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

Chapter Four: Poverty, Resistance and Reconstruction.

In May 1936, the South Wales and Monmouthshire Council of Social Service held a special ‘Conference on Transference’ at the YMCA in Barry. Up to this time, the Council had played a major role in the government’s strategy, with a number of its members being involved in both the social administration of the transference scheme for juveniles and young men and the government-sponsored voluntary work in the valleys for older men and women. Most of the prominent figures in the social administration of South Wales attended the Conference. On its second day, clear divisions emerged over the continuance of the scheme, with Rev. T. Alban Davies going so far as to call for civil disobedience to counter its operation. His argument was that the national conscience was being roused against the break-up of communities which represented the history and traditions of Wales. Aneurin Bevan, MP, also called for an end to the policy, attacking the complacent attitude of those who had set themselves up as the leadership of the Welsh Nation:

… if this problem was still viewed as complacently as it had been, this would involve the breakdown of a social, institutional and communal life peculiar to Wales. The Welsh Nation had adopted a defeatist attitude towards the policy of transference as the main measure for relief of the Distressed Areas in South Wales, but objection should be taken as there was no economic case for continuing to establish industries in the London area rather than the Rhondda.

The reason for this complacency was made apparent by one speaker who replied to Bevan by suggesting that East Monmouth had no Welsh institutions or traditions likely to be damaged by large-scale transference, as most of the people were originally immigrants who had not been absorbed into local life… Elfan Rees, Secretary to the SWMCSS, agreed that much of the population of South Wales had come from English counties, but pointed out that it was not the ‘rootless undesirables’ who were leaving:

It is not only the young, it is not only the best, it is also the Welsh who are going … if transference were repatriation it might be a different story, but it is expatriation. It is the people with the roots who are going – the unwillingness to remain idle at home – the essential qualification of the transferee again, are the qualities that mark or own indigenous population. And if this process of social despoilation goes on, South Wales of tomorrow will be peopled with a race of poverty-stricken aliens saddled with public services they haven’t the money to maintain and social institutions they haven’t the wit to run. Our soul is being destroyed and the key to our history, literature, culture thrown to the four winds.

Rees’ ‘analysis’ of the problem helps to explain why, in 1928, the ‘liberal-Cymricists’ had chosen not to oppose the Baldwin Government’s Transference policy. They had hoped that it would remove, as they saw them, the aliens who had robbed them of the loyalty of the people of the valleys. By 1936, it had become clear that become clear that the transference scheme in particular and voluntary migration, in general, had failed to discriminate in the way they had hoped it would.

Migration also had a tendency to delay marriage and to restrict parenthood. Those couples who did manage to move before starting a family often delayed doing so due to the continuing sense of insecurity they felt in their new homes. This meant that migration not only altered significantly the age structure of South Wales and the North, but also did little or nothing to counter the declining birth rates in the recipient areas, and therefore nationally, at least until the late 1940s. The decline of the nonconformist chapels also had its impact on the ability of couples to get married in their hometowns and villages. In many ways, the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales in 1919 represented a high water mark for Welsh Nonconformity. A decade later its pre-eminence had been destroyed. In early 1930 a correspondent in The Times stated that in Cwmavon all nine nonconformist chapels were without ministers and that all marriages except one from the town had taken place in the registry office at Neath, ten miles away. This was not an isolated case. A survey into the position of the Free Churches in the Special Area was completed in 1938, showing their total debt to be in excess of forty thousand pounds. This debt swallowed al their income. While there were 1,100 chapels still active throughout the Special Area, less than half of them were able to support ordained ministers.

There was a detectable change in the Special Areas’ Commissioner’s third report of November 1936, which included an acknowledgement of the negative effects of transference upon the Special Areas and promised inducements to attract new industries. However, the Commissioner stressed the need for continuation of the Transference Policy. Malcolm Stewart warned that the establishment of industries in the Areas on an effective scale would take time. In the meantime, failure to help the youths and the younger generation of the unemployed to transfer to districts offering better opportunities would be to neglect their best interests. They must not wait about until absorbed locally. By the following November, in confirmation that the Government had accepted the priority of new industrial development and felt able at last to align itself with the new consensus, the fourth report which the new Special Areas Commissioner, George Gillett, presented to parliament, referred to the Transference Scheme in the past tense. It included a statement by Captain Geoffrey Crawshay, who had been appointed District Commissioner for the South Wales Special Area, which was a significant apology for the operation of the scheme over the previous decade:

In common with many others, one cannot but deplore a policy which has the effect of robbing Wales of her most enterprising sons and daughters as well as creating other vital problems of the future. There is consolation in the thought that those who have left are not necessarily permanently lost to Wales as I am convinced that, given an opportunity of work at home, thousands of exiles would return. This is an argument which I have used with effect in negotiating new industries.

However, the effective end of the official transference policy did not put a stop to the continued exodus of workers from South Wales, especially since the rearmament boom was swallowing up more and more labour, especially in the English Midlands. However, the construction of a new economic base was well underway in South Wales by the end of 1938, and Crawshay’s prophecy about the return of the natives was beginning, in part, to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, much of the damage to the reputation of government had already been done. Although few protestors went as far as the Welsh Nationalists in comparing its actions to those of Hitler in the Sudetenland, as just another Fascist way of murdering a small defenceless nation without going to war about it, the Transference Scheme had been an act of unprecedented government intervention which, though relieving those it removed, caused further economic depression in the communities from which they were taken. By the end of the decade of the Scheme’s operation, the government had become involved in subsidising wages, turning the Ministry of Labour into a Social Service agency which directly interfered in the personal lives of citizens, using every measure short of force to remove young people from South Wales.

The Treforest Trading Estate Co. was formed in September 1938 seventy-two firms were assisted to settle in different parts of the Special Area, including fifty-one at Treforest. Shortly before the outbreak of war, this estate was providing employment for 2,500 workers at twenty factories. At first, doubts were expressed about the suitability of Welsh labour in the new industries, with some industrialists arguing that the workers were accustomed only to heavy work and would find it too difficult to adapt themselves to the intricacies of the more delicate work demanded in the call for high precision. This problem was countered in two ways: Firstly, one skilled immigrant worker, refugees from Austria or Czechoslovakia, was employed for every twenty-five local workers, and, secondly, the majority of the local workers employed were women. By June 1939, there were only 914 men out of a workforce of 2,196 at Treforest. As in the Bridgend valleys, the new industries were beginning fundamentally to alter the gender balance of the Welsh workforce.

