained organising experience by assisting John L Lewis in building up the United Mineworkers (UMWA).  Returning to South Wales in the mid-l920s, possibly to Maesteg, he became active in the SWMF before arriving in Cowley shortly before the strike of l934, to work at the ‘American’ Pressed Steel Works, a connection that may not have been entirely coincidental. (52) Harris and the other members of the unofficial deputation planned the strike action over the weekend following the wage-cut, and one of their Welsh wives, joining in the lengthy discussion, suggested that the deputation should send representatives to ask for assistance from the local Communist Party, since ‘the Communist Party had provided invaluable help and assistance in organising the miner’s struggles in Wales.’ (53) This decision to involve the Communist Party was based on a reflexive response to immediate conditions emerging from a long-held desire of a largely immigrant workforce to retain and establish their trade union principles in their new industrial context.

The deputation soon became a ‘provisional strike committee’ consisting of eleven members, the majority of whom were immigrants from ‘the Distressed Areas’, known as ‘DA men’ by this time. Of these, two were from Scotland, two from the North East, and five from South Wales. Only one of the members was local, from Oxfordshire, the other hailing from Manchester, not officially classed as a ‘DA’ (54). The official Labour movement had failed to see the potential of the works for organisation and was soon watching a situation that was getting more and more out of their control. A mass rally was held at St. Giles, and in scenes that must have been reminiscent of that ill-fated coalfield summer of 1926, a fete was organised in support of the strike. One Welsh striker was arrested on the picket line when a ‘blackleg’ car was overturned, and spent the night in gaol. (55) By the end of the strike, Harris had become Chairman of the Strike Committee and then Chairman and Secretary of the new 5/60 branch of the TGWU, which moved in quickly where the craft unions had failed to do so. Ernest Bevin, then General-Secretary of the T&GWU, became personally involved rather than risk the strike entering an even more militant phase. The branch accounted for 98% of the workforce at the works. (56) Thereafter, despite the way in which the Glee Party had exploited its contacts and good relations with specific Pressed Steel Managers to secure employment for its members, it never accepted any form of sponsorship from the Company, fearing that to do so would weaken the negotiating power of the 5/60 branch. (57) Although the management had agreed that there would be no victimisation, at least one worker who was elected to the Strike Committee claimed that he had lost his job because of these activities and had been forced to return to Wales for a short period. (58)

The strike, led by ex-miners, represented an important landmark in the development of trade union organisation among semi-skilled engineering works in the new industries throughout the country as well as providing the spur for the growth of the Labour movement in Oxford itself. It was clear evidence of the general recovery of the British working classes following the recession of l929-33. (59) Pressed Steel soon became known as the ‘Red Factory’ because of the reputation of the 5/60 branch for militancy and unofficial action. Harris, perhaps in recognition of the catalytic role it had played, became a ‘secret’ member of the Communist Party locally, shortly after the strike, and by October l934 was delegate to the Trades Council, winning its support for the ‘United Front’ against fascism, and becoming its Vice-President in 1936. The following month the Council agreed to proceed with an organising campaign in the City, beginning with the motor industry, which Harris led. (60) Another immigrant worker, who began work at Pressed Steel in l935 after moving to Cowley from Wigan, has argued strongly that the trade unionists from Pressed Steel were largely responsible for spreading the movement throughout the city. (61)

By April l937, Bevin had appointed a full-time organiser in Oxford who helped Harris to keep the membership of the branch to over 90% of the workforce and a strike at the end of that year firmly established the branch’s strong position in all the departments at the works. (62) Among the thirty shop stewards elected from every department, only six of them were ‘local’, despite the fact that 40% of Pressed Steel workers lived in the villages outside Oxford. (63) The remainder were ‘DA’ men and in December l938, three new shop stewards were added to the list, one a native of Glasgow and the other two from south Wales. (64) Despite this consolidation, at the end of l938 the branch suffered a serious setback when Tom Harris ignored warnings and was sacked for organising a meeting at his place of work. The ensuing strike did not lead to his reinstatement, however, and he left the works to set himself up as a coal merchant. (65) This defeat needs to be put in the context of a long series of successful representation at the factory, and to contrast that experience with the lack of an effective recognition at the nearby Morris Works, where the relatively few ‘DA’ men who led the underground movement were unable to make much progress. (66)

 It was not only the Welsh who saw the difference between the attitude of the largely Oxonion workforce at Morris’ and themselves. (67) A neutral social ‘surveyor’, writing in l937, remarked that the distinction between the two workforces was widely acknowledged. (68) There is thus a strong case to be made for the primacy of general social and cultural factors in the growth of trade unionism in Oxford; the sense of heritage and solidarity, or ‘clannishness’, among immigrant workers provided a powerful motivation to organisation in Pressed Steel, and infused a quiescent trade union movement with militancy. Those who were thrust into the leadership of the trade union movement in the city also found themselves in leading positions in left-wing politics and, in becoming involved in the city’s political life, they reflected a growing sense of permanence and regenerated self-confidence among the immigrants to Cowley. The ‘twelve days that shook Oxford’ provided the springboard for the sudden elevation of working-class politics within the city, in which the ‘DA’ men also played a major role. (69) The assertion of a leading Welsh immigrant – ‘we changed their outlook’ – reflects with considerable accuracy the reality of the immigrant contribution to the transformation of Oxford political life in the l930s to the point at which, on the outbreak of war, the previously unimaginable became thinkable – the possibility of the City being represented by a Labour M.P. (70)

