Friday, September 13, 2013

Radnorshire, the South, Senghennydd

Visit Llandrindod during its Victorian Festival and you'd think that the average Radnorian of the period must have been a swaggerer with a top hat and a cane.  Those not given to such fantasies might guess that the agricultural labourer would be a more honest representative of the pre-World War One county.  Up to a point they'd be right, but would also be forgetting that just as many, perhaps more, Radnorshire folk had found work in the mines and ironworks of South Wales.

A small county - even the next smallest Welsh county had twice as many people - Radnorshire cannot be expected to have had much impact* on the Valleys, but the coalfield would certainly have had a great impact on Radnorshire.  Look at the 1911 Census and you'll find that nearly a quarter of family heads born in Radnorshire lived in industrial South Wales, mainly in the Merthyr, Pontypridd and Bedwellty registration districts

Far from being a world apart from industrialised Glamorgan and Monmouthshire - as modern-day seekers after tranquility might imagine - there can have been few Radnorshire families without close relatives who had gone off to work in the south.

Over the next month or so we'll hear a good deal about Senghenydd and 1913.  It was not a village that had attracted many Radnorians.  Certainly among the 41 victims of the disaster who had a home in Commercial Street we find 21 year old George Herritts of Presteigne and Edward Thomas, a 51 year old from Old Radnor.  Evan Jones (32) of Kingsley Place, a native of Rhayader, was one of 43 with that surname to be lost.  There may have been others amongst the victims with Radnorshire connections not so easy to spot.

The local MP for East Glamorganshire was Knighton born Liberal Clem Edwards.  He played a frustrated part in the rescue work - offering to organize a trainload of much needed sand to fight the fire, the offer was turned down - and subsequently representing many of the relatives at the public inquiry into the disaster.  It's interesting to note that when Edwards won his seat in 1910 he had pushed Labour's syndicalist firebrand C B Stanton into third place.  Both would end up as National Democratic Party MPs after 1918, with Edwards defeating Arthur Henderson in East Ham.  No doubt disasters like Senghenydd did much to win support for the emerging Labour Party and its centralist,  top-down version of socialism.  Salopian Alfred Onions would win the new Caerphilly seat in 1918, with Radnorshire native Charles Edwards, he was from Llangynllo, topping the poll in neighbouring Bedwellty.

It will be interesting to see what the remembrancers make of the Universal colliery's manager Edward Shaw, he was certainly fined £24 for eight violations of the Coal Mines Act in the aftermath of the disaster.  A 41 year old Welsh speaker and Baptist, Shaw must have been popular with the villagers since as an Independent he had recently topped the poll in the local council election.  Shaw too had a Radnorshire connection, recently married, his wife Jessie Lloyd was from Llandrindod.

*  We shouldn't forget the Radnorshire family background of movers and shakers like Arthur Horner and Nye Bevan.


Jac o' the North, said...

One thing that Senghennydd and other events show is that Wales was much more integrated and inter-connected a century ago than she is today.

When I first got to know Merionethshire over 40 years ago there were few locals who didn't have a relative who'd 'gone south' to work. Sometimes it was seasonal, with groups of young men walking to the Rhondda or wherever.

Now that Senghennydd is in the news my wife reminds me that her taid worked in the Universal at the time of the disaster, along with his brother, both lodging in Caerphilly Road. The brother, known as 'Idrisyn' was killed, and regrettably his name is wrongly spelt as 'Idriswyn' on the roll.

In the next generation my mother-in-law and her sister went to Swansea to work during the war. My mother-in-law returned but her sister married and stayed. This was one of countless north-south connections I've encountered over the years, and it's not all one way, as I prove.

And it wasn't just permanent movement, or marriage. I recall some forty years ago spending a fascinating hour in an Aberystwyth pub listening to an old fellow telling me about him and his mates making Saturday trips to Swansea. They'd go watch the football or the rugby in the afternoon, cinema or theatre / music hall in the evening, then the last train back to Aber'.

But now, with the demise of the Welsh rail network, travel between north and south is probably more difficult than it was a century ago. With the result that Wales is more fragmented. The only internal migration now is that of the bright young things taking jobs in Cardiff. So that where previously it was a working class movement, now it's middle class and one-way.

But while travelling within Wales is more difficult than it was a century ago, travel between Wales and England has never been easier. Odd, that.

radnorian said...

"The only internal migration now is that of the bright young things taking jobs in Cardiff."

This is spot-on and at least they are staying in Wales. In the 50s and 60s they too would have headed east.

You're also quite right about the links between the rural areas and the industrial south. For example when my father's generation spoke about the hunger marchers, they didn't mean the political marches ... they meant folk who had left the south to try for work and to get the support of relations who had never left Mid-Wales.

My mother's family lived in the Pontlottyn area but they always retained links with relatives in Radnorshire and came back here during the 1926 strike. I guess it was a familiar tale.

One of the aims of my blog is to remind people that Radnorshire has always been part and parcel of mainstream Wales, not somewhere apart. The "bright-young-things" heading for Cardiff is just the latest example of that.