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Britain Seventy Years Ago, 1948-49: Race, Class and Culture.   1 comment

The Windrush Experience: Commonwealth Immigration.

During the Second World War, men from the Caribbean began to arrive in Britain, serving with the British Forces. There was a Jamaica Squadron and a Trinidad Squadron in the RAF and a West Indian Regiment in the British Army. Others came to work in factories, in the countryside and on radar stations. But once the war was over, most were sent straight home, leaving an estimated permanent non-white population of about thirty thousand. But almost unnoticed by the general public and passed in response to Canadian fears about the lack of free migration around the Empire, the 1948 British Nationality Act dramatically changed the scene. It declared that all subjects of the King had British nationality, reaffirming their right to free entry to the United Kingdom to all Commonwealth citizens and colonial subjects, without restrictions. This gave some eight hundred million people the right to enter and settle in the UK. At that time, this was uncontroversial, since it was generally assumed that the Caribbean and Asian subjects of the King would have neither the means nor the desire to travel to live in uncomfortable, crowded Britain. Travel remained expensive and slow, but, in any case, until the fifties, so few black or Asian people had settled in Britain that they were often treated as local celebrities and it was not even considered worthwhile trying to count their numbers. But as growing numbers of Caribbeans and South Asians began to take up their right to abode, most famously those who arrived aboard Empire Windrush (above & below), the British authorities became increasingly alarmed.

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Paradoxically, therefore, Commonwealth immigration became an increasingly salient issue in British domestic politics. During the 1950s, the number of West Indians entering Britain reached annual rates of thirty thousand. The census of 1951 recorded 74,000 New Commonwealth immigrants. By the end of that decade, nearly half a million had moved to Britain, 405,000 of them from the ‘West Indies’. Immigration from the New Commonwealth was driven by a combination of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. Partition of India and the construction of the Mangla Dam in Pakistan displaced large numbers, many of whom had close links with Britain through the colonial connection. In Britain, postwar reconstruction, declining birth rates and labour shortages resulted in the introduction of government schemes to encourage Commonwealth workers, particularly from the West Indians, to seek employment in Britain. Jamaicans and Trinidadians were recruited directly by agents to fill vacancies in the British transport network and the newly created National Health Service. Private companies also recruited labour in India and Pakistan for factories and foundries in Britain. As more Caribbeans and South Asians settled in Britain, patterns of chain migration developed, in which pioneer migrants aided friends and relatives to settle. Despite the influx of immigrants after the war, however, internal migration within Britain and Ireland continued to outpace immigration. The importance assigned to the Commonwealth in the 1950s prevented the imposition of immigration controls on New Commonwealth citizens.

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There were other immigrant communities: There had been a substantial Jewish presence in London, Leeds and Manchester, making itself felt in retailing (Marks & Spencer), the food business and banking (Rothschild’s). In the five years before the war, since the advent of the Nazis to absolute power in Germany in 1934, some sixty thousand refugees had arrived in Britain, many of them highly qualified, helping to transform the scientific, musical and intellectual life of forties Britain. As Germany’s Jews were hounded from office in the first wave of lawless anti-Semitism in 1933, the Cabinet agreed to secure for this country prominent Jews who were being expelled from Germany and who had achieved distinction in science, medicine, music and art. No fewer than twenty of them later won Nobel prizes, fifty-four were elected Fellows of the Royal Society, and ten were knighted for their academic brilliance. Despite these contributions and the recent revelations of the horrors of the concentration camps, anti-Semitism was still endemic in British society. In particular, there was a widespread assumption that ‘they’ somehow got the best of scarce or rationed goods.

Potentially more serious in this respect was the re-emergence, in February 1948, of the fascists on the streets of London. Sir Oswald Mosely, the leader of the pre-war British Union of Fascists, had re-emerged into political life, forming the new Union Movement. For some time his former henchmen had been holding open-air meetings in the East End market at Ridley Road, Dalston, where many of the stallholders were Jewish. Not surprisingly, the meetings were the scene of violent opposition as the old fascists appeared under their new name. When Mosely announced his intention to march from Ridley Road through Stamford Hill to Tottenham, thousands of ex-servicemen, Jew and Gentile, gathered in Kingsland High Road to prevent the provocation. East London mayors called upon the Home Secretary to ban the marches and on 22 March 1949, Chuter-Ede announced a ban on all political processions. An assurance was sought that trade union marches did not fall within the compass of the ban, but a week later the Home Secretary confirmed that the forthcoming London Trades Council march was included in the ban. For the first time since 1890, London trade unionists were deprived of their freedom to march on May Day, the ban being imposed by a Labour Home Secretary. The photograph below shows a section of the vast crowd that gathered in Trafalgar Square to defy him and march with banners flying.

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The Irish were also a big group in British life in the late forties, following a century of steady immigration, the vast majority of it from the south. It continued through the war, despite restrictions, as Irish people moved to Britain to cover the labour shortages left by mobilization. Ireland’s neutrality made it very unpopular with the British, and prejudice against its citizens in Britain continued for a long time after the war. Yet this did not seem to affect immigration, which continued at a rate of up to sixty thousand per year. Although The Republic of Ireland Act, of June 1949, confirmed the ending of Eire’s dominium status, the Republic was not to be regarded as a foreign country. The British government took the view that the Irish were effectively internal migrants and therefore excluded them from any discussion about immigration. There was also a large Polish presence resulting from the war since many refugees decided to settle permanently in the UK. It would be wrong to portray British society in the late forties as relaxed about race. More widely, the trade unions were bitterly hostile to ‘outsiders’ coming in to take British jobs, whatever their nationality. Even the Labour government itself spoke with self-consciousness and a legacy of inter-war eugenics about the central importance of the British race in its public information campaigns.

Country and Class:

Patriotic pride cemented the sense of being one people, one race, with one common history and destiny. But to be British in the forties was to be profoundly divided from many of your fellow subjects by class. By most estimates, a good sixty per cent of the nation was composed of the traditional working class; factory workers, agricultural labourers, navvies, riveters, miners, fishermen, servants and laundry workers. They worked by hand and muscle and were paid weekly, in cash (cheque-books were a sign of affluence). Most of them would spend all their lives in their home town or village, though some had migrated from industrial Scotland, Wales, Lancashire and the North East of England to the English Midlands, London and the Home Counties in the thirties. The sharp sense of class distinction was identified with where you came from and how you spoke. The war had softened class differences a little and produced the first rumblings of the future social revolution of the sixties.

With skill shortages and a national drive for exports, wages rose after the war. The trade unions were powerful and self-confident, particularly when the new Labour government repealed the laws that had hampered them ever since the General Strike of 1926. In 1948, they achieved their highest ever level of support. More than forty-five per cent of people who could theoretically belong to one did so, and there were some 8.8 million union members. In other European countries, trades unions were fiercely political, communist or socialist. In Britain, they were not, and the Communist Party spent much of its energy building support inside the unions, and winning elections to key posts. In general, British trades unionism remained more narrowly focused on the immediate cash-and-hours agenda of its members. Yet, a new generation of shop stewards was taking control of many workplaces, sowing the seeds of the great trade union battles of the seventies.

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It wasn’t obvious at this time that the jobs in coal, steel and heavy manufacturing would be under threat by the seventies. The shipyards of the Clyde, Belfast and the Tyne were hard at work, the coalfields were at full stretch, London was still an industrial city, and the car-making and light engineering centres of the West and South Midlands were on the edge of a time of unprecedented prosperity. In 1945, only 16,938 cars had been manufactured in Britain; by 1950, the figure had reached a record 522,515. Alec Issigonis, an immigrant from Turkey, was the design genius of post-war British car-making. His first huge success was the 1948 Morris Minor (above), which was condemned by Lord Nuffield (William Morris) as that damned poached egg designed by that damned foreigner. But it supremely popular as an affordable family car. Gone was the split windscreen (see the older version below).

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Britain was also, still, a country of brick terraces. It was not until the next two decades that many of the traditional working-class areas of British cities would be replaced by high-rise flats or sprawling new council estates. The first generation of working-class children to get to university was now at school, larger and healthier than their parents, enjoying the free dental care and spectacles provided by the young National Health Service, which was founded and began operating in the summer of 1948 (see below). For the most part, however, working-class life in the late forties was remarkably similar to how it had been a decade or more earlier, and perhaps even more settled. Politicians assumed that most people would stay put and continue to do roughly the same sort of job as they had done before the war. Rent acts and planning directives were the tools of ministers who assumed that the future of industry would be like its past, only more so.

The class which did best was the middle class, a fast-growing minority. Government bureaucracy had grown hugely and was continuing to do so. Labour’s Welfare State would require hundreds of thousands of new white-collar jobs, administering national insurance, teaching and running the health service. Studies of social mobility, such as the one carried out in 1949, suggested that while working-class sons generally followed their fathers into similar jobs, there was much more variation among middle-class children. Labour’s priority might have been to help the workers, but education reform was helping more middle-class children get a good grammar-school education. Fees for attending state schools were abolished and the school leaving age was raised to fifteen. A steadily growing number stayed at school until eighteen. Increasing numbers would make it to university too, an extra thirty thousand a year by 1950. The accents of Birmingham and Wales, the West Country and Liverpool began to challenge the earlier received pronunciation of perceived middle-class respectability. Churchill himself had told Harrow schoolboys that one effect of the war was to diminish class differences, that the advantages and privileges that had previously been enjoyed by the few would be far more widely shared by the many. Old distinctions were therefore softening, and the culture was slowly becoming more democratic.

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Yet there was still a long road ahead since the ruling class was still the ruling class. Despite the varied backgrounds of the 1945 Labour cabinet ministers, Britain in the late forties was still a society run mostly by cliques and groups of friends who had first met at public schools like Eton and Harrow, or at Oxbridge. A public school education remained the key for anyone hoping to make a career in the City, the Civil Service or the higher ranks of the Army. These schools might only educate some five per cent of the population, but they continued to provide the majority of the political leaders, including many of Labour’s post-war cabinets. Briefly, it had seemed that such schools would not even survive the war: boarding schools had been in enough of a financial crisis for some to face closure through bankruptcy. Churchill’s own Harrow was one, along with Marlborough and Lancing, but all managed to survive somehow. More generally, there was a belief that the public school system had contributed to the failure of political leadership in the thirties right up to the military defeats of the first half of 1940. But Churchill had fought off the demands from Butler and others in his war cabinet that all or most of them should be abolished. Attlee, devoted to his old school, had no appetite for abolition either. Grammar schools were seen as the way to get bright working-class or middle-class children into Oxbridge, and a few other universities, where they would compete with and thereby strengthen the ruling élites. One civil servant described the official view as being that ‘children’ could be divided into three kinds:

It was sort of Platonic. There were golden children, silver children and iron children.

