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Guardians of the Needy Found Wanting

A Study in Social Division during the Industrial Crisis of 1926

By David James Davies, B.A.

There is a plethora of local studies of the General Strike and mining dispute of 1926 yet, as a reviewer of the spate of books, which appeared to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Strike, was moved to point out, studies of attitudes towards events in rural areas are apparently few and far between.1 It is impossible to discuss the history of the General Strike at the national level in any detail here. For our purpose it is sufficient to mention that the miners were locked out on the 1 May 1926 when they refused to accept a cut in pay. The General Council of the T.U.C. called for a 'partial' national stoppage on Monday, 3 May 1926. This 'general' strike lasted nine days from 3 to 12 May. The deadlock was broken by Sir Herbert Samuel, acting entirely as a private citizen and negotiating in secret with the TUC leaders. When the miners refused his proposed basis for the renewal of negotiations the TUC leadership called off the General Strike. The miners' strike went on for another six months until they were forced to return to work on the owners' terms by the lash of hunger.

As far as attitudes in Carmarthenshire in 1926 were concerned, these are best studied within the Poor Law context. The reasons for this will become apparent as this study unfolds. To begin with, however, although this is anticipating, it is necessary to take issue with writers, such as Paul Jeremy, who imply that because most of the poor law unions controlled by Independent majorities in South Wales - Carmarthen and Llandeilo-Fawr included — were located in the rural or semi-rural parts of the coalfield their history is less interesting and worthy of only incidental mention because the numbers involved were so much smaller.2

It is hoped to show later how the unique socio-economic characteristics of eastern Carmarthenshire and the Amman Valley in the 1920s were instrumental in affecting the response of the Guardians concerned towards the mining communities in their area. In fact Carmarthen and Llandeilo-Fawr provide good examples of a situation in many of the semi-rural Welsh Unions where scales operated at considerably lower levels than those of Ministry of Health Circular 703, which was circulated to all the Boards of Guardians in England and Wales in early May, and set out the scales of relief to be paid to strikers' families.3 Although not quite as bad as Pontypool, the Carmarthen and Llandelo Boards were just as ruthless in their own way.4 They are good examples of rural boards controlled by Independents largely made up of small farmers, though a surviving remnant of the aristocracy could make its voice heard in the case of Llandeilo.

Mention of Circular 703 is a reminder of the need to briefly outline the way in which the Poor Law system in 1926 was still closely modelled on the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which had been devised to cope with the poor in a totally different age. The Victorian age attempted to drive home the 'stigma of pauperism', which found its embodiment above all in the workhouse and the family test. The failure of an individual to find work was a moral one unrelated to any economic causes. It was for such individuals that the 'workhouse test' was devised: relief was only to be issued in a workhouse and conditions were to be made so unpalatable inside these places that 'malingerers' would be forced to find work. Nevertheless, in practice, out-relief, that is relief paid to the recipient in his home, was common after 1834 although it was doled out in small enough amounts to make sure that the recipients remained poorer than those in work. The system was administered by Boards of Guardians, who were responsible for areas made up of combined parishes to form Unions.

By the 1920s a degree of humanity had entered into the Poor Law's treatment of the needy as far as the elderly, the sick, children and widows were concerned, but the massive unemployment which followed the post-war boom brought a difficult problem to the fore as far as the administrators were concerned. The question was whether the long-term unemployed were now to undergo the traditional tests of destitution or whether some other policy should be adopted. In 1921 the Ministry of Health tried to face up to this problem by informing Boards of Guardians that relief could be given but it 'should of necessity be calculated on a lower scale than the earnings of the independent labourer who is maintaining himself by his labour'.5 Thus, at a painfully slow pace, was the Poor Law Act of 1834 adjusted to modern conditions.

