CONTENTS 1 2 3 The Distress Committee 4 Enter Wallasey 5 6 Sources and Acknowledgements
One of the most common ways for a street or road to acquire its name is after the place in whose direction it leads. Thus travelling along Carmarthen Street in Swansea should lead you eventually to the nearby town of Carmarthen. Similarly, Pantyffynnon Road, Penybanc Road, Betws Road, Llandybie Road and Pontamman Road will all lead you out of Ammanford and to the villages hinted at in their names.
But what of Ammanford's mysteriously named Heol Wallasey (Wallasey Road)? Wallasey, a town on the Wirral peninsula, just across the Mersey estuary from Liverpool, is a long way from the Amman valley. Would Heol Wallasey, then, be a good starting point for a journey from Ammanford to Liverpool? Unfortunately not, for the road doesn't owe its name to such an obvious source and points in the wrong direction anyway. But the street name does contain within it a major piece of Ammanford's economic and industrial history, a story from a darker era by far than almost anyone alive today can imagine. Anyone with a living memory of the 1920s, from when the road traces its origins, would have to be approaching ninety years of age by now.
The birth of the street name involves a strike, followed by another strike; it includes military and economic events in distant Germany that would seem, on the surface, to have nothing to do with a remote mining town in Carmarthenshire. A church vicar, a chapel minister, a town mayor – even Winston Churchill – would also figure in the mix, instigating a sequence of events that would eventually lead to the chapel minister, D. Tegfan Davies, cutting the first sod in the building of a council estate in 1957. So, with the reader hopefully intrigued, we'll begin at the beginning which, after all, is the more conventional way to tell a tale.
1 2 3 The Distress Committee 4 Enter Wallasey 5 6 Sources and Acknowledgements
2. THE ECONOMIC SITUATION 1925-1929
In 1928 the Amman valley, along with the rest of the Welsh coalfields, was experiencing a desperate economic depression. The causes were not simple to explain, for in addition to a couple of years of serious industrial disturbances locally, military developments in Germany seriously affected European coal markets, and therefore Welsh coalfields.
In 1923 French military forces occupied the Ruhr coalfield of Germany. This made the years 1923 and 1924 in Wales a prosperous oasis in an otherwise industrial desert. The reduction of coal from the Ruhr led to an increase in coal exports from South Wales, giving a boost to coal exports nationally, as it did to other coal exporting countries of Europe and America.
But then in 1925 the Ruhr coalfield was freed by Germany and a slump followed the earlier bonanza as its coal came back on the market. The competition for the export trade not only reappeared but was intensified by a policy of subsidised port prices. The organisation created by the German coal owners was able to sell at reckless prices, as its export coal was subsidised by up to twelve shillings (60 pence) a ton. The pithead price of British coal was about one pound a ton in 1924 – a huge subsidy indeed for German coal.
[Note: during the period discussed here (1925-1929) the pound had a purchasing value of around £30 compared to today (Bank of England figures). All money values found in this article should therefore be multiplied by 30. For the Bank of England table, click HERE.]
There was also competition from the Baltic markets and subsided exports coming from Poland. The final blow came when Churchill decided to bring Britain back onto the Gold Standard in 1925 which had a dramatic effect on the exchange rate of sterling.
The cumulative effect was that total British coal output fell by 24 million tons in 1925 compared with 1924. Even though the pithead price of British-mined coal was forced down from 19/9 (99 pence) a ton in 1923/24 to 14/1 (70 pence) a ton in 1925, it simply could not compete with German imports as low as eight shillings (40 pence) a ton. The human cost of this price war became apparent when pits closed and the valleys were stricken by economic paralysis as they filled with men without work and families without means.
The responses by British coal-owners and their workforce were predictable – the coal owners wanted to reduce their costs by cutting wages while the mineworkers, quite naturally, tried to resist. In west Wales one consequence was a major strike in the anthracite district lasting four months during the summer of 1925. When the dust settled on this often-violent dispute Ammanford Number 1 colliery closed for good. But this was only a preliminary skirmish compared to what would break out at national level in May 1926. Following hot on the heels of the 1925 dispute in the anthracite area came the General Strike of May 1926 and it started for the same reasons as the anthracite strike. The fall in the price and demand of coal internationally had to be paid for somehow, and the Conservative government and the mine owners were determined that miners and their families would have to pay for it, not them, so British coal owners closed pits, cut wages and increased working hours in order to protect their profits.
Unhappily, the General Strike of 1926 fizzled out in just nine days (3rd to 11th of May) and when all other industrial sectors returned to work, British miners tried to go it alone, and were locked out for another seven months. When they returned to work in November 1926, utterly defeated, the deep wage cuts, increased working hours, mass sackings and pit closures that accompanied the defeat were the price they paid for their resistance. After losing Ammanford number 1 colliery as a result of the anthracite dispute, Tirydail colliery also closed after the General Strike. The miners' slogan during the strike and lockout – not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day – proved a hollow mantra without the support of other sectors of British industry.
So by 1928 the Amman valley was reeling from this double blow and the situation in South Wales generally, and the Amman valley in particular, was desperate. During the 24 months of 1925 and 1926 Amman valley miners had been out on strike for eleven of them, and by the winter of 1928 only one of the ten local collieries was still working . The reduction in wages that was the consequence of defeat in the General Strike cut deep, and the mining areas were hit hard compared to regions which had other industries to sustain them, while debt from the strike years was compounded by unemployment from the pit closures and depression.
The body responsible for poor relief in these days before the welfare state was the Llandeilofawr Poor Law Guardians, who doled out what little relief was available. In December 1928, for example, the total number of unemployed men in the area was 1,928 but only 176 were receiving assistance, as no able-bodied man was allowed to claim relief. (Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle, 15th December 1928.)
