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Tonypandy riots

Police blockade a street during the events of 1910–1911

The Tonypandy riots[1] of 1910 and 1911 (sometimes collectively known as the Rhondda riots) was a series of violent confrontations between coal Bristol City Constabulary,[2] smashed windows of businesses in Tonypandy.

Home Secretary Winston Churchill's decision to allow the British Army to be sent to the area to reinforce the police shortly after 8 November riot caused ill feeling towards him in South Wales throughout his life. His responsibility remains a strongly disputed topic.


  • Background 1
  • The riots at Tonypandy 2
  • Reaction to the riots 3
  • Criticism of Churchill 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
    • Further reading 6.1
  • External links 7


The conflict arose when the Naval Colliery Company opened a new coal seam at the Ely Pit in Penygraig. After a short test period to determine what would be the future rate of extraction, owners claimed that the miners deliberately worked more slowly than they could. The roughly 70 miners at the seam argued that the new seam was more difficult to work than others, due to a stone band that ran through it.[3]:[p175] Also, since the miners were paid by the ton of coal removed, not by hours of work, working slowly would gain them no advantage.

On 1 September 1910, the owners posted a lock-out notice at the mine, closing the site to all 950 workers, not just the 70 at the newly opened Bute seam.[3]:[p175] The Ely pit miners reacted by going on strike. The Cambrian Combine then called in strikebreakers from outside the area, to which the miners responded by picketing the work site. On 1 November, the miners of the South Wales coalfield were balloted for strike action by the South Wales Miners' Federation, resulting in the 12,000 men working for the mines owned by the Cambrian Combine going on strike.[3]:[p175] A Conciliation Board was formed to reach an agreement, with William Abraham acting on behalf of the miners and F. L. Davis for the owners. Although an agreed wage of 2s 3d per ton was arrived at, the Cambrian Combine workmen rejected the agreement.[3]:[p175]

On 2 November, the authorities in south Wales were enquiring about the procedure for requesting military aid, in the event of disturbances caused by the striking miners.[4]:[p109] The

  • History of the Cambrian Combine miners' strike and Tonypandy Riots
  • The Rhondda Riots of 1910–1911 on website of South Wales Police
  • Tonypandy 1910 Coalfield web materials from the University of Wales, Swansea, with further reading and external links
  • Cambrian Colliery, Clydach Vale. c. 1910 on Welsh Coalmines historical website
  • Commemorating the 100th Anniversary A heritage page of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council

External links

  • Rhondda—the story of coal pp. 124–126 of 126-page download at Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service (37mB)
  • Carradice, Phil The Tonypandy Riots of 1910 at BBC Wales History, 3 November 2010

Further reading

  1. ^ Evans, Gwyn; Maddox, David (2010). The Tonypandy Riots 1910–11. Plymouth: University of Plymouth Press.  
  2. ^ a b c d Tonypandy heritage Rhondda Cynon Taf Council
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Lewis, E.D. (1959). The Rhondda Valleys. London: Phoenix House. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Herbert, Trevor, ed. (1988). Wales 1880–1914: Welsh History and its sources. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.  
  5. ^ The Aftermath – Sir Winston Churchill and the Rhondda Rioters on South Wales Police Museum website
  6. ^ Claire Miller Did Tonypandy rioters deliberately spare the shop of a rugby legend? Western Mail, 28 October 2010
  7. ^ "March commemorates centenary of Tonypandy riots". BBC News. 22 September 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Powerhouse Development Plans at Rhondda Cynon Taf Council website
  9. ^ Jones L Cwmardy (first published 1937), reissued by Lawrence & Wishart 1978, ISBN 978-0-85315-468-6
  10. ^ "Churchill name for military base opposed, 100 years on". BBC News. 12 June 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010. 
  11. ^ "Winston Churchill". Telegraph (UK). 2 March 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010.  Obituary of Winston Churchill (grandson, 1940–2010)


See also

Political fallout for Churchill also continued. In 1940, when Chamberlain's war-time government was faltering, Clement Attlee secretly warned that the Labour Party might not follow Churchill, because of his association with Tonypandy.[4]:[p112] In 1978, there was uproar in the House of Commons, when Churchill's grandson, also Winston Churchill, replying to a routine question on miners' pay, was warned by James Callaghan not to pursue "the vendetta of your family against the miners of Tonypandy".[11]

[10] In 2010, 99 years after the riots, a Welsh local council made objections to a street being named after Churchill in the :[p112][4] The troops also ensured that trials of rioters, strikers and miner leaders would take place and be successfully prosecuted in Pontypridd in 1911. The defeat of the miners in 1911 was, in the eyes of the local community, a direct consequence of state intervention without any negotiation, and this action was seen as a direct result of Churchill's actions.:[p112][4] A major factor in the dislike of Churchill's use of the military, was not in any specific action undertaken by the troops, but the fact that their presence prevented any strike action which might have ended the strike early in the miners' favour.

