On a drenching wet day which was relentless, some seventy people turned up, some travelling from London and other parts of England, from all parts of South Wales and from Merthyr Tydfil, to attend a commemoration of James Keir Hardie’s death as at September 1915. It was appropriate that the Day School should have been held at Merthyr Tydfil where he was Member of Parliament, the first Labour MP in Wales, 1900-1915.
Huw Williams, Merthyr Tydfil WEA Branch Chair, welcomed and introduced the day and Gerald Jones, MP for the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney Constituency, provided further words of welcome and introduction. After Huw set the scene for Hardie as a Merthyr Tydfil citizen, a key note address was made by Sir Deian Hopkin, one of the foremost Labour historians and educationalists in Wales, in positing a new appreciation of Hardie. Joe England, of Merthyr Tydfil origins and a former WEA tutor, followed and provided a specific facet of Hardie’s quest for justice in backing the iron moulders at the Dowlais Iron Company in their protracted strike of 1911-12.
After a delightful lunch provided by new cafe franchise, JOL’s, and a chance for visitors to view this iconic and restored public building at the heart of Merthyr Tydfil’s town centre, Dr Martin Wright and Dr Daryl Leeworthy provided further insights to Hardie’s rich life and work: Hardie as a politician and as an internationalist.
Sixty delegates were counted at the afternoon session and Huw has received several emails and texts of gratitude on a most enjoyable and informative day.
On a fair, early spring day, albeit “Super Saturday” in Six Nations’ Rugby terms, over fifty delegates attended a full day school, one that is now a fixture in the calendar of this manor house and of the Gelligaer Society. Several WEA members from Merthyr Tydfil branch were in attendance, either as a guest speaker, or in staffing several tables of historical materials as a back cloth to the talks in the conference room. Chair of the Gelligaer Society is Annie Owens, a long standing WEA tutor and who presided over years of classes at Pontsticill for the Association, resulting in a fine local history of the Taff Fechan area.
Two illustrated talks in the morning covered First World War chapel memorials including several examples from Merthyr Tydfil, followed by a wide ranging review of sacred mountain sites across South Wales. After a delightful buffet lunch, the afternoon was taken up by a critique of the Western - in print and in film - as an iconic means of interpretation of early 20th century North America. Last but not least, Huw Williams ended the Conference and provided an over view, with extracts from contemporary sources, of Industrial Merthyr Tydfil.
Friendships were renewed and new contacts made; sales of books and materials from the several stalls were made. The day was highly enjoyable and a credit to the organising skills and stamina of the Gelligaer Historical Society.