Working Class Movement Library

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Ringing out the old, ringing in the new – our new blog

Posted by wcmlibrary on May 12, 2015

Our new Web site allows us at last to bring our blog closer to home – our new blog features on the site at

We will not be adding any more blog postings at this address therefore.  But we will leave the existing postings here to be browsed through.

If you’d like to become a library blogger, reviewing new books for us or helping us highlight in other ways aspects of our amazing collections, let us know – enquiries @

Thanks for your interest and support, Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager

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The Ninth of March 1945

Posted by wcmlibrary on March 9, 2015

Today marks the seventieth anniversary of the firebombing of Tokyo. On the evening of March 9th 1945 over 1600 bombs were dropped on Tokyo in what was then the single largest number of casualties in one night in human history. Whilst estimates of those who died are difficult to verify, the range of those killed is generally taken to be between 75,000 and 125,000.

What marked that night was the first large scale use of napalm, a product which when combined with white phosphor would ‘penetrate deep into the musculature, where it would continue to burn, day after day’ (1).  In order to perfect the technique of bombing with such a new technological approach a replica of a Japanese village was built in Utah in order to understand the nature of the challenge. In the raid of March 9th and 10th the bombers were deployed in patterns which had previously been organised to maximise levels of destruction.

Tokyo, 1945

Public Domain Photograph: Chou City Peaceful Prayer Virtual Museum. Accessed 05/03/2015

Strong winds on the evening and night of March 9th & 10th intensified the impact of the bombing. A report from the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that ‘the chief characteristic of the conflagration … was the presence of a fire front, an extended wall of fire extending moving to leeward preceded by a mass of pre heated, turbid, burning vapours. An extended fire swept over 15 square miles in 6 hours. The area of the fire was nearly 100 per cent burned …. no structure or its contents escaped damage.’

The report concluded that ‘probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6 hour period than at any time in the history of man. The largest numbers of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly’ (2).

In the next ten days, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe were bombed in a similar manner to Tokyo to the extent that in that period ‘nearly half of the destruction that the whole bombing war had caused in Germany was visited on Japan’ (3).

There was then a pause in the bombing on account of a lack of napalm.

But bombing resumed in April 1945 and by the end of the firebombing campaign 67 Japanese cities had been attacked.Some cities had large percentages of destruction: Yokohama, Toyama, Kobe and Fukuyama all greater than 60% of their surface areas. Even as late as August 1st 1945 there were raids on the Japanese cities of Toyama, Hachioji, Mito and Nagaoka. Of all the cities on the American list which had not been bombed by that date only four had been ‘saved’, most notably Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Yuki Tanaka, a researcher at the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University noted that “the U.S. government has never expressed any sorrow or apology for the firebombings they conducted on Japanese cites. This is quite natural. It is because if they apologize for firebombings, they would have to apologize for the atomic bombings as well” (4).

It might be argued that the firebombing of Japanese cities should not be seen in isolation from other activities of war. The Japanese destruction of Nanking in China is marked by the Chinese people as an event of unparalleled violence. Rightly, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki need to be marked with particular reverence. In the official announcement of Hiroshima, President Truman described Hiroshima ‘as an important Japanese army base’ and that the action was designed to ‘avoid, as much as possible, the killing of civilians’ (5).

The firebombing campaign, which began seventy years ago today, was on such a scale that it must not be overlooked by contemporary historians, and the victims – ‘the most vulnerable’ in the official phrase – need to afforded particular respect.


(1) (2) (5) A History of Bombing. Sven Lindqvist. Granta: 2012.

(3) Reproduced in other forms in a number of works.



Little official recognition of the Tokyo Firebombing has taken place. The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage opened in 2002 through private donations and has recently expanded the range of available material. The English language site can be visited at

The centre exists to promote better public understanding of the firebombing campaign and operates with “a firm determination to never allow the repetition of such tragic events and a refusal to allow the suffering of civilians to have been in vain, it is the center’s earnest desire to pass knowledge on to future generations and stimulate the interaction of peace-loving individuals.”

The Working Class Movement Library has a broad range of books, pamphlets and archive materials relating to British and International Peace movements, including the No More War Movement, the Friends Peace Committee, the Women’s Peace Movement, the Peace Pledge Union and C.N.D.

