An Abundance of Riches

Beyond Coal: the SWCC and Its Concealed Seams

“SWCC” stands for the South Wales Coalfield Collection. This internationally significant collection is housed at two locations: the Richard Burtons Archives and the South Wales Miners’ Library. The Archive holdings include written documents, manuscripts and photographs. The Miners’ Library is custodian of printed material (books and pamphlets), posters, Lodge banners, oral history recordings and a variety of press cuttings.

The SWCC has its origins in two major research projects conducted by the departments of History and Economic History at Swansea University. Between 1971 and 1982 researchers went out into mining and former mining communities to gather and preserve the written, visual and oral histories of the industrial communities of South Wales. With the ever increasing threat from the contraction of the mining industry, this material was in great peril: much of it was on the verge of being lost. Since then, the collection and preservation process has continued, and has welcomed donations from unions, educational institutions, media companies and individuals, to mention but a few. The SWCC is now one of the largest, most notable and unique archives in the United Kingdom.

This series of articles is aimed at highlighting non-coal or coal mining related printed materials within the SWCC, and to demonstrate the diversity and research value of these holdings. Individual items of particular interest will be showcased, evidencing the wider scope and contents of the SWCC, investigating its profuse and unprecedented nature and focusing upon its importance to a greater understanding and respect for the history, culture, society and politics of the South Wales coalfield.

Item No.1

FOUR WEEKS in the Hands of HITLER’S Hell-Hounds: THE NAZI MURDER CAMP OF DACHAU. Hans Beimler, 1933

Location: The South Wales Miners’ Library. SWCC pamphlets, D.M. Jones Box 3

Four Weeks in the hands of Hitler's Hell-Hounds

“To-day there is not a human being in the world – with the exception of the fanatical adherents of the murderers and incendiaries themselves – who still harbours a doubt about the statements and reports in regard to the bestial tortures and mass murders in the S.A. (storm troop) barracks, the union quarters and the concentration camps. And the truth is still much worse than what is already known.”

Hans Beimler (2 July 1895 – 1 December 1936) was a communist, a Reichstag deputy and a Spanish Civil War Volunteer. As an ardent and committed communist, Beimler was a strident anti-Nazi from the earliest days of the regime. The Nazi impetus to rout out potential “enemies” of the new Reich left leading critics, prominent politicians and activists in a highly dangerous situation. As a communist member of the Reichstag, Beimler was considered to be a highly dangerous individual. In April 1933 he was arrested and sent to the new Dachau concentration camp. Beimler was fortunate, as he managed to escape in May 1933.

“Four Weeks” is of particular importance as not only was it almost immediately translated into all major European languages, but it was one of the very first eye witness accounts of the fledgling Nazi concentration system.

Beimler fled to Spain, where he continued his anti-fascist activities, becoming Commisar of the Thaelman Battalion, one of the first International Brigade battalions who fought alongside the Spanish Republicans in the struggle against Franco’s fascist armies. Hans Beimler was killed on 1 December 1936, during the battle of Madrid. The XI International Brigade was renamed the Hans Beimler Brigade in his honour.


Joanne E Waller, South Wales Miners’ Library


The Spanish communities of South Wales and their role in supporting Basque refugees during the Spanish Civil War

On the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), this month’s Miners’ Library blog draws on our collections to relate the story of the Basque refugees evacuated to Wales during the conflict and the vital role played by the Spanish communities of South Wales in supporting the refugees and the wider Aid Spain campaign.


1) – The Spanish Communities of Cardiff, Dowlais and Abercrave

The first decade of the twentieth century marked a high point of migration into South Wales, with migrants arriving at a rate exceeded only by the United States within the Western world. The three Spanish communities that developed in Cardiff, Dowlais and Abercrave were therefore joining an increasingly cosmopolitan environment, their respective locations housing industries indicative of some of the primary ‘pull’ factors for labour into South Wales – shipping, iron and steel production, and coal mining. The earliest-established community was located in the Cardiff Docklands area. As Hywel Davies writes:

‘[f]or a generation, this enclave based around George Street had provided home cooking and hospitality to seafarers arriving at Cardiff docks on one of the regular sailings from Bilbao. By 1937, it had grown into the hub of a thriving Spanish community of between fifty and sixty families’.[1]

The origins of the Dowlais community can be traced back to around 1900, when the Spanish Orconero Iron Ore Company, a subsidiary of the Dowlais Iron Ore Company, began recruiting and transporting workers from the industrial north of Spain to Dowlais, with the alleged aim of undercutting wages and established working practices. By 1911 there were 264 Spaniards living in the borough, with a street in Dowlais named after the reigning Spanish monarch – ‘King Alphonso Street’ – built specifically to house them. Company hopes of importing a more pliable labour force were misguided however, as many of the leading figures of the new community were products of the burgeoning socialist and anarcho-syndicalist traditions of northern Spain; some recruits explicitly fleeing persecution for their labour organising activities in their home country. Spanish workers formed anarchist groups and even a branch of the PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers Party) in Dowlais; the latter working closely with neighbouring branches of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), facilitating the circulation of ideas of an international provenance amid the local labour movement.[2]

SpanishWorkers1907Spanish migrant workers on board a ship destined for South Wales, 1907. Courtesy of South Wales Coalfield Collection, Swansea University.

In 1909, a lockout at Dowlais prompted some Spanish workers to find employment at the French-owned International Colliery in the village of Abercrave at the head of the Swansea Valley. More Spanish workers and families followed and, along with smaller numbers of Portuguese, French and Belgians, gave an injection of diversity to what was hitherto a relatively culturally homogenous Welsh-speaking and chapel-going community. Our oral history collection provides a particularly rich resource for learning about the Spanish community at Abercrave, and features interviews with village residents from both within and outside this community.

