Welsh nineteenth century anti-war politician Henry Richard

Henry Richard monument

By Rob Griffiths in Britain:

Henry Richard
by Gwyn Griffiths

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Few today know the name of Henry Richard, the Liberal MP for Merthyr and Aberdare from 1868 until 1888.

Yet at that time, he was celebrated across Europe by the likes of Alexis de Tocqueville and Victor Hugo as the “Apostle of Peace.”

During the rise of the British empire his principled religious pacifism drove him to oppose all wars, whether the destruction of the Ashanti civilisation of west Africa in the early 1870s or Britain’s participation in the Crimean and Balkan bloodbaths between Europe’s imperialist powers.

Nobody did more to expose the massacre of hundreds if not thousands of rebellious slaves in Jamaica in 1865 or to publicise Britain’s record of broken treaties and predatory wars in China and the Far East.

This often put him on the wrong side of ruling class and public opinion yet, as secretary of the British Peace Society, he remained fierce in his eloquent advocacy, combining passion with rational argument.

Now Gwyn Griffiths, former Morning Star radio correspondent, has added a thoroughly researched, partisan but judicious biography to those produced by Richard’s more starry-eyed admirers well over a century ago.

This new book, already due for a a reprint just three months after publication, is a feast of facts, observations and reflections, many from Richard’s own papers and diaries.

It may be too rich in detail for some. In the finest Welsh narrative tradition, Griffiths cannot resist a journey along the byways as well as the highways.

He recounts where his subject’s relatives, confederates and friends were born, to whom they were related and where they subsequently lived, worked or worshipped.

In the process he confirms that everyone in Wales shares at least one acquaintance or family member with everyone else.

It’s a Welsh thing but “foreign” readers should persevere.

They will be rewarded when coming to learn much more about the struggle against religious inequality, clerical education and landlordism.

They will also understand, like those in England who read Richard’s celebrated Letters And Essays On Wales in the original Morning Star newspaper in 1866, how and why Welsh patriotism developed in response to official scorn and neglect.

In league with former anti-Corn Law campaigners and radicals such as Richard Cobden and John Bright, Richard edited that first Morning Star for several years.

For a long time, notably while minister at the Marlborough Congregational Church on London’s Old Kent Road, Richard was a prominent figure in London Welsh and political circles and Londoners might find this aspect of the new biography of particular interest.

In the end, his and other efforts did not prevent or stop wars although their mass meetings, international conferences, publications and lobbying of politicians across Europe kept the embers of peace glowing.

He may even have helped keep Britain out of the second Crimean war between the Russian and Turkish Ottoman empires.

In 1873, Richard successfully proposed a House of Commons resolution in favour of settling international disputes through arbitration instead of war.

His victory inspired similar resolutions in legislatures in the US and across Europe.

An address to him from the International Working Men’s Association caused Richard to ponder the impact of war on the working class more deeply.

Richard resolutely opposed the armaments industry, large standing armies and imperialist conflict.

Yet he did not quite grasp that merely converting the more enlightened bourgeois politicians to peace would not eliminate capitalism’s drive to maximise profit – the driving force for expansion, domination and war.

Naively, he believed that free trade and international law would bring the European powers together in peaceful union.

Nonetheless, Griffiths makes a powerful case which, while recognising the limits of the time, secures Richard’s place as one of the pioneers of the peace movement in Britain.

4 thoughts on “Welsh nineteenth century anti-war politician Henry Richard

  1. Six to salute trade union martyr with Merthyr pilgrimage

    Thursday 01 August 2013

    by Luke James

    Five trade unionists and Welsh Assembly Member Bethan Jenkins will set off on a 70-mile walk today to commemorate working-class martyr Dic Penderyn.

    Penderyn was among hundreds of people who marched under the red flag to confront bosses over wage cuts at nearby mines during the famous Merthyr rising of 1831.

    The rising involved 7,000-10,000 workers, seeing the sacking of the local debtors’ prison and a siege of local employers at the Castle Hotel from June 1-7.

    Sixteen unarmed protesters were shot dead by soldiers protecting employers at the hotel and just one soldier suffered a non-fatal stab wound.

    Authorities subsequently framed Penderyn for the attack on Private Donald Black during one of the flash points of the rising and he was hanged in August of that year.

    The five campaigners have twice trekked over 200 miles from Cardiff to TUC demonstrations in London so they will take the pilgrimage from Merthyr to Penderyn’s grave in Aberavon in their stride.

    But teacher Steffan ap Dafydd said this walk is a hugely important act of remembrance because the rising won working people new rights that we still enjoy.

    “Without them, those of us who have worked would have no pensions, would have no vote, and would have no unemployment benefit,” he said.

    Plaid Cymru AM Ms Jenkins added that the spirit of the rising was also important to today’s politics.

    She said: “During a moment when wages are being suppressed, employment rights degraded and the poorest amongst us find themselves under daily attack, I think that we need to remember that democracy means that all power ultimately emanates from the will of ordinary people.”


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  4. Monday 27th March 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    By John Haylett

    WHO would turn their nose up at the opportunity to celebrate the armed uprising by Welsh working people in 1831 when the symbol of the red flag made its first appearance?

    Certainly not Lyn Williams who went along to the first relatively modest Merthyr Rising event in 2013 and was sufficiently impressed to want to become involved and is now one of the commemoration directors.

    “Merthyr Rising started as a one-venue, one-day event back in 2013, organised by Ian Jenkins, a passionate socialist who set up the event focused on enlightening people with debates on global and local issues,” Williams recalls.

    “It did OK and got a bit of traction that year. I went along, had a look at it and saw its potential as a festival.”

