To understand fully just why the “Federation Stone”, a seemingly innocuous if somewhat large piece of sandstone was wrested from its mountain home for many millennia, low on the western slopes of Mynydd Aber, to become the “natural” choice to represent the ultimate sacrifices of the colliers of the Ogmore Valley, we have to go back to the 1870`s and the constant battles between the Coal Mining workforce, the colliery managers and the birth of the Labour Movement in the Ogmore Valley.
Whilst we have no need to go into great details of the well documented problems in the industry, in the 1860`s and 1870`s there were many, ultimately unsuccessful strikes in the mining industry with the ruthless and much better organised mine owners, looking to maximise their profits, usually at the expense of the lowly colliers and their dysfunctional unions.
There were many unions, all vying to represent the miners but they were in their infancy and were fragmented across the country and in their efforts to improve their members working conditions. One of the larger unions in the South Wales area in the 1870`s was the Amalgamated Association of Miners but after a series of strikes in the early 1870`s culminated in 1875 when the coal-owners association, after discovering the A.A.M was low on funds, ruthlessly switched from a 10% wage cut to 15% wage cut. The miners were defeated and returned to work, the A.A.M. was bankrupted and dissolved.
This would leave William Abraham, more commonly known by his bardic name of “Mabon”, as the sole miners agent in South Wales and in 1877 he would join one of the few union organisations to survive the demise of the A.A.M., the “Cambrian Combine” based in the Rhondda Valley. At a meeting in Llwynypia in April 1877, William Abraham was
elected as the leader of the Cambrian Combine Association and took it’s membership from zero in 1877 to 14,000 in 1888, making it the largest of the Unions active in the South wales Coalfield.
It was in this role and against a background of strikes and mistrust between the workforce and management and even the various unions that Abraham successfully negotiated the first Monday of every month as a holiday. Not surprisingly this became universally known as “Mabon’s Day” and would continue for ten years until the bitter dispute of 1898 when it was lost as part of the deal forced on to the workforce.
Relative peace and prosperity returned to the Valleys coal mines until 1893 when, against the background of a Typhoid epidemic raging through the valley, the Wyndham hauliers protesting against late settlement of the Sliding Scale Pay Agreement, stopped work on the 31st July and the stoppage quickly spread throughout South Wales until on 7th August, 40,000 miners had stopped work and 9,000 were facing being locked out.
This was no doubt helped by the famous marching gangs from Ogmore who were seeking help and support from nearby villages and the many mass meetings that were now being held on a large flat stone on the Aber Road between the Aber Houses and the Planker Arms. The strike lasted until the 11th September 1893 when the last workmen to return to work were the Wyndham Hauliers.
As a direct result of this strike, Edward Edwards a schoolteacher of Tynewydd Junior School, (who would later be its Head Teacher for 21 years from 1894 until 1915) formed the first branch of the Independent Labour Party in the Ogmore Valley, barely 8 months after the Independent Labour Party was itself formed at its inaugural conference held at Bradford 14–16 January 1893.
It is therefore no surprise to learn that from 1893 onwards and all through the National Coal Strike of 1898, (which would drag on for five months), a procession of famous Labour activists of the time would attend and speak to the mass meetings, including Lloyd George, Clement Atlee and Kier Hardie, who would become the Labour party’s first elected MP in 1900. There is no doubt that Edward Edwards had some influence in these people attending the mass meetings as he was friendly with Kier Hardie sharing many of his philosophies.
The 1893 strike is therefore of immense significance. It was the first of the big strikes and it caused confrontation between the old guard of miners’ leaders, led by Mabon and a new radical leader named William Brace who supported the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain (M.F.G.B.) and who campaigned for a united union to represent the whole of the Mining workforce in Great Britain.
The next major milestone was to occur in 1898 when the Miners went on strike against the sliding scale method of payment where there was no minimum wage and the miners believed it was heavily weighted in favour of the coal-owners association. When the strike went ahead with a mass walkout on the 9th April, the Board of Trade appointed Sir Edward Fry as an arbitrator who over time gradually moved the demands of the miners, but ultimately didn’t succeed as the coal-owners simply changed their demands.