The arrival of foreign workers generated some initial hostility in Abercrave. An interview with Dai Dan Evans relates some of these incidents. He recalls a checkweigher at International Colliery exploitatively keeping different weights for the Spanish workers, and an ill-fated attempt to have the Spanish and French workforce removed on trumped-up safety grounds given their inability to communicate with fellow workers through the medium of Welsh.[3]  Some evidence of cultural antagonisms within the wider community also emerges, with depictions of Spaniards as ominous knife-wielding adversaries, prone to drinking, dancing and playing music in their gardens on the Sabbath.[4] Tensions came to a head in July 1914, when a protest march against the presence of foreign workers set off from Abercrave towards Ystradgynlais.[5] Such localised grievances were doubtless compounded by broader ideologies of jingoism and racism that permeated imperial Britain in the early part of the century, from which Wales was by no means immune; the decade of the First World War seeing anti-Semitic riots in Tredegar and attacks on Chinese laundries in Cardiff in 1911 and violent anti-black riots in Cardiff in 1919.[6]

Nonetheless, hostilities were gradually overcome. The Spanish workforce soon endeared themselves to fellow workers by proving to be committed and loyal trade unionists. In a sentiment echoed throughout a number of our oral history interviews, Dick Beamish suggests that:

‘amongst the Spanish miners we had some of the finest trade unionists that these lodges have ever produced’.[7]

The union provided a quick route to acceptance and common cause that would have been harder to achieve among immigrant communities occupying a more atomised small business-owning class. The political culture of the South Wales coalfields was also undergoing a significant period of transformation; with the influence of the South Wales Miners’ Federation (SWMF), and a developing tradition of independent working-class education, challenging some of the ideological roots of xenophobic reaction and promoting an increasingly internationalist politics of class-based solidarity. As Hywel Francis writes, the SWMF encouraged ‘an independent or even rather “anarcho-syndicalist” rank and file outlook towards industrial and political questions’, adding that ‘the parallels with the strong Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement are obvious and significant’. Indeed, as Daryl Leeworthy notes, by around 1911 – just prior to the publication of the renowned syndicalist pamphlet The Miners’ Next Step (1912) – some Spanish workers established an anarchist cell in Abercrave known as the Ferrer Group, named after the Catalan anarchist and educationalist Francisco Ferrer, from which they circulated their ideas to the wider region, albeit with limited results.[8]

The building of sociable relations would also depend on key personalities and interpersonal gestures, some of which are detailed in our oral history interviews. An especially resonant story emerges from an interview with Miss Morgan, who was a child at the time of the first Spanish migrations to Abercrave. She recalls how her father, a founding member of the ILP in the village, stood up for Spanish workers in the colliery and refused to take part in the 1914 protest. When her father died a year later, she remembers witnessing, as a child aged 8, a scene in front of her house in which two Spanish miners arrived and insisted on shouldering his coffin to the hearse as a mark of respect.[9] We get another snapshot of growing interpersonal camaraderie in an interview with Dick Cook, a resident of Abercrave who temporarily lost his sight in an industrial accident. He recounts how a Spanish friend, Albino Garcia, would come to his house twice weekly during his period of blindness to read to him from the newspaper in broken English.[10] Providentially for the new Spanish arrivals, in the nearby village of Ystradgynlais there was a shop-owner who had lived for a time in Patagonia and who was subsequently fluent in both Spanish and Welsh. ‘Williams the Temp’, as he was known, acted as an important ‘link man’ between the Spanish and the wider community, and would help by translating documents from one language into another.[11] Moreover, we discover from an interview with Jim Vale that Goyo Esteban, who is often referred to as a ‘leader’ of the early Spanish community, was one of several in the first generation of immigrants to have learnt to speak Welsh fluently. In turn, Welsh colliers would frequently address their Spanish workmates at the coalface using Spanish words and phrases.[12]

Leandro Macho, who was born to Spanish parents in Abercrave in 1918, provides a vivid account of the community and its ongoing development beyond the first generation in his recorded lecture ‘Growing up in Spanish Abercrave’. For anyone interested in exploring our interviews relating to the Spanish community, this is an excellent place to begin. He relates how the first Spanish inhabitants endured very basic living conditions; residing in small wooden huts, washing clothes in the river Tawe, and gathering stray fragments of sheep’s wool from the Cribarth mountain for use in homemade mattresses. But they soon moved into more settled accommodation, notably establishing a terrace of houses known as Spanish Row, and inter-marriages between Spanish and locals began to take place. At its height in the 1930s, he estimates that some 20 families belonged to the community. Migrant children’s entry into the local education system brought novel forms and expressions of cultural hybridity to the village. Children born of Spanish parents, like Leandro, grew up speaking Welsh as well as Spanish, played rugby as well as pelota, and would sing Spanish songs in the house and ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ with other children at St David’s Day concerts. For his classmates born of Welsh parents, Leandro’s Spanish community seems to have embodied an exotic parallel world conjuring fascination more than hostility. He jokingly remembers the shocked reactions on the playground to news that his family cooked with olive oil instead of the customary pig fat. Such esoteric goods would be bought from a Spanish-owned shop in Swansea, which members of the community would take turns to visit.[13]


2) – Wales, the ‘Welsh Spaniards’ and the Spanish Civil War

When the writer Gwyn Thomas travelled to Spain as a student in the early 1930s, he was particularly struck by the Asturias mining communities of the north in which he saw a reflection of the coalmining districts of South Wales, particularly his native Rhondda.[14] Such parallels help to explain why the plight of Asturian miners, whose strike and uprising was violently supressed in 1934, elicited strong empathetic reactions among South Wales mining communities locked in their own bitter struggles during these years. The Spanish communities in Wales played an important role in bringing conditions in Spain to the attention of their local political institutions and fostering a sense of common cause. When the SWMF sent £100 in financial aid to the miners’ families involved in the Asturias revolt, for instance, they were motivated to do so by the Anthracite lodges to which the Abercrave Spaniards belonged.[15]

The 1930s marked a significant period of extra-parliamentary radicalism in the South Wales coalfields. Blighted by high rates of unemployment, the valleys in the first half of the decade were animated by hunger marches, protests against the Means Test, and anti-fascist mobilisations against the incursion of Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936, the response from the Left in Wales was substantially conditioned by the activist networks established during these struggles and the War directly linked to domestic issues as part of an internationalist explanatory framework. But the Civil War also had a profound effect on the wider political culture of Wales and induced a remarkable public outpouring of pro-Republican sympathy and activity. Despite some divisions among the Spanish of Dowlais, the majority of the Spanish communities in South Wales, including the whole of the Abercrave community, were decidedly pro-Republican and played a prominent part in shaping Wales’ response to the conflict.[16]