The body responsible for raising the money through the rates, however, was Ammanford Urban District Council (UDC), but they had no control over its distribution. And here was a cause of some friction, because the Guardians actually reduced payments during the 1926 General Strike, as we shall soon see. Ammanford was a relatively new mining town, while Llandeilo, seven miles to the north, was not. It was an ancient rural town, once the site of a significant Roman fort, the seat of a medieval Welsh kingdom, and still dominated by the gentry families of the district. It even included the stately mansions of two Lords of the Realm. The wealthy Lord Dynevor, with an estate of over 7,000 acres, lived in Newton House, Dinefwr Park (when he wasn't living in his London residence, which he did for most of the year). The even wealthier Lord Cawdor had once owned estates in Wales and Scotland totalling over 100,000 acres, and although his land holdings were reduced somewhat by 1928, he was still a massive landowner in the area. In Wales alone he had a sumptuous mansion at Golden Grove, Llandeilo, to go with his other stately home at Stackpole Court, Pembrokeshire, not to mention 27 extensive manors and lordships and five castles in west Wales.
In complete contrast Ammanford UDC was made up mostly of elected local miners who were therefore part of their community while the majority of the Llandeilofawr Poor Law Guardians were most certainly not part of Ammanford's community. Politically, Llandeilo was staunchly Tory while Ammanford had recently returned the first ever Labour MP for the area in 1922 and the constituency would remain Labour until Plaid Cymru (the Welsh Nationalist Party) captured the seat in 2001.
Until the 1945 Labour Government created our modern welfare state, poor relief was doled out at the discretion of these Guardians, sitting in judgement in genteel, fox-hunting Llandeilo. Only property owners were eligible for election to this body: the local land-owners, including the gentry and wealthy farmers; professional classes; businessmen and the clergy, who brought all their social prejudices into Board meetings with them. As a result there was great animosity shown by rural and agricultural Llandeilo towards urban and industrial Ammanford. (See: Guardians of the Needy Found Wanting: A Study in Social Division during the Industrial Crisis of 1926, David James Davies BA, Carmarthenshire Historian, 1982. Also online HERE.)
This animosity surfaced in an extreme form during the General Strike when the Llandeilofawr Poor Law Guardians went so far as to break the law by issuing poor relief at a lower rate than that set out by the government, though they certainly weren't alone in this. The Ministry of Health had issued a circular (Circular 703) to all the Boards of Guardians in England and Wales, stipulating that wives of strikers could claim 12 shillings poor relief plus four shillings for each child (the striking miners themselves could claim nothing, and unmarried men over 18 years old also went without any relief). The Llandeilofawr Guardians, however, paid out only ten shillings and 2/6 respectively to families of striking miners in the Amman valley where, by the beginning of September 1926, a total of 1,165 people were in receipt of relief .
Vindictive though this was, there were Poor Law Guardians in other parts of Wales who cut relief even more than Llandeilofawr, as the following table shows. (7/6 was the weekly relief paid to paupers at this time.)
Board Adults Children Pontardawe 12/- 4/- Llanelly 12/- 4/- Swansea 12/- 4/- Merthyr 12/- 4/- Gower 10/- 3/- Carmarthen 7/6 3/- Pontypool 5/- 2/- Llandeilo 10/- 2/6
(Table from: Guardians of the Needy Found Wanting: A Study in Social Division during the Industrial Crisis of 1926, David James Davies BA, Carmarthenshire Historian, 1982. Also online HERE.)
Amazingly, the Pontypool Guardians in the above table had even tried to scrap all relief to miners' families completely, backing off only when 500 miners marching on their offices brought government intervention:
In early November the Pontypool Board of Guardians scrapped all out-door relief to strikers and were only persuaded by a Ministry of Health Inspector to reintroduce the 5/- scale for wives and 2/- scale for children after 500 angry miners had marched on the Board's Offices. (P. Jeremy, Life on Circular 703: the Crisis of Destitution in the South Wales Coalfield During the Lockout of 1926, Llafur 2(2) 1977, p.69.)
While not as low as Carmarthen, or the unbelievably callous Pontypool Board, Llandeilofawr still flouted the government regulations by paying their strikers' families 20 percent less.
Worse even than these figures reveal, payment was dependent on the hated ‘means test', whereby Poor Law inspectors were empowered to enter homes and pry into the smallest details of people's living arrangements. Only in cases of dire necessity would payment be made, leaving thousands of people without any assistance at all. No wonder, that by 1928, additional hardship funds were being created all over the coalfields by local councils, churches and voluntary organisations, and it's to Ammanford's provisions in this department we shall now turn, for this is where the seeds that would eventually grow into Heol Wallasey were first sown.
1 2 3 The Distress Committee 4 Enter Wallasey 5 6 Sources and Acknowledgements
3. THE DISTRESS COMMITTEE
In common with other mining regions, a distress committee was created in Ammanford, structured both to raise funds and also distribute much-needed items of food and clothing. (This was a pattern that would be repeated sixty years later during the 1984/85 Miners' Strike when a support group in Brixton, South London, adopted Ammanford's miners.)
These distribution structures had first arisen spontaneously during the seven-month lockout of 1926 and they had to be resurrected just two years later. One source of funding was received through the Lord Mayor's Fund, a fund-raising initiative to alleviate distress throughout the whole South Wales coalfield, as reported by the local Amman valley newspaper:
Since July last nearly three thousand pairs of boots have been distributed to school children through the Lord Mayor's Fund, and never have the children been better shod during any winter. There have been given, where needed, woollen jerseys and in some cases warm woollen stockings. The hearty co-operation of the head teachers of the elementary schools has made the work of distribution very thorough and has prevented any over-lapping. (Amman Valley Chronicle, December 13th 1928.)
Local women were also enlisted to make clothing for the strikers' wives and children:
This week has seen the establishment, in connection with the Fund, of a number of Sewing Guilds in Ammanford, where many useful warm garments will be made. Everything possible is being done to make these times, so hard for many, a little lighter for the women and children, and indirectly for the men also. (Amman Valley Chronicle, December 13th 1928.)
