Say ‘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.
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.
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.
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.