The experience of Welsh migrants to Cowley was not dissimilar to the experiences of those who went to other Midland industrial centres in the period between 1926 and 1940.  It is impossible to assess in clear, quantitative terms whether or not a ‘Garw’ factor was at work among the 13% of foreign unemployment books exchanged in Coventry and North Warwickshire in l937, which came from Wales. However, evidence from church and civic records, combined with a range of more qualitative written, oral and anecdotal evidence, does tend to suggest that there was a preponderance of people from the Rhondda and Monmouthshire valleys among these migrants. (71) The retention of kinship and friendship ties was made more difficult than in Cowley because both industry and housing were scattered throughout a city which was already, by the twenties, expanding rapidly along arterial roads, in all directions, to swallow up the surrounding Warwickshire villages, which were incorporated by the end of the decade. Most areas of Coventry were predominantly working-class; it was a city with a long tradition of engineering and textile manufacture, stretching back into the previous century and beyond, and therefore comprising several Cowleys. There were many more factories to which Welsh labour was attracted, spread out around the city and later in the thirties, with the advent of the ‘shadow factories’, around its outskirts. These factors meant that the Welsh immigrants were not as concentrated in density or distribution as in Oxford, due to the more diverse domestic and industrial conditions prevailing in Coventry even before their arrival. Nevertheless, there were detectable pockets of Welsh immigrants. (72) Also, familial and fraternal relationships were significant in the way labour was engaged at the factory gates, except that Coventry firms also actively recruited in the depressed areas by means of advertisements and ‘scouts’. This encouraged still further the tendency to network migration, and many men in well-paid jobs attracted relatives and friends for whom they had found definite openings. A sizeable proportion of these friends or relatives was already in employment or had only recently become unemployed. Others were ‘second stage’ migrants, attracted from their original destinations by the lure of the high wages in engineering, and the prospect of a more secure future among friends. As in Cowley, some felt ‘called’ to Coventry for musical or cultural reasons, and only looked for employment upon arrival. (73)

Despite the lack of contemporary social surveys, and their research data, such as exists in Oxford, the importance of kinship and friendship networks in Coventry is revealed by painstaking reconstruction of 84 ‘Welsh households’ on the new estates from public records. These include Church Rolls, Electoral Registers and ‘The Roll of the Fallen’, the record of those who died due to enemy action both in the armed services in the War of 1939-45, but also at home, during the ‘Blitzes’ of the City in 1940 and 1941. With these combinations of records, it is possible to trace names and addresses in relation to ‘places of origin’ outside the City. Of these 84 ‘traceable’ Welsh households, 48 showed clear signs of sub-letting accommodation throughout the period and in many cases it is obvious that the sub-tenants were either adult relatives or were of Welsh origin. In some cases, this could be confirmed through oral evidence from family members still living at the properties forty years later. Many of the immigrants appear to have stayed with friends or relatives for a long enough period for their names to have appeared on the Electoral Registers and for them to establish themselves in work and wages before moving into homes of their own. (74) Prominent among these households were the Shepherds of Treherbert, a family who had much to do with the predominance of Rhondda people amongst the immigrants and with their successful settlement. Jehu Shepherd was among the earliest Rhondda immigrants and remained a powerful influence on Coventry Welsh life throughout the period and beyond. He was one of a family of nine, all of whom left Wales. Jehu himself was found a job at the Morris Works in Coventry by his brother-in-law and left the Rhondda just before the General Strike. The family in general and Jehu in particular appear to have given an early cohesion to the Welsh community, especially through the formation of the Coventry Welsh Glee Singers in l926. (75)

The Glee Party, as in Cowley, provided an important focal point for the Welsh immigrants to Coventry. In fact, since the Welsh were more disparate than in Cowley, it was even more important. It also became a means of encouraging social solidarity through the projection of an idealised image of  a respectable, Nonconformist Wales. Jehu was also choirmaster at Queens Road Baptist Church from l926, but in l937 he decided that he had to give up this duty in favour of keeping the Gleemen together, because ‘most of them didn’t go to church, some of them liked to drink…and he felt he must keep them together’ (76) In February l926 they gave two concerts in one week, one to raise money in aid of the Mayor’s Fund for the Distressed Areas. This was well-attended and was presided over by Philip Handley, the Manager of Coventry Employment Exchange, who appealed to the audience on behalf of the distressed miners who, he said, ‘deserved heaven’s interest and sympathy.’  Engagements such as this, combined with his employment exchange and social service work, led Handley to champion the immigrant cause, often in the face of criticism from other civic leaders, trade unionists and employers.  He attempted to counter much of the negative propaganda with a positive vision of a progressive, cosmopolitan city in which ‘the Welshman’s love of music and art’ would make ‘the Coventrian of 25 years hence a better man in body and possibly in brain.’ (77) This comment reveals a more positive, forward-looking attitude among the ‘host’ population than the more ‘hostile’ reaction experienced by the Cowley Welsh, as previously described, whose role in that City’s ‘progress’ seemed only to be recognised, in retrospect, by its left/liberal intelligentsia and newspaper media.

