Chartism and Industrial Unrest in South Wales in 1842
Walter T Morgan, National Library of Wales journal Vol X/1 Summer 1957.
Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales
This is a complete extract of this article [Gareth Hicks 2002]
After the unfortunate march on Newport in November 1839 the Chartist movement in South Wales received a severe set-back from which it never wholly recovered. While there remained much sympathy for the convicted Chartists, Frost, Jones and Williams, there was little disposition to resort to further acts of violence. The movement, however, did not die out at once, though the centre of disaffection shifted from Monmouthshire to the Merthyr district. There the leaders of the local Chartists, Morgan Williams, a weaver, and David John, junior, son of the Unitarian minister of Twyn'r Odyn, himself a prominent Chartist, established in 1840 first a Welsh periodical, Udgorn Cymru, and then a short-lived English organ, The Advocate and Merthyr Free Press, to support Chartist principles. From their press also were published pamphlets to propagate Chartist doctrines. In July 1840 David John represented the Chartists of Merthyr, Aberdare, Newbridge (Pontypridd), and Newport at the Chartist Convention held at Manchester, when the National Charter Association was founded. 1 When the executive of the Association consisting of six members was chosen in June 1841, Morgan Williams was elected, being third in the order of the number of votes cast. It is interesting to note that the largest number of votes by a single branch was cast by Merthyr Tydvil, 200 for each of five candidates. 2 In the General Election of 1841 Williams opposed Sir John Guest, the sitting member for Merthyr, at the hustings, was elected on a show of hands, but did not go to the poll.; 3 He used the opportunity to propagate Chartist ideas and to attack the principles of the Anti-Corn Law League. Williams remained throughout his career a supporter of O'Connor and, though he strongly deprecated the use of violence, he was opposed to those Chartist leaders who sought to combine forces with the Anti-Corn Law manufacturers in Joseph Sturge's Complete Suffrage Movement. The winter of 1841-2 was one of extreme distress in the industrial areas of South Wales and conditions were favourable for the revival of Chartism, which derived its chief motive force from the social discontent among the working classes.
The prevailing disaffection and unrest greatly disturbed the ruling powers, who feared very much another armed rising, as had taken place in 1839. This alarm is expressed in a series of letters in the Tredegar Collection, now on deposit in the National Library of Wales, written to Octavius Morgan, the M.P. for Monmouthshire, who had taken a prominent part in the prosecution of Frost and his associates. He had requested certain people to keep him informed concerning the state or feeling in different districts in South Wales. The majority of these letters, which range from February to September 1842, are from his cousin,........................
- 1. D. Williams: John Frost, p. 334.
- 2. J. West: A History of the Chartist Movement, p. 164.
- 3. Bessborough: Journal of Lady Charlotte Guest, p. 124.
.................. Samuel Homfray, an iron master and coalowner with important interests in Tredegar, but there are also letters from Thomas Jones Phillips, a Newport solicitor, and from Henry Marsh of Blackwood. They provide a narrative of events and
.................. Samuel Homfray, an iron master and coalowner with important interests in Tredegar, but there are also letters from Thomas Jones Phillips, a Newport solicitor, and from Henry Marsh of Blackwood. They provide a narrative of events and a useful commentary on the state of feeling in the main centre of South Wales Chartism, as seen through the eyes of employers of labour.
