The Diaries of Henry Fothergill: Labour relations and the Aberdare strike of 1861

It is difficult for us today to fully comprehend the power of the South Wales coal owners and ironmasters in the mid-19th century or the length of their reach. Many behaved like Lords of the Manor whose actions affected every aspect of their workers lives – employment, homes, sustenance and health. However, owning and running an ironworks was not for the faint hearted – an ironmaster needed strong business acumen, nerves of steel, technical ability and social standing to succeed.  And lots of capital. Huge profits were ready for the taking if you were wealthy enough, ruthless enough and brave enough to ride the vicissitudes of the iron trade.

Henry’s early diaries (1860-64) give us a fascinating insight into his relationship with his workers, providing a contemporaneous account of early 1860s industrial disputes from an ironmaster’s perspective.

To an ironmaster employing huge numbers of colliers and ironworkers, seemingly minor reductions to an individual employee’s weekly wage could mean the difference between profit (and dividends for hungry investors) and loss. Understandably, those who toiled in the mines and ironworks, under terrible conditions for meagre reward, bitterly resented any wage cuts. The notoriously volatile iron trade, where iron prices fluctuated dramatically and unpredictably, didn’t help matters. When the price of iron was high, workers expected higher wages but were reluctant to accept reductions when iron prices fell again. This proved a real headache for proprietors trying to balance employee and investor expectations in an uncertain economy – a familiar predicament for the Fothergills.

Newspaper reports of the 1831 Merthyr Riots claim they …originated from a recent reduction in the men’s wages at Merthyr, arising from the depressed state of the Iron Trade, and from the pernicious and oppressive nature of the Truck Shops in the surrounding districts [The Cambrian, 11 Jun 1831]. Henry’s uncle, Rowland Fothergill, then managing partner of Aberdare Iron Company, was targeted by the rioters who rampaged over the hill from Merthyr to Abernant, ransacked his house and …with clubs and menaces compelled him under penalty of his life, to sign a paper, stating that he had not declared that the miners of Mr. Crawshay were getting 5s. per week more than his own [The Cambrian, 11 Jun 1831].

The subsequent rise of Chartism and unions made disputes and strikes more common. Understandably perhaps, Rowland Fothergill did not tolerate political agitators. The Welshman, 8 Jul 1842, wrote, Some of the leading men from the Aberdare Iron Works, connected with the Chartists, have been dismissed from works in consequence of their political views. The Distress everywhere is great.

Fast forward to January 1860, when Henry’s diaries begin. Henry’s brother Richard’s extension and refurbishment of Abernant House was almost complete and Henry himself was moving into his new home, Canal House in Cwmbach, Aberdare.

We don’t have to read far into the first diary [D553/1] to find evidence of Henry’s ruthless streak:


p.43, Thu 12 Jul 1860, The 2nd Heaters in no 1 mill standing out because I make them turn the piles twice properly so I stopped the mill for rest of week and shall send all the Puddled Iron to Taff Vale.


 p. 44, Mon 16 July 1860, By first train to Aberdare mill men wanting to work again, won’t let them begin yet as a slight punishment



p.84, Thu 13 Dec 1860, Called on James 8 a.m. about a man trying to obtain money from me in the County Court under plea of my having hit him which I did do with a good will as he was neglecting his work, after breakfasting Edwards and James went with me to see Rees of the County Court and left the matter of the lad in his hands to compromise the matter and so end it.


p.120, Thu 25 Apr 1861, …caught a puddler stealing a long puddled Bar from Railway. Collared him and made him beg to pay and have stopped against him 20/- for the trick.

In Jan 1861, Henry complains of a downturn in trade. By April, workers are anxious of wage cuts and angry that the Fothergills are still operating the Truck system, despite having been heavily fined for doing so 10 years previously.

With a costly strike looming, Richard Fothergill, Henry’s brother, tries to collude with other Welsh ironmasters to fix the wage reduction at ironworks across South Wales. He was keen for workers to see themselves as being treated equally, particularly in the Merthyr and Aberdare Valleys, to try to avoid disputes.

The Dowlais Iron Company Collection contains correspondence between Richard Fothergill and George Clark, Dowlais  manager:

16 Apr 1861 – Richard Fothergill to Clark [DG/C/5/9/2]:

I am favoured with your letter of yesterday and note all your remarks. I quite agree with you in your opinion of the Trades and also that the selling price of Iron must leave a loss in the manufacture only to be mitigated by a reduction in the rate paid for labour: a readjustment of wages such as you and I have discussed would sensibly relieve cost, for owing to the improved appliances of the day and the changed system of manufacture that obtains; the Firemen generally are in receipt of wages preposterously in excess of the other classes of workmen, who ought also though “to take” (as you most properly urge) their share in the distress……

Individually I am old fashioned enough to think a good deal of a sovereign spent in vain, it is therefore to my mind very trying to see so many of my hard earned sovereigns swilled away each Pay Saturday, and though our Wages account of £3,000 a week looks small alongside your operations; 20 percent in Firemen and 10 percent with Colliers and others would save us upwards of £20,000 a year.

Richard’s attempts fail – the ironmasters cannot agree whether the reduction should apply to colliers in addition to ironworkers and the workers strike [D553/1].

p.119, Tues 23-Wed 24 Apr 1861, To Cardiff, I mean Merthyr, with A Hankey & arranged with Menelaus of Dowlais to give notice of a reduction generally!!!

p.127, Tues 7 May 1861, Mill going badly short of men.          


p.131, Wed 29 May 1861, Message sent over – Rhymney etc, would only reduce 10% forges and mills our men all out still.


p.132, Mon 3 June 1861, Aberdare – heap of puddlers round me at my office wanting discharges, I refused to give them.


p.133, Thu 6 June 1861, Telegraph from Richard to blow out remainder furnaces which is consequently being done No 2 Abernant is now going out only two will then be left and those are at Aberdare.


p.134, Fri 7 June 1861, Wrote to Rich asking consent to light should the men wish to work (Puddlers).


p.134, Sat 8 June 1861, Meeting with James in office, after discussion gave orders to Evan Evans to blow out No 2 Aberdare immediately- Puddlers being still stubborn.