Two broad strategies are discernible in the South Wales Miners’ Federation’s reaction to the Spanish Civil War. Firstly, it sought to use its influence to lobby against the UK Government’s policy of Non-Intervention in Spain, which was effectively starving the Spanish Republican side of vital weapons and resources while the Nationalists were deriving military backing from fascist Germany and Italy. The SWMF became part of an effort in South Wales to promote a popular front politics to oppose the rise of fascism in Europe, supported in particular by The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the ILP and those elements of the Labour Party, notably Aneurin Bevan MP, critical of their party’s support for Non-Intervention and their perceived quiescence regarding Spain. The Communist Party’s outlook held a substantial influence within the SWMF during this period, particularly following the election of Arthur Horner as President of the latter in 1936, and the Communist Party and the Fed provided the organisational core for much of the directly political agitation in favour of the Spanish Republican cause during the Civil War.[17]

The second principal strategy adopted by the SWMF involved raising as much material support for the Republican cause as possible as part of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain Spanish Aid Fund. A sum approximating £20,000 was raised by the SWMF during the conflict which, given the context of interwar Depression, was a remarkable achievement.[18] This fundraising activity took place alongside various Aid Spain campaigns across Wales, which were supported by an array of civil society institutions – from political groups and trade unions, to charities and religious bodies – and buoyed by a hugely responsive public. Reports from Spain of the fascists’ aerial bombing raids on civilian populations, notably in the town of Guernica in April 1937, added to the humanitarian urgency of the Aid Spain campaigning, as people donated money, food, and other essential supplies. As Will Paynter writes in his autobiography My Generation (1972):

‘[t]he attack upon the democratically elected government of Spain produced the greatest spontaneous outburst of popular anti-fascist feeling experienced anywhere. The campaign we conducted for support and aid for Spain and its people was the most responsive that I have ever taken part in; it was magnificent’.[19]

In the village of Onllwyn, where many of the Abercrave Spaniards worked, it became an oft-quoted phrase after the Civil War that their village gave more per head to the Aid Spain movement than any other in Wales.[20]

AidSpaidSpanish Aid collection in Pontypridd, 1937. Courtesy of South Wales Coalfield Collection, Swansea University.

The SWMF relief effort included the provision of financial assistance to the International Brigades Dependents’ and Wounded Aid Committee. In total, there were 206 volunteers for the International Brigades from Wales, the vast majority of whom were communists and over half were miners.[21] Of this number, 3 members of the Spanish communities of South Wales – Roman Rodriguez of Dowlais and Victoriano Esteban and Frank Zamora of Abercrave – fought and died in Spain. Other individuals from the Spanish communities provided direct support to the Republican Government, such as Leandro Macho who moved to London to work on their behalf during the Civil War.[22] Many others of the Welsh-Spanish contingent, aside from campaigning work, provided vital support to the 4,000 refugee children from the Basque Country that were evacuated to Britain in May 1937.


3) – The Basque Refugees and the Spanish Community

In the spring of 1937 Franco’s forces lay siege to the Basque Country, restricting the transportation of food and other supplies to the region over land and sea. The event prompted attempts by a number of British seafarers to breach the blockade and deliver goods to the people of Bilbao, despite the absence of British naval protection. The Swansea seaman Captain David ‘Potato’ Jones gained a degree of publicity at the time for openly declaring in the press his intention to take on Franco’s blockade, chiding the British navy for losing its ‘guts’. His initial attempts failed however, the first to succeed being Captain William Roberts of the Cardiff-registered Seven Seas Spray.[23] Other supply ships followed, but the situation for the Basques remained desperate; food continued to be severely rationed, there was a constant threat of German aerial bombing raids, and General Mola’s Nationalist forces edged ever-closer to Bilbao. It was in these conditions that many parents or guardians made the difficult decision of sending their children away to seek refuge in other countries. The 4,000 refugees bound for Britain left in the early hours of the 21st May 1937 on board the Habana, an old liner owned by the Basque Government, sailing across the Bay of Biscay to Southampton.

HabanaShipBasque refugees on board the Habana, May 1937. From pamphlet: ‘The Martyrdom of the Basques’, South Wales Coalfield Collection.

Our oral history collection again provides some useful sources for learning about the experiences of refugees; featuring interviews both with refugees themselves and support staff involved in accommodating them. Paula Felipe was 10-years-old when she made the journey with her sisters on board the Habana. After a rough crossing, she describes the scene that greeted her on arrival in Southampton:

‘I put my head through the porthole and all I could see was the Salvation Army playing and I said “look how they dress in this country”’.[24]

After disembarking and undergoing a medical examination, the children were transferred to a transit camp at North Stoneham outside Southampton. In another recorded interview, Casimira Duenos, a member of the Abercrave Spanish community, describes her work as a volunteer at the camp.[25] It consisted of some 500 bell tents in which the children slept, and some larger tents to house a kitchen, stores, and hospital. It was at this camp that the children learned the sorrowful news that Bilbao had fallen to the Nationalists on the 19th June 1937. Gradually the numbers in the camp diminished over the summer months, as children were transported to more permanent sites of accommodation in other parts of the country.

In Wales, refugees were housed at one of four ‘colonies’ – Caerleon, Swansea, Brechfa and Old Colwyn. Of these, it is the colonies at Caerleon and Swansea that are best covered by the material in our collections. The Caerleon colony was based at Cambria House, a large estate that accommodated 56 refugee children of ages ranging from 6yrs to 15yrs. We get a sense of life at Cambria House from the recorded interview of Maria Fernandez. Maria grew up within the Spanish community of Dowlais, having made the journey with her family from Bilbao to Wales in 1906. She began working at Cambria House as an interpreter, but soon took over as Warden of the house where she seems to have been much-loved by the children. She describes some of the activities that children undertook, which both provided recreation and served as a means of raising funds for the colony. Children produced their own monthly magazine, The Cambria House Journal, in which they wrote about their native culture and about life in the colony. It had at its peak an impressive print-run of 4,000, with copies being sold to the public for 2d. The children also raised funds through playing football matches against teams from across South Wales, and giving concert tours in which they would entertain audiences with Spanish and Basque song and dance. The children continued their education while at the colony, and their list of teachers throws up some eminent participants. These include the socialist journalist and linguist Cyril Cule, headmaster at Cambria House and one of the few active figures within Plaid Cymru to proffer vocal support for the Republic during the War; the Marxist historian Christopher Hill, who was then lecturing at Cardiff; and the writer Gwyn Thomas.[26]

CaerleonAntiFascistSaluteBasque refugee children at the Caerleon colony, with fists raised in anti-fascist salute. Courtesy of South Wales Coalfield Collection, Swansea University.