David Hargreaves, Library Volunteer




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RH Tawney and the intellectual development of the Labour Party – book review

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 24, 2015

A new biography of R. H. Tawney (The Life of R. H. Tawney: Socialism and History by Lawrence Goldman) might not appear to be either topical or of any major significance. He is perhaps dimly remembered as a figure on the Right of the Labour Party and as an intellectual who wrote works only relevant in the context of their times. His name also emerged when the short-lived Social Democratic Party tried to name their ‘think tank’ the Tawney Society in 1982.

Media of The Life of R. H. Tawney

However, Tawney cannot be sidelined quite as easily as he exerted an important influence upon the development of the Labour Party and had an impressive hinterland, the degree of which is explored in this biography. It is necessary also to challenge the perception of Tawney as a figure of the Right by noting that he remained in favour of both nationalisation and the retention of Clause IV. He was also very clear as to the damage that would be done to the Labour Party by figures such as Ramsay Macdonald and Philip Snowden and, indeed, their heirs and successors. His terse rejection of the offer of a peerage by Macdonald (‘What harm have I ever done to the Labour Party?’) was complemented by his assertion that Labour politicians ‘sit up, like poodles in a drawing room, wag their tails when patted, and lick their lips at the social sugarplums tossed them by their masters.’

Yet, a figure of the Right? Tawney qualified for this categorisation in that he was a quietly committed Christian who saw being a Socialist as an essentially moral act. As such he followed on from Ruskin, William Morris and Blatchford in attempting to show the need for a Socialist Commonwealth or the creation of a just society based on personal conversion to socialism. The works Equality (1931) and The Acquisitive Society (1930) were both powerful tomes but strangely lacking in real political content. The weakness of Tawney’s position lay in the fact that Capitalism had 200 years of moral condemnation and remained largely impervious. It was not shamed by the creation of unfair societies and if wounded by the moral and Christian arguments advanced by Tawney then has found plenty of clergy who will defend it by stating that Socialists have misunderstood Biblical teachings. Tawney does not grasp the contradictions of Capitalism or the degradation of both resources and people which is integral to how it operates.

Yet, many people (and not just Roy Hattersley) credit Tawney with their conversion to Socialism. It is interesting that the political range of those on the Left influenced by Tawney is quite broad. One could cite Michael Foot’s My Kind of Socialism or Tony Benn’s Arguments for Socialism as being very much in the Tawney tradition. The attraction of an Ethical Socialism or a broadly Christian approach lies in the very lack of specific or concrete analysis. Tawney was appalled at the behaviour of the 1929 Labour Government but it is not clear whether Tawney considered that Macdonald and the others betrayed the Labour Party by not being ethical enough, or that they simply had no effective means of dealing with a Capitalist crisis.

Lawrence Goldman is a good historian to explore the life and works of R H Tawney in that he is able to give equal weight to all the aspects of his life. Tawney was severely wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, shot in the act of walking steadily towards German lines. He very largely created the tutorial structure of the WEA, having undertaken important work in Rochdale and the Potteries. This formative experience was the beginning of an association with the WEA over 50 years. He was influential in arguing for the nationalisation of the mining industry on the Stanley Commission after the First World War. He had a profound influence on the development of University education. He did much to create the discipline of Economic History. He argued (in the 1920s) for the idea of the Living Wage.

He was, above all, a reasonable man who was confident that through improved working class education and through the power of democracy British society would be transformed into a socialist one. In supporting nationalisation as a strategy he posed the question that the real issue was who controlled the State rather than who controlled the industry. Tawney knew that the transition to socialism would be difficult – he had travelled to China, the Soviet Union and the United States and had an international perspective. But, in the end the extent of his theoretical input was that reasonableness would triumph and Capitalism was amenable to effective and humane management. It is worth noting that recent commentators such as Will Hutton have expanded upon this theme by putting forward the idea of a long term and responsible stakeholder capitalism. Tellingly, this modest proposal was rejected by the last Labour Government as being too ‘anti-business.’ (1)

Therefore, this biography is timely and Tawney is a figure worth studying, as are a number of those who offered ideological input into the development of the Labour movement. The contemporaries of Tawney – the Webbs, Harold Laski and G.D.H. Cole – need to be actively studied again because it is necessary to further understand the intellectual development of the Labour Party. The recent work by Peter Hain – Back to the Future of Socialism – is a new look at Anthony Crosland’s Future of Socialism which was in turn influenced by Tawney. Clearly, this long line of argument in the Labour Party – ‘How to make Capitalism humane when it doesn’t really care?’ – is an enduring theme in Labour Party history and this well-written and well-researched biography of R H Tawney is a welcome contribution to any deeper understanding of the real meaning of the 2015 General Election campaign.