Other organisations raised funds for the cause. The Amman Valley Chronicle of 31st January 1929 reported that the Lord Lieutenant's Fund (Lord Dynevor) had reached £349 17s. 4d and on January 3rd 1929 the same newspaper mentioned that Ammanford Red Cross Society would soon be forthcoming with funds that had been received from the British Red Cross.
The Society of Friends (Quakers) organised and funded a work programme for unemployed single men over 18 years of age. Ammanford Council agreed to provide costs of materials to £200 and the Quakers contributed £600 for wages and a daily meal. (See Ammanford Urban Distict Council Minutes for 13th May 1929 and following.)
Ammanford Cricket Club would be the first beneficiary of this scheme as the men were set to work on the cricket field on Ammanford Park. A daily after-work club was also created for them in the vestry of Ammanford English Wesleyan Church on Wind Street. The Society of Friends paid the wages of men at trades union rates and guaranteed each man one day's work a week, with free meals on six days a week. (See Ammanford UDC Minutes, 21st June 1929, Special Meeting.) This and similar other schemes, soon also taken up by the government, would, along with soup kitchens, continue throughout the depression years of the 1930s.
The Lord Mayor's Fund had to assist tens of thousands of Welsh miners and their families, so resources were stretched very thinly indeed. In 1928 the Welsh unemployment rate was 31.8 percent. The unemployment rate in the Amman Valley was 33.0 percent in 1927, falling to 27.7 percent in 1928 (just below the national average for that year), at a time when the population of the Amman Valley was 22,000. An article in the December 6th 1928 edition of the Amman Valley Chronicle pointed out “that of the 6,500 men on the register of insured persons at the Ammanford Labour Exchange, 2,132 are unemployed.” These figures represent very large numbers indeed of families in distress.
The unemployment crisis became so severe that it almost bankrupted Ammanford Council. A Council's income comes from rates levied on households. At this time poor relief (what today we call social security) was payable from the local rates, not central government, as would be the case when the modern welfare state was created after the Second World War. And rates were levied a half-year year in advance. In other words, a council had to estimate how many people would be claiming poor relief in the six months ahead. No-one however could have anticipated when the 1926 rate was set that British miners would be locked out of work for seven months. Or that in 1927 Ammanford would see 33 percent of its workforce unemployed and 28 percent in 1928. As a result Ammanford's outgoings in poor relief were way greater than they had budgeted for. But there was worse to come. When the first priorities for a third of Ammanford's families were putting food on the table, clothing their family, paying rent and heating their homes in winter, all without a wage coming in, they had nothing left to pay their rates bills. Consequently, the council's rate arrears rocketed and their income from rates dried up. There was no way out but to borrow and the council were forced to run up a huge overdraft with their bank and see their other debts climb higher and ever higher.
The Minutes of Ammanford Urban District Council meetings for these years reveal all too dramatically what trauma the Council went through. Thus we see on 25th April 1926, when the Council was setting their rates for the next half-year, that they had £969: 8: 1 reserves in the bank. But then the General Strike broke out just eight days after this on May 3rd 1926, and the subsequent seven-month lockout would play havoc with all their financial calculations. There would be a catastrophic turn-around in fortunes after this, and the next series of half-year financial statements all show increasing overdrafts at the bank.
The minutes of the Council's Finance Committee 5th November 1928 (page 8) reveal how dire the situation had become:
The arrears of rates outstanding amounted to about £16,000. The Committee very carefully considered the state of position and they felt that the state of affairs was such that they could not carry on. Eventually they agreed to recommend that the deputy Clerk be instructed to proceed to London to place the whole of the facts before the Ministry of Health in the hope that they may be able to suggest a way out. It might be that they could come to the assistance of the Council, at least temporarily, so as to tide them over the abnormal times through which the Council was passing. [The actual figure for the rates was £16,319 3s. 2d. in arrears.]
A two-member deputation (Frank Davies, Chairman, and Deputy Clerk Meirion Jones) travelled to London on 27th November 1928, ostensibly to seek assistance, but in reality to plead for money. The written report headed PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL which they gave to the Council two days later on 30th November made desperate reading, as the following extracts reveal:
We have to report that in accordance with your instructions we proceeded to London on Tuesday 27th Instant, when we visited the Ministry of Health and discussed with an officer of the Ministry the financial position of your district.
.....The position as we understand it was that for some time past your expenditure for a given period exceeded your actual cash income for that period, with the result that in order to meet your liabilities you were compelled to overdraw on your account at the Bank. This had been going on for a considerable period so that your actual cash position on the 13th November last year was at [Overdraft at Bank: £3,913 10s. 5d. Due for payment: £9,901 1s. 2d. Total debt: approx. £14,000] …
.....You will notice that there were outstanding arrears of rates amounting to £16,319 8s. 2d., not far short of your total assessment value, and apart from the rates levied for the current half year.
.....The position therefore was a serious one. It was understood that the arrears of rates had been summoned up for up to and including 31st March 1927 only, leaving 3 complete half years not yet summoned for …
.....We were very courteously received at the Ministry by Mr White who let it be understood at the outset that if the Council were under the impression that possibly the Ministry had at their disposal a sum of money with which to assist the depressed areas, it was an erroneous one. He went further and stated that the Ministry could not grant financial assistance in any shape or form …
.....The Ministry further advised, and in the case of your own area, emphatically advised, that there was no alternative to levying a higher rate. That is to say, levying such a rate as would in turn ensure that the actual cash income was at least equal to, if not greater, than the actual expenditure in any half year. This, he emphasised, was the only procedure they could recommend and they deliberately advised it in your case. In fact, your action in reducing your total rate in the pound for the current half year was adversely criticised in view of the fact that you appeared to be getting deeper into debt, owing to your inability to get in the rates. In conjunction with the above policy he recommended the reduction of expenditure to the lowest possible limits, and assumed that all steps authorised by law would be, or had been, taken …
.....The only guidance or assistance therefore that the Ministry were able to offer you in connection with your financial position may be summed up under:
SECONDLY: Take all steps authorised by law to recover rates outstanding.
