Activities outside Parliament

The South Wales Miners' Library, thirty-three years on - 'An Educational Citadel' and more.

November 2006

Comrades and friends,

I am very pleased to be here today to preside over this special event, the re-opening of the South Wales Miners Library on its 33rd anniversary, to welcome so many old friends and one in particular, Tyrone O'Sullivan who was a student of our first NUM residential course in 1975 and who will perform the re-opening ceremony.

I cannot think of a more appropriate person to do this. Tyrone is a product of the Library and has played a big part in our collective history in South Wales in the past three decades.

Thirty-three years ago exactly to the day, the late Professor Glanmor Williams, on the occasion of the opening of this Library, described its creation as invoking the spirit of 'the people's university'. – 'prifysgol y werin'. And as if to ensure the historic significance of that special event we did it on exactly the date, 75 years on, of the creation of the South Wales Miners' Federation in 1898.

We are here today to reflect on that legacy – what the late Will Paynter characterised on its tenth anniversary in 1983 as 'an educational citadel', by which he meant that it was a place where the history of the valleys' communities had been preserved and protected for the sake of future generations and it was to have a contemporary purpose.

What has been special indeed unique about the South Wales Miners' Library?

Firstly, it emerged out of the remnants of those unique and remarkable proletarian institutions, the miners' institutes and their libraries. The SSRC and the ESRC projects in 1971-74 and 1979-82 on which I worked with Merfyn Jones now Vice Chancellor of Bangor; Alun Morgan, now an HMI, David Egan, now Professor at UWIC and special advisor to the Welsh Assembly Government; Dr Kim Howells, now Minister of State at the Foreign Office; and Dai Smith, now the Raymond Williams Professor of Cultural History here at Swansea all collected a wide range of oral, videos, manuscripts and printed material as well as …..and other ephemera. But what made the collection unique in the world was the preservation of the libraries – what Dai Smith called 'the brains of the South Wales coalfield'. Tredegar's library had 23,676 books, took Pravda and The New York Herald Tribune but not the Western Mail, had a library for the blind, a picture library and a cabinet minister, Aneurin Bevan on its library committee.

Secondly, its creation represented a unique and enduring partnership between a university and a trade union and the wider valley community – Swansea University and the South Wales Area of the National Union of Mineworkers.

And that partnership and co-operation meant the development of a new educational programme for trade unionists and their families located art the Library and in valley communities which transformed itself after the momentous strike of 1984-85 into women's training programmes, community access programmes and ultimately the Community University of the Valleys.

Three students from these programmes are my former students, and thankfully still my friends, Tyrone O'Sullivan, my successor at DACE, Professor Colin Trotman and the new Labour MP for Swansea East, Sian James.

Thirdly, the Library includes the books of auto-didactics and organic intellectuals the MPs DJ Williams, Ness Edwards, George dagger, S O Davies; miners leaders like Will Paynter, the writer Gwyn Thomas and teachers like Brinley Griffiths whose library began it all.

Brinley was a conscientious objector in the First World War, Tillie his wife was a Suffragist. They had left their library to the South Wales Miners' Federation. Brinley was a major figure in the Independent Labour Party in Wales. Their home was visited by James Maxton, Professor CEM Joad, Sylvia Pankhurst and most famously the revolutionary writer CLR James who we believe completed his Black Jacobins in their library in the late 1930s.

Brinley was a director of the Briton Ferry and District Co-operative Society at the very time that the young Richard Jenkins - later Richard Burton - was starting his working life at Taibach Co-operative Society. It is thoroughly appropriate that the Co-operative Movement is so well represented here today in acknowledgement of its enduring legacy.

We begin the new millennium as South Wales re-invents itself economically and culturally: this University and its community partners through the Richard Burton Centre within which the Miners' Library will be located will play its full part in that transformation.

We should pause and reflect on the vitality and the vision of the people, their organisations and their communities which made all this possible.

This place is indeed an educational citadel. Through scholarship, through co-operation and through the Richard Burton Centre it can be - as all places of learning must be – a transformative experience for all those who are associated with it.

The South Wales Miners' Library is part of our history and it has made a significant contribution to that history. And Sian Williams, its librarian, our librarian, has done a remarkable job in making this all possible.

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