The Life of R.H. Tawney: Socialism and History by Lawrence Goldman was published by Bloomsbury in 2014.

(1) The Observer 22 February 2015. Left, right and the state we’re in. A review by John Kampfner of recent works by Will Hutton, Peter Hain and Geary & Pabst.

The Working Class Movement Library has a wide range of lectures and pamphlets written by Tawney, as well as material on the WEA and education policy generally. We also hold his major works – Equality, Religion & the Rise of Capitalism and The Acquisitive Society – and a number of earlier biographies and works which place Tawney in the context of the history of Socialist thought.  Search the Library catalogue here.

D W Hargreaves, Library volunteer

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A new treasure of a donation, from someone who’s just found out about us

Posted by wcmlibrary on July 11, 2014

A lovely treasure has come our way, thanks to Sally Swift who read the recent article about us in The Observer and reckoned we sounded like we’d provide a good home for an autograph book that’s been in her family since the 1920s.   Her grandparents Melanie and William Moody were keen long-term members of the Salisbury Labour Party and Co-operative Movement, and Melanie compiled the autograph book with signatures mostly taken from letters addressed to the Moodys in relation to Labour Party matters.

The names are a veritable Who’s Who of the early 20th century Labour Party – George LansburyEllen Wilkinson, Ramsay MacDonaldMargaret Bondfield,  A.A. Purcell the subject of Kevin Morgan’s new book and recent talk at the Library, and many more.


Even Oswald Mosley makes an appearance, from the time when he was a Labour Party member and then MP.

What a wonderful addition to our collection – and what a great by-product of the Observer article (which also resulted in a highly welcome £350 in Paypal donations to the Library).

Like everything else in the Library the autograph book is now available for everyone to come and have a look at. Our opening times for drop-in visitors remain Wednesdays to Fridays 1-5pm.


Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager

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From The Abolitionist to The Young Socialist: another A-Z journey through one library’s periodical collection

Posted by wcmlibrary on April 11, 2014

As part of our ongoing effort to make our collections more accessible I have just finished cataloguing our long run periodicals collection and I see that it was just over a year ago that I finished the short run periodicals. So now all our unbound periodicals have been catalogued. I think that merits an extra biscuit with my afternoon tea.

And no, I haven’t just been working on the long run periodicals since then. That’s because there are significantly fewer titles – only 483 to be exact – as opposed to the 3000-odd short run titles.

As you would expect they cover the usual subjects such as socialism, communism, politics and trade unions, but we also have a good collection of other periodicals covering such subjects as literature, poetry and even the arts and crafts movement with a near complete run of the journal of the William Morris Society.

Catonsville Roadrunner - May 1969 (cover)

The Catonsville Roadrunner

City Fun - Vol 2 No 17

City Fun


Manchester also gets a look in with City Fun – a Manchester fanzine from the 1970s and 1980s to which Morrissey contributed an article about Sandie Shaw under the pseudonym Bert Macho – along with Manchester Free Press, a community paper; Manchester Women’s Liberation newsletter and New Manchester Review, another community paper.

And then there are the quirky titles, such as The Catonsville Roadrunner, a revolutionary Christian magazine, with a bit of anarchism thrown in for good measure.


All of which, and more, can be found by searching our online catalogue

Happy searching


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Homage to Sartaguda – moving tales from the Spanish Civil War, told at our most recent volunteers’ lunch

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 10, 2014

The Library’s monthly volunteers’ lunch on 30 January was the occasion for a talk by myself, Stuart Walsh, a long time volunteer at the Library, and Pippa Sherriff, who came up for the day from Church Aston in Shropshire. Both of us are members of National Clarion Cycle Club, and the talk concerned our cycle ride from Bilbao to Barcelona between 17 and 25 October 2013, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the withdrawal of the International Brigades.