The class divide in Oxford between town, gown and the new working classes, which prevented the formation of a citywide Welsh Society did not seem to be a problem in Coventry, where the Welsh working classes were obviously more dominant in music, culture and sport. The creation of a ‘Society’ helped to further fulfil the need for respectability. One evening every month a ‘social’ was held in a large room above Ellis’ Cafe in Broadgate, to which Welsh people came to play games and to sing, from all over Coventry. Welsh was spoken, but the Society was obviously not dominated by academics, as in Oxford, and was able to meet a need for ‘gathering’ or ‘gymanfa’ among the wide variety of Coventry Welsh, which included nurses and school teachers as well as factory workers. This image of respectability had become well established by February l929, when the Society and the Gleemen combined to give a performance in aid of the Lord Mayor (of London’s) Fund for the Distressed Areas. The Midland Daily Telegraph praised the ‘careful training given by Mr. Shepherd to his singers’ during their weekly rehearsals.   The exiles’ empathy with those they had left behind was portrayed to full effect, if in somewhat bizarre fashion, when Miss Chrissie Thomas played ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ as an encore on her mandolin, ‘in reference to the Prince’s recent visit to the distressed areas.’  At the end of that month the Coventry Welsh were able to give vent to ‘their intense national patriotism’ at the Welsh Society’s Annual Social. (78) Events such as these were symbolic of a growing sense of solidity and self-confidence in the immigrant community.

As was the case in Cowley, the links with the homeland were not simply in the heart and mind of the immigrant. Holidays were an important part of the migration network. The Welsh in the Holbrooks area each paid fifteen shillings and hired a bus between them every Easter and August Bank Holiday. (79) On the Whit holiday weekend, l939, The Midland Daily Telegraph reported that the number of buses leaving Pool Meadow for Wales was surprisingly large.  One company had to use another company’s vehicles to accommodate the extra bookings, several of these vehicles being brought in from Nuneaton. (80) Such holidays provided the opportunity for information about the quality of life in Coventry to be passed on to those considering migration. In particular, those already involved in sporting teams, choirs and musical societies were very keen that people ‘at home’ with abilities in these areas should join them.  Welsh members of the GEC Orchestra recruited members of the Cory Brothers’ Band and violinists who accompanied the silent pictures in Rhondda workmen’s halls. In these cases, musicianship was the qualification needed to get a job at the GEC. (81)

The chapels also played a significant role in helping the immigrants to become settled, secure and self-assured, although their support for initiatives such as the Glee Party and for Welsh social and cultural activities was perhaps more important than their attempts at practical involvement in the after-care of the migrants and transferees. In 1936, the Juvenile Employment Committee reported that ‘one denominational’ society had been supplied, at the request of its secretary, with the details of young people arriving in the city to take up employment, ‘the society’s aim being to offer friendly interest in their religious and social welfare’. (82) However, three years later Philip Handley wrote to Sir Wyndham Deedes of the National Council of Social Service that this experiment, which had developed into his passing the names of immigrants to the nearest church of the same denomination as that last attended, had ‘had no practical result’. He went on to comment that the churches had a hard task ahead of them ‘in a community so materially minded as this’. (83) Whilst there can be little doubt that the majority of Welsh immigrants did not attend church regularly, both Queens Road Baptist and West Orchard Congregational had regular contact with a larger number of immigrants than their counterparts in London.  Many migrants were ambivalent in their attitudes towards chapel-going, feeling that they no longer needed to follow the stricter mores of ‘down home’, but also that the London chapels did not have the same ‘hwyl’ as they found in Coventry. (84)

The attractiveness of chapels such as Queens Road and West Orchard to the immigrants was due, in no small part, to their inspirational Welsh ministers, Howard Ingli James and Ivor Reece. Ingli James grew up in Barry where his father was pastor of Bethel Baptist Church. Before his arrival in Coventry in 1931, James had had ‘powerful ministries’ in Accrington and at Pantygwydr, Swansea, during which ‘he saw that the working classes in this country were drifting from the churches and he set himself resolutely to stop the drift’. Whilst in Swansea, he played an important part in the life of the town, lectured in philosophy to WEA classes and took an active part in politics. (85) Throughout the 1930s he provided strong leadership for the element among the Welsh who showed an interest in the chapel’s activities, and Queens Road thus became a central, stabilising influence on their lives, since there were already a great many Welsh in the congregation, although few had transferred their membership at this stage. (86) He continually referred to the miners in his sermons and his unapologetic championing of working class causes and politics frequently brought him into conflict with the established professional Coventrians both in the church and the city. In general terms, the impact of immigration upon the church and city was a major factor in determining the development and direction of his ministry as the article he wrote for the Midland Daily Telegraph in 1936 reveals:

” Coventry is today faced with the difficult task of welding a host of newcomers into a community, in fact of making a city, which is not the same thing as a mere collection of streets, or conglomeration of people…Almost every week strangers appear in our congregation, often in such numbers that one has difficulty in getting in touch with them.   Many are young, and trying their wings for the first time.  It is an important part of our work to meet their needs both spiritual and social, to provide them with a place where they may find friends and feel at home.”  (87)