Despite these facts, the incident continued to haunt Churchill through his career. Such was the strength of feeling, that almost forty years later, when speaking in Cardiff during the General Election campaign of 1950, Churchill was forced to address the issue, stating: "When I was Home Secretary in 1910, I had a great horror and fear of having to become responsible for the military firing on a crowd of rioters and strikers. Also, I was always in sympathy with the miners..."[4]:[p122]

Churchill's role in the events at Tonypandy during the conflict left a negative attitude towards him in South Wales, that still persists. The main point of contention was his decision to allow troops to be sent to Wales. Although this was an unusual move, and was seen by those in Wales as an over-reaction, his Tory opponents suggested that he should have acted with greater vigour.[4]:[p111] The troops acted more circumspectly and were commanded with more common sense than the police, whose role under Lionel Lindsay was, in the words of historian David Smith, "more like an army of occupation".[4]:[p111] The troops were also generally viewed with less hostility than the local and Metropolitan police.

Churchill in 1911

Criticism of Churchill

A more official version states that "The strike finally ended in August 1911, with the workers forced to accept the 2s 3d per ton negotiated by William Abraham MP prior to the strike ... the workers actually returning to work on the first Monday in September",[2] ten months after the strike began and twelve months after the lock-out which started the confrontation.

[9], contemporary communist trade union organiser Cwmardy Purported eyewitness accounts of alleged shootings persisted and were relayed by word of mouth. There are no records of any shots being fired by troops. The only recorded death was Samuel Rhys. In the autobiographical 'documentary novel'

Reaction to the riots

Thirteen miners from Gilfach Goch were arrested and prosecuted for their part in the unrest. The trial of the thirteen occupied six days in December. During the trial, they were supported by marches and demonstrations by up to 10,000 men, who were refused entry to the town.[2] Custodial terms of two to six weeks were issued to some of the respondents; others were discharged or fined.

At 1:20 am on 9 November, orders were sent to Colonel Currey at Cardiff, to despatch a squadron of the 18th Hussars to reach Pontypridd at 8:15 am.[4]:[p122] Upon arrival, one contingent patrolled Aberaman and another was sent to Llwynypia, where it patrolled all day.[4]:[p122] Returning to Pontypridd at night, the troops arrived at Porth as a disturbance was breaking out, and maintained order until the arrival of the Metropolitan Police.[4]:[p123] Although no authentic record exists of casualties, since many miners would have refused treatment, from fear of prosecution for their part in the riots, nearly 80 police and over 500 citizens were injured.[7] One miner, Samuel Rhys, died of head injuries, said to have been inflicted by a policeman's baton.[8] Authorities had reinforced the town with 400 policemen, one company of the Lancashire Fusiliers, billeted at Llwynypia, and the squadron of the 18th Hussars.

A small police presence might have deterred window-breakages, but police had been moved from the streets to protect the residences of mine owners and managers.[3]:[p176]

During the evening of rioting, properties in Tonypandy were damaged and some looting took place.[3]:[p175] Shops were smashed systematically, but not indiscriminately.[4]:[p114] There was little looting, but some rioters wore clothes taken from the shops and paraded in a festival atmosphere. Women and children were involved in considerable numbers, as they had been outside the Glamorgan colliery. No police were seen at the town square, until the Metropolitan Police arrived around 10:30 pm, almost three hours after the rioting began, when the disturbance subsided of its own accord.[4]:[p114] A few shops remained untouched, notably that of chemist Willie Llewellyn, rumoured to have been spared because he had been a famous Welsh international rugby footballer.[6]

Residents standing outside the now boarded shops after the events of 8 November


By this time, strikers had successfully shut down all local pits, except chief constable, Lionel Lindsay, supported by the general manager of the Cambrian Combine, to request military support from the War Office.[4]:[p111]

The riots at Tonypandy


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