THIRDLY: Levy as high a rate or rates as may be necessary to ensure that sufficient money will come in to meet essential expenditure. (Ammanford UDC Minutes 30th November 1928.)
The deputation had gone to London with a begging bowl only to have it kicked out of their hands. The Town Council, which, as we saw above, had not even issued court summonses to its rate defaulters for the previous three half-years, is effectively being told the following: cut staff levels; send in the bailiffs; and increase the rates. This indeed is what happened, though an upturn in the coal industry in 1929 made their work a little less unpalatable than it might have been when local unemployment levels fell to 14 percent in that year. Even so, the Council, made up mostly of miners, some of whom were unemployed themselves, was having to send in bailiffs to their own kind and then increase their rates burden even further.
The Amman Valley's anthracite coal, with its more specialised applications, protected the area somewhat from the worse of the following decade of depression. In 1930, for example, Ammanford's unemployment rate was 14.2 percent when unemployment in the Rhondda Valley stood at 36.4 percent and the Welsh average was 26.6 percent.
As final evidence of what the depression in Ammanford was like at this time, we can draw on the accounts of Ammanford Co-operative Society for that period. In 1920, Ammanford's 1,700 members spent £176,941 with the Co-op. In 1930, even though the membership had grown to 1,930, the sales had plummeted to just £82,053 – less than half of what it was a decade before. And the 1920 reserves of £1,881 in the bank had shrunk dramatically to just £36 in 1930! The depths of the depression in that decade, with its accompanying poverty and distress, can be imagined in those figures alone. It's not often that an accountant's ledgers can speak with such eloquence, but here they do. The financial credit that the Co-op extended to its members took years to pay back, with some individuals taking ten years to discharge their debts, but pay it back they did. There was a stigma attached to debt in those far-off days that today's generation of credit-junkies couldn't even begin to understand. (Source: 50 Years of Service and Progress: Ammanford Co-operative Society Ltd ., p.36, 1950.)
1 2 3 The Distress Committee 4 Enter Wallasey 5 6 Sources and Acknowledgements
4. ENTER WALLASEY
Other initiatives were clearly needed to augment local relief provisions. One such initiative in 1928 was the Mansion House Fund, run under the auspices of the Lord Mayor of London to alleviate distress in the British coalfields. The Mansion House Fund was encouraging prosperous regions outside the coalfields to adopt a town in distress and this is where Wallasey entered the scene. On the 1st December 1928 a letter appearing in a local newspaper floated the idea of Wallasey adopting a town and very soon the wheels that would bring Wallasey to Ammanford were set in motion:
Sir, The stories of distress in the South Wales coalfield make sad reading. Thousands are out of work, most of the rest are on short-time, and there are pitiful accounts of hardship and poverty.
.....I am writing to suggest that Wallasey should adopt one of the towns in the mining area. We all remember with pride how many devastated towns in France were adopted after the war.
tThis week we have seen with gratitude that Hastings and Brighton have each adopted a town in South Wales …
tI am not sure of the method of procedure. If a town's meeting is necessary the signatures for the requisition would be forthcoming.
tIf someone in authority will lead the way the response, I am persuaded, will be swift and large.
tYours etc., RICHARD M. RUTTER (Poulton Road Primitive Methodist). (Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle, 1st December 1929).
The response to this letter was swift and decisive. A town meeting was announced for the 12th December 1928, which was supplied with this item of information: “Councillor H A Thomas JP said if the facts were known, such as that children were going to school in sacks, he believed that the heart of Wallasey would respond readily.”
The decision to adopt Ammanford was taken at this meeting: “it was with great enthusiasm that the meeting decided to adopt the town of Ammanford, which had been allocated to Wallasey by the South Wales Committee appointed to administer the Mansion House Fund.” (Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle, 15th December 1929.)
Ammanford hadn't been slow to respond either, for they sent a delegation headed by the Vicar of Ammanford, the Reverend Richard Henry Roberts, to this meeting and the response was significant. First, Reverend Roberts apprized the meeting of the economic situation in Ammanford:
The Rev. R H Roberts, MA, Vicar of Ammanford, South Wales, said that the parish comprised 8,000 people, but the local labour exchange dealt with ten collieries, three of which were dismantled, five were temporarily closed, and of the two working collieries only one was in his parish. The total number of unemployed was 1,928 and of that number 1,500 were in his parish. Receiving relief there were only 176 as no able-bodied man were allowed to receive relief, but in the case of dire necessity the wives of the able-bodied men received 10/6 and 2/6 for each child. In addition there were 150 young unmarried men who received no dole and no parish relief and as they would not go into the workhouse they had to do as best they could. The men, he said, were perfectly willing to work and made every effort …
tMen who had been saving to buy their houses under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act had found that they had to surrender their houses by order of the courts …
.....We are, he concluded, “a derelict parish in need of a friend and I hope that Wallasey will be a friend to Ammanford” …
.....Alderman J Airey JP said … it should be clearly recognised that the Poor Law and the Unemployment Insurance were never designed to bear the burden that was facing them today. (Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle, 15th December 1929.)
The speed with which the Wallasey organisation swung into action was as impressive as the speed they made the initial decision to adopt Ammanford. Just four days after this meeting in Wallasey, and just in time for Christmas, we learn from the local newspaper:
.....The Ammanford Urban Council on Wednesday evening passed a vote of thanks to the people of Wallasey who had adopted the town. The Vicar of Ammanford (the Rev R. H. Roberts. M.A, was also thanked for his great work in advancing the claims of the town.
.....It is understood that a cheque for between £100 and £l50 and a vanload of clothing will arrive at Ammanford tomorrow (Friday) from Wallasey. (Amman Valley Chronicle, 20th December 1928).