p.134, Mon 10 June 1861, Showery- Train to Aberdare – called at James in James’ office No2 furnace now out therefore only 1 furnace out of the six is now in blast which is No1 Aberdare mill men at Taff Vale.


p.135, Wednesday 12 June 1861, …out in works about 2 o’clock –“very slow” – nothing going on except gradually blowing out the blast furnaces and sending off coal for sale….


p.136, Thursday 13 June 1861, walked to Eaglesbush [home of the Miers family]….A splendid, Lobster, Ham Strawberries etc for breakfast.


p.137, Friday 14 June 1861, …deputation of Puddlers wanting to work again “but on their own Terms” – I refused to entertain the idea.


p.139, Wednesday 19 June 1861, Telegram from Richard – “start one” forge and only one, and keep furnace at Llwydcoed ‘in’….Arranged with John Evans to light mills at No 3 forge tonight.


p.139, Thursday 20 June 1861, Wrote to Richard in London. No 3 forges started 20 furnaces, and mill 4 on 2 Morayshire Rails slow.


p.141, Monday 24 June 1861, Started No 3 and 4 forges No 1 mill 6 on 3 –No 2 mill 2 on 1 saw Richard by the office.


p.144, Monday July 1 1861, To Abernant with Richard and I went through the various degrees of reduction with regard to the workmen.

p.145, Thursday July 4 1861, At the office went through the proposed different reductions with John Evans, in the works late in the evening.

A later diary entry [D553/6] confirms Henry’s animosity towards the Unions:


p.109, 11 Mar 1864, In the mill at 9.30am trying a yield & pricing on the work, in one furnace especially (David Darby a lazy plotting “Union” man)

It’s hard to find a better illustration of Henry’s sense of entitlement than his boast of eating lobster, ham and strawberries for breakfast while his workers were being starved back to work.

By October of that year, everything seemed to have settled down. Labourers were well employed and the iron ore from the Hirwaun Ironworks closure in 1859 had been processed. But the peace didn’t last long and the Aberdare Iron Company, along with many other Welsh collieries and ironworks, were plagued with strikes for many years to come.

Corinne Evans, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Diaries of Henry Fothergill: Innovation and experimentation

The early diaries contain fascinating accounts of Henry’s experiments to produce higher yields of suitable good quality iron at lower cost (iron was graded according to its quality with particular grades used for specific products). Success meant higher company profits, approbation from his brother, Richard, and a hard earned salary bonus. Henry spent long hours at the works and rolling mills trying to minimise any impurities in the finished iron which could compromise its strength and/or malleability.

The iron making process began with smelting the raw materials – iron ore, coke and limestone – in the blast furnace. Early Welsh ironworks depended on locally mined iron ore, often of a type known as ‘blackband’ (essentially ironstone containing coal), but by the 1860s it became more cost effective to import haematite ore from Cumbria or Spain. Haematite ore, which had a higher metallic content than blackband, was often heated in the absence of air to remove moisture and non-metallic impurities before smelting, a process known as ‘calcination’. Calcination converted the ferrous oxide within the haematite to ferric oxide, Fe2O3.

Calcined haematite, coke and limestone would be loaded (‘charged’) into the top of the furnace and heated. A steam powered engine would blast hot air through openings (‘tuyeres’) near the furnace base to maintain the temperature and oxygen supply. Carbon monoxide (from the coke) would reduce the ferric oxide (from the haematite) to form molten iron while impurities would combine with calcium carbonate (limestone) to produce slag which floated above the iron. The liquid iron could then be tapped and run off into moulds known as pigs.

Pig iron was converted into wrought iron by ‘puddling’. Patented by Henry Cort in 1783, puddling involves reheating the pig iron in a reverberatory furnace (a furnace in which the fuel does not come into contact with the product). The ‘puddler’ stirred the molten iron through an aperture in the puddling furnace with a long hooked rod. As the residual carbon was burnt off, the melting point of the iron increased causing semi-solid lumps of iron to appear. At the critical moment, the puddler used his rod to work the lumps together to form a single mass or ball which he quickly removed, either to a second puddling furnace for further refining or to the forge for hammering or rolling, depending on the quality of iron needed. Hammering and rolling squeezed out any dross. To further improve quality and to ensure the finished product had a uniform consistency, iron bars were cut up, piled (by ‘pilers’ who were often women or girls), tied together with iron straps, reheated and then rolled once more.

The properties of the finished wrought iron also depended to a large extent upon the level of residual impurities contained within it. Carbon, silicon, phosphorus and sulphur all affected the metal’s durability, strength and malleability. Too much carbon made the metal too brittle, too little made it too soft. Getting the correct balance was often a case of trial and error. Henry, though, was determined to take a more scientific approach, even attending chemistry lectures.  He describes many of his experiments in his diary [D553/3]:



p.147-48, Tue 27 Jan 1863,…up to Works met Richard; trying lots of experiments with bits of Rail under Hammer, and in nitric acid; had report of assay from Dr Noad of the Forge cinder, the piece simply calcined contains sulphur 1.43 per cent, the cinder calcined and afterwards re-calcined for 24 hours in a puddling furnace and afterwards allowed to cool gradually on the ground contained sulphur 0.306 per cent, the cinder that went through the same process as the latter, but was cooled immediately in water contained sulphur 1.26 per cent, so the water apparently did away with nearly all the good of the second calcining, and seemingly during the action of cooling while exposed to the atmosphere is the time when the sulphur is disgorging itself from the cinder, and not while so long in the fire; re-calcined some more today only keeping it in the Puddling Furnace about an hour to heat it red hot through and after cooling gradually, sent a piece of it and a piece of the same lot not re-calcined to Dr Noad again to see the result of only heating through.


p.154, Wed 4 Feb 1863, ..Letter and result of assay of cinder from Dr Noad that I sent him 27th inst: sulphur in cinder simply calcined but solid 2.28 per cent; sulphur in cinder calcined and heated again through for an hour in Puddling furnace 1.75 per cent…

Dr Henry Minchin Noad, Fellow of the Royal Society, was a Professor of Chemistry at St George’s Hospital, London.

One way of increasing the iron yield was to add copperas to the furnace. Despite its name, copperas has nothing to do with copper. It is the common name of crude ferrous sulphate, FeSO4.7H2O, which converts on heating eventually to ferric oxide, Fe2O3 (the same oxide found in haematite).


