DISTRESS from UNEMPLOYMENT
During the first two hundred or so years of the iron and coal industry, labour was cheap and exploited, with very little or no formal financial safety net provided by Government Agencies. Economic turndowns which were caused by market forces or industrial action, further disadvantaged the poorly paid workforce and, it was as such times, that the generosity of fellow men was greatly relied upon.
During this period, large families were the “norm” this being due, in part, to the requirement to produce many wage-earners which had a disastrous counter effect during periods of distress and hardship.
The following synopsis, which has been based on Merthyr Express newspaper reports, depicts the situation as experienced in the Fochriw area between 1867 and 1933.
For details of the numerous strikes that affected Fochriw Colliery please click HERE
26 January 1867 Merthyr Soup Kitchen A notice in our advertising columns will inform our readers that the soup kitchen at St. David’s is open again, and not before it is needed. If any doubter will take the trouble to attend the distribution of soup, he or she will not long be content to keep the purse closed in aid of this most useful charity. The poor, the old, the feeble, the blind and the lame – a very regiment of Lazarenes - the lepers of our social life, crowd to these soup gatherings, and afford glimpses of human nature behind the scenes that cannot fail to rouse our keenest sympathies. Seen here in their own undisguised truthfulness, even the most stubborn heart would be aroused to pity. The donors to this charity are, at present, few; but the few have led off splendidly. We hope the town will come forward earnestly to give its aid in the same commendable spirit.
During the 1860’s, paupers were required by law to be registered with the Parish in which they lived, and in June 1867, the Parish of Gelligaer revised their Pauper’s List and, at Pontlottyn “All the paupers were examined, after which the Nuisance Committee met and examined the roads and the new streets. The committee found many of the cottages overcrowded and in a very filthy condition”.
During February 1878, a philanthropist, Mr Simpson from Liverpool, had provided tons of meat, peas, flour and rice, and a thousand pairs of clogs to Merthyr alone and much more to the surrounding districts, and, in an attempt to alleviate poverty invited miners to seek employment in the Lancashire coalfields where, he was confident, that at least a thousand could find ample employment.
At this time, destitute persons were placed in the Workhouse, and a report for Merthyr during April 1880 advised
The master of the Workhouse reported that eight had been admitted and thirteen discharged, none having been born or died. Therefore there remained 241 persons as against 210 last year at the same time. The Board had ordered 26 into the workhouse on the previous Saturday, but only two had come in during the week from that order.
Further distress in the coalfield occurred during 1912 and The Provision of Meals Act was passed by Parliament. A joint Canteen Committee for Fochriw, Pentwyn, Penybanc and Pantywaun was formed which reported that no real cases of hardship had been found in Fochriw, but on average 60 children a day at Pentwyn and Penybanc and a substantial number of children at Pantywaun were being fed.