Some of these newcomers were among the ‘convinced and articulate group of Christian Socialists with strong pacifist convictions’ which Ingli James’ ministry produced in the late l930s and l940s. (88) For them, as for Ingli James himself, the experience of the ‘two Britains’ of the inter-war period would resonate in their post-war visions. James articulated this impetus to reform in a book, Communism and the Christian Faith, published in l950, in which he acknowledged his indebtedness to the Queens Road congregation for the way they had given him ‘a new vision of what a Christian community in a busy industrial city might be and do.’ In the book he also suggested that ‘those who wonder why ten thousand electors voted Communist in the Rhondda Valley in l945, should reflect on the plight of the valley during that period, when thousands of eager youngsters were compelled to seek employment far from home’. (89)

Most importantly, Welsh working class culture was able to locate itself within a broad, dominant working class and immigrant culture in Coventry; such a culture was poorly developed in Oxford and was almost entirely absent in the ‘Greater London’ experience. Coventry was, from the beginning of the period, a working class city, in which miners and immigrants were not strangers.   One among them contrasted his experience of Coventry with that of London by stating that in Coventry he felt that he was back in his ‘own sphere amongst the working class’ with ‘everybody working at our level’ and was ‘sharing similar characteristics’ with former miners from the Durham coalfields. (90) This was the type of environment in which the Welsh could establish and assert themselves, not perhaps as so distinctive a community as in Oxford, but with similar stimulating and stabilising effects both on the processes of migration and settlement and on the development of the city itself.

In terms of its long-term effect, perhaps the most significant contribution made by the Welsh in Coventry was, as in Oxford, the broad field of working class sporting and leisure activities. In 1939, The Coventry Welsh Rugby Club came into being at a meeting in the Railway Hotel, Foleshill, and soon became the cradle for the City of Coventry Rugby Club in which many of the latter’s players were nurtured. The Welsh also played a significant role in building up the workingmen’s clubs. Holbrooks Workingmen’s Club was predominantly Welsh, and there were large numbers of Welsh in the Wyken, Coombe and Binley Clubs, partly because of the large numbers of Welsh miners who found their way into the pits in these areas. In Coombe and Binley, male voice choirs were formed, the one at Binley remaining strong for decades. (91) It was perhaps, in part, this emphasis on club culture that earned the Welsh their reputation for drunkenness among Coventrians. In fact, cases of drunken and disorderly behaviour involving Welshmen were few and far between, though they received graphic and detailed coverage from the local press, under headlines such as ‘A Violent Welshman…Miner Assaults Coventry Police Officers.’  These cases usually involved young men who had recently arrived in the city and had not found their way to clubs where their drinking might be controlled and institutionalised. They behaved in this way precisely because they ‘knew very well that they wouldn’t do it down home.’ (92)

In the factories, although some of the trade unions were concerned about dilution to the point of being slow to organise among the unskilled and semi-skilled immigrants, there is little doubt that by the end of the period these immigrants had settled well into the pattern of militant trade unionism which was already well established in the city at the beginning of the period. Despite comparatively advanced level of trade union organisation, there were no strikes recorded in Coventry’s motor industry until l934, largely due to shop-floor manipulation of piecework through the ‘gang’ system. The Welsh immigrants appear to have fitted well into this system; when a Welsh shop steward gave evidence to a sub-committee of the Coventry District AEU set up to investigate complaints against a particularly uncooperative and belligerent member at the Humber Works, Defending himself, he stated that ‘they were not likely to have harmony in the shop when the other members were Welshmen but were only paying into the trade union for their own advantage.’ (93) There were also Welsh shop stewards at the Standard Works who later helped to establish trade unionism at the GEC.  However, most of the new leaders of militant trade unionism in the l930s came from other depressed areas with stronger engineering traditions in the north of England and Scotland, donating significantly larger numbers of workers to Coventry than they did to Oxford, in contrast with Welsh immigration. (94)

In politics, the fortunes of the Labour Party were closely related to patterns of immigration.  In l926, the Labour group on the Council was reduced to only three members. However, following boundary changes in l928, which incorporated many of the new estates, and therefore added many of the immigrants to the electoral roll, eleven Labour members were elected. The Party continued to make headway in the local elections to the point where they actually took control of the Council in l937. (95) The Midland Daily Telegraph  advanced the argument that ‘the large influx of labour from socialist areas’ over the year preceding November l937 was ‘the major factor in the Labour victory.’  In a l938 By-election, it was still possible for the Lib-Con Coalition Candidate to win his seat by playing upon the fears of ‘old Coventrians’ that their city was being run by ‘the sweepings of the nation’. (96)

However, in reality the Welsh and other immigrants were not as well established in this sphere of leadership by the late l930s in Coventry as were the Welsh in Cowley and it was not until the post-war period that they began to play a significant, leading role in local politics, producing, as in Oxford, some real ‘Dick Whittingtons’. (97) Two Rhondda exiles became Lord Mayors and shared their motivation for their involvement in local politics with Councillor Elsie Jones, who wrote poignantly in l958 of how being ‘born and reared in a mining area’, she had ‘realised the need for reforms very early in life.’ (98)