The colony at Swansea was situated at Sketty Park House, a large Regency mansion circled by scenic gardens, which accommodated 84 children. Our video interview with Rose Steel (formerly Rose Noriega), an interpreter at the house who was born in Swansea of Spanish parents, provides a valuable document of the children’s time there. One story stands apart for its moving portrayal of the enduring war-induced trauma suffered by the refugees, which was especially evident in the early months of their stay. The Spanish Civil War featured the first aerial saturation bombing of a civilian population, and the psychological imprint of this tactic on the young minds that witnessed it is evident throughout the historical record on the Basque refugees. Children’s drawings at the colonies would frequently feature aeroplanes, often shown dropping bombs onto innocent targets such as ambulances, and one young contributor to the Cambria House Journal wrote an especially haunting piece in which the aeroplane is depicted as an emblem of Enlightenment gone astray:

‘the harmless aeroplane that brought us food from distant places now will bring us death’.[27]

Rose describes how the mere sight of planes in the skies over Sketty Park would induce panic in the children, and adults were obliged to explain that they were not enemy aircraft. One day, whilst investigating the disappearance of blankets from the children’s’ dormitories, she was led by a young child to a wooded area within the grounds where she discovered that the children had constructed a makeshift shelter. Encouraged to ‘crawl in Mama Rosa’, she found the tunnels, camouflaged with brushwood and shrubs, were some 4 or 5ft deep and lined with bricks taken from a nearby building site.[28]

Much like the Cambia House colony, life for the refugees at Sketty Park was also full of agreeable pastimes; they received scores of visitors, went on daytrips, and enjoyed short stays with local miners’ families at weekends. Fundraising was likewise central to the activity at the house given that, in common with all the refugee colonies, they were not afforded any grants from the UK Government and had to rely on voluntary donations. What is striking about the Basque Children’s Appeal in South Wales is the breadth of assistance it garnered from the local community, which extended well beyond the political organisations of the Left, though refugees and staff often pay particular tribute to the South Wales miners and the SWMF for their unwavering support. Maria Fernandez’s statement is typical in this regard:

‘The miners in South Wales were very good and for that I have a deep, deep feeling for them’.[29]

In conjunction with this support, the contribution of ‘Welsh Spaniards’ also warrants special consideration. These communities provided a vital pool of visitors, volunteers, campaigners and support staff that were uniquely placed to assist the children and alleviate their sense of estrangement within an unfamiliar environment. The communities’ overall commitment to the wellbeing of the refugees is evident at multiple levels; volunteers helped to run the Southampton camp, worked without pay in colony kitchens, and lent their skills as interpreters and teachers; Spanish communities at Abercrave and Dowlais made regular visits to their local colonies, and hosted children and fundraising events in their own neighbourhoods; while, in the Cardiff Docklands, a grocer provided Spanish food to the South Wales colonies, and a Spanish café served as a drop-off point for mail smuggled between refugee children and their parents in Bilbao.[30]

As the Civil War drew to a close, and it became clear that the Nationalist side had prevailed, thoughts inevitably turned to the repatriation of the Basque refugees. The issue was not straightforward; there being realistic fears that returning children would face persecution by the incumbent regime, suffer food shortages, and enforced re-education programmes. Letters sent to children suggesting that it was safe to return home were found to have been written under coercion, some sent from parents interned in San Sebastian gaol.[31] Many other parents were themselves refugees; part of the mass flight of some 450,000 Spaniards into France in February 1939, who were subsequently detained by the French Government in notorious concentration camps along the border. Moreover, some children were now orphans or had lost contact with their parents during the conflict. Nevertheless, repatriations gradually began to occur and the outbreak of war in Britain in September 1939 provided an added impetus to return children to their parents. By 1941, the vast majority of the initial 4,000 refugees had been repatriated. The 416 that remained in Britain were either adopted or being temporarily fostered by families.[32]

An estimated thirty-five refugees made their homes in Wales, and Leandro Macho recalls some of them receiving ongoing support from the Abercrave Spanish community with settling in and finding work. Leandro goes on to describe the gradual dissolution of the Spanish communities through the post-war decades, as employment opportunities and marriage ties began to disperse the children and grandchildren of the first generation away from their respective locales, though he suggests that an identifiable community still existed in Abercrave at least until the closure of Abercrave Colliery in 1967.[33] Maria Fernandez made a trip to Spain soon after the end of the Second World War to visit some of the children that were previously in her care. She describes being dismayed by the conditions of poverty in which children lived but also touched by expressions of gratitude she received from their parents. She kept in touch with former refugees at Cambria House until her death in 2001.[34]

On the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, thoughts inevitably turn to parallels with our present historical conjuncture; as European politics is once again being forged in the aftermath of a global economic crisis, with a concomitant emboldening of the far-right. At a time when the political status of immigrants and refugees is so central to present-day struggles against fascism and reactionary nationalism, revisiting the history of the Spanish migrants and Basque refugees seems especially significant. Echoes of the xenophobic narratives and decrees of our own age are plainly discernable in sections of the press and political class of the 1930s, for whom Franco is a defender of the ‘European tradition’ and the Basque refugees are dangerous and ungrateful intruders onto British soil.[35] While the response from the Left in Wales was by no means uniform or immune from political divisions, the most effective practitioners tended to combine a commitment to grassroots organising and pragmatic coalition-building with a strong ideological sense of how their actions coalesced with a wider political schema. Notably, underpinning the motivations of many of those who worked together to accommodate the refugees was a concept of class relations that went beyond methodological nationalism to conceive of shared problems and solutions within an internationalist frame. Leandro Macho’s closing remarks give a sense of how this internationalism was seen and lived as a complement, not an occlusion, of cultural difference and complexity:

‘I feel as Welsh as any Welshman, and I feel as Spanish as any Spaniard. But I think I feel as much an Internationalist as any Internationalist’.[36]

Dr. Jonathan N. Davies, South Wales Miners’ Library


[1] Hywel Davies, Fleeing Franco, Cardiff 2011, p. 16.

