The 19th century saw many riots and worker’s uprisings in Wales, the most famous and widely known being the Merthyr Rising and the Rebecca Riots of South Wales. But, North Wales too saw more than its fair share of working class resistance, yet these events are not as widely known in Wales, let alone further afield.
2019 is the 150th anniversary of one such event, one that has been oft overlooked, even locally; the Mold Riots.
Mold (Yr Wyddgrug) is a border town in north east Wales, my home town in fact. In the 19th century there were many collieries in the areas surrounding Mold and Wrecsam. It was events at one of these collieries, Leeswood Green Colliery, which would see Mold erupt in to violence.
In 1863 the owners replaced the Welsh manager with a man named John Young from Durham. Young hated the Welsh and the Welsh language, and began bringing in colliers from England, whom he paid more than the local lads, and went on to ban the speaking of Welsh in the pits (despite the fact that 80% of the locals were Welsh speakers and many of them could barely speak English, if at all). Not only that, he repeatedly ignored their calls to address the safety of the pit following an accident in 1864, in which 8 people died (including a 10-year-old child) when one of the pits flooded.
Understandably, this led to high tensions between the miners and their boss. Their hatred for Young was no secret, but when he announced in May 1869 that their wages would be cut, they had had enough.
There were no unions to negotiate on their behalf, so they just walked out. On the day that the wage cut was due to be enforced, 200 workers came to meet Young at the colliery to try and negotiate against the pay cut but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
So, they bundled him into a coal cart, put a one-way train ticket to England in his pocket, and led him to the nearest train station in Hope. While this was going on, another group of miners sacked his home, packing up all his possessions and carrying them to the train station.
Unfortunately, while in the process of doing so they were spotted by a couple of police officers and they escorted Young safely back to Mold, where he would then claim that he had been beaten by the mob.
Despite the fact that there were no obvious injuries, the local magistrates (the majority of whom had financial interests within the local coal mining industry), found seven miners guilty, with the two “ring leaders” Ismael Jones and John Jones being sentenced to a month’s hard labour.
It would appear the local authorities knew this would cause outrage with the local population as they called in military reinforcement from across the border. This back-up came in the form of 50 soldiers from the 4th Regiment of the King’s Own, a Chester based infantry regiment with a reputation for brutality (even cited as “attack dogs of the British Empire”).
As the soldiers led Ismael and John Jones to the train station so they could be transported to the jail at Flint Castle, angry locals began hurling rocks from a newly laid road at the soldiers. They were forced to take cover in the local telegraph office.
As the crowd continued to throw stones at the building, one of the soldiers shot through a window, hitting one protestor. They carried on firing shots for 10 minutes, initially it is claimed above the heads of the crowd, but eventually firing volleys of shots indiscriminately at the protestors. 4 people were killed:
Margaret Younghusband, a 19-year-old domestic servant from Liverpool, who had only stepped out of the church she was cleaning to see what all the commotion was about. She was shot in the thigh, her femoral artery severed by the bullet causing her to bleed out.
Edward Bellis, a 21-year-old collier from Moss, who died from a gunshot wound to the stomach.
Elizabeth Jones, 50-year-old wife of local collier Isaac Jones (who would later be arrested), was shot in the back and died from her injuries two days later.
Robert Hannaby, a teenage collier who was shot in the head and killed instantly.
Many more were left wounded, including one man who had his finger blown off and others that had to have lead shot surgically removed from their bodies.
The inquest was nothing short of a cover up. Despite the Riot Act having not been read, the jury took 15 minutes to decide “The deceased met with their deaths through justifiable homicide, caused by the crowd making a reckless and outrageous attack upon Her Majesty’s soldiers with unlawful missiles.”
It didn’t end there though. A further court case saw 5 people, including Isaac Jones, husband of Elizabeth who was shot in the back and killed by the soldiers, sentenced to 10 years penal labour for their roles in the riot.
It was nothing less than a ruthless show of power by the state, one which would pretty much guarantee that the workers accepted their place, in Mold at least. The severe sentences meted out and the loss of the Mold Martyrs meant that the local population was now subdued, so much so that this brutal piece of our history is almost forgotten.
It is less than 10 years since I myself first discovered this event having taken place in my home town, and for the most part, my attempts to commemorate it have been futile. However, there is now a plaque in Mold in remembrance of those who lost their lives, and the local theatre are staging a production next month bringing the story to life 150 years later, and keeping the memory of the Mold Martyrs alive.
I hope also that it will reignite the spirit of resistance that has long since been extinguished, and that it will help strengthen the working class struggle of the 21st century.