Of all the labour disputes which have occurred in the mining valleys of the county, by far the most serious took place during the winter of 1910-1911. These were known as the Rhondda Riots because it was in the Rhondda Valleys that the main storm centre existed. The underlying causes of this particular period of disorder were all too familiar, a desperate bitterness in the hearts of the Colliers against the coal owners based on grievances past and present, and a striving for better conditions. Perhaps the one feature that distinguished this strike from all the others that proceeded it was the degree exhibited in the violence threatened if the miner's claims were not accepted.
The threat was not only to force the mine owners to give way by the withdrawal of labour, which had been the main weapon of the past, but also to achieve this by the destruction of the mines themselves. Firstly, by compelling maintenance men engaged on pumping and ventilating the pits to strike resulting in the flooding of the workings, and, if this failed to achieve their objectives by direct attacks on the pit premises.
There had been a threat of this kind in the troubles of 1898, but it had been withdrawn after a successful appeal to reason had been made on behalf of the Miner's Federation in the following terms:
"For the sake of all that is fair do not commit such a blunder as to ask enginemen and stokers to cease work. Whatever mistakes we might have made in the past this will be 10,000 times worse than anything else. Such a step will alienate from us every atom of public sympathy and we will want it all. The idea is to drown up the working places. If you succeed, whose working places will be drowned and where do the men propose afterwards to earn their wages? No! For the sake of humanity, for the sake of your wives and children, let us leave the matter where it is."
No such courageous stand was taken by any of the miner's leaders in 1910, and no Federation voice was raised publicly in protest. The dispute of 1910 therefore, placed upon the police a degree of responsibility far beyond that involved in any previous period of unrest. Not only had the police now to protect the persons and property of those who wished to defy the strike by pursuing their lawful right to work, but also to resist attack on any or all of the widely distributed colliery premises.
Aggressive "picketing" and an attack on a workmen's train at Tonllwyd Crossing, Aberaman, at the very beginning of the strike provided ominous signs of the degree of violence which could be expected to follow, and urgent messages for the provision of increased police protection was sent by the Coal-owners' Association to the Chief Constable of the county, then Captain Lionel Lindsay.
All the available men from the county had been centred in the Rhondda and Aberdare Valleys. On 6 November 1910, Captain Lindsay had under his immediate command for the protection of the working colliers in these valleys just over 100 foot and mounted men in addition to the normal police strength of the district. Extra police were sent for from Swansea (30), Bristol (63) and Cardiff (50).
On 7 November the strikers had succeeded by picketing, in obtaining the complete suspension of ventilating and pumping work at all except one of the Cambrian Combine Collieries. At Gilfach Goch, Penygraig, Clydach Vale, Trealaw and Tonypandy, after some of the maintenance workers had been very roughly handled, the threatening crowds of strikers had their way and the men ceased work. Resistance continued however at the Llwynypia Colliery.
The general manager had been able to retain the services of between 50 and 60 officials and workmen, and it had already been decided by the police and the manager to concentrate defences here, because this pit, of all of them, was liable to flooding and there were still 300 horses underground. The obvious defensive measures being taken and the lack of success of picketing provoked equally determined offensive measures on the part of the strikers, with the result that the miners who had been successful at the other collieries moved from Clydach Vale, Penygraig, Trealaw and Tonypandy to Llwynypia, and from 10.30pm until after midnight, maintained a desperate attack on the colliery property.