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Under Clement Attlee, pictured above being driven by his wife Violet, Britain remained a country of private clubs and cliques, ancient or ancient-seeming privileges, rituals and hierarchies. In the workplace, there was something like the relationships of pre-war times, with employers’ associations assuming their old roles as ‘cartels’ though some, like Captain Black at the Standard Motor Co. in Coventry, were successful in breaking out of the wage-controls which the Engineering Employers’ Association attempted to set. Inside the newly nationalised industries, the same sort of ‘bosses’ continued to manage, and the same ‘them and us’ mentalities reasserted themselves remarkably easily. In the City, venerable, commanding merchant bankers would still be treated like little gods, younger bankers deferring utterly to their elders and ‘betters’. Lessons in speaking ‘the King’s English’ were given to aspiring actors and broadcasters; physicians in hospitals still swept into the wards, followed by trains of awed, frightened, junior doctors. At the Oxbridge colleges, formal dinners were compulsory, as was full academic dress, and the tenured professors hobbled around their quads as if little had changed since Edwardian days. All this was considered to be somehow the essence of Britain, or at least of England.

The King and Queen also ran what was in all essentials an Edwardian Court.  After the national trauma of the abdication crisis, George VI had established a reassuringly pedestrian image for the family which now called itself simply ‘the Windsors’. There had been cautious signs of royal modernisation, with Princess Elizabeth making patriotic radio broadcasts. On the other hand, the Royal Presentation of rich young debutantes to the monarch continued until 1958 when Queen Elizabeth put an end to it, prompted by Prince Philip, who with characteristically candid brevity, labelled it “bloody daft”. Initially, it was very unclear as to how the monarchy would fare in post-war Britain. The leading members of the family were popular, and Labour ministers were careful never to express any republicanism in public, but there were demands from many of their backbench MPs for a less expensive, slimmed-down contemporary monarchy, such as existed in Scandinavia.

Yet the Windsors had triumphed again in 1947, with the wedding of, as they were then, Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. For the ordinary British people, the wedding was a welcome but transient distraction from their daily struggle to feed and clothe their families. Because rationing affected the quantity of clothes you could have, but not their quality, it hit the poor harder. Government ‘make-do and mend’ campaigns about how to repair, reinforce or reshape old clothes, did nothing to improve the general public mood. For women, faced with an almost impossible struggle to replace laddered stockings or underwear, the wartime fashions felt unattractive – short skirts and masculine jackets, what was called ‘man-tailored’. If pregnant, they were encouraged to adapt their ordinary clothes. Yet the Hollywood films showed women immaculately dressed icons and the newspapers showed men the richest, flashiest Britons, like Anthony Eden and, of course, the King, both beautifully tailored. But they could not afford to look smart. Some men avoided drinks parties because they were ashamed of the state of their clothes and women avoided brightly lit restaurants when their stockings had gone, replaced by tea-stains and drawn-on seams. It was not until 1949 that clothes, boots and shoes were taken off ration.

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For most ordinary people, too, food rationing was the primary example of the dreary colourlessness of wartime life. It continued long after the guns had stopped. It was still biting hard at the end of the forties, meat was still rationed as late as 1954, and though the poor were better fed, most people felt hard done-by. Many doctors agreed. Shortly after the horrific winter of 1947 was over, the British Medical Press carried a detailed article by Dr Franklin Bicknell which argued that available foods were four hundred calories short of what women needed each day, and nine hundred short of what men required: In other words, everyone in England is suffering from prolonged chronic malnutrition. This was angrily disputed by Labour politicians, eager to point out the effect of all that free juice, cod liver oil and milk on Britain’s children. But the people were on the side of Dr Bicknell. The fact that the ‘good things’ were still in short supply had left the way open for the growth of a black market (complete with ‘spivs’) and therefore for the demand for a restoration of the free play of market forces and, at least, something like a free market in food.

Apart from Ellen Wilkinson’s tragic death in 1947, other ministers falling ill, and still others becoming disillusioned, the Labour leadership had also begun to fracture along ideological lines in 1948.  The economy had been doing rather better than in the dark year of 1947 and though still short of dollars, the generosity of the Marshall Plan aid in 1948 had removed the immediate sense of crisis. By 1949, it was estimated to have raised the country’s national income by ten per cent. Responding to the national mood of revolt over restrictions and shortages, Harold Wilson had announced a ‘bonfire of controls’ in 1948 and there seemed some chance that Labour ministers would follow the change in national mood and accept that the people wanted to spend, not only to queue. The restrictions on bread, potatoes and preserves were lifted first, but milk, tea, sugar, meat, bacon, butter, fats and soap remained on ration, the fresh meat allocation being a microscopic eight pennyworth a week. Sweets had been rationed since 1940 and were not taken off ration until April 1949 when the picture below was taken.

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‘Austerity’ was a word reiterated remorselessly by the anti-Labour press. If life was austere, however, it was better for the working-class majority than it had been in the years before the war and Britain’s industry was expanding. Full employment, never achieved until the Second World War, stimulated the private expectations and aspirations of large numbers of people who had been ‘deprived’ before 1939, though they themselves had not always recognised it. For those who preferred society to operate according to plan on the basis of one single aspiration, like winning the war or after the war achieving socialism, the new pluralism of motives and pressures and the growth of business agencies which could influence or canalise them were dangerous  features of the post-war world which contained as yet unfulfilled potential. One thing was clear: No one wished to return to the 1930s, and no one talked of returning ‘normalcy’ as they had done during the 1920s. That way back would have been deliberately closed even if it had proved possible to keep it open.

Culture and Society:

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Some of the most eloquent cultural moments in the life of post-war Britain had religious themes, like the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, with its tapestries by Graham Sutherland. Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was written for the consecration of the new Cathedral building. This did not take place until 1962, but the story of the reconstruction began in the years after the war when a replica of the cross of nails made from the ruins (seen above in 1940) was given to Kiel in Germany as a sign of friendship and a symbol of reconciliation. A stone from the ruins of Kiel Cathedral was given to Coventry in return. This is the Kiel Stone of Forgiveness, now in the Chapel of Unity in the New Cathedral. Also in the late forties, a group of young Germans arrived in Coventry and helped to clear the rubble from one corner of the ruined cathedral. It became the Centre for International Understanding, where young people from all nationalities met through the work of the Community of the Cross of Nails. Through this work, Coventry soon became twinned with fifty-three cities and towns throughout the world. Post-war Britain’s major poet, the American-born T. S. Eliot, was an outspoken adherent of the Church of England. His last major work of poetry, The Four Quartets, is suffused with English religious atmosphere, while his verse drama, Murder in the Cathedral addressed an iconic moment in English ecclesiastical history. In 1948, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It could fairly be said that during these years there existed an Anglican sensibility, a particularly English, sometimes grave, sometimes playful, Christianity, with its own art and thought. It was, in the main, a limited and élite movement, but it did sometimes connect with wider currents in British Society.

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In the Britain of the late forties, the continuing influence of the established church was in evidence in the way that divorce still carried a strong stigma, across classes and reaching to the highest. Divorced men and women were not welcome at court. Homosexuality was still illegal and vigorously prosecuted. People clung to their traditional values since the war had shaken everyone’s sense of security, not just those who had served in it, but the bombed, evacuated and bereaved as well. The beginning of the Cold War underlined that underlying sense of the fragility of life. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that there was a profound turn towards the morality of hearth and home and a yearning for order, predictability and respectability, in the street and neighbourhood, if not in the wider world. There was certainly a demand for political reform, but the British people were still, fundamentally, socially conservative.

In the summer of 1948, the Labour Government tried to cheer up ‘Austerity Britain’ by staging the Olympic Games in London. The games were a triumph in a war-scarred, rubble-strewn city, during which the athletes were put up in old army camps, colleges and hospitals. The Union Jack was missing for the opening parade, but cost overruns were trivial and security was barely an issue. The games involved nearly five thousand competitors from fifty-nine countries. Though the medal count for the British competitors was very meagre, holding the games was a genuine sign that Britain was back. For all its fragility and frugality, this was still a country that could organise itself effectively. Football was back too. By the 1948/49 season, the third since the resumption of top-flight football after the second world war, there were more than forty million attendances at matches. There was a general assumption that British football was the finest there was, something seemingly confirmed the previous May when a Great Britain team had played against a team grandly if inaccurately described as The Rest of the World (it comprised Danes, Swedes, a Frenchman, Italian, Swiss, Czech, Belgian, Dutchman and Irishman), thrashing them 6-1. That illusion was soon to be dispelled in the early fifties, with the emergence of the ‘golden team’ of the ‘Mighty Magyars’ among others.

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But at a club level, this was a golden age of football. The stands were open and smelly, the crowds were unprotected, there were no floodlights and the greatest stars of the post-war era were still to emerge. But football was relatively uncorrupt and was still, essentially, about local teams supported by local people. On the pitch, play was ‘clean’ and honest: Stanley Matthews, the son of a barber from Stoke, already a pre-war legend who went on to play in the cup final of 1953, aged thirty-eight and whom I saw play in a charity match in the early seventies, only a couple of years after his retirement from top-flight football, was never cautioned throughout his long career. In June 1948 Stan Cullis, who in contrast to Matthews, had retired as a player in 1947 at the tender age of 31, became the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, literally the ‘old gold’ team of the then first division, according to the colour of their shirts. Cullis was a tough, uncompromising and inspirational manager who steered ‘Wolves’ through the most successful decade in their history. In 1947/48 Wolves ended the season fifth, and a year later were sixth, also winning the FA Cup, beating Leicester City in the final at Wembley. Two of the ‘legends’ of this period are shown in the pictures above and below, the little ‘winger’, Johnny Hancocks and captain Billy Wright, who also captained England.

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Another great footballer of the late forties was Arsenal’s Denis Compton, who was still more famous for his cricket, which again became hugely popular after the interruption caused by the war. Some three million people had watched the ‘Test matches’ against South Africa in 1947 and Compton’s performance then and in the following seasons produced a rush of English pride. The cricket-writer  Neville Cardus found in Compton the image of sanity and health after the war: There was no rationing in an innings by Compton. In cricket, as in football, many of the players were the stars of pre-war days who had served as Physical Training instructors or otherwise kept their hand in during hostilities; but with the Yorkshire batsman Len Hutton also back in legendary form at the Oval Test, cricket achieved a level of national symbolism that it has never reached since. As with football, the stars of post-war cricket could not expect to become rich on the proceeds, but they could become national heroes. Hutton went on to become England’s first professional cricket captain in 1952; Compton first came int decent money as the face of Brylcreem adverts. The new rules of the Football League meant that players could earn up to twelve pounds per week.