    Williams, who works in the creative industries and his friend Andy Griffiths, with a background in the arts thought that there was an opportunity to make Merthyr Rising a larger annual festival, building on its working-class socialist roots and working with the up-and-coming arts and music scene around the town.

    It was an idea whose time had come, with a lot happening politically and culturally in Merthyr.

    “Merthyr Rising has gone from strength to strength. It has developed from a one-venue, one-day one-off to a week-long event, utilising various venues, attracting thousands of people from all over the UK, some camping and others staying in local hotels and bed and breakfasts,” he says proudly.

    “There was a demand for it, with lots of discussion and online debates on a local basis, providing an echo chamber on left politics.

    “We just felt we needed to open that up and provide a physical platform.”

    The event directors felt it necessary to break through what they perceived as political apathy in working-class communities.

    “We thought that, if we blend the politics in with entertainment and the arts and dress it up a bit differently from what they see in mainstream politics on the TV, that might work. There’s a lot of resentment and resistance to mainstream politics.”

    While there are now events linked to the rising taking place over an entire week, the main focus will be the bank holiday weekend of Friday-Sunday May 26-28.

    The organisers like to hold the commemoration event as closely as possible to the week of the anniversary of the original Merthyr Rising.

    They have also drawn a parallel between discussions on key issues by thousands of workers at Waun Common above Dowlais on May 30 1831 and current controversies by giving discussion sessions the umbrella title of the Waun Common debates.

    “During the original Waun Common debates back in 1831, workers met up to discuss key issues at the workplace and these became a catalyst to the rising,” says Williams.

    This year’s event will begin with an address on Friday afternoon by Cuban ambassador Teresita Vicente Sotolongo, followed by a debate involving the children of Merthyr, giving them a platform to raise issues they are concerned with to a local AM and local MP.

    Negotiations are still ongoing for actor Michael Sheen to give the opening speech at the event’s formal launch, dependent on his busy schedule, and this section will also feature public service union Unison assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie.

    Unison has been a consistent supporter of the Merthyr Rising commemoration. Saturday morning’s session, which will be televised by RT, will feature Ross Ashcroft, who used to run the online YouTube channel The Renegade Communist.

    He’ll be followed by Professor Steve Keen, an unorthodox and provocative economist, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray and Raul Martinez to discuss an alternative approach to economics.

    Fake news comes under the microscope in a debate led by Mike Berry from Cardiff University School of Journalism.

    Peter Stefanovic will lead on a discussion of financial scandals that have affected miners’ pensions before music from David Rovics, who is no stranger to Morning Star audiences, and comedy from Francesca Martinez.

    Sunday morning sees trade unionists march through the town before a rally hosted by Merthyr TUC at which Morning Star editor Ben Chacko will speak alongside Barbara Jackson of Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign, Wayne Thomas of the Wales area of National Union of Mineworkers and National Assembly of Women president Anita Wright.

    Other Sunday afternoon debates still in the process of finalisation will feature former SAS soldier Ben Griffin, Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German and Rock Against Racism founder Roger Huddle.

    A discussion on the Russian Revolution will have contributions by John Rees of Counterfire and Communist Party general secretary Rob Griffiths. “Rob will be a great addition to that debate,” says Williams, “so it’s a case of enjoying yourself and learning something at the same time. A good mixture, I’d say.”

    While these discussions are taking place, there is non-stop live music in Penderyn Square, headlined by The Alabama 3 and The Stereo MCs and an absolute plethora of young talent.

    There will also be a radical film festival, children’s entertainment, art exhibitions and history talks and tours. The Morning Star is proud to be the media partner for Merthyr Rising 2017.

    A ticket for the entire weekend costs £20 or £12.50 a day. Further details on the Merthyr Rising Facebook page: mstar.link/merthyr-2017

    What was the Merthyr Rising?

    THE 1831 Merthyr Rising was caused by a combination of factors, most particularly the refusal of the ironmasters and the parliamentary elite, elected by a narrow franchise, to treat working people as human beings.

    Welsh workers, like their comrades across Britain, were treated as pawns by the masters, laid off without compensation when trade was depressed and forced to accept pay cuts when in work despite steep price rises.

    Poverty led to many people having their property seized to meet debt and being driven from their homes, giving impetus to demands for parliamentary reform.

    Establishment indifference led to mass resistance that in the first instance overwhelmed the power of troops and militia sent to disperse the protesters, leaving Merthyr in the hands of the people.

    Workers’ representatives met the High Sheriff of Glamorgan, flanked by his ironmaster allies, demanding an end to the Court of Requests, which gave bailiffs the power to seize property to cover debts, higher wages, reduced costs for items necessary for work and immediate parliamentary reform.

    The high sheriff’s response was to unleash troops and yeomanry to drown the people’s demands in blood. Dozens of protesters were killed while a number of soldiers were wounded.

    Retribution followed the restoration of order, with long prison sentences and transportation orders. Lewis Lewis and Richard Lewis, known also as Dic Penderyn, were tried for attempted murder of Scottish soldier Donald Black.

    The former, who was prominent in the rising, had his death sentence commuted to transportation by home secretary Lord Melbourne, but Penderyn was hanged in Cardiff’s St Mary’s Street on August 13 1831.

    Unquestionably innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, his last words were: “O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd” (Oh, Lord, what an injustice).

    He is immortalised in central Merthyr’s Penderyn Square, which is now a major music venue and is overlooked by Y Dic Penderyn pub.

    Merthyr’s radical tradition continued down the years, electing Labour Party socialist republican Keir Hardie MP for Merthyr Tydfil & Aberdare in 1900 and retaining him until his death in 1915.

    Fellow miner and class warrior SO Davies was elected to represent Merthyr in 1934, holding it for Labour until 1970 when he was deselected, stood as an independent and romped home, dying two years later.



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