Pippa and Stuart at the talk

Pippa & Stuart. On the table is a simplified flag of Lower Navarre, with soil from Parque de la Memoria in centre

The title of the talk was Cycling for the Memories: to honour those who fought against fascism, and to remember those who died. Eight members of the club started the ride, myself, Pippa, Terry Lynch, Charles Jepson, Manuel Moreno, Ruth Coates, Martin Perfect, and Lyn Hurst, and we were joined near Caspe in Aragon by our Catalan member Anna Marti, who lives just north of Barcelona.  Maite de Paul Otoxtorena, who hails from San Sebastian in the Basque country, but now lives in Ammanford near Swansea, was our liaison with all of the people we met in Spain, and she joined us at Calafell in Catalonia. And we shouldn’t forget Margaret Jepson, who was the driver of our support bus.

Chalking names onto the monument

Chalking the names

National Clarion has a long standing involvement with the Spanish Civil War, and three of our members, Ray Cox, Roy Watts, and Tom Oldershaw, died fighting in the International Brigades. One of the purposes of the ride was to honour their memory, and one of the most moving moments of the whole trip was when we leaned three bikes against a memorial plaque at Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda, in Navarre,  and chalked their names onto the monument.  As well as this involvement with the International Brigades, two of our members, Ted Ward and Geoff Jackson, cycled from Glasgow to Barcelona in 1938, raising money for Aid to Spain, and we recreated that ride in 2008, during which we met many of the cyclists and other contacts whose acquaintance we would renew in 2013, not least our friends in Gernika Cycle Club, who as in 2008 joined us for the first four days of our ride.  [For anyone interested in that earlier ride, the blog is at]

Although this was a cycle ride the main purpose of the trip was an educational and publicity one, but something should be said about the actual ride however brief. We had some very hard days in the saddle, not least because we had a timetable where we had to be present for civic receptions, and other meetings with memorial groups and other associations. In nine days we cycled a total of 500 miles, and thanks to Terry, who has a state of the art Garmin computer on his bike, can break that down a little by saying that we spent a total of 36 hours in the saddle, with the longest day being 80 miles, our average speed over the 500 miles was 13mph, and top speed was 46mph on a mountainous descent on the second day. During the ride, as in 2008, we had daily exposure in the print, TV, and radio media, and one of the tasks at the end of the day was reviewing press and other reports from the previous day. I would like to concentrate on two of the events of the trip, the exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, and our reception at the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda.

After the cycling was over on 25 October we were invited to the opening of an exhibition on the 1936 Barcelona Workers Olympiad, in Sant Feliu de Llobregat which is about 15 miles or so east of Barcelona. The organiser of the exhibition, Carles Vellejo, is the son of one of the organisers of the 1936 Olympiad, and Carles particularly wanted Clarion to officially open the exhibition because of our club’s history, in that many of our members went to participate. The event of course never took place because of the launch of the military coup, and some of the Clarion members, including Roy Watts, stayed on to fight against the fascists in the International Brigade. At the exhibition, I presented to Carles a framed letter of support from the Library, signed by Lynette, Jane, Sam, and 16 volunteers, as well as a framed illustration from the library archives of ribbons of the 1937 Workers’ Olympiad in Antwerp, from the Bolton Clarion scrapbook. These were well received by Carles, as his father had participated at Antwerp, and everyone present, but unfortunately, all the pictures from the night, except this one were wiped from our camera!

At Sant Feliu

All of the riders, with Mayor of Sant Feliu, members of Sant Feliu Cycling Club, and members of the Garibaldi Association, with original 1937 flag of Italian Brigaders

The exhibition itself was most interesting, and Carles said that in future venues he would be sure to include the letter and the Bolton Clarion prints from the library. As a poignant postscript to this episode, we learned after we were back home that Carles, a lifelong republican and trade unionist, had been tortured over ten days in a large police station in Barcelona, said police station is now the home of the CCOO socialist trade union, and a visit there, with Carles, was our first civic reception in Barcelona. A fitting coda I feel of the unfinished business still left over from Spain’s years of civil war and the subsequent dictatorship.