Finally, the case of the Birmingham Welsh is worthy of some consideration, since it represents a similar example of autonomous immigrant organisation, to that already explored in Oxford. It is apparent that a significant proportion of those who settled in Longbridge area of Birmingham during the period were from Monmouthshire mining villages such as Blaina, Nantyglo and Risca.  By the Autumn of l934 these immigrants were settled enough to combine with immigrants from Durham to form a self-help organisation known as the Birmingham Association for the Relief of Distressed Areas (BARDA), whose main aims were ‘to provide a welcome for people from distressed areas taking up work in Birmingham and put them in touch with social activities; to maintain a register of lodgings and houses available for families and individuals from distressed areas seeking employment in the Midlands; to help families who have already one or more members settled in Birmingham to remove their homes to this district and to collect and record information as to vacancies available for individuals out of employment.’ (99) Monthly meetings were held close to where the immigrant car-workers lived and worked, and it had a membership of about two hundred. During its first eighteen months it effected the removal and resettlement of twenty-one families, all but one of whom remained in Birmingham, thus reuniting over a hundred individuals. It was successful not only in the autonomous organisation of migration but also in its representation of the migrants’ needs to both local and national government officials. In this, it was able to go further than the network in Cowley, because it acquired an official status due to its constitution. BARDA was the clearest expression that emerged, of the working classes accepting migration on their own terms and directing it within their own cultural framework. (100)

However, the conditions in other parts of Birmingham and the West Midlands, such as Handsworth, Soho and West Bromwich, were not as favourable to so advanced a level of autonomous organisation, so that BARDA’s influence seems to have been restricted to southwest Birmingham. In Smethwick, an older town, Rhondda people were able to find homes in close proximity to each other and most were working in the Tangies Munitions Factory by l936-37. These two factors enabled them to find some social cohesion and they made good use of the local chapels, forming a male voice choir. Lush was told that ‘any South Walian’ was regarded as having a good voice and that membership of the choir was almost compulsory. (101) Whilst distinctive Welsh communities emerged in those parts of Birmingham and the neighbouring towns where housing and industrial conditions were conducive to the development of a sense of neighbourhood and the retention of distinctive forms of culture and organisation by the immigrants, attempts to provide institutional points of focus for the Welsh throughout the city were more limited in effect than in Coventry. This was partly due to the difference in scale, but also because the ‘Welsh causes’ which existed in Birmingham at this time had grown up in the Victorian and Edwardian periods and their congregations were largely made up of professional, Welsh-speaking people from rural Wales, the language of the chapels also being Welsh. Those among the working class, largely English-speaking immigrants from the industrial south soon found that they had little in common with their country cousins. Nevertheless, Wheeler Street Congregational Church claimed 337 regular worshippers in l938, over half of whom were said to be ‘exiles from the depressed area.’  Numbers had increased considerably as a result of social activities and in l936 the Church began an organisation called ‘Urdd y Brodyr’ specifically to cater for the needs of young Welshmen coming to the City. Its chief purpose was to help them find work and accommodation, in addition to providing a more general link between the chapel and the wider society in which they lived and worked. A link with home was also provided through a newspaper library, comprising local weeklies from the Rhondda, Aberdare, Merthyr and other coalfield areas. Nevertheless, it is apparent that, as in London, the ‘Welsh causes’ and societies touched the lives of only a very small proportion of the exiles from the coalfield. The image of Wales, which was celebrated in their worship and social activities, was that of a rural, Liberal, Nonconformist Welsh-speaking society, their ministers and deacons lacking the experience and understanding of the industrial south so well displayed by Ingli James in Coventry. (102)

These case studies of the Welsh working class inter-war experience of exodus and resettlement reveal that the contemporary, and sometimes historical, characterisation of migration as synonymous with enforced dispersal, implied by the indiscriminate use of the term ‘Transference’, does not match the diverse realities of that experience. Those who were moved under government schemes made up a small minority of those who left the coalfield. The experiences of atomisation, isolation and alienation endured by many transferees and migrants who entered employment in domestic service, the distributive trades and relief work in London and other parts of the south-east of England, were not shared by those who found employment for themselves in the developing centres of the new industries. In these centres, despite significant variations in local patterns of employment and housing, the processes of migration and settlement were conducted on a collective and largely autonomous basis, which reflected the traditions and institutional life of the coalfield communities. The careful cultivation of migration networks through a combination of marital, familial, fraternal and institutional relationships ensured that migrants were able to retain a collective identity and distinctive working class culture in their new environment. Their concern for, and idealisation of, the communal life they had left was an essential stabilising and reinforcing element in their projection of a self-image of a hard-working and respectable immigrant community. Most importantly, their retention of the capacity for autonomous organisation in all the stages of the migration process meant that, in these centres, they were able to act as self-assured, self-empowered agents in the formation and negotiation of a broader working class culture which met the new industrial and social conditions of their chosen environment. This, then, was no Babylonian captivity, and in their transportation of traditional values and institutions they fashioned a ‘new covenant’ made up of various contributions to the economic, political, social, cultural and religious life of the new industry centres. By these means, they also enabled and enhanced the recovery and reconstitution of working class politics and culture in the l930s. Coming from ‘Proud Valleys’, they were determined to prove that no one could stop them singing. (103) In 1927 they may have felt like extras in an epic which ran out of backers, but by 1937 they were setting the scenery for a new post-war production in which one of their own, Aneurin Bevan, played a leading role and they were the chorus. The manner in which they overcame the prejudices they met over much of the inter-war period, demonstrates the importance of perspective in examining the true nature of migration and immigration in twentieth-century Britain. The locally-grown ‘model’ followed in Britain by ‘guest’ and ‘host’ communities alike, although sometimes painful in construction, has been one of integration, rather than one of assimilation.