The Welfare State Established:

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In summer of 1948, on 5th July, the National Health Service, the brainchild of Aneurin Bevan (pictured below), opened its doors for business. There was a flood of people into the surgeries, hospitals and chemists. The service was funded directly from taxation, not from the new National Insurance Scheme which also came into being that year. That too was a fantastic feat of organisation, providing for a comprehensive system of social security, family allowances, and compensation for injury at work. A new office to hold twenty-five million contribution records plus six million for married women was needed. It had to be huge and was built in Newcastle by prisoners of war; at the same time, a propeller factory was taken over to run family allowances. The work of six old government departments was brought into a new ministry. Jim Griffiths, the Labour minister pushing it all through wanted a thousand local National Insurance offices ready around the country, and after being told a hundred times that all this was quite impossible, he got them. The level of help was rather less than Beveridge himself had wanted, and married women were still treated as dependents; there was much to be argued for over the next sixty years. Nevertheless, the speed and energy with which this large-scale task was accomplished represented a revolution in welfare, sweeping away four centuries of complicated, partial and unfair rules and customs in just six years.

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The creation of the National Health Service, which Beveridge thought essential to his wider vision, was a more confrontational task. Britain had had a system of voluntary hospitals and clinics before the war, which varied wildly in size, efficiency and cleanliness. Also, a number of municipal hospitals had grown out of the original workhouses in the late twenties and thirties. Some of these, in progressive cities like Birmingham and Nottingham, as well as in London, were efficient, modern places whose beds were usually kept for the poor. Others were squalid. Money for the voluntary hospitals came from gifts, charitable events, direct payments and a hotchpotch of insurance schemes. By the time the war ended, the majority of Britain’s hospitals had been brought under a single national emergency service. The question was, what should happen next?  Should they be nationalised or allowed to return to local control? A similar question hung over family doctors. ‘GPs’ depended on private fees, though most of them also took poor patients through some form of insurance scheme. When not working from home or a surgery, they would often double up operating in municipal hospitals where, as non-specialists, they sometimes hacked away incompetently. But the voluntary insurance schemes excluded many elderly people, housewives and children, who therefore put off visiting the doctor at all unless they were in great pain or grave danger. The situation with dental care and optical services was similar; they were not available to those without the means to pay for them.

Labour was, therefore, determined to provide the first system of medical care, free at the point of need, there had been in any Western democracy. Although comprehensive systems of health care existed elsewhere, most notably in Germany, these were funded by national insurance, rather than through direct taxation. ‘Nye’ Bevan’s simple idea and his single biggest decision were to take all the hospitals, voluntary and municipal, into a single nationalised system. It would have regional boards, but would all come under the Ministry of Health in London. This was an act of heroic self-confidence on his part. For the first time, a single politician would take responsibility for every hospital in Britain, with the exception of a few private ones. Herbert Morrison, a municipal socialist, was against this centralisation of power but was brushed aside by Bevan.

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A far more significant threat to Bevan’s ‘project’ was posed by the doctors themselves. Their opposition meant that the implementation of his simple idea was a far more complicated process than ever Bevan himself could have anticipated. The doctors, led by the Conservative-leaning British Medical Association (BMA), had it in their power to stop the NHS dead in its tracks by simply refusing to work for it. They were genuinely concerned about their status in the new service; would they be mere state functionaries? They were also suspicious of Bevan, and not without good reason, as he effectively wanted to nationalise them, making them state employees, paid directly out of public funds, with no private fees allowed. This would mean a war with the very men and women trusted by millions to cure and care for them. Bevan, a principled but pragmatic socialist, was also a skilful diplomat. He began by wooing the senior consultants in the hospitals. The physicians and surgeons were promised they could keep their lucrative pay beds and private practices. Bevan later admitted that he had stuffed their mouths with gold. Next he retreated on the payment of fifty thousand GPs, promising them that they could continue to be paid on the basis of how many patients they treated, rather than getting a flat salary. This wasn’t enough, however, for when polled only ten per cent of doctors said that they were prepared to work for the new NHS. As July approached, there was a tense political stand-off. Bevan continued to offer concessions, while at the same time fiercely criticising the doctors’ leaders, labelling them a small body of politically poisoned people who were sabotaging the will of the people, as expressed through Parliament. In the end, Bevan was backed by a parliamentary majority and, after more concessions and threats, they gave way. Yet it had been a long, nasty, divisive battle between a conservative professional élite and their new socialist ‘masters’.

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Almost immediately, there were complaints about the cost and extravagance, and about the way the provision of materials not previously available produced surges in demand which had not previously existed. There was much anecdotal evidence of waste and misuse. The new bureaucracy was cumbersome. It is also possible to overstate the change since most people had had access to some kind of some kind of affordable health care before the NHS came into being. However, such provision was patchy and excluded many married working-class women in particular. The most important thing it did was to take away fear. Before it, millions at the ‘bottom of the pile’ had suffered untreated hernias, cancers, toothache, ulcers and all kinds of illness, rather than face the anxiety and humiliation of being unable to afford treatment. That’s why there are many moving accounts of the queues of unwell, impoverished people surging forward for treatment in the early days of the NHS, arriving in hospitals and doctors’ waiting rooms for the first time not as beggars but as citizens and taxpayers. As Andrew Marr has commented,

If there was one single domestic good that the British took from the sacrifices of the war, it was a health service free at the point of use. We have clung to it tenaciously ever since and no mainstream party has dared to suggest taking it away.

Nationalisation: Political Idealism and Economic Reality.

The same could not be said of some of Labour’s other nationalisation ‘projects’. The first, that of the Bank of England, sounded dramatic, but it had no real impact. Exactly the same men stayed in power, following the same monetary policies. I have dealt with the nationalisation of the coal industry and the establishment of the NCB on 1 January 1947 in a previous article. In the case of the gas and electricity, these utilities were already part-owned by local authorities, so their nationalisation caused little controversy. Labour had talked about nationalising the railway system from 1908, almost as soon as it became a political party in the wake of the Taff Vale case. The railway system had, in any case, been rationalised in the inter-war period, with the creation of four major companies – London & North-Eastern; Great Western Railway; Southern Railways; London, Midland & Scotland. Periodic grants of public money had been needed for years for years to help the struggling companies out, and the government had taken direct control of the railways at the beginning of the war. The post-war train system was more powerful than the pre-motorway road network, but it was now in dreadful condition and because of the economic crisis and shortage of steel, it would be starved of new investment. Nationalisation without investment was no solution to any of these basic problems. The only people who did well out of it were the original shareholders of the railway companies who were, to their surprise, well compensated. In other forms of transport, road haulage and airlines were also nationalised, as were cable and wireless companies.

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By the time the last big struggle to nationalise an industry was underway, the steel debates of 1948-9, the public attitude towards nationalisation was already turning. The iron and steel industry differed from the coal industry and the railways in that it was potentially highly profitable and had good labour relations. The Labour Government had worked itself up, proclaiming that the battle for steel is the supreme test of political democracy – a test which the whole world will be watching. Yet the cabinet agonised and went ahead only because of a feeling that, otherwise, they would be accused of losing their nerve. In the debates in the Commons, Labour backbenchers rebelled. The steel owners were organised and vigorous, the Tories were regaining their spirits and Labour were, therefore, having a torrid time. Cripps told the Commons: If we cannot get nationalisation of steel by legal means, we must resort to violent methods. They did get it, but the industry was little shaken. It needed new investment almost as much as the coal mines and the railways – new mills, coke ovens, new furnaces. Again, nationalisation did not deliver this.

However hard the Tories tried, they failed to make Clement Attlee look like a British Stalin. The Labour Government was, in any case, at pains to make its collectivist programme look patriotically legitimate. After all, taking twenty per cent of the economy into public ownership was called ‘nationalisation’, and the proposed new public enterprises were likewise to be given patriotic corporate identities: British Steel, the British Overseas Airways Corporation, British Railways. The effort was to recast the meaning of being British as a member of a community of shared ownership, shared obligations and shared benefits: Co-op Britain. And because the Labour Party had such huge majorities in Wales, Scotland and the most socially damaged areas of industrial England, it would, at last, be a Britain in which rich southern England did not lord it over the poor-relation regions. It would be one whole Britain, not a nation divided into two, as it had been in the thirties. George Orwell, who wrote 1984 in 1948, had vividly described the divided Britain of that decade, and he now had great hopes that if the British people…

… can keep their feet, they can give the example that millions of human beings are waiting for. … By the end of another decade it will finally be clear whether England is to survive … as a great nation or not. And if the answer is to be ‘Yes’, it is the common people who must make it so.

Taking up Orwell’s theme, Asa Briggs has suggested that the forties need to be treated as one period of The People’s War and Peace. Britain had emerged from the War changed but not destroyed and this time, in Orwell’s terms, the right family members would be in control. From the very beginning, the Labour Government was not insulated from the perennial headaches and imperatives of twentieth-century British government – monetary viability, industrial over-capacity and, especially, imperial or post-imperial global defence. The only option it had, apart from shouldering those familiar burdens and getting on with building the New Jerusalem as best they could, was to plunge into a much more far-reaching programme of collectivisation, Keynesian deficit financing, disarmament and global contraction. But that was never actually on the cards because the Labour ministers were not cold-blooded social revolutionaries committed to wiping the slate clean and starting again. The ‘slate’ was Britain; its memories, traditions, institutions, not least the monarchy. Attlee, Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison were emotionally and intellectually committed to preserving it, not effacing it. They were loyal supporters of what Orwell called The Lion and the Unicorn (1941). Perhaps appropriately, Orwell died, still young, as ‘his’ decade came to an end, in January 1950, after he had warned of the danger of a dystopian Britain elevating collectivism over individual liberty.

The decision to keep an independent nuclear deterrent, and to sustain the projection of British power in Asia (through Hong Kong) and even more significantly in the Middle East, came at a huge price: $3.5 billion, to add to the estimated cost of the war, $10.5 billion. In 1948, defence spending had risen to seven per cent of GDP, and four years later to 10.5 per cent, incomparably higher than for any other European state. American help was desperately needed, so Bevin’s goal of keeping Britain independent in its foreign policy of the United States actually had the effect of deepening its long-term economic dependence. But the capital infusion, according to Cripps and others, would jump-start the economy as well as pay for investment in new infrastructure, after which surging economic growth would take care of the debt burden. The most idealistic assumption of all was that public ownership of key industries, the replacement of the private profit incentive by a cooperative enterprise, would somehow lead to greater productivity.  There were periods in 1948 when, in expert-led mini-surges, it looked as though those projections were not as unrealistic a diagnosis as they were to prove in the long-term. Britain was benefitting from the same kind of immediate post-war demand that it had experienced in 1918-19; the eventual reckoning with the realities of shrinking exports, as thirty years before, was merely postponed.