The correspondence opens with a copy of a letter (40/52) sent by Octavius Morgan to Homfray on 8 February to ask for confirmation of information he had received from Alderman Thompson, the proprietor of the Penydarren iron-works, Merthyr, to the effect that 'the temper and disposition of the workmen in the Hills were beginning to wear rather an alarming character' and that unemployment and distress were general. He had received reports also that a division of the funds of benefit clubs was being made for the purpose of purchasing arms. He wishes to know if such proceedings were taking place 'only at Merthyr & Dowlais, places usually inclined to turbulence', or were more widespread. On 10 February Homfray replies. He reports (40/53) that Chartist meetings were being held at Merthyr, Aberdare, and Newbridge, and that a few met at private houses on his side of the hills. Unemployment was widespread at Rhymney and the neighbouring districts, because trade depression had induced the ironmasters to reduce their make by one fourth. The colliers at Coalbrookvale near Nantyglo were on strike against a reduction of wages, but the strikers at the Cwm Celyn works had returned to work. Over 20 'sale' collieries between 'the ironworks', meaning presumably the Tredegar ironworks, and Newport, which had been given notice for a reduction of 2d. per ton, had struck work, except his own works at Argoed, where the workmen, much to Homfray's surprise, had decided to remain at work. He adds, 'from ... the low wages men edegar ironworks, and Newport, which had been given notice for a reduction of 2d. per ton, had struck work, except his own works at Argoed, where the workmen, much to Homfray's surprise, had decided to remain at work. He adds, 'from ... the low wages men are earning & many not being able to get employ it is not to be wondered at the men being uneasy & dissatisfied & ready to listen to anything that they may tell them would lessen & alleviate their distress'. He confirms the reports that a are earning & many not being able to get employ it is not to be wondered at the men being uneasy & dissatisfied & ready to listen to anything that they may tell them would lessen & alleviate their distress'. He confirms the reports that a few of the benefit clubs were being broken up, but does not think there was much cause for alarm on that score.
In a letter of 6 March (40/54) Homfray reports a Chartist Meeting to be held on the following day between Tredegar and Rhymney, about a mile from Dukes Town. The handbill advertising the meeting had been printed by Morgan Williams and David John, but it was not stated who was to address the gathering. He believes that the object of the meeting was to try the strength of Chartism in the district, but little interest appeared to be taken in the event locally. He also reports 'Scotch Cattle' activities at Cwm Tillery, where the houses of people, who lodged miners working at the Coronation colliery, had been entered into and furniture and clothing destroyed. On this occasion the 'Scotch Cattle' were not disguised, but he comments, 'as usual in these nocturnal visits no person is known'. On 12 March Homfray writes (40/55) gleefully to report that the Chartist Meeting had been a failure, and that not more than 200 people had attended, notwithstanding the fact that the workers were idle on that day, which was the first Monday after pay-day, that the meeting took place near a turnpike road, and that there were several public houses nearby. A neighbouring beer house, to which the organizers had resorted to obtain signatures for the Charter, was almost empty..................
............ when Homfray passed by, from which he concludes that very few signatures had been obtained. He ends his letter by stating that the colliers in the disaffected pits had returned to work, as the masters had agreed to pay the old rate of pay. This strike appears to have been successful. Judging by his remarks in a previous letter (40/53) Homfray in this instance does not appear to have much sympathy with the lockout of his fellow employers. He writes 'I expect that the masters will not attempt such an experiment again'. He is full of praise for his own men, who had remained at work.
On 18 March Octavius Morgan received a letter (40/56) from Thomas Jones Phillips, in answer to a request for information concerning the prevailing disaffection. He states that he has no doubt that arms in great quantities were being purchased and distributed to the workers in the colliery districts of Monmouthshire and the neighbouring county of Glamorgan. The purchase of these arms was financed by contributing clubs through the agency of the Chartist missionary, Black, who was then in the neighbourhood of Merthyr. He maintains that 'if Mr. Black is allowed much longer to pursue his present calling there will not be a collier or miner in our Mineral Districts unprovided with a musket'. Phillips had previously caused Black to be apprehended at Pontypool 1 on an alleged charge of receiving arms and ammunition by the mail coach, but he got off with an extremely light sentence of one month for vagabondage, about which Phillips in this letter comments unfavourably in a reference to Black, 'who was afterwards so leniently treated by our nervous Lord Lieutenant and the magistrates of the Pontypool division'. In this letter, too, Phillips alludes to a debate which had taken place in the House of Commons on the truck system, which he roundly condemns, as did the majority of the better type of employer. But he cannot at the same time resist a sly dig at the Whig and Quaker ironmaster, Summers Harford. 'The worthy member for Lewes', he writes, 'ought to come out during the discussion---he knows a few s, as did the majority of the better type of employer. But he cannot at the same time resist a sly dig at the Whig and Quaker ironmaster, Summers Harford. 'The worthy member for Lewes', he writes, 'ought to come out during the discussion---he knows a few of the secrets of the system, it having long been practised by him & those with whom he is concerned at Sirhowy and Ebbw Vale Iron Works in this County. I wish Mr. Ferrand [the member for Knaresborough, who had charged members of the Corn Law League with operating the truck system] would give him a hint of his being aware of the practices at these works which are loudly complained of & very disgraceful'. On 6 April this same Mr. Ferrand presented a petition 2 signed by one hundred and seventy-six members from a parish in Glamorgan, which by reference to a letter in the Cambrian of 16 April 1842 we find to be Maesteg, complaining of the violation of the Anti-Truck Act, and claiming that there were over nine truck shops in connection with factories within an area of twenty miles of that place.
