The Letter in the Lamp: The South Wales Coal-Miners’ Hunger March

Ceri Thompson

During the early part of 2016 Big Pit received the donation of a Cambrian type flame safety lamp and a framed letter.

The Letter

The letter, was found tucked into the bonnet of the lamp by the donor, dated 10th January 1928, and addressed to Mr J. Hawes – a relative of the donor – and signed by D. Lloyd Davies of Maerdy, Rhondda. In it, Mr Lloyd Davies apologises for the delay in sending a miner’s lamp to Mr Hawes because he was looking for one ‘of equal historical distinction for our friend the coroner’.

The letter describes the lamp, which was ready to be sent to Mr Hawes, as ‘one of the few that was recovered from the terrible Cilfynydd Explosion (June 1894)’. The letter goes on to say ‘that things continue very black in this Rhondda area and will confess that the last was the blackest Christmas I’ve ever spent.’

The letter’s recipient, James Hawes, had funeral businesses in at least four locations in London. I knew that a David ‘Dai’ Lloyd Davies was an official of the Maerdy Colliery Lodge of the South Wales Miners’ Federation around this time. Although it isn’t mentioned in the letter, the connection between the two gentlemen appears to be the 1927 Welsh Hunger March, when 270 unemployed south Wales miners marched to London. David ‘Dai’ Lloyd Davies had taken a leading part in that march.

The letter dated 10th January 1928, addressed to Mr J. Hawes and signed by D. Lloyd Davies of Maerdy, Rhondda.

The letter dated 10th January 1928, addressed to Mr J. Hawes and signed by D. Lloyd Davies of Maerdy, Rhondda.

The 1927 Hunger March

Among the aims of the 1927 Hunger March from south Wales was to draw attention to the plight of the unemployed in the coalfield and to the continuous closing of mines which was adding even further unemployment and poverty.

Many unemployed miners volunteered to march but the men actually recruited were drawn from those who had been denied Labour Exchange benefit and Poor Law relief. In order to give each man sufficient clothing and stout boots, the collection of money and clothes was organised in the mining villages. Every marcher was to carry a lit miner’s lamp.

The march began from Maerdy at the top of Rhondda Fach on 8th March 1927 and reached London less than a fortnight later, on the 20th. They had marched through many towns and villages including Bristol, Bath and Swindon were greeted by crowds of sympathisers along the way. At the end of the march, thousands gathered in pouring rain, as a huge demonstration took place in Trafalgar Square to express solidarity with the unemployed miners.

Unfortunately two of the miners died during the march. Mr Arthur Howe of Trealaw died in a traffic accident and Mr John Supple of Tonyrefail died of pneumonia which he contracted during the rain soaked rally in Trafalgar Square.

The lamp’s former owner, Mr Hawes was an undertaker, and a coroner is mentioned in the letter: it appears that they must have assisted the marchers during these tragic events.

Wal Hannington, a leader in the National Unemployed Workers Movement at the time, described the bodies being sent back to south Wales in his memoirs ‘Unemployed Struggles, 1919-1936’, (EP Publishing, 1973)

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‘In the funeral procession which marched through London the coffins were covered with the red flag of the workers and on each stood an unlighted miner’s lamp.  The silent march to Paddington Station was most impressive; thousands on that great station stood hushed in silence as the marchers bore the bodies of their dead comrades to the van of the train.’

Mr Hawes did eventually receive his lamp and the donor remembers him treasuring it all his life.

The Lamp

Cambrian type flame safety lamp.

Cambrian type flame safety lamp.

The Albion Colliery, Cilfynydd, explosion occurred on the 23rd June 1894. It was estimated that over 290 men and boys died (no record of who was working underground had been kept), very few escaped and, of those that did, most died of their injuries.

A large number of the killed were from North and West Wales and were lodging in the village while working to raise enough money to bring their families to Cilfynydd. Another large section of the workforce had come there from Mountain Ash and had followed the manager of Albion, Mr Philip Jones, who was from that area. Albion was the second biggest mining disaster in Wales after the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd, explosion which killed 439 men and boys.