Labour was always divided between ideological socialists and more pragmatic people, but there was no real necessity for the party to have a row with itself towards the end of its first majority government, having successfully negotiated so many rapids. The problem was a familiar one. As the bill for maintaining pseudo-great power status and welfare state benevolence mounted, so did doubts and misgivings about the premises on which it had been thought the armed New Jerusalem could be funded. The government’s foreign policy initiatives had encountered serious difficulties. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin negotiated Marshall Aid for Britain from the USA in 1949, and in the same year helped organise the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). But the price of such security and the maintenance of a place at the top table of international politics was high. American B-29 bombers stationed in East Anglia from 1948, were set to acquire nuclear capacity in 1950. As a result, the government had to accept inflated defence estimates, which also included increased costs for conventional tanks and planes. Should money be concentrated first on Britain’s overseas commitments, especially her large armies in the Middle East and facing the Russians across the German border; or on protecting the social advances at home?

Britain could not afford to be a great power in the old way, but neither could she afford to spend the Marshall Plan aid windfall mainly on better welfare, while other countries were using it to rebuild their industrial power. In the end, the government had to accept the need for cuts in welfare spending, leading to the resignation of Aneurin Bevan, who was determined to protect his ground-breaking achievement, the NHS, and Harold Wilson. The revised estimates helped to fuel a balance of payments crisis since the nationalisation programme had failed to provide the increased productivity the government had hoped for. Stafford Cripps, who had only a year earlier had been the most ardent ‘collectivist’ in the cabinet became, in 1949, an equally determined advocate of the mixed economy. He was forced to retire from the cabinet and the House in 1950 to replaced as Chancellor by Hugh Gaitskell. The socialist idealism of 1945-8 was put on hold, and Labour never returned to it, replacing it with ‘Gaitskillism’. With the benefit of hindsight, the post-war Labour years were a time almost cut off from what followed from 1950 onwards. So much of the country’s energy had been sapped by war; what was left focused on the struggle for survival. With Britain industrially clapped-out mortgaged to the hilt to the USA and increasingly bitter about the lack of a post-war ‘ dividend’, it was perhaps not the best time to start building The New Jerusalem. Most attempts at forced modernisation quickly collapsed; the direction of factories to the depressed areas produced little long-term benefit; companies encouraged to export at all costs were unable to re-equip and prepare themselves for tougher markets. In addition, inflation, which would become a major part of the post-war story, appeared, at three per cent in 1949-50.

Conclusion: A ‘Peaceful Revolution‘?

Between 1945 and 1949 the Labour Government undertook a programme of massive reform. It has been called ‘the quiet’ or ‘the peaceful revolution’. Just how far this is an accurate description and a valid judgement is debatable. It was certainly peaceful, but far from ‘quiet’. Jim Griffiths, Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps all had to use coercive methods at times against active and organised resistance both in Parliament and outside. Whether the reforms were revolutionary or evolutionary is an issue which needs careful consideration. The debate was not about whether a Welfare State was needed, it was about the means by which it would be achieved. The issues of individualism versus collectivism, central control versus local control, competition versus cooperation, and reality and illusion can all be identified.

The degree of success which historians ascribe to these reforms depends on what he sees as ‘the Welfare State’. As Bédarida (1979) argued, there are at least three possible definitions for this enigmatic concept. The ‘official’ definition, as it appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary as early as 1955, was a polity so organised that every member of the community is assured of his due maintenance with the most advantageous conditions possible for all. As a historical interpretation, he refers to five points enunciated by Bruce in The Coming of the Welfare State which referred to the aims and objectives of a welfare state. He rejects this as a narrow, rather technical definition … amounting to little more than the enlargement of the social services. He argues that the phrase must be allowed to take on a wider sense, as a symbol for the structure of post-war Britain, a society with a mixed economy and full employment, …

… where individualism is tempered by State intervention, where the right to work and a basic standard of living are guaranteed, and the working-class movement, now accepted and recognised, finds its rightful place in the nation.

By its own admission Labour’s ‘revolution’ must be seen in the perspective of ‘evolution’. The key word (or phrase) is ‘social justice’. Without in the least denying the collectivist principles inscribed on Labour’s tablets, the revolution found its main inspiration in two Liberals: first Beveridge, then Keynes. These were the two masterminds whose ideas guided Labour’s actions. …

In seeking to determine the significance of the Welfare State one must bear three points in mind. Firstly, to use the word ‘revolution’  is to devalue its meaning. … In the second place, the arrival of the Welfare State was situated in the mainstream  of the history of democratic freedom, linking the pioneers of the London Corresponding Society with the militants of the Independent Labour Party, the Benthamites, with the Fabians, the Nonconformist conscience with Christian Socialism. … Finally, if the Welfare State was the grandchild of Beveridge and Keynes, it was no less the child of Fabians, since it concentrated on legislative, administrative and centralising methods to the detriment of ‘workers’ control’. But in thus stamping on any frail aspiration towards a libertarian organisation of society, Labour laid itself open to a charge that would weigh heavily on it in the future, namely, namely that of wanting to impose a bureaucratic form of socialism. …

The ‘Welfare State’ was not just a Labour ‘project’ or ‘programme’. Apart from its Liberal ‘grandfathers’, even Tory supporters were behind this desire for change and reform. It is significant that the inventor of the term was that pillar of the Establishment (and yet advocate of Christian Socialism), the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple. No one would doubt that the achievements of the Labour Government of 1945-50 were considerable. They undertook the massive task of social reconstruction and social transformation with vigour and attempted to establish a new social order. Yet their success in this area must be viewed against their economic failures, not to mention their foreign policy. The creation of the Welfare State did not, really, involve a transformation of society. It was, to a considerable degree, a substitute for it.

Sources:

Andrew Marr (2007), A History of Modern Britain. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Simon Schama (2002), A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire, 1776-2000. London: BBC Worldwide.

Richard Brown & Christopher Daniels (1982), Documents and Debates: Twentieth-Century Britain. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

John Shipley (2003), Wolves Against the World: European Nights, 1953-1980. Stroud: Tempus Publishing.

John Gorman (1980), To Build Jerusalem: A Photographic Remembrance of British Working Class Life, 1870-1950. London: Scorpion Publications.

Asa Briggs et. al. (eds.) (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Theo Barker (ed.) (1978), The Long March of Everyman. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 

 

Posted May 29, 2018 by TeamBritanniaHu in Abdication, Affluence, Anglican Reformation, anti-Semitism, Austerity, Birmingham, British history, Christian Faith, Christian Socialism, Christianity, Church, Civilization, Co-operativism, Cold War, Commemoration, Commonwealth, Coventry, decolonisation, democracy, Egalitarianism, Empire, Eugenics, Europe, Factories, Family, Germany, homosexuality, Immigration, India, Integration, Ireland, Jerusalem, Jews, Literature, Marriage, Middle East, Midlands, Migration, Militancy, Monarchy, morality, Mythology, Narrative, National Health Service (NHS), nationalisation, Nationality, Nonconformist Chapels, Normalcy, Population, Poverty, Reconciliation, Remembrance, Second World War, Trade Unionism, Unemployment, Welfare State, West Midlands, World War Two

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The Long March of Every Woman: Gender, ‘Community’ & Poverty in British Labour History, 1928-38; III.   Leave a comment

Chapter Three: Patterns of Poverty & Kinship Networks.

The predominance of ‘King Coal’ in the valleys of South Wales was revealed in the occupational statistics of the 1921 Census, showing that more than seventy-five percent of the total occupied male occupation in the Garw Valley was engaged in mining, with only five percent engaged in commerce, finance or the professions. An equally important statistic was that only twelve percent of the female population, aged twelve and over, was ‘occupied’ outside the home, with thirty-nine percent of this number engaged in personal service and thirty-seven percent in commerce, finance and the professions. In addition, besides the eight clergymen in Pontycymmer in 1926, there were only three other ‘private residents’. Outside the home, the world of waged work was overwhelmingly male and working class, even more so than in the towns at the heads of the valleys.

By 1931, there was no evidence to suggest that unemployment had prompted a shift in employment patterns in the Garw. According to the industry tables, which excluded the unemployed, more than four-fifths in the Ogmore and Garw Urban District were to be found in mining. There was an increase in the proportion of both male and female workers in commerce, finance and the professions, but only thirty percent of women were to be found in this category; there was still more than thirty-six percent in personal service. These ‘dead-end’ valleys were so dependent upon coal-mining that the ‘knock-on’ effect which unemployment in that industry had upon other industries and trade within them, had nothing to counteract it. Merthyr and Brynmawr, by comparison, could at least offer themselves as shopping, distributive and entertainment centres to a large number of people within a wide radius.

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A Section of the 1921 Edition of the Ordnance Survey Map showing the Garw Valley from Blaengarw to Pontycymmer.

In June 1937, it was reported that the coal industry had been in recovery since January, with each of the three collieries in Blaengarw working at full pressure… with bright prospects of regular employment. In these six months, many new hands had been taken on, resulting in a steady decline in the numbers signing on at the local exchange. Later that year, the new oil-from-coal plant at Wentarw and the beginning of full production at the Bridgend shell-filling factory relieved the unemployment situation still further. The first of these provided work for between two and three thousand workers; the second went on to become the largest ammunition filling factory in Britain, employing 34,000 workers at its wartime peak. It also altered the gender balance in employment, as the majority of these new workers were women and girls drawn from a wide radius around Bridgend and from as far afield as Aberdare. A third means of relief was the establishment of a trading estate at Port Talbot, which also recruited many female workers. By August 1939 there were just twelve percent registered unemployed at the Pontycymmer exchange in the Garw and the insured population had risen dramatically, by fifty-five percent between July 1937 and July 1938, almost regaining its 1926 level. Besides the recovery in the coal industry, a significant part of the increase must have been to the numbers of young women who entered employment for the first time to work in Bridgend.

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Therefore, the coal villages of the Garw Valley, for so long so overwhelmingly dominated by male employment, were undergoing a process of major transformation, which was further accelerated by the advent of war. The Garw valley undoubtedly enjoyed a significant share of these new industries from 1937 onwards, with the economic focus of the valleys as a whole shifting from top to bottom. However, both the establishment of the new industries and the recovery of the collieries still left a residual problem of unemployment among older men throughout the valleys, not just in the communities at the valley heads. In many mining families, like the Allports in Pant-y-gog in the Garw, the wives had also been shop-keepers, taking as much as a hundred pounds a day in the prosperous early twenties. By 1927 this prosperity had turned into a struggle for survival. The children recalled how…

… the shop kept going but people got poorer and unemployment crept in… The amount of money coming into the shops got less and less and we were practically giving the stuff away, making no profit. The windows became empty and the bottles of sweets went. Eventually we stopped taking any stock… the trade in the shop had gone; there was insufficient to live on. The shop was only rented and we gave it up. I think mother had something for the goodwill, not very much because the trade had gone.