This vicar of Ammanford, R H Roberts (1884-1970), was quite a remarkable person in many ways. He was a local man, having been born in the nearby village of Brynamman at the head of the Amman Valley. When he became vicar of Ammanford in 1920, fulfilling a childhood ambition, he inherited a debt of £11,000, equivalent to about £250,000 today. This had been incurred in the building of a new church for Ammanford's English-speaking Anglicans in 1915. The first church in Ammanford, as opposed to Non-conformist chapels, had been built in 1885 for the Welsh speakers of the town, who then made up 90 percent of the population, with two thirds of those being Welsh-speaking only. The new English church was opened in 1915 but without the planned clock tower, which would have to wait until 1923 when the manpower situation returned to normal after Word War I. As his biographer writes, admiringly:
R. H. Roberts came to the parish at a difficult time in its history: the town was hit economically due to the aftermath of the war; All Saints still had not been finally completed; and tensions were high over the issue of the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. With the advantage of hindsight it is obvious that R. H. Roberts was definitely the man of the moment for Ammanford, and the Holy Spirit was evidently operative with great influence the day Roberts was appointed incumbent of the parish. Immediately upon his arrival in the parish he began to tackle the problems facing the church and wider community one by one. Much of his initial labour and energy was, as in the case of his predecessor, taken up with the clearing of the debt on All Saints and securing the completion of the edifice. To his eternal credit, the Vicar's inspiring leadership and indefatigable labours secured the clearing of the astronomical debt on All Saints during a period of extreme industrial depression, strikes and unemployment. Week in, week out, humble but committed churchgoers were organized by their vicar to traverse the streets of Ammanford making house-to-house collections. Whilst this was going on, the Vicar was also active in initiating the building of the clock tower in All Saints and securing the landscaping of the grounds around the church. (From St. Michael & All Angels, Ammanford; the First Hundred Years, by Adrian Teale, Vicar of Brynaman with Cwmllynfell (Swansea 1985), pages 37–42.)
This would be no mean achievement today, but was truly astonishing in those severely cash-strapped years, and in a town where 90 percent of the population worshipped in Non-conformist chapels. And he still found time to raise money for the local Distress Committee.
The appeal was taken up by another local newspaper, the Wallasey News, who provided additional publicity for the cause. Amusingly for us now, the campaign was code-named Big Brother, not so benevolent a sibling today after appearing in George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, or our recent so-called reality programme of that name, but then 1929 was a long time before either of these gave Big Brother a bad reputation. A newspaper item in the Amman Valley Chronicle of January 17th 1929 was headlined “ Our Big Brother”: Wallasey Help for Ammanford . The article continues:
It can truly be said that the name of Wallasey as the abiding place of people of warm sympathies and generous hearts has gone far afield. Already the sum of £620, not forgetting innumerable garments, have been distributed amongst the suffering in the distressed area of Ammanford. The poor and the needy in our midst will be forever grateful to their “big brother,” who has spared no effort in discharging adequately the work of mercy undertaken. The people of Wallasey, through the grand efforts made on our behalf, have uplifted a stricken area from a sea of anxiety; they have brought joy to despairing souls. Ammanford will in the countless years to come remember Wallasey. (Amman Valley Chronicle, January 17th 1929.)
A delegation from Wallasey visited Ammanford on 1st January 1929 and was given a civic reception, though representatives from Wallasey had already been to Ammanford before Christmas to distribute money and clothing. The delegation was led by newly-elected Wallasey mayor Alderman Albert Wrigley, and the adoption of Ammanford must have been one of his very first deeds as mayor. A native of Yorkshire, he moved to Wallasey in 1895 as a graduate of London University to found the Liscard High School, whose roll he saw grow to some 300 pupils by the time of his mayoralty. The delegation was met at Pantyffynnon station, taken to Ammanford by the local bus company where they were met by the town's silver band, and given a concert in the evening.
“Wallasey Chiefs Receive Rousing Reception. All Ammanford Turns Out” was the headline in the Amman Valley Chronicle of 3rd January 1929:
Tuesday was a red-letter day in the history of Ammanford, when a visit was paid by the Mayor of Wallasey, (Ald. Wrigley), the Deputy Mayor (Mr. T. S. Ashmole), and Mr. Stephens, or better known to the townsfolk when he first made their acquaintance as Mr. Christmas. All the town turned out and the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. Wallasey's chieftains were met at Pantyffynnon Station by the Ammanford Council and the leading citizens, including the Vicar (the Rev. R. H. Roberts M.A.), the chairman of the local Distress Committee. Mr. Frank Davies; J.P. (Chairman of the Urban Council) extended to the visitors a civic welcome, and Mr. T. M. Evans, M.A. (Clerk), supported.
.....The Mayor of Wallasey, in a brief reply, expressed the hope that they would be able to render assistance as long as it was needed in Ammanford. They looked upon it not as dispensing charity, but as a privilege to stretching out a helping hand to a less fortunate town at the moment.
The party afterwards travelled in Messrs. James' bus and were met in Wind Street by the Ammanford Silver Band (Mr. D H. Thomas), and escorted to the Vicarage. Hundreds of people lined the route, and on arriving at the destination the band struck up “For he's a jolly good fellow”.
.....Later in the evening, a greeting of welcome was held in the Christian Temple when a wonderful ovation was accorded the visitors. The edifice was crowded out fully an hour and a half before the proceedings commenced and hundreds were unable to gain admission.
.....The proceedings, which were presided over by the Vicar, were full of appreciation and gratitude towards the people of Wallasey, who have come to the assistance of the town in an. hour of acute distress. Speeches were made behalf of Ammanford by the Rev, D. Tegfan Davies, D.D. (pastor); the Chairman of the Urban Council (Mr Frank Davies) and the Clerk (Mr. T. M. Evans, M.A.), after which Lieut. Col.. W N. Jones, MP introduced the Mayor of Wallasey, and informed the gathering that a sum of money had been received by his wife, who is Commandant of the local Red Cross Society, from the British Red Cross Society to aid the Distress Fund, and there was a likelihood of a contribution from the local Red Cross Society.
