Event from: Miscellaneous 2016

The Spanish Anarchists of Merthyr in the Early Twentieth Century

Event Details
Date: , 2016
Venue: The Hydra Bookshop, BS2 0EZ
Price: Donation
With: James Yeoman
Series: Miscellaneous 2016
Page Details
Section: Events
Subjects: Anarchism
Tags: ,
Posted: Modified:

This talk will focus on an on-going research project into the anarchist elements of the wider Spanish community in Dowlais and Abercraf, c.1900-1920.

Following a shortage of labour during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) the management of the Dowlais Iron Works used its subsidiary company in the Basque region to encourage Spanish labourers and their families to move to South Wales. By 1911 there were 264 Spaniards in the borough of Merthyr Tydfil, part of an international community which also included migrants from Ireland, Eastern Europe, France and Italy.

A number of these migrant workers identified with anarchist ideas, which had found popular support in Spain since the 1870s. The anarchists of the Merthyr region maintained a constant stream of communication back to the movement in Spain, facilitated by the networks sustained by the movement’s grass-roots publishing culture. These letters portrayed a largely negative experience: from exasperation at what they saw as hierarchical and regimented unionism in Wales, to conflicts within the Spanish community between social democratic and anarchist sections. They disliked the weather, religion, food and culture they found in Dowlais, and many sought to leave the area as soon as they could. Using this evidence, alongside research conducted at the South Wales Miners’ Library and local archives in Merthyr, this paper suggests that the connections between Wales and Spain reinforced differences between the Spanish anarchists, Welsh workers and other Spaniards, despite the anarchist belief in internationalism and transnational organisation. Recognising such difficulties can help to reflect on the experience of migration and its effects on bottom-up politics, during an era of great development in globalisation and international capitalism.

James recently submitted his PhD thesis, at the Department of History at Sheffield University. His work examines the development of the anarchist movement in Spain over the turn of the twentieth century, with particular focus on the movement’s print culture. His thesis explores the movement’s adoption of terrorism, education and syndicalism as revolutionary strategies, and the effects this had on shaping the largest anarchist movement in world history.

James’ work on Dowlais will form part of a wider project of young researchers in Britain and Spain entitled ‘New Approaches to Spanish Anarchism,’ which seeks to apply international perspectives to the subject. He has discussed this work at a number of institutions, including the International Conference of Historical Geographers and the 2015 ‘Unofficial Histories’ Conference in Amsterdam.

This work is currently being written up for publication ? any thoughts, ideas and input on this project will be greatly appreciated.

Watch this talk


  1. I was reading an article years ago that I can’t seem to track down about the incubation of anarchism in the school system in the years leading up to the Spanish Revolution and I was trying to find it again. Can you point me to good resources on this topic?

  2. Estimados señores, me llamo Juan Manuel Franco Escribano, resido en Sevilla (España), tengo 59 años y me ha interesado mucho este trabajo de investigación. Yo llevo varios años realizando un estudio genealógico de la familia, mi abuela llamada María Redención Bustamante nació en Dowlais en 1.903 y era hija de Melchor Bustamante, a quien citan en su exposición, siendo uno de los 12 primeros españoles en trasladarse a Dowlais desde Bilbao y que según relatan se convirtió en jefe de la sociedad de españoles de orientación anarquista.
    Melchor Bustamante nació en Río de Losa (Burgos) el 6 de enero de 1.867 se casó en Sestao (Bilbao) con Jacoba Uriarte. Cuando se trasladan a Gales tenía 5 hijos nacidos en Bilbao, ya en Dowlais nacerían otros tres hijos, entre ellos mi abuela.
    En 1.923 fallece mi bisabuela Jacoba en el hospital de Merthyr Tydfil, y se encuentra enterrada en el cementerio de Pant.
    Melchor Bustamante regresa a España, donde fallece el 1 de abril de 1.932 en Bilbao.
    Fruto de mi investigación he podido descubrir que La empresa Orconero Iron Ore Company, del norte de España había sido subsidiaria de la compañía Dowlais Iron Company, en el sur de Gales, desde 1873. En 1900 y los años siguientes serían los trabajadores locales del hierro y el acero, vecinos de Barakaldo en muchos casos, los que dejaron su tierra para emigrar a Dowlais en el sur de Gales. Solos o con sus familias 200 hombres, entre los que se encontraban Melchor Bustamante Torre y su familia, embarcaron en los mismos cargueros que llevaban a Cardiff el hierro que tan bien conocían y desde su puerto continuaron una veintena de millas hacia el norte, hasta llegar a Merthyr Tydfil. Se construyó una calle exclusivamente para ellos en Dowlais – King Alphonso Street, por su monarca Alfonso XII, y se les concedieron dos áreas en el pueblo.
    Casi todos los habitantes de Dowlais (Gales) saben que las viviendas unifamiliares de Alphonso Street se construyeron expresamente para la colonia de españoles.

  3. Charlotte Evans-Wilson

    Very interested to listen to this after starting my family tree, and discovering my great great grandparents were some of the Spanish people living in Merthyr Tidful in the early 1900s.

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