On 12 April the Chartist Convention met in London to make arrangements for the presentation of another petition to parliament. The Convention consisted of twenty-four delegates, including Morgan Williams, who brought with him a petition signed by thirty-six thousand people from Merthyr, Tredegar, ................
- 1. D. Williams: John Frost, p. 329.
- 2. Hansard. 3rd series. Vol. 61.
..............Aberdare and Pontypridd. 1 In his report to the Convention Morgan Williams stated that, while there was little enthusiasm in Monmouthshire owing to the fiasco of 1839, the cause was more flourishing in Glamorganshire, where he claimed that all were supporters of O'Connor and none were Sturgeites. The Charter was again presented on May 2 and again rejected by 287 votes to 49.
On 24 April Samuel Homfray again writes (40/60) to report on a meeting of the Chartists held between Tredegar and Rhymney on 18 April at the same place as the last, and enclosing a copy of the resolutions passed (40/60a). This time it was attended by over one thousand people. The meeting was orderly and the resolutions were moderate. In view of the declaration of Morgan Williams at the Chartist Convention that all the Merthyr Chartists were supporters of O'Connor, it is indeed surprising that a resolution was passed at this meeting in favour of the formation of a branch of Joseph Sturge's Complete Suffrage Union, having as its object the influencing of electors and M.P.s, and the creation of a live public opinion in favour of the aims of the Movement. ion was passed at this meeting in favour of the formation of a branch of Joseph Sturge's Complete Suffrage Union, having as its object the influencing of electors and M.P.s, and the creation of a live public opinion in favour of the aims of the Movement. Efforts were to be made to secure the return of M.P.s pledged to vote for complete suffrage and to oppose all members who refused to support Sharman Crawford's motion. Crawford was the Radical member for Rochdale and a prominent supporter of the Complete Efforts were to be made to secure the return of M.P.s pledged to vote for complete suffrage and to oppose all members who refused to support Sharman Crawford's motion. Crawford was the Radical member for Rochdale and a prominent supporter of the Complete Suffrage Movement, who introduced a motion on 21 April that the House should discuss in Committee the question of the reform of the representative system. This motion was rejected by 226 votes against 67, though all the Radicals and Free Traders voted in Suffrage Movement, who introduced a motion on 21 April that the House should discuss in Committee the question of the reform of the representative system. This motion was rejected by 226 votes against 67, though all the Radicals and Free Traders voted in favour of it. 2 But the introduction of the motion at this time was the occasion of a quarrel between the Sturgeites and the supporters of O'Connor, who wanted the motion deferred till a later date in view of the impending introduction of the National Charter Petition. The speakers at this meeting were Thomas Davies, a shoemaker of Tredegar, who had played a prominent part in the Chartist Movement in the district before the march on Newport, William Davies, William Miles, John Gould, a Mr. Bailey, and a Mr. Rees, all of Merthyr. In view of the seriousness of the situation, Homfray considers that no more troops should be removed from the district and urges Octavius Morgan to impress this view on Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary. 'This will I trust' he writes 'be the means of keeping all quiet & that all will end in words' (40/61).