Without doubt the visit on Sunday 20 October to the Parque de la Memoria in Sartaguda was the most moving of the whole trip. Setting out early from Logrono, we reached the town of Lodossa where we were met by cyclists from all over Navarre and the Basque country, and we set out together about 50 strong for a ride of about 5 kilometres to Sartaguda. Carrying various flags and banners, including the one that adorned the table during the talk at the Library (see photo above), we arrived at the park at about noon where we were met by the mayor and members of the Association of the Widows of Sartaguda. It is known as the town of widows because when the fascists took over the town in 1936, they murdered almost 100 of the male inhabitants, which was 8% of the total population. As one of the speakers said at the inauguration of the park in 2008, this was ” Truly a massacre. Those murdered were the elected officials of the town, as well as other civic leaders such as teachers, lawyers, indeed anyone who was suspected of being supporters of the democratically elected Second Republic”.

Handing over the soil

Presenting the Parque soil to the Library

The park itself was opened in May 2008, after years of fundraising, with the support of other associations of historical memory, that had mushroomed since a famous case in 2000 in which a Madrid journalist had discovered and opened the grave of his grandfather and 12 others who were murdered in the wake of the fascist victory. While there I spoke with a lady named Maria del Carmea Moreno Galetxl, who told us her story of the long years of humiliation that her mother, and the other widows, had to endure in the years of the dictatorship, including having to parade around the town with insulting signs tied around their necks, and others who had their hair shaved, like the collaborators in France in 1944. In their case though, no crime was committed, these, and other petty humiliations were inflicted not because of what they had done, but for who they were.

While there we were presented with red bandanas with the Parque’s logo, by relatives of those who were murdered, the flag we brought to adorn the table as we gave the talk, and with soil of the Parque, wrapped in one of the red bandanas, which was given to us by Julio Sesma, President of the Village Association of Widows. This soil has now been formally presented to the Library, and accepted by Maggie Cohen on behalf of the trustees, and will stay in the Library wrapped in its red park bandana as a symbol of friendship between the Library and the Parque. In the inaugural speech for the Parque in 2008, the President of the Association of Widows, Julio Martinez, said, ” from today on we wish our village to be known as the village of memory and hope”.  In this lovely park in Navarre this hope is given solid form, and I urge anyone who visits this part of Spain to visit it and ponder on its message.

Since coming back from the ride we have kept in touch with our friends, and were especially thrilled with notice we received on 14 November that the Parliament at Pamplona had passed a new law for the Reparation of Victims of 1936.  Many of those who we met at Sartaguda were also at the Parliament that day, and afterwards sent us photographs of their celebration of “our great victory” in the Parliament. Thus the struggle for justice in Spain for the Widows of Sartaguda, and the countless others who were murdered and mistreated during the long and bitter years of Franco’s dictatorship goes on.

And work goes on in the Library as well concerning the struggle in Spain. My own project at the moment is cataloguing two folders of Spanish Civil War photographs, one of which is this one.

Aileen Palmer with Thora Silverthorne

Aileen Palmer (right) with Thora Silverthorne

It is a hitherto unknown picture of Australian interpreter Aileen Palmer, and the English nurse Thora Silverthorne, while on the Aragon front. Aileen Palmer had been in Spain at the time of the coup, and in fact had been working as translator for the Workers’ Olympiad when the coup broke out. When I found this out it seemed an apt illustration of the ongoing links that this great Library has with Spain, past and present, and I hope in the future that these links, both with the Parque and the wider progressive elements in Spain, can be strengthened and extended.

I will end this blog contribution as Pippa and I ended our talk: Viva la República!!!!!

Stuart Walsh

PS More information about the event at the Parque de la Memoria is at

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An exciting new Russian Revolution acquisition

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 23, 2013

We’re finding some brilliant nuggets amongst papers and pamphlets of labour historian and former Trustee of the Library John Smethurst, which his widow Alice has kindly donated to us.

Here for instance is a page from ‘What happened at Leeds’, a report by the Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates.

What happened at Leeds

The Leeds Convention of June 1917 has been described as perhaps the most remarkable gathering of the period, with contributions from across the breadth of the Labour movement.  There was eager debate, sparked by events in Russia, by 1,150 delegates including Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Sylvia Pankhurst, Bertrand Russell, Dora Montefiore and Philip Snowden.

The first resolution, moved by Ramsay MacDonald, hails the Russian Revolution.   This fourth resolution calls on delegates to ‘work strenuously for a peace made by the peoples of the various countries, and for the complete political and economic emancipation of international labour’.