Thus, the effects of widespread unemployment and impoverishment were often felt most acutely by shopkeepers in terms of a comparative fall in the standard of living and this was precisely the group which were least able either to ask for or to find support within mining communities. Despite their involvement in institutional activities, especially in chapel life, there would inevitably be a certain ‘distance’ between them and mining families, even members of the shopkeepers’ family worked as miners.

These points are exemplified, in pathetic detail, by events of July 1928 concerning one shop-keeping family in the valley. The Glamorgan Gazette reported how one Saturday morning, Blaengarw was plunged into gloom and overwhelmed by poignant sorrow when the bodies of a married shop-keeping couple, who had carried on a grocery business in Nanthir Road, Blaengarw for many years and were faithful adherents of Tabernacle C M Church. The tragedy became the sole topic of conversation and when the bodies were brought home on Saturday afternoon an immense crowd had collected, women shedding tears at the pitiable sight they witnessed. The couple had commenced on the bottom rung of the ladder and had worked their way up to being ‘comfortably off’ before the strike of 1921. However, since that date, they had given all of their surpluses away in goods to local people and were threatened with bankruptcy. They were both in their mid-forties and had a fourteen-year-old son. The woman was the daughter of a former under-manager at the Ocean Colliery and her brother was a teacher in the Garw. Her husband wrote the following messages for their niece, their son, and the chapel:

Goodbye, Gwyneth fach; always serve God well… Oh! How hard it is to leave you behind, Ewryd annwyl… but we can’t bear the strain any longer…

Christian friends… we have been unable to do our part for a long time owing to financial troubles… Haven’t done anyone wilfully down, but all is against us.

The funeral was reported a representative of every trade and profession in the district. The suicide was seen as a marker of the loss of power and status endured by the community as a whole since it stemmed from the couple’s sense of isolation, demoralisation, and loss of respectability. As the depression progressed, their case was followed by others.

Housing conditions in the valley varied a great deal. Houses in Pant-y-gog, lower down the valley, were comfortable and spacious, with a parlour, living room, kitchen and three bedrooms. Those renting terraced cottages from the colliery companies frequently had three adults and eight children living in fur rooms.  One house in Nanthir Road, Blaengarw not only ad an outside toilet but an outside water supply and pantry as well, no modernisation anywhere. Many of the houses were erected in the 1880s before housing bylaws were introduced to the Garw Valley, and the degree of control exercised over housing stock by the coal companies was far greater than in the heads of the valleys’ towns. In 1926 the Ogmore and Garw UDC had discussed the acute housing shortage within the District, and the following year it heard how a terrace in Pontycymmer was plagued with dampness, extensive dilapidation and cracked external walls which were leaning dangerously towards the road. The report went on:

Movement of the houses is occuring almost daily, as evidenced by falls of plaster from bedroom ceilings. The houses are a source of danger to the inhabitants.

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Porth, in the Rhondda, also suffered continually from ‘subsidence’ because deep pits found their own levels, downwards. According to Gwyn Thomas, who grew up there in the 1920s, these land-slips not only brought houses down, quite literally, but they had a further impact on a community already coming to terms with economic instability:

…the valley seemed like a living gloss on the holy texts. We saw clear signs of God’s wrath in the antics of the sub-soil. When the foundations beneath a house slipped ans set the rooms awry we could not be convinced that the tenants had not been up to something… A whole culture of instability flourished. Constant oratorios were warned that our game of insolence with God had been lost and the final bill would be delivered shortly… it was the malaise underfoot that underscored most of the images that we were to carry through life begetting jokes of exasperating stamina, and giving to us all a sense of absurdity that was far and away the fittest thing about us… These elements in our private myth, under pressure of a wider awareness, created their own kind of psychological subsidence.

Despite the worsening conditions of the housing stock, many families were also threatened with eviction. Much of the housing was privately-owned, and evictions for non-payment were a regular occurrence.  In Council-owned property, rent arrears had reached such crisis proportions by May 1931 that the Ogmore and Garw UDC decided to reduce rent by two shillings per week. Many houses were said to be in a dilapidated condition for want of tenants, so it was hoped that, by reducing rents, the UDC would get these occupied again. The collection of rates was also a difficult issue for the local council. As early as 1928, The Glamorgan Gazette commented that large numbers of people in the district who paid their rates willingly in times of prosperity were finding it impossible to do so under the new conditions of poverty. Arrears were mounting alarmingly and it was therefore with the greatest reluctance that the UDC had decided to summon a number of defaulters. In total 144 people were prosecuted and despite the pathos surrounding their undoubtedly bad circumstances, the magistrates were compelled to make orders. This process kept them occupied for several hours, under circumstances which would have taxed the well-known ingenuity and wisdom of Solomon. Most of those who attended were women, most of them having pathetic stories to tell. 

Besides these fixed outgoings for rent and rates, many residents in the valley also made regular contributions to their own health care, and appear to have continued to do so in spite of the impact of the depression on their incomes. There was a widespread feeling in the valleys that the National Health Insurance Scheme provided inadequate cover in times of sickness. Medical Aid Societies and hospital contributory schemes continued to be popular throughout the coalfield. In the Garw there were 3,519 insured contributors to the Garw Valley Medical Society, with a further 2,800 dependents standing to benefit from this. This form of ‘self-help’ was one of the major strengths of the valley, running through an institutional life which some disparaged as the multiplicity of small clubs and benefit societies. Perhaps due to being ‘hemmed in’ geographically, the community felt the need to provide for itself in terms of a complete range of social services, facilities for cultural activities and entertainment as well as forums for discussion, debate and education.

The Pontycymmer Industrial Co-operative Society was perhaps the best example of this. In May 1927 its members totalled 3,444 members with a further 1,400 dependants, and a modest shop in Pontycymmer had developed into extensive central premises with offices, a bakery, a garage and stables. Although its sales within the valley were considerable, they comprised only a third of its total sales of 63,465 pounds throughout the District and beyond. A dividend of a shilling in the pound was paid to members, amounting to 2,694 pounds in total. Having survived the six-month coal stoppage, the Pontycymmer Co-op Society was in good shape to face the depression years and must have enabled many housewives to survive them.

To many working-class women throughout Britain during the thirties, the ‘divi’ was as important as payday and the declaration of the amount to be paid as a dividend on purchases was awaited with desperate anticipation. The dividend on purchases had been a wise element in the pioneers’ scheme of co-operation, for it was popular with the poor, according to their ideas on justice and equity that those who had been most loyal in shopping at the Co-operative should be better regarded and rewarded as consumers. Despite the depression years the Co-ops flourished, having a close knowledge of the requirements of working-class families and the prices they could afford to pay. The cash dividend would be paid twice a year, varying from Society to Society but often paying two shillings in the pound. To a housewife who had traded steadily during the year, the money could bring an additional week’s wages, arriving in time to buy new boots for the children or provide a few luxuries for Christmas.

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Deep loyalty was bred during the inter-war years between working-class families and the Co-operatives, the movement frequently lending support to trade unions at times of distress, as well as to the Labour Party and its MPs. Free boot repairs for hunger marchers, free bread for strikers’ children, extended credit in the form of food vouchers, interest-free loans to unions during prolonged strikes and constant support for the Labour cause through the Co-operative paper, Reynolds News, could not be matched by the Home and Colonial Stores and The Daily Mail, supporting the Conservative Party. The photograph above shows the ‘divi’ at the Co-operative Union in Manchester in the thirties.

Although most ‘respectable’ women in coalfield communities would never go into a pub, and children were not allowed to visit houses where a woman was known to drink, there was a ‘rough’ or ‘common’ sub-culture in public houses and clubs, which does not seem to have suffered unduly from the depression. Judging from the fairly frequent reports of drunkenness in the local press, there were a large number of people in the valley with enough surplus money to be able to buy alcohol on a regular basis. Thomas Baker Williams, the Licensee of the Royal Hotel in Pontycymmer, was summoned for permitting drunkenness on his premises on more than one occasion. At his appearance in Court in June 1928, evidence was given of a night on which the Bridgend Road was, by ten O’clock, crowded with men and women many of whom were drunk and the men were shouting and quarrelling. Two women had started to fight in the jug and bottle department and had used the most filthy language. In all, there were some 250 people on the scene, many of them under the influence of drink. Williams defended himself in somewhat comical style by saying that the cause of the trouble was the fact that he sold the best beer and thereby drew the biggest crowd.

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The Rhondda writer Gwyn Thomas’ 1979 lecture told of how drunkenness in Porth was of a savage intensity, especially on a Saturday night when his family’s street that ran a thousand feet up the hillside filled with a roaring rout of inebriates from the five or six local pubs. There was such frequent and fierce fighting that it was a wonder that murder was not more often done, probably due to the difficulty of placing a good punch on the sloping ground. Thomas recalled a particularly devout and zealous chapel-going neighbour who lay in wait in her little front garden that overlooked the swaying tide of reprobates:

She swung a brass-bound Bible at any heads that came near and if she brained a drunkard or two her week was made. Repairs to her Bible were done free by a pious locksmith. The desperate infantilism of the drunks was easy to understand because the contract with reality was never more bleakly reaffirmed on the Sabbath than between those hills… The anguish of intelligent, overburdened men with hangovers must have been considerable as the marvellous valley acoustic brought home to them the rub of folly in a double-dealing and wholly inadequate world. The plight of women in that time of dark philogenetic romps and squalors is something from which I still turn my mind.

The choice was clear for women: if you went to the pub, to the ‘snug’ at least, you couldn’t go to the chapel. Nevertheless, much of the social life of the valley continued to revolve around the chapels, despite the financial and other difficulties which beset them. Each of the seventeen places of worship in the valley supported choirs, each with a reputation, and the Tabernacle Welsh Congregational Church Choral Society consisted of over a hundred voices and performed before crowded audiences. Choral festivals, Eisteddfodau and Gymanfa Ganu (Community Singing events) continued to attract huge congregations throughout the thirties. Thus, although many chapels felt at first hand the full impact of the impoverishment of a large number of its members, they were certainly not abandoned by them and left to stagnate in a process of terminal decline. Nor, in turn, did the chapels abandon their unemployed members. In fact, The Gazette reported that the chapels were continually vying with each other in efforts for the alleviation of the widespread distress. 

It was the musical tradition established in the chapels which laid the basis for the Garw’s claim to be one of the most musical valleys in South Wales.  Its musical organisations included the Garw Operatic Society, the Garw Male Voice Society, which enjoyed success at the National Eisteddfod, Garw Ladies’ Choir, the Blaengarw Kit Kat Operatic Society and the Pontycymmer Choral Society. Some of these societies had more than two hundred members and the Male Voice Society had a membership of twice that in 1926. Both Blaengarw and Pontycymmer had orchestral societies and silver bands. The valley also produced individual vocalists of considerable ability, including Jennie Ellis who won ‘the National’ six times. In addition, the valley had a strong amateur dramatic tradition which was enhanced by the writer Jack Jones during his brief sojourn in the valley. Perhaps partly due to his departure, these societies declined after 1931, and some of the orchestras also merged, probably due to the extent of migration from the valley.