©Andrew James Chandler

Kecskemét, Hungary

March 1st 2012

Notes & References:

(Key:

CSLS = Coventry Local Studies Library;  CRO = Coventry Record Office;

NCVO = National Council of Voluntary Organisations;

OCL = Oxford City Library and Archives;

PRO = Public Records Office;

RCL = Ruskin College Library.)

  1. Coventry Tribune ,19 July 1947.
  2. M. Abrams, The Condition of the British People, 1911-45: A Study prepared for the Fabian Society (Gollancz, 1945), Preface by G D H Cole; chapters I & II, tables I & II.
  3. Gwyn Thomas, The Subsidence Factor, Annual Gwyn Jones Lecture (University College Cardiff Press, 1979)
  4. W. Samuel, Transference Must Stop, (J E Jones, 1943): N & D Davies, Can Wales Afford Self-Government? (Foyles Welsh Press, n.d.); The Welsh Nationalist, October 1937: On the ‘Liberal Establishment’, see my PhD thesis, ‘The Re-making of a Working Class: Migration from the South Wales Coalfield to the New Industry Areas of the Midlands, c.1920-1940’ (Cardiff,1988) chapter four; on the growth of Nationalism in Wales, see D. Hywel Davies, The Welsh Nationalist Party, 1925-1945A Call to Nationhood (Cardiff,1983)
  5. PRO Lab 23/102: ‘Report of a Conference on Transference, convened by the South Wales and Monmouthshire Council of Social Service, 15-16 May 1936’.
  6. W.Hannington, The Problem of the Distressed Areas (Gollancz,1937) chapter eight, especially p.124.
  7. K.O. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation (Oxford 1981) pp. 230-231.
  8. PRO/Lab 8/218: Hunt & Scott’s report.
  9. F.C. Bourdillon, A Survey of Social Services in the Oxford District  (Barnett House Survey, Oxford,1938) p.60; Bodleian Library/Butler Papers, box 40, paper by S.P.R. Maud.
  10. See my thesis, op.cit., chapter one & appendices.
  11. G.H. Daniel, ‘Some Factors Affecting the Mobility of Labour’ in Oxford Economic Papers, (1940) p.152.
  12. The precise details of the scheme are given in journal Planning, 24  March 1936.
  13. See my thesis, chapters five and six for further details.
  14. PRO Lab 23/102; Report of a Conference on Transference, loc. cit. , 1936
  15. Ibid.; ‘note on Miss Hilda Jennings’ Investigation into Social Transference Problems’, August 1935, pp.1-2.
  16. NCVO/NCSS papers; ‘Migration to London from South Wales’  p.7;
  17. M. Davies, ‘Exiled in London’ in The Listener, 20 April 1938.
  18. PRO/Lab 23/102; SWMCSS Committee on Transference; ‘Preliminary Report on Social Provision at the Reception End for Workers Transferred from South Wales’ by A.J. Lush, 2 April 1937 pp. 7-8.
  19. Ibid., pp.9-10: Many of the newcomers had initially been brought to Slough to work in the Government Training Centre; see PRO/Lab 2/1396/ET 1275; Reid letter: On Lady Astor, see Peter Stead’s article on ‘The Voluntary Response to Mass Unemployment in South Wales’ in W. Minchinton (ed.), University of Exeter Papers in Social and Economic History, 1981.
  20. G. Crawshay, ‘Survey and Prospects of the Position in the South Wales and Monmouthshire Special Area’ in The Special Areas Commissioner’s Fourth Report, November 1937,p.43ff.: H.A. Marquand, The Second Industrial Survey of South Wales (Cardiff,1937; National Industrial Development Council), Volume III, p. 28.
  21. PRO/Lab 8/218; Hunt & Scott, op. cit., pp. 8,
  22. Idris Davies, ‘London Welsh’ in Gwalia Deserta (London, 1938).
  23. Bourdillon, op. cit., p.58.
  24. Ibid., pp. 58-60; appendix 1, p.290. See also PRO/PIN 7/172; extract from the typescript  drafts of the Survey Report, pp.20-21.
  25. G.H. Daniel, ‘Labour Migration and Age Composition’ & ‘Labour Migration and Fertility’ in The Sociological Review, May & October, 1939, especially p. 297; ‘Some Factors Affecting the Mobility of Labour’ in Oxford Economic Papers, 1940, esp. p.157.
  26. R.C. Whiting, ‘Oxford Between the Wars; Labour and the Motor Industry’ in Rowley (ed.) The Oxford Region, (n. d.) & his Oxford D. Phil. thesis, ‘The Working Class in the “New Industry” Towns Between the Wars; The Case of Oxford’ (1978); J. Zeitlin, ‘The Emergence of Shop Steward Organisation and Job Control in the British Car Industry; A Review Essay’ in History Workshop Journal (Autumn 1980); D. Lyddon’s ‘Critique’ & Zeitlin’s ‘Rejoinder’, both  in  HWJ  (Spring & Autumn, 1983); P.D. John, ‘The Oxford Welsh in the 1930s; A Study in Class, Community and Political Influence’ in Llafur, Volume 5, Number 4, 1991; draw on my thesis, op. cit., chapter seven.