To find out more, come and read the whole pamphlet here at the Library.  Thanks Alice – and of course the much-missed John – for such an excellent addition to our Library.


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‘Darn that Picasso’ – a Manchester Weekender event to remember

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 18, 2013

On 26 April this year, the anniversary of the aerial bombing of the town of Gernika in 1937 which led Picasso to paint his sombrely magnificent Guernica, we published a blog posting introducing the Re-Making Guernica project, the inspiration of a group of academics, artists and makers at the University of Brighton who invited activists to join them in creating an art of protest against fascism.  The Library played its part in their initial research about the painting coming to England. Now read on…

It was with great excitement that we looked forward to the arrival of Maude Casey, with the banner she and other artist activists have been working on, for our Manchester Weekender event Darn That Picasso last Saturday.

With trepidation too of course. Would anyone come?  Would anyone join the walk Suzanne Hindle was leading up the Crescent, following the yarn trail which’d sneakily appeared overnight thanks to guerilla activity by the King’s Arms knitters? Guerilla knitting outside the Library

We needn’t have worried.  Well before our official opening time of 2pm people were starting to come in, and Suzanne brought an influx of 17 walkers.  Maude gave the group an impassioned talk about the political background to the project, as well as about Picasso’s own starting point for creating the painting, and Dora Maar’s often unacknowledged part in its development.

Sewing the Guernica bannerAnd then people set to sewing!  Some were skilled, some less confident but still eager to play their part in such a lovely collaborative venture.

Sewing the Guernica bannerMuch tea was drunk, many stories were shared – including Adrine Middleton’s tale of how she’d seen the original Guernica when the vast painting travelled, extraordinarily, to Manchester in 1939.

Comments included:

‘A fantastic idea and a truly beautiful object. Thank you’

‘An excellent way of getting people together to remember the horrors of war’

‘Great. Friendly, comradely atmosphere and a cracking project’.

It’s been mooted that we should build on the afternoon to create a banner of our own. Thoughts?

In the meantime many many thanks to Maude for travelling up from Brighton to share the banner and its stories with us.  And to everyone who contributed.

Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager (I’ll try and do a Storify account of the event soon…)

Sewing the Guernica banner

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The Price of Coal – the Senghenydd mining disaster, 14 October 1913

Posted by wcmlibrary on October 14, 2013

October 14th marks the centenary of the worst mining disaster in British history. This involved the death of 440 men and boys at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd – 439 miners and one rescue worker. The death toll was part of the overall number of 1752 miners who died that year.

The background is important to an understanding of the disaster in that it followed a period when the safety of miners had been the subject of Parliamentary debate and legislation. The Coal Mines Act 1911 specified standards in respect of managers, safety qualifications and inspections and the provision of safety lamps and adequate ventilation. In the Parliamentary debates in November 1911 there had been disagreements about some aspects of mine safety but there was a general view, endorsed by the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, that the Act offered the possibility of increased safety standards. The mine owners, the Universal Steam Coal Company, a part of Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Ltd, were required to make improvements by 1 January 1913 but requested a delay until September. By the time of the accident in October the work had not been carried out.

With thanks to Fionn Taylor/Billy Williams,

With thanks to Fionn Taylor/Billy Williams,

The explosion happened at 08.10 at a time when 950 miners were underground and, although local rescue workers were soon on the scene, the recovery was hampered by large fires, thick smoke and roof falls.  439 miners died, including a large number of 14 year olds.  After three weeks, only one third of the victims had been brought to the surface and 11 bodies were never recovered.  The inquest in January 1914 returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’.

An Official Inquiry was held in 1914 and failed to offer a definitive judgement on the causes of the explosion but both the Company and the Colliery Manager were prosecuted under the Coal Mines Act 1911. The manager was charged with 17 offences and the Company four, and guilty verdicts were returned in respect of eight matters for the manager and one for the company.  For the offence most likely to have caused the explosion – the accumulation of coal dust – the manager, Edward Shaw was fined £5. Including the other offences the total was £24. The Company itself was found guilty on only one count – the failure to undertake ventilation work – and fined £10.  On the basis of these fines the local newspaper calculated just how small the value of the life of a miner was.

Senghenydd Colliery had been the site of a previous mining disaster in 1901 when 81 out of 82 miners had died and when there had also been an explosion. The Colliery finally closed in 1928 when the workforce was given one day’s notice of closure.