From 1928, the predominance of the Labour Party in local politics was strengthened through the active participation of women, who formed themselves into a Women’s Labour Section. Although still in its infancy in 1928, it had over a hundred members. It was pre-dated by a Women’s Section of the ILP, one of whose leading members was Mrs Sarah Jones of Pontycymmer, a pioneer of the ILP and the Suffragette movement, the Chairman of the Party in the valley and a member of the English Congregational Church. The level of political organisation of women in the valley was undoubtedly an important resource for the community, particularly during the 1929 dispute, but also throughout the thirties.

Elsewhere in depressed Britain, Salford in Manchester was aided by the women of Chichester, as a fund had been inaugurated by their Bishop in 1933. The ‘Five Silent Ladies of Sussex’ as they were known, lived in Salford for three months, collecting data. Shortly afterwards, two men’s centres and a woman’s centre were opened. Called “The Challenge”, the women’s centre did not succeed as a centre for single unemployed women, but when it invited married women to join, it was swamped with women and children. They had to cope with the problem of distributing second-hand clothing fairly.  Garments were altered by women who had been mill hands since the age of fourteen but had not learnt to sew. An instructor taught them on two afternoons per week, and the women earned their garments by the number of hours they worked at alterations, as well making bedding. The centre opened a ‘shop’ to organise the distribution of the garments, and Christmas parcels.

Tyneside had about seventy thousand unemployed in 1936. It also had some of the worse housing conditions in Britain, far worse than those in most areas of South Wales, including an incidence of overcrowding which was three-time the national average. It also had an even lower standard of living among the unemployed, but the conditions were more accepted by the local people, since mass unemployment had not been so long-term, resulting mainly from the closure of the shipyards, which did not occur until the 1930s. Social surveys proved scientifically the extent of the social murder in the towns. In 1932, the local branch of the National Council of Women launched a Tyneside Housing Crusade Week in order to present the facts about housing, the cost to the community of bad housing, to stimulate building, relieve unemployment and to demonstrate modern possibilities of living efficiently. Ten Local Authorities out of seventeen took part.

The General Election of 1931 was one of misery for the Labour Party as they fought the most divisive contest in the history of the movement, before or since. Pledged to solve the problem of unemployment, in 1929 the newly-appointed Minister for Unemployment, J H Thomas, had boasted, I have the cure, as he hob-nobbed with bankers and watched the number of registered unemployed soar from 1,163,000 on taking office to 2,500,000 within eighteen months. Wal Hannington, the Communist leader of the workless, remarked sarcastically that as Minister for the Unemployed, J H Thomas is a howling success. The government ignored the arguments of the TUC that cutting expenditure and wages would only cause further unemployment, and accepted the advice of the May Committee to cut expenditure by ninety-six million, two-thirds of which would come from cuts in unemployment maintenance. Ernest Bevin and Walter Citrine led a delegation to the Cabinet Committee and declared total hostility to the cuts. McDonald formed his National Government with the Conservatives and Liberals and the fight was a straight fight between the Labour Party and the other parties in office led by McDonald. Labour representation in the house was cut from 289 to 46. Ernie Bevin, pictured on the left in the photo below, contested the supposedly safe seat of Gateshead (Labour majority 16,700) and lost to the National Liberal, by 12,938 votes.

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At Gateshead, Rev. Maldwyn Edwards, Methodist Minister ran a centre for the unemployed connected to his church, the Central Hall, which he based on a questionnaire completed by its members. This meant that his knowledge and understanding of their problems was outstanding. He later wrote a book which was never published, but it gives an evocative insight into conditions among local families in the 1930s. In 1932, he recorded, there were three and a half thousand families living in one room and nearly thirty percent of the population lived in officially overcrowded housing. In spite of this, most houses were clean, with curtains at the windows which showed a desire for colour and beauty, but these could not hide the grim if silent battles going on inside:

The families had a constant struggle against sickness and poverty, so hope died and they became apathetic. Rats were a real problem in some areas, and the mortality from epidemics in some parts of the town was twice that of other parts.

The diet was inadequate, but most housewives baked their own bread: fresh milk and butter were rare. Breakfast was tea, bread and margarine with a little fried bacon once a week. Dinner on Saturday night might be a hot joint, stew or pot pie, then Monday cold meat, then the rest of the week peas pudding, leek pudding, occasionally fish and chips, or tripe, or just bread and margarine, always with plenty of tea… 

Clothes and household necessities could not be bought outright, so the only thing to do was to get on an agent’s list, so everything was more expensive to the very poor. In 1933 there were thirty-seven children without shoes and stockings, and 138 children with unsatisfactory footwear, so the children least nourished and therefore least fortified against the weather were worst clad.  Secondhand clothing was not easy to come by, but the Personal Service League had a huge emporium for distribution… Some insurance was organised by slate clubs which met in pubs rent-free, but there were also Brotherhood Thrift Clubs and Friendly Societies which had many members and were on a sounder basis…

But many of the unemployed did not belong to a friendly society, but went to the doctor when illness occurred and paid him weekly afterwards. Then there were dispensary letters given to contributors to hospital funds and distributed. But the amount given was half that collected: these were most wasteful of money, time and energy. The Nursing Association of Gateshead supplied a good and cheap service: the householder paid a penny a week which ensured visits from a nurse in time of need.

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It was his first-hand experience of the failure of the friendly societies to organise health insurance schemes which convinced Aneurin Bevan, as a young MP in Ebbw Vale, that there must be a free national health service funded by taxation.

There was a ‘penny in the slot’ gas meter in most homes in Gateshead: most cooking was done over the fire, however, as there were few cookers and practically no electricity installed. Families with pit connections were extravagant with coal, but people who lived in dark and damp houses needed extra heat and light. Sudden illnesses, deaths and emergencies created further expenses which could not be met; debts might mean court proceedings and belongings seized:

A desperate situation might result in a “moonlight flit”. These things were not always the result of improvidence: those who needed a doctor most could not afford to have one. The poor have a monotonous routine: they cannot have a holiday: they pay more for what they need.

The men at Edwards’ Centre were not ‘typical’ as they all belonged to a club in which drinking and gambling were not allowed, but, as the minister himself pointed out, there was no such thing as a typical unemployed man anyway. In general, there was a large amount of street betting, also an interest in boxing, football and dogs, with an alarming growth in the football ‘Pools’. The men at the centre spent an average of threepence ha’penny per head on amusements plus about a shilling per week on tobacco. They may have had a day in the country or at the seaside once or twice a year. There were daily papers provided at the Centre and there were fellowship rambles, cycle rides, services, Brotherhood meetings, young men’s classes, billiards and a mission reading room. But most men could only make use of the club after they had been out looking for work in order to earn their unemployment benefit or allowance. One of the men had been out of work for fifteen years, ever since his demobilisation. ‘Genuinely Seeking Work’ for up to twelve hours a day took its toll on bicycles as well as boots, which restricted the number of bikes available for pleasurable community rides. Often father and son had to share one bicycle in two daily shifts.

Nevertheless, the Centre helped to improve the quality of life in the family, if not the standard of living. One man said that since going to the centre he did not nag his wife and children so much. Another said that walking in the sunshine built him up to face the winter:

Being unemployed is a nightmare, but somehow I thrust away the worried feeling I used to endure, but I lack concentration as work is always at the back of my mind.

Several men gave regular times to help to help their wives, have family walks, and visit their parents. A few visited the Training Centre to do cobbling on a regular basis. One man had done extra-mural university courses, but he too found it difficult to persevere due to…

… the haunting sense of insecurity and the continual worry of not being able to balance the family budget; in times of stress he could not concentrate on subjects of only academic interest, saying, “The stomach does not give the soul a chance!” Unemployment is not leisure: the latter implies peace of mind, a quiet place to retreat, so education for leisure cannot help the unemployed very much if men have acute financial, family and work problems.

Rev. Maldwyn Edwards wrote that the gap between the real needs of people and their actual purchasing power had to be understood: Production does not reach saturation point until every man, woman and child have sufficient for their needs, so it is purchasing power that is needed. People needed goods but could not buy them. He also pointed out that there was important work to be done amongst the wives and children of the unemployed, who often needed more help and support than the men. There were women’s institutes and ‘sisterhoods’ in most towns and villages in the country, but the problems of juveniles, both male and female, needed more thought, especially those of school-leavers, who did not all take advantage of scouts, guides and similar organisations. Mr Edwards thought that no club was better than a church club wisely conducted, since, at the very least, it could offer housing and heating. Some in his congregation thought that the men would not respect the rooms, but Edwards found this to be false and argued that a church should open its doors to the community and make its premises useful to club members who in return may develop an interest in the church.

Men in particular thought that the church was an ally of the ruling classes and dope for the workers. And yes, it was possible to keep talking about the Christian ideal of service without ever doing anything: man cannot live without bread, but he does not live by bread alone. The church’s role was to restore self-respect by showing that each of us is known to God and each of us has an individual destiny to fulfil. But there was no credal test for the membership of the club and the only activity the members of the club were obliged to attend, but which was not compulsory, was the weekly brotherhood meeting every Tuesday afternoon, lasting for ninety minutes and consisting of popular hymns, solos and a devotional address. Naturally, no drinking or gambling was allowed, and card games, whist drives and dancing were forbidden. These prohibitions meant that some men would not associate with the Methodist club, but it was still the largest Centre on the whole of Tyneside. Edwards argued that many other churches could have run an unemployed centre without great extra cost, since the church premises had to be moderately heated anyway, ready for church use. For Edwards, however, the imperative for the church’s involvement lay in the psychological and spiritual effects of unemployment on men and their families:

No one is quicker than the unemployed man himself to feel the loss of his old status, so those who try to help must be careful not to increase his sense of inferiority… The overstrained unemployed man may break out in his family circle, later he may attend classes in economics to try to understand his position, but he feels puny and unavailing… especially if he is over fifty years… it is very difficult to persuade men to cobble shoes, to undertake carpentry, to use the workshop, to continue to attend keep fit classes, because they have lost their initiative and perseverance. The many clubs and centres only touch the fringe of the problem: most unemployed remain behind the curtains of their own rooms in loneliness and bitterness. The black-coated workers are probably in the worst position as they do not come to the Centre or mix with others. There is the fruitless search for work and looking at advertisement files for the thousandth time. It was a particularly galling situation when a son or daughter’s wages were virtually supporting the family. It was hard for the young people but most humiliating for the parents. Employment gives direction to a man – a life without direction is like driftwood upon the sea.