The people of the coalfield were not simply subjected to varying forms of economic and political intervention during the late twenties and thirties, but they were also besieged by a host of social workers who formed part of a cultural intervention which operated in tandem with the transference policy. If these communities were to be denuded of the younger element of their population, then it was also realised that something would also have to be done for the increasingly elderly elements which were left behind. Even when new industries were brought into the coalfield there were still a large number of men over forty-five who were no longer employable. Moreover, it was felt that these communities needed help to develop the ‘right sort’ of social leadership which could rescue them from ‘the slough of despond’. These were the motivations behind the social service schemes which extended their tentacles along the valleys.

The return of the National Government in 1936  led to the social service movement becoming a clearly recognised substitute for direct state intervention.The Cabinet took the decision that neither local authorities nor the central government should assume direct responsibility for welfare work for the unemployed, but that such work could be more appropriately and effectively be undertaken by private agencies with limited financial help in appropriate cases from National Funds.The Government recognised the NCSS as the appropriate body for coordinating and stimulating schemes and McDonald broadcast an appeal laying stress upon what he considered the successes already achieved at Brynmawr, as a model of what could be achieved elsewhere. This brought a strong reaction from the Urban District Council, whose clerk wrote to the PM to correct the impression he had conveyed to the nation of the nature and scale of what was taking place in their town. Sensitive to the accusation that the social service schemes were simply providing ‘dope’ for the unemployed and that they were leading them further into ‘demoralization’ by depriving them of courage and self-reliance, Peter Scott acknowledged that his group at Brynmawr had failed to achieve their ideal of reconstruction from within:

To many of us, the thought that this work was being used merely as a palliative, bread and circuses on a large-scale, would indeed be a bitter one.

But although Percy Watkins, the Secretary of the Welsh Section of the NCSS and one of the key liberal-Cymricists of the period, remained fearful of the consequences for the future of coalfield society of the absence of a new generation of leaders, he was also hopeful about the resilience of mining families:

… The effect of these two factors, migration of young people and permanent unemployment for so large a section of the community, means that the quality of social leadership in the area, and the maintenance of its social institutions in future years are gravely jeopardised, unless special efforts are made to preserve them… The fact that many thousands of men and women bend their minds to these enterprises (the occupational clubs), as well as to various forms of craft and physical training, in spite of their ever-present anxieties, is an eloquent testament to the quality of the South Wales miner…  

Many of the miners themselves, however, continued to believe that the Government was using the unemployed clubs to break their spirit, and with it their own autonomous organisations such as the miners’ institutes. It was this belief that conditioned many of the responses of the coalfield communities, its families and individuals, to unemployment and impoverishment. It is therefore important that one of the major responses ‘from below’, that of voluntary migration, should not be confused with the ‘top-down’ organisation of the official Transference Scheme. The decision of the workless families themselves to organise their own ‘exodus’ rather than be broken up by officialdom, was not a response of acquiescence and defeat, but rather one of resistance to, and escape from, the web of state intervention in the coalfield. Equally, it has been too often assumed that organised resistance to intervention from within the coalfield can best be measured by the extent of demonstrations and political action. It is important to treat with extreme caution ;< the kind of stereotypical imagery and crude causal analysis of ‘propagandists’ such as Donovan Brown, writing about the 1935 demonstration against the new UAB scales:

There has always been in South Wales a tradition of militant struggle and extreme radicalism. English bourgeois standards have never penetrated deeply into the villages of the Welsh mining valleys… The village forms a perfect unit for militant organisation around the pit; there class-consciousness has arisen quite naturally… we are reminded of the Chartist days when the Welsh mining villages constituted enemy territory… poverty,  and the traditional militancy of the Welsh workers, naturally produced a vigorous opposition… Ceaseless activity has also continued among the unemployed… Marches and demonstrations all over the area had previously been taking place… South Wales is ablaze with indignation.                                       

In fact, the demonstrations against unemployment often arose out of specific local grievances, such as the operation of Government policy over the local poor-law officials on the Board of Guardians. In May 1927 there was a ‘demonstration of unemployed’ from Brynmawr against the Urban District Council’s decision to limit the age of applicants for the post of Rate collector to forty, excluding the older unemployed men from applying. They interrupted the Council meeting and forced the Councillors to reconsider the terms of the appointment. There were two further demonstrations later that summer in relation to local issues affecting the unemployed. These preceded the first of the massed marches of the unemployed to London, organised by the miners’ ‘Fed’ (SWMF). The main motivation for it arose out of the stranglehold exercised by the Ministries of Health and Labour upon the Boards of Guardians. It began from Pontypridd, where an Unemployed Organisation had been formed in September 1927, and it was well supported by the Pontypridd Trades Council.

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As the depression progressed, the political energies of an increasing number of the unemployed were drained away by decreasing resources. Successful political agitation depended on the addressing of the immediate issues facing the unemployed, such as the actions of the Courts of Referees, and it was these issues which took up nearly all the time of the Trades Councils in the late 1920s as well as bringing about the growth of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, led by the Communist, Wal Hannington. However, there was no widespread shift towards the ideological position held by Hannington. At the General Election in October, the well-known Communist J R Campbell came fourth in the Ogmore and Garw Constituency with only eight percent of the poll, losing his deposit. Yet the October election came only a fortnight after the following report appeared in the Glamorgan Gazette:

Unemployed people, becoming more and more restive, continue to worry public bodies with their importunities. On Monday afternoon, a deputation organised by the Maesteg and Ogmore and Garw Council of Action, waited upon the Bridgend Guardians Committee… in reference to the reductions in unemployment benefit, and submitted that the difference between the old and the new rates of… benefit should be made up by the Guardians; that all unemployed workers and their families should be provided with boots, clothing and bed-clothes; that an allowance of coal be made to all unemployed workers; and that equal consideration be given to single men.