On 12 May (40/61) he again writes concerning a Chartist Meeting to be held on that day at the Market Square, Merthyr, for the purpose of petitioning the Queen to dismiss her ministers and to appoint in their place men pledged to make the Charter a Cabinet measure. This meeting was timed to co-incide with the return of Morgan Williams from the Chartist Convention in London. The newspaper report in the Cambrian 3 states that the train arrived in Merthyr at six o'clock in the evening and was met at the station by a vast crowd of people, who gave him a warm welcome. The meeting, at which there were between five thousand and six thousand people present, was presided over by Ellis, a weaver. Williams in his .................
- 1. D. Williams: John Frost, p. 335.
- 2. M. Hovell: The Chartist Movement, pp. 250, 253.
- 3. Cambrian, 21 May.
......................... address reiterated the assertion he had made in London that the people of Merthyr 'were whole hog Chartist---no Sturgeites', a remark which was greeted with cheers. He then outlined a plan agreed upon by the Convention to hold meetings throughout the country on a day which would be advertised in the Northern Star for the purpose of adopting a petition to the Queen. The Cambrian reports him as saying that 'nothing but force would stop them having an interview with the Queen. He was pledged to the Charter, and, in the case of refusal, he would meet his fellow workmen for the purpose of deliberating on the most efficient mode of obtaining his object'. He at the same time appealed to the people to act in a peaceable and orderly manner. The resolution to adjourn till the appointed day was proposed by David John and seconded by W. Gould.
For a few weeks after this meeting Morgan Williams continued to be active in the cause of Chartism in Glamorganshire. But, owing to the increasing social misery, the workers became more concerned with remedying economic conditions than with the realisation of their political demands. The second National Charter Petition reflects the prevailing mood. Besides the six points of the original charter, it drew attention to the distress of the working people, the inhumanity of the Poor Law, the high taxation, the long hours, and low wages, contrasting the wretched condition of the poor with the huge pensions paid to members of the royal family. 1 Early in July Morgan Williams, the Reverend David John, and William Gould addressed a meeting at Merthyr at which resolutions were passed concerning the widespread distress of the labouring population, when Williams again appealed to the workers to keep within the law. The meeting ended with three cheers for O'Connor and the Charter. 2 At the end of the month Udgorn Cymru ceased publication and nothing more was heard of the Chartist activities of Morgan Williams. Professor David Williams suggests that the poverty of the workers was too great for them to buy the paper any longer. Despite his brave words, Williams, like his leader O'Connor, always shrank from the use of physical force. He ended his days as a highly respected citizen of Merthyr. He died 17 October 1883 at the age of seventy. He had acted as Registrar of Marriages for thirty years before his death and was one of the founders of the Merthyr Library. 3
In the summer of 1842 the trade depression grew steadily worse. Faced with a falling market, employers of labour attempted to lower wages still further and this in turn gave rise to an epidemic of strikes. The strike wave, starting in the coal and iron trades of North Staffordshire in June, soon spread to South Staffordshire, the Midlands, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. On 4 August the weavers at Stalybridge struck against an attempt to lower wages and marched to neighbouring towns to induce the workers to join them. If the workers refused, the plugs were withdrawn from the boilers to stop the machinery. For this reason this, the most serious general strike in the nineteenth century, came to be called the 'plug plot'.
- 1. N. Stewart: The Fight for the Charter, p. 170-1.
- 2. D. Williams: John Frost, p. 336.
- 3. Ymofynnydd, Rhagfyr 1883.
