Elizabeth Andrews – Pioneering Welsh Social Activist

E Andrews
Elizabeth Andrews

Elizabeth Andrews was undoubtedly a woman before her time. From the opening years of the 20th century, she worked as an untiring advocate for miners, their wives and children. She played a key role in ensuring that pithead baths were introduced for miners.

She was born in Penderyn (of Welsh whisky fame) in south Wales in 1882 to a Welsh-speaking household, and was the eldest of 11 children. Forced to leave school at the age of 13 to help at home, at age 17, her parents sent her to learn a craft and she spent a year learning needlework and she soon had her own workshop.

Elizabeth and husband Tom
Elizabeth and husband Tom

Over the next 15 years, she married Thomas T. Andrews, a founder of the Rhondda Independent Labour Party and became active in politics. She started a branch of the Cooperative Women’s Guild; became a suffragette and was elected to the Rhondda Labour Party executive.

In 1919 she, together with two miners’ wives, presented evidence about the lives of women in mining communities to the Sankey Commission established to investigate wages, working hours and conditions in the pits. She cared passionately about the suffering she saw around her and vowed to change the lot of miners’ wives in the South Wales valleys. Her evidence made a compelling case of the importance of having pithead baths to reduce the pressure on women and the mortality rate among children. The families were living in overcrowded houses, with poor sanitation and a high death rate among their children. The women had to boil water to wash clothes and for their husbands to bathe, because the houses had no boilers. The strain of lifting heavy bowls of water resulted in many premature births and serious illnesses among the women. Many children were scalded by the boiling water carried by their mothers. In addition, drying clothes in small kitchens was having a seriously detrimental effect on the health of the children.

Following women’s suffrage granted in 1918, the Labour Party appointed their three first women organisers. Elizabeth Andrews took up one of the posts and an early task was translating leaflets from English to Welsh encouraging women to use their newly-won vote. She remained in this post to 1947.


She worked tirelessly to improve health and education services for Welsh, opening the first nursery school in the Rhondda in 1938 and was elected a member of Glamorgan executive health committee by Aneurin Bevan in 1948.

Glenys Kinnock unveils Blue Plaque
Glenys Kinnock unveils Blue Plaque

She was awarded an OBE in 1949 for her public service and died in 1960 aged 77. A Blue Plaque commemorating her achievements was unveiled by Glenys Kinnock at her former home in Bailey Street, Ton Pentre on 24 April 2009. Glenys Kinnock paid a moving tribute: 

“One personal motto of Elizabeth Andrews was ‘education, aggravation, organisation’, something that I’ve tried to emulate when seeking to get things changed,” explained Mrs Kinnock MEP.

“She tried to teach women not to be afraid of freedom at a time when women’s voice in politics and life was heard much less frequently. Elizabeth Andrews’s life and work is deserving of such recognition and personally I’ve found her to be inspirational.”

 

Four killed in Mold riots – another Welsh injustice

Mold thumbSay ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ to any Welshman and he will scowl at the recollection of the great injustice of 50 years ago, when a Welsh village was flooded against the wishes of everyone in Wales to provide water for the city of Liverpool. However, few Welshmen know about the injustices almost 150 years ago in the north Wales town of Mold which led to the deaths of four people.

It started at the Leeswood Green Colliery; a small coal mine, four miles from Mold. In 1863, the owners replaced a popular Welsh colliery manager with John Young from Durham whose aggressive management style and anti-Welsh sentiment soon made him hated by the workforce. He brought in miners from England who were given the best coal seams to work, which meant they earned far more than their Welsh mining colleagues. He had an appalling safety record which included a flooding accident killing four people including a 10-year-old child. An excellent account of the disaster appears on the ‘Flue Pit Disaster’ page. Although four out of five of the miners were Welsh speakers, many of whom spoke little or no English, he banned the use of Welsh underground, arguing that rescuers might not understand a shout for help in Welsh!