In the midst of mass unemployment, trade depression and crippling poverty, private landlords continued to exact a terrible tribute from the working classes. The conditions in which the vast majority of industrial and agricultural workers lived were appalling, crammed into dilapidated houses that were breeding grounds of pestilence. The slums of Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester and London ranked with the worst in the world and the landlords had first call on the wages of the workers, exacting an average of twenty percent of their income, always enforcible by the power of eviction. In the London Boroughs of St Pancras, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Poplar, Bermondsey and Southwark, four hundred thousand were living more than two to a room. In Shoreditch alone, a hundred thousand people were packed into one square mile. Workers lived in nineteenth-century tenements, like the one shown below, sharing lavatories and taps. Baths in working-class houses were virtually unknown. Others continued to live in basement flats, in a world of perpetual twilight while those fortunate enough to live in a terraced house invariably took in lodgers to meet the rent or shared the house with married sons or daughters.

In 1930, the medical officer of Hammersmith told of a man with a wife and four children living in three rooms, his income forty-five shillings a week, his rent one pound. In St Pancras, where wages were nearer fifty shillings per week, the average rent was eighteen shillings and sixpence. These did not represent the worst instances, neither were they isolated examples, since the stories could be repeated in thousands of homes throughout the land. Poverty, overcrowding and slum conditions existed not only in the ‘depressed areas’ but also, in pockets, throughout the towns and cities, including those in London, the south-East and the Midlands of England. Back-to-back houses with narrow allies between, where a dozen families shared a single communal tap like that depicted in the photograph below of Long Bank, Sunderland, were common in the north of England where overcrowding was endemic. The effects of bad housing and chronic overcrowding of the working classes were accurately reflected in the disparity between the figures for infant mortality and disease for the lower paid against those of the better paid. Tuberculosis, rickets, scarlet fever and diphtheria proliferated among the poor, rotten housing combining with undernourishment to take a wicked toll on the health of working-class children.

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In 1931, the Newport School Medical Officer found that boys at the age of fourteen at the High School were two inches taller and five pounds heavier than their contemporaries at the elementary school while the girls at the municipal secondary school were four inches higher and twenty-one pounds heavier than girls at the elementary schools. In May 1937, the South Wales Report of the Labour Party’s Commission of Enquiry into the Distressed Areas argued that,

Special and immediate attention must be paid to nutrition. All children at school, and all juveniles and young persons receiving education or industrial training under public authorities, should receive a ration of milk and at least one good meal per day, all the year round, free of charge.

Under the maternity and child welfare services, similar provision should be made for children under five, and free milk and food should be available for expectant and nusing mothers wherever needed.                                                                           

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The Commission consisted of Hugh Dalton, MP, George Dallas, JP and Barbara Ayrton Gould, JP., as well as George Hall (MP for Aberdare) and Arthur Jenkins (MP for Pontypool), members in respect of South Wales. Written and/or oral evidence was received from Women’s Sections and Women’s Organisations from all over South Wales. The Commission also issued reports on West Cumberland, Durham and the North-East Coast, Mid-Scotland and Lancashire. A final report dealt with the problem of the Depressed Areas as a whole.

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In earlier surveys of poverty, Booth and Rowntree had developed their own definitions of poverty, but in 1933 the British Medical Association had appointed a committee to determine the minimum weekly expenditure on food which must be incurred by families of a varying size if health and working capacity are to be maintained. In the years before the war (1937-39) this minimum diet cost roughly 7s 6d per week for an adult man, with a lesser cost for women and children. In Bristol, the average cost per man in 1937 was 7s 4d, per woman 14-65, 6s 3d, and for an unemployed man or woman, it was 4s 5d. The cost per child aged 10-13 was 6s 3d, aged 5-9 4s 7d, and aged 0-4, 3s 8d. Thus, for a family made up of a man of forty with a wife who was at home looking after three children aged twelve, eight and four, the cost of the minimum diet necessary to maintain the family in health was 28s 1d. If the family spent less than this on food its health would suffer.

It was from these figures that most investigators in the second half of the thirties built their definitions of poverty. Broadly, they decided that where a family, after paying for rent, the barest minimum for clothes, fuel, lighting and cleaning, had not enough money left to buy this minimum diet, then the family was in poverty. If in the example given already, the man had been earned fifty shillings a week and paid ten shillings for rent, 16s for clothes and 5s 3d for fuel, lighting and cleaning, there would have been available 28s 9d to feed his family of five, they would have been considered to be above the “poverty line”.  Each of the main surveys modified this method of definition slightly; fundamentally, however, they all used it. When applied to a 1928 Survey of London, it was found that nearly ten percent of all working-class families in the city had to live on less than the BMA minimum. The fundamental and persisting causes of this poverty were found to be old age, the absence of a male earner and largeness of family. In addition, thirteen percent of the children and twenty-two percent of all those over sixty-four years of age in London’s working-class families were in poverty.

In any particular week, however, the numbers of those chronically impoverished would be substantially augmented by those falling temporarily below the minimum income line as a result of unemployment or illness. In any selected week of the generally prosperous year of 1928 almost ten percent of London’s working-class was in poverty, and of these thirty-seven percent were children under fourteen, and thirteen percent were over sixty-four; twenty-eight percent were wage-earners, aged fourteen to sixty-five, mostly unemployed. Practically all the balance of twenty-two percent were the women dependents of the unemployed. The relative importance of the causes of poverty found in the investigation week (out of ten) was unemployment, six, illness or absence of a male earner, three, full employment but on earnings insufficient for the size of the family, two, and old age, one.

In York in 1936, thirty-one percent of York’s working men failed to reach the meagre standard set by Seebohm Rowntree, which was below the BMA standard. The wages of adult males in the city were not, however, abnormally low compared to the rest of the country, but they were too low in relation to the numbers of mouths to be fed. What was judged adequate to remove adequate to remove poverty at most periods of the working man’s life was substantially inadequate when between the ages of thirty and forty-five, he added two or three children to his household. The average family in poverty because of inadequate wages had two dependent children. Children’s allowances at a flat rate of five shillings for every child would have lifted practically the whole of this group over the poverty threshold and wiped out nearly three-quarters of the city’s poverty. Without such an allowance in the 1930s, long years of poverty was the price a low-wage family had to pay for containing three or four children. In addition, nearly fifteen percent of all poverty in the city was caused in families where the elder members were “too old to work”. Their available income was only sufficient to provide seventy percent of the minimum diet. Two-thirds of the people in these households were aged sixty-five or over, and the bulk of their income came from state pensions and Public Assistance. Half of all the old age pensioners in York were, at the time of the survey, living in poverty.

Similar surveys were also carried out on Merseyside (1929), in Southampton (1931), Bristol (1937), and Birmingham (1939). Using the BMA’s London minimum standard, found that up to twenty percent of all working-class families in these centres were living in poverty in the week of the investigation. None of these centres was in the depressed or ‘Special Areas’ and some, like Bristol, were centres of new engineering industries. Summarising the findings of these six surveys, including London and York, the Fabian Society drew the following conclusions on the pattern of poverty in Britain between the wars,  as part of a study published in 1945:

1. In the decade before 1939, even during periods of trade boom, at least fifteen to twenty percent of all working-class people were unable, in spite of all the help of our inter-war social insurance schemes, to afford a diet that would save them from ill-health; but this figure is arrived at only if  we assume that the bottom half of the working-class is sufficiently austere to spend absolutely nothing on the comforts and pleasures of life. If we drop this unreal assumption, then it is certain that more than twenty percent were, in fact, not obtaining the minimum diet.

2. Approximately one-third of this poverty was due to the fact that unemployment benefits were inadequate; approximately another third was due to the fact that the ordinary worker’s earnings, even when he was in full and regular work, were often insufficient to feed, clothe and house more than two or three people. About half the remaining poverty was due to the fact that many working-class people, once they had passed the age of sixty-five, had little to live on except an inadequate old age pension.

3. Probably not less than twenty-five percent of working-class children were born into families that could not afford the BMA minimum diet. As they and their brothers and sisters grew up and started work the family’s hardships diminished… Often, however, this was only an interlude of comparative prosperity for the working-class man; with old age… he was left with declining earning capacity to face a degree of poverty even grimmer than that in which his grandchildren were starting life.

4. The evidence collected from half-a-dozen great cities in the ten years before the war shows that the way out of this dreary cycle is not, for the most part, in the hands of the individual worker.

Richard Titmuss’ studies in Poverty and Population, published in 1938, also looked back over the previous decade in an attempt to survey the extent, character and causes of social waste and relate the findings to the problem of an ageing and diminishing population. These studies had to be quarried from hard factual bedrock in order to break through governmental apathy and ineptitude. Titmuss set out to analyse two factors which were of great significance:

(1) that those regions suffering from economic under-privilege and most exposed to malnutrition-inducing conditions contain by far a higher proportion of our children; and…

(2) that it is only higher fertility in these regions that has prevented an earlier and probably calamitous fall in the size of the population.

He produced statistics showing that in 1936 over ten percent of deaths in south Wales occurred in children under four, compared with 8.5% in the south East of England. Infant mortality was sixty-three per thousand deaths in south Wales, compared with just forty-seven in south-east England. He calculated that five thousand excess deaths occurred among infants under one in the North of England and Wales during 1936, amounting to approximately excess deaths in the five years since the slump of 1931. Deaths from measles were twice as high in Wales as in England and Wales as a whole, implying a widespread prevalence of rickets… malnutrition and poverty. In the period 1931-35, whilst south-east England showed a considerable improvement in the number of infant deaths, South Wales showed a continuing deterioration.

Similarly, maternal mortality rates in south Wales were well over twice those in south-east England and Titmuss felt able to state that if the maternal mortality rates in the North of England and in south Wales had been the same as those for Greater London, the lives of nearly six hundred mothers would have been saved in those regions. Female deaths from tuberculosis in the 15-35 age range in south Wales were seventy percent above the average for England and Wales as a whole. From this series of statistics, Titmuss went on to calculate that the number of avoidable, premature deaths among women in the North of England and Wales in 1936, a year of relative prosperity, was 54,000 and that the number over the previous ten years was probably of the order of half a million.

These high levels of infant, child and maternal mortality can only be fully understood when it is realised that forty percent of the total child population in England and Wales was concentrated in northern England and Wales at this time, compared with thirty-eight percent in south-east England. H W Singer’s 1937 unpublished study for the Pilgrim Trust, Unemployment and Health is helpful in separating out the economic and social causes of mortality. It isolates the effect of the general trade depression of 1929-34 from the long-term factors related to climate, housing and the quality of social services in the different regions. Correlating the unemployment statistics for these five years with a range of health indices for seventy-seven boroughs throughout England and Wales, Singer identified a rise of twenty percent in infant and maternal mortality resulting from rising unemployment and poverty during this period.

