Auctions | February 5, 2014

Churchill Memo on Tonypandy Riots for Sale at Bonhams

A signed memo by the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, about his handling of the Welsh miners’ strike in November 1910 is to be sold at Bonhams sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs in London on 19 March. It is estimated at £1,000-1,500.

The memo was sent to A. G. Gardiner the editor of The Daily News and scribbled in pencil on a note from the newspaper’s Cardiff correspondent stating that he has it on good authority that the Home Secretary [i.e. Churchill] "has sent an order to Pembroke Dock Arsenal to get ready several thousand rounds of ball ammunition for the use of the troops drafted into South Wales". In response, Churchill wrote: "My dear Gardiner,/ Give no credence to such rubbish. I do not anticipate any shooting & have taken some responsibility to that end—which Liberal newspapers should recognise/ Yours vy trly/ WS Churchill." Although the memo is not dated it is almost certain that it was written during the evening of 9 November.

At the time Churchill was facing his severest test as Home Secretary in Asquith’s Liberal government.  On 8th November 1910, a demonstration of striking Welsh miners in Tonypandy Square in Cardiff had been broken up by the local police using truncheons.  Although there were calls to send in the army, Churchill instead sent a detachment of Metropolitan Police and cavalry and let it be known that he was doing so in place of sending troops.  Despite this, the local magistrate requested military back up which was then sent and deployed to control riots on the evening of 9 November in Porth, in the Rhondda Valley.  Although there is no evidence that shots were fired at Tonypandy or elsewhere—and indeed Churchill’s actions may well have prevented the situation from getting worse—the quelling of the riots was seen within the Labour movement as unnecessarily harsh. 

The incident haunted Churchill for the rest of his career and ‘Tonypandy’ became short hand for what his critics saw as an anti trade union stance.  This reputation was compounded the following year during a dock and railway strike. Churchill, fearing food shortages, sent troops to several parts of the country with  instructions to open fire if army commanders thought fit and two rioters were killed during an incident at Llanelli.  

A.G. Gardiner was editor of The Daily News from 1902-1919. The newspaper was founded, and briefly edited, by Charles Dickens in 1846 to provide a voice for radical views and over the years it gave a platform to reformist writers such as G. K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. It campaigned for the introduction of old age pensions and supported the suffragettes. In 1930, it merged with the Daily Chronicle to form the News Chronicle which in 1960 was absorbed into the Daily Mail—strangely, given the differences in their political approach.