D553/6, p.10, Wednesday 28th October 1863, Sent to Jones for copperas to mix with the pig iron in Forges while it is boiling. Richards idea to try if it improves the quality of the iron, it comes from tin works.


p.21, Saturday 7th November 1863, Wrote The Ystalyfera Iron Co. for two casks of Copperas to try again in puddling Furnaces.

Another way was to use a cast iron base in the furnace instead of sand:

D553/1, p.72, Sun 29 Oct 1860, Mill here working busily on 10 furnaces trying an experiment with a cast iron bottom instead of sand.

Henry also experimented with the way wrought iron bars were piled:

D553/4, pg.1-2, Thu 19 Feb 1863: Back to Hirwaun 1st train; I to mill at 8 o clock and saw 2 Rails rolled, Bombay D. H. section, from piles made as follows, 8 x 2 in slab (of all metal piled in our usual way and worked edgeways) top and bottom, 2 – 4½ x 1/8 pieces of metal next each slab and remainder of pile (to form centre of Rail or Stem) Boiling 8 in: wide in two pieces as usual; (mistake above) slabs 8 x 2 in: not made in ordinary way but made thus, all metal Bars piles 9 in: wide and on their flats up 6 in: solid in the pile; the remaining 3 in: wanted to complete proper height of pile composed of metal bars 1 1/8 in thick 3 in: wide, 9 in: long and piled edgeways across the piles, to within 3 in: of each end of pile, which 3 in: was filled up with 3 small pieces of metal lying flat, so as to keep up in their position the series of pieces of metal standing on edge, this pile rolled flat made a scandalous bad Bar, cracking across the surface from end to end; the two Rails however though made with such bad looking slabs came out perfectly good in the heads; 2 other Rails I had rolled with 8 x 2 in: slab of ordinary make for one head, and the other head, made from a series of 8 x 3½ x ¾ No 2 Blaina Iron Bars placed across pile edgeways the same way as the metal in pile for slab as explained above, the blooming of this pile tore the pieces apart much….

Much of the iron was used to make rails and chairs for the rapidly expanding rail network, at home and abroad, particularly in India. Many ironworks employed their own inspectors responsible for quality control. However, railway companies often preferred to send their own to monitor production – a source of irritation for Henry and his brother, George, at Taff Vale.

John Addis relates the following story allegedly told by Mr Bateman, the Fothergill’s London agent, to James Dolphin, an employee of the Crawshays:

When the Inspectors make any fuss as to the Rails being of bad quality and not according to specification, Mr. Bateman takes it upon himself to order 2 or 3 Rails made entirely of No.2 Iron and frequently some of the whole of which are No. 3. These are sent up to the Engineers and Headmen of the line or Company whom the rails are for, who are of course delighted with them. This quite upsets the Inspectors and they never take any more trouble about looking after them and let them all pass [Addis, John P. (1957) The Crawshay Dynasty: A study in industrial organisation and development, 1765-1867. Cardiff:  University of Wales Press, p.121].

It’s unlikely the Fothergill brothers were ignorant of Bateman’s fraudulent practice of filling an order with No. 1 Rails (the lowest grade iron) when the Rail Company had inspected No.3. Is this something Henry himself condoned or did he just turn a blind eye?

Still, Aberdare rails were held in high enough regard to attract the interest of the millionaire railway entrepreneur, Sir Samuel Morton Peto, who met Henry while visiting the works in January 1863. Sir Morton, who was instrumental in building many London landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square, was awarded his baronetcy for building railways in the Crimean War to supply British troops.

Competition between the South Wales iron works was fierce. Reading the details of Henry’s experiments, I wonder whether Henry was also competing with himself.

Corinne Evans, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Diaries of Henry Fothergill: Family Connections

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of transcribing Henry’s diaries has been researching the backgrounds of the people he names – his family, friends and business associates. Getting to know the Fothergills’ history animated Henry’s words and sparked my imagination.  I started to see the family as characters in a novel rather than real people experiencing real events (I think I’ve read too much Alexander Cordell!).  So who exactly were the Fothergills and what role did they play in Glamorgan’s industrial development?

Fothergill interests in the South Wales iron trade began with Henry’s grandfather, Richard (1758-1821). He left the family seat at Lowbridge, Westmorland to become a builder in Clapham, South London. After marrying Elizabeth Rowland in 1788, he moved his family to Caerleon, living for a time at Back Hall. Following his ironmaking success at Pont Hir, he became a partner in numerous other works including Tredegar, Sirhowy and Penydarren.

Richard and Elizabeth had 3 sons; Richard II, Thomas and Rowland. In 1846, following an acrimonious court case, his son Rowland became owner-manager of Abernant and Llwydcoed Ironworks (also known as Upper Works) in Aberdare. He modernised both works and increased output until Aberdare Iron Co. became a major supplier of wrought iron rails and chairs for the rapidly expanding railway network.

Meanwhile, Richard II, who married Charlotte Elderton in Lambeth, London in 1822, inherited Lowbridge House, Westmorland. They went on to have 11 children – 4 boys and 7 girls: Richard III (1822-1903), Charlotte Elizabeth (1824-1907), Elizabeth (1825-1859), Mary Anne (1826-1851), Harriet (1828-1873), Martha Isabella (1830-34), Emma (1831-1914), George (1833-1915), Agnes (1834-1850 or 52), Henry, diary author, (1836-1914) and Thomas Rowland (1839-1909).

Richard III, the eldest son, was apprenticed to his Uncle Rowland to learn everything he could about the technical and business aspects of ironmaking. When Rowland retired to Hensol Castle in 1848, he left Richard III as overall manager with his 3 younger brothers working with him – Tom and George at Taff Vale Ironworks and Henry at Llwydcoed and Abernant.

Henry’s diaries begin in 1860 when, at the age of 24, he moves from Venallt, in the Neath Valley (the Fothergills owned Venallt Ironworks in Cwmgwrach) to Canal (Head) House. Henry gives detailed descriptions of the renovations he makes to his new home, including the addition of an aviary where he indulged what was to be a life-long passion for collecting exotic birds. Despite the move, he maintained close ties with his colleagues and friends in the Neath Valley, such as the Miers family of Aberdulais Forge.