At first the objects of the strikes were purely economic, the workers confining their demands for the restoration of the wage level of 1840. Soon, however, the rank and file of the workers began to link with their industrial grievances the agitation for the Charter. At a mass meeting of strikers at Mottram Moor in Cheshire on 7 August it was resolved not to return to work till the Charter had become the law of the land, and similar resolutions were passed throughout the disaffected areas. The idea of a General Strike to secure the political objects of the Chartists had first been mooted by William Benbow in 1839, in his proposal for the 'sacred month', which now seemed on the point of being realised. On 12 August the Chartist leaders met at Manchester General Strike to secure the political objects of the Chartists had first been mooted by William Benbow in 1839, in his proposal for the 'sacred month', which now seemed on the point of being realised. On 12 August the Chartist leaders met at Manchester to decide what policy they should adopt in face of this new revolutionary situation with which they had suddenly become confronted. The leaders were divided. O'Connor and his adherents were opposed to participating in the strike movement, but the majority agreed to a proposal of M'Douall to support the policy of the trade unions and to urge a continuance of the strike until the Charter had been won. The strikes spread as far afield as Scotland, where the miners of Lanarkshire remained out till the following year. The repercussions of this movement were also felt in South Wales. It is with this new threat to the public peace that the remaining letters in this series are concerned.
On 17 August (40/62) Henry Marsh of Blackwood writes to Octavius Morgan in answer to a request for information concerning the situation in his area. He was able to report that, despite attempts made 'by wretched and blasphemous declaimers from distant
On 17 August (40/62) Henry Marsh of Blackwood writes to Octavius Morgan in answer to a request for information concerning the situation in his area. He was able to report that, despite attempts made 'by wretched and blasphemous declaimers from distant places', the neighbourhood was free from political agitation. He attributes this state of affairs to the fact that the colliers there were comparatively well off, 'My men are receiving upon an average 4s per day of 8 hours & are as contented as that class of men generally are'. At this time there were, of course, no nation-wide agreements for wages and there was considerable variation in the rates of remuneration in the different districts. The rates paid at Blackwood contrast favourably with those paid in Lanarkshire, where the rates of pay had dropped in the last five years from 5s. 6d. a day to 2s. 9d. 1 Marsh believes that the workers in his neighbourhood were concerned only with the maintenance of industrial standards and were completely uninterested in the political aspirations of the Chartists. 'The only combination amongst them is for 1 Marsh believes that the workers in his neighbourhood were concerned only with the maintenance of industrial standards and were completely uninterested in the political aspirations of the Chartists. 'The only combination amongst them is for the purpose of keeping up the price of wages', adding 'they seem now to be aware of the strong arm of the law'. He blames much of the disaffection on the cheap newspapers 'containing everything but morality & honest principles', which are to be found the purpose of keeping up the price of wages', adding 'they seem now to be aware of the strong arm of the law'. He blames much of the disaffection on the cheap newspapers 'containing everything but morality & honest principles', which are to be found in all the beer houses, where they are read out to the people who frequent them for refreshment. He makes the suggestion that these papers should be replaced by others of Conservative principles distributed by a confidential agent at a cheap rate. He urges Morgan to take the matter up with the Secretary of State.
The situation in Monmouthshire throughout the General Strike remained quiescent and all action taken in support of the strikers was confined to the Merthyr area, where for some days the situation gave cause for anxiety, as can be seen from the letters
The situation in Monmouthshire throughout the General Strike remained quiescent and all action taken in support of the strikers was confined to the Merthyr area, where for some days the situation gave cause for anxiety, as can be seen from the letters which Homfray sent to Octavius Morgan during the most critical time..................
- 1. R. Groves: But we shall rise again, p. 130.
................... of the disturbances. On 18 August Homfray writes (40/63) to say that the situation had changed radically within the last few days. A short while before he had never known the men so quiet, but the disturbances in the North and Staffordshire had had their effect at Merthyr. He had no doubt that there had been communication with the strikers in other areas. He speaks of meetings which had been held the night before, on the same day, and of a meeting to be held on the following day at ordshire had had their effect at Merthyr. He had no doubt that there had been communication with the strikers in other areas. He speaks of meetings which had been held the night before, on the same day, and of a meeting to be held on the following day at Dowlais Pond between Dowlais and Rhymney. He believed that this meeting would be critical, because the workers in the neighbouring valleys would follow the lead of the men of Merthyr. He was glad that the troops in Merthyr had been reinforced by a company of the 11th foot.