.....The Mayor, who was greeted with ringing cheers, at the outset expressed the hope that improvement in the coal trade would soon enable the men to get back to work. He added that they had been pleased and amazed to see how excellent were the arrangements made at Ammanford to deal with the distribution and he was sure that on their return they could carry the whole borough of Wallasey with them, and continue the work as long as it may be needed.
.....During the proceedings, the Ammanford and District Choral Society, under Mr. Gwilym R. Jones, gave a much-appreciated programme of music, and Miss Louisa Davies, the brilliant Ammanford soprano, contributed several pleasing songs. Mr. George Thomas, A.R.C.M., London, was the organist. (Amman Valley Chronicle, 3rd January 1929)
The Mayor of Wallasey, Alderman A. Wrigley, BA, and his Lady Mayoress.
(Photograph: Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle, 10th November 1928, page 5.
Wirral Archive Services)
The welcome at Pantyffynnon station was seen a little differently by the Mayor of Wallasey, who reported his visit to Ammanford with an outsider's eye, and the Wallasey News tells us on his return that:
he was greatly impressed by the reception given himself and the two other Wallasey representatives who accompanied him by hundreds of meanly-clad and evidently half-starved men and women – and children – headed by a brass band entirely composed of unemployed miners (The Wallasey News, 5th January 1929.)
This picture of Ammanford's unemployed was omitted from the Amman Valley Chronicle's report of the civic visit, and while Ammanford's residents didn't need anyone to tell them how bad their plight was, one can't help wondering if feelings of shame might have kept this information out of the pages of the local newspaper.
The Mayor of Wallasey was likewise impressed by the organisation that Ammanford had created to distribute the relief sent by Wallasey and others:
They have a really splendid organisation. They have a committee which meets every day to consider applications for relief. Every applicant first signs a printed form, giving particulars of his family, and the money he is receiving, These forms are printed free of charge by a colliery which is still working. Each case is known to one or more members of the committee, and is dealt with on its merits. There are no sectarian, political, or other qualifications asked for. Representatives of all branches of religion work together, the old Welsh prejudices having for the time being been forgotten…
.....The system of relief does not include the distribution of money. Everything is done on the voucher system, so that the local shopkeepers, who, too, are feeling the pinch of poverty, are also helped by the relief given to the miners. A Ladies' Committee was responsible for the clothing.
.....They worked day and night in a cold room, without any fire, sorting the clothing and preparing it for the needy wearers. At the present moment they are fairly well situated so far as children's clothing is concerned, and the pressing need at the present time is for men's clothing. All kinds of wearing apparel are still very necessary, but, as I say, the pressing need is for something for the men to wear. (The Wallasey News, 5th January 1929.)
While on this civic visit Mayor Wrigley would see at first hand how deep the depression was in human terms:
While I was sitting in the committee room, an urgent case was advanced for consideration. It was the case or a man entirely without money. His daughter was starving and extremely ill; in fact, in danger of dying. The doctor had ordered Bovril and milk, but such things were impossible. The Committee were able to give the necessary assistance, so that Wallasey may consider herself already responsible for the saving of at least one life. (The Wallasey News, 5th January 1929.)
Another aspect of Ammanford which impressed Wallasey's mayor was the town itself, which he reported in glowing terms:
We made a tour of the town the next day, and we found that it was a particularly fine town, situated in a beautiful valley. There was nothing mean or squalid about the dwellings or buildings such as one usually associates with mining districts. Some years ago a boom was anticipated in the district, and building was proceeded with on a large scale. The boom never materialised, but the buildings remained. A pathetic feature of the present position is that many men paid £50 or £75 deposit, and commenced to purchase houses on the hire-purchase scheme, but having been thrown out of work, they have lost all that they have paid. (The Wallasey News, 5th January 1929.)
A second Civic Reception was given four months later to the Mayor and Mayoress of Wallasey “who are officially visiting Ammanford on 17th April 1929 in connection with the relief of distress.” (Ammanford UDC Minutes 15th April 1929.) If it's possible, the local newspaper was even more fulsome in its praise of Wallasey this time than before. The headline was ‘Civic Reception to Mayor and Mayoress of Wallasey: The Modesty of our “Big Brother”. The reception this time was held in the hall of the recently opened Ammanford County School where the schoolchildren's orchestra and choir gave a concert (the school would change its name to Amman Valley Grammar School in 1945). Speeches were sprinkled with religious pieties as well as effusive thanks:
the Vicar said that as Chairman of the local Committee it was the greatest pleasure and privilege he had ever had in his life to preside over the meeting that evening. In Wallasey they had discovered friends who had stuck to them during the period of greatest gloom ever experienced in this parish. He welcomed them with the greatest cordiality, because in them they had found those who did good in the sight of the Lord. (Amman Valley Chronicle, April 18th 1929.)
The only lady member of the Council, Mrs. Councillor T. F. Rees, gave further evidence of the depth of Ammanford's feelings:
“On behalf of the women of Ammanford, I welcome you, I greet you, I honour you, I love you. I welcome you not only to our town, but to our hearts. May God bless you.“ (Applause) (Amman Valley Chronicle, April 18th 1929.)
The reception given the Mayor of Wallasey when it was his turn to address the gathered throng was prodigious:
When the Mayor of Wallasey rose to speak, he was given the biggest ovation ever accorded by the Ammanford people. The whole assembly went wild with joy, and the scene was one which will live for ever in the history of the town. “For they are jolly good fellows” was sung, and cheer followed cheer. (Amman Valley Chronicle, April 18th 1929.)
In the same article we discover the number of families assisted and the total amount raised by Wallasey:
The speaker mentioned that 899 families were relieved the first week the Fund was inaugurated. That number gradually came down to 620 and remained so at the time the Wallasey Fund was transferred. At the present time they were still relieving 400 families. They had spent £3,500 in the shops in the town of Ammanford alone, and thus helped the affected tradespeople. Wallasey had contributed £1,200, apart from sending tons of clothing, and had allowed them to retain the last cheque for £100 to start a local fund on the transfer over to Cardiff. That fund was now in a healthy condition. (Amman Valley Chronicle, April 18th 1929.)
