Great Strike Memorial, Bethesda

Great Strike Memorial in the garden of the Welsh Presbyterian Jerusalem Chapel, Bethesda

Great Strike Memorial in the garden of the Welsh Presbyterian Jerusalem Chapel, Bethesda

Date

27 September 2014
Location

Bethesda

SH 62443 66693; 53.17948°N, 4.05979°W

Information

This slate slab was placed in the garden of Jerusalem Chapel (Welsh Presbyterian Church) in Bethesda in 2000, the centenary of the start of the Great Strike, which commenced on 22 November 1900 and lasted for three years. The monument was erected by the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), with which the Quarrymen’s Union had merged in the 1950s, and which, in turn, later became part of the Unite union.

At the end of the 19th century, Penrhyn Quarry, owned by George Sholto Gordon Douglas-Pennant (1836 – 1907), 2nd Baron Penrhyn of Llandygai, was the largest slate quarry in the world and had a workforce of 2,800 men. When George Sholto assumed control of the quarry he set about reforming its management to maximise his profits and started by disbanding the elected quarrymen’s committee that had played a role in the administration of the quarry under his father’s ownership. Conditions at the quarry were dangerous and extremely harsh, and the rewards for the quarrymen meagre. Following a number of disputes, the North Wales Quarrymen’s Union was formed in 1874 and an 11-month strike in 1896 was unsuccessful in securing a minimum wage. In 1900, union activities at the quarry were banned which sparked a series of events that culminated in what was to become the longest industrial dispute in British history. All the workers withdrew their labour and the quarry was closed until June 1901 when only 242 men returned to work, joined by a number of new recruits. Despite the dire hardships, the strikers held out for three years before returning to the quarry after the General Federation of Trade Unions stopped paying strike pay to the men. During this period many had left the area in search of work elsewhere and the divisive effects of the conflict were to be felt by the community for generations to come.

What I Saw At Bethesda

The reformist newspaper The Daily News, which had been founded in 1846 by Charles Dickens, sent its Special Correspondent Charles Sheridan Jones (1876 – 1925) to Bethesda in order to cover the story of the strike. His articles for the paper provided first-hand accounts of the plight of the quarrymen and also the effects the dispute was having on the local community. A collection of these articles was published in 1903 in the book What I Saw At Bethesda. Jones also played a part in distributing money from the relief fund organised by the newspaper. To mark the centenary of the end of the strike, the book was republished in 2003 by Gomer Press with an interesting biographical introduction by J Elwyn Hughes. Hughes also illustrated the original text with contemporary images from the local area.

Further Reading

The Great Strike at Penrhyn Quarry, 1900-03 (Unite);
The Penrhyn Quarry Great Strike, 1900-1903 (Snowdonia National Park);
Jones, Charles Sheridan, What I Saw At Bethesda, R Brimley Johnson, London, 1903. (Republished with an introduction by J Elwyn Hughes, Gomer Press, Llandysul, 2003.);
Other posts about Penrhyn Quarry

 

T & G Cymru-Wales Streic Fawr Penrhyn 1900 - 1903 Great Strike Penrhyn Da ni yma o hyd - We are still here

T & G Cymru-Wales
Streic Fawr Penrhyn 1900 – 1903 Great Strike Penrhyn
Da ni yma o hyd – We are still here

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13 thoughts on “Great Strike Memorial, Bethesda

  1. It is impressive that they kept the labor strike in honorable manner. Looking at our present days with suitable working hours, wage with standardization, occupational safety, etc..we should not forget for what happened in the past when the workers unionized for better working condition..

    • This strike was a significant point in the history of the union movement. There are accounts of persecution of and violence against the strikers on the part of the authorities, and also of strike breakers being given accommodation outside of the village for their own safety. At one point also the Riot Act was read in Bethesda and troops were sent in.

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  3. I don’t suppose we should expect employers who also had their hands red with the slave trade to have any sympathy with “workers rights”… I love that Pennant was known as “the Improver” and planted thousands of trees all over the area, while blighting society with the working conditions of his local workforce.

    • The biography in the ‘Douglas Archives’ paints a rather different picture of George Sholto – ‘a benevolent landlord, a kind and considerate employer’ whose ‘determination was invincible’ and who ‘in spite of every pressure … insisted on being master of his own property’. Hmmm.

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