None of the data examined by Singer failed to exhibit some sort of correlation with unemployment, and it was certainly the view of those who visited south Wales that, anecdotally, there was a direct qualitative correlation between the economic distress of the population and their health. They reported that levels of health and welfare provision in south Wales were greatly inferior to those in other regions though varying considerably within the Region itself. In his 1937 Portrait of a Mining Town, Philip Massey pointed out that the majority of the unemployed in Blaina and Nantyglo, a coalfield community with one of the highest recorded unemployment levels throughout the thirties, could be described as having a diet which was inadequate for perfect health in all the constituents considered by Sir John Orr’s standard, set out in his 1936 report, Food, Health, and Income. Those families whose weekly expenditure on food was five to seven shillings per head would have a diet which was adequate only in total proteins and total fat. Those families with members in work were able to afford total expenditure of up to nine shillings per head on food, providing a diet adequate in energy value, protein and fat, but below standard in minerals and vitamins. 

Massey also confirmed the view of Titmuss, Singer and others that it was the women in these coalfield communities who suffered most in terms of health in a variety of ways. Whilst the men seemed to look their age, except for those obviously suffering from industrial diseases, the women generally looked older than they were due to the hour by hour strain of making do and the lack of holidays or any opportunity to leave the home apart from the weekly shopping or the occasional visit to the cinema. Women were often reluctant to enter a hospital, in cases of childbirth and illness, as they thought that the household would get into a muddle in their absence. Massey also noted that there was no birth control clinic in the district and that many women, fearful of having to rear more children on the dole, would undermine their health by the use of aperients. Even in those households with men in work in the mines, the reliance of the mine owners on the shift system to keep the pits open took its toll on the women in those homes, as a Durham miner, Monty Lowther, later recalled for the BBC:

We lived in a colliery house, and me mother, she was such a conscientious woman she would never go to bed except on a Saturday, because you had me father in one shift, our Jimmy in another shift, me in another shift and Tommy in another.

And it sometimes meant the clock round, one coming in and one going out, and she was so conscientious that if there was an hour or two hours to spare between one and the other, she would just sit in the rocking chair in front of the fire, and I’ve known for months on end the only time me mother got to bed was a Saturday night when there was no work at the pit.

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This account is very similar to the personal recollection of Alice Pattison, the daughter of a miner from Horden in Durham who, in turn, found the photos above and below a mirror of her own memories of life in a miner’s cottage during the late twenties and thirties. Her grandmother had five boys, ‘all in the pit’, and because they worked on different shifts, she was tied to a treadmill of endless toil to feed and care for her sons.

Working between the fore-shift (5 a.m. to 1 p.m.), the back-shift (1 p.m. to 9 p.m.) and the night shift (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.), her grandmother also slept at intervals in a rocking-chair by the fire. As each shift ended she had to boil water in the copper pan on the range, or in a bucket on the hob, in readiness to fill the tin bath in front of the fire. She would carry the hot water in an enamel bowl to the bath where the men would kneel beside it, washing away the coal dust from their top half first, all but their backs. They believed that the coal dust strengthened their backs, protecting them from the rock above the narrow seams.

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While her father bathed, Alice would ‘dash’ his pit clothes, banging them against the yard wall to remove the loose dust and then hang them to dry. In some cottages, there was a brass rail fitted above the fire as shown in the second picture. Sometimes there were families of eight or nine working in the colliery, albeit in separate shifts. Usually, the Dad bathed first, then the eldest son down the line to the youngest. Sometimes the children in the household had to go out into the street while their fathers and brothers bathed.

On Thursday nights, Alice’s mother would let the fire die out to clear all the dead ash and clean the range. The range would be blackleaded, the firebricks whitened and the back of chimney polished with blacklead as high as the arm would reach. The brass fender would be shone, the poker polished and ashpan burnished and for a few hours, the altar of family life would be as she loved it to be, spotless. All the cooking would be done on the fire and in the ovens on the range, with working-class ingenuity stretching the meagre pay to provide appetising and nourishing food. ‘Panackelty’ was a favourite dish made of layers of potato, onion and corned beef covered with ‘Oxo’ gravy. Other dishes would be leeks fried with bacon, a thick broth made from soaked peas, bacon and stock and thick stew with barley and dumplings.

The life of a miner was hard, but the life of a miner’s wife was no less so, if devoid of danger. The daily round of unremitting housework, childbearing and caring for the men, husband and sons, on wages that at the best of times were never enough to provide for more than a life of subsistence, took a heavy physical toll. Alice Pattinson recalled that her grandmother, having reached the ‘grand old-age’ of fifty-four, told her one day that she was tired out and would go and lie down for a little while. Within the hour, she was dead. No illness was recorded on the death certificate. The doctor said she was simply worn out.

It was especially hard for the mother where men were working in wet places. These were not only found in the older steam coal areas. My own grandmother, who also worked as a ribbon weaver, recalled my grandfather returning from work at Newdigate Colliery near Coventry covered with boils all over his body. His moleskin trousers were so caked with sweat, dust and mud that they stood by themselves in front of the fire without need of a chair to support them. As the working clothes dried, the muck from the colliery would dry and drop off all around the house on the old stone floors, which made it very difficult for the housewife to sweep it outside, especially on wet days. Of course, detergents were unknown in those days, so that most of the dirt had to be removed by vigorous use of a dolly tub and a rubbing board (see photo below). One Rhondda miner’s wife, born in 1895, commented:

Strong soap, you know, and soda. Any amount of soda to boil them, init? There was no other washing powders like they’ve got today… Handful of soda until your hands – there’s no wonder we haven’t got nice hands, init?

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One woman from Dowlais, near Merthyr, born in 1896, estimated the value of washing the miners’ clothes at two pounds per week. A miner from the same village, born 1893,  recalled:

Women used to cry when you brought working trousers home to them, because with the sweat and everything, they’d get as hard as iron. They had to patch them, didn’t they? You’d see great lumps of soap by the side of them – they’d push the needle into the soap first. And they had to have a strong needle to do the job as well.   

The girls in a family went to work as maids, unless there were a number of them in a family, in which case the eldest daughter had to stay at home, to help the mother. Some might also go out washing or sewing. If there was a seamstress in the village, the daughter would sleep over at the customer’s house, sewing only for that family for three days, but providing their own machines, carrying them from house to house. Some women ran parlour shops, using their front rooms to sell produce like meats which she had cooked herself:

My father’s health broke down, d’you see, and she just had to do something, you know. And that’s the way she kept going. Talk about smells, they were gorgeous, because she cooked everything. She sold all kinds of sweets – like a kind of tuck shop, you know. She also sold butter and biscuits and cooked meats. But the most of the cooking was done by herself. I think it maybe broke my mother’s heart to give up her sitting room, but I mean, she coped. Because we didn’t get unemployment or sick pay in those years, you see.

The combination of poverty, poor housing and overcrowding experienced by a large proportion of South Wales’ population took its disproportionate toll upon the health of its women. In Merthyr in the late 1930s the number of women suffering from tuberculosis was nearly two-and-a-half-times the standardised average for England and Wales; among men, it was one and a half. One infant in every five died before the age of five, and malnutrition, rickets, diphtheria and pneumonia were widespread among schoolchildren. While the provision of basic welfare services may have mitigated the effects of poverty on the health of children, they were almost non-existent as far as the adult population was concerned, because they were often under such great financial pressure themselves. In 1928 a small deputation led by George Hall, MP pressed the case of Blaina Hospital to the Ministry of Health. The hospital’s income was dependent upon weekly contributions from the miners so that the disastrous effect of the closure of all the mines in the district had suddenly deprived it of all its funds. Its account was already overdrawn by two thousand pounds and whilst income for the forthcoming year was estimated at 2,500 pounds, costs were expected to rise to four thousand.

The fact that South Wales maintained a low crude death rate throughout the inter-war period enabled it to end the period with an age-structure roughly comparable to that of England and Wales as a whole should not blind us to the overall loss of population from south Wales by avoidable deaths and migration which may have involved as many as a million people over the period 1920-40 as a whole. The problems created by this loss were further compounded by the fact that the bulk of those who moved away was in the age group which would produce the next generation, and that those who left also left behind an increasing proportion in the population of those who were economically inactive.

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The only choice that the individual worker had was whether to remain in their home area or to move away to more prosperous towns in the Midlands and South-East of England. For the most part, the migrants were young and adaptable individuals in pursuit of economic opportunity. Those who passed their years in these parts of Britain had seen not only a constant growth in total numbers, due largely to migration but also an appreciable increase in the number of young people getting their first jobs and starting married life. In Wales, where with the dereliction of that accompanied unbroken depression not only did total numbers decline but, between 1921 and 1938, those under twenty-five years of age fell by twenty-five percent, only the ranks of the aged expanded. Gwyn Thomas described the impact on his Rhondda in graphic terms:

A half the valley’s population drifted away. It was a Black Death on wheels conducted with far less anguish… The great mass moved south to Cardiff and east to the Midlands and London, and the permanent guard on all the trains operating the great dispersal bore the name of Thomas Malthus, who warned the migrants about humanity’s way of concentrating huge battalions in tasks seemingly secure for eternity, then suddenly changing the scenery and telling the extras that they are in the wong picture.

004 (2)

The next chapter will be examining the two important factors in the migration which took place from South Wales. In the first place, the majority of people who chose to go did so without assistance from the Government, despite the offer of payment of rail fares, removal expenses, initial accommodation and, in the case of juveniles, wage subsidy. Secondly, the migration which took place on a voluntary basis was not so much a ‘dispersal’ as Gwyn Thomas suggested, as an ‘exodus’. In some cases, it was organised through kinship and communal networks which extended far beyond normal family ties.

For instance, a 1937 Survey of Oxford found that 150 or one in six of the 1,200 ‘foreign’ employment exchange books in Oxford which came from Wales were from the Pontycymmer employment exchange, whereas considerably larger communities such as Bargoed and Ferndale sent only sixty-nine and sixty-six migrants respectively. The flow from the Garw Valley to Oxford appears to have started during the coal stoppage of 1926 when a few young men made the journey on foot and set up an informal kinship, institutional and communal ‘network’ so that in the period to 1930 to 1936, 270 out of 1,841 people whose employment whose unemployment books were transferred to other exchanges (15%) went to Oxford (Cowley) and it was estimated by local observers that in the previous four-year period, 1926-30, the proportion was as high as 25%.

This tendency towards ‘collective’ migration was noticeable only in the case of South Wales among the depressed areas. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that Welsh women were at least as instrumental in the organisation of migration streams from the valleys as their militant menfolk. In this way, it can be seen that migration cannot be characterised as a desperate rush for the lifeboats. In its organisation on a network and largely voluntary basis, as an alternative to the official Transference Scheme, it became a form of coalfield resistance and a uniquely autonomous ‘institution on wheels’.

( to be continued…)

 

 

‘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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