Clearly, the small but influential group of communists in the Bridgend valleys were unable to turn their role in the leadership of the unemployed into votes and immediate success in national or local elections. Yet even among supporters of the NUWM, the attitude towards transference schemes was confused. Government reports claimed that little opposition was encountered by officials, even in “Little Moscow”, Maerdy in the Rhondda, where they found that the Communists were quite happy to transfer!

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In the Hunger Marches of 1932 and 1934, women had marched to London in contingents beside the men. Pictures and text from the first two marches can be seen above and below; the pictures of the 1934 march were taken of the women’s column which marched from Derby. The pictures are taken from the collection of Maud Brown, Women’s organiser of the NUWM, who herself took part in the marches and was an indefatigable champion of the jobless and the poor. On one occasion, during a tenants’ protest at a council meeting in Aberdeen, she hurled a live rat, taken from a slum dwelling, at the assembled councillors.

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The photographs capture the sense of humour and comradeship which existed among the women, and in their interactions with the men. The shots of hay-box heated food being served beside the road and the first aid treatment to blistered feet demonstrate the determination of the women not to starve in silence. All the marchers were unemployed themselves, or had unemployed husbands, and depended on the good-will of local labour organisations to provide nightly accommodation during the journey. Hospitality from a Co-operative Society in providing a meal with unaccustomed waiter service is evident in a scene which pokes fun at the inversion of the roles of men and women.

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Mindful of the disturbances of 1932 in the capital, the Home Secretary, Lord Gilmour, made the first attack on the hunger marchers, stating that the government will have to ask Parliament to grant such powers as experience might show to be necessary to deal with such demonstrations. Two days later, the Attorney-General, Sir Thomas Inskip, speaking at a meeting, warned of bloodshed and said the government would be bound to take steps to stop it. Petty police harassment followed the contingents all the way. At Birmingham, where the contingents spent the night in the workhouse, the police stayed with them in the sleeping quarters claiming they were there in case of fire! After they had been persuaded to withdraw at midnight, a large number of them were found hiding in a room upstairs and the superintendent pretended not to know they were there!

As the marchers drew close to London, the clamour for their suppression and restriction increased. The Duchess of Athol asked the Home Secretary if he would take suitable steps to prevent the marchers from holding meetings in Trafalgar Square. The Tyneside contingent was visited by police and five marchers were arrested for ‘wife desertion’. This action was instigated by the public assistance authorities because their wives were claiming poor relief. The men were later able to prove that their wives supported them in marching and that the authorities were merely creating difficulties. It was the attempt of the government to brand and condemn the hunger marchers before they reached London that led to a number of prominent men and women forming a committee to maintain a vigilant observation on proceedings. These included the future Labour PM, Clement Attlee, H. G. Wells, the novelist, Kingsley Martin and Ellen Wilkinson. By 23 February, the contingents were drawn up around London in readiness for their entry and reception at a great rally in Hyde Park on Sunday 25th.  The Home Secretary called up ten thousand special constables and provincial police forces were drafted in to support the metropolitan force.

A delegation representing the Welsh and Scots marchers met a hundred MPs at a special meeting in the House of Commons. The March Council also requested a meeting with the premier, Ramsay MacDonald, in a letter which was also signed by the MPs Aneurin Bevan, James Maxton and Ellen Wilkinson. In the drizzle and intermittent heavy rain, the hunger marchers finally made a footsore entry to Hyde Park where an estimated hundred thousand people gathered around eight platforms to hear the speakers and pay tribute to the courage of the emissaries from the valleys, old industrial towns and docklands of Britain. The marchers didn’t succeed in putting their case to the House, despite the support of a large number of MPs and the support of Sir Herbert Samuel, leader of the Liberal opposition. Clement Attlee addressed the Commons on their behalf, however, saying:

The marchers are fair representatives of the unemployed. The injustice from which these men and women suffer is very widely known in all parts of the House and the feeling in the country is now tremendous… there is no reason why these men should be refused a hearing by the cabinet.

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The marchers sent a deputation to Downing Street, led by Maxton, but MacDonald was not at home. Later on, in the Commons, the Prime Minister stated, in an angry outburst,

… has anybody who cares to come to London, either on foot or in first class carriages, the constitutional right to demand to see me, to take up my time whether I like it or not? I say he has nothing of the kind!

A great rally was held on Sunday, 3rd March in Trafalgar Square. Crowds gathered along the route from Hyde Park to the Square as the hunger marchers had a last meal from the soup kitchens and marched into the square singing “The Red Flag” (see the picture below, showing the crowd’s heads turning to greet the marchers). Dora Cox and Ceridwen Brown were among other women left Tonypandy on the 1934 March.

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In 1935-36, public opinion against the principle of means testing families was at its peak. The iniquitous and petty economies of the government that brought acrimony and family division to the tables of the poor were hated by all but the Tories. Women especially bore the brunt of the bureaucratic inquisition. A family with a newborn child, claiming the appropriate allowance, would be asked is the child being breastfed? If the answer was yes, the benefit was refused. A fourteen-year-old boy might get a job as cheap labour while his father remained unemployed, the boy’s earnings were counted and the family benefit cut, for the boy was expected to maintain his father. In Merthyr Tydfil, where unemployment reached nearly sixty percent of the insured population, nine thousand people, more than seventy percent of the unemployed, were on the means test, for mass unemployment had lasted for years. Mothers went without food to feed their children while the children went without boots. In the winter months, coal was brought four pennyworth at a time as families struggled to exist on means-tested allowances. Another teenager from a means-tested family told James Hanley;

We’re on the Means Test now.  Yesterday I was sitting in the kitchen when the when the man came in. It made me feel mad the way he questioned my mother. She got all fluttery and worried. , I thought she was going to run into the street. She’s not used to it… Mother is very good in spite of the conditions. It’s wives and mothers who are the real heroines. Don’t you think so?                                         

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The massive demonstrations against the 1934 Unemployment Act, which took place between January and February of 1935, were an expression of the recovery of organised Labour, especially the Miners’ Federation, and of a new and unprecedented unity within the coalfield as a whole. They were at their strongest and, at times, most violent, at the heads of the valleys, in Merthyr and the Ebbw Fach Valley, which by this time had learnt to live with long-term unemployment and had come to regard benefit and assistance payments as due by right, rather than by charity. It was in these communities that unwaged families stood to lose most through the new regulations. Nowhere was the latent resentment of state intervention more visibly expressed than in Merthyr.  The women around Merthyr organised a march on the offices of the  Unemployed Assistance Board (UAB) in response to a new UAB Act: they smashed the offices, despite the imprecations of the Quaker, John Dennithorne. The next day the government backed down on the introduction of the Act, signalling a major victory for the female protestors.

