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Leisure, Culture, Sport

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The Eisteddfod has its roots deep in Welsh history. The National Eisteddfod dates back to 1176, when it was first held by Lord Rhys at his castle in Cardigan. Musicians and bands, choirs, poets, artists and writers compete against each other, with a chair at the Lord’s table being awarded to the best poet and musician.

The Miners’ Eisteddfod was begun in 1948 in Porthcawl and was still held there every October until 2002. The annual Eisteddfod stimulated a range of cultural activities at a time when the decline of the coal industry threatened the existence of so many mining communities in South Wales.

Miners’ Gala 

Unlike other British coalfields, there is not a long tradition of holding galas in South Wales. In fact the first gala was held in June 1953 in Cardiff. The galas became very important social and political gathering for the miners. In the early days, the galas were very political occasions with speakers such as Aneurin Bevan. In the 1970s and 1980s, the galas became more social events, with brass bands, folk dancing and art and craft exhibitions.

The establishment of the miners’ gala saw the advent of miners banners in South Wales. With a few exceptions, most of the miners banners in South Wales date from the mid 1950s. The banners display a remarkable degree of uniformity of political outlook with such slogans as ‘Workers of the World Unite for Socialism’ (Abercrave); ‘International Friendship: Policy: leadership: Unity’ (Seven Sisters); ‘The World is our Country Mankind are our Brethren’ (Markham); ‘For Solidarity of All Miners’ (Blaengwrach); ‘Onward to Socialism and the Liberation of Mankind’ (Cambrian). The slogans and images which appear on the banners of the South Wales miners reveal a strong commitment to world peace, racial equality, the brotherhood of man, and international working class solidarity – everything that the miners’ gala stood for.


The people living in the South Wales Coalfield, as in other industrialised areas of Britain, were very keen on organised sport. This ranged from boxing to handball and running. South Wales produced a number of boxing champions, including Freddie Welsh of Pontypridd, who became World Lightweight Champion in 1914 and Jimmy Wilde of Tylorstown, who became World Flyweight Champion in 1916.

By the 1890s, Rugby was one of the most popular sports in the Coalfield, with many rugby clubs being founded. A number of Welsh internationals were miners and were famed for being 'strong and robust'.

With the influx of North Walians and Englishmen into the South Wales Coalfield, soccer gained in popularity in the valleys and by the 1920s, in many valleys communities, soccer was more popular than rugby with thousands travelling by train each week to watch Cardiff City, Swansea City and Newport Town play in the Football League.



Colls, Robert. The Collier`s rant: song and culture in the industrial village. (London, 1977).

Edwards, Hywel Teifi. The Eisteddfod. (University of Wales Press, 1990).

Johnes, Martin. Soccer and Society: South Wales, 1900-1939. (University of Wales Press, 2002).

Smith, Dai. Fields of praise: the official history of the Welsh Rugby Union 1881-1981. (Cardiff, 1980)

Williams, Gareth. 1905 and all that: essays on rugby football, sport and Welsh society. (Gomer, 1991).

Williams, Gareth. Valleys of Song: music and society in Wales 1840-1914. (Cardiff, 1998).

Wilson, Arthur. Mining lays, tales and folk-lore. (Perth, 1916) 

All items listed in the further reading are available for consultation in either the South Wales Miners’ Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea. Click here to link to the library catalogue. 



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