In January 1929 the Mayor of Wallasey sent a letter to 106 local firms employing ten or more employees asking for weekly collections to be made for Ammanford's destitute. Amongst other fund-raising initiatives were a flag day and a variety matinee held in a local theatre on 30th January 1929. The performing artists, who all gave their services free of charge, allow us a tantalising glimpse today into a vanished music-hall tradition:
The artistes were — Jimmy Loft (comedian), Reg Lever (soloist), the Willenons (trick cyclists), May Sherrard (comedienne), Claude Spencer (baritone), Doris Pearce, Selby Bruce (comediennes), Bell and Will (duettists), Lily Rose (soubrette), Wullie Darbin (Scotch comedian), the Van Broso Boys, Baby Cathie (mimic pianist), the Bon Tons, Billy lgoe (comedian), Joey Delmonte, Eva and Della (dancers), and. Corrie and Wig (pianists) (Wallasey News, 30th January 1929).
In passing, we can see different working-class cultures at work here, for the concerts put on by Ammanford's mining families for their benefactors from Wallasey consisted of orchestras, choirs, brass bands and classical singers, who certainly impressed the Mayor of Wallasey:
A town's meeting had been arranged to be held in the largest hall in the Ammanford at 8 o'clock, but at 7-30 the Mayor was asked to go the hall, as it was already full to capacity. A programme of music had been arranged, but it could not be completed, because two of the artistes could not force their way through the crowd. People who could not get in surrounded the hall, and listened in at the open windows.
.....“There were about 1,000 people inside the hall,” said the Mayor, “and one could tell from the first glance that this was not a crowd of ordinary ‘down-and-outs'.
.....They were respectable men and women doing their best to hide their poverty, and making the best of whatever they had in the way of clothing. That the people of Ammanford were self-respecting was obvious at the first glance.
.....Their enthusiasm was unbounded, and as we stepped on to the platform we looked on a crowd of people who were prepared to make the best of things, and a crowd who were deeply grateful in a manly way.
.....The Vicar of Ammanford presided at the meeting, and was supported by the local M.P. (Mr. Jones), the Chairman of the Urban District Council, members of the Non-Conformist ministry, and members of the various relief committees. The Ammanford Choir rendered a number of songs, and I don't think I have ever listened to a better choir. I was pleased to learn that they are shortly coming to Liverpool, and every effort will be made to bring them to the Town Hall.” (Wallasey News, 5th January 1929)
Ammanford was not without its own variety venues, however, where musical-hall performances competed quite happily alongside so-called high culture, even if some chapel members may not have approved. The town's mere 6,000 population at this time supported three theatre halls – the Palace Cinema, Poole's Pictorium and the Ivorites Hall, to which would soon be added a Miners Welfare Hall in 1932, built and run by the town's miners by means of a two pence a week deduction from their wages. Land to build a Miners' Welfare Hall had already been purchased during the boom years of 1923 and 1924 but building plans had to be shelved until some local mines started re-opening after 1929.
The assistance from Wallasey came just in time for Christmas of 1928 and while 1929 (and indeed the whole of the 1930s) would continue as times of major depression, the valley's unemployment rate in 1929 dropped to 14 percent, half of what it had been in the two previous years. Normality of sorts was now resumed and wretched, chronic hardship was replaced by mere grinding poverty instead.
The final amount raised in Wallasey would total tens of thousands of pounds at today's monetary values and fourteen tons of clothing would augment the cash donations. And that prophesy “Ammanford will in the countless years to come remember Wallasey” would come true thirty years later when Heol Wallasey would provide that memorial.
1 2 3 The Distress Committee 4 Enter Wallasey 5 6 Sources and Acknowledgements
5. 1957: THIRTY YEARS ON
Ammanford's Congregationalist minister, D. Tegfan Davies, who led the deputation to Wallasey in 1928.
Although the world would suffer a depression for over a decade after these goings-on in Ammanford, a depression that would climax in another world war, the post-war years brought gradual improvement in people's economic circumstances and lives. One of the consequences of the post-war Welfare State created by a newly-elected Labour Government in 1945 was a vast programme of social housing – whole council estates of homes available for rent at affordable prices. From 1947 several such estates of high-quality, three-bedroom, semi-detached houses would emerge on the plentiful supply of farmland surrounding rural Ammanford.
As the Amman valley was, and still is, a Welsh-speaking area, all of Ammanford's new council estates were given Welsh names, most of them taken from the farms on whose land they were built: Cae Mawr (Big Field) in 1947; Carreg Amman (Stone of the Amman) in 1948; Myddynfych (the Little Army), 1949-1951; Treforis (Morris Town), 1950; Parcyrhun (Rhun's Field), 1956, all joined Iscennen (Below the Cennen) which had been built in 1921 after the first world war.
In 1957 the next estate was planned on a street then known as Field Street. Together with his clerical colleague, the Rev R. H. Roberts, vicar of Ammanford, the Reverend D. Tegfan Davies, minister to the Welsh Independent (Congregationalist) chapel of Christian Temple, had been a prime mover in the relief of distress in those grim years of the 1920s and a member of the delegation that had gone to Wallasey. As the Dictionary of Welsh Biography describes him:
“He made friends with everyone; many went to him in tribulation and he visited everyone. He showed great concern about the unemployment and poverty of the 1930s and became chairman of the local Distress Committee. When Ammanford was adopted by the town of Wallasey, he was appointed a member of the consultative deputation that went there.” (Dictionary of Welsh Biography, 1941-1970, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 2001.)
He had accompanied the delegation to Wallasey in 1928 and he reminded Ammanford Urban District Council in 1957 of their timely assistance in those years. Heol Wallasey (Wallasey Road) was his suggestion and this was taken up without the slightest demur. Tegfan was also invited to cut the first sod on September 19th 1957, occasioning the local newspaper to devote its front page the following week to the event. The newspaper article is worth quoting from extensively.