By 1860, Henry’s older brother, Richard III, had married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Lewis, daughter of Edward Lewis, canal agent, and sister to James Lewis of Plas-draw. James Lewis and his brother Evan became good friends with Henry. James, a coal master, bought Aberdare Iron Company following its liquidation in 1875, although he soon closed the ironworks to concentrate on its associated coal mines. He also took over Abernant House when Richard III retired to Sion House, Tenby.

Elizabeth died in 1849, soon after the birth of their daughter, also called Elizabeth, who later became the 3rd wife of Charles Kemys-Tynte (1822-1891) of Cefn Mably.

In 1850, Richard III married Mary Roden (1833-1909), sister of William Sargeant Roden, a Staffordshire ironmaster, and Richard Brown Roden, of Pontypool and Abersychan ironworks. The couple went on to have 6 children: Richard Thomas Fothergill (1852-1877); Mary Roden Fothergill (1853-1889); Helen Constance F. Fothergill (1855-1907); Ada Francis Fothergill (1858-1939); Sydney Roden Fothergill (1864-1943) and Theodore Roden Fothergill (1869-1895). They lived at Abernant House, which Henry often visited. Originally built by James Birch, one of the founders of Abernant Ironworks, but extended and modernised by Richard, Abernant House later became Aberdare General Hospital.

Mary Roden came from an illustrious family of Staffordshire ironmasters. Her mother was Ann Brown – sister to Thomas Brown, managing director of Ebbw Vale Company, and daughter to Richard Brown. The latter made the mechanism for Trevithick’s locomotive in 1803 and also established successful iron bar mills at Nantyglo.

Mary Roden’s brothers were also influential ironmasters. William Sergeant Roden (1829-1882) became a partner in the Shelton Bar Iron Company, Stoke-on Trent in 1857 and moved with his family into Etruria Hall, former home of Josiah Wedgewood.

Richard Brown Roden (RBR) married Henry’s sister, Emma Fothergill in 1855 in Westmorland. They had one child, Emmeline Roden Fothergill born in 1856. Emma petitioned RBR for judicial separation in April 1869 citing RBR’s adultery with their parlour maid, Mary Pritchard. The case was dismissed in May 1872. Emma’s brothers seemed to be very supportive of her, accompanying her to court in Westminster. RBR later moved to Corsica to oversee work at the Argentine Silver and Lead Mines at Calvi when his works manager died. Finding the mines overemployed, he discharged some of the workers.  This may have been the motive for his murder – he was shot in the back while leaving his residence, allegedly by a disgruntled former mine carpenter, in March 1887.

The Fothergills were also close friends and business associates of the Crawshays of Cyfrarthfa. Henry’s diary [D553/2, pp.93-94] contains a description of the celebrations surrounding the double wedding of Henry’s brothers George and Tom to Isabel and Laura Crawshay respectively (Francis Crawshay’s daughters):


Thurs 10 April  The Wedding Day!!  Crowds of people about & lots of flags flying triumphal arches etc.  We drove over to the Forest after an early breakfast, found Uncle Roland arrived we all started for Llantwit church, a mile and half off amid immense cheering, 6 carriages altogether, 4 horses in some,  6 bridesmaids in one including Helen Crawshay, she looked a perfect little angel so beautiful and fair in her white dress etc. everything passed off well at the church.  I shook hands with Laura & gave Isabel a kiss of congratulations.  Then back to the Forest amid tremendous cheering, splendid breakfast & 2 magnificent wedding cakes. No speeches, only Uncle Roland proposed health of brides & bridegrooms to which George responded in short but telling words.  They all four left amid a shower of old shoes.  I raffled my musical box 10/- per share & got #17.10 for it.  Mr C took 10 shares & won the prize…. 

George and Isabel had 7 children. Tragically, Isabel died of scarlet fever two days after their son John Rowland was born in 1876. Their oldest son George Algernon Fothergill (1869-1945) became a renowned artist whose work is exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery.

Tom, Laura and their family spent much of their time in Europe, eventually settling in Switzerland, where Tom died of a heart attack while out walking in the Roseg Valley, Pontresina, in 1909.

Henry spent a lot of time with Francis Crawshay and his family, frequently corresponding and making regular visits to Treforest, Barry Island (where Francis kept his boat) and Bradbourne Hall, Kent (which Francis bought in 1870 and where he died in 1878). It seems Francis had a soft spot for Henry. Ten days after the double wedding, Henry writes:


D553/2, p. 102, Sat. 26 April 1862, letter from Mr. Crawshay from London stating he had had his likeness taken for me purposely (very kind) and suggesting a wife for me, I don’t however want one for some six years

Henry may already have had his own marriage plans, involving Francis’ then 12 year old daughter, Helen Christine Crawshay. Henry writes:



D553/2, p. 120/121, Wednesday 28th May 1862, With George and Isabel to call at The Forest about 11 o’clock. Mr C come back from Barry, he not very well. Thinks of going down again on Saturday and asks me to accompany him he most kind to me…

Isabel a long lecture upon to me a most thrilling subject. I gave my best attention to it and intend profiting thereby for the next few years, when I look forward with hope and pleasure unutterable to a perfectly and truly heavenly reward and pray God that I may be so blessed


p.133, Friday 20th June 1862, Found a letter here last night on our arrival to me from Laura of a nature that has completely crushed me down.  I feel low, dispirited and perfectly miserable. It was about dear H. and gave me little if any hope of ever being owner of such a precious treasure as she is. Still I will live on hopes.  I wrote a long letter in reply to Laura dwelling strongly upon the whole matter and now anxiously await a half expected and half promised letter from Mrs C (as to her C.d.V)[Carte de visite]. 


p.181, Wednesday 9th July 1862, Gresham Hotel Dublin, Fine & warm, breakfast with strawberries & cream at 8.30.,walked to Post Office found a splendid lot of letters from, dear Mother, Hall, Mrs Crawshay, Stella, De Barry, Adams, half a dozen tradespeople, and a precious one from my own little darling H.C.C. Mrs. C’s from London very long interesting & touching most kindly on “the point” I live for..