The nervousness which these shock waves created in government circles prompted Captain Ellis of the NCSS to warn against the Royal Visit to South Wales, planned for November 1936, the same month that as the revised code of regulations for men on transitional benefits was due to take effect. On 12 October 1936, Ellis penned the following letter to Godfrey Thomas at Buckingham Palace:

I feel bound to say first that I think the date is ill-chosen. The new UAB regulations come into force on 16th October. On the whole they tend to affect South Wales more than most places, and it is extremely likely that between 16th and 19th, which is the first day, there will be a great of demonstration against them. It seems to me that if that time is chosen for a visit of the King, the agitators will say that his visit is intended to distract attention from the regulations, and to mark by royal approval what is being done by the Ministry of Labour and other bodies. His visit will then be given something of a political significance. .. When Tom Jones saw the announcement of the date he asked me to tell you that he felt the very strongly that the King should not bed not be taken  to South Wales during that week.

There was some basis in evidence for these apprehensions looking forward, as well as back to the previous year’s violent demonstrations. In August the Merthyr Unemployed Lodge had demanded that there should be a one-day strike, a march on London and a ‘monster petition’ of the whole of South Wales in the campaign against the new regulations. Later that month, the Dowlais Unemployed Lodge had decided to support the boycott of the Coronation. However, refusing to heed even the warnings of Tom Jones, Edward VIII chose to go ahead with the visit and, ironically, it was in Dowlais, during a tour of the derelict steelworks, that he made his misquoted remark, terrible, terrible, something will be done about this. This may well have been an attempt to head off the kind of criticism which Captain Ellis had predicted, rather than an attempt to embarrass the Cabinet. But this was exactly the effect it had on a government which was already questioning his position. Nevertheless, the publicity given to the King’s casual remarks did have an important impact in quickening the process of industrial redevelopment.                                    

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Meanwhile, The Jarrow Crusade which had set out from the town as its official delegation to Parliament on 5 October 1936, had more of the ethos of a religious pilgrimage about it. It was the march of the ‘breadwinners’ who had been deprived of their families’ daily bread. It was to eschew the violence of the earlier Hunger Marches, led by the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. If it was seen as a march,  it had to be the march to end all marches according to René Cutforth. He wrote that of all the black, noxious, stinking industrial hell-holes left behind by the nineteenth-century enterprise, the town of Jarrow was just about the nethermost pit. Jarrow’s population had risen to thirty-five thousand in the 1920s, but in the early thirties, a firm called ‘National Shipbuilding Security Ltd, whose speciality was buying up enterprises hit by the slump moved into Jarrow and dismantled Palmers’ Shipyard, which had been there since 1852. Deprived of its main industry, the shipyard, Jarrow demonstrated vividly the conditions prevailing in many parts of Northumberland and Durham. Jarrow depended entirely on shipbuilding for its living, therefore. With its shipyard shut, the sky cleared and the river ran through clear again. But a blight had descended on the town as to make its previous squalor seem a memory of paradise. Jarrow was dead. When the President of the Board of Trade, Walter Runciman, told its delegations that Jarrow must work out its own salvation, the townspeople knew they were indeed on their own.

So they decided on a great crusade of two hundred hand-picked men, the story of which is well-known. The Mayor and Mayoress led them for the first twelve miles. The image of the Jarrow Marchers reaching London with their petition is iconic of the period. Although the march was exclusively male in composition, it was accompanied by its well-known female MP, Ellen Wilkinson, who had written the book The Town that was Murdered two years earlier. The journalist René Cutforth described her as a small, slight, red-haired ball of fire. In 1935 she had led a march to Ramsay MacDonald in his constituency of Seaham, fifteen miles away. The cornered statesman told her, with some irony and perhaps more than a touch of sarcasm, to go out and preach Socialism, which is the only remedy for all this.

The National Government, now led by Baldwin, had nothing to say to them, so they went home by train only to be told by their wives on arrival that their dole had been cut because they had not been ‘available for work’. Ellen Wilkinson was rebuked at a Labour Party Conference for her ‘irresponsibility’ and the whole episode was closed, despite the way that so many had rallied to support them on their route to London.

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The Crusade represented an attempt at self-help publicity of a group of unemployed men representing their whole community. In that sense, it was meant to be fundamentally different from the Communist-organised Hunger Marches which preceded it. Though it became the classic and legendary march, it achieved nothing, and even while it was going on, four hundred Scotsmen and women from Glasgow were marching south to join up with other contingents, from ten other cities, on the last of the national hunger marches.  The largest of the great protests, this time it was a united demonstration embracing all sections of the Labour movement and focused on the changes to the Means Test and transitional benefits proposed in the National Government’s Unemployment (UAB) Bill. The organisation of the march was strengthened by the participation of the Trades Councils and the Constituency Labour Parties. This was despite the claim for direct representation of the NUWM being rejected by the Merthyr Conference against the Means Test in July 1936. In the autumn, the Trades Council also rejected a demand for Communist Party affiliation.

 

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Nevertheless, the NUWM claimed it had no difficulty in raising a Welsh contingent of eight hundred men and women for the biggest and most united of the hunger marches against the means test in November. The public response to the marchers was magnificent. When the eight hundred marchers from South Wales reached Slough, they were greeted by a crowd of eleven thousand, for Slough had become a ‘little Wales’, peopled by those who had left the valleys over the previous decade, to find work. The Lancashire contingent was given a twelve-mile bus ride paid for by Oxford students. Hailed and fed by Trades Councils and Co-ops along the way, the hunger marchers were in good spirits for their triumphal march into the capital where a quarter of a million turned out. Thousands lined the streets with clenched fist salutes and packed around the six platforms set up in the park to hear the speeches of miners’ leaders and MPs, including Aneurin Bevan and Clement Attlee. Bevan claimed, with some justification, that,

The hunger marchers have achieved one thing. They have for the first time in the history of the Labour movement achieved a united platform. Communists, ILP’ers, Socialists, members of the Labour Party and Co-operators for the first time have joined hands together and we are not going to unclasp them.

