Pay, Strikes and Living Conditions -
The Great Strike 1900-03
The general manager, E.A. Young, announced that henceforth no union dues were to be collected at the quarry.
The cauldron began to bubble violently. It finally boiled over on October 26th, 1900,
in violence against a number of
contractors. Penrhyn decided to prosecute 26 of his employees, even before they
appeared before the magistrates.
All the men marched to Bangor to support the 26 at their
trial. Everyone was suspended for fourteen days. The first
hearing was adjourned, and the workforce all marched to Bangor
for the second hearing. Of the 26 accused, only 6 were convicted
and fined. The Chief Constable of the County called in military
forces and was condemned by various public bodies as well as his
own County Council. The men went back to work on November 19th,
but 8 galleries were not let out to be worked. Two days later
their suspicions had increased even more. On November 22nd,
everybody turned up at the quarry but no work was done. Sometime
during that fateful morning E.A. Young telephoned the
quarry with a message to the men to go on working or leave the
quarry quietly. The men walked out. The uneasy truce of
1897-1900 was over. The Great Strike of 1900-03 had started. Things would never be the same again.
Ups and downs
By December 22nd, Young had terms which were 'relaxed'. But
as was observed in the Daily News, Heaven save our worst
enemies from the infliction of the originals. Voting papers were
duly sent out, which required every voter to sign the paper and
note his address. And Young of all people had the gall to
complain of this, stating that the information obtained could be
used to form a blacklist! 77 voted for the terms and 1,707
against them. By mid January, the closure was complete with
workers from Porth Penrhyn being dismissed.
An unusual gift to 'Desolate
Relief had already started pouring in, both monetary and,
unexpectedly, in the form of 2½ tons of plum pudding from a firm
in Ashton-under-Lyne. This gift remained in the memory for years.
As the children still sang a decade after.
We had in Bethesda
The best pudding there ever was,
Neither Young nor Lord Penrhyn
Knew of it before it came.
It was a black coloured pudding,
The best any living being has tasted.
By March, hundreds of the men left the area, as
far away as southern Wales in many cases, leaving the women and
children on diets of dry bread and tea. Weekly reports began
appearing in the Clarion of the sad state of things in Desolate Bethesda and the surrounding
At a mass meeting in Bethesda on April 9th, Ben Tillett openly
blamed all the suffering on Lord Penrhyn, describing him as a
cross between Pharaoh and Nero, and telling them not to blame
Young who was only Lord Penrhyn's jackal in this matter. Over the
months that view was to change, and since it was 'E.A. Young' that
appeared on every poster released from the quarry authorities, he
became the one man everybody loved to hate.
Re-opening the quarry
By the beginning of May, plans were in hand to re open the
quarry. Lord Penrhyn might have been immensely rich, but a closed
quarry was doing even his finances no good. Indeed, as
recent research has revealed, financially he was quite damaged by
1903. The long awaited poster was released by Young on May 20th,
stating that the quarry would re-open on June 11th to all late
employees who had applied to the office and been accepted.
Furthermore, police protection would be provided. In doing the
vetting, Young did the work himself, being fed information from
spies. The practice of 1896-97 was in full use again! Wages were
increased by 5%. On leaving the quarry on that first day
every one of the 650 workmen was given a gold sovereign, courtesy
of Lord Penrhyn. This was the infamous Punt y Gynffon soon to be
vilified in both cartoon and song. In a turbulent meeting of the
strikers that evening, it was decided that posters bearing the
Nid Oes Bradwr yn y Ty Hwn [There is no traitor in
this house] be printed and shown in a window in every striker's
house. Bethesda and the area had now been plunged into Civil War.
When a poster was removed from a window, everyone knew that
someone else was returning to the quarry. Indeed, lists of the
'bradwyr' together with their addresses were printed in
newspapers such as Y Werin and Yr Eco for all to read in June
Women in the strike
Discovering the role that women played during the Great Strike
is not easy, but the minute books of the Bangor Petty Sessions do
give us tantalising glimpses. On July 23rd, 1901, a reference is
made to an incident three days earlier of:
|Hundreds of people - young women paraded up and
down the streets behaving badly.
It appears that the only action brought against any woman from
Bethesda was that against Ellen Jane Williams. She was accused of
being part of a crowd of 250-300 people on August 15th, 1901, and
that she shouted 'Bradwrs, Cynffonwrs, Merch cynffon ydi hi' at
Anne, Jane and John Pritchard, children of John Pritchard, a
quarryman who lived at Penybryn. But he was also a quarry man who
had returned to work. He was regarded as a Bradwr [Traitor].
