Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University
Provider: South Wales Miners' Library
Interview of Stanfield, Claude by Morgan, Alun on 1st November 1972.
The interview forms part of Swansea University’s South Wales Miners’ Library collection.
1 audio file (13 min.)
Stanfield, Claude: But those were the general conditions that prevailed then in the period before the first World War. When the old stone floors there, you had no mats at all you just had sand on the floor and practically all miners. Because when I, before the first World War, 1914, in this Plymouth Ward alone there were seven pits working then. This does not include of course the levels and the other drifts that prevailed in the ward, so everybody really were miners in those days.
Stanfield, Claude: And me and my three brothers of course were miners like all the other families that existed. And I started work then in 1918 in Castle pit and, indeed, in those days there was plenty of work because of the demand for coal. Our ships then were being fired by coal, by the best steam coal, and therefore when there is a war there is plenty of employment because of course youâ€™ve got a mass of the young people actually in the fighting lines.
Stanfield, Claude: And I can remember the four of us when we used to come home from work, we used to have a very big fire because of course we used to get about ten loads of coal a year, thatâ€™s housecoal as part of the wages. And we all used to wash in tubs and the four of us would wash of course, half ways you see, then after that of course we would all go in turns to wash the bottom half, and thatâ€™s the way we ordinary miners home in the early periods of 1918 used to exist. There was no baths, most houses in those days had no baths at all, in fact if there was a bath in the house they were regarded as the upper classes in the area. And that was the kind of facilities that prevailed in the homes of the miners in those days as I said, with sand on the floor. And I can remember my mother then in those days, when the old clothes that we used to work for to the mines were worn out, we used to then wash the old rags out clean, and we used to cut them in small bits and weâ€™d have a sack either from the old potatoes or flour, and we would, my mother then would be pegging these strips to make even a little bit of a mat for the floor.
Stanfield, Claude: And as I said there was full work then, and then later on of course some of the soldiers were returning from the war, full of enthusiasm believing of course that they were coming back for something that they felt that they had fought for, and would be shall I say, have homes and conditions fit to live in. And there was no doubt about it at that time from 1918 to 1921 when these men returned, that conditions really in the mines, as far as wages were concerned, was fairly reasonable indeed. Because I remember as a boy, when I was sixteen years of age, I came into the war wage and the Sankey wage and I used to get three pounds eighteen for six shifts per week, which in those days of course was regarded as fairly reasonable money. Now this work continued of course until 1921, when we had what I would call a lock-out.
Morgan, Alun: What was the background to that?
Stanfield, Claude: Well the background of that was, of course, they posted notices up on the pit head telling you that the pits could not be maintained unless we accepted a tremendous drop in wages. In fact half of the minimum wage. The minimum wage in those days was about six guineas for the underground worker, and the conditions they were offering us was about three guineas per week. It was the idea then of course, of taking it or leave it. Because the mines then had been handed back by the government, of course, to the old coalowners. Well, obviously, the men were not prepared to accept that, and these men who had come back of course from the war started to see the disillusionment, because it wasnâ€™t the great conditions that they were supposed to have fought for during the four years of war. It was now indeed an attack upon their standards of life, and a possibility of even being put out of work. But during that strike of course, the men of course were driven back on half wages, and I can remember during the period the spirit of the miners in this area, indeed was of a very very high character in that fight.
Stanfield, Claude: I can remember A.J. Cook and all other leaders coming to the village trying to stimulate the workers to continue the fight, and the old soup kitchens was open. Well, chapel vestries were loaned by the chapel deacons and so on, where men who needed some at least food were given soup, as a result of money that was collected from people going marching and bands and all kinds of activities where money could be recruited to have these soup kitchens.
Stanfield, Claude: In fact I can remember as well too in the Troedyrhiw Infantsâ€™ School, where many men volunteered then to repair childrenâ€™s shoes because there was no money for shoes for the children, and they just had leather provided by these kinds of activities, and the result is of course that they repaired the childrenâ€™s school shoes to try to keep things going.