The final straw came when Young announced that their wages were to be cut and they walked out on strike. A few days later the workers returned to the colliery, collecting Young and dumping him into a coal cart, placing a one-way train ticket to England in his coat pocket and taking him to the station. At the same time, another group of miners had entered Young’s home and were packing up his possessions and carrying them to the station platform. It was only by chance that a couple of police officers stumbled across the miners’ escort – they pulled Young from the crowd and led him back to the safety of Mold.

On 2nd June 1869, seven miners were prosecuted, mostly for their militant reputation, and the blue touch paper for the riot was lit. Expecting trouble, the police called in soldiers from across the border to help deal with any hostile reaction to the court’s decision

The trial was a complete travesty. The magistrates had financial interests linking them to the local coal-mining industry; only two miners had legal representation; court proceedings followed normal practice – conducted entirely in English; and despite no signs of any assault on Young, the miners were found guilty.

Mold-Riot
The scene of the Mold Riot

The two men who were identified as ringleaders, Ishmael Jones and John Jones, were given a month’s hard labour and the rest were given fines. The soldiers started to take the convicts towards the railway station to take them to the jail at Flint Castle(1) but the crowd started to throw stones causing the soldiers with their captives to take cover in a nearby telegraph office. One of the soldiers fired a shot through a front window and a protester fell to the ground. For ten minutes the soldiers continued to fire and four people were killed.

Margaret Younghusband had just stepped out of the church she had been cleaning to see what the disturbance was about and was shot in the thigh, bleeding out from her femoral artery. Edward Bellis , a collier, died from a gunshot wound to the stomach; Elizabeth Jones was shot in the back and died later. Robert Hannaby, a teenage collier was shot in the head and died instantly.

At the inquest, the magistrate was so deaf. he strained to hear through an old-fashioned ear trumpet. No miners were called to give evidence and no family members. The only evidence was from the police, a newspaper reporter and two doctors. Despite the fact the Riot Act had not been read, the jury decided in 15 minutes the deceased were killed through “justifiable homicide, caused by the crowd making reckless and outrageous attacks on her Majesty’s soldiers with unlawful missiles”.

The matter did not end there. A further court case was held with five men accused of taking part in the riot outside the court; each was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years penal labour – including Isaac Jones, whose wife had been shot in the back. It was a brutal and relentless show of power.

Mold riots The only positive thing to come out of this injustice was the fact the tragedy at Mold led the Authorities to rethink and change the way they dealt with public disorder in the future. However, it was not until 1942 that the Welsh Courts Act was passed which gave the right to use Welsh in courts providing that the Welsh speaker was under a disadvantage in having to speak English, but this was very narrowly defined by subsequent case law. The Welsh Language Act 1967, overturned these decisions and gave rise to the concept of ‘equal validity’ between the Welsh and English languages. It took 200 years from the Mold riots for that simple justice to be enacted.

(1) Knowing that Flint Castle was one of Edward I’s ruins, I was slightly puzzled, but I learned that up to the 19th century, part of the site’s outer bailey was used as Flintshire’s County Jail.

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Since writing this blog, I had a very helpful response from historian David Rowe who has investigated the Mold riots in depth. Although I looked at a wide number of sources, all were web-based and I fell victim to the danger of not referring to primary sources, or, at least reliable secondary sources, when writing about history. Here is his helpful response:

[The blog is] an interesting précis of what has become known as the Mold Riots, but sadly this entry repeats other sources that may not be totally accurate. There is no evidence that the use of Cymraeg was banned by Young. Letters to local newspapers, and the reports of the trial itself, list many grievances, but the banning of the language does not feature in either. Indeed, during one of the two trials associated with the events, a number of the defendants were provided with a translator as they did not speak English. However, if anyone is able to provide evidence to the contrary, we would appreciate hearing from you so that this much repeated ‘fact’ can be confirmed.