  27. Interviews with T. Richards, D. Husk, Cowley, 1982, transcribed, loc. cit.
  28. Glamorgan Gazette, 31 December 1926.
  29. Interviews with Richards, Husk, C. Jones, loc. cit & F. Jeffery, Cowley, ’82, transcribed: Frank Jeffery was a deacon & Secretary in Temple Cowley Congregational (later URC)
  30. Interview with D. Husk; Oxford Times, 20 March 1931; Glamorgan Gazette,24 April 1931: Davies was son of a Blaengarw miners’ agent.
  31. Husk interview, loc. cit.
  32. Glamorgan Gazette, 16 September 1927
  33. Interviews with T. Richards, Vyall Allport & Mrs. I. Price (née Allport), D. Husk; OCL/Pressed Steel Company, Social & Athletic Club; Rugby Football Club minute book, 3 October 1927; Pressings (Pressed  Steel Company magazine), January 1928: This contains a photograph of the first season’s team; names & places of origin of the players were  supplied by Dai Husk, the former also appearing in the minutes.
  34. OCL/Pressed Steel Co. Social & Athletic Club minute book; Secretary’s report for the 1936-37 season; Oxford Times, 25 June 1937;  September-December 1927; 27 July 1927; 23 April 1937; Glamorgan Gazette,13 & 27 July 1934; interview with the Wilcox family, Cowley, 1982, transcribed.
  35. Interview with T. Jones, Cowley, 1982, loc. cit.
  36. Glamorgan Gazette, 23 December 1927.
  37. Interviews with F. Jeffery, T. Jones, T. Richards, loc. cit.
  38. Oxford Times, 4 & 25 October, 1929; Temple Cowley URC records, ‘Order of Service, November 27th, 1932’; interviews with F. Jeffery, T. Richards, loc. cit.
  39. Interviews with T. Jones, T. Richards, loc. cit
  40. Ibid.; interview with F. Jeffery, loc.cit., interviews with Haydn Evans, Cowley, 1982, transcribed: Interviews with T. Richards, T. Jones, loc. cit.
  41. Glamorgan Gazette, 10 April 1931; Oxford Times, 3 April 1931; 20 March 1931; Oxford Welsh Glee Singers’ Attendance Register, 1931-39; Minutes 14/26 Jan, 2 Feb 1936.
  42. Glamorgan Gazette, 13 July 1934; January-September 1937 (10 references); interviews with C. Jones, Wilcox family,  H. Evans, loc. cit.
  43. Interview with T. Jones, loc. cit. Glamorgan Gazette; Oxford Times, 7 October 1960
  44. J.M. Mogey, Family and Neighbourhood; Two Studies in Oxford, (Oxford, 1956)  p.6
  45. Daniel, op. cit., (1940), pp. 174-179.
  46. NUVB Journal, November 1925, January 1929, January 1930; NUVB Oxford Branch Minute Books, August 1927.
  47. See note 25 above; for unemployment and migration statistics, see my thesis, appendix ten.
  48. Interviews with T. Richards, D. Husk, op. cit.
  49. OCL/Howse Collection; pamphlet, 6 October 1932 and Company memorandum, 7 October 1932.
  50. Interview with Jack Thomas, Cowley 1982, op. cit.
  51. Interview with H.Evans, op.cit.; The Conveyor, September 1934, p.2.
  52. RCL/Abe Lazarus Collection; MSS 1/4; ‘note on Harris by J. Mahon’; also information from interviews with H. Evans, T. Richards, T. Jones, loc. cit.: On Welsh transatlantic migration to Scranton, Pennsylvania, US, see W D Jones (1993) Wales in America: Scranton and the Welsh 1860-1920. University of Wales Press.
  53. Interview with J.Thomas; D.McEvoy, ‘From Firm Foundations: A Study of the Trade Union            Recognition Strike at Cowley : July 13 to 28, 1934′, Dissertation for Cert.Ed., Oxford 1972 chapter five, passim.
  54. The Conveyor, loc. cit., p.2.
  55. Oxford Times, Daily Worker, 27 July 1934; H. Evans interview, loc. cit.
  56. The Conveyor, loc. cit, p.5.
  57. Glee Party Attendance Register; R. Bedwin, Fifty Years of Song; A Brief History of the Welsh Glee Singers,1928-78 (Oxford 1978) p.10.
  58. Daniel, op. cit., (1940) p.178.
  59. The Record, August & September 1934
  60. RCL/Abe Lazarus Collection: Oxford Trades Council Minutes, Dec 1934 – March 1936; circular letter to members of the Oxford Local of the Communist Party; J. Thomas interview, loc. cit..
  61. Television History Workshop; Making Cars’ (video) (London,1985), pp.24,33.
  62. Interviews with J.Thomas & Arthur Exell, op. cit.
  63.  OCL/Howse Collection; The Spark, March 1937.