With the autumn leaves drifting across the banners, Attlee moved the resolution:

… the scales (of unemployment benefit) are insufficient to meet the bare physical needs of the unemployed…

In his visit to South Wales in June 1929, an official at the Ministry of Labour found that parents were increasingly in favour of their boys migrating rather than working underground, despite the fact that the employment situation had improved to the point where there was a fresh demand for juvenile labour in the collieries.  Another report that year revealed that boys had refused the offer of underground employment in the hope of securing employment in England. In January 1934, the Juvenile Employment Officer for Merthyr reported that of the boys due to leave school at Easter, less than seventeen percent, or one in six expressed a preference for colliery work. A quarter of the boys stated that they had no particular preference but invariably added that they did not want to work underground. By comparison, twenty-six percent wanted to enter the distributive trades and ten percent stated a preference for engineering.

A 1934 Investigation into the Problems of Juvenile Unemployment in Specific Areas by the Ministry of Labour found that there were 148 boys unemployed in areas where there were unfilled local vacancies for boys in coal mining. Although only twenty-nine of these boys had stated that they were unwilling to accept mining employment, the Report concluded that this antipathy was widespread. The shortage of boys wishing to enter coal mining was most marked in the Ferndale employment exchange area of the Rhondda, although managers of all the South Wales exchanges covered by the enquiry reported this changed attitude towards pit work. This change of attitude was shared by the boys’ parents, especially their mothers. In Abertillery, it was reported that most of the boys leaving school in 1932 were anxious to obtain employment other than mining and that their mothers were ’emphatic’ that they should not face the same hardships and unemployment as their fathers. Clearly, it was the nature of the work involved as well as its insecurity which promoted this preference which amounted to determined resistance among women. This evidence from government sources is well supported by the purely anecdotal evidence of the social ‘surveyors’. In his survey of Nantyglo and Blaina, Philip Massey reported that migration was itself playing in the broadening of the minds of the population. He detected the erosion of what he called the “coal complex”.

The American writer Eli Ginzberg found that many of those who left Wales looked forward in a spirit of adventure in settling in communities where coal mining was not the sole occupation. He traced the break-up of ‘the coal complex’ to the summer of 1926, and the freedom from the mines which the long stoppage provided. This had prompted many, he argued, to question the advantages of coal mining, a questioning which was intensified by the worsening conditions and reduced pay which followed the return to work. Women became even more prejudiced against coal mining, he noted, as a result of their suffering as household managers, and when employment became uncertain and wages fell, they sought other occupations for their sons, even if it meant them leaving not just their homes but also the valleys altogether. Many of these young men, encouraged by their mothers, were among the first significant streams of migration to the new industry towns of England, especially Cowley near Oxford, where the Pressed Steel Works was opening up at the same time. The author’s own recordings of such migrant men and women confirm this.

Migration was not simply a response to unemployment in that industry; it was, in many senses, a deliberate rejection of the industry itself. Thus, although several thousand South Wales miners succeeded in obtaining employment in the Kent coalfield and several hundred transferred to the East Midlands coalfields, in total they accounted for only two percent of the total migrants from the region. Some individuals who moved did so because they had ‘had enough’ of the mines, whether or not they were unemployed at the time. Some families, despite having members working, decided to move in order to keep younger members from working underground. Young women and even girls were allowed to leave home because their mothers didn’t want them to marry miners and many miners, despite strong pressures to return to the collieries, would not do so even when jobs were available for them there. Many of these jobs, of course, were of a temporary and insecure nature, three days and three shifts a week. Clearly, it is evident that this break-up of the ‘coal complex’ was a major push factor in the migration equation.

This was a changing attitude which found support in the school system, which had long been charged with at one time fostering a sense of local patriotism at the same time encouraging a spirit of individual enterprise, the ideal secondary pupil being one who aimed at leaving the valleys on leaving school. At the Garw Secondary School’s Annual Speech Day in 1927, Dr Olive Wheeler told her audience that she hoped the boys and girls were not going to be content to remain in the Garw Valley all their lives. ‘The Royal Commission on Merthyr Tydfil’ reported in 1935 that ‘good secondary education’ was assisting young people to find work outside the area, so helping to solve the general problem which confronted the Corporation.

Any society which, by the mid-1920s had produced the wealth of institutional life which existed in communities like Merthyr, could hardly be described as rootless, but it was a society whose institutions were already well-adapted to continual ebbs and flows in inter-regional and international migration. In addition to these patterns of immigration, there were also strong traditions of young people, especially girls, going into service in both Welsh and English cities and seaside towns. The post-war shortage in ‘domestics’ led to the advertisement pages of the Welsh press being filled with ‘propaganda’ about the prospects awaiting young girls in England. Many of the realities failed to match up to these claims, but there is little evidence to suggest that reports of poor conditions or even deaths from tuberculosis while in service restricted the flow of girls from the coalfield. Indeed, in the late twenties and early thirties, female migration was exceeding male migration.

A sample enquiry made for the New Survey of London Life and Labour reveals that about eight percent of domestic servants resident in the County of London in 1929 were born in Wales and Monmouthshire. Therefore, of the 185,000 female domestic servants in the County in 1931, there were probably more than ten thousand from South Wales. Of the 491 girls from the Rhondda who were placed in employment in other districts between 1927 and 1933, 98% went into domestic service. By comparison, only ninety-one girls were placed locally. In 1934, sixty-seven percent of girls about to leave Merthyr’s schools expressed a preference for domestic service.