As far as poor relief to strikers was concerned Circular 703, which may be found reprinted in the Western Mail, Wednesday, May 12 1926, cannot be understood without serious consideration of its immediate antecedent. This was the Merthyr Tydfil judgement of 1900, which, in 1926, complicated an already confused situation with regard to the question of poor relief to strikers. The Merthyr Tydfil judgement was a legal ruling made in the Court of Appeal which was the result of the suing, by some South Wales coalowners, of the Merthyr Tydfil Board of Guardians for giving relief to striking miners. The judge, Lord Linley, had ruled that a Board of Guardians was not to give relief to strikers although they would be justified in giving relief to their dependents. Circular 703 reminded Boards of Guardians that there were limitations on their freedom of manoeuvre imposed by the Merthyr judgement.6 Not much stress has been laid on the fact, however, that it was possible to use the loop-hole whereby women were not regarded as subject to a labour test and hence increased relief could be paid to them. Thus the Merthyr Tydfil judgement made unconditional relief even easier than it would otherwise have been, especially in the revised form in which it appeared in Circular 703 in 1926.7

This legal loophole was a mandate for humanitarianism which many Boards in England and Wales, of widely differing political complexions, had chosen to subscribe to.8 The Camarthenshire Guardians did not, and even on a strictly legalistic interpretation of Circular 703 many of their actions will be seen to have been of dubious legality to say the least. This wilful insensitivity to the very real suffering in their midst was not due to any political considerations relating directly to the General Strike as such, but by a way of thinking about industrialism, and its politics, which was conditioned by the unique social and economic background of eastern Carmarthenshire and the Amman Valley in the 1920s. This background will provide us with the key to the behaviour of the rural Boards of Carmarthenshire in 1926. First, however, this must be sketched in.

The whole of the east Carmarthenshire and Amman Valley region underwent a brief period of rapid and intensive industrialization in the post-1918 period. From about the 1870s to 1914 anthracite coal had been exploited on a very small scale. Many mines were owned by small farmers who drove drifts and levels into the hillsides and who employed the services of a mining engineer. More significant, from the point of view of this study, is the fact that, as James Griffiths has pointed out, 'When, from the eighteen seventies, the coal industry expanded . . . it was from the countryside in Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire that the new men came. Their nicknames, like Shoni Cardi and Twm Llandyfri, revealed their origin. The multitude of David Joneses revealed the essential Welsh character of the anthracite worker'.9 Because of the scattered nature of production 'the mines were sufficiently small for recruitment to be limited to the immediate locality'. The owner would know his men intimately and the chances were he would have attended the same elementary school, Sunday school and continued to go to the same chapel.

In such a context as the 1920s, however, all good things had to come to an end and 'the paternal relationship between workers and owners . . . was destroyed by the amalgamation of firms between the wars'.10 Concurrent with this amalgamation was a tendency for the anthracite export trade to shift from Llanelli and Port Talbot to Swansea.11 From the point of view of our story it is important to note however that though 'the number of men employed in the counties of Brecon and Carmarthen . . . fairly steadily declined over the whole period from 1923-38' the period 1923-26 may be regarded as the peak of production in the western half of the anthracite coalfield, which took in the eastern Carmarthenshire and the Amman Valley region. It is only after 1926 that an absolute decline set in and 'from 1929 to 1935 the output from Carmarthen and Brecon declined by nearly 15 per cent, whilst the output from the eastern section of the anthracite field was continually increasing to a record high level in 1935'.12

What was the direct relationship of all this to the behaviour of the Carmarthenshire Guardians in 1926? The first thing that may be said is that eastern Carmarthenshire was going through an industrial boom period, which had just reached or passed its peak in the period 1925-26. The overriding anxiety of the indigenous farming population was that there should not be, as one ex-miner put it, a 'brutal industrialization of the Amman and Gwendraeth Valleys and the countryside of east Carmarthen'.13 The fact that the boom period had reached its turning point in 1926 and that things were to work out differently with the closure of small mines and migration eastwards, was not readily appreciated by the population of east Carmarthenshire at the time, particularly the small farmer-dominated Boards of Guardians. These held no reasons to love the miners, and their actions in 1926 were dictated more by the complex socio-economic conditions which prevailed locally than by any directions that emanated from the central authority.