DR. TEGFAN DAVIES CUTS THE FIRST SOD AND
RENAMES FIELD STREET ‘HEOL WALLASEY'
(Amman Valley Chronicle 26th September 1957)
“To the glory of God and in gratitude and eternal remembrance of the great people of Wallasey.” How appropriate it was that Dr. D. Tegfan Davies, whom the Chairman of the Council, Mr. W L. Hitchings, J.P., aptly described as the “most beloved person in Ammanford”, should have used these words when he cut the first sod on the Field Street Housing Estate on which flats are to be built. When the flats are completed, it will be re-named Heol Wallasey.
Tegfan Davies (in bow tie) being presented with a miniature silver replica of the spade with which he cut the first sod for Heol Wallasey housing estate. (Photo: South Wales Guardian 26th September 1957. Carmarthenshire Archive Service)
.....Seldom does any honour come the way of the revered pastor of Christian Temple, and it was fitting that he should perform last Thursday afternoon's ceremony, more so as he was associated with the Distress work which became so vitally necessary during the dark and gloomy days and weeks of depression which the Ammanford people were forced to endure in 1927 and afterwards.
.....I, too, recall the sufferings of those days, writes ‘F.T.'. 'People were driven to desperation, and had it not been for the soup kitchen established in the town and the tons of clothing and the thousands of pounds contributed by the people of Wallasey, many of the people would have starved. Yes, we are forever indebted to Wallasey for having adopted us during that critical period. But there were many among us who were too proud to go to the soup kitchens. These were the people who were brought up in an atmosphere that was in a sense Puritanical. They preferred to do without rather than be dependant on others and so faced the risk of losing their health.
.....Times have changed since then, Prosperity has come our way, but those of us who remember those bad old days will not forget them. Dr. Tegfan Davies was then, as he is now, an influence on the lives of the people. And one man who stood steadfastly by him was the veteran divine, the Rev, W Nantlais Williams. I can visualise them now. No Distress Committee meeting or anything associated with the welfare of the people in those critical days would be complete without them …
Photograph of Heol Wallasey taken in March 2007
.....Dr. Tegfan has something about him that spells charm and dignity. His sole ambition in life is to help others. He will go out of his way to do so. Do you wonder, then, why he is so highly respected and loved by the people. He is a great personality and so modest. His name is a household word in the town of Ammanford: indeed, there is only one Dr. Tegfan Davies. I salute you. Sir, for the wonderful work you have done to better the lot of he people of this town for more than forty years.
.....But my job this week is to give you an account of last Thursday afternoon's proceedings in Field Street. The Council and the public of Ammanford were strongly represented at the ceremony … Among the officials was Howard Smith, our Surveyor-Engineer, who spent several anxious moments trying to find a suitable spot for Dr. Tegfan to plunge in the spade.
The Development of Ammanford
.....The Chairman of the Council, Mr. W. L. Hitchings, introduced Dr. Tegfan to the gathering and in a few remarks paid a high tribute to him.
.....Mr. Tom C. Bevan, who is the Vice-Chairman of the Council and Chairman of the Health Committee, referred the development and progress of the town …
.....Mr. Bevan went on to say that he was quite sincere in saying that they, as a Council, had done their best to improve the town in every way by the rapid developments which had taken place since the war.
.....Dr. Tegfan Davies, after being handed the spade, cut the first sod in what one may say a craftsman-like way. Then, addressing the gathering, he said: “I thank you for the great honour you have conferred on me to-day, and in asking me, one o the lowliest of the lowliest of your citizens, to perform this ceremony.” Continuing, Dr. Tegfan said that his thoughts that afternoon went back to chose days when the town was adopted by the good citizens of Wallasey. He recalled the time when the Christian Temple was packed and large crowds had even gathered outside to listen to .the Mayor of Wallasey when he visited the town. They in Ammanford received mercy from the Mersey and he recalled, too, the joy and gratitude of the people when Wallasey came to succour them in their distress.
.....“Wallasey brought us hope,” said Dr. Tegfan, and he went on: “They received tons of clothing, food and thousands of pounds from Wallasey.”
.....Proceeding. Dr. Tegfan said that Wallasey brought in the torch and they wanted to hand that torch down to many generations. That torch was the torch of hope, kindness and generosity.
A Wonderful Committee
.....He went on to refer to the “wonderful committee” with which he was proud to have been associated in those days. They worked from morning to night, day in, day out, to alleviate the distress which the depression brought in its trail.
.....A good many of them had passed yonder since, but he had a feeling that they were as a crowd of witnesses hovering above them in clouds that very afternoon. They were a remarkable body of people and a grand body of workers. He would never forget them ...
.....At this juncture, Mr. Tom Bevan, on behalf of the Council, presented to Dr. Tegfan a replica of the spade, bearing the town's coat of arms and suitably inscribed. Acknowledging the gift, Dr. Tegfan said it would be to him a symbol and an inspiration to dig deeply into the realm of thought, sympathy and worship so as to give greater service to the town. (Amman Valley Chronicle, 26th September 1957)
The 1920s are due soon to recede from living memory entirely and become history instead, verifiable by written records only. Some of the older residents of this quiet road will know the origins of their conspicuously different street name, though most probably won't. Tegfan, who died in 1968, is still remembered in Ammanford, for now at least, and the story of the street he was instrumental in naming needs to be told before Tegfan's memory, too, fades into that oblivion that awaits us all. When a piteous cry of help went out from the banks of the river Amman in 1928 it was heard a hundred and twenty miles away on the Mersey, something else that shouldn't be forgotten either.
6. SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
— Minutes of Ammanford Urban District Council, 1928 and 1929: courtesy of Carmarthenshire County Archive Service.
— Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle and The Wallasey News: courtesy of Wirral Archive Service.
— Amman Valley Chronicle: courtesy of Ammanford Library.
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010