The events of 17-20 August can best be followed in the reports which appeared in the press. 1 The strikers proceeded in an orderly and regular manner. A requisition signed by the householders was made to David William James, esq., the Chief Constable 2 of Merthyr, inviting him to preside at a meeting 'to take into consideration the situation of the unemployed workmen in this place and the neighbourhood, and the propriety of addressing Her Majesty to reassemble the Commons in the present alarming state of the country'. The meeting was to take place at Pwllywhyaid on the eastern side of the mountain. The Chief Constable was prepared to preside if the venue was changed to the new market ground. The organizers of the meeting refused to agree to this request, so the meeting took place on Wednesday, 17 August, at the place originally proposed. The meeting was attended by two thousand people, but all the Chartist leaders, who were present on former occasions, were absent. It is significant, too, that none of the well known Chartists in the area signed the requisition to the Chief Constable. The agitation throughout seems to have been concerned solely with the redress of economic grievances.
The meeting was adjourned till six o'clock the following morning and was this time held at the New Market Place. There the chair was taken by David Morgan, a journeyman shoemaker. The attendance at this early hour was four hundred. The meeting again adjourned till two o'clock in the afternoon in a place contiguous to Pen yr Heol Gerrig on the Aberdare Mountain side, which was attended by over eight hundred people. At these meetings it was resolved to demand from the ironmasters the wages of 1840. Crawshay met a deputation on Thursday evening when the men were told that wage increases at the moment were impossible owing to the low price of iron. The colliers and miners of Cyfarthfa and Penydarren ironworks came out on strike in large numbers.
On 21 August Homfray again writes (40/65) to continue his narrative. Several meetings had taken place at Merthyr since he last wrote, but events did not take a serious turn till the day before, Saturday 20 August. On that day a meeting was held in the
On 21 August Homfray again writes (40/65) to continue his narrative. Several meetings had taken place at Merthyr since he last wrote, but events did not take a serious turn till the day before, Saturday 20 August. On that day a meeting was held in the evening between Merthyr and Aberdare, attended by over one thousand people, and there was to be another meeting on the following Monday. Efforts were being made to get the puddlers to refuse to light the furnaces on Sunday ...................
- 1. Cambrian, August 20, 27.
- 2. More usually known as the High Constable.
..................... evening, and so prevent the men from going to work on the following day. In which case, the infection would spread to other places with consequences that could not be foreseen. He had written to the Lord Lieutenant asking for the
..................... evening, and so prevent the men from going to work on the following day. In which case, the infection would spread to other places with consequences that could not be foreseen. He had written to the Lord Lieutenant asking for the dispatch of troops to his area for fear that the strike movement would spread into the Monmouthshire valleys. He considers that 'this is not like a local disturbance, it is too general & systematic to be treated as such'. He had also heard from T. Jones Phillips that one of the Leeds delegates had reached Monmouth on his way to those parts. He adds a postscript to the effect that the magistrates of Merthyr had issued a proclamation prohibiting further meetings. There is also a report in the Cambrian 1 of another meeting held at the Market Square on Saturday, 20 August, when the chairman read out a document, which it was intended to ask Sir John Guest, the sitting member for Merthyr, to lay before the Government, requesting a loan of £5,000,000 for the relief of distress. At this meeting appeals were made to the workmen to refrain from all violence. It is also reported in the same paper that on this same day Crawshay sent his bellman round the town to summon all persons who were disposed 00,000 for the relief of distress. At this meeting appeals were made to the workmen to refrain from all violence. It is also reported in the same paper that on this same day Crawshay sent his bellman round the town to summon all persons who were disposed to return to work to meet him at Llwyncelyn. About twelve hundred attended this meeting, which was addressed by Crawshay and his agents.
When Homfray writes again on 22 August he was able to report that all was quiet in Merthyr. The proclamation of the magistrates had had its desired effect. Large numbers were still out on strike, but they had not succeeded in inducing the puddlers to join them. The strikers had shown no disposition to use force against those who remained at work. Much disappointment was felt, too, at the poor response from the workers in the neighbouring Monmouthshire valleys. In Homfray's own district there was scarcely a man absent from work. He took great comfort from the prompt arrival of soldiers, who had been dispatched there in response to the request he had made to the Lord Lieutenant. Their presence would prevent people from the Merthyr district pouring into the area to intimidate those who remained at work. He adds 'I am in hopes that it will check the ardour of the Chartists'. This is his first reference to Chartism in connection with the disturbances.