[2] Hywel Francis and David Smith, The Fed, London 1980, pp. 11-12; Interview of Dick Cook, SWML AUD/222; Daryl Leeworthy, Labour Country, Cardigan 2018, pp. 196-204.

[3] Interview of Dai Dan Evans, SWML AUD/263.

[4] Leandro Macho, ‘Growing up in Spanish Abercrave’, SWML AUD/251.

[5] Interview of Rhys Morgan Watkins, SWML AUD/206.

[6] See, Neil Evans, ‘Through the Prism of Ethnic Violence: Riots and Racial Attacks in Wales, 1826-2002’ in A Tolerant Nation?, Cardiff 2003, pp. 93-108.

[7] Interview of Dick Beamish, SWML AUD/13.

[8] Hywel Francis, Miners Against Fascism, London 1984, p. 33; Daryl Leeworthy, Labour Country, pp. 199-201.

[9] Interview of Miss Morgan, SWML VID/39.

[10] Interview of Dick Cook, SWML AUD/222.

[11] Leandro Macho, ‘Growing up in Spanish Abercrave’, SWML AUD/251.

[12] Interview of James Vale, SWML AUD/223; Hywel Francis and David Smith, The Fed, p. 12.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Interview of Hywel Francis, SWML VID/33.

[15] Hywel Francis, Miners Against Fascism, p. 141.

[16] An account of divisions in Dowlais is given in Recording of Maria Fernandez, SWML AUD/439. One issue that does not seem to be covered in our collections, however, is the impact of internal divisions on the Left in Spain during the Civil War on Spanish communities in Wales.

[17] For more on the role of the Fed during the Civil War see Hywel Francis, Miners Against Fascism, pp. 139-55.

[18] Daryl Leeworthy, Labour Country, p. 375.

[19] Will Paynter, My Generation, London 1972, pp. 61-2.

[20] Hywel Francis, Miners Against Fascism, p. 205.

[21] Daryl Leeworthy, Labour Country, p. 376.

[22] Interview of Leo Macho, SWML VID/38.

[23] Hywel Davies, Fleeing Franco, p. 43.

[24] Recording of Paula and Maria, SWML AUD/443.

[25] Interview of Nicolas and Casimira Duenos, SWML AUD/200.

[26] Recording of Maria Fernandez, SWML AUD/439; Hywel Davies, Fleeing Franco, pp. 53-68.

[27] Quoted in Hywel Davies, Fleeing Franco, p. 65, see also p. 136.

[28] Interview of Mrs Steel, SWML VID/32.

[29] Recording of Maria Fernandez, SWML AUD/439.

[30] Hywel Davies, Fleeing Franco, pp. 16-7.

[31] Hywel Francis, Miners Against Fascism, p. 131.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Interview of Leo Macho, SWML VID/38.

[34] Recording of Maria Fernandez, SWML AUD/439; Hywel Davies, Fleeing Franco, p. 140.

[35] Hywel Francis, Miners Against Fascism, p. 129; Hywel Davies, Fleeing Franco, pp. 79-81, p. 116.

[36] Leandro Macho, ‘Growing up in Spanish Abercrave’, SWML AUD/251.

Emily Phipps and Avril Rolph

join us for thesweet sixteen of

Apart from Hendrefoelan House (former home of previous blog subject Amy Dillwyn), our closest neighbour in the Hendrefoelan Student Village is the Emily Phipps Building. It has been utilized by numerous departments over the years, but visitors are often unaware of the history and significance of the eponymous woman herself.

This blog explores her life and achievements and is also a tribute to Avril Rolph, an authority on Emily’s life. Avril was a founder member of Women’s Archive Wales, and a good friend to the Miners’ Library, and we were very sorry to hear of her passing earlier this year. Avril’s career as a librarian, archivist and researcher made her an authority on feminist history and a well-respected figure in her field. She became an honorary Vice President of the Women’s Archive Wales in 2011, a reflection of her pivotal role in the organisation.

Emily Frost Phipps was born in Devon in 1865. A career as an educator was marked from a young age when she became a pupil teacher in an  elementary infants school while still a student herself. Following her acceptance to Homerton Training College, Emily’s teaching career continued to flourish with increasing responsibilities and prestige. When she was appointed to Swansea’s Central Higher Grade School, the Board of Education inspectors praised it as one of the best schools in Wales, attributing its success largely to her.

Avril Rolph sourced an article in the South Wales Daily Post from 1897 which succinctly captured Emily’s impact on the school:

“Miss Phipps and her hardworking, able and conscientious staff continue to raise the character of the tone and instruction, which now reflect great credit upon all concerned.”

Teaching was not Emily’s only passion; she was also committed to political causes that furthered the rights of women. According to her biography, she joined the Women’s Freedom League in outrage at Lloyd George’s anti-suffrage behaviour at a Swansea meeting. As well as establishing a Swansea branch of the organisation, Emily gave speeches, participated in boycotts and supported numerous early feminist causes. As a member of the National Federation of Women Teachers – a pressure group within the National Union of Teachers – Emily campaigned for equal pay and became the president of the Swansea chapter in 1915. Eventually, due to a lack of support, she oversaw the separation of the NUFT as an independent union.

Emily’s life afterwards spans numerous roles and positions, all united by underlying feminist causes. She was the president of NUFT, editor of the journal Woman Teacher and, in 1925,  became a barrister and the standing counsel for the National Association of Women Teachers. In 2013, a blue plaque was placed on Orchard Street in Swansea to commemorate her achievements. Avril Rolph was the main speaker at the unveiling, a testament to her expertise.