The lamp itself is a Cambrian type flame safety lamp, consistent with the type used in Albion Colliery, Cilfynydd at the time of the disaster. It appears that the Albion miners purchased their own lamps at that time, rather than their being supplied by the company and, in spite of the rule that the men were not to take their lamps home, many seem to have ignored that order.

The only markings on the lamp are ‘A 10C3’ stamped at the top of the oil vessel, and the same on an attached plate to the right of the lead plug lock. In spite of this, it seems unlikely that we will ever know who actually owned this lamp. The lamp has damage to the top of the bonnet, which has surface rust, and a large crack down the glass, it cannot be determined whether these were caused during the disaster or later. Apart from this damage, the lamp is complete and in good condition.

The mystery here is where Mr Lloyd Davies obtained the lamp. It is probable that the lamps of those killed were salvaged from the workings and brought up to the surface after the disaster. On the other hand, because these lamps were owned by the miners, perhaps the lamp was returned to the family. However, where this particular one was kept between 1894 and 1928, and how Mr Lloyd Davies obtained it, is a mystery.


Sara Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
3 May 2018, 11:16

Hi Gareth

Just to follow up - we don't hold a list of the marchers in our collections, unfortunately. Our Curator of Coal recommends you contact the South Wales Miners' Library in Swansea University as they may be able to advise.


Digital Team

Sara Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales Staff
1 May 2018, 10:55

Hi there Gareth,

Thank you for sharing the story of your Grandfather - it sounds like he had a hard life. I will send your enquiry on to our Curator of Coal, and post his response here.

Best wishes

Digital Team

Gareth James
29 April 2018, 17:55
Hi I was wondering if you could help me or point me in the right direction, I wanted to find out about my Grandfather who was one of the miners who marched to London, I know very little about him except that his surname was Parfitt and he lived in Ynyshir Road. I have also been told that he was blinded in a mining accident and eventually took his own life. Sorry there's so little to go on. I though maybe there was a list of those who marched or record of employees for each mine, anything would be much appreciated.
Many thanks Gareth
12 March 2018, 09:55
Hi there Ken

Thank you for your patience - my apologies for the delay in posting this response. I hope this isn't too late for your grand-daughter's assignment.

via our Curator of Coal:

"There were a number of 'Hunger Marches' organised from Wales to Bristol or London in the 1920s and 1930s, some of which had female contingents.

We have miniature miners' lamp badges dating from this period in our collections but no proof that they were worn by marchers (although some marchers carried full size miners' lamps of course).

The miniature lamps may have been sold to raise funds during strikes or other political actions so it's not unlikely that a participant could have worn one.

Where was your grandmother from and do you have any other details which may help?"

You, or your grand-daughter would be welcome to talk to the curator in person or by phone - call 0300 111 2 333 (standard rate) and ask for Ceri Thompson in Big Pit.

Many thanks again for your patience,

Digital Team

Sara Huws
27 February 2018, 09:52
Hi there Ken

Thanks for your enquiry - what a great assignment, and a great family story, too.

We would be happy to help with your enquiry - I can put you in touch with our Curator of Coal, who will be able to answer your grand-daughter's questions about the lamp. I'll drop them an email and put you in touch.

Best wishes

Digital Team
Ken Jeavons
26 February 2018, 16:33
Can you help me please: my Grandmother Harriet Jeavons nee Williams, 1878 - 1957 left to me a small miners lamp, about 1 inch long with a pin attached. I always understood that she had worn this on some march in support of miners in the 1920s but I have been unable to substantiate this. I have been asked by my 10 year old grand-daughter to give her some information about her radical great,great grandmother for a school project associated with the 100 year anniversary of some women getting the vote. They must not just use the internet but as many other sources as well. Although not directly Suffragette linked my grandmother, a working class women, was someone special to me and a forward thinker. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
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