Many girls would treat their employment away from home as a short-term experience, after which they would return home to play a new role in the family or to get married. This tendency was strengthened by the re-employment of the male members of the family or by the erosion of the mother’s health. The Ministry of Labour’s General Review of the Industrial Transference Scheme conducted in 1938-39 found that a significant proportion of migrants had moved simply because they wanted a change and not with any intention of settling. Young men were made aware by their sisters and girlfriends of the openings in personal service, club and hotel work which they could fill in London and elsewhere. Some were encouraged to take up industrial employment in Oxford because of fiancées, sweethearts and sisters were already working there in the colleges and hotels. Like their ‘women folk’, many of these male migrants saw their migration as a temporary, short-term experience, and left the valleys out of a sense of boredom or frustration, often with vague plans.

The desire to wriggle away from stifling official paternalism was more likely to express itself in second-stage voluntary migration than to prompt young men and women to fall back on the Transference Scheme, a factor that James Hanley commented on:

… it is even worse for the young, for they are continually at the beck and call, the whims and caprices, of every Tom, Dick and Harry who likes to call himself a social worker or a Government official. There is no independence for them at all… the ideas of the Government on the question of Labour Camps and the like should, once and for all, prove to them that to go one step further in obeisance is to yield all they value as individuals to a power which regretfully appears to waver rather favourably towards the social type now being created in the dictator countries.

Indeed, despite all the financial inducements for young people to transfer under bureaucratic supervision, the numbers doing so were very small compared with those who moved under their own devices and, most importantly, on their own terms, in keeping with traditions of migration common within their communities. To have accepted dependence on the state would, for many, have been an acceptance of their own ‘demoralization’. The purpose of migration was, after all, to escape from what Hanley described as this mass of degradation, and the stink of charity in one’s nostrils everywhere.

In any case, in the case of juvenile transference, many of the placements were in ‘blind alley’ jobs, from which employers would discharge workers as soon as they reached sixteen years of age, which was when insurability commenced. This threw juveniles back into the labour market at the time when formative employment was most desirable from a psychological point of view so that the employer could avoid paying their insurance costs. In 1937, Merthyr’s Juvenile Employment Committee reported that it had had difficulty in recruiting errand boys, and that although some of the vacancies were ‘progressive’ and not of the “blind alley” type, boys were reluctant to apply, knowing that many of their friends had been discharged on their sixteenth or eighteenth birthdays. Under the UAB regulations, these boys were under the same weekly sum they had worked for. Of course, these conditions applied to all placements, whether local or far away. Thus, “blind alley” employment also acted as a catalyst to migration in anticipation of being made redundant, as the following personal story shows. Haydn Roberts’ decision, which he kept secret from his mother, to bid ‘farewell’ to the Rhondda in 1932, just before his sixteenth birthday,  was one which was repeated many times over:

My money would have been the only money coming into the house, apart from my father’s dole. I carried on working at the butchers until I was sixteen, a couple of years… a chap I knew, Emrys Davies, had gone to London the year before and he was coming back with plenty of money, or he said he had, and he said he could get me a job. It was the custom down home then to employ children until they were sixteen and when they had to start paying stamps for them they would get somebody else you see, so that was looming for me when I was sixteen. Seeing all the other people out of work, and there was nothing in the Rhondda for us, there was no chance of a trade, I decided to go. I didn’t tell my mother, I just saved up the fare. The red and white was starting a daily night service to London. The fare was fourteen shillings single to Uxbridge then. I saved that money and before Morgan Jones had the chance to sack me I told my mother that I was off that night to London.

At the same time, there were many obstacles to migration which stemmed from the nature of family life in the coalfield. Married men with dependents and those who owned their own houses, were far less likely to transfer. In addition, men and women lacking either youth or the necessary self-confidence to settle among strangers and Welsh-speakers who would find themselves in an even more ‘alien’ environment in England would be reluctant to leave their valley neighbourhoods.

However, despite the deliberate intervention of the Baldwin Government in 1927 to ensure that the Guardians did not provide relief which would provide a disincentive to migration, it does not appear that either unemployment benefit or public assistance operated in this way. In the first place, many families and individuals experienced a significant drop in income as a result of either short-term working or more permanent stoppages in the coal industry. This decline was even more marked when compared with the standard of living in the ‘prosperity’ of the immediate post-war period. Even in 1937, by which time the administration of Unemployment Benefit and the UAB had changed substantially, a Ministry of Labour enquiry focusing on four employment exchanges in the Rhondda found that only one of the managers considered that rates of benefit or assistance had any impact on the willingness of juveniles and their parents to consider transfer. The other three managers reported that they did not consider this factor of importance in stemming the tide of transference.

Where state provision for the unemployed did act as a disincentive to migration, this was often related to the specific operation of policy rather than to the general level of the provision. For instance, while the means test often broke up families in the depressed areas, it also prevented their reunion in the more prosperous areas. Parents were reluctant to follow their sons and daughters because they feared, not without justification, that if they joined their earning children, their public assistance would be reduced and they would become at least partially dependent upon their children. By the 1930s, the Unemployment Assistance Board was under considerable pressure to amend its policy in this respect and found itself having to make discretionary adjustments to allowances in order to remove this obstacle.

It was the innate conservatism in many mining families, particularly among older men, that led to contradictory attitudes to transference and migration among the parents of prospective young migrants and transferees. On the whole, they were far more willing for their daughters to be placed in other districts than their sons, provided employment took the form of domestic or institutional service. The idea of girls being placed in factory work was described as anathema to the average Rhondda mother by the chief official to the Minister of Labour, J A Jones, in the mid-1930s. The idea was barely more acceptable to the girls themselves, whose reluctance to take up this form of employment was attributed to their entire inability to visualise the conditions of work and what they would do in the evenings. Out of 256 Merthyr girls who were placed in other districts between 1935 and 1937, only nineteen went into some form of factory employment. On the other hand, as the transference policy continued, and more information was provided for parents concerning the nature of factory work, they were more willing for both their daughters and sons to be transferred to this type of work. Mothers in particular, as has been noted, would rather their sons went into factory work elsewhere, than to go into the collieries.

Much of this parental opposition to transference was determined not only by a prejudice against factory work for their daughters but also by the strength of the extended family and by a consequent reluctance to relinquish parental control. Whilst it had been accepted practice for girls within the family to go into service, though often no further than to the coastal towns and cities, it was considered usual for the male members to remain in the home until marriage, which often meant well into adulthood. This tradition was so strong that many young men only told their parents of their decision to leave at the moment of departure, or after all their plans had been carefully laid, and some left without parental consent or knowledge. Others preferred to remain at home, even if this meant prolonged unemployment and the postponement or abandonment of marriage; some men remained in this state for sixteen years after leaving school.