Avril’s essay, ‘Definitely not a doormat: Emily Phipps, feminist, teacher and trade unionist’ appeared in Minerva:  The Swansea History Journal in 2014 and discussed key moments in Emily’s life. For instance, it reveals that she initially withdrew her application for the headteacher role in Swansea, seemingly only accepting again when her companion Clara Neal was offered a position. It also describes Emily’s census boycott in 1911, which was meant to demonstrate that if women were not considered citizens in terms of voting then they should not contribute to Government statistics. As well as providing more details about Emily’s bid to become an MP in 1918, it also contains quotations from newspaper articles and photographs of Emily throughout her life.

Such critical work has allowed Emily to be appreciated as an early feminist and, due to her relationship with Clare Neal, she is also occasionally included in histories of lesbian women. The Miners’ Library holds books about Emily (such as Deeds not Words by Hilda Kean) and books written by her: “A History of the National Union of Women Teachers“. For more information, please get in touch.


Rolph, Avril, ‘Definitely not a doorma: Emily Phipps, feminist, teacher and trade unionist’, Minerva (2014)

Kean, Hilda, ‘Emily Phipps’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2008)

The National Library of Wales holds a number of newspaper clippings, as part of Welsh Newspapers Online, detailing aspects of Emily’s time at Swansea.

Emily Phipps ac Avril Rolph

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Ar wahân i Dŷ Hendrefoilan, (tŷ Amy Dillwyn o blog blaenorol), ein cymydog agosaf ym Mhentref Myfyrwyr Hendrefoilan yw Adeilad Emily Phipps. Mae nifer o adrannau wedi defnyddio’r adeilad dros y blynyddoedd, ond nid yw rhan fwyaf o ymwelwyr yn ymwybodol o’r fenyw eu hun.

Mae’r blog yma yn edrych ar fywyd a chyflawniadau Emily a hefyd yn deyrnged i Avril Rolph, awdurdod allweddol ar y pwnc. Roedd Avril yn aelod sylfaenol o Archif Menywod Cymru ac yn ffrind da i Lyfrgell y Glowyr ac roeddwn yn drist i glywed am ei farwolaeth. Fe wnaeth gyrfa Avril – fel llyfrgellydd, archifydd ac ymchwilydd – gwneud hi awdurdod ar hanes ffeministaidd ac yn bwysig iawn yn y maes. Fe ddaeth hi’n Is-lywydd Anrhydeddus o Archif Menywod Cymru yn 2011, sy’n adlewyrchu ei chyfraniad enfawr yn y sefydliad.

Ganwyd Emily Frost Phipps yn Nyfnaint yn 1865. Roedd gyrfa mewn addysg yn amlwg o oes gynnar pan ddaeth hi’n athro disgybl mewn ysgol elfennol babanod pan oedd hi dal yn astudio. Ar ôl cael ei derbyn i Goleg Hyfforddi Homerton, wnaeth gyrfa addysg Emily cynyddu gyda mwy o gyfrifoldeb a phwysigrwydd. Pan ddaeth hi fel pennaeth i Ysgol Ganolog Gradd Uwch Abertawe, wnaeth yr arolygwyr o’r Bwrdd Addysg yn ei ganmol fel un o’r ysgolion gorau yng Nghymru, yn esbonio llawr o’r llwyddiant fel gwaith caled Emily.

Wnaeth Avril Rolph dod o hyd i erthygl yn South Wales Daily Post yn 1897 sydd yn dangos effaith Emily ar yr ysgol:

“Miss Phipps and her hardworking, able and conscientious staff continue to raise the character of the tone and instruction, which now reflect great credit upon all concerned.”

Heb law am ddysgu, roedd Emily hefyd yn angerddol am achosion gwleidyddol i ymwneud a hawliau menywod. Mae ei bywgraffiad yn sôn fe wnaeth hi ymuno a’r ‘Women’s Freedom League’ ar ôl gweld Lloyd George yn dangos ymddygiad sarhaus tuag at Swffragetiaid mewn cyfarfod yn Abertawe. Ar ôl sefydlu cangen yn Abertawe, fe wnaeth Emily roi areithiau, cymryd rhan mewn protestiadau a rhoi ei chefnogaeth i nifer o achosion menywod cynnar. Fel aelod o Undeb Gwladol Athrawon Benywaidd – grŵp pwysedd yn Undeb Gwladol Athrawon – fe wnaeth Emily ymgyrch am daliadau cyfartal a ddaeth hi arlywydd adran Abertawe yn 1915. Ymhen, oherwydd diffyg cefnogaeth, wnaeth hi oruchwylio’r undeb menywod yn gwahanu.

Mae gyrfa Emily ar ôl hyn yn cynnwys nifer o swyddi, wedi’i uno gan achosion ffeministaidd. Fe ddaeth hi’n Arlywydd y NUFT, golygydd cylchgrawn Woman Teacher a, yn 1925, bargyfreithiwr ar gyfer Cymdeithas Wladol Athrawon Benywaidd. Yn 2013, osodwyd plac glas ar Orchard Street yn Abertawe yn coffáu ei chyflawniadau. Avril oedd prif siaradwr ar gyfer y dadorchuddio, ac roedd hwn yn cymwys oherwydd ei ymchwil arbennig ar fywyd Emily.

Fe gyhoeddwyd traethawd Avril, ‘Definitely not a doormat: Emily Phipps, feminist, teacher and trade unionist’ yn Minerva: The Swansea History Journal yn 2014 ac mae’n trafod nifer o ddigwyddiadau allweddol. Er enghraifft, fe wnaeth Emily ymneilltua ei chais am y swydd pennaeth yn Abertawe, ac yn derbyn eto pan wnaethon nhw hefyd cynnig swydd i’w chydymaith Clara Neal. Mae’r erthygl hefyd yn disgrifio ei phrotest y cyfrifiad yn 1911, a oedd yn dangos i bobl ni dyle menywod cyfrannu at ystadegau’r llywodraeth os nod oedd y wladwriaeth yn gweld nhw fel dinasyddion. Ar wahân i ddarparu mwy o wybodaeth am gais Emily i ddoed yn aelod o’r senedd yn 1918, mae’r erthygl hefyd yn cynnwys dyfyniadau o erthyglau papur newydd a lluniau o Emily.

