1831: the Merthyr Rising and Dic Penderyn

An account of an brief uprising in South Wales in 1831 and the fate of Richard Lewis, known as Dic Penderyn. The uprising was the largest outbreak of working class resistance in Britain during industrialisation and was the first time the Red Flag was used as a symbol of rebellion.

Submitted by Reddebrek on March 31, 2015

Starting as a popular rebellion against unjust and often deplorable working and living conditions, the Merthyr rising quickly grew into an armed insurrection. It has been described by one historian as "the most ferocious and bloody event in the history of industrialized Britain." (Davies, 366). The -great depression of 1829 led to massive unemployment and wage cuts leading to substantial debts among the working population. At Merthyr, where iron master William Crawshay had lowered wages, there was a crisis among the shopkeepers and tradesmen, and the Debtor's Court (the Court of Requests) was responsible for a widespread confiscation of property. A demonstration led by Thomas Llewelyn, a Cyfartha miner, demanded compensation; the mob freed the prisoners in the local goal and marched on to Aberdare. At the same time, at Hirwaun, a few miles away, when the Court seized a truck belonging to Lewis Lewis, miners and iron workers joined the political radicals and disgruntled tradesmen and raised the red flag

of rebellion, the first time it was to be so used in Britain. On its staff was impaled a loaf of bread, the symbol of the needs of the marchers. It had a magical effect.

The crowd, growing ever larger, and probably emboldened by drink (for beer was both plentiful and cheap and far safer to drink than water), marched on Merthyr, raided shops and houses to seize property and goods earlier confiscated, and to restore them to their owners. A troop of Scots Highlanders was sent from Brecon Barracks to restore order, and when the large crowds of rioters appeared outside the Castle Inn, they opened fire. In the resulting panic and mass confusion, over two dozen workers were killed and hundreds wounded, but the soldiers lost 16 men and were forced into retreat. A detachment of Swansea Yeomanry came to restore order the following day, but the workers, described by "The Cambrian" as "thousands of men and women and a body of Irishmen carrying clubs" had set up camp near Cefn Coed, where they ambushed and disarmed the military reinforcements.

It took a week for the forces of the Crown to finally bring order to the area. Punishment was severe: Lewis Lewis, after first receiving the death sentence, was exiled for life and Richard Lewis, known as Dic Penderyn, was executed on a charge of wounding a highlander. On 31 July, 1831, he was hanged in Cardiff Gaol, despite the appeal of many thousands of people for his life. Forty years later, leuan Parker of Cwmafan, a Welshman living in the United States confessed to the charge. Lewis thus became a martyr of the Welsh working class. A popular ballad of the time ran:

I saw the Merthyr riots, And the great oppression of the workers; And some of the soldiers wounded... But dear heaven! the worst trick Was the hanging of Die Penderyn.

It is recorded that the last words spoken by Richard Lewis on the scaffold were "O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd" (Oh Lord, what an injustice).

The martyrdom of Richard Lewis is .well remembered in Wales, but in England there seems to have been general indifference, as pointed out by an entry in the diary of a Mrs. Arbuthnot in June, 1831:

There has been a great riot in Wales and
the soldiers have killed twenty-four
people. When two or three were killed at
Manchester, it was called the Peterloo
Massacre and the newspapers for weeks
wrote it up as the most outrageous and
wicked proceeding ever heard of. But that
was in Tory times; now this Welsh riot is
scarcely mentioned.

In Parliament, Lord Melbourne, who had advocated severe repression of all popular workers' movements as "unlawful assemblages of armed individuals," declared that South Wales was "the worst and most formidable district in the kingdom." He wrote to a friend that "The affair we had there in 1831 was the most like a fight of anything that took place."


Dic Penderyn

Dic, Dic, Oh, Dic Penderyn An innocent man died while hanging. A young man of twenty-three His spirit should now be free. A murder that cost him his life in 1831, a pardon now and history is done.

Ciara Devoy Age 8

Ysgol Santes Tudful

Dic Penderyn

Dic Penderyn will be honoured this year For sacrificing his life, He stood for his rights as a working man where poor conditions were rife. There were protests and riots and many affrays to make people pay some attention To the plea of the men from the ironworks and this was their only intention. But, the sad story is - as the riots took place That an innocent man was attacked, And Dic Penderyn was blamed for this assault On the victim called Donald Black. It came to pass W years on, that he was cleared of the tragic bloodshed by the confession of leuan Parker - A man who was lying on his deathbed.

Rachel Mehegan Age 9

Ysgol Santes Tudful

Dic Penderyn Why did he die?

Because he injured Donald Black

But he did not injure Donald Black

Why did he die? Why did he die?

He did not injure Donald Black

But leuan Parker did

Why did he die? Why did he die?

He pleaded guilty

And was executed for a crime

He did not commit

Why did he die?

Rhys Jones Age 9
Ysgol Santes Tudful

Dic Penderyn

Rebel o Aberafcm oedd Die Penderyn, A gafodd fywyd caled Aeth i Ferthyr er mwyn cael gwaith A hefyd i lenwi ei waled!

Gweithiwr yn y gweithfeydd haearn oedd Die Ond aeth ar streic un diwrnod, Doedd neb yn hapus gyda'r amodau gwaith, Ac nid oedd pawb mewn undod.

Mewn amser fe aeth y gweithwyr Yn erbyn y rheolwyr yn llu, Anafwyd un o'r enw Donald Black A oedd yn filwr o fri.

Die gafodd y bai o'i anafu A chrogwyd yntau yng Nghaerdydd, Flynyddoedd wedyn cyfaddefodd leuan Parker Ond i Die roedd hi'n rhy hwyr yn y dydd.

Dewi Emlyn Griffiths Oedran 8

Ysgol Santes Tudful

I am Richard Lewis - Dic Penderyn

They are going to hang me. They said I wounded a soldier in the Uprising -

I didn't do it, God.

Oh yes, I joined the demonstration of the Radicals, I was in favour of Parliamentary Reform,

I helped them burn the books Of the Court of Requests - and Joseph Coffin's furniture;

I marched from home to home

Retrieving goods seized by the Court,

I heard them read the Riot Act

In English and in Welsh;

I stood with the crowd at the Castle Inn,

I shouted, Cheese with bread! with the rest,

I saw the crowd attack,

The blood - the dead - the dying,

But I didn't join in the fight -

Wound a soldier?

I didn't do it, God,

I only cheered.

The injured soldier, Donald Black, Said he saw me raise my hat and cheer

But not cause harm to anyone. But Lord Melbourne refused to grant reprieve.

I am to leave my cell in Cardiff gaol On August 13th, 1831, to die on the gallows.

You know all things, God,

You know my innocence -but -

They won't believe my cry -

I didn't do it, God -O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd –

O Lord, what an iniquity!

Gwyneth E Evans

Hampton Street, Twynyrodyn.

Taken from http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/Dic_Penderyn.htm