The Reformist Road to Twyn y Waun 30 May 1831
The Radical Road to Hirwaun Common 31st May 1831.
are two traditional views of the Merthyr Rising of 1831. They are not
necessarily totally separate views re the history and conditions that
caused this workers' revolt to break out into an armed uprising.
Suffice to say for a very simple overview just read the account headed
Merthyr Rising p396 of the Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales,
Ed Meic Stephens. Oxford University Press. You will of course not leave
it at that but go on to books that will deal with the subject in greater
depth, some of which I will mention below. What I wish to focus on is
those two separate views, which point out the two separate paths that
converged on Merthyr 1831 and at the end of May beginning of June
causing this most major of Welsh insurrections since the time of Owain
It's generally accepted that the Merthyr Rising of 1831 was in many
ways part of the general British struggle for political reform, which
would be the basis of a later much stronger Chartist Movement and also
part of the struggle to establish Trade Unionism. There is another
aspect of the Revolt that may be seen to have more national Welsh
connotations’ and that is in the more radical nature the Merthyr Rising
took as a particularly Welsh insurrection.
This is the view presented by Welsh Republicans such as historian Ivor
Wilks and more romantically by Harri Webb. This is presented in the
‘natural justice’ protest on Hirwaun common, such radicalism prior and
since is seen as representing a long history of Welsh radicalism. (also
see writings on this by professor Gwyn Alf Williams).
Merthyr Tudful had been in discontent for a long time, particularly
since the depression of 1829 with subsequent reform agitation following,
not least in the early months of 1831. Merthyr Tudful was in a ferment
of discontent and disturbance culminating in a great Reform Rally at
Twyn y Waun on 30 May 1831.
This reform rally was a political affair led by dissident radicals such
as Cyfartha coal miner Thomas Llywelyn and issues raised at this rally
were reformist and relating to trade union rights under banners which
declared ‘Reform in Parliament' but also ‘God Save William IV’.
seems the following day 31 May 1831, Thomas Llywelyn attempted to hold
another reform rally at Hirwaun Common. Here however ‘Reformism’ met
with the more militant men of Hirwaun who seemed more hell bent on
radical measures. Their purpose was to put right more immediate wrongs
and had more to do with a long tradition of struggle for ‘natural
Thomas Llywelyn led his trade unionists off on a march to Aberdare to
seek workers' justice in term of labour rights; improved conditions and
wages. Back on Hirwaun Common other more militant matters were being
considered, which would come to an head.
I do not want to dwell much more on repeating the history of the
Merthyr Rising as there are a number of books you should read on the
subject which will more than inform you of the history but also the
differing views as to its nature, form & purpose.
Suffice for me to conclude that after the Reformists had left Hirwaun
Common, the radicals killed a calf and dipped in its blood the white
cloth of a reform flag, which they raised on a pole as possibly the
first ever Red Flag of Popular Rebellion along with another banner that
stated ‘Bara neu Waed’ (Bread or Blood).
be no doubt that the following seven days in June changed Welsh history
immensely and of course in these terms the commemoration of 1831–2006
should be not only an entertaining experience but also be most
informative & educational purpose to remind us who we are and where
we come from.
The Merthyr Rising 1831 Time line of key events
1st June - Workers march on Merthyr
2nd June - The town is seized by workers, the Riot Act is read and troops sent for
3rd June - “The Battle of Castle Inn” (see Dic Penderyn below). 26 “rioters” killed
4th June - Troops arrive from Brecon but one column is ambushed and disarmed by workers
5th June - Gwent workers rise and march to support Merthyr workers
6th June - Great workers' gathering at Twyn y Waun, troops arrive and level guns
7th June - Troops regain control of Merthyr, mass arrests and imprisonment follow
Epilogue: During the days that followed the troops searched
particularly for those seen as leaders of the revolt, many were arrested
and imprisoned amongst them Dic Penderyn and shortly after Lewis Lewis
All were put on trial, found guilty and sentence to death or
transportation to Australia. Some question the mysterious way Lewis
Lewis was reprieved but not Dic Penderyn. Dic Penderyn was executed on
13 August 1831, thus was created a “Welsh Working Class Martyr” long
remembered as a popular "Hero of Welsh History", whilst Lewsyn yr
Heliwr - no doubt instigator and leader of the revolt - has been largely
Whilst it remained politically or culturally correct to remember Dic
Penderyn as a martyr, later "respectable" Victorian Wales chose to
forget the Merthyr Rising 1831. So too Welsh Labour – Unionist
Tradition, which came to remember more about the Tolpuddle martyrs &
English Labour history rather than their own Welsh labour history.
Ironically the resurrection and restoration of this radical History was left to be more popularised by a Welsh Republican Movement 1946 – 56 via the writings of socialist republican historian Ivor Wilks and socialist republican bard Harri Webb.
Historical Note: Twyn y waun had
been the location of the Waun fair since the Middle Ages and possibly
further back it may have been a traditional ancient gathering point for
people. During the 16th Century Waun Fair was recorded in official
records as being associated with outlaws & thieves particularly
horse stealers & cattle rustlers who brought their four-legged
stolen goods to dispose of at Waun fair. So well known was this that
even suppliers of the English army came to Waun fair to buy cattle on
the cheap and of course make huge profits.
Reading Matter for you yourselves to determine much.
Introduction: Read up on following subjects matter (Full details & literature via web search)
· Any material on the making of modern Wales post-Act of Union 1536.
· 18th Century Welsh Cultural Renaissance, Religious Revival & Political dissent.
· 18th Century popular protest, disturbances & discontent, focus 1798 – 1831.
· The Merthyr Rising 1831
· Post-1831 Scotch Cattle & the Newport Insurrection 1839.
· The 1839 Rebecca Rebellion of the western counties.
· 1848 - the Year of European Revolutions and in Wales the Blue Books.
· 1848-1880s Rise of Liberal Wales to Cymru Rydd & beyond.
· Rise of Labour Party & trade unionism in Wales.
· Welsh Nationalism inc anything on republicanism.
For the chief reading material regards much of above & Merthyr 1831
plus it’s aftermath to 1831 & beyond you may focus on three
· D. J. V. Jones: Before Rebecca Popular Protest in Wales 1793 – 1835.
· David Smith: For traditional “Unionist British Labour history’’.
· Gwyn A. Williams: For a communist and republican viewpoint.
· Ivor Wilks: Protagonist of a “Welsh Republican” view.
Further to above there are a great number of other books & essays
in a number of journals, as ‘Llafur’ all of which may be searched out
via the web & bibliographies. Further, two essays that touch on the
above, are available on request via email only; they are:
· Aftermath. A radical interpretation of Welsh History from conclusion of Glyndwr war to the Merthyr Rising of 1831.
· Dic Penderyn. An interpretation of the Welsh Martyr Complex & why”.
Obtainable from firstname.lastname@example.org
Merthyr Rising 1831 Commemoration - Cardiff
Dic Penderyn was executed 13 Awst 1831: Outside the market on St Mary
Street, Cardiff near the spot where he was executed, you will find a
plaque in commemoration of his execution. To the last he protested his
innocence, and his final words in Welsh were an anguished cry at
injustice. "O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd" "O Lord what an iniquity" he
shouted, as the hangman's noose was tightened. Dic Penderyn’s coffin was
then carried by cart to Port Talbot, where he was buried in cemetery of
St Mary’s Church.