Mold has several plaques which make reference to the riot which took place on 2nd June, 1869. There is a blue plaque by the corner of Tyddyn Street and another one on the wall of the Old Court House which is said to bear the marks of shots fired on the crowd during the incident. There is also an interesting piece of ceramic artwork on the external wall of the Grosvenor Hall. This depicts a landscape of Mold but also shows members of an angry crowd engaged in the riot itself.
However, none of these plaques actually remember the four people who lost their lives when troops opened fire on the crowd. Members of the Tyddyn Street United Church History Group have now addressed this issue. A new memorial board, which is the product of their research, was recently unveiled by Ted Mackay, former Miners Agent for North Wales and Director of the North Wales Miners’ Association Trust.
The board gives specific details of those who lost their lives:
Edward Bellis, aged 22, a blacksmith and collier from Treuddyn;
Elizabeth Jones, a fifty year old woman;
Margaret Younghusband, aged 19, a domestic servant;
and Robert Hannaby, aged 19, a collier from Coed Talon.
It is difficult to summarise the circumstances which gave rise to the riot in limited space. There had been decades of poor industrial relations on the North Wales Minefield. Miners had low wages and suffered from high prices in the ‘Tommy Shops’ where they used company tokens to buy necessities. They suffered from uncertainties of employment and housing because outsiders could take their jobs and homes. They also suffered dreadful conditions down the mines, and there was always the possibility of a serious accident.
Numerous accidents occurred on the North Wales minefield during the nineteenth century. The gravestone of Owen Jones can still be seen in Pontblyddyn Churchyard. He was one of eight ‘men’ killed during a flooding accident in a Leeswood mine in 1864. Owen Jones was only 10 years old. It was not until 1872 that the age of boys who could work in coalmines was raised to 12 and eventually 13 in 1903. This grave also contains the body of his father, Robert Jones, who died on Christmas Day of the following year, aged 38. The gravestone is a tragic reminder: life can be nasty, brutish and short.
The final straw for the miners of Leeswood Green colliery came after John Young, from Durham, became the new manager in 1864. It was said that he gave the best jobs to his favourites who then acted as his bodyguard. On 1st May, 1869, he put up a notice which meant that miners would get a shilling less for each ton of coal cut. There had been no consultation of the angry workforce. About 60 miners confronted Young outside his house at Cae Gwail. He told them that it was a matter for the Board of Directors and he could not do anything about the cut in wages. The crowd then kicked him and marched him to Penyffordd where they tried to put him on a train to send him packing.
However, the police rescued Young before he could be dispatched and summonses were later issued for 8 of the ringleaders who had attacked him. These were the men who were put on trial at Mold Crown Court on the fateful day of 2nd June, 1869.
The Chief Constable anticipated that there would be trouble as the crowd awaited the verdict of the trial. He attended with three superintendants, two inspectors and 39 policemen. There were also 50 troops of the King’s Own from Chester as backup. Estimates vary from around 500 to 1,500 for the size of the crowd that assembled outside.
The stone-throwing began once those found guilty were brought out to be taken by train to Flint Gaol. The train carriage windows were shattered as were all the windows of the station platform building, which stood where Tesco’s now stands. According to newspaper reports 23 soldiers and 13 policemen were severely injured by the stones, some as a result of having their helmets cut in two.
It proved to be impossible for the Riot Act to be read given the ferocity of the stone-throwing. A magistrate therefore gave permission for the troops to open fire. It is said that the troops first fired blanks over the heads of the crowd but the crowd surged forward. The troops therefore opened fire on the crowd itself.
Edward Bellis was shot in the abdomen. He was taken, by friends, to the Druid Inn, Pontblyddyn but was refused admission. He was therefore taken to the Queen’s Arms, where he died on 3rd June after an operation to remove the bullet. It was later said that he had been throwing stones and waving a large stick. Elizabeth Jones was shot in the back and taken to a cottage in Chester Street, where she died three days later. It was said, by some that she had gathered stones in her apron but this was denied by others. Margaret Younghusband received a bullet wound in her thigh. It severed an artery and she bled to death shortly afterwards. She had been a completely innocent bystander who came to see what the commotion was about. Robert Hannaby was shot in the face and died on Tyddyn Street where he had been throwing stones.
The Mold tragedy is a story of inequality, injustice and violence. There was no machinery for negotiation, no strategy to pacify or quell an angry workforce. There were no rubber bullets or CS gas to dissuade an angry mob. The event shows social conflict in its most stark form. It is fitting that those who lost their lives should be remembered.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.