To add to this complexity, however, there was another development of equal importance. As the writer of the first significant synthesis of modern Welsh history has pointed out, the 1914-18 War had brought far-reaching changes in the Welsh countryside. The demand for agricultural produce spiralled and 'brought renewed prosperity to the upland farms of mid and west Wales ... more money circulated in the farming community than ever before; rural banks did immense business'.14

Concurrent with this, and serving only to enhance the arrogance of the new men of the freehold farming community and to increase their numbers, was the accelerated break-up of the great landed estates, with sales becoming a flood in the 1918-22 period. These included the Abergavenny estates in Monmouthshire, the Bodelwyn estates in Denbighshire, those of the Powells in Cardiganshire, the Beauforts in Breconshire and of course the Cawdors of Carmarthenshire.15 This 'green revolution' was born of unprecedented economic prosperity on the part of the freeholders and the concomitant decline of the squirearchy. Fortunately its consequences in the field of local government were to be short-lived and make the assertion that 'Henceforth the countryside was to become the domain of the freeholding farmer' appear little more than hyperbole.16 This 'domination' was to be literally strangled in its infancy by the Local Government Act of 1929, which transferred important functions to the County Councils, among them those of the abolished Boards of Guardians. Yet even a bawling infant is capable of wreaking much damage if it is so minded: and the new freehold farmer class had time enough in the 1920s to do plenty of damage to the social fabric of the countryside of which they were briefly overlords. The case of Carmarthenshire will be seen to be a classic illustration of this.

So much, at this stage, for the attitude of the rural Guardians towards the mining communities under their 'care'. Detailed illustration to back up the general propositions regarding this attitude will be produced very shortly. For the moment let us consider the Carmarthenshire anthracite miner and his environment. How 'rural' was this environment and how did it determine his attitude to the primitive social policy of his time, which largely took the form of Poor Law relief?

The correlation between environment and social consciousness in south-west Wales was particularly well defined and has been summed up the following way: '[The] west Wales anthracite coalfield . . . had remained relatively thriving since the war and its peaceable Welsh-speaking miners — men very much in the mould of James Griffiths — seemed more tranquil than their comrades in the eastern valleys with their high rate of immigration from England'.17 Also, as far as the 1920s were concerned, the whole of the mining population were only second generation industrial workers. What this meant in day to day terms was that 'life is much slower and more free and easy than is to be expected in an industrial area; it is not uncommon for a miner to: be a small-holder or to own a public house'.18 Then there was the problem of how 'to train them in the disciplined ways of industry . . . [and to get them] to work a correct number of shifts in the week . . . [all of which were] signs of a rural approach to work not yet adapted to new canditions'.19

The sum total of what should be by now the obvious correlation between the enviromnent and the social consciousness of the anthracite miner was that, as a contemporary put it, it helped 'the miner to maintain his very independent outlook on life . . . As the last few years have proved he will stand for social justice as he conceives it'.20 Whatever course subsequent developments took, in 1926 this sturdy independence on the part of the anthracite miner represented to the farming community a social challenge.

As was pointed out earlier these small farmers were the latter-day replacements of the squirearchy which had dominated the countryside from the 16th down to the close of the 19th century, and until the Local Government Act of 1929, they were able to exert a strong influence on the lives and well-being of many of the rest of the community. Dependence on the Poor Law for the anthracite miner would have been a more humiliating experience than for his counterparts in the rest of the South Wales coalfield. The social challenge that the miner represented resulted in conduct on the part of the rural Guardians in 1926 which bordered on malice. It is important to bear in mind that, until very recently, the anthracite miners and the Guardians had been independent of each other, but when a one-way relationship of dependency was established between them, it was inevitable that this antipathy on the part of the rural element should have come to a head and found appropriate expression. It is to the derailed consideration of this that we must now turn, with the case of Llanelly being discussed briefly to provide a contrast with the actions of the rural Boards.

The first thing that may be said is that even the most superficial examination of such evidence as survives establishes beyond all doubt that the behaviour of the rural Boards was unequivocally discreditable. It is not necessary to hold — to use a phrase which was much in vogue in the editorials of the time — 'socialistic leanings' to appreciate how mealy-mouthed was the behaviour of the men who controlled the dispensation of Poor Law relief in the rural and rural-cum-industrial areas of Carmarthenshire and the Amman Valley. When the authority of the central government was invoked it was usually only in order to buttress positions which had already been taken up for reasons connected with narrow self-interest at the local level. Indeed, the Guardians were prepared to take a very flexible view of the law and even bend it to breaking point when it suited them. In Carmarthenshire — unusual as an industrialized area in the 1920s, where support for the Strike was on the whole not very strong — it was the strength of local autonomy which gravely threatened the morale of working class communities in 1926, not the Chamberlainite 'oppressors' of central authority.21