Mae gwaith beirniadol fel hwn yn gadel i Emily cael ei gwerthfawrogi del ffeminist cynnar ac, oherwydd ei pherthynas gyda Clare Neal, mae rhai hanesion lesbiaidd yn cynnwys hi. Mae Llyfrgell y Glowyr yn cadw llyfrau am Emily (fel Deeds not Words gan Hilda Kean) a llyfrau ganddi hi: “A History of the National Union of Women Teachers“. Am fwy o wybodaeth, cysylltwch â ni.


Rolph, Avril, ‘Definitely not a doorma: Emily Phipps, feminist, teacher and trade unionist’, Minerva (2014)

Kean, Hilda, ‘Emily Phipps’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2008)

Mae Llyfrgell Wladol Cymru yn cadw nifer o bapurau newyddion, fel rhan o Bapurau Newyddion Ar-lein, sy’n darparu manylion o fywyd Emily yn Abertawe.


GIG @ 70



Mae genedigaeth y Gwasanaeth Iechyd Gwladol ar Orffennaf 5ed 1948 yn hollbwysig i hanes Prydain. Fe wnaeth creu’r gwasanaeth gweld goblygiadau dros yr holl wlad a newid ein cymdeithas ar bob lefel. Roedd syniad o wasanaeth iechyd cyfun ac am ddim yn enwedig yn bwysig i gymunedau  diwydiannol a dosbarth-gweithio a oedd, yn y gorffennol, wedi gweld e’n anodd talu ffioedd yswiriant a meddygol. I’r bobl a wnaeth byw trwy’r newid, roedd y cyferbyniad yn amlwg. Mae nifer y pamffledi, dogfennau a llyfrau ar y GIG sydd gennym yn Llyfrgell y Glowyr yn dangos ei arwyddocâd i gymunedau diwydiannol De Cymru.

Wrth i’r wlad dod yn agos at wladoli, roedd nifer o ganllawiau i drio esbonio’r newidiadau cymhleth i gyhoedd a oedd dal yn delio gyda bywyd ar ôl y rhyfel. Roedd llawer yn esbonio hanes y Ddeddf i ddod, fel arfer yn sôn am argymhellion yr Adroddiad Beveridge yn 1942 fel digwyddiad allweddol hyd at ofal iechyd cyfun. Yn rhagweld cymhlethdodau posibl, fe wnaeth y Cymdeithas Feddygol Sosialaidd ysgrifennu  ‘Control of the Health Services‘ yn 1945. Fe wnaethon nhw croesawai syniad o wasanaeth iechyd gwladol ond yn dadlau dros ymgynghori gweithwyr iechyd yn ystod y proses weithredu.

Fe wnaeth y News Chronicle cyhoeddi’r ‘Guide to The National Health Service Act‘ gan bargyfreithiwr T.S. Newhman, a oedd yn ddefnyddiol yn crynhoi darpariaethau, gwasanaethau a llinell amser y system newydd. Roedd pamffled arall, ‘A Guide to the National Health Service Act 1946‘ yn cynnwys rhagair gan Aneurin Bevan, pensaer y GIG newydd:

We have just passed through Parliament the greatest single health-service measure of our history. We are facing, at this moment, the monumental task of putting it into operation.

Mae’r neges yn glir: hwn yw foment hanesyddol sydd â goblygiadau ymarferol ac yn ddelfrydol. Mae’r pamffled, gan Hilde Fitzgerald, yn sôn am y sefyllfa bresennol am ofal iechyd: cymysgedd o wasanaethau elusen a thaliadau gyda safon yr ansawdd yn ddibynnol ar gymeriad y gymuned leol. Mae’r canllaw yn disgrifio’r strwythur newydd: Gweinidog Iechyd yn penodi Byrddau Rhanbarthol sy’n sefydlu Pwyllgorau Rheoli i redeg yr ysbytai unigol. Mae diagram ar gefn y pamffled yn amlinellu’r strwythur delfrydol:


Yn dilyn gweithredu’r GIG, mae ein casgliadau yn dangos datblygiad y gwasanaeth dros yr ugeinfed ganrif, yn cynnwys y cynnydd a thensiwn. Fe wnaeth cyflwyno taliadau ar gyfer presgripsiynau yn y 1950au achosi dicter ac mae pamffled y Gymdeithas Feddygol Sosialaidd, sy’n dadlau bod e’n anghywir ac yn gofyn am lofnod ddeiseb, yn dangos y brwydrau o’r dechrau. Hefyd, mae’r pamffledi i’r 1970au, 80au ac ymlaen (fel Defending the NHS) yn dangos bod, wrth i’r GIG dod yn sefydliad, roedd llywodraethau yn defnyddio fe fel offeryn gwleidyddol.

Mae creu GIG yn aml yn cael ei chydnabod fel un o gyflawniadau fwyaf Prydain. Mae arwyddocâd y gwasanaeth yn hollbwysig, ond mae hwn yn enwedig yn wir i gymunedau pobl gweithio. Am y tro cyntaf yn ei bywydau, nid oedd angen poeni am dalu am ofal iechyd. Mae’r synnwyr hwn o wasanaeth yn wirioneddol ddemocrataidd yn cael ei adlewyrchu yn eiriau Stephen Taylor. Yn bamffled, ‘National Health Service‘, rhan o Gyfres Trafodaeth Llafur, mae’r aelod llywodraeth a meddyg yn dweud:

The Labour Government’s National Health Service Bill is neither the beginning nor the end of the job of building a real national health service for Britain. But in this job it is the most important step we have taken so far. It is a step which will only be successful if it is backed up everywhere by a well-informed and enthusiastic public. This is going to be our health service. Each one of us will at some time make use of it. Each of us will be able to have our say in how it is run. For this service will be made and moulded by public opinion.

Am fwy o wybodaeth am ein heitemau i ymwneud a CIG, neu am bywgraffiadau Aneurin Bevan yn ein prif gasgliad, cysylltwch â ni.


NHS @ 70


The birth of the National Health Service on July 5th 1948 is a landmark moment in British history. Its creation would have ramifications for the entire country and impact society at every level. The concept of a free, comprehensive health service was of particular significance to industrial, working-class communities that had long struggled to afford insurance and medical fees. For those that lived through it, the contrast was tangible. The number of pamphlets, documents and books on the NHS that have been collected by, or donated to, the Miners’ Library over the years is a testament to its significance among the industrial communities of South Wales.

