Skip navigation

Welsh History Review

 - 

Vol. 17, nos. 1-4 1994-95

Churchill and the Tonypandy riots

Previous page Rotate Left Rotate Right Next page Original Image Large Image Zoom View text PDF
Jump to page
CHURCHILL AND THE TONYPANDY RIOTS
IN 1910, when Winston Churchill was Home Secretary, the south Wales
coalfield witnessed a series of strikes and lockouts, picketings, riots,
hardships, lootings, injuries and prosecutions which gave the area a
widespread reputation as the great cauldron of industrial confrontation.
Police from the main towns of south Wales and beyond, contingents of
Metropolitan Police, cavalry and, finally, infantry were drafted into the
coalfield in response to fears at local and national level that law and order had
broken down. Above all, the so-called 'Tonypandy riots' acquired an
evocative and venerable reputation in the history of the British working
class.
After the Second World War, the accusation that Winston Churchill had
sent soldiers to south Wales as strike-breakers during the 'Tonypandy riots'
of 1910 gained momentum. By 1949, for example, with talk of a general
election beginning to emerge, criticism of Churchill's actions as Home
Secretary almost forty years earlier became current in Labour circles.
Churchill wrote a private letter to the Lord Mayor of Cardiff in February
1949:
I see that one of the Labour men referred to Tonypandy as a great crime I had
committed in the past. I am having the facts looked up and will write to you again
on the subject. According to my recollection the action I took at Tonypandy was
to stop the troops being sent to control the strikers for fear of shooting, and I was
much attacked by the Conservative Opposition for this 'weakness'. Instead I sent
Metropolitan Police who charged with their rolled mackintoshes and no one was
hurt. The Metropolitan Police played football with the strikers at the weekend.2
Soldiers had, nevertheless, been drafted into the coalfield, and whatever
reluctance Churchill may have shown in deploying them was rapidly
overturned in 1911, when he used the military with alacrity in the face of a
rising tide of industrial unrest. This remarkable change of policy can,
The official account is contained in Colliery Strike Disturbances in South Wales, Correspondence and
Report, November 1910, Cd.5568 (HMSO, 1911). Among the main secondary sources for the Tonypandy riots,
see David Evans, Labour Strife in the South Wales Coalfield, 1910-11 (Cardiff, 1911; 1963); R. Page Arnot,
South Wales Miners: Glowyr de Cymru: A History of the South Wales Miners' Federation, 1898-1914 (London,
1967); Sir Nevil Macready, Annals of an Active Life, Vol. I (London, 1924); Sir Wyndham Childs, Episodes and
Recollections: Being Some Records from the Life of Major-General Sir Wyndham Childs (London. 1930); E. W.
Recollections: Being Some Records from the Life of Major-General Sir Wyndham Childs (London, 1930); E. W.
Evans, The Miners of South Wales (Cardiff, 1961); Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, Young
Statesman, 1901-14 (London, 1967); David Smith, 'Tonypandy 1910: Definitions of a Community', Past and
Present, No. 87 (1980).
2 Churchill to Lord Mayor of Cardiff, 7 February 1949. Photocopy of the original letter kindly supplied by
David Maddox.
Previous page Rotate Left Rotate Right Next page Original Image Large Image Zoom View text PDF
Jump to page

This text was generated automatically from the scanned page and has not been checked. Typical character accuracy is in excess of 99%, but this leaves one error per 100 characters.

The National Library of Wales has created and published this digital version of the journal under a licence granted by the publisher. The material it contains may be used for all purposes while respecting the moral rights of the creators.