The Ministry of Labour official who visited the coalfield in June 1929 reported that unemployed boys in Neath were being kept away from the instruction centres by their parents who feared they would be forced into transferring. Parents in Blaina were said to give their consent to transference ‘unreadily’ due to the strength of ‘family feeling’ and the loss of potential financial help. Of the sixty-eight Blaina boys placed in the South Eastern Division, seventeen had returned home, a ‘returnees’ rate’ of twenty-five percent. This ‘family feeling’ was a far more significant obstacle in the communities of the South Wales coalfield than it was in those of the Durham coalfield, according to the Pilgrim Trust’s Survey, which contrasted the attitudes of sixteen families in Crook with those in the Rhondda:

None of them complained, and several said how proud they were that the children should have found good employment and be earning good wages… “It’s been a great success with the boy and girl, but I’ll not go myself (colliery horse-keeper, aged fifty-seven). … All these were families of a decidedly good type, and it is plain that the better social types are also, on the whole, more ready to move… It was a striking contrast to the atmosphere in Wales, where many complained that they had brought up their children with much trouble and expense and now, when they might reasonably expect some ‘benefit’ from them, they were going away and benefiting their landlady rather than their parents. 

This resentment was also apparent in the responses of Massey’s interviewees in Blaina, many of whom complained of the break-up of family life and of other areas benefiting from the upbringing they had given their children and from the local public expenditure on them in terms of education. Massey also encountered the attitude that transference gave ‘the kids a chance’ and was ‘the only hope for the young’. Many respondents admitted that those transferred seemed ‘fairly happy’, since they were able to pay their own way, and it seemed that a number of the families were grateful to receive the money which was sent home. The truth is that the ‘Crook’ attitudes and those from the Rhondda were not universally polar opposites. There existed a spectrum of family attitudes to transference in both communities. Many parents were caught on the horns of a dilemma of whether to accept transference with its demoralising effects in terms of their values of family unity and solidarity, or whether to resist this form of intervention which in turn might mean their children falling prey to means test bureaucrats and social workers instead. The following response from one of Hanley’s witnesses provides a direct illustration of this dilemma:

I’ve a lad seventeen who did eighteen months in the pit. He stopped the same day as I did. He wants to go to one of these camps, and I say nothing in the matter. If he goes everybody’ll say “oh, look at him! His son’s gone to a labour camp”. If he doesn’t, somebody else will say, “No, he won’t let his son go. Rather see him rot”… You really don’t belong to yourself any more.”

It appears that the more fundamental the challenge to family life posed by the Transference Scheme the greater was the resistance from families closing ranks in a determination to stay put at whatever the cost, or through a parallel evolution of kinship networks which conducted the entire process of migration on a wholly autonomous basis. Family migration was conducted, in the main, without the help of the state, though financial assistance was available for this. In those cases where the parents were considering following juvenile or adult sons or daughters to a new area, they often felt constrained by the need to maintain two homes while looking for work and suitable housing in the new areas. The prospect of paying rent in two places, combined with a lack of tenure in his new employment for the older man, militated against successful migration.

Moreover, as Goronwy Daniel, then a young Welsh research student in Oxford pointed out, men who had lived in South Wales married and had children there, were more in the grip of Welsh ways of thinking and acting than single men since they had experienced more extensively and more intimately those ways of living characteristic of Wales. They had absorbed Welsh ways of bringing up children and maintaining a home and would, therefore, find the movement to an alien district more disturbing. Daniel concluded that economic, social and psychological factors made men with large families far less ready to move than those with few or no dependents. Given this, it is interesting to note that although young, single men were dominant in the migration streams, family migration was far more significant in the case of South Wales than it was for other depressed areas. The nature of Welsh family life would appear to have both stemmed and channelled the flow of migrants.

Within this ‘family factor’, attachment to the Welsh language in coalfield families was an important prohibitive factor to migration. Certainly, among Daniel’s interviewees, there was a detectable correlation between their allegiance to the language and their potential adaptability to a new environment. One Welsh-speaking family, whose ‘head’ had been employed in a mine near Neath until migration to Oxford in 1934, and which comprised four sons aged between thirteen and twenty-one and a daughter aged twenty-two, expressed with unanimity the sense of loss they felt at being unable to use the language and their strong desire to return to Wales. Professor Marquand of Cardiff University, the chief author and editor of the two Industrial Surveys of the 1930s was correct to identify the strength of ‘family feeling’, the strength of institutional life and the sense of ‘belonging’, the extensiveness of home ownership and the problem of declining health as major obstacles to migration, whether voluntary or state-induced and controlled. Attachment to the Welsh language was less inhibiting in the decade following his original statement in 1931, particularly among young people, male and female, who were already embracing a broader, transatlantic popular culture.

Naturally, the issues of wages and conditions were also of primary practical importance to many coalfield families. Gwyn Meara’s 1936 survey of juvenile unemployment showed that the ‘the juveniles’ will to move and the parents’ consent, would be very much easier to obtain if wages were offered sufficient for the full support of the boys or girls concerned. All too often the transferred juvenile became an additional drain upon the financial resources of a family already hard pressed at home. Resistance was reinforced by the appearance that Transference was the only policy adopted by successive, mainly conservative governments, to deal with large-scale, long-term unemployment. Many in the coalfield, led by the recovering SWMF, felt that there was a deliberate conspiracy to lower wages, undermine the strength of trade unions and weaken its true political leadership. As early as 1929, officials within the Ministry of Labour were noting that these opinions were more freely expressed throughout South Wales than in other depressed areas:

My impression is that the north country miner is much slower to express his own ideas than the more argumentative Welsh miner who is disposed to criticise the inadequacy, from his point of view, of the Government Schemes.