Of the two rural Boards in the county, Carmarthen had a far worse record with regard to the payment of outdoor relief to the families of locked-out miners in 1926. This Board held its meetings at fortnightly intervals and the details of its first meeting after the outbreak of the General Strike were reported in the local press on May 14. At this meeting they had to decide on a scale of relief and Circular 703 was read out. Although much was to be made later on by this Board about the necessity for toeing the line with regard to Ministry of Health directives, the Carmarthen Board ignored the recommendation in Circular 703 to pay 12/- a week to the wife of a locked-out miner and 4/- for each child.22 At a subsequent meeting, one person on the Board described the relief paid as 'amazingly inadequate' and proposed that it be increased from the pre-May 1 rate of 10s and 2s to that recommended by Circular 703.23 The result of this was to provoke one farmer into stating a position which was to be held by the majority of the Carmarthen Board of Guardians throughout the Strike: Who is the poor-man today, he asked. It is the little farmer who sells what he produces at much less money than he used to get ... Such men do not come to the Guardians but fight their own battles and suffer in silence.24

The motion to increase relief was amended by a proposition to reduce relief for the wife of a miner with children from the pre-strike rate of 10/- to 7/6 and this was carried by a majority.25 As for the wives of miners without children, the Chairman of the Carmarthen Board of Guardians, a worthy man, put the matter in the following perspective: 'If they have not brought up children they should have saved ... If they have not they should suffer.26 The person who had attempted to get the level of relief raised up to the Circular 703 scale was shouted down when he tried to raise the awkward question of why, as the Relieving Officer had confided to him in private before the meeting, it had been already decided secretly beforehand to withhold relief from miners' wives who had no children, while officially maintaining a pretence of 'treating each case on its merits'.27

A fortnight later a deputation of miners was received from the Pontyates and District Sub-Area Distress Committee, a spokesman of which pointed out that the area from which he came was 'up in arms' over a decision by the Board to deduct relief in cases where a miner, who had a family, received food vouchers from the Distress Committee. He described such action as 'callous and absolutely indefensible'.28 Of course they got nowhere. It was revealed at a later meeting that, with dependents taken into account, the Pontyates Distress Committee represented possibly as many as four thousand people.29

By August 20, the knives were really out. One member proposed that the miners' dependents be put on the same level as the local workhouse inmates. His motion was put to the meeting 'and on a show of hands was carried by a large majority'.30 The same person, not content with this, then said, 'I make a further notice of motion to reduce the relief still more'; he wanted to put the wives of miners on a level below that regarded as appropriate for paupers.31 While the first motion was being discussed one of the very few members of the Carmarthen Board who was sympathetic to the miners pointed out that 'not a single penny had been spent by them on boots for the children'.32 The Carmarthen Board of Guardians were not prepared to issue boots even on the undertaking that the cost of the boots was to be deducted from relief. Such was the antipathy of the small farmer to the fairly recently established mining communities under their care. The Chairman of the Carmarthen Board of Guardians was a moderate man, but he was unable to exercise any real influence on the decisions taken. Nevertheless, even if in an antiquated manner, he summed up the situation well in saying that he could not understand the attitude of the farmers to the miners. They had a good harvest before them and Providence had been very kind to them'.33

Even the Llandilo-Fawr Guardians came out better than this. During the lockout they issued two hundred pairs of boots to the children of miners, largely in the Ammanford area. What is more significant, they decided that 'the cost of the boots with that for food was not to exceed the scale prescribed by the Ministry of Health'.34 That is, in cases where boots were not provided, the policy of the Llandilo-Board was to pay 2/6d for each dependent child, as opposed to the Circular 703 scale of 4/-. Where boots were provided, the total value of relief for one child, that is food allowance and boots, probably approached the Ministry scale, but, of course, only for the one week during which the boots were issued. Though not generous the attitude of the Llandilo Guardians was not as totally uncompromising as that of the Carmarthen Board. This was almost certainly due to their greater proximity to the volatile Ammanford area, which had experienced riots in 1925, rather than to any surge of humanitarian sentiment.35