Ellen Jane was fined 20/- (£1.00) and costs. One of the justices
sitting on the bench was W.J. Parry.
It is also probable that it was hardship that drove two women
from Bethesda before the Bench. Margaret Morris was accused on
February 3rd, 1901, of prostitution in Farrar Road, Bangor. She
charged 3d. On being found guilty she was sentenced to 14 days
Catherine Roberts was also from Bethesda, who was also found
guilty of a similar offence on September 5th, 1901. She charged
1/-. She was similarly sentenced.
Newly discovered cartoons from the pen of J.R.
Lloyd Hughes of Papur Pawb give a new insight into the
One by one, and quite arbitrarily, some were taken back. By the
end of the year, Bethesda was indeed desolate. No work, no union,
no fund… The Saturday market had closed, poverty grew, and fever
shut the schools. Men still trickled back, but 1,000 were never
to return. The dispute had taken its toll on Bethesda and the
whole slate industry. With the quarry being closed for three
years, outside markets took advantage. Everybody suffered. The
dispute hit Lord Penrhyn's finances and stringent economies had
to be made. Lord Penrhyn and E.A. Young's health declined. Lord Penrhyn died in 1907 and Young in 1910. Eight years later, the
quarry owners accepted the Union in the quarries. Bethesda was
never the same again, and suffered hardship through the Great War
and into the years of the Great Depression.
A 'bradwr' - traitor
|There (in Glanogwen Cemetery) was
my father's grave, the white railings around it rusting and the
weeds clawing through the wire netting that guarded the glass
case protecting the artificial flowers. Thos must have been on
the grave since the day of the funeral so long ago. Sometimes I
would make a pilgrimage to the grave in the furthest part…and
with a serious expression on my face read the mossy inscription
on the slate. IN MEMORY OF JOHN PRITCHARD WHO WAS KILLED IN AN
ACCIDENT AT THE PENRHYN QUARRY APRIL 4TH 1905. IN THE MIDDLE OF
LIFE WE ARE IN DEATH. Then, I would look behind the smooth stone.
Somebody at once upon a time painted three or four circles with
coal tar and brush on the back of the stone. I often wondered
about this but without saying anything or asking anybody about
'Tell me,' John Jones…'was my father a 'bradwr ?'
John Jones stood tall with flashing eyes. 'Heaven above, no,' he
said. Your father and me were up there at Ty'n y Maes with pick
and shovel breaking mettaling rather than go back Don't you
listen to any such foolish nonsense.'
One Sunday morning a long time after this, my brother Hywel and
I were sitting in a hotel in Bangor reminiscing over a bottle of
Scotch…I then told my brother the story about John Jones and
sacked him, as he was four years older than me: 'Was Tada a
Bradwr?' Hywel peered into his glass for a minute and then said
sadly and quietly: 'Yes.'
(Afal Drwg Adda, Caradog Prichard, 12-13 trans.)
The quarry office at Porth Penrhyn was closed in April 1967
and piles of documents and account books were burnt. One worker
'rescued' one document from the flames, a document that has not
seen the light of day for a century. The original (in Welsh) has
not survived, but it originally hung up outside the Douglas Arms
Hotel, Bethesda, at the beginning of August, 1902. The original
document was translated into English and typewritten.
But this document is full of allegations, many of which are
difficult to trace properly today. These allegations are
specifically against Henry Jones, chairman of the strike
committee, and Griffith Edwards, the secretary. It is clear that it
is a reaction to the stormy meeting held at the end of July that
year. It consequently shows that there was a body of strikers who
were not supportive of the actions of their leaders. This
group held the opinion by then, that staying out any longer
Opposition to the strike
|It is time for us quarrymen to know
clearly what is our fate, and so, will the committee answer what
||So as to be allowed to vote fairly for workmen,
will Mr W.H. Williams urge voting by ballot?
||Will Henry Jones explain his pretensions to
"lifting the curtain?"
||Had Henry Jones a prominent share in abolishing
the Agreement in the time of Owens the clerk?
||Is it because that he failed to get an office
that Henry Jones turned his back on the Blaid Fain?*
||Does being members of the Committee pay Henry
Jones, Griffith Edwards and others better than working?
||Would it not be better for the Committee to
resign so as to select more suitable men?
||Would it not be better for the Committee to make
an application to Lord Penrhyn based on the terms offered in
||Is it not time to put the rope of the curtain
round the necks of Henry Jones and Griffith Edwards?
|Let us do it
earnestly tonight boys
"One suffering for want of food"
(*Blaid Fain could be a nickname for the Tory Party.)