Although the basis for widespread public opposition existed in 1929, it was not until the late 1930s that the disparate strands of opposition were galvanised by an awareness of the social effects of a decade of migration and by the possibilities for the introduction of new industries. The chapels began to frighten mothers about the evils of city life, tradesmen suggested that although one might find a job in England there would be little gained, because the cost of living was so much higher: Trades Councils, always uneasy about the dilution of wages, began to oppose the transference of juveniles; the Lord Mayor of Merthyr, D J Evans, stated categorically that the flow of young people from this borough to other parts of the country, the steady movement of depopulation must be checked, and soon. 

The authors of the ‘General Review’ of the Transference Scheme were in little doubt that this publicity, which appeared in the Western Mail and elsewhere, had some adverse effect on the willingness of a number of applicants to consider transference to more prosperous areas.  This was not simply a government view, looking for scapegoats, but was supported by A J Lush:

The constant reiteration in press and pulpit of the dangers to the social life of South Wales by migration made it possible for many of these young persons to quote eminent authority against the whole policy. This made it extremely difficult to stress the value of ‘training’ itself. 

One of the most significant obstacles to both transference and voluntary migration was the widespread ill-health bred by poverty and malnutrition. The statistical evidence on the effects on women’s health was fully investigated by and published by Richard Titmuss in 1938, and have been dealt with above. The poverty of diet endured by many potential young transferees, many of them already forced to live away from their parental home due to the operation of the means test, is revealed by James Hanley’s more anecdotal evidence:

It has already been seen that young people who have left Wales and gone elsewhere and have got work and gone into lodgings, have vomited up whatever first wholesome meal they have had served up to them by their landladies. I verified five instances of this.       

Other important obstacles were the strength of trade union traditions, a deep-seated resentment of official and quasi-official intervention and a broadening communal opposition to the Transference policy. More negatively, there was, at least until the introduction of new industries in the second half of the thirties, a widespread antipathy to factory work, especially among women, though a preference for such work over colliery work by young men, both attitudes receiving parental support, especially from mothers. Specific aspects of the levels and administration of unemployment benefit and allowances, together with the emergence of a subsistence sub-economy within the coalfield also played a significant though secondary role, in preventing migration.

002

Between 1911 and 1939, the working population of Britain increased by twenty percent. In peacetime women formed thirty percent of this working population; most of them were young, single women, but towards the end of the period, married women tended to continue at work, at least until the birth of their first child. For some working women, like those in the photograph above, very little changed in their working lives. The photograph could have been taken at the end of the nineteenth century, in any of the coalfields, since there were pit-brow lasses in all of them at that time. Perhaps surprisingly, there were still well over three thousand women employed in coal mines in Britain in 1930, 239 under the age of sixteen, and more than half of the total employed in the Lancashire and Cheshire districts where the tradition of women colliery workers was strongest. They worked on the sidings, tramways and, as in the photo, in washing and sorting the coal. There were sixteen mines in operation in Wigan when the photo above was taken and it is believed that the scene is from the largest of these, owned by the Wigan Coal Corporation Limited.

001

Above: Unemployed man and daughter (?) in Wigan, 11 November 1939

(Radio Times Hulton Picture Library)

Of course, Wigan was made ‘infamous’ by George Orwell’s visit there in 1937, which led to his somewhat fictionalised account of the lives of the local unemployed in The Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell provides the historian with an invaluable, if somewhat emotive picture of conditions in the depressed area. However, as he himself admitted later, he emphasised the worst rather than the improving features of British Society and his picture, therefore, gives the most pessimistic view of northern English communities like Wigan. In particular, he graphically describes the operation of the means test and the real character of poverty, based on his own experiences and fieldwork. Yet there is also a sense of working-class resistance and resilience alongside the ironic comments in his account and, as with those visitors to the South Wales coalfield, he emphasises the role of women and the family in this:

The most cruel and evil effect of the Means Test is the way in which it breaks up families… Nevertheless, in spite of the frightful extent of unemployment, it is a fact that poverty – extreme poverty – is less in evidence in the industrial North than it is  in London. Everything is poorer and shabbier, there are fewer motor-cars and fewer well-dressed people: but there are also fewer people who are obviously destitute… But in the industrial towns the old communal way of life has not yet broken up, tradition is still strong and almost everyone has a family – potentially… Moreover, there is just this to be said for the unemployment regulations, that they do not discourage people from marrying. A man and wife on twenty-three shillings a week are not far from the starvation line, but they can make a home of sorts; they are vastly better off than a single man on fifteen shillings… 

003 (2)

Above: Part of the cover design for Theo Baker’s book,

The Long March of Everyman, by Ken Carroll.

Bibliography:

Andy Chandler (1982), The Black Death on Wheels: Unemployment and Migration – The Experience of Interwar South Wales in Papers in Modern Welsh History 1 (the Journal of the Modern Wales Unit), Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

A. J. Chandler (1988), The Re-making of a Working Class: Migration from the South Wales Coalfield to the New Industry Areas of the Midlands. Unpublished PhD. Thesis.

Theo Baker (ed.)(1975), The Long March of Everyman. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Bill Jones (1993), Teyrnas y Glo/ Coal’s Domain. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales.

John Gorman (1980), To Build Jerusalem: A Photographic Remembrance of British Working Class Life, 1875-1950. London: Scorpion Publications.

 

Gwyn Thomas (1979), The Subsidence Factor; The Annual Gwyn Jones Lecture. Cardiff: University College Cardiff Press.

Picture Post (?) (1938), These Tremendous Years, 1919-38: A History in photographs of life and events, big and little, in Britain and the world since the war. London. Unknown publisher.

D. Hywel Davies (1983), The Welsh Nationalist Party, 1925-1945: A Call to Nationhood. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

René Cutforth (1976), A Portrait of the Thirties: Later Than We Thought. Newton Abbott: David & Charles (Publishers) Limited.

Margaret R. Pitt (neé Wates) (1981), Our Unemployed: Can the Past Teach the Present? Work done with the unemployed in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Harrow: Margaret R. Pitt. (obtainable from Friends Book Centre, Friends House, Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ).

 

Posted March 29, 2018 by TeamBritanniaHu in Britain, British history, Christian Faith, Christian Socialism, Christianity, Coalfields, Communism, democracy, Edward VIII, Family, History, Integration, Migration, Mythology, Narrative, Nonconformist Chapels, Poverty, south Wales, Unemployment, Wales, Welsh language, Women's History

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‘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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