The behaviour of the Carmarthen Board of Guardians is of course explained by an historical awareness of the social and economic background of eastern Carmarthenshire in the 1920s, as described earlier. It is interesting to note that the Editor of The Celtic News, whose general attitude towards the miners case was unfavourable, could see the decision of the Carmarthen Guardians to treat the dependents of miners on the same basis as paupers in the following light: 'Carmarthen is hardly touched to the extent of other big industrial centres . . . [and] can afford to be a little more tolerant and humane ... Our view is that the Carmarthen Board of Guardians on which there is a preponderance of farmers should tread cautiously and be free from the accusation of antipathy'.36 The next week saw the appearance of a letter by a member of the public which censured 'those Guardians who have little knowledge of industrial affairs except the sale of their produce in the towns'.37 Also, at a meeting of the Carmarthen Board reported on September 1, a letter was referred to from the Secretary of the local branch of the National Union of Railwaymen censuring the Guardians for their cutting of relief to the wives of locked-out miners and pointing out the danger to the Board of allowing 'political views to interfere with their duties'.38 The whole point, concerning these contemporary expressions of opinion, is that the actions of the Carmarthen Board were not politically motivated by any partisan indulgence in the politics of the General Strike as such. The excessive concern with local autonomy ensured this.

As far as Carmarthen was concerned the boots issue came to a head on 1 October. But more interesting than the issue itself were the sentiments to which it gave rise. The issue came out fully into the open because by this stage of the strike a large number of applications had been made and had even prompted the Board previously to apply to the Ministry of Health for clarification of the issue. The reply they got was that boots were to be issued in cases 'where they were urgently required'.39 One of the two or three members of the Board who were sympathetic to the miners pointed out that it was quite legal to issue boots and grant relief in kind up to the limits set by Circular 703 and moved that boots be issued without a consequent reduction in relief.40 His motion, predictably, was heavily defeated. It may be pointed out that it was common practice at Llandeilo and elsewhere to deduct the cost of boots from the relief paid. What must he borne in mind here, however, is that the Carmarthen Guardians had already decided to put the wives of miners on a par with paupers by giving them 7/6d and each child 3/-, the cost of boots to be deducted from the pauper scale adopted by them, not that fixed by the Ministry of Health.

A fortnight later, a deputation of the Pontyates Distress Committee appeared before the Carmarthen Board of Guardians for the third time, on this occasion to warn the Board that they had had to use all their efforts to prevent a thousand miners from coming to Carmarthen to protest against the Board's decision on the boots issue. The clerk told the deputation that not to deduct the cost of boots from the relief paid would be 'to go against the Ministry of Health'; this was a perversion of the truth.41 One member of the deputation pointed out that this only held true in the event of the Board adopting the Circular 703 scale prior to the issue of boots, but was shouted down. With the deputation still present, another member of the Board proposed a notice of motion to discuss an increase of relief at the next meeting and this was agreed to, but only after the voicing of much petty abuse on the part of the other members of the Board.42

The final meeting, during the lock-out, of the Carmarthen Board of Guardians took place in the second week in November, with the Pontyates Distress Committee in attendance for the fourth time.43 During the preliminary discussion about whether or not to admit members of the depuation, the tone was set for the rest of the meeting by the condescension expressed in the following remark: 'even the highest grade of people give a hearing to the lowest grade'.44 The leader of the deputation pointed out the desperate plight of the four thousand people dependent on the Poor Law in his area and another member of the deputation observed that the relief granted by the Board was the lowest in the area.45 On a comparative basis the Carmarthen Guardians certainly came off very badly, as shown by the following table46 indicating scales operative by major Boards of Guardians in the South Wales coalfield in 1926:

Board Adults Children
Pontardawe 12/- 4/-
Llanelly 12/- 4/-
Cardiff 12/- 4/-
Swansea 12/- 4/-
Merthyr 12/- 4/-
Gower 10/- 3/-
Carmarthen 7/6 3/-
Pontypool 5/- 2/-
Llandeilo 10/- 2/6

With the exit of the deputation the notice of motion put forward at the previous meeting to consider an increase of relief came up for discussion. The motion was overwhelmingly defeated, with only two supporting it. During the course of discussion prior to the vote, one of the very few Carmarthen Guardians sympathetic to the miners had asked how many of them were ex-Servicemen and a Trelech farmer replied, 'I worked as hard as any soldier in the trenches during the war', while another, from Abergwili, was reported as saying that he 'was afraid people were too apt to regard the farmer as a rich man, because he had a few cattle and sheep. He could assure them . . . [that] farmers . . . had to work 12 and 15 hours . . . and yet they never went on strike'.47 The want of human sensitivity to the sufferings of others manifest in such remarks is truly remarkable, but it summed up the attitude of the Carmarthen Board of Guardians to the miner and his family. There was very little difference in the case of the Llandeilo-Fawr Guardians, to which consideration must now be given.