The disaster showed that whilst legislation had been passed with the intention of improving the safety of miners it was undermined both by companies arguing that improvements were too costly to be introduced right away, and by a critical lack of Inspectors. The struggle for safety in the mines continued to be pursued by the Miners’ Federation but many thousands more miners died and continue to do so in mines around the world.

In Senghenydd, the Aber Valley Heritage Museum has a display on the 1913 disaster. Resources at the Museum include mining related objects, photographic displays, archive films and interactive touch-screens.

Further Information

The WCML has a wealth of material on the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain and a volume of the work of David Owen looking at mining disasters in South Wales.

Two Web sites offer a wealth of material on the disaster and the effect on the local community:  This includes a roll call of all the known names of those who were killed at Senghenydd

The National Museum of Wales site contains material on Senghenydd and a link to the Official Inquiry Report:

David Hargreaves, Library volunteer

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Ill fares the land? – stories of working people taking control over food growing

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 30, 2013

A report on a talk given at the Library on 25 September as part of our ‘Invisible Histories’ series:

The presentation Ill Fares the Land? was based on research carried out at the WCML and looked at some attempts by working people to take control over food growing and improve the quality of their diet. The background was that, following the Repeal of the Corn Laws, British agriculture went into steep decline and the country relied upon imported food. The talk also looked at the fact that severe famine in Ireland became part of the debate about the ‘benefits’ of free trade, and at how English non-intervention was rationalised as being part of the necessary process of the operation of a free market.

Ill fares the landBecause free trade was seen to be advantageous to the commerce of the country, and food was the ‘currency’ that overseas countries used to pay for manufactured goods, the decline in agriculture was seen as necessary.

The result was that by 1880 British farming was in a severe depression and supplying only 30% of national food needs. Many radicals and socialists put forward solutions – including Land Nationalisation – but tended to have visions of a golden age of British agriculture before the advent of the capitalist era. Some even considered that the country was more equal and prosperous when it was a predominantly feudal and agricultural nation. One of the main concerns, even for socialists, was that not having a large number of workers on the land led to decline in the ‘national stock’ and would weaken the ability of this country to remain at the head of a large Empire.

The work of Peter Kropotkin challenged these views of the past put forward by H.M. Hyndman and Robert Blatchford and envisaged a future in which industry and agriculture would work alongside each other using, for example, waste heat to power large greenhouses. Food production would be boosted by the use of technology but under the control of local communities.

In that climate, working people in both the 1890s and the 1900s attempted to create situations in which they took control of food production on a local basis. Examples in Bradford and Newcastle were explored in the talk, and although most of these (and other) attempts failed to bring about lasting solutions they did often engender change in, for example, Co-operative Societies.

The British Government made a considered decision in 1905 that being dependent upon imported food posed no strategic risk and, indeed, to even think about such vulnerability was to doubt the power of the Navy. It was not until 1917, with the War about to enter its final year, that limited steps were taken to increase domestic food production. The work of Sylvia Pankhurst detailed much of the suffering that food shortages and substantial price increases caused, and change only took place in the light of industrial unrest at home and poor troop morale abroad. The Russian Revolution, and risings across Europe, emphasised the potential power of working people.

After the First World War promises were made that dependency upon foreign food would never be replicated and the Corn Production Act was passed. However, this was repealed after only six months and the interwar period saw mainly bureaucratic Government changes (such as Marketing Boards) and the growth of large agricultural, chemical and retailing businesses. In 1939, by the end of the period covered by this talk, another war was imminent but domestic food production was only a little higher than it had been in 1880. Neither had there been a significant improvement in the diet of most working class people.

All the issues raised by working people who set up farm colonies and co-operatives are relevant today and the talk concluded by looking at the World Development Movement’s Six Pillars of Food Sovereignty. Briefly, these are

  • The right for people to have healthy food
  • Valuing food providers
  • Localising food systems
  • Putting control locally
  • Building knowledge and skills
  • Working with nature.

It was noted that the question of food sovereignty was due to be discussed on Monday September 30th at the Unicorn Organic Grocery, Manchester. Details available from

For a broader understanding of Food Sovereignty head to

David Hargreaves, WCML volunteer and presenter of the talk

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