  64.  BL/Butler papers; Barnett House Survey of Trade Unions, 1937; OCL/Howse Collection; list of TGWU shop stewards, 28 April 1938; BL/Butler papers/Box 43;  letter from O. Moeller to Bourdillon, 1937; Howse Collection; memo. from Howse to Moeller,6 December,1938.
  65. Oxford Trade Council Minutes, November-December 1938; interviews with J. Thomas, T. Richards, T. Jones, H. Evans, loc. cit.
  66. A. Exell, ‘The Politics of Production Line’, HWJ, 1981.
  67. Interview with H.Evans: Interview with Wilcox family, op. cit; see my thesis, chapter five.
  68. Butler papers/Box 43; letter to Plummer, 12 July 1937.
  69. RCL/ACL/MSS 1/4, ‘A Long Climb Beyond Dreaming Monuments’ n.d.
  70. For more information on the leading role of Welsh personalities in the Oxford Labour Movement, see;  Oxford Labour Party Minutes, 31 July & 4 September, 1935, 1935-1939; Oxford Times, 3 January 1958; R. Crossman’s introduction to G.Hodgkinson, Sent to Coventry, (1970); Oxford Times, 23 April, 18 June, 24 September 1937, 3 January 1958; Oxford Mail, 25 June, 1979; OCL/PAC Minutes, 13 December 1938; Oxford Times, 15 January 1937. The Gazette (Oxford T.U. paper), February 1938.
  71. See my thesis, pp. 314-5 (notes 181-2) & p.208ff.
  72. Interview with H. Roberts, Coventry 1982, transcribed; letter to author from I. Williams,1978
  73. CRO/Minutes of Coventry PAC, 6 May 1936; interview with H. Roberts, loc. cit;  on the length of unemployment before migration, see my thesis, chapter five.
  74. See my thesis, op. cit., p. 316, and notes 191-2.
  75. Interview with Mrs. J. Shepherd, Coventry, 1982, transcribed.
  76. Interviews with Mrs. J. Shepherd, Mary Nicholas & Martha Jones, Coventry 1982; C. Binfield, Pastors and People; The Biography of a Baptist Church; Queens Road, Coventry (Coventry 1984), chapters 11-13.
  77. Midland Daily Telegraph, 11 February 1929, 1 September 1937.
  78. Interview with Mrs. Shepherd, loc. cit; Midland Daily Telegraph, 6 & 11 January, 28 February 1929.
  79. Interview with H. Roberts, loc. cit.
  80. Midland Daily Telegraph, 27 May 1939.
  81. Interview with H. Roberts, loc. cit.
  82. CLSL/JEC Report, 1936.
  83. NCVO/NCSS local files; letter from Handley to Deedes.
  84. Interview with H. Roberts, loc. cit.
  85. Baptist Times, 5 April 1956, obituary by Rev. W. Davies.
  86. Interviews with Mary Nicholas & Martha Jones, loc. cit.; Binfield, loc.cit., wrote that Queens Road was known as ‘New South Wales’.
  87. Midland Daily Telegraph, 1936; Mrs J. Shepherd, Mary Nicholas & Martha Jones gave information about his sermons, loc. cit; see also Binfield, loc. cit., p.215, re. the ‘How Green Was My Valley’ sermon.
  88. CRO/708/Richardson papers; Rev. G.Hastings, ‘Queens Road Baptist Church, Coventry, in the Life of the City’, February 1969.
  89. H.I. James, Communism and the Christian Faith (1950) pp.5, 82-3, 172.
  90. Interview with H. Roberts, loc. cit.
  91. Ibid.; Midland Daily Telegraph, 12 May 1939.
  92. Midland Daily Telegraph, 22 January 1929; H. Roberts interview, loc. cit.
  93. Coventry AEU Minutes, 24 April 1939.
  94. Interview with H. Roberts, loc. cit.; see my thesis, chapters five & seven.
  95. J.A. Yates, Pioneers to Power  (Coventry,1950) pp.69-70, 73, 81-83; K. Richardson, Twentieth Century Coventry (1972) pp. 189-207.
  96. Midland Daily Telegraph, 2 November 1937; 20 July 1938.
  97.  Coventry Evening Telegraph, 2 May 1965; South Wales Daily News, 3 December 1926; Coventry Evening Telegraph’s Who’s Who, 1977. Coventry Who’s Who, 1985.
  98. CLSL/Coventry Labour Party, ‘Reaching a Majority; Twenty-One Years of Labour Rule in Coventry’ (1958)
  99. PRO/Lab 23/97, BARDA: General statement & Report to Feb. 1936.
  100. See my thesis, pp. 298-301.
  101.  A.J. Lush’s ‘Report’, op.cit.,p.4.
  102. For more on the Welsh personalities in the Birmingham Labour Movement, see my thesis,  p.318 (notes 226-232);   plus N. Tiptaft, My Contemporaries (Birmingham, 1952) p. 40ff.; and see also R.P. Hastings, ‘The Labour Movement in Birmingham’, University of Birmingham M.A. Thesis (1959) pp. 62-64.
  103. Oxford MailYou can’t stop them singing’, reproduced by the OWGS as a postcard, copy in the choir’s archive, n.d.; used as part of a frontispiece to my thesis (p. ii). 
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