On 23 August Homfray, writing to Thomas Jones Phillips (40/69), states that all was quiet both in Merthyr and in his own district. No attempt had been made to hold public meetings, though discussions were taking place in the various Chartist lodges, and threatening letters had been dropped at various works and levels. He did not think, however, that these threats had any effect. On 25 August Homfray in his letter (40/70) to Octavius Morgan was able to report that the strike at Merthyr had come to an end with the return to work of the Cyfarthfa men. He did not anticipate further trouble unless the riots in other parts of the country persisted. He believed that the presence of the soldiery had acted as a salutary restraint. On the same day the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, wrote (40/67) to Octavius Morgan, expressing great pleasure at the favourable report he had received from him on that day. He expressed the hope that the restoration of ...............
- 1. Cambrian, 27 August.
............. order in the North would preserve the peace in South Wales. But he at the same time counselled vigour and vigilance, 'You have at Merthyr' he writes 'same dangerous men deeply involved in the Chartist Conspiracy, which has given life and
............. order in the North would preserve the peace in South Wales. But he at the same time counselled vigour and vigilance, 'You have at Merthyr' he writes 'same dangerous men deeply involved in the Chartist Conspiracy, which has given life and impulse to this insurrectionary movement'. He concludes by advising the apprehending of all persons found writing or dropping threatening letters. In the minds of Homfray and Sir James Graham Chartism was evidently a generic term for every species of discontent and unrest which threatened the public peace.
In a letter of 29 August (40/71) Homfray reports that all was quiet in the disaffected areas, though he still believed in the necessity for vigilance, commenting that 'when all the mining and manufacturing districts are rioting it is not to be expected that this will remain wholly quiet & will require to be closely watched'. He also gives the news that Crawshay had dismissed from his employ certain prominent Chartists including William Miles (see above, p. 11) and others who had lately come into prominence. Altogether nineteen leaders in the Cyfarthfa works and all who favoured Chartism in the Dowlais works were dismissed. 1 On 31 August Homfray writes his final letter (40/72) to Octavius Morgan to assure him that there was no further cause for anxiety. The extra military detachment sent to Merthyr to reinforce the troops had been withdrawn. He concludes with a reference to Cobden, 'Mr. Cobden had better confine himself to the House of Commons to show off, he can there get protection. I doubt this if he will make two or three more speeches at public meetings, although he thinks himself a great man'. There was a widely held belief among the Tories that the strikes had been fomented by the Anti-Corn Law League in order to exploit the distress of the working classes to force the hand of the Government to repeal the Corn Laws. This is an extremely improbable theory, but indirectly the strikes did help the cause of repeal. When the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846 the Home Secretary advanced as an argument 'the painful and lamentable experiences of 1842'. 2 The correspondence concludes with a letter (40/73) from Henry Marsh, in which he expressed the view that the colliers of Blackwood and district took no interest in the disturbances in Merthyr, though he had been informed that 'there were a 2 The correspondence concludes with a letter (40/73) from Henry Marsh, in which he expressed the view that the colliers of Blackwood and district took no interest in the disturbances in Merthyr, though he had been informed that 'there were a few persons who came here to feel the pulse of the working classes, but, finding no encouragement, they departed'.
The participation of South Wales in the 'plug plot' lasted barely a week. The success of a General Strike presupposes the existence of a highly organized Trades Union Movement, which at this time did not exist. As Mr. G. D. H. Cole has pointed out, strikes on a falling market can only succeed if they become revolutions. 3 There was certainly no disposition among the working class leadership in South Wales at this time to put matters to such hazard.
WALTER T. MORGAN.
- 1. D. Williams: John Frost, p. 336.
- 2. R. Groves: But we shall rise again, p. 140.
- 3. G. D. H. Cole: A Short History of the British Working Class Movement, p. 113.