Tonypandy, 1910

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The Great Unrest

During a period in the early 1910s which is often called ‘The Great Unrest’, South Wales experienced its fair share of industrial tension and social unrest.  The long Cambrian Combine strike which began in August 1910 has been most commonly characterised in the history books by the serious violence seen in the Tonypandy area in November 1910. 

By the autumn of 1910 nearly one sixth of all miners in south Wales were on strike and on 8 November 1910, the tensions caused by the strike came to a head and confrontations between strikers and police spiralled out of control.  Striking miners had convened at their respective pits to express their dissatisfaction and this escalated into the ransacking of the town of Tonypandy.  Some 60 shop windows were smashed and looted, the homes of miners’ officials were attacked and one man was killed.

A bitter dispute

Though there were already hundreds of police in the area to protect the Combine’s pits, the officials, and the strike-breakers, the scale of the violence was such that Metropolitan police officers were called in to assist.  This angered the crowds and increased their bitterness towards the authorities.  The Chief Constable of Glamorgan, fearful that the situation was getting out of hand, called on the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, for assistance.  The unusual step of sending troops to the area was thus taken, though Churchill was reluctant to do so at first.  The troops were to remain in the area for several months and their presence was highly contentious; Churchill was to remain an unpopular figure in the Rhondda for generations.

The strike came to an end in autumn 1911 without a victory for the miners.  Tonypandy came to symbolise an increased militancy in the workers’ struggle against the coalowners.