Stanfield, Claude: Well, of course, the real cause of this collapse was, in the Steam Coal Union of South Wales, it was quite different of course in the anthracite, because the economic position as far as the anthracite coal was concerned was fairly reasonable. Most of their trouble would accrue when the River Lawrence in Canada was frozen and the ships could not navigate that particular river. But in South Wales the steam coal area actually collapsed when over fifty per cent of the mines closed. This was as a result of a number of factors. One of the big factors, of course, was the Reparation Scheme which was one of the settlements of the 14-18 war, where the German mines that had now recovered from the devastation of this war, had re-established themselves, and of course they had to provide coal under this reparation agreement to France because they lost the war. And this of course had a tremendous effect upon the South Wales coalfield.
Stanfield, Claude: And I can remember very, very well of course the period of short time, two days work a week. And we used to walk from this village of Troedyrhiw then, which is three miles to three and a half miles from Merthyr Tydfil, where we would have to go and sign on the labour exchange there, sign on, on a particular day and on the Thursday or Friday we would go up to get some little money that was due to us.
Morgan, Alun: Can you remember how much you used to get then at that time?
Stanfield, Claude: Well it was in the region I would say of about fifteen shillings per week that was, and we had to walk then, three miles one way and three miles back twice a week, that would be twelve miles we had to walk to get that small recompense. That would be fifteen shilling mark you for a full week, unemployment pay.
Morgan, Alun: You started to become involved politically about this time, could you give the background to this?
Stanfield, Claude: Yes. Well now you see, as a young man I can say that I had no impact politically in my home. My mother and father hardly worried much about politics at all, and in those early days before the First World War they would be regarded as Lib-Labs I suppose, and no more than that.
Stanfield, Claude: But there was one brother of mine during the 14-18 war, who was interested in politics and I used to go with him on a Sunday afternoon, up to the old rink in Merthyr Tydfil during the 14-18 war, where we had men coming there like Bruce Glasier, and in the early part Keir Hardy, and all these great anti-war people, and the Rink in Merthyr Tydfil then used to be packed out. Now no doubt that had some influence on me, but really speaking from my mother and father I would say there would be no influence politically, but there would be that feeling as far as my connection with my brother in relation to the period of us going up to Merthyr Tydfil from Troedyrhiw on a Sunday afternoon to these great anti-war meetings. Bruce Glasier and you can go on mentioning a number of great old socialists in those days. And also Bernard Shaw and all those type of people. That, plus, I had a feeling then, well there must be something wrong with this society, when this country had sacrificed nearly five million people on the battlefield, fighting for what they thought was homes fit for heroes to live in, but it would appear now that they felt they wanted the hero really to live in some of the homes. And this to me had an impact, I thought there was something wrong with a society that promised so much to the workers during the war, but gave them so little indeed during the peacetime. And therefore I looked around and I thought well, what movement is there that can make a contribution perhaps to changing society as we knew it. And I found out the I.L.P., because the I.L.P., I joined the I.L.P. in 1921, but of course they were a tremendous active movement because most of the I.L.P. in the 14-18 war were opposed to the war, and largely pacifists. Many of them were conscientious objectors and went to jail, and we saw even in this village, when soldiers were being demobbed and the C.O.â€™s were coming home from prison, great clashes between the soldiers or the ex-servicemen and the I.L.P. So the I.L.P were very, very active, and I joined the I.L.P. in 1921, because of the fact of course, I realised fundamentally there was something wrong with society. And during that period from 1918 to about 1922-23 we had a great influx into the I.L.P. of many religious and prominent people who gave in my opinion an extra fillip to the great moral and educational basis of the I.L.P. Because the I.L.P. in those days was regarded as the student movement in the political field for the Labour Party. And if you was a student in politics in those days, you would always be regarded of course as a member of the I.L.P.
Stanfield, Claude: Well now then, during that period then that followed, when I started to take this active political interest, as I said, a lot of short term prevailed, one or two days in the week or perhaps even two days in the fortnight, and that was followed of course with unemployment. But as I said thereâ€™s a great spirit in this village, you know, where we were attempting to keep people together. We had, I can remember, we had five football teams, we had dramas, movements for dramas in every chapel and organisations, in fact Troedyrhiw I.L.P. in those days had a drama that was putting over political plays. And we used to go around the valleys of South Wales, using this drama as two things, as a means of political socialist education, and also training many of the young people in the I.L.P. to become propagandists, so they'd be able to speak off public platforms.