By the time the mining dispute was so many weeks old the Llandeilo Guardians were aware that the adoption of a hard line by them would aggravate the already prevalent suffering in their area. It was admitted at a meeting reported in the local press on 10 June that 'the majority of the residents of one street' were amongst those in receipt of relief as a result of the strike.48 Despite the readiness of this Board, with reservations, to distribute boots to children, the necessity to protect the agricultural interest overrode all humanitarian considerations, as in Carmarthen, and the small farmer mentality triumphed here as well. If anything the antipathy in the Llandeilo Board felt by the agrarian elements towards the small and scattered industrial communities was even greater than that of the Carmarthen Board.

From a social and humanitarian view (not political it is stressed) the Llandeilo Guardians did not directly reveal their basic attitude until well on into the strike, though it had existed, below the surface long before 1 May 1926. Details of a meeting were reported in the local press on 3 September and it appeared that a suggestion had been made to allow a man seven days to repay relief he was alleged to have obtained fraudulently before court proceedings were instituted. The suggestion was shouted down. It was obvious that the Llandeilo Guardians were determined to make a test case of this particular issue. And so they did.49 When details of the court case were published later it emerged that the man concerned was charged with claiming relief while in receipt of National Insurance benefit. The Bench decided to convict and imposed a fine of 10s., while making pompous noises about the 'seriousness' of the offence. This desipte the fact that, as the defending solicitor pointed out, the man had obtained the relief by way of loan and had signed a declaration promising to pay the money back.50 Of greater interest, from the point of view of what has been argued so far, is the claim by the defence that the Llandilo Board of Guardians had a preponderance of small farmers, some of whom farmed in the industrial areas and were party to the proceedings which had been instituted; these were the people who spoke derogoratively about 'yr hên golliers' at Saturday markets.51 The response of the rural community to this pejorative allegation was summed up in the weekly 'Man About Town' column of The Amman Valley Chronicle written by 'The Watchman': 'The agriculturalists resent to the core the utterances of one of our leading advocates in a case recently heard at Ammanford . . . He laid stress on the point that the Llandilo Board of Guardians was constituted in the main by farmers . . . The Chairman of the agriculturalists - so it appears, hit out at the last meeting of the Guardians and reminded his colleagues that the decision to prosecute was arrived at almost unanimously . . . Let me remind my readers that we owe a good deal to the vigilance of the agriculturalists in the North districts'.52 The implication was that the decision was shared by some who did not represent the agricultural interest. In the final analysis, however, the case serves to encapsulate the attitude of the Llandilo Guardians to the mining community.

Judging by the largely apathetic response to the relief issue throughout 1926, the actions of the Guardians must have received broad communal support. This holds equally true of Carmarthen. But in Llanelli one has to search very hard indeed for letters and editorials which advocated a tougher line by the Guardians towards the miners' rights under Circular 703. Such support for the miners by the community at large was indicative of a social response to the events of 1926 in east Carmarthenshire and not a political one set in train by promptings from the central authority, or anywhere else for that matter. Developments in Llanelli therefore took a very different course, and it only now remains to throw into relief the actions of the rural Boards by considering the record of the Labour controlled Llanelly Board of Guardians in 1926. In Llanelli the political motivation behind the actions of the Guardians was immediately demonstrated by the manner in which they issued relief to as many as possible. They also stirred up a hornet's nest by their liberality; indeed, a miniature 'Red' scare in some quarters, as evidenced by the following newspaper observation: 'It is part of the Communist programme to make the administration of public affairs as difficult as possible, and Communist speakers are urged to tell these unemployed people to apply to the Guardians on every possible occasion . . . A steelworker who spoke to our representative yesterday said the was simply astounded to see so many of the higher paid men in the queue waiting for a ticket. The position, he added, is simply scandalous'.53 This contemporary view is confimed by the fact that, as Hywel Francis has pointed out, 'the already well-established communist party in Llanelli succeeded in trebling its membership during the course of the strike'.54 Not only this; the local Trades Council was converted into a Council of Action which virtually took over the running of everything and 'went beyond TUC instructions in immediately calling out steel, gas, electricity and brewery workers. The police stations and market were commandeered. Food was distributed to the needy whilst the police received instructions from the Council of Action and actually conformed to their orders for the turning back of the lorries of blacklegs . . . '55 Of more immediate relevance was the fact that the 'extent of the Council's influence was such that the local Board of Guardians made the unprecedented decision of relieving all strikers at full rates'.56

