Uprising gets red-carpet treatment: Welsh celebration marks 1831 revolt claimed as origin of the flag of socialism

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LABOUR MPs and Welsh Lord Mayors are to lead celebrations in Cardiff on Saturday of what they claim is the first use of the red flag 'as a symbol of the common people's cause'.

A ceremony in the central market place will recall the hanging at the county gaol of Dic Penderyn - Richard Lewis to the English - a man from Aberavon caught up in the Merthyr Rising of 1831, along with the first use of the red flag in Britain. It is intended to be the first of an annual event.

The rising in Merthyr Tydfil, a mass of ironworks which was then Wales's largest town, followed attempts, three years ahead of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, to form trade unions there.

Gwyn Williams, Emeritus Professor of History at Cardiff, who has written a book on the uprising, says the trade union element was soon swamped in the more general revolutionary ferment that led to the 1832 Reform Act as the Merthyr uprising turned into 'a natural justice riot'. The yeomanry were ambushed and the town taken over for five days. In the course of the uprising, 'the miners are said to have sacrificed a calf, washed a sheet in its blood and had a girl carry it round the town as a flag to stir up revolt', he said.

The event can be seen as 'an origin of the red flag - it was the first time an unadorned red flag was used in Britain', although not necesarily the origin of it, he added.

Trish Newland, librarian of the Marx Memorial Library, believes the red flag has no single origin: 'It is a bit like the hammer and sickle, lots of people were using it in various ways as a symbol of revolution or workers' rights.'

No such doubts, however, afflict those organising tomorrow's event. Rhodri Morgan, a Labour front bench spokesman on Welsh affairs, said: 'The Merthyr rising was at least as important as the Tolpuddle Martyrs to today's Labour movement, but the event has been marginalised because it was in Wales. The red flag should be stamped 'Made in Wales' and the fact that people are saying it is of diminishing importance and may disappear altogether makes its commemoration all the more important.'