D553/3, p. 46, Thurs 11th Sept 1862, …Last train to Woodlands. I found Mr Crawshay was coming over to talk to me a bit about Her. He and William did come over to tea but the subject was not touched upon after all. I was on pins all the time.


p.74, Wed 12th Nov 1862, …by last train to The Forrest found George, Isabel, Tom there, we all sat waiting till about 9 o clock, when the coach of 4 horses arrived with Mr and Mrs Crawshay, Francis, Tudor, Helen, Stella and De Barri and all the servants. We welcomed them at the door steps , I had not seen her for more than five months, she looks more perfection than ever, and has grown an inch and a quarter.


p.139, Thurs 15th Jan 1863, Fine-by first train to Woodlands and up again by return train. Tom and Laura well – baby not quite well – had breakfast and returned with a pill stuck tight in my throat, that Laura gave me, about Her , that Mr C had put his veto upon it, there is however plenty of time and in so good a cause with plenty of perseverance and patience I’m sanguine still.

p.154, Wed 4th Feb 1863, …A long and kind letter from Mrs Crawshay The Forest about Her, wanting promise etc etc I replied by Bag to Mrs Crawshay and promised everything she wished, though very hard to do so, indeed terribly hard, how shall I feel next time I see her?

It seems Francis Crawshay refused Henry’s proposal and sought assurances that Henry would abide his decision. Perhaps he feared having three Fothergill sons-in-law would threaten the Crawshay dynasty.

Did Henry’s disappointment contribute to his decision to leave Aberdare? Or was he just aggrieved, working long hours for little appreciation from his brother, Richard? Did he foresee the collapse in the iron trade, due to the dominance of steel making, which brought about the Company’s downfall in 1875? Who was the mysterious ‘Jones’ and why did he stir up trouble between the four brothers, leaving Richard in sole ownership of the Company in 1864? Could  ‘Jones’ be Henry’s code name  for Richard himself?

It’s clear from reading his diaries that Henry enjoys word games and solving puzzles – it took me a while to decipher the words ‘gnittis sliob’ until I realised it was actually ‘sitting boils’ backwards!. He’s certainly left me with a lot of questions. Finding the answers is becoming addictive!

Corinne Evans, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The General Strike 1926: The Railwayman’s Story – Stand Firm, We Must Win

The nine days of the General Strike in May 1926 shook the foundations of British society as over 1.5 million workers across the country downed tools. For many in the trade union movement it was a simple act of solidarity with the miners who had seen their wages and terms and conditions progressively driven down in the years following the end of the First World War. It is estimated that, by 1926, miners’ pay had fallen by a third from the 1919 levels. Proposals to further reduce wages and extend the working day produced the famous response from the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, ‘Not a penny off the wages and not a minute on the day’. The decision by the TUC, in May 1926, to call out the transport workers, printers and iron and steel workers in sympathy with the miners met with almost total support from the unions and their members across the country.

In other quarters the TUC’s decision was seen as a General Strike and a challenge to constitutional government. With the shock waves from the Bolshevik revolution in Russia still fresh in the memory, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called the Strike ‘a challenge to Parliament’ and ‘the road to anarchy and ruin’ [The British Gazette, 6 May 1926]. Well before the strike was announced, the Government had preparations in hand to maintain key services across the country to be run in each area by a centrally appointed Civil Commissioner. In South Wales, the Earl of Clarendon was installed on May 2 1926 in Dominions Building in Cardiff to work with the local authorities to maintain law and order, transport and food supplies. He also had at his disposal the local arm of the Volunteer Service Committee established to recruit local men and women to keep the docks and local transport services operating and, if needed, bolster the police force. In all, the local Volunteer Service Committees recruited over 12,000 volunteers in South Wales. Small numbers of men were used to provide a skeleton service on the railways and in the docks . The impact of the volunteers was perhaps most evident in urban areas and, in particular, in Cardiff, where they were used to run tram and bus services. Although the TUC urged its members to avoid confrontation, the Government was determined to maintain essential services and stationed troops in most cities and towns along with naval vessels in key ports.

Glamorgan Archives holds material that tells the story of the General Strike in South Wales from the perspective of the unions, local volunteers and those running the Volunteer Service Committees. Records such as school log books also trace the impact on local communities. The account below is one of a series that draws on this material. It was written by Trevor Vaughan, a railway worker and trade union official in Aberdare in 1926 [ref.: D/DX196/2].

The Railwayman’s Story

Trevor Vaughan was 26 years old at the time of the General Strike. He was the clerk to the Station Master at Aberdare High Level Station and an official in the Railway Clerks’ Association. He came from a family with a long tradition of trade union involvement.

There was a good Trade Union tradition in our family. My Father was on the GWR and for many years a signalman in the Aberdare Box and a member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (later the National Union of Railwaymen). My grandfather on my Mother’s side was a driver on the Taff Vale Railway. The first minute book of a branch of the ASRS in Aberdare includes his name as a Committee member. He died in 1894 at 52 years. Four of his sons – my Mother’s brothers – were Engine Drivers.

The RCA was unusual in being one of the few ‘black coated’ unions affiliated to the TUC in 1926. Trevor Vaughan represented the RCA on the Aberdare Trades and Labour Council and he was, therefore, co-opted onto the key union committees directing the strike in the Aberdare Valley. As with most union members in the South Wales valleys, he had no hesitation in responding to the call to strike in support of the miners.

In the Aberdare Valley when a call came for strike to support the Miners – irrespective of party or religion – there was a spontaneity in the response from the whole community. We were not only comrades in the Trade Union Movement but fellow members of the chapels and churches, clubs, sport and Friendly Societies. Most of my school friends and boys I played with in our street went underground. They usually wore their white duck trousers in the street the night before they went “under” – often with their fathers. It was an emotional appeal. I doubt whether half a dozen of my members who were out on strike had ever voted “Labour”. That nine days revealed to me that there was a Working Class and I was a member of it.

As one of the few officials who could type, Trevor produced many of the messages that passed between the local strike committees during the 9 days of the strike – ‘Aberdare Solid’, ‘Stand Firm’ and ‘We Must Win’. In addition, he had experience of public speaking as a lay preacher, a talent that he used to good effect during the strike. However, undertaking such a role was not without risk. At his first public meeting, in Aberdare, he shared the platform with Max Goldberg, a train fireman, a member of the NUR and a known communist.

As a local preacher I stressed the Christian Brotherhood of Man and the sanctity of human personality. Max the Communist made the point “Here is the power on one side – the workers on the other – in between the Army, only the control of the army will get power”.