Unfortunately many of the articles and books on the event repeat the same points which from my research are unsubstantiated. I have researched it in some detail and not wishing to go through point by point, it is also perhaps worth noting that very little is said about the injuries suffered by the army and police prior to them opening fire. Two of the eighteen injured police officers, Superintendent Thomas and Sergeant Dew, never returned to work and of the latter it was reported that “his helmet was smashed in, a stone was afterwards found inside it”. The affair was not supported by Mold townspeople and shopkeepers, and the miners took their business to Wrexham. The coal industry in the nineteenth century was extremely volatile with demand fluctuating considerably. This inevitably impacted upon miners and the reducing of wages & unemployment appears quite a normal practice. This often led to violence amongst mining communities themselves. Whilst from my reading of Young, I do not think he was particularly nice person, but interestingly he went back to Leeswood Green Colliery and one of the original rioters is later described as being his ‘right hand man.’

Grateful thanks to my friend Rhys Mwyn for the Blue Plaque photograph and the inspiration for this blog.

Five killed in Bodelwyddan Riots

On 5th March 1919, a First World War army camp at Bodelwyddan near Abergele in North Wales was the scene of a bloody riot that left five soldiers dead and 23 injured. Kinmel Park Camp was built in 1914 as a training camp for Lord Kitchener’s Army in preparation for serving overseas. It had its own branch railway line connecting to the main line at Rhyl. There was also a trench warfare training area which can be seen today to the rear of Bodelwyddan Castle.

Kinmel Camp
Buildings at Kinmel Camp

In March 1919, some 15,000 Canadian troops were billeted at Kinmel camp awaiting repatriation to Canada. In late February 1919, it was learned that troop ships originally allocated to the Canadians had been re-allocated to the American forces – who had certainly not served in France for half as long as the Canadians – it caused understandable resentment.

Then came the news that the Canadian 3rd Division – known to the military authorities as the Fighting Division – was to be given priority over other Canadian troops. The men at Kinmel were outraged, both at the implied slander on their reputations and on being once again pushed down the list for repatriation.

Conditions at Kinmel Park were very basic. The place was a sea of mud and strikes had held up the delivery of both fuel and food supplies. As a result, the men were on half rations and as many had received no pay for over a month.
They were sleeping 42 to a hut, in accommodation that had been designed for no more than 30. Men were taking it in turns to sleep on the floor and most of them had only one blanket to keep them from the cold of a north Wales winter. Several delegations were sent to the senior officers in the camp, protesting about conditions and the way the men felt they were being treated. Nothing was done.

Eventually, tempers boiled over and the discontent became direct action. Some groups started to loot the quartermaster’s stores and the sergeants’ mess. Officers quickly established a defensive perimeter and ammunition was issued to those soldiers considered to be trustworthy and loyal. The rioters had a few rifles but, in the main, they had to improvise weapons, strapping razors to broom handles or sticks.

When 20 of the mutineers – because it was by now considered a full-scale mutiny – were seized, the rest simply charged the guardroom and set them free. Rifle shots were exchanged and, when casualty figures were later added up, it transpired that three rioters and two guards had been killed in the affair. Many others had been wounded or injured. The rioting continued until 4.30 in the morning of 5 March when things seemed to fizzle out and the officers regained control of the camp.

Colonel G.W.L Nicholson wrote in the Official History Of The Canadian Army In The First World War

“In all, between November 1918 and June 1919, there were thirteen instances or disturbances involving Canadian troops in England (sic). The most serious of these occurred in Kinmel Park on 4th and 5th March 1919, when dissatisfication over delays in sailing resulted in five men being killed and 23 being wounded. Seventy eight men were arrested, of whom 25 were convicted of mutiny and given sentences varying from 90 days’ detention to ten years’ penal servitude.”

Four of the five Canadian troops killed during the riot were buried in the graveyard of Bodelwyddan church among 117 Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorials. Most of the war graves are casualties of the Spanish flu pandemic, including 83 Canadian soldiers who died at Kinmel Park Camp. One of the rioting Canadian soldier’s gravestone bears the inscription, “Someday, sometime, we’ll understand.”

Following the riots priority was given to repatriating the Canadian troops. The affair was, as far as possible, hushed up and by 25 March the Canadians had been transported home. The tragedy is that it could not have been done earlier.

trenchThe Daily Post reported plans to recreate First World War trenches alongside the remaining practice trenches from the original Kinmel Park Camp shown here on the left.