Nevertheless, by 23 October the Llanelly Guardians were forced by Ministry of Health pressure to reduce the relief scale from 12s. and 4s.57 This was, however, only a week before the end of the dispute. But significant was the attitude of the Editor of one of the two Llanelli newspapers — he had been the most vocificrous in the campaign against relief abuse — towards the question of whether to reduce relief or not, when it came to the fore from the beginning of September. He wrote, 'it is difficult to see what the Guardians can do except to maintain the present allowance. The scale is not over generous, and while it cannot be increased, it is barely sufficient to provide the necessities of life. It allows twelve shillings a week for wives and four shillings a week for children'.58 The broad communal attitude which such an utterance represented was diametrically opposed to that of the Boards of rural Carmarthenshire. And to impute the reason for this divergence of views between the Llanelli and the rural Boards merely to their different political make-up would be a gross over simplification. It is hoped that this study has made that quite clear.

In conclusion it may be said that in the middle of the 1920s there were about 15,000 miners, excluding their dependents, concentrated in the western part of the South Wales coalfield. At the real height of the mining dispute there were 8,338 people on relief in Llanelli and these were made up predominantly of the dependents of miners.59 This total of dependents represented 1,959 applications.60 As far as Llandeilo was concerned, by the beginning of September a total of 1,165 people were in receipt of relief.61 No figures of this nature are available for Carmarthen, but it is unlikely that the total of miners' dependents exceeded some hundreds.

The whole point of this is that the majority of these miners did not turn to the Poor Law on behalf of either themselves or their families. Also, the Labour Exchange offered little comfort: as a member of the Llanelly Board of Guardians pointed out, 'It should not go out that the people in the mining districts were receiving more money than the people of the town. Workmen unemployed in Llanelly could go to the Labour Exchange but the miner was debarred'.62 As in the eastern part of the South Wales coalfield, most miners and their dependents survived on sporadic strike pay from the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and the communal kitchens which were organised and run by the miners themselves, who obtained goods largely on credit from local shopkeepers.

The amounts collected by local fund raising activities were so meagre, judging by reports in the local press, that they may be dismissed as genuine but limited gestures by a tiny minority — as far as the areas covered by the rural Guardians were concerned, at any rate. Yet there does not appear to have been any cases of starvation or severe malnutrition in the mining areas of eastern Carmarthenshire and the Amman Valley. Undoubtedly there was suffering, but to nowhere near the same intensity as in the rest of the coalfield, say east of Swansea. This is certainly a reflection of the peculiar, yet far more stable, agricultural-cum-industrial social and economic structure of eastern Carmarthenshire in the 1920s, the nature of which was discussed in the early part of this study, and the way it directly affected the attitudes and actions of the Guardians in 1926. Of equal significance was the way in which the new elite of rural capitalists, who had largely replaced the landlord class in the post-1914 period, reacted to the miners' actions in claiming their legal rights unconditionally, which they saw as a social challenge to be confronted head on. The forms of social control which had passed into the hands of the recently triumphant freehold farming class were to be snatched away from them, with the passage of The local Government Act in 1929, before they had time to learn how to use them properly. Nevertheless, they had had time to do plenty of damage to the social fabric of their communities before 1929, and, on balance, the story of the relationship of the rural Guardians and the miners in 1926 is representative of one of the unhappier aspects of Carmarthenshire history.

Aberystwyth 1981.
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