Subsequently, Max and two others were arrested . Max Goldberg was sentenced to two months hard labour and on release from prison his application for reinstatement was refused by the Great Western Railway.

It also fell to Trevor Vaughan to persuade strike breakers to fall in line with the majority of union members who supported the strike.

We had a few non-union blacklegs in our railway salaried service and even among those members who came out on strike, hardly one or two voting labour. I used to chase these blacklegs when they went to and from the office. One morning, before I was out of bed, my mother brought me a telegram. It read “come at ten – Hirwaun Joint”. I got on the back of a motor bike and when I arrived I was told that one of our members was working. He was Harry Morgan, Chief Clerk in the Goods Office at Hirwaun Station. I was almost instructed to “get him out”. Of course, I knew him well personally and had worked with him in the Aberdare Booking Office. I agreed to go around to his house. As I moved off I found half a dozen members of the Joint Committee accompanying me. This caused me some concern and at the end of the street I persuaded them to wait there until I came back. “Tiny” Morgan, as we knew him (he was very fat) was at home nursing the baby in a shawl Welsh fashion. I knew his wife was solid labour and would be on my side (it was usually the other way about). Both of us “had a go” at him, Mrs Morgan urging him to “go with Trevor”. Finally he agreed to meet me in the strike committee in Aberdare the following day. The strike ended a couple of days after and I was not sure whether he came out or not.

There were often difficult decisions to be made when dealing with strike breakers.

One difficult personal problem I had to deal with concerned the Chief Clerk at Aberdare High Level station, a close colleague of mine. To come out on strike in his eyes was tantamount to a Marxist Revolution, but he actually came out in loyalty to me. His wife, she had been brought up in a village outside Abergavenny, was under great strain with her husband on strike. He told me one day that he was very worried as his wife was not sleeping and that she was pregnant. I told him I could not take the responsibility of the consequences to his expectant wife and agreed for him to report for work and I would explain the circumstances.

As the strike moved into its second week support across south Wales remained firm. Trevor and his colleagues were, therefore, amazed when they heard on the ninth day of the strike that the TUC had asked the non-mining unions to return to work. Their initial reaction was that the Government must have agreed to the terms demanded by the unions. In particular the TUC claimed to have secured acceptable terms for the reopening of discussions for the settlement of the mining dispute. However, it became apparent later in the day, and over the following week, that the TUC had failed to secure any concrete concessions from the Government or the mine owners. It may be that the threat of legal action against the unions influenced the decision. However, there was also the suspicion that, faced by the determination of the Government to maintain essential services, the TUC feared that the further escalation of the strike, planned for 12 May, would have achieved little other than to increase the potential for clashes with the authorities.

With nothing gained for the miners and no guarantees that striking union members would be taken back by their employers, the TUC decision was a hammer blow to the strikers.

In spite of all the confident fighting speeches and high morale among the rank and file, the whole thing collapsed on the Friday night. There was a packed meeting of railwaymen in the Memorial Hall and the Aberdare Leader reported “Local Railwaymen decided at the Memorial Hall, Aberdare on Friday evening to accept the recommendation of the Union Executives and to return to work that there should be no penalties or victimisation”. In fact, there were no guarantees and many of my colleagues did not go back for months. With no coal coming from the pits, the railway company in South Wales had no work for many clerks. One young Clerk had only been on the railway a month but came out on strike but never got his job back.

National solidarity was in tatters and it was left to individual unions, at the local level, to attempt to negotiate a return to work for their members.

A meeting of the three railway unions was called in the Memorial Hall and a deputation representing the three unions was chosen to visit the various departments at the Aberdare Station to meet local Officials and to indicate we were available for work. As we proceeded towards the station we began to realise that it was a “cap in hand” affair. To quote the words of Aneurin Bevan in another context, as we approached the Officials we felt “naked”. We called in the Station Master’s Office (the office where I normally worked) and visited the Engineering and Goods Departments. We received a respectful reception from each Officer. We then moved over to the Loco Sheds where several hundred staff were employed as trainmen, fitters etc. The spokesman at the Loco was Ben Brace (ASLF) a very prominent member of his union nationally – a JP and Town Councillor. As we passed the office window we could see Mr Burgess, the Loco Foreman and one of his Shift Foremen the only two at the Depot not on strike. When we got to the office door we knocked and tried the knob – it was locked. We had no choice but to make our way into the engine shed and approach the glass partition where men booked on duty.

Mr Burgess and Fred Hussey came to the inside window and as the glass shutter had not been opened for nine days it was stuck and Fred Hussey broke the glass in opening it. The tension was electric! Ben Brace’s face was livid. To be humiliated in the presence of the other departments where we had had a respectful reception. Ben said “I thought you would have the courtesy to receive us in your office.” Burgess replied “We can do our business here, Ben”. Ben had to say that he was speaking on behalf of the Unions and that we were available to resume duty. Burgess replied “we will let you know when we want you,” and there the interview ended. It was absolute humiliation for men who had given their life time to the Company and we could do nothing whatever about it but walk away.

Across the county many men lost their jobs or were forced to return to work on reduced hours as employers took the opportunity to reduce numbers and, in many cases, retain those employed to break the strike. Trevor Vaughan was one of the lucky ones and returned to work on the railway at Aberdare.

Mr James, the Station Master, (we were good friends) called me back to the offices on Saturday morning and assured me that he had not done any of my work. Back on duty I had to compile a list for the Divisional Superintendent of the names of the “loyal” staff and those on strike. In the first column was one name “Mr James.” For the second column I just copied out the pay bill – about 120 names including my own together with Clerks, Inspectors, Signalmen, Guards, Shunters, Ticket Collectors, Porters etc.

And so ended nine days in which I experienced the “Baptism of Fire”.

But it did not end there for Trevor Vaughan and many others.

Involvement in the General Strike in a town like Aberdare was an emotional experience and it would be difficult to assess the influence it had on my personality. It brought me into close contact and intimate relationship with outstanding Independent Labour Party stalwarts who had suffered severe victimisation throughout the lives. Men of high integrity and intellectual quality. Everything in life that matters seemed to be at stake during that nine days. During my 45 years on the railway it was the only occasion when I knew what it was to be “out of work.” Along with thousands of my fellow workers in my home town I was facing reality something akin to the comradeship of the trenches in Flanders during the First World War.

