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