As the country approached nationalisation, a number of guides were produced that attempted to explain these complex changes to a public still adjusting to post-war life. They briefly documented the history of the upcoming Act, usually mentioning the recommendations of the Beveridge Report in 1942 as key moment in the journey towards universal healthcare. Foreseeing potential complications, The Socialist Medical Association published ‘Control of the Health Services‘ in 1945. They, unsurprisingly, welcomed the possibility of a national health service but argued for the proper consultation of health workers during the implementation process.

The News Chronicle published their ‘Guide to The National Health Service Act‘, by barrister T.S. Newman, which helpfully summarised the provisions, services and timeline of the new system. Another helpful pamphlet, A Guide to the National Health Service Act 1946, had its foreword written by the architect of the NHS himself, Aneurin Bevan. He writes:

We have just passed through Parliament the greatest single health-service measure of our history. We are facing, at this moment, the monumental task of putting it into operation.

The message is clear: this is a watershed moment that has huge practical, as well as ideological, implications. The pamphlet, by Hilde Fitzgerald, goes on to describe the present situation for healthcare: a mish-mash of charitable and paid services with the level of quality measured by the affluence of the local community. The guide describes the new structure, which involves the Minister of Health appointing Regional Boards who will set up Management Committees to run the individual hospitals. A diagram at the back of the pamphlet outlines the desired structure:


Following the implementation of the NHS, our holdings chart its development and the moments of progress and tension as it continued throughout the twentieth century. The introduction of prescription charges in the 1950s caused particular consternation, and the Socialist Medical Association’s pamphlet, arguing against it and asking for a petition signature, demonstrates the battles that have been fought since the very beginning. Similarly, our pamphlets from the 1970s, 1980s and onward (such as Defending the NHShighlight that, as the NHS become entrenched as an institution, it was utilised as a political tool by subsequent governments.

The NHS is often recognised as one of Britain’s greatest achievements. Its impact and significance cannot be understated, but that is especially true for the working-class communities that, often for the first time in their lives, did not have to worry about paying for their healthcare. This sense of a genuine democratic service is reflected in Stephen Taylor’s ‘Labour Discussion Series’ pamphlet entitled National Health Service. The physician and MP introduced his work by writing:

The Labour Government’s National Health Service Bill is neither the beginning nor the end of the job of building a real national health service for Britain. But in this job it is the most important step we have taken so far. It is a step which will only be successful if it is backed up everywhere by a well-informed and enthusiastic public. This is going to be our health service. Each one of us will at some time make use of it. Each of us will be able to have our say in how it is run. For this service will be made and moulded by public opinion.

For more information about our NHS related holdings, or the biographies in our main collection on Aneurin Bevan, please get in touch.



The violent clash that occurred between police offers and pickets at Orgreave Coking Plant on the 18th of June 1984 was a key political moment of the strike and continues to resonate over thirty years later. While the authorities and mainstream media were quick to depict the event as unruly picketers reigned in by a desperate police force, subsequent evidence and accounts from those involved implicated the officers themselves in choreographing and instigating the violence. What was initially painted as mob violence is increasingly seen as a miscarriage of justice and the news, in 2016, that there would be no independent review into the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ was greeted with anger and disbelief.

The Welsh Campaign for Civil and Political Liberties (WCCPL)  collated information relating to the strike, particularly with regards to striking miners and their communities in South Wales. These formed the basis of the book Striking Back (available at the Library) and the interviews/transcripts have been deposited here at the SWML. While they mostly focus on the situation at home, several interviews discuss Orgreave – with both first and second hand accounts. This includes what they experienced, what they’ve heard and their opinions on the structure and intentions of the day.

A number of interviewees describe the apparent ease with which they found their way to Orgreave that day and the uncharacteristic assistance received from police officers. Accustomed to hostility, one comments:

You could have driven a double decker bus there.

Another describes the sense of entrapment:

There was no problem getting to Orgreave. On the way up all we saw was convoys of police. A general feeling among the boys was that it was like the Belgrano. We were there to be sunk.

This perspective is reflected in a discussion with Oakdale Women’s Support Committee. The interviewer notes:

Women took the view that the confrontation here was a ‘set-up’: the police passive and unusually helpful to those going to the picket, showing them parking spaces and waving them on with few stoppages.

Interviewees often express the opinion that items pelted towards the police from the back of the picket line were not thrown by miners. While possible suspects are suggested, the repeated claim across different lodges is worth noting.

Stones were thrown from behind us. They were hitting us. I am a miner and I am strong. If I threw a stone I would be able to hit a copper

The pickets started the push. Somebody behind threw bricks. I am convinced they were thrown by people put there by the police.



Once the clash begun, reports of violence and brutality remain consistent. The testimony below describes the experience of a Maesteg miner and his friend:

[They] initially saw a police officer on horseback hitting a picket twice on the back of the head with a ‘billy club’, knocking him out. While he lay on the ground, a woman came to him and lifted his head. She then went on to the road from the pavement and tried to indicate to the riders of the charging police horses (by raising her arm) to slow down to avoid the unconscious picket. [He] then saw her clubbed once by a police rider across the side of the head and she fell to the ground. [They] then had to run to avoid the charging horses. [He] has indicated that he is prepared to act as a witness in the action that it is believed the woman intends to take.

Another witness describes his experience directly:

I was buying an ice cream in the village square. It was very hot. About 30 horses came into the square and I ran away. I saw a picket lying on the ground with blood pumping out of his head. He was semi-conscious. I called to 2 riot police to get an ambulance. They said ‘you’ll need an ambulance’. They hit me across the shoulders 3 times with big truncheons. They told me to ‘run’.

The records of the WCCPL offer a fascinating insight into a political event very much of its time. Without technology to capture the incident more objectively, a police-favoured narrative prevailed which, over several decades, has been weakened by contradictory reports, protests and campaigns. It is unlikely an event like Orgreave could unfold in the same manner now, making the injustice of the event even greater. If you would like to know more about the WCCPL, or to view the transcripts, then please do get in touch.