On the one hand the strike was broken and the following year, to make a point, the Government enacted legislation to outlaw sympathetic strikes. The miners lock out continued throughout the summer and autumn before they were forced to accept defeat and return to work, where it was still offered, on reduced terms and conditions. As Trevor Vaughan noted:

It is difficult to believe that such a demonstration of solidarity among the working class – supported by the whole community as far as Aberdare was concerned – should suffer utter collapse.

However, the events of May 1926 made a firm impression on many men and women across the country. Direct action had failed but there were other routes to challenge the status quo and fight for better working conditions. In 1932 Trevor Vaughan was nominated as a Labour Party candidate for Aberdare Urban District Council and won a seat at the second attempt the following year. He went on to have a long involvement with local government, serving as Mayor of Newport in 1963, and he was awarded the CBE in 1967. Looking back on the events of 1926 he concluded:

There is no doubt that my involvement in the General Strike 1926 had a profound influence on the direction I was to travel in the years to come and the causes to which I would give the major portion of my life and energies.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Aberdare Cottage Homes Memorial Roll

To commemorate the anniversary of the First World War, I researched the men whose names appear on the Aberdare Cottage Homes Memorial Roll held at the Glamorgan Archives.

Aberdare Roll of Honour compressed

There are a total of 83 names on the roll, some with more information than others, and upon undertaking initial research it seemed that they all attended the Industrial School at Trecynon, Aberdare.

According to Kelly’s Directory of 1910:

The Industrial School of Merthyr Tydfil Union, Trecynon, to give it its correct title, was built in 1871 by the Guardians, originally used as an Infirmary, and in 1877 converted to its present use. There is a new receiving home, also 2 Cottage Homes; the School is intended to separate pauper children from the influence of the adults, and gives a training to the children in different trades and occupations, and there is an industrial trainer for each department. The institution holds 200 children, with Thomas J Owen as Superintendent.

My research was undertaken in two ways; primary sources using documents held at the Glamorgan Archives and secondary sources online via Ancestry, Find My Past, Forces War Records and the Aberdare Leader newspaper website.

Whilst attending the Archives, I started by searching their online catalogue in order to access documents held there. These included records of the industrial school and cottage homes; Aberdare Boys School register; the Board of Guardians minute books and the admission and discharge registers of the Merthyr Union workhouse.

I spent several months reading through these documents looking for the names on the roll; sometimes the names jumped out at me, other times I could only find family members mentioned. Gradually I built up their early lives.  Alongside this I went online trying to trace birth details along with census entries and military history.  This allowed me to build up the men’s stories leading up to and including the First World War.

Within each personal record, I have used a colour code when documenting the research – black for the information found in documents in the Archives, green for general information found online and red for military information found online.

Some of the names revealed an interesting hidden history of information, whereas other names, due to lack of initial information did not reveal very much at all. Among them there are four servicemen who won the Military Medal (MM), one who received the Distinguish Conduct Medal (DCM) and nine are recorded as casualties.

Among the servicemen on the roll are John and Kenneth Aubrey. I found both boys in the records of the Industrial School where they were admitted in October 1900, and then in the 1901 census attending at St Fagan.  John was admitted to the Training School on 1st September 1902, whereas Kenneth was admitted on 29th August 1904.  There is no mention of parents that I can find, nor where or why Kenneth was admitted two years later.  Both boys went to live with their aunt in December 1906, but were brought back to the school in June 1907.  John was put into service to Mr Peter Pugh in July 1907 and Mr Pugh later applied for custody of Kenneth in October 1908.  Both boys can be found in the 1911 census as ‘Adopted Sons’ to Mr and Mrs Pugh.  In 1912, John leaves for Australia, arriving in Brisbane, Queensland on 26th December that year.  He enlists in the Australian Imperial Force on 11th March 1916, is wounded around September 1917, but goes on to survive the war and return to Australia.  Kenneth enlists in the Welsh Regiment and is reported missing in the Dardanelles in 1915.  News eventually reached Mr and Mrs Pugh in December 1916 that Kenneth was officially reported missing on 17th August 1915.

For another soldier, Stephen Lucy, born around 1891, the only record I could confirm was that he left the Industrial School in 1907 and joined The Buffs (East Kent) Regiment as a Bandsman aged 16. He is recorded as having achieved the rank of Lance Corporal and gained the DCM for distinguished conduct as a stretcher bearer by June 1915.  Unfortunately he is wounded in the right arm and is discharged as medically unfit.  However he is given the opportunity to return to work at the Children’s Home, eventually becoming Bandmaster in 1917.  He goes on to marry and have two children.

Alexander McCarthy was admitted to the Industrial School in 1900. By 1907 he had made sufficient progress to enable him to enter for examination as a Pupil Teacher.  Although unsuccessful at that time, he went on to attend the Aberdare County School and was eventually apprenticed in 1908 as a Pupil Teacher.  In the 1911 census he is recorded as an Elementary School Teacher and in 1915 he attended St Mary’s College in Hammersmith, becoming Senior Prefect.  Later in 1915 he joined the Royal Fusiliers and in July 1916 saw action in the Battle of the Somme.  He was recommended for a Commission, due to excellent field service, as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers, but was killed in action on 23rd August 1918.

The full text of the roll of honour research is accessible on the First World War pages of the Glamorgan Archives website:

Although I have found as much information as it is possible at this time, the research is far from complete. If anyone recognises a possible ancestor amongst the names on the roll of honour and is able to fill in any missing details, please contact the Glamorgan Archives as we would love to hear from you.

Rosemary Nicholson

News from the Front

With the outbreak of the First World War, many men signed up to serve their country, either voluntarily or because they were called up by the military. Local authorities were affected by this as much as any other field of work. Naturally those who had stayed behind and continued to work with the local authorities were keen to find out how those who were at the Front were getting on.

Good news came from the Front in the form of awards bestowed on soldiers for their actions in combat. In September 1915, Gelligaer Urban District Council noted that James Green had been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal. In December 1917 Private Tudor Lewis received the Military Medal. And on New Year’s Day 1918, it was announced that Sergeant Ivor Jones had won both the Distinguished Conduct and Military Medals.

