Sunday 4 March 2018

After 1831 - The Scotch Cattle by Alan Jones : Edward Morgan of Scotch Cattle executed 6th April 1835

The working class movement was not defeated in 1831 it did exactly what working class movements that suffer setbacks have done ever since 1831 it went underground.

The Scotch Cattle is an example of an underground working class movement that existed prior to 1831 and existed for many decades after underground.

The origins of the Scotch Cattle' name have been lost, but several possible interpretations have been offered. Some of the disguises worn by Scotch Cattle were actual cowskins, and this alone may have provided the name.

Alternatively, it may have been meant to evoke the fierceness of certain breeds of actual Scottish cattle, such as Highland Cattle, or may have referred ironically to a herd of Scottish cattle owned by a local mine-owner in the early 19th century.

However the 'Scotch Cattle' first appeared in the early 1820's in Gwent Valleys.

The movement was formed by discontented workers mainly from the coal mines of the Gwent valleys.

Their aims were to improve the pay and working conditions of the local workers but their tactics were for direct action against any person or group who opposed their working class cause.

They existed as a secret society with its members swearing allegiance under pain of death to the Scotch Cattle.

Each Valley town and village had its own group and a leader was elected, usually a person respected and feared for his physical strength, known as the 'Bull' or in Welsh 'Tarw' 

Their meetings were always clandestine, being held at dark in secret locations usually on hillsides.

Victims were usually workers who had 'blacklegged' or refused to join strike action or workers who were prepared to work for less money or informers.

 A warning would be issued to offenders - failure to comply would invoke drastic consequences.

Retribution was swift - offenders were 'scotched' which involved a visit by the Cattle, faces blackened and dressed in animal skins with the 'Tarw' wearing a headdress bearing a bull's horns.

Normally, the punishment would be undertaken by a herd from another area to avoid recognition by local residents.

The Cattle's code, however, dictated that any foodstuffs found in the household would always be left intact.

Company property was also targeted, with Truck shops and other buildings ransacked and burned down.

Despite attempts by the authorities to penetrate the movement and bring the ring leaders to book, their activities continued for nearly 40 years mainly due to the extreme secrecy of their organisation and the reluctance of the general population to speak against their actions.

The movement was wrongly said to have died out after 1835 when one of their members, Edward Morgan a coal miner, was framed for attempted murder and hanged at Monmouth Jail on 6th April 1835.

Edward Morgan should be has famous in Wales as Dic Penderyn and Lewis Lewis but has largely been written out of history.

Our task at the Great Unrest Group/Yr Aflonywddch Mawr is to bring him back and get him recognition has leader of the Scotch Cattle's fight for social justice expressed in those days as natural justice.

There is evidence that the Scotch Cattle continued well into the 1850's in the Aberdare area.

Aberdare as much as Hirwaun and Merthyr was a revolutionary 'storm centre' during the 1831 Merthyr Rising,

The Scotch Cattle Revolt in Aberdare in both 1834 and 1850 both are hardly mentioned in the more popularly known historical references to the Scotch Cattle of Gwent.

It appears that representatives of the Aberdare Gadlys works attended a meeting at Rhymney on 13 June 1834, this was a genuine attempt at 'Unionism' and solidarity in struggle against the Coal Owners.

However, it is obvious that there had also been meetings with the Gwent 'Tarw Scotch' as well.

That Summer into the Autumn there was some limited Scotch Cattle activity in the Aberdare and Hirwaun area, this was also very much a post script to the 1831 revolt which Gethin ap Gruffydd has rightly called the 'Heads of the Valleys' Insurrection.

During the following years matters became quiet until the years 1842 - 43 when Coal Miners of Tredegar went on strike and those of Aberdare came out in sympathy.

However, the strike failed largely due to lack of unity with other pits who insisted on their own 'autonomy' in right to negotiate and make deals with the Mine Owners.

In the years that followed after another strike failure at the Powell Pit at Cwmbach the idea of 'Unionism' began to take root and by 1849 a primitive Union had been set up and worked stopped at the Gadlys Pit in an attempt by the colliers to secure certain rights regards employment.

As in 1831 in 1849 there was an huge gathering of 7.000 people on Hirwaun Common and the authorities no doubt very mindful of 1831 began to draft into the area police and troops.

As the strike continued bitterness began to rise amongst the workers and people of the area, not least against black- legs.

Matters were to turn more serious as the Scotch Cattle rose up again and this time more violently, a black-leg was fatally wounded when a black powder bomb was thrown through a window into his bed room.

Further, two black-legs were shot at.

Funerals of other black-legs were unceremoniously disturbed with 'Rough Music' in demonstrations of anger by Colliers and their families.

An unusual incident during this strike was the 'excommunication' of a black-leg from his local chapel for his refusal to go on strike.

At the time it was usual for the Non - Conformist Chapels to oppose strikes, Unionism and 'Secret Oaths'.

The strike failed and the area settled down and the outbreak of the Crimean War brought prosperity to the valleys and of course with it a rise in British Patriotism and a rush to the colours.

However, it was not until the 1870s that trade unionism established itself widely across the developing South Wales coalfield.

Then, the Lancashire-based, Amalgamated Association of Miners built up a membership of 42,000 miners in South Wales.

In two long and bitter disputes in 1871 and 1875, however, the A.A.M. was defeated. The defeat was partly due to the continuing hostility of Coal owners to trade unions-'blackleg' labour that was imported into the coalfield to replace strikers.

Lessons for Today : The Scotch Cattle from 1820's to 1850's were a clandestine working class underground organisation that unlike the Chartists which included the middle classes was not penetrated by police agents.

The Scotch Cattle took infiltration seriously and it was well known that there would be serious consequences for any informers, hence their ability to survive for nearly 40 years in the Valleys of Gwent despite attempts to penetrate them by the British State.

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