After a second failed attempt, Sir Edward returned to the Board of Trade describing the owners as obstinate and the workers as leaderless. The strike officially ended on the 1st September 1898 with the miners accepting a fraction of their original claim and relinquishing the “Mabon`s Day” holiday. It was during the 1898 strike that soup kitchens were feeding 600 people a day in Tynewydd and Nantymoel.
It was as a direct result of the 1898 strike that the South Wales Miners Federation was formed. Its basic aim was to unite the miners and oppose the strength of the local coal-owners and coal companies. In the years before World War I, the basic philosophy of The Fed was one of moderation and conciliation, which mirrored the personal creed of its first President, William Abraham (Mabon). These ideas were however, challenged with the emergence of a younger, more radical group of leaders wedded to the ideas of socialism and syndicalism. These were to make their presence felt in the aftermath of the Cambrian Combine Dispute in the Mid-Rhondda and its accompanying Tonypandy Riots in 1910, and the Hunger Marches of the 1920s and 1930s.
The Ogmore valley was no exception during the hard years of the 1920`s and 1930`s, with many families leaving the valley and the experiences of one of our co-authors, Harry Radcliffe, bears testimony to the harsh life facing the miners;
“I was born at number 2 Bridge Street, Ogmore Vale, on July 17th 1919, just after the “Great War for Civilisation” had ended. He started work at the age of fourteen as a Collier Boy, following his father to the Penllwyngwent Colliery, (known locally as the “Drift”). I worked eight hours a day, six days a week, for fifteen shillings a week. [The equivalent of 75p today]. This work was not guaranteed, with frequent bouts of only 2-3 days worked from the 1920`s through to the 1940`s.
As a young man I had to take our union contribution to the Workman’s Hall every Friday, which was six pennies for dad and eldest brother, three for my other brother and me. Every three months you would have to show this as there would be two men at the Black Road, Wyndham Hotel and two at the old Co-op Bake House no badge, no work. Times were very hard with only two or three days working until the Second World War when production increased to support the war effort. Unfortunately following the war, situations changed and again we had no work and there were more strikes. On “Vesting Day”, the 1st January 1947 the pits were nationalised and working conditions improved for the coal mining industry.
In 1985 following the closure of the Wyndham/Western Colliery, the last mine in the Ogmore Valley, I was approached to discuss what we could do as a memorial to all the men who gave their lives to the coal industry in the valley since the first mine opened in 1865. I spoke with union officials and we decided to call for a small committee, The Ogmore Valley Miners Memorial Committee, to discuss what we could do. After a few meetings we agreed that the “Federation Stone” would make a fitting memorial.
Permission was needed from the local council to move the stone from its original location to the site chosen on the old Wyndam Colliery area. I approached the R.A.F. but failed then I tried the Army who were only too glad to help, and we enlisted the help of 108 Field Squadron, Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia), based in Swansea who moved the Federation stone across the valley and installed it next to the pillars which were formerly the gate posts of the recently demolished Dinam Chapel. The final part was the Memorial Slate Plaque designed by Dennis David a local Stonemason.
It was now June 1990 and we were now ready for the unveiling of the Ogmore Valley Miners Memorial. The community were there in large numbers and the guests included Mr Emelyn Williams the oldest N.U.M president, Sir Ray Powell Ogmore MP, Dil Cornelius Coal Mining Industry Welfare, Ogmore Valley Male Voice Choir and the Ogmore Valley Temperance Silver Prize Band.
Sadly in 1995 the Ogmore Valley Miners Memorial was vandalised by persons still unknown, where they poured paint all over the plaque, pillars and Federation Stone and for reasons that still are unknown and very hard to even guess at! However the committee cleaned up the memorial and installed vandal proof fencing, which has done the job intended to keep out the vandals but has now fallen into disrepair and with the opening of the cycle track past the site is practically hidden from the view of the general public.
The future of the Ogmore Valley Miners Memorial has been secured with the transfer of the lease to the Ogmore Valley Local History & Heritage Society who plan to restore the memorial back to it’s original condition, as was intended by the Miners Memorial Committee as a fitting tribute to all those men that paid the ultimate price in the pursuit of coal.