Ivor Jones

Several other employees were recognised for their distinguished service and bravery.

In January 1917, Porthcawl Urban District Council heartily congratulated Lieutenant Tamblyn and Corporal Nicholls who had both been awarded for conspicuous bravery while on active duty. And in July of that year Maesteg Urban District Council congratulated Sergeant Fred Davies who had received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).

In June 1917 Bridgend Urban District Council passed on their congratulations to the parents of Oscar Powell and Frank Howells who had both received the Military Medal. In December of that year Second Lieutenant Steve Jenkins, son of one of the council members was also awarded the Military Medal. In January of 1918 Ogmore and Garw Urban District Council reported that Mr King, a former Captain of the Nantymoel fire brigade had received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

At the end of the War in November 1918, Aberdare Urban District Council revealed that Major R D Williams, the son of a councillor, had won the Distinguished Service Order.

Another source of good news would be when servicemen were promoted. In June 1916 Bridgend Urban District Council congratulated Lieutenant Colonel F W Smith on his promotion to the Command of the 16th Welsh (Cardiff City) Battalion. In May 1917 Gelligaer Urban District Council reported on the rapid rise of Mr Emlyn Evans. Starting as a Private in September of 1915, he became a Lance Corporal in November of that year, then a full Corporal a month later. Six months after that he became a Sergeant before becoming a Company Sergeant Major in December of 1916. The following month he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and became a Flight Sergeant and then in April of 1917 he became a Sergeant Major.

Sometimes just hearing the news that someone at the Front was alive and well was enough cause for celebration. In September 1914 Penybont Rural District Council congratulated Colonel Turbervill on the news that his son Captain Turberville was in good health. However sadly, in May of 1915, Colonel Turbervill’s grandson was killed in action.

Along with the joy of hearing of colleagues receiving awards for valour, there was also the despair of hearing the news of the death or wounding of those serving at the Front. In September 1914 the Earl and Countess of Plymouth lost a relative, Archer Windsor Clive. Several local authorities voted to pass their condolences, which were followed up by replies of thanks in kind from the Plymouth Estate.

In November 1914 Penybont Rural District Council conveyed their sympathy to Colonel Nicholl on the death of his son Lieutenant Nicholl. In December, Mountain Ash Urban District Council expressed their condolences to the family of Lord Aberdare, whose eldest son had been killed. In October 1915, Porthcawl Urban District Council proposed a vote of condolence for the families of Lieutenant Sydney Randall Jenkins and Sergeant Evan Rogers.

In November 1916 Dr M J Rees, who had been for many years the medical officer of health for Aberdare Rural District Council, was reported killed in action. In July of 1917 three former employees, Motorman Amos, Motorman E Wiltshire and Conductor AC Sims, were killed in action.

In December 1917 Maesteg Urban District Council experienced a triple loss, with the deaths of Second Lieutenant Hugh Grade, Private Harold Edwards and Private Charles Corbett. Another triple loss was announced at the end of the war, with the deaths of Privates Ivor Evans, A Meldrum and Hillman.

Not all losses occurred at what most people would view as the ‘Front’, namely France and Belgium. Some of the above losses may have occurred in other parts of the world. The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 saw British Empire troops serving in modern day Turkey, while several campaigns took place in both Africa and the Middle East. It is also worth noting that not all losses occurred on the ground. There were those who served in the air with the Royal Flying Corps (later Royal Air Force) and Royal Naval Air Service (later Fleet Air Arm), and there were those who served with either the Marines or the Navy. One loss at sea was in October of 1914 when Gelligaer Urban District Council reported the death of Lieutenant Commander McGregor when HMS Hawke was sunk by a German U boat in October of 1914.


The local authority minutes at Glamorgan Archives show us that news from the front was highly sought after by councillors and employees. Although good reports were hoped for sadly it was often bad news that was received.

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

Supporting the War Effort

As the First World War continued, local authorities across the country co-ordinated attempts to support the war effort.

At the start of the war one option many authorities discussed was using elementary schools as makeshift field hospitals for those who had been wounded in combat. Voluntary Aid Detachments were set up to help assist professional nurses both at the front (although this was initially discouraged) and at the hospitals at home. There was also the issue of where new recruits would stay prior to being posted abroad or elsewhere in the UK. In Cardiff it was decided that in emergency situations public buildings be used as accommodation (RD/C/1/9).

Many employees who continued to work for the local authorities were offered War Bonuses. These were incentives to encourage them to work overtime, often compensating for holidays lost and for the rising cost of living essentials. Those who did not serve in the armed forces either abroad or at home were encouraged to work in factories that produced munitions and other materials for aircraft, ships and tanks. Those men who had joined the colours would be replaced by older men or women.

Once the possibility of air raids by German bombers and zeppelins had emerged, the local authorities were instructed to dim or extinguish street lights and arrange for the sounding of alert sirens.

Charities were set up to support those who served in the armed forces and their relatives and loved ones. In Aberdare, the National Fund for Comforts of Troops suggested that St David’s Day should be marked as a Flag Day, and that street collections be made for the benefit of the Fund (UDAB/C/1/9).

Aberdare UD flag day

In addition to charities, local authorities encouraged some facilities such as schools to put money towards a War Savings account. Towards the end of the war tanks that had already seen service were sent around the UK, where the public could see and sometimes ride a tank provided that they pledged money towards War Savings. At the same time the national government was offering War Loans, encouraging people to invest money towards the war effort.

During the later years of the war some materials were rationed, either because it became harder to obtain them, or because they were needed for military purposes. In Barry the authorities decided not to use crude tar for the purpose of road maintenance as some of its by-products were to be used in the production of explosives (BB/C/1/20). As it became more difficult to import or manufacture food, the authorities encouraged residents and landowners to grow food in allotments. As well as people and buildings, the armed forces also took civilian vehicles and used them, mostly in transport roles. In Caerphilly the South Wales Transport Company informed the local authorities that their vehicles had been commandeered by the War Office, but were still hoping to commence services in the Caerphilly area (UDCAE/C/1/18). In Gelligaer the hire of a steam roller was discussed (UDG/C/1/11), although it would appear no action was taken.

The local authority minutes held at Glamorgan Archives reveal the breadth of involvement by local councils in support of the war from the home front.

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant